A stereotypical division exists within the minds of both music instructors and singers and this divide is often described as “the solo voice vs. the choral voice.” Heard frequently in many studios are phrases such as, “This is how you sing in choir. But, this is how you sing with your solo voice.” “You want to blend in choir, but in solo singing you need to sing out.” And many common replies such as: “This is how my choir teacher taught me.” “You breathe from your diaphragm in choir.” etc. For many busy singers (especially high school), however, choir becomes the greatest amount of time allotted for singing and even practicing. Much to the chagrin of the voice instructor, singers do not utilize those “solo voice” techniques and instead default to the “choir voice,” unlearning the techniques established in voice lessons and causing their training to move back to step one. The singer is then frustrated, the stereotypes enhanced and a chasm begins to widen between the instructor and the choir teacher. Perhaps to avoid chasms and frustrated parties involved all around, the situation needs to be looked at from a new perspective. If the same voice that is used to speak is also used to sing in choir as well as to sing solo repertoire, correlations must exist between each practice as do the techniques that improve the singer’s abilities despite the genre.
Let’s warm up!
Whether it be in choir or in solo instruction, everybody warms up their instrument. Warm ups are the opportune time for the singer to implement good vocal techniques within the choir setting – good techniques that often stem from correcting the onset.
Many times, the open sound used to produce the most unified sound possible in the choral genre does not allow for the vocal chords to fully touch therefore hindering the production desired in solo instruction. Many solo students overcome the inability to utilize their whole instrument simply by correcting the onset. First and foremost, singers need to understand what exactly it feels like when their onset is correct. One personal favorite pre-warm up is having the singer begin by saying the vowel “e” (i) and then singing it. Ask if the effect was the same between the spoken (i) and the sung (i). What was different? What felt different? How can we make the spoken (i) feel the same as the sung (i)? Just the cognitive recognition that there is a difference between spoken and sung when there need not be is the first, and most important step.
Breathing with a Conductor vs. Without
Let’s face it, those who have been in choir all have the same effect when the conductor raises that hand before the down beat-a big huge, open-mouthed breath. Appropriate for the choral genre, and not uncommon in solo singing as well, this preparatory breath allows the conductor and singer to be on the same page (hopefully). However, especially when pertaining to warming up in choir, the singer can unknowingly develop bad breathing habits that will not only hinder singing, but also eventually create a disjunct between the relationship to the prep beat of the conductor.
Most singers do not breathe deeply into their low abdomen as desired by the conductor when given the prep to breathe. For the most part, the reason is physiological in nature. Open mouthed breathing, which is often ineffective in the middle range, only targets the intercostal muscles. When lifting at the gym, weight-lifters do not take an open mouthed gasping breath to tap into their core and achieve maximum lift ability. They breathe through their nose just as any human does to say a sentence or, in the case of a disgruntled instructor, calm themselves down. Inhaling through the nose has the instinctual effect to trigger the lower intercostal muscles, and, most importantly, the lower abdomen. A singer’s ability to be conscientious of their breathing, if anything during warm ups in choir, will increase their ability to maintain deeper breaths and will transfer over into positive results during solo lessons.
Uniqueness Lends Itself to Divisions
In the instrumental world, there is a difference between marching band and concert band; in the athletic world, a difference between a long distance runner and a sprinter. Although each can be labeled under a general description, band and track respectfully for instance, they are unique and require unique training. A division will, and always should, exist between solo singing and choral singing in order to express the uniqueness of each genre. However, in understanding and utilizing the differences between the two genres, a singer increases their understanding of their own instrument and the ability to be flexible and versatile. After all, isn’t that the goal of the instructor – for the student to understand his/her instrument and sing healthy in any situation? The final suggestion for this article is to considering speaking with the choral directors for your singers. Discovering what that director is striving for within the choir will inform the instructor how to best implement the aforementioned techniques. It will also increase rapport with the choral teacher and drum up business.
AUTHOR: Crystal Buck – Click here for Crystal’s bio