Since the advent of microphones and electronic amplification, the art of singing has been modified to fit new styles that would not have been nearly as practical without the aid of amplification. However, going back to classical voice training is not a bad idea. It will help singers in any genre to maintain a healthy voice and get the best sound possible.
Since I have begun teaching voice students at our local arts center, I have found that there are three basic concepts that I want my students to grasp from the start. These are some of the fundamental concepts that other voice teachers may also want to communicate to their students.
1. Pursue Healthy Vocal Usage
Many modern singers use technique that is not very healthy, particularly for female singers. The male vocal mechanism is a bit more resilient, but consistently singing with a harsh tone, breathy tone, or other bad qualities will eventually take its toll on the voice, regardless of gender. It is beneficial to have students listen to good "vocal ideals" (singers with good technique) that they can emulate.
Another part of good vocal usage is maintaining good overall physical health. Being overweight does not help anyone to sing opera arias better, despite popular opinion. Good cardiovascular fitness, firm muscle tone, and balanced nutritional intake will all enhance your ability to sing well, just like it does for any other physical task. Drinking plenty of water will also help singers to maintain vocal health.
Some other things to be aware of are bad vocal habits outside of singing. Yelling at the ballgame (or in any crowded or noisy area) can damage the vocal mechanism, especially if done repeatedly. Avoid yelling, screaming, excess whispering, coughing, or using the voice while sick.
2. Breath is Our Foundation
The voice is an instrument. For every instrument, there is an initiator, a vibrator, and a resonator. The initiator is what activates the vibrator, the vibrator disturbs the air and makes audible sound waves, and the resonator amplifies and shapes those waves into the music that we hear. For example:
The breath is the foundation because it is what activates the sound of our voice in the first place. It is important to understand the right (and wrong) way to use the breath for singing. Breath exercises should be a regular part of any singer's practice. When students realize the importance of the breath, it is likely that they will take the breath exercises more seriously.
3. Vowels Are the Key To Consistent Tone
Singing is in many ways like speaking on pitch. One fundamental difference in the use of the voice while singing however, is that the vowels are elongated to create musical tones. We "sing" on the vowels. The consonants exist in singing to form words out of the vowels on which we are singing.
Exercises using the vowels are crucial then, since the vowels will be what characterizes the musical sound of the voice. Having the vowels all in the right "place" will cause the singer to have consistent and beautiful tone which can be employed in any song. Students should understand from the beginning that vowel exercises are not to just make nonsensical sounds, but to shape the singing voice to be a worthy instrument capable of powerful, beautiful expression.
Making sure that you as a musician understand these principles, or clearly articulating them to your students if you are a teacher, can make a profound difference in the quality of the music you create. For an in-depth look at how to teach good vocal technique to a student or a choir, my recommended resource is James C. McKinney's book, The Diagnosis and Correction of Vocal Faults, now available in the Harmony Passion Music Store. If you know of other good resources on this topic, or have any additional insight, please share a comment on this post.
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