Welcome to our interview with one of Europes most recognised vocal coaches, Cathrine Sadolin of Complete Vocal Technique (CVT)!
A bit about Cathrine Sadolin…
Cathrine Sadolin is among the leading voice researchers in the world. Her research across all vocal styles, combined with her own experiences as a professional singer, has inspired innovative thinking within the field. She is the mastermind behind advanced singing techniques, useful for instruction within all musical styles.
Her techniques are being used for developing technical and artistic skills, solving vocal problems, and repairing worn-out voices as well as for vocal coaching and production. Having devoted most of her time to research, Cathrine now supervises a staff of highly educated and qualified singing teachers giving workshops, clinics, and masterclasses for professional singers all over the world.
Let’s get stuck in! What’s your ethos?
It is possible to create all the sounds in the world without hurting the vocal cords. That includes all the screams, calls and crazy stuff. If you know your anatomy and physiology then it’s possible to create everything… IF you’re doing it right.
Many teachers of singing go with imagery and ‘unicorns’ in order to illicit a change…
“Instead of going with hearsay, myth and images that might bring it for some, for me I had nothing to build on. Instead I needed concrete tools or I couldn’t make my voice work. That means I can now pass on those concrete tools instead of trying to a singing ‘unicorn’, which I still haven’t figured out!”
You mentioned the vocal tract shape being the adjustment between genres and sounds. It almost implies that the vocal folds are redundant in that process. Can you explain a little but more about how you see their role in changing sound quality?
Of course the vocal cords contribute. I have been doing research with an ENT surgeon in England called Julian McGlashan on how the vocal folds operate underneath all kinds of sounds and we have discovered lots. Where I see the problem with instructing changes with the vocal folds is singers can’t relate to it. They don’t know those tiny muscles exists and can’t control them directly. You can’t even feel when they have been activated, so I think it’s important to be concrete. I want to tell a singer something that they are able to do. Move your mouth like this, use your abdomen like that. That was what I was missing so much. Nobody was concrete, and so I didn’t progress.
In CVT, we have four vocal modes that shape the sound. They create changes in the vocal tract and at the vocal fold level. The aim for the singer is to work on what they can control and not what’s happening on the vocal fold level. When we are working with scientists, that’s when we can start to use the language of the vocal fold anatomy effectively.
CVT propose three main principles: support, necessary twang, and lip/jaw tension. Could you tell us why they are important from your point of view?
These don’t give anyone a sound, they are a foundation. Everyone hears the word support but nobody could be concrete about what we had to do! I thought it must be me who was stupid, but after questioning many people it became obvious that nobody really new what it meant. That’s why had to develop very concrete instruction for singers to try. Concrete enough that after ten minutes of trying, a singer can determine whether this is helping or not.
The necessary twang is something you don’t really have to work unless you have some issues or some problem. It will automatically come if you’re doing the rest correctly! But, you may have great support and excellent twang, but are messing it all up by tightening the lips and protruding the jaw. So that’s why we need to avoid that!
So what exactly is necessary twang?
Let’s be concrete. The twang is in the definition of CVT, and we have a rule that we will never talk about any term unless we have defined it.
You have the lower part of the epiglottis, which is called the petiole, and then you have the arytenoids opposite. These two are meeting in twang. It’s like having a water hose and when you squeeze it, the water runs faster. In essence, there is a narrowing that results in the sound being more projected.
I can’t say to a singer “take your petiole and your arytenoids and bring them together”. No way. But how do we make a singer achieve it? Well, that is often best done through the sound.
For example, if you are sounding like a quacking duck then you are in twang. When we talk about ‘necessary’ we mean enough twang for the voice to work. If you don’t have enough twang then the space is too open, in a way, and the voice can’t travel. You need this narrowing above the vocal folds otherwise you aren’t protecting them enough and you might eventually hurt them, plus everything gets easier when you have it. It’s all part of source-filter interaction.
The more you twang beyond what’s necessary, we call it distinct twang. You might add more twang than necessary for styles like country, for example. In CVT training, the level of twang is a nice side effect of delivering the sounds of the vocal modes correctly.
Singing teachers might be alarmed by the word ‘narrowing’ or have experienced tension using twang. What would be the conversation you would have with anyone who is worried about this technique?
A lot of singers are afraid of narrowing or constricting. They are often talking about the fact that it has to be open, free and unhindered. They may even be singing with the image of a chimney in their throat so they feel open and clear. Despite the fact that they might be feeling that, that isn’t what’s happening. What’s actually happening is, the more we’re constricting, if you do it in the right way, the healthier you sing.
If we take a camera and look at the most fantastic opera singer, we’d expect to see something very open. But no. On their beautiful high notes you actually see narrowing, and for each CVT mode we see narrowing in different parts. Of course, the singer doesn’t need to know what’s narrowing, but if you’re afraid of narrowing then you are afraid of singing healthily.
On the other hand, if constriction is uncontrolled then that’s not very nice. The kind of uncontrolled constriction that closes everything off when go to sing. We must deal with that and unravel it.
