The Control of Consonant Airflow During Singing

Martin Rothenberg, Professor Emeritus, Syracuse University, and President, Glottal Enterprises

The paper The Control Of Airflow During Loud Soprano Singing (COA), written with colleagues in the Syracuse University Speech Research Laboratory, Donald Miller, Richard Molitor and Dolores Leffingwell [Journal of Voice, Vol. 1 No. 3, 338-351 (1988)], can be seen as returning to the line of research of the monograph resulting from my doctoral dissertation, Breath Stream Dynamics of Simple Released Plosive Production (BSD) [Bibliotheca Phonetica VI, Karger, 1968]. The problem we considered in COA stemmed from the fact that the subglottal air pressure used by a professional soprano was known to reach values four or five times the pressures attained in normal speaking. A previous paper, Cosi Fan Tutte, explored one mechanism for conserving breath volume during vowel segments sung with air pressures this high. However, were there also mechanisms for conserving the breath volume during unvoiced consonants occurring between the vowels in the piece being sung? In many such consonants, as pronounced during speech, there is a period during which the vocal tract and glottis are both open and thus the airflow increases. Since the response times in the postural muscles controlling subglottal pressure are among the slowest in the body, it is not likely that the pressure could be reduced abruptly for the consonant and increased abruptly for a succeeding vowel. Therefore there are likely to be other compensatory mechanisms that must be learned by the professional singer. In COA we indeed found such mechanisms. In this paper I will review the mechanisms we found and show how the features of the physiologically based model for consonant production presented in BSD, in which a consonant is described in terms of a set of coordinated articulatory gestures, provide a better basis for explaining the consonant production patterns used in speech and singing than do acoustically based features such as voice onset time.

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