The Triumvirate of Vocal Resonance

Many vocal pedagogues address vocal resonance in only an indirect manner with their students, using visualizations, imitation of the teacher and the like to get their points across.  This method can be haphazard and give singers just a partial understanding and, thereby, only partial access to crucially-necessary resonance, limiting not only the beauty and health of their voices, but also future career opportunities.  It is a much better approach to address the individual aspects of vocal resonance one by one and then work systematically to combine them into the overall technique.

There is a triumvirate of vocal resonance that needs to work in tandem for the optimum health and beauty of the classical voice.  The concepts themselves are well-known:  a lowered larynx and expanded pharynx; an expanded soft palate and oro-pharynx and nasal resonance/ring.  These are the areas where it is possible to expand the pharyngeal resonance chambers and thereby alter the sound of the human voice for the better.  It is imperative not only that each of these areas be taught to expand in the correct manner, which takes detailed, concentrated work, but that these concepts then be trained to work together.

This idea is impossible for some singers to grasp.  “How can I maintain a high soft palate and back space while having frontal resonance?” “How can my larynx stay low when my soft palate is raised?”  Both are questions I have often heard in my voice studio.  I, too, was taught as a young singer that I had to make a choice between forward resonance or back space, a lowered larynx or a high soft palate, that the ability to maintain two or three of these openings simultaneously was only for the gifted few.  While it is true that some singers can open all of these resonance spaces naturally, it is absolutely possible for everyone to learn open these resonators and thereby drastically improve their voices.  Eventually, the very oppositional nature of the necessary expansion become a guide for singers, as they learn it is that expanded, relaxed, open space that is necessary for their optimum sound.

The exercises of the Swedish-Italian Technique that I have offered and explained in detail previously, when learned correctly and practiced with precision, are extremely effective in training the triumvirate of vocal resonance.  It is important for each concept to be learned individually and then combined.  An experienced, knowledgeable teacher is needed to help guide the singer in the process.  Advanced singers can pick up these exercises, grasp the fundamentals from the teacher more quickly and then work on their own to effect positive changes, but beginners and intermediate singers do require more consistent, hands-on instruction and reinforcement.

Below are several exercises that work on the triumvirate of vocal resonance.

Ng

The ng exercise trains correct nasal resonance while the soft palate is raised.  The pop on the held 8th should be sudden and this initial “ah” should be held as the soft palate continues to lift and widen and the back wall of the mouth expands.  After achieving that openness, maintain it on the descending arpeggio.  The cough off is a quick, easy expulsion of excess air through an open pharynx, initiated by an abdominal kick.

1 – 3       rest          3 – 5       rest         5 – 8 (hold)

ng       cough off     ng       cough off    ng               (keep singing)

 

8 (hold)  5 – 3 – 1

(pop)   ah –   –   –   –   –   –  –

 

Laryngeal Tilt

This can be experienced passively by dropping the jaw, monitoring the position of the larynx with gentle fingers and very slowly closing the jaw, allowing the larynx to remain in the same position.

In singing, the larynx must be dealt with delicately, always going for the relaxed open feeling of the beginning of the yawn.  The larynx should not be pushed or held, but gently encouraged.  In the slow, three-note exercise below, the first note should be sung with the larynx in its normal position.  On the slide up to the second note, the larynx should be encouraged to relax and drop to a lower position without manipulation.  That relaxed, lower position should be maintained on the final note.  This is to be done low in the range initially and taken up higher when mastered, with the understanding that the larynx will not release down as much for higher notes, since the larynx itself has to be in a slightly higher position during their execution.

1                      3                      1

ee – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

slide                slide

 

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

 

 

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Crucial, Common Technical Mistakes Made by Singers

As a voice teacher, I see a number of the same mistakes being made time and time again by various singers who come to my studio.  These issues crossover to all voice types and are often so small that they are not even caught by teachers and coaches.  However, they do make a real impact on technique over time, so it is well-worth raising your awareness level to ensure that you are not making these errors

Breathing too often

It is very easy to start taking too many quick, unnecessary breaths when singing both vocalises and repertoire.  This may seem like a harmless issue, but each new breath requires the singer to reset every single muscle involved in vocal technique – breath resistance, oro and pharyngeal space, laryngeal position, etc.  Unnecessary breaths make extra work for the singer.  It is much harder to reset for quick breaths than slower breaths at the ends of phrases, run the risk of unintentionally losing your hard-earned technique with this bad habit.

