Coupe de GLotte

I continue to offer credit to Alan Lindquest for helping me to regain my vocal health after damaging instruction at the university level. My recovery was greatly due to Lindquest's true understanding of Manuel García II's 'coup de glotte'; healthy closure of the vocal cords. Many translate this concept incorrectly. It has NOTHING to do with glottic shock. Lindquest explains this in an article for the NATS Journal in 1949. The 'gentle closure' as Lindquest defined it, is simply allowing the vocal cords to come gently together after inhalation and then beginning the sound without a push of breath pressure, but a stretch of the lower body muscles. It is the breath pressure that causes 'glottic shock'. Glottic shock is a situation whereby the vocal cords are exploded apart after they close. This is extremely damaging to the vocal cords and this concept should never be used. García's concept has nothing to do with this and should not be confused with such a damaging technique.

When I met Alan Lindquest in 1979, my vocal condition was as follows: the vocal cords did NOT approximate after inhalation. I constantly overblew the vocal cords because I had no concept of the body holding back the breath pressure. My jaw was thrusting forward as a result of the push of too much breath pressure. My tongue was so tense because of the resulting gag reflex that it took the shape of the dip of a spoon. My upper body collapsed to desperately try and fuel the breath (actually DRIVE the breath) through the larynx. The driving of the breath pressure was an attempt to make some kind of audible resonant sound. In actuality I could not make a resonant sound because the pharynx was closed. The larynx was driven into a high position because of the incredible breath pressure. My larynx shook up and down with the vibrato and I had begun to develop a wide vibrato (wobble). I was only 28 years of age and my voice was in ruins, mainly because of the terrible instruction I had by teachers who knew nothing of the Old World training; the training that developed so many world class singers in the early 20th Century.

Since I had grown up in the Southern part of the United States, I had developed the unhealthy vocal habit of breathy speaking in order to be 'soft spoken'. In the Southern culture, it is rude to be loud. So, breathy speaking is an unhealthy way of trying to be soft spoken and gentle. President Bill Clinton suffered greatly from this breathy speaking during his campaign and found he had to have a voice coach with him in order not to suffer vocal hoarseness. My friend and colleague Dr. Barbara Mathis proved years ago that breathy production is injurious to the voice. She has probably done more important vocal research than any voice teacher in the United States. If I were a young college student, I would run to her voice studio to study. So, it seems that not only did I grow up around unhealthy speaking habits, but I also suffered from irresponsible instruction at the university level. This confused teaching set me up for years of vocal abuse. It also did not help that I was a lyric baritone whom every choir director wanted to make a tenor. This is why I am absolutely strict in my belief that singing in the wrong vocal fach is damaging to the voice.

I remember that Alan Lindquest shared an amusing story with me while I was studying with him. It was his way of making a point with a great impact. In 1929, Lindquest was working with an Italian teacher in New York. After 'talking pictures' came to Hollywood, many careers were lost because of accents or that fact that audiences did not like the sound of someone's voice. At any rate, Lindquest's teacher Cellini had one client who was an actor from Hollywood. The actor suffered from a strange sound in his speaking voice; a breathy and squeaky quality which made his voice sound like a comedy voice rather than the voice of a leading actor. This student came 3 times per day, 20 minutes per session to work on García's 'coup de glotte'. Within one month, the actor had a resonant and beautiful speaking voice that would work for leading roles. His name was John Barrymore.

It was Lindquest who taught me the García concept of the 'coup de glotte' without the use of glottic shock. It was a gentle closure of the vocal cords after inhalation, something that I had never experienced. At first, it was virtually impossible for me to produce a solid tone. My voice was on the verge of permanent damage and my vocal cords were 'bowed', so they did not come together properly. Lindquest was an extremely kind and patient man and he used some wonderful ways of helping me to learn to approximate my vocal cords healthily. He would have me take a breath as though I had forgotten what I was going to say. Then he would ask, "Did you feel something gently close in your throat to cap the breath?" I actually developed the ability to feel an open throat (pharyngeal cavity) and the gentle closure of the vocal cords; two opposite sensations working together. He would then have me speak the Italian 'e' vowel with the cords together. Another tool he used was to say the sound 'huh-oh'. The cords would close automatically at the middle of such a sound. (This is probably only a useful sound to Americans.) It was through the use of these two sounds that the vocal cords began to learn to close properly.

