Every singer has their own unique style, sound and tone, which is worth studying. Watching and listening to the way a professional singer performs provides an insight into the vocal techniques used, but you could spend years trying to emulate the top vocalists or favourite artist.
If you intend to be a “tribute” act or have a natural similarity to an existing artist, studying them will be an essential part of your rehearsal program, but to really benefit from your voice, you should concentrate on developing your own natural vocal abilities and style.
How to achieve expression in your vocal performance
If you listen to a vocal line, you will see how rare it is to hear a “monotone” or one-note singer. When you speak, your voice lifts and drops, increases and decreases in volume; this is referred to as ‘LIGHT & SHADE’ or ‘EXPRESSION’ and is the key to making an average song into a highly listenable one. So how do you achieve the same effect in your vocal performance?
The answer is to learn about how sounds and shapes are created and then integrate this with natural feeling and emotion. Part of a singing teacher’s job is to provide the student with exercises and techniques and identify tensions to aid the singer in exploring their own potential and singing in a healthy manner.
This can sound a little intimidating or confusing to the complete beginner, who may not understand the meaning behind the terminology or reason for the exercises used. Vocal Scales, learning to breathe, rhythm, dynamics, timbre, correct diction, phrasing and visualisation are methods that teach the singer about the mechanism of singing.
There are times when singers try too hard to do it right instead of expressing the song. Singing without considering technique or style during a practice session can release tension, resulting in the subconscious use of correct technique, thereby producing a beautiful tone or emotive quality. Technique is just a means to an end that is forever open; it grows, changes and develops as the singer gains experience and confidence in their own ability.
The following tips and exercises should be tried once, they are not ‘healthy techniques’ to be used on a constant basis, just one off ideas aimed at the exploration of how it feels when using mouth shapes and sounds.
- Soften your voice to almost a whisper to give it a ‘breathy’ feel.
2. Practice a cats ‘miaow’ and ‘growl’ sound (no really), try it and use the mouth/sound shape to give yourself a sexy ‘growl’.
3. Experiment with tongue placement, mouth shapes, raising and lowering the larynx when singing a note or phrase.
4. Visualise the notes hitting the ceiling to get those high notes and the floor to get the low ones.
Here are a few exercises you can practice to help achieve light and shade in your voice.
Use a phrase to practice with – try using – “I want to WHISPER” “I want to SHOUT”,
Begin by speaking the phrase normally, record your efforts and listen to your pronunciation and expression.
Repeat the phrase ‘whispering’ the first section and ‘shouting’ the second.
By now you should feel, and hear the way your mouth, throat and breathing create the different sounds.
Now ‘SING’ the whole phrase normally, be relaxed and natural.
Finally redo the whole exercise ‘singing’ the phrase.
Try to ‘project’ your voice forwards and outwards by visualising the note reaching the back of the room.
The tune or notes you use are not important, but taking note of how you sound during the exercise is.
Once you have tried these ideas, you should be able to identify the shape of the mouth and position of the tongue that helps to create the sound and tone, which if used correctly can be applied to the songs you perform to create different effects to phrases and words. The aim is to discover methods that feel comfortable, sound good and enable the voice to operate at peak efficiency, if a method causes hoarseness or hurts, then it follows that it causes stress to the vocal chords which could be damaging to the voice.
What is Expression?
Expression is the term used to explain ‘feeling’ in your voice. Putting expression into a song makes it ‘come alive’ for the listener.
When you read the lyrics of a song, do they come alive for you? Can you relate to the theme or story? Speak the lyrics aloud, imagine you’re talking to a close friend; how would you say the words to them? If it’s a love song or ballad, envisage the person you would like to express those emotions to.
Breathing in the right ‘gaps’ or ‘rests’ is important as it helps you to hit the right note and put expression into the performance.
A bright, confident sound in your voice can be achieved by smiling!
These methods can be applied to any song with a strong emotional theme, the key is to relate to what the songwriter is trying to express and use your natural emotions to enhance the way you perform the song. Sing it from the heart and you won’t go far wrong.
Tone & Emotion
Vocal Range & Key