Karaoke Night! American Idol! Children’s Theater Auditions! In any major metropolitan area, the opportunities to get up in front of an audience and sing are plentiful. For children, there are a variety of music camps, church choirs, school musicals, talent shows, and private arts schools. For adults, the opportunities are even more plentiful, with several community and professional musical theaters, choruses, and open mike nights at locations all over the city. So why bother to take vocal singing lessons?
For even the smallest child, singing comes naturally at birthday parties, pre-schools, and daycare. Who hasn’t seen adults driving along and singing along in their car with a radio or CD? Vocal singing lessons may seem superfluous–how hard can it be to do something so natural? But just what is involved in a vocal singing lesson besides learning some notes and words?
The human vocal cords are an instrument, one that can be used in a variety of ways not only to sing, but to talk, yell, scream, whisper, laugh, and cough. Just as impersonators are adept at using the voice to imitate different timbres of speech, singing can be in a variety of styles, such as country, pop, rock, jazz, opera, and choral music. The vocal cords are what determines the sound of a person’s voice, from a deep male bass to a high female soprano. So they can be considered a musical instrument when used for singing, and therefore must be cared for as any other instrument.
The vocal cords are two small bands of tissue, attached to the muscle and cartilage of the larynx, which is at the top of the trachea, and the air going through the glottis (the opening between the vocal cords) creates the vibrations that produce sound. It helps to understand the anatomy of the human voice in order to control exactly what sound is made.
Breathing is another major component of vocal singing lessons that no good coach ever overlooks, but most students never think about until they are properly taught. The diaphragm is a muscle located under the lungs, and it has to be free to move up and down in tandem with inhaling and exhaling. This diaphragmatic breathing is not a natural process for most people. A child told to take a big, deep breath will usually make a large noisy intake of breath in the upper chest, raising the shoulders and holding the chest out. This can actually work against a singer, because it limits the amount of air that can be used to carry out a nice musical phrase. There are many exercises for the beginning singer that involve breathing only, before singing a note.
The anatomy of singing is further explored by being aware of keeping posture relaxed but erect. Keeping an open throat and an open mouth, while being aware of total body posture is an area that has been studied extensively, especially by the Australian actor and singer F. Matthias Alexander, (1855-1955). He trained scores of singers throughout his career, and workshops on the Alexander Technique are still conducted today, not only for singers, but for world class athletes who must understand the relationship between breathing and posture to enhance their performance.
“Diction is done with the tip of the tongue and the top of the teeth.” The importance of pronunciation can never be underestimated in vocal music. After all, unless singing a bluesy “scat” Ella Fitzgerald-style, or nonsense syllables in a children’s song, the whole point of a song’s message will be lost if the audience can’t understand the words. Many performances have been lost due to misunderstood lyrics. Kenny Rogers’ 1977 song “Lucille” is a good example. The correct lyrics, (”You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille, four hungry children and crops in the field.”), can be misheard as, “You picked a fine time to leave me loose wheel, four hundred children and crops in the field!” Good singing diction is a fine line between consonants and vowels. If there is too much emphasis on the vowel, nothing is understood, but too many consonants cause technical problems, so a good vocal coach becomes a sounding board.
Good pitch is the next element that has to be present before singing anything. The ear has to be able to hear the exact tones that are put together to form a melody, and this involves careful listening habits. Every musical pitch has a specific number of vibrations per second that separate it from every other musical pitch. This is what makes low notes different from high notes, and the singer has to hear, process, and reproduce those tones. This hearing ability is not present in everyone, and people unable to match pitches with their voice often refer to themselves as “tone deaf.” This is what makes singing different from playing an instrument. There must be an innate ability to hear in order to sing, but the ability can be developed. Most young children don’t naturally pay attention to pitch, but they are easily trained to begin hearing and differentiating the highs and lows of the voice from a very early age.
Breath, posture, diction and pitch are the building blocks of good vocal technique, but the fun comes when these elements are used together to make real music. This is where tone comes into play. What is the difference in sound between the singing of Beverly Sills and Elvis Presley? The tone of the human voice is as sure an identifying mark as a fingerprint or DNA. And since everyone’s tone is different, vocal singing lessons will provide a training ground for helping a singer turn whatever tone quality is present in the voice into the best possible performance. Songs can tell a story, or evoke an emotion; they can be comical, dramatic, sad, happy or poetic. Whatever message is being delivered will be much more enjoyable when it is backed up with good vocal technique.
Arthur Godfrey’s “Amateur Hour” was a talent competition which aired from 1934 (on radio) to 1945. It launched the career of Patsy Cline, but also had a succession of not-so-wonderful singers, which led to the phrase “Amateur Hour” referring to a less than stellar performance. “Star Search” was a similar talent show from 1983 to 1985, and now “American Idol” and “America’s/Britain’s Got Talent” are popular showcases for singers. But they have all had their share of really awful to really great singers. Vocal singing lessons can’t really turn an awful singer into a good one, but they can certainly turn an untrained singer into a great talent. Even the pros go for vocal coaching, so vocal singing lessons can certainly be worth a try. And when the community theater holds auditions, or a child is involved in the school musical, vocal singing lessons can make the difference between a passable performance and an outstanding one.
Starlight Music Lessons offers vocal singing lessons in DFW and can help you reach your vocal singing goals! Enroll today to have vocal singing lessons in your home.
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