Thursday, January 12, 2012

Singing Basics - Must a Vocal Coach Always Start There?

Covering the singing basics of breathing, support, and resonance was the way I used to start off every new student before I would move on to non-physical issues such as phrasing or interpretation. But that was many years ago (back in the Jurassic Age, actually).

Although I still believe this is generally the ideal approach, a large portion of my clientele are established artists that I see only sporadically. The singers at this level have touring and recording schedules that don't allow them the luxury of dropping everything else to handle vocal problems when they sneak up on them. Often time passes and the problems become serious before they seek help.

It's logical to assume the source of voice damage is physical, perhaps due to poor breathing or a lack of basic support. But, in fact, many of these professionals don't need to embark upon a course in singing basics at all. Many have already figured out what techniques work best for them. They are looking for a Band-Aid, not open-heart surgery.

When I work with these singers or with a young student in trouble, I try to identify the most critical problems first and work to correct them. I consider whether there are other factors that may be contributing to the problem, factors that may have nothing to do with the physical application of the techniques of the singing basics.

I listen first for over-singing, a most convenient and likely culprit. We seem to be suffering through a detrimental "Epidemic of Loud," possibly due to the widespread influence that national competitions have on the music-loving population. Maybe it's time for artists to get back to the singing basics of communicating the words and emotions of a song -- without the loud singing, the long held high notes, and endless vocal inflections.

Next I listen for the rhythm in the track. Does the singer tend to fall behind the rhythmic pushes that drive the instrumental tracks? Does the tempo drag and the energy drop at the end of phrases, stepping on the fills? (Fills are those instrumental noodlings that carry the singer from the end of one line into the beginning of the next.) Or does the singer appear to be in sync or out of sync with //the pushes and pulses in the rhythm track?

Is the performer really singing what the words mean, or simply slinging a lot of voice around? Do they make clever use of the relief that a liberal use of silence and consonants can bring? Or do they get bogged down by over-extending the vowels?

These are a few of the issues I often address when time is limited. It's amazing to me that simply bolstering the phrasing or pronunciation, or thinking about the words would have such a therapeutic effect on what would appear to be purely physical issues like bad pitch and voice strain.

So, although it may not be my ideal purist approach, I have found you don’t always have to start with the singing basics of breathing, support and resonance. You can get a lot of mileage out of other, non-physical, techniques that will give a busy, probably over-extended, singer quick results and a bigger bang for their bucks.

Nashville vocal coach Renee Grant-Williams reveals the trade secrets that have already helped hundreds of aspiring singers become celebrities: Tim McGraw, Martina McBride, Dixie Chicks, Miley Cyrus, Huey Lewis, Kenny Chesney, Faith Hill, Jason Aldean, Christina Aguilera...

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