Concluding remarks for my voice class: general singing techniques

Some of these are mentioned in my previous posts, but I think it’s good to write a comprehensive post for future reference.

Breathing, posture, resonance, and diction are four integrated components of singing. A good singer always has support and breathes deeply. She should not let muscles in the throat or other parts of the body interfere with her voice. Deep breathing is what differentiates singing from everyday talking. As Dr. Linnartz puts it, “Singing can be pitched talking or beautified hollering”. When we holler we breathe deep using our belly, allowing the air to go all the way up into our skull. We therefore produce a much fuller voice than when we simply “attach” pitch to talking in words. Deep breathing is the basis of professional singing and a lifelong practice that every singer needs to maintain.

A correct posture is a necessary condition for good singing. Singers should always keep a “high neck”, with “neck” referring to where the spine joins the skull. Keeping the “neck” high forces us to open our chest and straighten our back, which then allows us to breathe deeper and makes sure air flows freely from our belly all the way to our head. Singers also need to have an athletic stance, with feet apart, one in front of the other as if you are ready to fight. Make sure your front leg carries some weight and you are not too laid back.

With correct posture and breathing, resonance gives our voice richness and a fine texture. It is important to find the “buzz” position in our head and project our voice into the resonator. Singing “in a high position” entails buzzing the space above your nose and projecting your voice in your head. Try “Mmmm….”, first without pitch and then with pitch. Feel the vibration above your nose, and that is what we call a “buzz”. As singers, we need to maintain that buzz no matter what consonants or vowels we are singing. More “buzzing” also enhances your presence in the room.

Diction is an important yet often ignored part for singing. Good breathing, posture and resonance might ensure a singer to always be on the pitch, but they do not guarantee the singer can perform a song at its entirety. Every syllable in the lyrics matters, because any inadvertent mistake or imprecise pronunciation gets amplified in singing. For example, I tend to swallow the “n” and “d” sounds when I sing, and that gives the audience a sense of “unfinishedness”. These end-of-word consonants need to be clearly pronounced without falling off the pitch.

Here are a few more specific rules in diction:

1. Never say “r” before a consonant or at the end of a word, unless the next word in the sentence begins with a vowel sound. Such cases are plenty in Over the Rainbow.

2. Words ending with “n” and “d” should not be silenced. This is often overlooked, and I remember my choir conductor reminding us all the time.

3. Delay the second part of a diphthong to the very end of a sentence. A good example is “Oh hush little baby, don’t you CRY” (from Summertime) where the “i” sound should be placed at the very end.

4. Vowel modification is necessary in high pitch. For example, it is useful to sing “r-ah” for “rain” in “just a step beyond the rain” (from Over the Rainbow).

Good singers turn on their full energy when they are performing. When we talk with others, we can get by vague pronunciation and low sounds by just guessing. Unfortunately, inadequate energy will make a singing performance a nightmare for the audience. The prevalence of microphones and amplifiers makes it unnecessary for singers to produce a loud volume, but this shouldn’t be a reason to compromise their sound quality. It is useful to imagine yourself in a big theater without any voice-amplifying device and try to make yourself heard. Enunciation is needed to make the words clearer and the performance fuller.

It is also important to put your song in a particular context which you can relate to. Attaching meaning to a song makes memorizing the lyrics much easier, and it allows the singer to incorporate her emotions naturally into the song. Singing a song over and over again doesn’t necessarily improve one’s familiarity with the lyrics, not to mention a fuller understanding of what the song is about. Singing sometimes can mute the emotions within words by adding flowing melodies to them. Speaking them out allows us to savor the feelings conveyed by the lyrics and become more aware of what the author wants to achieve through the song. We should always make sure we understand every word in the lyrics, not only its dictionary definition but also its context and implications. For example, in the song Danny Boy, the pipes are calling as a sign of war, and son is leaving home to the army and he has an unpredictable future ahead of him. This explains why the father is worried (“If I am dead, as dead I well may be”).

 

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