Introduction to Singing
There are few humans in existence who have not, at one time or another, uttered a few notes of a song or melody. Historically, singing and chanting is a viable part of human evolution. The singular element of singing is “voice.” Voice can possess various tonal qualities. From the moment a newborn utters those first few sounds, the human voice is already evolving. Singing is basically using several different sounds, synchronized with lyrics, emotional qualities and innate vocal tone that creates voice. Although, some voices may sound similar in song, few are ever exactly alike.
Voice and Song
In earliest history, mankind learned they had the ability to use their voices to create musical notes. Most of the tonal quality of these songs depended on the individual’s vocal range and ability to adapt the human voice to lyrics. Lyrics may have been imitations of the natural environment. For example, imitating bird calls or animal sounds. This type of singing allowed the human larynx to further develop. Once cultural behaviors were coordinated with the ability to “sing,” the urge to share feelings and emotions in song became customary.
The first singing was generally a form of meditative incantation or part of ritualistic chants. By repeating certain sounds tribesmen found a sense of unity and purpose. The basic features of singing include:
- A developed larynx
- Understanding of sound
- Ability to create and form tonal patterns
- A well developed “ear”
- Breath control
- Confident attitude
- Talent and style
Learn How to Sing
The ability to learn how to sing can be somewhat instinctive. For example, imitating musical sounds and repeating them is how the earliest vocalists learned to sing. It should be clear that musical instrument accompaniment was relatively limited among the earliest tribes. Instrumental accompaniment was limited to drums or reeds fashioned from whatever materials were available. These crude instruments, however, did form the basis of singing along with musical accompaniment.
A study of native tribal songs across the globe shows how singers learned to blend voices into one well-formed chant. In the case of most indigenous singing, the accompaniment most often heard was drums.
Interestingly, many indigenous tribes in North, Central and South America as well as African tribes soon learned to sing in secret codes. For example, Mayans used drums and singing to signal war or the onset of enemies in their midst. Most of these songs were comprised of local tribal languages. Tribesmen learned to make singing a useful tool to protect their land and their tribal families.
Formalities of How to Sing
As the ability to sing advanced and musical accompaniment grew more sophisticated, singers began to create songs as part of groups and as solo vocals. At this point, singing became a part of formal performances. Singing in groups required a more structured format so that musical accompaniment and singers were synchronized properly. Group singing required voices to be classified according to tonal quality and also gender. These included soprano, mezzo-soprano and contralto for female singers and counter-tenor, tenor, baritone and bass for male singers. These “voice types” and classifications are still used today to define the singer’s actual vocal tone.
Once voice classifications were part of group singing, the possibilities for choirs, ensembles, duets, quartets, a cappella and trios were limited only by their choices of musical genres. It became important for singers to choose a singing genre so that their voice studies and education would be pertinent to their future as singers. These genres include:
- Pop and rock
- a Capella
- Barber shop quartet
- Classical and religious
How to Sing with Style and Quality
Individuals who love to sing find their best advice comes from professional voice instructors. Study with a vocal teacher who offers singing lessons in the singing genre that is most conducive to voice classification. For example, if it has been determined that the individual’s voice classification falls under soprano, the professional will determine whether the vocal range is “coloratura soprano” with the highest soprano vocal range or mezzo-soprano, which has a middle level vocal range.
What Singing Lessons Teach Singers
To sing with style and quality, it is imperative that neophyte singers learn to read music and lyrics with musical accompaniment and also to learn how to use their voices, breath control and overall vocal range to optimal advantage. Many young singers are introduced to singing in elementary school curriculum where they sing in groups and are taught by music teachers with vocal experience. However, this is not professional voice training. It represents only an introduction to singing on a more basic level. High schools and colleges also provide vocal training mainly for choral groups.
Individuals who plan to sing solos on a professional level should be taught to sing by experienced vocal coaches. Soloists study musical arrangements and lyrics specifically for soloists. They will also be taught proper performance presentations and also how recordings of their solo performances are designed and created.
There is a difference between singing teachers and singing coaches. Singing teachers form the groundwork of education singers need to know. A voice coach’s job is to help a singer grow in vocal quality and performance technique.
Why is Performance Technique Important?
The manner in which a singer performs is the difference between developing a solid singing reputation and recognition and becoming a lesser known singing value. When individuals are taught how to sing, they are also learning how to perform specific lyrics and to create a signature singing style. This is why performance technique is so important. Imagine if the great tenor, Luciano Pavorotti, had mediocre performance technique. That amazing tenor sound would still be exciting and thrilling but, unless he could relate the sound to the manner of his performance, Pavorotti might have been only a part of the opera company’s chorus instead of performing those outstanding operatic arias.
Performance technique is important to jazz and pop singers who become recognized for their ability to perform vocals in their signature singing style. For example, the pop singer K.D. Lang, has a vocal range that allows her to perform country style music and also pop. In 1988, Lang diverged from her pop style performances in “Roy Orbison and Friends” where she sang with singer Bonnie Rait in “doo wop” style.
In the 1997 movie, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” Lang performed the cover song, written by Johnny Mercer, “Skylark,” in a throaty blues style that added to her vocal prowess. Not all vocalists need to be this diverse. Most singers prefer to develop their persona within a specific singing genre.
When Should Singing Lessons Begin?
There are generally two basic reasons for taking voice lessons. The first is to create a solid foundation for singing and the second reason is to further enhance singing talents and style. Both reasons require a deep desire for self-improvement. This is a clue to how to find the best voice teachers and coaches. By knowing the particular reason for taking singing lessons, it is easier to find a voice teacher that helps advance singing talent.
For students who plan to perform in choirs or choruses, singing lessons can clarify voice classification and provide necessary lessons in reading sheet music that may be quite complex for singing groups with several voice classifications.
