How to Use Songs as Exercises – “Etudes”

This week I want to talk about how to use songs as exercises. Those of you who have read my prospectus will know that the later stage of building a voice is to sing songs, both in lessons and as long-term goals.

Here’s the challenge

Singing songs without any consideration to the technical demands of those songs will generally exacerbate existing vocal/technical issues. This is why technical assessments and exercises to address technical issues must be dealt with first.

However, once you’ve begun to address your technical issues, we have got to get you stuck into songs. Exercises are just the forerunner to singing songs, not a replacement for them.

We are not going to just put off singing songs until your voice is “ready“. We’ve got to get you and your voice stuck into the very material you want to sing. Through doing so we will integrate your on-going technical development into the songs themselves.

This is the whole point of voice training, for everyone, at all levels of development

Sing songs every day

It’s important that songs form a regular daily part of your vocal development regime. For example, even just 10 minutes of exercises to get your voice warm and co-ordinated, followed by 10 minutes (or as long as you like) of singing songs, can form a very potent protocol to develop your voice.

This is not just from a performance/rendition perspective, but as a form of etude… Continue reading “How to Use Songs as Exercises – “Etudes””

The Colours of the Voice: How and why different registers have their own sound and feel (part 3 of 3)

In part 1, we discussed how the voice is made up of various registers, connected by transition points we call bridges. Each have their own colour, sound and feel. But learning about the idiosyncrasies of the voice is hard without some context to place it in. So let’s consider some other instruments first.

In part 2, we identified how every instrument has it’s own idiosyncrasies. We looked at piano and guitar, and how each has their own rules/ins and outs that need to be learned over a lifetime of playing the instrument.

For part 3, let’s look at how this relates to the voice. Continue reading “The Colours of the Voice: How and why different registers have their own sound and feel (part 3 of 3)”

The Colours of the Voice: How and why different registers have their own sound and feel (part 2 of 3)

In part 1, we discussed how the voice is made up of various registers, connected by transition points we call bridges. Each have their own colour, sound and feel. But learning about the idiosyncrasies of the voice is hard without some context to place it in. So let’s consider some other instruments first.

 

Part 2: Instrument idiosyncrasies

Every instrument has it’s own idiosyncrasies. Things they do well, and things they don’t. There are always quirks that you need to learn to exploit each instrument fully.

EXAMPLE 1: The Piano

Consider the piano. Up high on the piano, one can play a very dense chord with a LOT of notes very close to each other, and it will sound good. But do the same thing down low, it’s a disgusting mess. Why is this? Continue reading “The Colours of the Voice: How and why different registers have their own sound and feel (part 2 of 3)”

The Colours of the Voice: How and why different registers have their own sound and feel (part 1 of 3)

I’ve been trying to write about this for some time, but it’s not easy.

Firstly, it’s a fairly abstract topic.

Secondly, so much of singing well is sensory as well as sonic. As such, trying to get less experienced singers to recognise descriptions of what higher registers should feel like without said singers having experienced it themselves, is a somewhat futile endeavour. The discussion inevitably becomes more academic than instructive.

Thirdly, it’s sufficiently complex enough that it isn’t easy to provide a concise explanation for.

Nevertheless, the idea that different parts of the voice have their own distinct qualities and ‘colours’ to them is evident when you listen to great singers. Whether that’s great classical singers, pop singers, rock singers, musical theatre, etc.

The objective of this article is to help people appreciate this as a concept, and also to understand the idiosyncrasies of the various registers of the voice. To do this, and to make sure the structure of this longer articles is clear, I’ve split the explanation into three parts:

Part 1: How the voice is built – We’ll do a quick tour of how the voice is built and works, to provide context for later explanations.

Part 2: Instrument Idiosyncrasies – Before diving into discussing the voice, we’ll illustrate the same principles by referring to other more easily discussed instruments, e.g. how they work, how they like to played, what works well/what doesn’t, etc.

