Follow by Email

Monday, May 6, 2013

THE NEED FOR VOCAL STAMINA IN BIG SINGING

One of the key elements to being able to sing with a big, full, rich and resonant sound is stamina. It is one thing to make big sounds, but quite another to be able to make these sounds throughout an aria or song; and even more throughout a whole opera or concert. This most vital component is something that is not considered in vocal training today by most teachers, and especially those in universities. This is due to the fact that in those settings the teachers are required to put out singers at such a fast rate that the time needed to really develop a voice is severely curtailed. So they are forced to get singers to learn music to be able to perform in recitals which are required by the schools. This makes it impossible for big voices to thrive. Smaller voices have an easier time with this kind of curtailed process because they are less difficult to train. Bigger voices take much longer and require increased attention.

When a singer with a big voice decides to train they are dealing with developing bigger muscles. Those muscles take longer to develop. Not only do they take longer to develop, but also it takes longer for them to gain stamina. So we have two important components to training:

1) Developing the muscles needed to sing

2) Developing stamina to sustain big singing


A student will often find that in the beginning of their training that they are able to make some big, beautiful and impressive sounds. And they will often talk about how much easier these sounds are to make when they are done correctly. However, the ability to sustain these sounds throughout a musical piece is a whole other can of worms. This is where composers do not make it easy either; and in particular with bigger voices. The repertoire for more dramatic voices contain more low notes, but also many more high notes than the lighter repertoire. The dramatic singer is required to constantly go up and down the scale and also to sustain long, held out lines. This takes incredible stamina. On top of all of that the composers usually write the high note climax at the end of the aria - which only makes sense. This adds to the need for stamina.

Often I will hear young or developing bigger voices (and also smaller voices) make these big, full, rich sounds. However, since they cannot maintain that sound throughout the aria, the high note at the end will suffer. Many teachers and coaches will try to avoid this by lightening the voice so as to make it less taxing on the singer. The problem with this approach is that it skirts dealing with the issue at hand by avoiding it. When that happens the singers never reach their full potential. Instead of engaging the sound fully and gaining the stamina to do so, they are told to lessen the sound. Consequently, we never hear what the voice could have been at its prime development. This is one of the main differences in the singers of the golden age compared to the singers of the current age. The older singers had much bigger, fuller, more beautiful and richer voices. They were able to thrill us with the sheer beauty, power and mastery of their voices. This also included the ability to sing piano, decrescendo and crescendo. If a singer never gets to their full vocal potential then all we hear is the ability to hit notes instead of the ability to thrill.

Young singers and older singers alike need not forget the importance of vocal stamina. If you are making big, free sounds, but you just lack the ability to sustain them to the end of an aria do not give up on them. Remember that it takes time to build up your muscular stamina. Athletes and artist athletes such as ballet dancers know the need for stamina. And singers, being athletic artists themselves, also need to remember this fact. Stick to developing your muscles and stamina so that you can achieve your ultimate potential. There is nothing more thrilling than that.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

CAN A WOMAN TEACH A MALE VOICE?

This is a very tricky question. Mainly due the the fact that people tend to become very sensitive with anything that seems to involve a "battle of the sexes". I assure you, however, this has nothing to do with those issues. This is going to be a blog on the practicality and reality of women teaching men; and in particular the classical male voice.

It is important to point out some facts regarding the classical male and classical female singing voices. First, men sing in chest voice for their whole range. Women sing in headvoice for most of their range, except for the lower notes below F#4. secondly, the male voice develops, generally, a heavier instrument during puberty. You will notice that the thyroid cartilage increases in size and also the voice lowers considerably as the vocal folds thicken. Therefore their voices are heavier and deeper than a woman's voice. Chest voice is when the thyroarytenoid muscles is dominantly active. Headvoice has less thyroarytneoid and the cricothyroids are more dominant. Headvoice is therefore a lighter sound than chest voice.

Since men sing in full chest all the way up to their highest notes, they also must master what is called the "covered" voice. This makes it possible for the chest voice to stay dominant all the way up. This voice is what Corelli, Pavarotti etc. described as being crucial for the high notes. Women do not sing in this covered voice. So they have no practical way of understanding what it is and how it works. They can understand this voice intellectually, but they cannot and do not sing in this voice. This makes it a very difficult endeavor to teach it because a teacher must be able to demonstrate the correct sounds. This is why the greatest male singers in history were taught by other men. Pavarotti, Gigli, Caruso, Di Stefano, Volker, Mardones, Ruffo, Siepi, Del Monaco, Corelli and so on. In fact, I cannot name a single great male singer of the Golden Age who was vocally developed and trained by a woman. There very well might be an exception, but I do not know of one. And this is due the the reasons I described above.

