Legato in the Professional Singing Voice

 

As another element of the professional singing voice, legato is equally as important as the rest.  A smooth, seamless, flowing, seemingly-unending line is essential in the classical music repertoire.  Not only does it sweep the listener away, but it relaxes the listener as well.  There is a palpable feeling of ease that is transmitted by a singer with a true legato and easy breath production.

Singers can fall into the trap of looking a written music, read demarcation of the line there through the visual appearance of the notes and fail to sing a real legato line.  In truth, a legato line is the default in most circumstances and has to be built into the technique of the singer.  Enunciation of consonants does not stop legato, as can be heard with accomplished singers.  Instead, the consonants become part of the line of continuous, beautiful sound.

As I have shown in this series of posts, those qualities that are vocally healthy are also often the most satisfying for an audience.  Legato is another one of those qualities.  It is extremely healthy for the singer to sing a legato line and is the basis of a good, solid technique.  Once true legato has been accomplished and is the default for a particular voice, it is possible to learn how to sing more detached vocal lines, as are sometimes required by various styles and composers.  But a healthy approach to detached singing must first be based on the proven ability to produce a wonderful legato line.

 

Here are some examples of great singers using legato:

In this example, lyric soprano Mirella Freni uses a wonderful legato line throughout her impassioned rendition of “Un bel di vedremo” from Madama Butterfly.  Her soaring lines ride on that legato and free breath.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QERpXO5fDDg

 

Here, Grace Bumbry sings “Chiamo il mio ben cosi” from Orfeo ed Eruidice with a flowing legato.  As a singer who vacillated between soprano and mezzo roles during her career, her technique was sometimes uneven.  However, in this earlier recording, it is solid and reliable.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YSKSSKmJ6L8

 

The incomparable Lauritz Melchior exemplified legato singing, but also was a master of the more detached delivery required by some Wagnerian repertoire.  In this example, he sings “In fernem Land” from Lohengrin, which requires mainly legato singing, but some detached singing, as well.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C9wwA5ldjM8

 

As comparison, here is Melchior singing an excerpt from Die Walküre, “Sigmund heiß ich,” with Lotte Lehmann.  It requires more detached singing, which he does brilliantly with no change in production.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ORfewXvhMp8

 

Here is an example of George London singing “O du, mein holder Abendstern” from Tannhäuser.  This is a Wagnerian aria that requires a seamless legato, which he provides with his magnificent voice and technique.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f2fOakXfA2g

 

True, seamless legato singing has a foundation built on correct breath inhalation and exhalation.  The inhalation should be relaxed, expansive, and enough for the needs of the particular phrase, but not too much.  Overbreathing causes a build-up of subglottal pressure that then detrimentally affects the phonation of the vocal cords and, consequently, the quality of the sound and the ability to sing a true legato line.  Ideally, the breath should be reflexive (triggered by the natural reflexes in the body), which allows the effort extended to be exactly what is necessary and no more.  Time, attention and experimentation are needed to learn how to inhale correctly by releasing and expanding the lower rib cage and abdominal wall, while keeping the sternum and upper torso relaxed and uninvolved.  Coordination is all.

Correspondingly, the exhalation should be easy, unforced and controlled by activation and resistance in all of the areas mentioned in previous blogs:  the lower back, abdominal wall, solar plexus and pectorals via the sternum.  But all of the resistance in the world is futile if the air is not allowed to flow out freely.  Due to the laws of physics, the higher level of air pressure in the lungs after inhalation compared to the space around the body willcause the air to come out on its own.  It does not need to be pushed out, but instead it needs to be allowed out in a controlled manner using body resistance.  The lower back does the work as the ribs contract in a slow, down and inward movement.  Many singers mistake body resistance for holding on to the breath and keeping the ribs open, resulting in choppy singing and a held, tight, stuck sound.  Great, legato singing always has free breath and a free rib cage behind it.

Another necessity for a true legato is correct nasal resonance, as also previously discussed.  By training and integrating ring into the voice through the “ng”, there is a wonderful vehicle for the singer to use to maintain a continuous legato line.  I explain to my students that the ng is like a monorail for the voice – you begin the phrase with the ng ring and simply continue to allow that to vibrate as you ride along it to the end of the phrase.  It makes singing a true legato line much, much easier, but is again based on allowing the right coordination to happen versus forcing it.

Along with the above concepts, it is important that the singer truly looks at the music being sung and understands that the visual representation of the music through notes is misleading to the eye and can be unconsciously interpreted to include small, sometimes imperceptible pauses between notes.  A long, legato phrase consisting of a series of notes has white spaces after each note and before the next, sometimes leading the singer either to relax the energy toward the end of a note or stop the sound all together.  Clearly, this is not legato singing.  While this is more prevalent in beginning or intermediate students, even advanced students and professionals can fall into this trap.  Utilizing correct nasal resonance and becoming aware of the necessity of singing through the note and into the next one can rectify the issue.

Exercises

Utilizing some of the exercises previously explained in this series will help greatly with developing true legato singing.

 

Lower back expansion and the Rev –http://www.singalexander.com/blog/2013/6/Vibrato-in-the-Professional-Singing-Voice-Part-II

 

Ng, NyE-ri-tu-mi-kya-nya-bE-la and NyE –http://www.singalexander.com/blog/2013/5/Training-Ring-Into-the-Voice

 

Additionally, making sure that the ribs are moving in consistently, albeit slowly, on exhalation is crucial.  Often, singers stop the ribs before exhalation is complete, leaving excess air in the lungs that then builds up breath after breath and creates problems.  There should be a downward expansion of the lower, floating ribs (those unattached at the front) at the very end of the exhalation.  Since breathing is such an important function that can have physical and emotional connections, sometimes singers need additional help to release the ribs.  Working with an Alexander Technique or a Stough teacher can offer new insight into this important function and create a freer, more reflexive and healthier habit.

Conclusion

A true, flowing, legato line is of the utmost importance in classical singing and singers must incorporate that to achieve a professional sound.  A free breath with lower body resistance is a prerequisite, along with ring and an understanding of what legato is.

 

For more articles and information, visit my website, http://www.thebricelandstudio.com

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