Breathing too often is indicative of the fact that a better, deeper and more relaxed breath needs to be taken at the beginning of the phrase.  Isolate your breathing patterns to ensure that you have the best coordination possible and are utilizing the strong reflexes of the rib cage to help “breathe your body” for you.  Once you have improved your breathing, slowly work the deeper, more relaxed breathing into singing your vocalises and repertoire, stopping and making certain to give yourself enough time to get an ideal breath at the beginning of every phrase.  If you still feel the need to take extra breaths to make it through a normal-length phrase, you have support/breath management issues that you should address with an accomplished teacher.

Over-expanding in rib cage

Once singers get introduced to using the rib cage in breathing for singing, it can be tempting to begin over-expanding the rib cage and forget to release the abdominal wall simultaneously.  There are two main problems with over-expansion in the rib cage.  Firstly, it makes it very difficult to expand in the back when singing, an important part of breath resistance/support, because there is nowhere for the back to expand – it is already too close to its maximum expansion point.    Secondly, it increases the tendency to lock in the rib cage, which keeps the air from flowing freely out of the lungs and has a detrimental effect on the resultant tone quality.  The abdominal wall has its special role to play in breath resistance/support for the voice, so when it is left out of the equation completely, the tone suffers as a result.

The best type of breathing for singing is always balanced between releasing in the abdominal wall and expanding in the rib cage.  One key for you to notice is that it should feel integrated, as if the parts are working in tandem together.  If your rib cage and abdominal wall feel like they are working against each other, you should try to find expert help with your breathing.

Not getting rid of excess air before inhalation

The best coordination for breathing is predicated on having the lungs empty enough of air to trigger the breathing reflex, which expands the rib cage automatically.  However, many singers use very little of the air in their lungs to sing and then have excess sitting there, taking up the space needed by fresh, oxygenated air.  When the lungs sense that they need new, oxygenated air and are unable to bring enough in, a singer feels suffocated.  This feeling indicates to the singer that s/he does not have enough air, when the very opposite is true.

It is important to get rid of excess air before taking in the next breath.  This can be easily accomplished by doing the cough-off, a technique described by Enrico Caruso of using a quick, abdominal kick inward after a musical phrase is completed.  The cough-off expels excess breath, helps stimulate the breathing reflex and prepares the way for a deeper inhalation.   It is a tool that you can effectively utilize to ensure surplus, waste air is expelled efficiently.

Attacking the staccato

Another very common mistake that singers make – from beginners to advanced – is attacking the onset of staccato notes with glottal strokes.  A staccato simply means that the note is short; nothing more, nothing less.  No special onset is required.  It is releasing the note rapidly after onset that creates the desired effect.  However, the need to make the note short affects singers on a psychological level and often drives them to use unnecessary and unhelpful glottal strokes.

Awareness of this issue is the first step.  Then, you must retrain yourself to perform a balanced onset of the vocal cords and release the note quickly afterwards.  Singing the notes as part of a legato phrase first can help, as does working on the thin edge function of the cords.

Important – it can be tempting merely to add an “h” in front of staccato notes, in order to ensure that glottal strokes don’t occur, but that is the wrong way to solve the problem.  Using an “h” consistently without guidance can lead singers to develop an aspirate onset, just as problematic in the long run as the use of glottal strokes.  The ideal is the healthiest coordination of the breath and vocal cords together that is called the balanced onset.

Not energizing entire musical phrase

It is very easy for singers to forget to use enough energy on certain notes in a phrase, while energizing the rest of the notes.  The under-energized notes are often pick-ups at the beginning or the final notes at the end.  It is also common to under-energize lower pitches, even in the middle of a phrase.  These notes are easy for a trained ear to identify, because they don’t have the openness and vibrancy to match the other pitches.  Sometimes, the notes even have a different vibrato, coloration or dynamic level.  But it can be very challenging for a singer to identify under-energized pitches without assistance.

Working with a knowledgeable teacher or coach can help you identify specifically where you are lacking in energy and allow you to rectify the problem.  Once you are more aware of where you are likely to under-energize, it will be easier to work through other repertoire and locate problem spots.  Then, it takes concentration to rework your support in a more consistent manner.

