Matt Edwards

Associate Professor of Voice, Shenandoah Conservatory Artistic Director of the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute

Mix it up Monday: The hair dryer vs. the car

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We have all had student that try to use their entire body to create enough power to fill the room with sound when they sing. When belters do this, we call them “screlters.” In classical singing, we usually say the performer is pushing. The simple analogy I am sharing today can help students finally understand why pressing, pushing, and/or screlting does not accomplish what they think it does.

I begin by asking the student “which is louder when you are standing next to it: a hair dryer or a car engine on idle? Students often look confused at first, so I repeat the question. After a few seconds of reflection, most will correctly answer “the hair dryer.” I then ask, “which has the bigger engine?” The answer is the car. For many, this is confusing. We then have a discussion about how it is possible that the device with the tiny engine is by far louder than the device with the large engine.

The reason is sound is created when we displace air molecules in the space around us. When a room is silent, air molecules are suspended in equilibrium. When we move those air molecules, we set off a chain reaction that causes individual air molecules to bump into each other, which causes waves of compression and rarefaction. Our eardrum responds to these compressions and our brain interprets them as sound. (Read chapter two of Scott McCoy’s “Your Voice: An inside view” for a more detailed explanation).

A hair dryer sucks in air through the back of its body via a tiny engine that then funnels that same air through a smaller opening and blasts it into the room. The hairdryer moves a lot of air and therefore makes a lot of sound. The car engine, on the other hand, sends the air it uses through a series of pipes that help muffle the sound and reduce the amount of air being moved upon the exhaust’s release through the tailpipe. Because the flow of the exhaust is restricted, an idling car engine makes less sound than an idling hair dryer.

The key to making a lot of noise is not how big the engine is, but how much air the engine moves. I then talk with the students about the implications for singing. I explain that if you are holding your vocal folds tightly together, you may feel like you are making a lot of sound due to the effort you feel in your throat. However, because you are not moving air, you are likely not making as much sound as you think you are. When, instead, you allow air to release when belting or singing loudly, you displace more air molecules which will create more sound.

A few weeks ago, I blogged about my belief that singing is not all about the breath. I stand by this statement. If the vocal folds are not appropriately adducted, in the desired registration, or if there are entanglements obstructing the vocal tract, you can try to move as much air as possible, but you will not succeed. The vocal folds must be coordinated with the respiratory system and the vocal tract must be open in order to focus solely on the breath. However, when the vocal folds are in the correct registration for the material you are singing and there are no obstructions in the vocal tract resisting airflow, increasing the amount of air you move will likely have a positive affect.

Do you have other analogies that you used to teach this concept? Please share below to contribute to the conversation. If you are looking for additional information about how to teach voice from a functional point of view, consider joining us this summer at the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute in beautiful Winchester, Virginia. Each summer, over 100 voice teachers from around the world come to the Shenandoah Valley to learn about science-based teaching for 21st century singers. The faculty is caring, open-minded, and willing to share everything they know with the participants. We do not teach a trademarked method, but rather an organized system for teachers to combine their existing knowledge base with new findings from voice science, and techniques both old and new. Please consider joining us this summer for nine days of fun and exploration. As always, thank you for reading and have a wonderful week of teaching. ~ Matt

2 comments on “Mix it up Monday: The hair dryer vs. the car

  1. Amy Canchola
    April 16, 2018

    Thank you, Matt. I have so many questions about finding the balance of honoring your classical training while singing or instructing a CCM style. I have just sent in my fees for session I in July. Looking forward to it!


    Sent from my iPhone



  2. Pingback: Mix it up Monday: How to allow placement to reveal itself (pt. 2) | Matt Edwards

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This entry was posted on April 16, 2018 by in Breath management, Constriction, Misc. Thoughts.

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