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How versatile should your voice be ?

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Les B 27 Aug 00 - 01:25 AM
Owlkat 27 Aug 00 - 01:46 AM
GUEST,Ray 27 Aug 00 - 05:50 AM
Lox 27 Aug 00 - 08:04 AM
Naemanson 27 Aug 00 - 08:13 AM
Alice 27 Aug 00 - 12:25 PM
Les B 27 Aug 00 - 01:03 PM
Alice 27 Aug 00 - 01:23 PM
Alice 27 Aug 00 - 03:03 PM
Les B 27 Aug 00 - 05:25 PM
Alice 27 Aug 00 - 06:16 PM
Alice 27 Aug 00 - 06:33 PM
Pseudolus 27 Aug 00 - 09:57 PM
GUEST,Joerg 27 Aug 00 - 10:34 PM
Little Hawk 27 Aug 00 - 10:49 PM
Escamillo 27 Aug 00 - 11:17 PM
Mbo 27 Aug 00 - 11:20 PM
Escamillo 28 Aug 00 - 02:18 AM
M.Ted 28 Aug 00 - 02:41 PM
Les B 28 Aug 00 - 07:31 PM
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Subject: How versatile should your voice be ?
From: Les B
Date: 27 Aug 00 - 01:25 AM

This is an outgrowth of the discussion in the "Duos, Trios or Quartets" thread. I just saw a singer/songwriter tonight who had a very versatile guitar style, everything from swing to folk to country to mod pop.

His voice, however, got tiresome about half way through the first set -- sort of whispy, high, and soft - not out of tune, just tiring in its constant "sameness"!

I'm wondering if any of you singers consciously try to vary your vocal styles through your sets, just as you may change instrumental styles - fingerpick to flatpick, guitar to banjo or mando or autoharp or whatever. If so, how, and does voice changing become "affected" or can it be pulled off successfully ?

I realize I'm not stating this well, but hopefully some of you will get the drift!

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Subject: RE: How versatile should your voice be ?
From: Owlkat
Date: 27 Aug 00 - 01:46 AM

Interesting question, Les.
I know that my vocal tone differs greatly, depending on the material, the style, the venue, the audience, and whether I'm solo, or with others.
I also believe that it's a good thing to sing in the voice that is one's "real" voice. While it is only natural to want to sound like your musical heroes, over time, and with enough listening, it is possible to find the true sound your vocal chords make.
That said, colouring your voice depending on the above-mentioned variables is only to be expected, and indeed, part of the fun.
I can't tell you the number of times I've felt frustration listening to friends singing and hearing the true tones fighting to get out, only to be squashed by their efforts to sound like Neil Young, or Jewel.
Find your own sound, and choose to use it.

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Subject: RE: How versatile should your voice be ?
From: GUEST,Ray
Date: 27 Aug 00 - 05:50 AM

I agree with Owlkat that you pretty much have to stick with your natural singing voice. HOWEVER, much can be done with varying songs with different keys, tempos, subject matter, etc. One of the great things about "folk" music is its many facets. When entertaining you have to do just that....ENTERTAIN....not put people to sleep. Don't be over-concerned with your voice, per se. Push your range a little. Sing like you feel you would in your car or in the shower.

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Subject: RE: How versatile should your voice be ?
From: Lox
Date: 27 Aug 00 - 08:04 AM

I think that if your voice has a particular quality it will shine through no matter how you try and sing.

I find that I can't help changing the way I sing depending on what song I am singing. When I sing songs that I've heard Christy Moore do, a subtle "Irishness" sneaks in that I can't help. The song often requires it though for its character to be properly put across.

Likewise, if I sing a funky or bluesy song, I tend to sing with a hoarse shouty voice, with a touch of an american accent. My own songs vary in style depending on the style of the song.

As for Neil Young songs, perhaps I am being a little harsh, but honesty requires that I tell you, I think the reason people sound horrible when they try to imitate him, is that they have to whine to do so.

The trick is to enjoy the song yourself. Even if nobody else is enjoying it. You've got to have fun with your voice. If you take it too seriously, it will be forever choked/strangled, and you will be less likely to hit the right notes. Even if you sing slightly off key, a voice with a bit of personality always wins the day.

Take it easy.


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Subject: RE: How versatile should your voice be ?
From: Naemanson
Date: 27 Aug 00 - 08:13 AM

I have to agree. You fit your voice to the song and the way the song feels to you. It's more than a change in key or tempo or rhythmic attack. There is a certain touch that you need to use with each song to make it fit in the voice, the instrument, the set, and the day/evening. If one of those elements is missing then your set begins to sound too uniform.

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Subject: RE: How versatile should your voice be ?
From: Alice
Date: 27 Aug 00 - 12:25 PM

When I listen to alot of singers on tv, radio and recordings, I think, Why does bad technique become so popular? The breathy, air-leaked, non-supported, whiney style that has become synonymous with "girl singer" drives me up the wall.

Good thread, Les. I think the singing style absolutely does make a difference depending on what kind of genre a person is performing. It doesn't sound right to sing folk music with alot of vibrato. Musical comedy is belted, it isn't sung like opera. There definitely is a sound to our voice that we are born with, and no amount of training will put a particular sound into the voice if it just isn't naturally going to be there. There is a person I know of who is a choral teacher at a small university. He always tries to get a part in the yearly opera performance, but he was born with a musical comedy kind of voice, not an opera voice. On stage next to opera professionals, you can see him dwarfed by their ability to add different colors to their role that he just can't achieve, and their stamina to be strong at the end of several hours when he is all worn out.

My voice is going to be a little different depending on the type of song I sing, but I also realize that choosing songs that fit my kind of voice is important. There are songs that I love that I would not perform myself, because they just aren't right for my kind of voice.