Singing lessons are also a great help for singers who are already members of groups. Voice lessons provide an opportunity to refresh or renew singing skills and performance technique. Many professionals return to voice studies to keep their talents from growing stale or outdated.
Formal singing lessons can begin as early as eight years old. This assumes the child has an already developed sense of singing and is capable of learning to read music. Parents should encourage their children to sing as a way of helping their child learn the art of self-discipline and also for the purpose of an awareness of self-improvement. Singing lessons are great aid for young students who need a break from their normal scholastic studies. Singing provides creativity and a desire to pursue natural talents.
Every student feels a certain amount of anticipation before the first singing lesson. Usually the first singing lesson is about one to two hours long, depending on the course of study.
The vocal teacher will begin by asking the student to sing a fairly common set of lyrics. This is how the voice classification is determined. The teacher may recommend a voice genre for the student based on this “audition.” Teacher and student may then discuss the best course of study that is mutually satisfactory and fits the student’s vocal range and choice of voice genre.
Each voice lesson thereafter will begin with exercises set to musical accompaniment so that the student learns and understands timing and voice cadence in relationship to lyrics and music. These exercises will also include learning breath control and singing from the diaphragm rather than the throat. Singing exercises also help the student understand the importance of using breath control to lengthen musical notes and give greater depth to their voice quality.
The voice instructor will also begin the process of teaching the student how to read music if they have not already learned this. If students already know how to read music, the focus will be on how to adapt vocals to sheet music and to further emphasize vocal strengths in accord with musical arrangements. The course of study might also include identifying differences in musical scores and arrangements.
Students can choose from private lessons or class lessons. The course of study is separated into levels for beginner, intermediate and advanced voice students. Beginner level students are furnished with instruction books that help them learn sight singing and provide added instruction for advancing the training of the ears. Intermediate level students will be expected to read and write lyrics as part of their training. Advanced students are expected to create simple vocal arrangements and compose lyrics. They will be asked to sing in audition style the work they create.
In addition to instruction books, today’s voice students have access to supplemental video and audio instruction on DVD disks.
The Importance of a Good Ear
One of the most important skills a good singer needs to learn when singing with others is how to listen to other singer(s). During singing lessons, the instructor will offer suggestions on how to develop a good ear for singing solos and also in groups. Since many singers are also song writers, they especially need to develop a good ear for fitting lyrics to music.
Some voice instructors include a study of various singing styles. This helps students learn how to improve their singing style. The fun part of this course of study is when students are exposed to synthesized voices and techniques like dubbing and voice overs. They may also be introduced to hi tech devices that accentuate or deliberately distort the sound of the human voice.
Advanced students learn the history of voice styles as taught by world famous voice teachers like Porpora, Stradella, Randegger, Lamperti, Silveri and Eileen Farrell with accompanying operatic syllabus.
For more modern vocal syllabus, students may study the teachings of Penny Nichols, Wendy Parr, Shirlee Emmons, Cynthia Gibb or Melissa Cross. This helps advanced students form a basis for their chosen singing style from the realm of the most well known and recognized vocal teachers.
Learn How to sing perfect
Since singing is an infectious type of human instinct, it is quite natural that voice students may want to copy the genre and style of the current, most popular singers. For these students, it is essential they discover how these favorite singers chose their voice genre. For example, one of the most popular female singers of the 1960s was Janis Joplin. In many TV interviews she stated she “always loved to sing.” Hers was an untrained voice. She chose, as her favorite voice genre, the style of the famous rhythm and blues singer, “Big Mama Thornton.”
Janis Joplin was given voice instructions by her mother, who had an operatic voice. She provided Janis with lessons in singing technique. By combining an early study in folk music, instructions from her mother and developing her own famous singing style, Janis parsed these into that gravelly vocal sound that became her trademark. Learn how to perfect singing by training the voice with greater challenges. Expand the horizons of the vocal genre whenever possible.
Practice Makes Perfect
Studying voice is like most creative arts. It requires effort, concentration and practice. Students should seek every opportunity, no matter how small, to sing as a soloist or in groups. These performances should become an extension of singing lessons. By putting into practice all of the practical instructions taught to students, their singing performances become the basis of their singing experience.
The more students practice and put their instructions into actual performances, the easier it becomes to create an enviable artistic resume when formal studies in voice end. In reality, voice instruction never ends. It becomes a part of every singer’s ritual to keep in step with changes in musical arrangements that are more complex or in operatic roles that require greater dramatic depth.
When it comes to voice, singers have much to consider. The first consideration is how deeply the individual wants to improve their singing talents, technique, style and skill. Once a student chooses a voice genre, it’s good to know it isn’t set in stone. They can go from pop to classical genres or go from choral group to soloist.
One thing that is important is to know the career goals. A career as a singer in any genre requires considerable thought and advance planning. A singing career direction should be discussed with voice teachers and coaches. They will advise on issues like engaging an agent to arrange singing performances and gigs and a publicist to ensure all singing performances receive advance publicity and also post-performance publicity.
An effective tip for voice students is to keep a journal of lessons taught with personal notes on how each instruction helped students advance toward a professional career. Not all students take voice lessons to be professionals. Notes on each voice lesson will also help students who choose the amateur singing path. Use these notes as a reference, should a complex or more advanced singing issue arise in future instructions. Over time, these notes are the best way to compare levels of instruction and how well the instructions were applied.
The ultimate goal for every student, career oriented or not, is to develop the voice into a perfect tonal quality that brings personal satisfaction. Learn how to sing for a potential singing career or to turn a good voice into a great voice. No matter what the reason for learning to sing, there is always the joy of accomplishment in perfecting a natural singing talent. Many singers find their greatest sense of satisfaction comes from reaching their singing goals.
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