Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Belt is Legitimate Vocal Pedagogy and ALL Voice Training Should Develop Whole Voice in its Study

There is so much talk about 'belt' singing and all of the things that should go into developing a good 'belt' sound, many versions of 'belt' and many way ways to make sure it is healthy.  First and foremost, one must consider, "Are you using good technique and what is that technique?"

In an explosion of the may forms of popular vocal music, now termed CCM or Contemporary Commercial Music, there has been much study and development technique.  Sure, we are using the same instrument and muscles that we use for a more classical sound, but also using them slightly differently.  There is a different balance of how our muscles are used, but a balance nonetheless that is related to our more 'classical' voice.  For example, a lyric soprano has to be a lyric belter with thinner thyroarytenoid activity (TA) than a mezzo soprano/belter might use.

Let me back up and give a quick review of vocal muscles and how they work.  You have both thyroarytenoid muscles and cricothyroid muscles located in your larynx which with air help you to make sound or your vocal fold activity.  The thyroaryteniod muscles (TA) are responsible for shortening and thickening the vocal folds (a more chest voice sound) and the cricothyroid muscles (CT) are responsible for stretching and thinning the vocal folds (a more head voice or falsetto sound).  There are other helping muscles, but identifying these two will help you to understand how we create a more chest dominant sound versus head voice (falsetto in male).

When you are singing a lower chest/belt, your TA are more active and when you are singing in head voice/falsetto your CT are more active.  The opposing muscles are active to create a healthy and efficient sound.  It is keeping the TA-CT muscle interaction balanced which creates a healthy sound, whatever sound you are trying to create.

Vocal fold activity in combination with resonance create your overall phonation (what you sound like).  Your vocal folds are your sound source but do nothing without air.  Giving breath to your sound initiates it all and how your air resonates within the shape of your resonators (throat, mouth and nose) creates your unique sound and why no two voices are exactly alike.  When training singers, we teachers instruct you to think of taller, round vowels in classical singing and bright, narrow and more square vowels and often speech like sound in CCM singing.

"All voice training, Classical or CCM, should include the development of the entire vocal mechanism from the lowest TA- dominant sound to the highest CT-dominant sound, as well as he multitude of resonance options, so that the entire musculature gains strength, flexibility, coordination, and endurance"  Robert Edwin, Belt is Legit Journal of Singing November 2007

In other words, whatever area of singing you are working on, you should train your whole voice in that style, activating your CT dominant or TA dominant sound and its delicate balance.  Similar vocal exercises may be used to do this for both Classical and CCM, but with a belt voice versus a classical voice.  This concept of cross-training carries not only through your range, but through style transition, helps keep the voice healthy.  Imagine only ever using your quadracept muscles and not using your hamstrings.  Your legs would be out of balance.  Working both in balance, creates strong, sustainable legs.  Working both your TA and CT muscles in balance creates a solid and beautiful singing voice!

Stay tuned for more on Cross-Training the Voice!

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

The Value of Learning to Sing in Other Languages

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.  Music didn't just develop in this century.  All music builds upon itself so it is important (and interesting) to learn the history and characteristics that have continued through history to today's music.

Build your instrument and tone quality:  Singing in different languages strengthens your overall instrument and makes your voice more versatile.  Studying the pure vowels of Italian and other languages actually enhance your English singing!  So often we sing modifying our vowels or put 2 to 3 vowels into one which affect the resonance and overall sound quality.  Learning to sing in a different language heightens the vowels in our vocal tract biologically and we often then carry it over to singing in our native tongue!!

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.