I am sure that most of us are familiar with the adage of the Italian school, “sing like you speak”. We also know from experience that while in some respects this is completely true, in others it is not. It would be equally correct to say, ‘to sing well, you must have a flexible vocal position, that will allow for modification of the vowels when acoustically necessary.”
There is no single correct vocal position that will accommodate every note in the singer’s range. While the first two formants of the singer’s voice determine what vowel is produced (and in this way are intimately related to correct speech), formants 3,4 (the singer’s formant, which does not appear in speech, and allows the voice to be heard over the orchestra) and 5 determine vocal quality and individual timbre.
Without the correct balancing between the fundamental pitch and the shape of the resonance cavities, beautiful singing is impossible. Both vowel modification and an imaginative sensitivity to the changing shape of the cavities of the throat will aid the singer to achieve that beautiful, balanced, colorful tone that we are all seeking.
The “loose throat” encourages both the lowered formant frequencies of the operatic sound (the so called “covered tone”) and the presence of the signers formant, the ring in the voice around 2800-3400 herz. The loose throat and jaw, and a feeling of singing “over” the palate, may encourage a more expanded pharynx, a lower larynx , and a higher palate. These are all best achieved, in my opinion, through an imaginative picturing of the vocal tract, rather than physically.
Just speaking well will not help you with any of this: although I do believe that the feeling of healthy speech, while singing, encourages a lighter balance in the vocal registration. The sense of forward clarity and lack of pressure in healthy speech also encourages intelligibility in the vowels (the first two formants), and a healthy use of the vocal cords. The ideal is clarity without tightness or breathiness.
Many singers come to us without good speech habits. With those, you have encourage good habits through correct speaking, before you can move on to singing. There is no point in “singing like you speak’ before you can speak in a healthy way.
Our job as singers is a constant balance between the changing modifications of the vocal resonators necessary for good singing, and the acoustical clarity (and lightness) of healthy speech.
For more information on resonance balancing through vowel modification, check out Shirlee Emmon’s article at http://www.shirlee-emmons.com/tongue.html