Functional Vocal Training

Functional vocal training is founded on the belief that a correct technique must be an extension of free organic movement; that such movement is the expression of a life process subject to nature’s laws; and that training procedures adopted must be based upon principles which conform to those laws.  This premise is not widely accepted, most training methods preferring to concentrate on functional effects, rather than functional causes.  This error has led to another misjudgment, even more serious: confusing the process of learning to sing with the art of singing.  Procedures designed to restructure a faulty vocal technique, therefore, cannot have validity until a clear distinction is made between art, aesthetics and function.

Preface, Voice: Psyche and Soma


Listening Functionally

With so many different quality characteristics associated with the same name, it is evident that the most critical factor in technical development is not the terminology itself, but an ability to make a proper distinction between the tonal product, its name, and the probable mechanical processes that result in its appearance.  The vocal mechanism functions under an incredible variety of states and conditions.  Some of these sounds represent progressive steps on route to register integration, still others have no redeemable qualities and merit attention only because they are faults to be eliminated. 

Discovering how to sort out the differences in treatment necessary to advance from one stage of technical development to another requires a special kind of listening.  This places a heavy reliance on an ability to hear functionally, which is quite different from training programs based purely on aesthetic judgment.

Breath Support 2

That which is perceived as ‘voice’ is merely a perception of moving air, and it is impossible to support either a column of air or the vibrations activated by the vocal folds which have caused that motion.  Neither the abdominals nor the diaphragm create, control, or determine the quality of those vibratory patterns.  The intrinsic muscles of the larynx, whose role during phonation is to maintain vocal fold tension proportional to the frequency of the vibrations (pitch) being sung, are unaffected by either abdominal or diaphragmatic activity (which is not to deny, however, that such activity should take place reflexively).

Both the abdominals and the diaphragm interact with the larynx, but the abdominals, which can be controlled independently, should hold firmly as a response to a correct technique of singing (i.e., the ability of the laryngeal musculature to coordinate effectively), and not considered a causative factor necessary to the development of vocal skills or something to be acted upon.  Moreover, the diaphragm responds reflexively under all conditions and cannot be controlled directly – as is demonstrated when attempts are made to pacify its fluttering movement when under nervous tension.

Efforts made to support the voice and to steady it have neither a positive nor a negative effect on the adjustments made by the supra- and infrahyoids and their ability to stabilize the larynx, preventing it from rising too high or descending into too low a position.

Breath Support

For whatever reason there is an unshakable belief that all will be well technically if the tonal emission is being properly supported, particularly by the work of the diaphragm.  While it is undeniable that a vocal mechanism being well used is in a state of equilibrium, and this is an ideal training objective, the fact is Barry Wyke, a British neurologist, has proven this concept  of support to be impossible for the following reason:  As reported in a lecture delivered during the Eight Symposium Care of the Professional Voice presented by The Voice Foundation (June 1979) Wyke pointed out to the voice professionals present, “In this regard, singing teachers particularly should note that the diaphragm remains relaxed throughout phonation – – and hence does not provide ‘support for the voice’, as is often said.”

Separate and apart from this disclaimer, it is further evident that acoustically, since ‘voice’ is in reality no more than the rhythmic movement of air, attempts made to regulate and overtly control moving air particles to enhance their quality is bound to fail of its purpose.

Concept and Function

It should now be apparent that a knowledge of registration provides the necessary means for correcting any and all technical situations, as well as providing a basis  for a revision of concepts.  What seems increasingly obvious is the need to reflect culturally and emotionally derived  attitudes associated with taste.  Natural quality, a product of natural movement, depends upon evaluations which must agree not with taste, but with nature’s laws.  This means that objective and subjective concepts are to be brought into agreement not only with each other, but with functional logic by which the vocal organs  are governed. – Voice:  Psyche and Soma


Everything believed and practiced concerning voice is too often a matter of personal opinion without basis or reference to fact and these opinions are held with a truly amazing obstinacy.  Why?  Because they are based on superficial impression and an aesthetic preference based more on musical taste and a psychological predisposition rather than practice and detached clinical experience – trial and error, where truth rather than personal experience is the objective, and used as the criteria.

Registrational Mechanics

If that which is perceived as voice is in a purely physical sense nothing but the movement of air set in motion because of the activity of muscles, then it is the tensors of the vocal folds, the cricothyroid and arytenoid muscle systems which maintain vocal fold vibratility, that form the very core of the vocal mechanism. Consequently, whatever inhibition of movement takes place as the vocal folds are drawn into tension ensures that all other areas of function will likewise be inhibited.  Whether it be a question of range extension, precise intonation, an ability to run scales smoothly and rapidly, sustaining a pure legato line, achieving articulatory freedom, purity of the vowel, an even, expressive and unobtrusive vibrato, or efforts made to enhance resonance characteristics, all of these desirable functions rely for their freedom on the precision with which the tensor mechanisms of the vocal folds interact. Therefore, the attainment, regulation and control over these technical and artistic objectives depends upon an understanding of registrational mechanics.