In general, it is important to understand that, for the very best singing, support has to be consistent throughout the musical phrase.  That means it has to be present from the moment prior to initiating the tone (after inhalation is completed) until the moment after phonation ceases.  Picking it up part-way through or supporting only for the high notes will never suffice.  That is why it is important that you, the singer, always be aware of your support system and constantly perfect it.

Not keeping support flexible

Yet another error many singers make is to overdo the support.  This often happens to those singers who took longer to become active in their support systems and, quite specifically, in men.  Once they discover approximately what the muscles are supposed to do, they work too hard, holding the respiratory muscles in place, which locks the outflow of the breath.  Since the whole point behind support is to control the continuous, energized outflow of breath to sustain a longe phrase, this over-muscling is counter-productive.  Tone emitted using a locked support system can never be as beautiful as it should be and will, in fact, shut down the pharynx and have other detrimental effects on the technique.

You should always try to work in gradations when addressing your support system, making sure to keep everything supple and moving all the time.  An organic, balanced coordination of all the elements is the goal.  Support needs to be flexible, so that it can subtly change and adapt to the needs to each individual musical phrase.  It is an excellent idea to do your best to master reflexive breathing discussed in previous articles.  This can then serve as a guide for the best coordination for inhalation, which makes it easier to access the best coordination for singing itself.

Conclusion

By keeping an eye out for these issues when practicing, you will ensure that you do not fall into the common mistakes that trap many an unwary singer!

 

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

Accepting and Understanding Feedback

Accepting feedback is challenging for most people, but is a necessary part of being a singer.  Because we don’t have the ability to hear ourselves and assess our own techniques, we need regular feedback from others.  We also get feedback all of the time from teachers, coaches, friends, family, colleagues, agents and auditioners as a matter of course.  Raising your comfort level for taking in and processing feedback will make your long journey as a singer a much healthier one on emotional and vocal levels.

Positive feedback

Accepting positive feedback is often extremely difficult for singers to do.  Singers tend to be perfectionists and don’t want to admit they are good until they are almost perfect.  That makes it difficult to acknowledge progression along the way.  However, it is very important to recognize and celebrate the small accomplishments.  They are a crucial part of keeping your spirits up and spurring you on to further success.  Without these small steps, the larger steps towards a wonderful vocal technique are out of reach.

One easy way to start recognizing the positive feedback is to keep a journal of the compliments you receive.  Write them down as soon as you can, because they are easy to forget.  As you record them, realize that the person who gave that compliment to you really meant it and made an effort to communicate it to you.  Therefore, the comment deserves your full consideration.  When you have a bad practice session or a bad audition, read through the compliments to lift your mood.  This type of written record will help you develop more perspective on your singing and carry you through the low times.

Negative feedback

All singers have to put up with negative comments – all singers.  Even the greatest singers have had terrible things said about their voices.  But they did not let those comments stop them from pursuing their dreams.  They remembered the comments, as singers do, but they kept working on their singing, until they reached their goals.  The next time you get a negative, hurtful comment, keep that in mind.

Consider the source

All feedback is not equal.  You always have to consider the source.   The constructive feedback of a knowledgeable, experienced teacher who knows your voice is very different from the thoughtless, sarcastic comment from a hungry auditioner who is only thinking about lunch.  Those who hear you just once are reacting to their impressions of the day, filtered through their own understanding.  Since that understanding can vary greatly from those who know the ideals of the different voice types well to those who know very little about classical singing, it is always better to take most feedback with a huge grain of salt.

Ego also plays a huge part in those offering feedback.  If you are singing for someone with the same voice type, that person might be much more critical of you for that reason alone.  S/he wants to feel superior and picks apart your performance to that end.  If you remind an auditioner of an ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend, for example, you might be rejected purely for that reason alone, despite an excellent audition.

There are also voice teachers, not very accomplished at teaching, who blame the student for his/her lack of improvement.  This is quite common in universities and many extremely talented singers give up their professional ambitions as a result, which is a loss to the classical singing world.  If your teacher is consistently negative about your voice and singing and you are not improving, realize that the teacher is blaming you for his/her inability to help and it is probably time to change teachers.

