Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Cross- Training the Singing Voice- Is it Healthy?

Cross-Training the singing voice can indeed be healthy if done in the right way!  What is cross-training a singer? As singers, we are vocal athletes.  Your voice adapts to the demands of the styles of singing BEST when cross-training.  Think about a runner.  If ALL they do is run and don't balance training out with some yoga or stretching, they get very tight and inflexible.  If ALL you do is belt, certain muscles that help control your vocal folds become stronger then others creating an imbalance and inflexibility in the voice.  If the runner practices yoga, they become more flexible and can in turn run better and longer.  If the singer practices some classical or 'legit' musical theater singing in addition to their belt, their voice is more flexible and endures singing for a longer time.  Yin for yang and balance in everything helps maximize potential!

When cross-training the voice you can:
* Find your true singing strengths
* Can keep the voice healthy and physically balanced
* Keeps you emotionally balanced
* Makes you more versatile to hire

There are physical differences for the different genres of singing that cause a different shape of the vocal tract. This alters the space that the sound can bounce around in therefore creating varying sound characteristics.  In other words, physical processes of singing belt vs. 'legit' vs. pop make the voice SOUND different.

Belt Characteristics
* Higher larynx, lower soft palate, more agressive

Legit/Classical Characteristics
* Low larynx, high soft palate

Pop/Country Characteristics
* Lower soft palate, altered vowels, facial lift, and often nasality

All of these physical models for singing can be healthy ways to sing when used in balance AND when you follow the 4 No's (Lisa Popeil)
1. No pressing of the vocal folds. (It shouldn't feel pressed)
2. No laryngeal discomfort.  (It shouldn't hurt)
3. No upper belly squeeze.  (Make sure support is not too high!)
4. No singing louder than you can control.  (Know you can always go one more level up!)

Crossing Over: Broadening Your Horizons, Classical Singer 2007

Explore different genres and use a balance of singing of different styles safely with a teacher.  In my studio, students sing repertoire of various styles.  This helps to balance out the physical demands of the styles and keeps the voice healthy.  Belt has different demands than classical and classical has different demands than pop.  A good model for practicing might be to warm up, sing an art song or 'legit' theater piece, work on a belt song, return to a 'legit' theater song or folk song to warm down.  You are exercising all of your vocal muscles, but in a more balanced way.  Within this realm, always produce your sound and pay attention to what your voice feels like.  (Read more about different ways to cross-train and Somatic Voicework methods next week).

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Crossing Over to Another Genre of Singing- Why Should You Cross-Train, Cross-Over or Not?

Crossing over to another genre of singing is often something a singer must do in today's music world. Why not cross-over?  It makes you more marketable and more hire-able.  There are more singers than jobs out there.  Competition is fierce.  By exploring other styles of singing you not only make yourself more marketable but may discover something you do well that you never knew before.  You may fall in love with another style of singing that you never heard or did before.  Maximize your options.  It works in both directions- young high school singers who have only ever heard pop and country music and fall in love with opera or a classically trained opera singer finds she loves musical theater and belts and mixes rather well naturally.  You may find new strengths of your voice and in turn make your voice more flexible.

It used to be taboo to switch over from classical singing to musical theater or pop, but now it is more widely accepted and done!  Within the last 10-15 years, philosophy and needs have changed.  Opera people used to 'look down' on musical theater singers and musical theater singers didn't want to deal with 'starchy opera conductors or singers' (Helfgot and Mann, "Crossing Over", Classical Singer, 2003).  The wall between the two has been torn down for the most part.   No one really benefits from it.  Now we also throw pop and country into the mix.  No one benefits from the divisions really as artists are in high competition for the few roles and jobs out there.   It is commonplace to explore the variety of options out there.

How does this change preparing yourself to be a performing and hire-able singer?

1.  You must sing, act AND dance.  (Or at the very least supplement your voice lessons with some acting and dance lessons).

2. You must cross-train your voice
   - Work with a teacher exploring a few different styles of singing

3. Be aware of what the vocal and physical demands of the roles and shows that you audition for.
   - If you are an alto, don't try to get cast as a high soprano role unless you know your voice can do it!

4. Look good and be good.
  -  As much as I hate to say it, in today's society looks and body type do factor into casting in addition to raw talent.

5.  Be motivated and flexible or willing to adapt!

As always, you must pay attention to your body, your voice, and your brain so you know what truly works for YOU.  Cross-over to another style of singing is a realistic possibility in today's world. Cross-training is the way to accomplish it (tune in next week for details on cross-training the singing voice).

