The Voice: You Are Your Instrument!


graphic of singer music notes coming out of her mouth

I will never forget that ONE concert in college where I sang that ONE song with that ONE unforgettable note!

No, not the thrilling Whitney Houston/Carrie Underwood/Beyoncé kind of note:

as high as the heavens, long as the day and loud as a train.

 No, this note–my note–was quite the opposite.

The VOICE: the Instrument

It took me a long time to realize that as a singer, I really am my own instrument. It can be a help or a hindrance to contain in our bodies the means of the music. We singers possess a lot of intimate control and awareness of the subtleties of sound. A good singer knows no separation from the flow of breath, pitch, volume, rhythm and emotion coming through the throat and lifting from the lips. Unlike, say, a cello player, the vocalist has not even a synaptic nano-second between impulse and sound. No fingers on strings or hands on hardwood, the singer glides effortlessly on a melodic whim. From the shape of the voice box, throat, nasal cavities, facial bone structures, tongue, mouth and lips comes the uniqueness that is the voice, my voice, your voice, our instrument.

 

The VOICE: the Hindrance

Many conditions are a hindrance to singing. Fatigue and vocal cord weakness are the worst. Add phlegm and tension and dehydration to the mix and we are in trouble. Also, the hidden flaws of the vocal cords contribute to singing struggles and even failure. These days, voice specialists can see what is happening in the larynx using cameras that reveal cord inflammation and even scar tissue called nodulesNodules can resolve on their own if the voice can rest and heal from overuse. A disruption in the connective vibration of the vocal folds either from phlegm or inflammation or scarring can cause huge problems for those who regularly rely on their singing.

The VOICE: the Incident

I didn’t know about any of this that evening as the band began playing my favorite Linda Ronstadt ballad. I sang the first verse and felt the fatigue of the previous hour of singing setting in. My wobbly sound was not the worst of it, though. My biggest mistake was wanting to sound like the soulful belter that Linda was. At the climax of the chorus when the big payoff arrived, I held out that note. That note. It started out strong, but, to my horror, my clear tone suddenly distorted and split into an awful gargling kind of cacophony. My instrument had found a mind of its own. What was it thinking?

To this day, I do not know exactly what happened to make my voice get so out of control that night. It was probably a combination of fatigue, dehydration, nerves and perhaps even nodules. Also, I didn’t know the limits of my instrument. I was trying to sound like Linda Ronstadt instead of finding my own vocal style. I was not, and am not, a belter with the power to pull it off.

photo girl with guitar belting her song

The VOICE: the Help

My voice students hear me talk about vocal health a lot.

Our instruments need what our bodies need:

  • lots of rest
  • plenty of water
  • healthful food
  • exercise

Our voices do not need:

  • stress and tension
  • coughing
  • shouting
  • over-singing

Adhering to these helpful lifestyle choices, we can then build vocal strength and other vocal techniques on that solid foundation. Most of all, we need to know our limits and try to find the God-given voice that is ours alone. Then our strengths and singularities can find their way to the song and our very being becomes part of the performance.

 

If you want to know more about the voice, singing technique and lots of helpful exercises and applications to singing, check out my handbook/workbook, The Singer and the Songwriter, which has an entire section devoted to singing. If you’d like the piano cover, you’ll find it here.   See below a sample of what’s inside.     ~Christine

the singer and the songwriter handbook cafe cover christine dente      the singer and the songwriter handbook piano cover christine dentethe singer and the songwriter handbook sample voice technique christine dente

 

The Recording Process #4: BGV’s Part 2

singing boy in profile belting into a studio microphone

Singing: BGV’s By Definition

In Part 1 of this series about singing background vocals, I described the first 4 items on this list. I have tried to simplify how it all happens in the recording studio with some quick definitions and examples. Read the first part here. Now let’s talk about numbers 5, 6, and 7.

  1. Doubles
  2. Stacks
  3. Vocal Padsboy in profile belting into a studio microphone
  4. Harmonies
  5. Call and Response
  6. Counter Melodies
  7. Gang Vocals

Call and Response

You’ve heard lots of songs that use this cool technique for adding interest and adding other voices to the mix. Usually, the ‘call’ is the lead singer’s part which is answered or echoed by a less- prominent vocal in the background.

Out of the Grey‘s song, “Shine Like Crazy,” on the Rocketown album titled 6.1, is a good example.  Monroe Jones produced this project and in this song, he had Scott and me exchanging lines in the verses. In the choruses, you’ll notice there is also a call and response in which I sing “shine” and then a responsive pad of voices echoes with their own “shine.” Call and response singing sometimes comes close to being a duet. We use this technique a lot in our Out of the Grey music.

Counter Melodies

singing

I like to weave in countermelodies on some parts of my songs. Maybe my classical training plus that Counterpoint 101 class at Berklee College of Music inspired this in me. (By the way, Scott, who was not my husband at the time, and I were in that class together and he got a passing grade only by a hair, thanks to my help! But that’s another blog).

These types of melodies play off of the main melody, maybe going in opposite directions from the original. Or they may add new rhythmic twists.

An example of what I call a counter melody is at the end of the song, “Constant.” It’s on the See Inside record which Brown Bannister produced. You can hear the lyric, melodic, and rhythmic changes I made to the original part which add interest at the very end of the song.

Also, in “Eyes Wide Open,” you’ll notice that the second half of the second verse has an interesting counter-melodic BGV happening on the lyric: “I am trying to be wise, I’m watching You to keep me far from dulling lullabies.”

I urge you to keep your ears wide open to hear examples of this in other music!

Gang Vocals        singing group of people

On my solo project, Voyage, my producer, Scott Dente, had a great idea for the out-choruses of the song, It’s All About You. He brought in some friends to gather around the microphone and sing along with my lead in the last choruses of the song.

As a group, each singer sang the melody for a few recorded passes. On the next few passes, each person sang a harmony. Scott told them to not worry about precision, let it get a little sloppy.

Then on the final few tracks, he had some of the singers back up from the microphone and get a bit shouty on the next passes. This created the gang vocal effect, all the tracks adding up to quite a large crowd of voices. It brings a lot of energy and interest to the end of the song.

On our son Julian’s song, “Father,” you can hear the gang vocal in the final choruses where everyone is singing: “Father, won’t you listen to me, cos I want to believe, I want to believe you.” He had a bunch of his friends come to the studio to be part of the “gang.” And he invited me to be in there, too. How cool is that?

Producers use gang vocals a lot. See if you can find some examples of your own.

What Do You Know

Most of what I know about singing has come from my many years of experience on the road and in the studio. I am amazed at how much we learn from just living the lives in which we find ourselves!  What expert knowledge do you have to share, just because it’s a part of who you are?

Top