Differences for women vs. men

Because there are so many more women singers in the classical music world, we are therefore subjected to more negative feedback.  It is unfortunate and very unfair, but true.  The next time you do an audition and there are 20 other sopranos for one role and two baritones for two roles, realize that any feedback you receive is going to reflect the fact that every tiny flaw will be scrutinized in the women’s voices, but not in the men’s voice.

True feedback

A lot of negative feedback can be discounted as more reflective of the giver than you the singer.  But if trustworthy sources with expertise and your best interests at heart offer feedback that you don’t like or doesn’t fit with your opinions, be open to giving the feedback some real thought.  This includes changes in fach.  Ask yourself if it could be true and something you need to modify or address.  They could be giving you extremely important information that you need to further your vocal technique and career.  Ignoring this type of helpful feedback will only hurt your singing in the long-run.

Trusting yourself

In the end, it is up to you and you alone to decide what feedback you will believe and allow to affect your opinion of your own voice.  Before you take every comment made to you as the gospel truth, consider the source, the source’s possible motivation and ask yourself, “Do I really believe that to be true?”  (Try to determine the difference between believing and wishing.  We singers all wish for certain things, but need to face the reality of the instruments with which we were born.)  If you don’t believe it to be true, toss it aside.  If you do, act on it by improving and moving upward to a new level of technical accomplishment.  After all, singing is always about constantly assessing, improving and perfecting the voice, in order to bring the highest level of artistry to the stage.  It is a never-ending process.

 

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

The Challenges of Teaching Big Voices

There are a number of unique challenges to teaching big voices.   Large voices are more complex in nature, and there are more variables that can play into taking their development to a professional level.  The impressive nature of their instruments can lead mediocre teachers to excuse vocal faults, believing the voice will be appreciated anyway.  Because of this, it is incumbent upon large-voiced singers to understand that their needs will not be met by every teacher.   They need to keep an eye out for areas of their technique that might be overlooked and underdeveloped.

Vocal problems that are relatively easy to diagnose in small and medium-sized instruments are often much harder to determine in truly big voices.  The problems present themselves in different ways.  Without the requisite experience of teaching other large voices, a teacher can easily mistake one issue for another and lead the student down the wrong technical path.  To work effectively with large voices, a teacher has to be willing to admit that s/he does not necessarily know the correct issue right away and be willing to experiment and find out over a few lessons how that particular voice works.  More experience of hearing the voice should help clarify what the underlying technical issues truly are.  Getting feedback from the student is also a huge help in helping the teacher understand the instrument inside and out.

Good teachers are open to listening to the technical concerns of their students and addressing them in the voice lesson.  This is, in fact, an important part of the process and can clarify the reasons behind certain vocal issues for a teacher.  After all, the singer is the only one who can actually feel what is taking place during phonation.  The feedback of a sensitive singer can play a crucial part in constructing a wonderful vocal technique, so don’t be afraid to speak up.  It is your voice and you have every right to ensure that it is being developed correctly.  The right teacher will listen and respect you for it.

Once well on the way to developing a healthy, working technique, there is the ever-present danger of not going far enough when addressing various technical aspects of the voice.  Because large-voiced singers can often make a lot of sound relatively easily, subtleties can be accidentally overlooked when the voice starts coming together.  It is imperative that all of the necessary components of an excellent technique are addressed and enough time is devoted during practice sessions for the muscle habits to change.  A slapdash effort is not enough.  Here, it is the responsibility of the teacher to ensure that the singer understands what the goals are and how to reach them.  It is the responsibility of the singer to make sure that s/he understands and works towards the goals assiduously, while remaining open and free.  Singing is all about refining the basic principles.  From a technical standpoint, there is nothing else to work on but these basics.

Spinto Tenor

I had an extremely talented spinto tenor come to me recently for lessons.  He told me that he was having issues with his top and with sustaining phrases.  He studied previously with a well-respected teacher and understood all of the necessary components for an excellent technique intellectually.  Many of those components were included as part of his technical coordination, but not all of them.  Some of those that were included were not taken far enough to make the necessary differences in his technique and sound.

