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Open Tone

What are some good exercises to help with developing a good open tone sound?
on February 12, 2016 5:30am
For me, a good method is trying to imitate Anna Netrebko, especially her later recordings, e. g. Lady Macbeth, Trovatore. Observe, how she opens wide her mouth, not onl on the top notes, but throughout the whole range. Thanks to it her voice is so ringing and rich in harmonics - her voice is extremely "spacious". Before a choir rehearsal I usually watch Anna Netrebko singing. 
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on February 13, 2016 8:58am
While not intending to disagree with Toslek, his comment does remind me of a pet peeve.  While I agree with the terms "tall vowels," "creating space," etc., I think it's important for us to clarify what we mean by that as vocal pedagogues.  To open the mouth really wide increases tension in the jaw and throat, which is what we're trying to eliminate in our singers!  (I dispise the "3-finger rule" for that reason -- that is, inserting 3 fingers between your teeth to achieve an "open sound."  It only increases tension -- it doesn't eliminate it.)  Rather, the goal should be to release the jaw -- to let it hang down as if it were severed, or as if we were watching someone asleep with his or her mouth open.  
 
The key to the open sound isn't mouth space -- it's throat space, and it's achieved through the lowered larynx, and is particularly necessary as a singer moves through the passagio to his/her head voice.  If you lightly touch the v-shaped notch in your Adam's apple (the top of the thyroid cartilege), and then do a deep sigh, you'll notice the Adam's apple dropping and you'll sense a greater space in the throat.  That will help to achieve the "open tone" you're looking for.  The vocal folds attach to the thyroid cartilege in the front, and they must lengthen to sing higher pitches.  Since the thyroid cartilege isn't capable of protruding forward a great deal in order to lengthen the folds, it must move either up or down to accomplish this.  (You can try it with a rubber band to see what I mean.  Hold one end stationary with one hand, and then move the other hand up or down.  The rubber band will stretch.)  Beginning singers instinctively pull the thyroid catilege up to achieve higher pitches.  (How many HS tenors have you seen stretching their chins forward or upward to achieve this?)  Experienced singers know to do the opposite, and let the larynx drop to achieve increased "throat space."
 
As with virtually everything in singing, you can overdo this good thing to the point where it becomes a bad thing.  Singers have to be careful not to think of a yawn (which is why I don't like the image of the "supressed yawn" that some teachers use), because that starts to involve the extrinsic muscles (those outside the larynx) to overachieve the goal.  As a result the larynx will drop too far and a dark, heavy and tense tone will result.  Even with the correct use of only the intrinsic (inside the larynx) muscles, you need to encourage your singers to "focus" their sound so that the tone isn't too dark and heavy.  And this is the beauty of the dropped larynx.  Even a vowel like "ee," which choral directors often fear the most because it can sound so strident, sounds very acceptable to the ear, even at its brightest, if the larynx drops and the throat opens.  You can achieve open-throated singing with even a barely open mouth, which should prove that it's throat space, not mouth space, that is the key to the "open tone."  However, I prefer the image of the released jaw (and hence, fairly open but not widely open mouth) for my singers.
 
Sorry for the long explanation, but I hope this helps.
 
 
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on February 15, 2016 8:59am
I am mainly in agreement with Charles Livesay.  The McClosky Technique (of which I am a big fan) says more or less the same thing but in a slightly different way. "Low larynx" by itself can cause trouble--if it is forced down by pushing the tongue down in the back, and/or overly forcefully raising the soft palate, you will get an artificially dark sound, and, in time, a wobble in the tone.  Rather, when the singer learns to free the tongue and jaw from excess tension, the larynx will rest in a naturally low position, the intrinsic laryngeal muscles will more easily be able to adjust the pitch, and the back of the throat will feel open.  
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