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Singing in Different Languages- There are so many reasons to do so!

In last week's blog, I advocated singing in different languages, specifically Italian and Latin as being very valuable study.  I started with these as they have fewer individual pronunciation rules and less numbers of altered vowels.

The value of singing in many languages is immeasurable and so beneficial. So, I do not want to leave some of the others behind: German, French, and Spanish topping the list.  Each of these languages have their own challenges such as the consonant cluster and umlauts of German, the dark vowels and silent consonants of French, and the many dialects of the Spanish language.  All of these qualities are able to be mastered with the guidance of a teacher, diction coach, or the assistance of pronunciation guides (online or hard-copy).  They are also wonderful languages with a large variety of beautiful music.   As a voice major in college, you are required not only to sing in all of these languages, but at the very least take a diction class dealing with them all (and in some cases a year of each language).  Not all of us want to major in voice in college, but singing in a variety of language under the guidance of a singing teacher is valuable.

Why valuable?  

Enrich your cultural knowledge: You are exposed to many different styles of music:  the Italian Art Song is so different in quality than the German  Lied and the French Art Songs have distinct qualities as well.  If you only sample some of the different languages, it is like going to a breakfast buffet and not tasting all of the wonderful selections provided.  You will leave the restaurant not completely satisfied and possibly be cheated out of of a type of song that may show your voices truest light.  Of course not all styles of song suit all singers, however, you owe it to your voice to sample them (at the very least listen to a few of them).

Learn music history: Songs in different languages have distinct qualities, but certain characteristics exist across the languages through the various time periods.

Build your instrument:  Singing in different languages strengthens your overall instrument and makes your voice more versatile

Make yourself more hire-able in the work force /desirable to a voice program:  The time you take now to learn to sing in a variety of languages makes you more diversified to perform in the work force or be accepted into a college voice program.

Explore all of the beautiful music composed for the voice!

What if you are taking voice lessons just for fun? It is fun to play with our own language and how we change is slightly when we sing to maximize our vocal quality.  How much more fun would it be to do in a few languages?  Even if you just dabble in it briefly, give it a try.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Why Should You Learn to Sing in a Different Language? Why Italian?

I very often am asked the question, "Why should I learn to sing in a different language like Italian?"  As Americans, we think everybody speaks English and we listen to most of our music in English, so why should we bother to learn to sing in another language?

Backtrack a minute- what were the first languages of the world?  Latin, Italian, French, German, Hebrew, there are so many.  Therefore a large bulk of music written to date has been in a different language.  I am not speaking of pop music and musical theater, but many other styles of music that seem to be tossed aside.  Why SHOULDN'T you learn to sing in a different language?  Why should you rule it out simply because it is not your first language?  Singing is a form of communication in addition to being a think of beauty.  If we want to be able to communicate our song, we should learn to sing in more than one language.  

There are many valuable reasons to learn to sing in another language such as Italian or Latin !

Why Should You Sing in Italian or Latin?

- Italian/Latin have PURE vowels that make it easier to sing than English once you are familiar with the language.

-  Because we do not generally speak it, we do not inflect our accent upon it.  (Southern, Mid-western, or Northeastern)

- The beauty of the music itself!  There is a variety of beautiful songs for all ability levels available to study

- Studying music in another language broadens your horizons and exposes you to music you may not even know exists.

-  It increases your historical knowledge of music how we got to the music of today
   Most Italian art songs use the following:
     - Sequence
     - Verse and Chorus
     - Embellishing (adding notes to) a basic melody

- Creating artistic licence through embellishing a melody.
*Think about it -When was the last time you heard the National Anthem sung without added notes or     looked at sheet music for a pop song that is written differently from how you hear the artist perform it? This concept did not develop in the 21st century, but is centuries old.  When songs were performed as entertainment in parlors for guests, singers added notes and embellishments to the melody as personal artistry.

- Learning a little bit about other cultures helps us to appreciate differences and understand our own.

- When you then go and sing English, your singing of English is improved because of your mastery of pure vowels which CARRY the sound.  This is not to say we do not stylistically need to alter vowels, but it helps you to find your true sound first.

What if people don't understand the language or what I am saying?

Few people in your audience would actually claim to know word for word what you are saying. However, if you have researched the meaning of the words, you are able to sing the piece in a way that communicates the MEANING of the song.  Most recitals also provide a translation or opera's have subtitles.

Why not give it a try and see not only if you like it, but what it can do for your singing voice?  It is great to explore singing in many languages.  Some may be more comfortable for you then others, but expose you to so much beautiful music!