Kirsten Flagstad and Dr. Gillis Bratt

It was in 1916 that Kirsten Flagstad's parents took her to Stockholm to find an appropriate vocal instructor. During that time, she auditioned for the famous Dr. Gillis Bratt, a throat doctor, voice teacher, and operatic baritone. (I have spoken of her experience in a previous article.) In Vogt's biography of Flagstad called Flagstad, Singer of the Century (p. 48), he speaks of her experience when she auditioned for Dr. Bratt. One of the first questions he asked her was, "Have you been singing in public?" When she answered yes to this question, he said, "I am surprised that your audience could hear you. You have the voice of a child; very small and breathy." Even though she insisted that she had received excellent reviews, he was sure that she was only using a small part of her voice. This was indeed the case in my vocal situation. I can see clearly now through my experience that Flagstad probably was only using part of her voice. Dr. Bratt worked with her twice per week, often driving her to tears because he was such a hard taskmaster. Indeed she said her voice grew to twice its previous size in just over three months. Dr. Gillis Bratt had studied with García and Sigmund Freud. Alan Lindquest studied with Haldis Ingebjart, also a student of Dr. Bratt, in 1938 where he learned the appropriate application of this concept to healthy vocalism.

Tenor Singing Baritone

In the Fall of 2000, I taught in Belgium at the home of my European assistant, Gilles Denizot. There I taught young professionals from all over Europe and the results were quite amazing. One singer was a young tenor who was singing baritone, which was completely the wrong fach for him. He suffered chronic hoarseness from singing baritone, often to the extent of having to rest the voice for two days after a baritone performance. His teacher was insistent (false ego) that he was a baritone. It still amazes me that some teachers refuse to listen to reason when chronic hoarseness is present in a young singer's vocal life. This singer's vocal cords did not come together properly, so he forced them together by depressing the larynx with the root of the tongue. This is extremely dangerous and I must say I was using this vocal approach just to try and get a sound out. García's 'coup de glotte' applied to both the open and closed vowel sounds made this voice quickly want to go higher and higher. (See article on vocal fach.) This proved to me that García's 'coup de glotte' not only helped regain vocal health (this singer's voice began to achieve true resonance in a short time.) but also was an excellent tool in helping one find the true healthy range of the voice. In this circumstance, the voice wanted to go higher and higher with a truly healthy tenor sound. So the positive results through the correct teaching of García's 'coup de glotte' are multiple; healthy resonance as a result of the cords coming together properly, more open pharynx as a result of the singer using less breath pressure with which to sing, more relaxed attitude in the singer's posture because singing becomes easy.

Professional Swedish Soprano

In another article, I spoke of a Swedish Soprano who had to stop singing because of a lack of healthy vocal cord approximation. I wanted to repeat this experience in this article because I believe it is crucial in making this point. This was a beautiful young soprano (age 31) who had to stop her career because the voice began to sing flat. Almost every note out of her mouth was flat in pitch and she knew she had to stop singing and address this chronic problem. Her throat was completely closed with the larynx riding in a very high position. We worked every day for six weeks. After the second week, we finally achieved the correct body support in order to achieve a lower larynx position. To my own shock, when the larynx was down and the throat began to open, the voice became completely breathy like an undeveloped child's voice. It became obvious to me that this singer was closing the vocal cords by squeezing the throat closed. The tongue was extremely tight and there was no healthy separation between the root of the tongue and the hyoid bone. We worked for another week on the concept of the 'coup de glotte' (healthy closure of the cords) and the result was an incredibly beautiful soprano voice with a richness of tonal quality. I remember we worked during February and into the first two weeks of March. That summer, this singer sang performances of two world premiere operas in a summer festival and received glowing and wonderful reviews. Yet another example of a singer who literally regained her voice with the critical concept of healthy vocal cord closure.