This tenor was familiar with the thin edge function, having worked on it in the past.  But he had moved away from reinforcing the concept in his practice sessions and had gradually reverted using more thick mass of the cords.  This is common in singers who don’t take the time to reinforce the concept consistently.  When I took him through the thin edge exercises in his first lesson, reminding him about the correct way to execute the vocaleses, his voice changed dramatically.  As the excess weight dropped away, it gained in size and beauty, taking on a wonderful sheen and polish.  He also found his top was now easily accessible again.

There was still an unusual raspy, static-like sound in this tenor’s voice, the cause of which I was not able to identify immediately.  But I knew his soft palate was “lazy” and was not high and wide enough, so I addressed that.  As his soft palate expanded, I was able to tell that he was lacking in the necessary expansiveness in other areas of his oropharynx and pharynx.  He was doing some expansion, but not enough.  Opening the back and sides of his oropharynx added additional color, size and freedom to his sound.  The same lack of full release of the larynx was true, as well.  The larynx was a little lowered, but not enough and not consistently.  Working on a lowered, relaxed laryngeal position changed the voice even more, increasing the size yet again and, interestingly enough, removing the previous raspy sound.  His voice was now clear as a bell, gorgeous, rich and very resonant.  Through this process, his breath issues disappeared on their own.

This tenor will continue to work with me to learn the full extent to which he needs to apply these concepts and to find the precise balance.  This was clearly an example of either (1) the failure of the previous teacher/s to push a large-voiced singer to implement the required technical changes, (2) a lack of understanding of on the part of the singer of the degree to which the technical changes had to be taken or (3) the failure of the singer to practice intelligently and reeducate the existing coordination until the new habit became second-nature.

 

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

Building a Voice – Lyric Mezzo

Great voices often come to new studios in bad vocal shape, usually the result of poor training.  That was true of an extremely talented mezzo who came to my studio about five months ago.  Having been encouraged by her previous teacher to take chest voice up well beyond the first passagio, her voice was over-weighted, small and she had difficult accessing her top.  The sound was detrimentally affected, leaving her with a pressed, strained, raspy quality that completely hid her true potential.  Of course, her last teacher did not think very much of her talent, because he did not know how to help her develop her magnificent instrument appropriately.  All of his technical instructions just drove her to press on her voice more and more.

Having learned that not all voice teachers are equal, this mezzo did a few trial lessons with various teachers prior to committing to her next teacher.  At her trial with me, we worked specifically on releasing the excess weight and she was able to feel a positive difference in her voice immediately.  When applying that concept to repertoire, her voice felt much healthier, to her great relief.  Because of the drastic difference in how her voice worked in only one lesson, she chose me as her new voice teacher.

Motivated and bright, she was amazed right away the efficacy of the thin edge exercises in her first committed lesson.  In fact, she stopped dead in the middle of doing the first exercise and said, “Why in the world does doing this make my voice feel so much better?”  I explained to her the mechanics behind the concept, which was completely new to her, but understanding allowed her to grasp its importance.  Her voice had a tiny bit of natural ring, but working on correct nasal resonance allowed her to release her need to press her voice, giving her sound more natural ease.  We worked on applying both of those concepts to music in the first several lessons and as she said, they made her singing “feel better than it has in years”.

Practicing the exercises at home reinforced the changes made in her lessons.  She was learning to release the excess weight and to sing based on resonance vs. breath pressure.  Then we addressed her registration issues, working on transitioning to a mix of head and chest voice at the right point for her voice type.  Her lower middle and middle were naturally a little weak, making her slightly reluctant to let go of her old approach.   But she noticed after several weeks that her middle voice was filling out quickly and coming into balance with her already strong chest voice.  Her high range also benefited greatly from less excess weight, making her high notes freer and easier.

Then it was time to address expanding the resonance spaces.  She worked assiduously on teaching her soft palate to extend higher and wider when singing, which, combined with her correct nasal resonance, removed strain from her vocal cords.  The higher soft palate freed her high notes.  Relaxing and lowering her larynx automatically increased the dark color of her vocal instrument and allowed her entire instrument to function more effectively.

This mezzo was well-versed in abdominal breathing, but had never learned balance the work between the abdominals and rib cage.  We worked on freeing her rib cage, so that it was able to expand and contract easily and reflexively.  She worked to incorporate this new type of breathing into her practice sessions and lessons.  Once she was able to use her breathing mechanism correctly, she was ready to learn about a support system that included expanding in the back and activating the pectorals.  Implementing a reliable, suitable breath management system is now her next challenge.

