A Text from @BrickMartinez: Questions and Realizations I

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If you haven’t met Nick Martinez, you’re in or a treat. He’s an awesome person and musician – a multi-instrumentalist with an incredible voice. He first studied with me at 17 years old, and was singing in bands and on his worship team.

He took a break while he was in college and came back a couple years later and … long story short, he’s a new classical tenor. We discovered a whole new sound and a whole new range, and now his interest in voice training is truly blossoming.

Every now and then I get a text from him with such incredible questions and realizations. It’s so exciting to hear from him as he discovers new things and (with his permission, of course) I thought it would be interesting to share his text and my answers:

“I woke up this morning thinking about technique, but I was late for school so I didn’t have time to text you then. I had a quick question about cord closure from the blog that you had sent me from TenorTalk. He mentioned that sometimes you can lose good chord closure and that you couldn’t. It was something along the lines of losing good chord closure when you think you are producing a good dark classical sound.”

It’s true that one can lose good cord closure sometimes. How can you tell? The first indicator is a “breathy” sound – when you hear some air escape as you sing, if the vibrato is too slow or is inconsistent or if you hear crackling in your sound. Vibrato should be energized and full, there should be a solid pitch, the pitch should not sag/get flat or start pitching up/get sharp, and the sound should be clear, meaning there shouldn’t be air escaping or any crackle or worse, a tickle or any kind of pain.

What causes this? Any number of things: lack of energy like feeling tired or lethargic, not enough or too much breath-energy/release of breath, muscular issues like over-activating certain muscles or not activating them enough.

When he mentions a “dark classical sound” I think he means overly dark, like singing into the back of your throat rather than from it, overextending your soft palate and perhaps just stretching everything out too much in general.

“I did some of the exercises that he had mentioned, but when I’m practicing with the recording of our lessons I try to pay attention to it, but I have a hard time telling if I have good cord closure particularly when I’m in the middle of my passagio. I kind of got it once I’m through there and before that point. I’m still working on that, but once I’m in there, I get lost and can’t really tell if it’s good closure. What should I do?”

I think, firstly, that basically you do get good closure in your passagio. It’s your low range where we tend to work the most on cord closure. The two are related so it’s worth it to just work on your low and middle sometimes.

Secondly, listen for the signs I mention above.

Generally, when I hear some closure issues in your passagio I re-introduce light-edge and it works itself out. Of all the things light edge does it really works on cord closure.

Also, don’t over think it. Sometimes you want to dumb it down to achieve the kind of technical freedom we’re always looking for.

“Next, I got sick this past weekend but, I didn’t want to not work out the voice because I didn’t want to have to get to my lesson and have to start cold without working out all week. It wasn’t anything serious just a head cold, so for about a half hour every day this week so far I’ve just done light stuff. For the light-edge “oo” that we do, I just want to make sure I am working on all the right components since it’s my primary focus this week. The sound stays forward which we talked about this past lesson. The goal is to kind of just activate the membrane of the vocal chords which is just a very light sound, and it stays tall both up and down all the way through?”

Wow! An hour and a half straight or did you break it up? That’s some stamina.

It depends on how you feel of course, but I don’t think you should avoid singing full with a head cold. Just be a little more mindful of your practice. If you can do light-edge for that long you can sing full.

Also, yes. I would say your understanding is correct.

“Last thing: High Notes. What [I think] makes classical high notes so exciting is once we are through the passagio, for my voice at least, is it entering kind of a mixed register, which is why we kind of smile into the sound a little bit to keep it bright and forward, but also very tall in the back and then diagonally almost to the back of the head, but also tall and reaching down so that the battle between the two registers that you had talked about takes place. Is this correct?”

Did I say “battle?” Ha ha! Curse my enthusiasm! Its true there is a kind of tug-of-war going on. I would say you have a pretty great understanding of how this works. And I would agree it’s that push and pull that makes it exciting.

It’s true you want to feel tall and deep, both up and down, that’s why I love the term “long” or “lengthy.” “Long,” to me, implies depth AND height and you can more easily connect to both a deep sense core and lengthened vocal tract.

“If that’s correct then what makes the note so exciting is, even though it’s in a battle, it’s also very much free and not jammed up in some part of the throat or the head; where as some pop singers, if they’re not squeezing the note, the note is placed way up high somewhere but it doesn’t really get the same freedom because it’s jammed up somewhere rather than being in that kind of free wild place between the registers. Is that kind of a correct way to look at it?”

While that might be true for some pop singers, I’m reticent to say it as a rule. There are a lot of pop singers out there that have great producers, which cover up all their vocal flaws in post production, but others have great high notes that achieve a similar kind of “free wild place.”

Freddy Mercury is one of my favorite singers EVER, Robert Plant, Whitney Houston, Frank Sinatra, Barbara Streisand, Faith Hill and more, all have (or had) great high notes that achieve the same level of excitement, to me. It’s just that the ratio is different.

The balance between the CT (cricothyroid) and TA (thyroarytenoid) muscles and the shape of the vocal tract are different from classical and contemporary and/or music theater. So a contemporary singer’s mix is somewhat different and their vocal tract is a different shape, but ultimately their goal is the same – free, wild, exciting high notes with a push and pull between registers.

How’s that?