On the other hand, a man can teach a woman to sing with great success. The reason being is that a man sings in chest voice and headvoice. Therefore, it is easy for him to understand both voices intellectually as practically. And male teachers have taught some of the greatest female singers in history. Since women do not "cover" in the way men do, it does not work the other way around. Unfortunately. It would be great if it was possible, but I firmly believe that it is not possible. At least not on a very high level. However, I do believe that women can certainly teach men how to sing to a degree. They can teach them how the breathing works, what chest voice is, how to get core to the sound, what vibrato is and what headvoice is etc. They might even be able to teach, to a degree, some of the "covered" voice in that they could get them to sing EE or OO higher in their range. There is much more to it than that though. You have to move to the other vowels, it is a process getting to them, you have to learn how to sing mezza voci sometimes covered, sometimes you must exaggerate the cover in areas and so on.

None of this is to dissuade women from teaching men at all. I think they can do a very good job up to the point where the covered needs to be worked on. So perhaps younger male singers can learn well the foundations and development from a female singer, but eventually the covered voice will have to be worked on and mastered. This will take working with a skilled male teacher who can sing in the covered chest voice, has developed that voice himself, and knows technically how to do it. This is also not a put down to women, but rather a reality. There are many things a woman can do that a man cannot do. Or things she can understand more than a man because she can do them. It is what it is. That is what makes us different.



Tuesday, January 15, 2013

THE VIBRATO

The vibrato is a most necessary part of any great singing voice. Not only is it a means of expression, but it is also a functional part of the vocal mechanism as it frees the voice of constriction and tension. A well managed vibrato can add tremendous emotive affects to a song or an aria. Therefore, it is crucial to understand the mechanics of the vibrato, as well as what can cause it to be negatively impacted.

Let us begin with an explanation of a proper vibrato action. A proper vibrato action is a fluctuation of pitch around a fundamental note being sung. Since there is a fluctuation in pitch it is important to understand that this fluctuation has a quantifiable oscillation and accent. The peak of the vibrato is about 1/3 above the fundamental pitch and 2/3's below the fundamental pitch. One might think that this would make the singer sound like that are singing out of tune, but this fluctuation also has a certain stress to it. The peak of the vibrato is approximately 5 decibels louder than the trough of the vibrato. As a result, the listener hears the voice centered in the fundamental pitch with the vowel being at its core. It is interesting to note that since there is this pitch oscillation the voice is rarely actually singing on the fundamental as it is going above and below it at all times. Conversely, when one is singing straight-toned the voice is always in the center of the fundamental pitch.


Additionally, the vibrato also has a certain ideal speed to it. This speed is determined by the number of pulses per second are achieved by the peak of the vibrato. Ideally this speed is at 6.2 pulses per second. In order to determine what the proper speed of the vibrato should be a test was done in which all of the greatest singers of the Golden Age of opera were studied. The figure of 6.2 pulses per second was an average of all of these amazing singers. However, there is also a window of acceptability with the speed of the vibrato. A singer can be a bit slower or a bit faster. As well the fluctuation can bit a bit more narrow,or wider, but it must not go past a certain point in either direction or it is no longer a functional, musical action of the singing voice. Instead it becomes an affect rather than an expressive tool.


It must be clearly stated that the vibrato action is semi-reflexive. That means that it will happen on its own, but a singer also be able to control it. This is comparable to blinking - it happens on its own, but you can control it also. Having control over the vibrato action is a vital tool of every singer. A singer should be able to sing straight-toned, speed up the vibrato or slow it down (within the confines of acceptability for expression), as well as make the fluctuation wider or more narrow. In fact, the louder one sings the bigger the vibrato is in amplitude. This kind of control not only is a means of artistic expression, but it also helps free the voice as the singer is able to increase its action when singing louder or higher. With the increase in amplitude the pulses of the vibrato must not slow down too much if at all. Otherwise it will become a wobble.

With the definition of the proper vibrato action comes the plethora of wrong vibrato actions or faulty movements of the voice. These movements are affects of wrong function or tension. There are several different forms of these actions:

1) Tremolo vibrato - is too fast and does not have enough or any fluctuation in pitch. It is entirely a reflexive action do to tension or a wrong connection in the brain signaling the muscles of the larynx. The latter problem is the hardest to fix.

2) Wobble - this is when the vibrato fluctuation is too great and the speed of the pulses is too slow. This is usually do to constrictive tension in the throat.

3) Inverted vibrato - this is when the accent of the fluctuation is skewed. It could be that the singer is accenting the trough too loudly or they are not getting the peak high enough above the pitch etc. this can make the voice sound different or even sharp depending on the issue. Many soprani who take out lower register from their voices end up with this problem.

All of these faulty vibrato issues are due to technical problems in the voice whether it is the wrong breathing coordination, improper vocal registration development or constriction. Knowing how the vibrato works and how to counter these issues is key. Unfortunately the vibrato is a very misunderstood vocal action. Hopefully this information helps singers understand the vibrato action properly. I will be covering more about the vibrato in later blog posts.