With each of these steps forward, the mezzo’s voice grew in size and freedom.  Soon her voice gained in clarity and beauty as well.  The raspy quality, a result of too much vocal weight and sub-glottal air pressure, disappeared and her voice began to take on a healthy sheen.  It had become apparent (even without the right type of support) that she had a very large, middle weight, lyric instrument, capable of taking on the wonderful French mezzo repertoire, along with the standard Mozart, Handel, Rossini  and Strauss roles.  With continued lessons, her voice will only keep on improving by leaps and bounds, allowing this impressive instrument the chance to be heard in the future at its very best.

 

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

Studying With Your Voice Type

There is a belief held strongly by some teachers and singers that a singer should study for at some point with his/her own voice type, e.g. a tenor studying with a tenor, a mezzo studying with a mezzo, a lyric voice with a lyric, a dramatic voice with a dramatic, etc.  The rationale behind this is that the teacher will have special insight into the workings of the particular vocal mechanism that a teacher of a different voice type would not.  There are teachers who base their teaching careers on this premise.  However, the principles of a healthy vocal technique do not vary appreciably from voice type to voice type, as will be explained below.

It is easy for the uninitiated to believe from the wide range of sounds that the human throat can produce that the techniques to create these sounds must consequently be quite different.  In fact, I was taught this concept in college.  But it is actually the size and shape of the vocal cords themselves that are responsible for creating the particular voice type and the size and shape of the resonators that add warmth, color and size to an instrument.  These set, inherited factors cannot be altered, except by false manipulation that leads to poor-quality singing.  What remains the same for all voice types is the basic technique of how to sing healthily.

All voice types, from the highest coloratura sopranos to the lowest basso profundos, need to learn the same healthy approach to singing for their voices to work at an optimal level.  While the results are vastly different, the technique is basically the same – use of the thin edge function, a released, lowered larynx, an expanded oro-pharynx, employment of the ng ring, a free tongue and jaw and balanced, energetic breath management.  The importance of learning how to implement these concepts correctly with the help of a talented, knowledgeable teacher of any voice type far outweighs any specific insight of a mediocre teacher of the same voice type.

Are there special concepts that pertain to certain voice types and not to others?  Yes, there are.  However, a truly excellent technical teacher will be able to discern what is needed and address any imbalances just as well, if not better, than the average teacher of the same voice type.  The best teachers continue to learn as they teach, constantly increasing their knowledge and understanding of singing and voices.  They notice patterns in students with the same voice type and become very adept at recognizing the aural symptoms of malcoordination in the vocal mechanism.  There can easily be as wide a range of different issues within one voice type as between the different voice types themselves.  Many teachers are only able to address issues that they themselves overcame.  That is why it is of paramount importance to put yourself in the hands of a teacher with a clear understanding of a complete and vocal healthy technique, regardless of voice type.

I witnessed an excellent example of a teacher able to help a singer despite very different voice types.  In college, a highly-accomplished lyric baritone teacher had a particular high soprano as a student.  This soprano enjoyed singing musical theater and had come back to school in the fall with some vocal issues, despite having studied previously with this teacher.  I first heard her sing in chorus and did not think highly of her voice, even though other students who knew her assured me she had a beautiful voice.  At that point, she sounded husky and her vocal production was effortful.  However, after two weeks of lessons, her voice began sounding more polished and her high notes were freer.  Two weeks later, the excess weight ( from singing musical theater in the summer) dropped away and her voice gained in ease.  Two weeks after that, she was singing extremely well and had fabulous, shimmering high notes.  This excellent teacher was able to turn her technique around quickly and effectively, despite being a completely different voice type.  That is the type of instruction that the very best teachers can offer.

Therefore, find the finest voice teacher you possibly can, one who is consistently learning and evolving as a teacher, and concentrate on building your healthy technique.  An intelligent, talented teacher can identify your current issues and address any specific challenges pertaining to your voice type and to specific repertoire.  The teacher’s voice type in relation to yours is much less important than the teacher’s ability to understand all of the requisite vocal coordinations and convey the concepts successfully to students.