What are the CVT modes and how are they created?
We have four modes. The first is called ‘neutral’. You can add ‘air’ (we’re gathering an element of ‘breathiness’) to this mode as an option, and it’s considered ‘non-metallic’ in sound. Not ‘brassy’ in other words. It also has a soft character compared to the other modes, and some consider it to be more healthy. This is not true!
When we talk about ‘metal’ we talk about what you can hear in a sound. A metallic sound is tougher, more direct.
If you take another mode, like ‘overdrive’, there is a lot of ‘metal’ and power in it. It’s more of a shouty character. Then you have ‘edge’. This is still full ‘metallic’ but it has much more ‘twang’ quality. The ‘curbing’ mode sits somewhere in between ‘overdrive’ and ‘edge’, which is considered ‘reduced metallic’. Listen to the full podcast episode above for Cathrine’s demonstrations.
With these modes we can choose which quality we need for a task. If I want to get some power in the low or middle ranges, I wouldn’t choose ‘neutral’. It has very little power in the lower pitches, but becomes louder much higher in the range. You’d have to go to ‘overdrive’ and ‘edge’ to get the volume healthily.
Do the CVT modes carry any warnings? IE, would one be more fatiguing than the other, for example?
No. You can’t say that any one of the modes is more healthy than the other. Done correctly they are all healthy, but done incorrectly they are all damaging. Contrary to popular belief, you could find a female opera singer who could easily hurt her own voice in neutral mode. That’s the same as a rock singer using overdrive. It has to be done correctly.
There are certain limitations and advantages limitations to each modes that can come as warnings. As I mentioned earlier, ‘neutral’ doesn’t generate power lower down and you’d injure yourself if you tried to add it. ‘Overdrive’ can’t be sung in the high part of voice. It’s very important to know the rules of each mode.
We have released a free CVT app where singers can see all this information. Go ahead and download it to access the CVT singing techniques and exercises. For the science-y people, there’s also a lot of high speed research video of the vocal folds. That way, everyone can see ‘overdrive’ and how it actually looks.
Internet forums all over the world are full of posts saying “I have a sick/rough/tired voice but I have a gig this weekend… what can I do?”. What advice would you have for those singers?”
If they are hoarse, and have been for four or five days, I would say to go to a voice doctor. You need to see what’s wrong in that scenario. Are there any structural changes, for example, or is there something more severe?
The doctor may say that you are a little red but you’re ok and can sing, but the singer feels like they can’t sing at all. In this case, the singer needs to know some technique in order to deal with it.
A lot of our work is dealing in emergency aid for singers. When uncontrolled constriction happens, it’s actually the body’s way of protecting the voice and making sure you can’t misuse it again Provided there is nothing pathologically wrong, we can go in there and get rid of those uncontrolled constrictions and untie the voice.
After untying the voice, the singer would need to know what caused the uncontrolled constriction. In the CVT modes specifically, you might have used an unhelpful vowel whilst singing strongly in edge. That could easily cause uncontrolled constriction, so that singer would need to learn which vowels work for which vocal qualities.
We have included a whole section on this in the free CVT app on iTunes. It helps you to start figuring out how to get rid of uncontrolled constriction yourself! This is important, because 95% of percent of all hoarseness in singers is down to uncontrolled constriction that can released in an hour.
What about CVT’s vocal effects?
Once you’ve learned the sound colours and modes, you have vocal effects to play with. These help you make the sound be more ‘dirty’ or ‘hard’. For example, I can add some vibration into the sound from my false folds (listen to the full podcast at the top of the page for sound examples), which I can practice with or without sound initially. It actually sounds like I’m hurting my voice but I’m not!
From there you have growling, grunting, rock distortions and creak and fry. They all create vibrations in the vocal tract at different places, giving you different sound qualities. They are NOT harmful to the voice because they are not created at the voice!
On a practical note, how would one go about creating a distortion using their false folds?
When we work with distortion, or any effects, with a singer we need to know that they know the foundational principles that I’ve already mentioned. If they don’t do their modes well then it will be hurtful to the singer to work with distortion.
But let’s say they have mastered all this. We could start with a happy sigh (listen for exmaples). When you do that you should be able to feel there’s something meeting in the throat. That place can be cultivated and squeezed together for distortion, and then have voice added. You can even add mucus for a really crazy sound!
If anyone wants to find out about the CVT method and the many ways you can study, where should they go?
We have a website at www.completevocalinstitute.com and the app is called ‘Complete Vocal Technique’, of which there is a full and free version. The research part of our site is accessible for free and contains all kind of video stroboscopy footage of the vocal folds, and vocal modes and effects in action.
We also have long and short courses that we run in Copenhagen where teachers can become authorised in CVT, or just come to learn our methods for fun. On these courses we have everyone from death metal singers, opera singers and every other genre. What’s great is that they all go to the same classes. That means the opera singer will learn how to do a death metal growl, and the death metal singer will do baroque trills! All singers learn how to demonstrate ALL sounds.
That’s all folks!
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