About Anna Karlsson
Mezzosoprano Anna Karlsson (Mag.art.) is a professional singer and singing teacher
Anna Karlsson first studied languages (Swedish and German) at the University of Helsinki. She, however, changed over to study economics and graduated from Hanken School of Economics in Helsinki. Not until at the age of 22 she started taking singing lessons as a hobby, but soon began to dream of becoming a professional opera singer. After some years of studying in Finland she continued her studies at the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna. She made her diplomas (Lied and Oratorio 1988 and Opera 1989) and achieved also the academic degree of Magister artium 1992 at the department of Cultural Management.
After her studies in singing Anna Karlsson was teaching singing (1989-1991) to amateur singers in Tulln A-Capella- chorus in Austria. She worked also as singing teacher in Gumpoldskirchen music school near Vienna.
1991 she got an engagement in the Finnish National Opera chorus and sang there until retirement from chorus 2010. Alongside the work in the opera chorus she continued to teach privately, first different amateur singers and since 2005 also professional singers, who became interested in her different way of teaching, which gave good results. Anna Karlsson has also given own concerts regularly.
Because of her own technical difficulties, for which she couldn´t get sufficient help from her teachers, Anna Karlsson started to research the physically right way of singing. She then, gradually, developed her own, very concrete singing teaching method. It is a holistic, physical method, which helps the student to understand and consciously control over the physical process to produce the singing voice and achieve a balanced and healthy way of singing.
Anna Karlsson has now written a book of her method (368 pages), that describes in a logic and understandable way how the voice, breathing and body work together in the singing process. The book is written in the Finnish language, Anna Karlsson teaches in Finnish, Swedish, German and English.
About the Dilaton Method
I encountered during training some recurring problems with my voice; I had weak laryngeal muscles and a tense inflexible body, which resulted in me becoming hoarse after prolonged bouts of singing practice and unable to continue singing. I found that traditional singing techniques and methods were no longer helping me, and I began to question my own singing. I dissected my own singing technique to look at why I was having problems. I realized, that my tongue was very lazy and flabby, therefore it was difficult for me to use my tongue in a flexible, natural manner whilst I was singing. Through trial and error and research I began to understand the enormous impact that the muscle, that is the tongue, had upon breathing and singing.
I realized that only a muscle that “works”, properly relaxes. It was at that moment that a new life began for me.
As a result of my experiences I developed a technique, which I call The Dilaton Method. The word Dilaton is composed from the words diaphragm, larynx and tongue, and describes the whole mechanism used whilst singing, which I call the breathing pump. Within this method the breathing pump will be understood to consist of the diaphragm, pulmonary ligament, trachea, larynx, tongue and soft palate. In this breathing pump the tongue is the compelling force.
During a singers´s training the topic of tongue relaxation and movement is often broached, and whilst some teachers pay a great deal of attention to the effect of the tongue upon the production of sound, some teachers do not mention its effect, apart from to demand that the tongue be totally relaxed, behind the teeth, upon the floor of the mouth. It is important for teachers to realize that the physical qualities of each student can be very different; some of them (very few) may have strong laryngeal muscles and an undisturbed breathing contact, whereas some students may be very stiff and inflexible in the larynx area. To these two groups the idea of “tongue relaxation” will mean very different things.
If the tongue is lazy and flabby during breathing and singing (unfortunately the word “relaxed” is often understood as “flabby”, which is not correct and can be very misleading), the breath, sound production and muscle movement are uncoordinated, in my words, there is no breathing contact. This lack of contact will be the cause of, and at the root of, all future difficulties in singing and will prevent any real development of a student.
During singing the air must flow through the vent, which is formed by the closed vocal cords. The necessary condition for the function of this vent is the force produced whilst lifting the tongue muscle to its right place; this keeps the larynx open and free and only then will the vent work properly.
It is then possible for the diaphragm to relax upwards against the resistance of this vent. It is only through the co-operation of tongue, soft palate, larynx and diaphragm that the air in the lungs will be pumped out. Not only will the tongue become flat and relaxed, but it will also actively direct the flow of air.
As a result of correct breathing the muscles are able to work properly. It is important to note that the muscles should not be set in a certain position in the belief that this will facilitate correct breathing – it does not.
As we inhale into the “breathing pump” a counter movement is produced in the muscles. This proves that we do not need to open our ribcage or push our stomachs forward in order to facilitate correct breathing- these things will happen automatically. Usually, singers do not have problems with lack of lung capacity, problems usually occur during exhalation. If the tongue is lazy, the “breathing pump” does not work and exhalation cannot be properly completed. As a result sufficient breath cannot be taken into the body during the next in-breath.
During exhalation muscles will be balanced and the spine gets straight, because the pressure against the muscles will diminish causing a certain feeling of relaxation in them. A correct “working” muscle is never under strain, and it is never a restraint, so as the muscles are freed the spine straightens, the student is free to be active, but also relaxed at the same time. This will only happen if the exhalation process is correct.
With the help of the exercises of The Dilaton Method a student can gradually learn a balanced way of producing sound without getting hoarse. A student gets also help to understand the reasons behind traditional dogmas and techniques that are often used in the teaching of singing.
Within The Dilaton Method, it is essential that the tongue (more or less sunk into the pharynx) be moved upwards and forwards to its right position, so that both the larynx and diaphragm can hang freely. This is a hard work. Having lifted the tongue, and therefore larynx, to their desirable position, the air passage will be freed for the voice. It will now be possible to sing so that the air comes through the vent of the closed vocal cords against the resistance of the in-breath. There will be then a sensation of counter-pressure.
As the air is pumped through the vent there will be a particular feeling of relaxation in the muscles of the body as the continuous flow of air makes the diaphragm relax upwards. There is an optimum amount of air flowing out, that the body needs to keep it balanced and in working order. It is only when students understand the working of their own “breathing pump” and apparatus (plus the cause and effect of each part of it), will they be able to sing long sustained phrases using a balanced, controlled amount of air, and be able to sing over long periods without ill effect.
Untrained singers trying to match the long phrasing of their trained colleagues (for example through trying to keep “hold” of their breath – inhalare la voce misunderstood) may lead to catastrophic vocal problems, as the untrained singer will need continually correct their breathing contact throughout their exhalation. They are not yet physically “balanced” and therefore, their instrument is not ready to play.
Through proper exercise the tongue and muscles of the larynx get stronger, the workload of the muscles can then increase and, as a consequence, the spine will get straighter. When a singer´s voice production is correct their body becomes straight, sleek and strong as their muscles, reach an equilibrium; the words “relaxed” and “beautiful” can then be applied when talking about their body.
The Dilaton Method promotes an active state of being, which can be reached, in simple terms, through learning how to breathe properly. If the tongue muscle and larynx, along the rest of the body, are in a balanced working order, then the body will feel and appear relaxed.
The Dilaton Method consists of elementary breathing exercises (I call this breathing “tongue breathing”), specialized exercises to focus breathing to help students feel and understand their body, simple gymnastics and stretching exercises combined with the right breathing method to help students understand the connection between body and breathing. And, very important, special vocal exercises to help the student concrete understand the connection of the air and the voice through the right articulation of the vowel.