 

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

Combining Choral and Solo Singing Successfully

As explained in a previous article, the technical demands of choral and solo singing are very different from each other.  Here are some important tips to ensure a heavy choral rehearsal schedule will not unduly affect your hard-won solo technique.

Beware of your vocal part

Because of composing requirements, choral parts are often written for more the extreme voices, e.g. very high sopranos and tenors and very low mezzos and basses.  If your natural vocal fach does not fall into one of those categories, then the tessitura of your choral music part will be less than ideal for you.  Knowledge here is power.  Once you know your part can affect your solo technique, you can work to mitigate the effects.

For 1st Sopranos and Tenors, your part is likely to have a number of high passages that are not balanced out by enough lower and middle voice singing.  This can lead to the common “high, white, bright” approach, due to a raised larynx and shut-down pharynx.  While some teachers approve of this approach and even train their singers this way, it goes directly against the fundaments of classical vocal technique, which systematically trains a relaxed, lowered laryngeal position and open, expanded pharynx.  This maximizes the size and unique colors of an instrument, while training in the healthy mechanics of the vocal protection and laryngeal tilt.

For high voices, singing the 2nd Soprano or Tenor part is often the better choice, if possible.  It isn’t as showy, I know, but the lower tessitura takes strain off of the larynx and vocal cords that an artificially high tessitura can lead to.

For Altos and Basses, the opposite problem is usually the case.  Your part is likely to be very low with little upper voice singing.  In this situation, it is very easy to get away from the thin edge function, overweight the voice and pull the tongue back in a misguided effort to create more oro-pharyngeal space.  That type of sound is bigger and more colorful in your own ear, but actually sounds muffled or held to the listener.

If a 1st Alto or 1st Bass part is available, that is a better option for baritones and many mezzos.   With the expanded range of notes sung, that can aid in balancing out the temptation to add too much unnecessary vocal weight in your lower range, making your high notes difficult.

When it is not possible to change to a different part or the part is quite difficult, pay close attention to the music and identify places to take a short break from singing.  Note passages that are only high or only low for several phrases.  Do you feel any strain or changes to your solo technique when singing those back to back in rehearsal?  Are there other passages in which you feel strain or unusual adjustments?  These are the places you need to be aware of.  Observe at the musical requirements there – dynamics, words, phrasing, etc. – and then listen to your section.  Figure out the best place to drop out for a moment to give your voice a break without changing the sound of the section as a whole and where you can sneak back in again.  Experiment during rehearsals to see if it works and if your voice feels better.  Continue to find other similar places in the music to take a short break until you feel that you can sing with your normal solo technique during rehearsals.

Don’t forget your breath resistance

Let me reiterate that it is extraordinarily easy to sing without support in choral rehearsals.  When sitting for extended periods and singing with others, maintaining your normal breath resistance for solo singing can seem unnecessary.  But it is crucial to overcome this sense of apathy.  When the breath resistance changes, vocal coordination changes and the voice itself does not function in the same way.  In order to use your choral rehearsal time to help versus hinder you, it is crucial to ensure that you are using your normal coordination for breath resistance.

Practice before and after rehearsals

Since choral rehearsals are often long, this may seem like a strange suggestion.  However, reinforcing your solo technique prior to a choral rehearsal is a great way both to warm up and remind your vocal mechanism exactly how you want it to work during the rehearsal.  You don’t have to sing for an extended period of time – 10 to 15 minutes will usually do.  Choose exercises that will help combat the tendency of your choral part as mentioned previously.  Make sure to pay attention to your breathing and breath resistance for singing.

After the rehearsal, if your voice is not tired, go back into the practice room and do several of the same exercises to balance out your vocal functioning.  Sing a little bit of repertoire, including the parts of your voice that will be less utilized in the choral rehearsal.   Just a few minutes will reinforce the right vocal coordination.  If your voice is tired after your rehearsal, wait until it feels rested and then go into the practice room and work carefully through your technical exercises then.

Conclusion

There is no quick, guaranteed way to maintain your solo technique during choral singing.  But getting help from a knowledgeable teacher, knowing your own instrument, making intelligent choices based on personal experience and reinforcing the best vocal habits consistently can help keep your choral obligations from interfering with your crucially important technique for solo singing.

 

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