British Soprano

Most recently, I had a British singer come to me with chronic vocal problems. She had been through music school and received her music degree. However, she suffered from a wide and sporadic vibrato. The registers did not blend properly and she suffered a great fear of high notes. This singer was going to completely stop singing until she was referred to my New York Studio in late June. She had suffered emotionally from teachers saying such things as, "I know there is a voice in there somewhere!" These kinds of statements are emotionally damaging and are useless in the vocal process. It only made her feel more and more inferior and at the point of coming to my studio, she actually had little or no expectations of regaining her voice.

I slowly introduced her to the concept of cord closure with the low larynx. It was extremely foreign to her and she found the feeling rather strange at first. However, when I asked her to speak in her low range, there was no breathiness of tone. Within 15 minutes of doing these exercises, the voice began to reveal itself as a beautiful rich and resonant soprano with great beauty of tone. This singer really did not know what to say. She found herself absolute speechless, but wanted to come back to the studio as soon as possible. This is another example of a singer with a great instrument whose vocal problems were not diagnosed properly. The solution was simple and easy to employ.

Session #2: Upon returning to my studio the second week, this soprano had developed her voice to a much greater extent. The larynx had learned to descend with the breath and without pushing it down with the root of the tongue. She was able to produce a solid tone within the first few minutes of this second lesson as opposed to about 45 minutes in the first lesson. What was amazing to me was that as we got to more and more purity of tone and quality of resonance, she confessed that this was the way her voice felt before she studied at music school. This singer was the victim of what I call the 'lighten up your voice syndrome' whereby the teacher is frightened by a large voice. The singer was actually taught to lighten up her voice by raising her larynx. This is a direct reflection of British Culture and the popularity of what I call the 'boy choir' sound. This is extremely damaging to an adult voice and teachers need to be educated to the fact that the larynx MUST be low for any healthy vocalism to result. There are all kinds of voices within any school. It is time that people realized that you cannot make a voice sound like someone else. I become extremely suspicious of bad teaching when singers from any given studio sound alike. This means they are 'creating a false sound' by using rigidity in the throat or larynx. Lindquest once said that the voice should have it's own thumb print. In other words, NO voice should sound exactly like another. Our voices are as individual as our finger print and we must be taught to realize our individuality. García's 'coup de glotte' helps any singer find his/her individual sound; an absolute must for healthy singing.

Careful Supervision of This Concept

It is critical that this concept of García's be carefully supervised. Taken too far, it can be misused and can become dangerous to vocal health. Remember García says NOT to take the concept too far. The singer should NEVER control the flow of air at the glottis. This is bad vocalism and extremely dangerous. Remember that breath is ONLY controlled healthily by the lower body muscles. (See article on breath and breath management.) There are several ways of balancing the 'coup de glotte' and I will speak of these concepts at this time.

  1. Sigh through the nose. Keep a small feeling of air continuing through the nasal port while using a high soft palate position. This concept will allow a healthy amount of air through the glottis.

  2. Keep the tongue position of Lindquest's 'ng'. The tongue will feel close to the roof of the mouth. It will discourage using the root of the tongue to control the outflow of air.

  3. The jaw should be gently in a slightly down and back position in order to keep the 'ng' tongue position

  4. The larynx should gently lower at inhalation as the tongue comes up and forward to the 'ng' position.

  5. Body support: place the tongue between the lips and sing a 5-tone scale in the middle register. You will feel the slight air through the nose. If you begin the tone as though you are blowing your nose, you will support with the lower body muscles, the tongue will be free, jaw back and larynx low; all at the same time.

I have offered three different experiences with singers who had suffered great vocal stress from a lack of healthy vocal cord closure. There are countless singers out there looking for the missing piece of information which will guide them back to vocal health. It is crucial that the correct and gently closure of the vocal cords be present for any singer to create balance in singing.

(c) David L. Jones/2001

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