Part 3: Idiosyncrasies of the Voice – At this stage, we should have enough context and illustrations of the principles we are seeking to discuss, and we can grasp how these relate to the voice.

Feel free to visit these part by part rather than trying to digest it in one go. Either way, let’s get started with part 1.

 

Part 1: How the voice is built

You can read a more fully-featured discussion on the way the voice works here. For now, let’s do a whistle-stop tour.

At the bottom end of our instrument, is what many refer to as chest voice. This is the lowest and darkest sounding register of the voice.

The top end of the voice is, broadly speaking, referred to as head voice.

The chief transition point from chest to head voice occurs in different places for men vs women, but it must nevertheless occur. In our nomenclature, we call this the first bridge (also known as the first passage (passagio), etc).

There are other bridges (read: transition points from one register to another), lying within what we would call head voice. There is a second bridge, a third bridge, a fourth bridge, etc.

These occur at distinct points roughly every half octave, but the first and second bridges are by far the most well-observed aspects in the history of vocal pedagogy.

Who should learn to deal with their first bridge?

Honestly, everyone should. Here’s why. Continue reading “The Colours of the Voice: How and why different registers have their own sound and feel (part 1 of 3)”

The Bad Habits that Different Genres Foster in Singers

There are many challenges involved in helping someone to build their voice. Different levels of ability, facility, ages, voice types, musical experience vs lack thereof, etc. All of these play a part in how rapidly we can develop a voice. On top of that, some people are more effective in how they practice at home, which means we can progress faster.

The people who find it hardest

One thing I’ve noticed those who find it the hardest are often the people with MORE musical and singing experience, rather than less. Often they’ve been singing that way for years, so not only are there underlying habits to address, but often such singers already feel they know what they’re doing and just need a little help.

NOTE: As a life-long musician, this was 100% me when I started. I was in tune, I didn’t sound that bad, yet it was such a slog at the start. Why did it feel so hard? Truthfully, I had a lot of bad habits, and a lot of things that were – quite simply – foundational elements to building a voice that I wholly lacked. As such, I can fully empathise with those who end up thinking “Oh my word, I feel like I’m rubbish at this! Why is it so complicated?!

In this article, I wanted to talk about bad habits that certain types of genre tend to cultivate in singers. Sometimes these habits are horrendous, sometimes they are oh-so-subtle, but in most cases they have become near enough invisible to the singer, so they don’t even realise they are doing it.

“Their habit has become background noise, interfering with their ability to control their instrument, yet they cannot hear it.”

Continue reading “The Bad Habits that Different Genres Foster in Singers”

Sounding your best: Optimising songs for your voice

There’s a quote falsely attributed to Albert Einstein:

“If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live the rest of its life thinking it’s stupid.”

While Einstein appears not to have said this, and this quote can often be misapplied, the underlying sentiment is an important one when it comes to getting the best out of your voice.

Make sure it’s not the song leading your voice astray

If we are judging our vocal ability based on songs that don’t suit our voice, we will forever be disappointed in what we can do. Perfectly chosen song choice is so case-by-case and hard to give generalised advice on via the written word, ergo it’s beyond the scope of this article.

However, almost any song can be adjusted to work better in someone’s particular voice, especially when it comes to key choice. All too often, people find songs feel awful, when in reality an often subtle key change can radically transform how the song feels to sing. But a wrong key that’s too high/too low (often by even one semitone), will often leave us disheartened and frustrated by how “off” our voices feel and sound.

This is especially true for those who sing in bands, where key choice is imposed upon them. Even for singers who maybe accompany themselves, they know all too well how key choice can make some songs soar and others crash and burn. And very often in bands, other musicians simply don’t quite realise how critically important key choice is for singers.

As such, I thought I’d comment a little on this topic, primarily regarding how to make sure you sound your best in the face of ignorance or even our own ego. Continue reading “Sounding your best: Optimising songs for your voice”