Vocal Coach's Corner - But I'm a Voice Major!
- 2000 5 May
A conversation overheard in the music office between the worship leader Ralph and a choir member Eunice. "Ralph, I would really like to be on the praise team." Ralph recoils in horror because he knows Eunice has a master's degree in vocal performance from the University of Southern North California. Ralph responds, "Well Eunice, we already auditioned the singers for the team and all the spots are full." "Well, I do have my master's," countered Eunice. Ralph now takes a big breath and forges ahead with the truth. "Eunice, your voice just sounds way too classical for the praise team. Could you possibly modify and adjust the quality of your vocal sound to meet the needs of the music ministry." Eunice, now insulted, mortified, and embarrassed, says to Ralph, "How do you do that?"
Classical singers have long been at odds with pop, rock, jazz, soul, musical theater and country singers. Their vocal approaches are at opposite ends of the musical universe. Let us define what a classical singer does that other styles do not. Very simply stated, classical singers are overly vocal and focused on a depth of sound that results in a full, complete resonance. On the other side of the spectrum the pop, rock, jazz, soul, musical theater and country singers use less vibrato and allow the words or character of the song to be dominant. They do not let the voice overpower the performance or communication. Every musical style has its own vocal sound. Even in the style we call Christian music we run the gamut from country, southern gospel, pop, rock, gospel, jazz, and inspirational. The list is lengthy and extremely varied.
In all of these musical styles the vocal foundation is based on a chest voice dominant approach. By contrast, the classical approach is based on the lighter head-voice dominant approach. There is a major difference in their end result, but these approaches to singing share some common techniques. One common technique is changing balances among the vocal muscles within the larynx.
One other difference would be the amount of resonance a singer uses. Different styles require various resonances. Awareness and knowledge of how to control resonance is very important. It produces and modifies the type of voice you want to use.
For example a pop style would use a slight breathy conversational-like sound, that resonates fully at the emotional height of the song. Jazz is sung completely in the chest voice in an almost speech-like sound. If the head voice is used at all it is completely void of vibrato. Rock on the other hand has a hard spoken sound that moves toward nasality in the upper registers. It sometimes comes close to yelling. Country is obviously nasal, using only the chest voice with very little vibrato.
Back to Eunice and Ralph. "Eunice, it is time for you to try something different with your singing," says Ralph. "There is a distinct possibility that after trying and learning a new vocal style, you could bring a vocal richness never before heard on the church's praise team." The classical singers among us can learn a vocal sound of different styles. The classical singer needs to develop an openness to varying their vocal quality and accept that size and resonance are not the only goals to be achieved in singing.
Well now, what does Eunice need to do to win a spot on the praise team? The first thing she needs to do is make the decision to exchange her old skills for new skills. Isn't there a passage in scripture dealing with putting new wine in an old wineskin? Second, she needs to focus on the major adjustment: discover and develop her chest voice and then blend the head voice and chest voice together thereby creating a mid-voice. Not extremely difficult but probably easier said than done. Thirdly, she needs to listen to different singers singing in various styles. Then she needs to attempt to imitate these styles and songs. She must always keep in mind that she needs to modify the vocal (tonal) quality of her sound. This process will take some time but Eunice will become a better and more complete singer. Her church will appreciate her efforts.
Traveling is very rough on singers' voices. Here is a suggestion that may seem odd, but works for some singers. When staying at a hotel, cover the air vents with a piece of washable air conditioner filter. It will keep dust particles and other nasty things in an adjoining room from entering yours. This type of filter can be purchased at any hardware store. Just roll it up and place it in your luggage. Be sure to wash it after each use.
Roger Beale is one of Atlanta's foremost vocal coaches. His teaching and coaching facility, The Voice House, is involved in the management and care of the professional voice. Roger can be contacted at: The Voice House website: www.thevoicehouse.com.