You have a very good voice, Les, a natural talent, and I think that is really what is disappointing in hearing the monotonous, whiny, breathless (or off-key) kind of singing. When your ear and discernment is trained enough to hear what sounds good, it becomes like fingernails on the chalkboard to listen to something that is so off (for me, anyway). Escamillo wrote in another thread of the constant breaking sound in the South American pop singer Shakira. I think the more discerning a person is in their listening, the more we expect of someone who gets up in front of an audience and takes on the role of performer. In general, almost everyone with working vocal cords can sing, and I would never discourage anyone from trying. There is a difference, though, in what we expect from a person on stage who is taking money for their performance.

my two cents (hope that didn't sound too ornery)


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Subject: RE: How versatile should your voice be ?
From: Les B
Date: 27 Aug 00 - 01:03 PM

I definitely agree, we all strive to find our own unique voice, but I'm curious about how much you can "colour" that voice - a good term used by Owlkat -- and what some of those dimensions are, without becoming a crude imitation of some singing idol ?

Some of the directions I can imagine would be: (1) to add more bass (basso profundo ??) like an opera singer. I was doing that one night, sort of satirically, and another musician told me I should sing more songs that way. ('course it was a banjo player, so go figure!) (2) to do the bluegrass thing - high, lonesome and through the nose (I can go a long time without doing that) (3)The whispering/soft approach - this is one I haven't tried, and it makes sense for certain songs. I'm used to really projecting in non-amplified venues though, so it would be hard to learn to back off. (4) Adding an accent - I don't feel right trying to do Irish, Scots, etc., when I'm not. However, here is a comic song that has a "male" and "female" voice that I try to do. (5) Putting a little "growl" in the voice for rougher blues songs, as indicated by Lox (6) Yodeling - I came, I tried, I failed.

Others ????

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Subject: RE: How versatile should your voice be ?
From: Alice
Date: 27 Aug 00 - 01:23 PM

There is a technique I was taught in classical singing to add a brighter color to the sound. There are muscles in the face either side of the nose that for lack of a better word I'll call "snout muscles". If you learn to consciously lift those muscles while you sing (look in a mirror) you will hear that they change the color of the sound. That's one way to add a bit of variety. While learning a piece, my teacher would point out places where I should add that brightness to match the quality of words/melody to bring it out from the rest of the piece.

On higher parts of your range, lift the soft palate at the back of the roof of your mouth and flood the sound with air. That will give you another change. Sing a high melody without doing it and then try it, and you will hear that it changes the sound. It also makes it easier to hit those high notes and puts less stress on your larynx.

Changing volume to emphasize certain parts of the song also adds variety. If you come to a spot that is a tender meaning, make the volume softer. Practice the messa di voce exercise. On one note and one breath, start pianissimo and slowly build to forte then back to pianissimo. Do this exercise every day, gradually increasing the number of seconds. Count in your head as you build to forte, 1, 2, 3, 4, then as you diminish back to pianissimo, 5, 6, 7, 8. Keep the time it takes to build to forte equal to the time it takes to diminish again to your soft starting volume. This will give you more control over your voice and breathing, so you can build and back off from volume in a way that makes your singing more expressive and also adds variety.

Are these the kind of techniques you are thinking of? If you have the time to drive over to Bozeman and take lessons from Suzanne, she is very affordable and would work around your schedule, every other week, or however you can do it. She would give you the exercises and practice repertoire to achieve what you want to do and to build control.


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Subject: RE: How versatile should your voice be ?
From: Alice
Date: 27 Aug 00 - 03:03 PM

Another exercise that makes your voice versatile is learning to sing fast staccato scales. It may not seem like you'd need to use this in a song, but it really strengthens the ability to sing fast, with fluidity, and hitting each note right on pitch, no matter how fast you are going.

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Subject: RE: How versatile should your voice be ?
From: Les B
Date: 27 Aug 00 - 05:25 PM

Alice - thanks for those tips, I knew there was probably lots of classical technique that could be explored. That's the sort of thing I was wondering about.

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Subject: RE: How versatile should your voice be ?
From: Alice
Date: 27 Aug 00 - 06:16 PM

These exercises are best learned when someone can demonstrate them in person and then periodically listen to you and hear/see if you are doing them correctly. It takes months of regular practice to develop the muscles, but its worth it, gets better and better with practice and muscle development. I couldn't even find/isolate those snout muscles at first, and to do staccato - faggeddaboudit... took me quite awhile to get the ab muscles working right to really do staccato.

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Subject: RE: How versatile should your voice be ?
From: Alice
Date: 27 Aug 00 - 06:33 PM

Here is a little more on the messa di voce exercise: The Mechanics of Messa di Voce
All of these techniques really need a good teacher working with you in person to learn them correctly. No matter what kind of music a person wants to perform to the public, learning these basic skills and the exercises and practice repertoire that develop the muscles really helps to have a great deal of control and ability to use your voice to its potential. One of the best advantages of using these techniques in singing, I think, is that you don't damage your vocal cords, and can sing well far into old age.

When I first met my teacher and she said, "Alice, singing is athletic." I didn't quite understand. I didn't realize at the beginning how much was known physiologically about the voice and how long the techniques had been studied and developed over the years. I think in another thread Escamillo made the point that those primitive humans who learned how to use their voice with volume and support had an advantage in communication. Now I know that serious singers are like athletes, training the muscles on a regular schedule with supervision from coaches who can see if the technique is being done right, if the muscles are being used to get optimum results. Not everyone will feel the need to develop their singing this seriously, we can all sing, not everyone will be a marathon runner, we can all run. The difference is in the natural physical talent and the serious development of skills to use the talent.


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Subject: RE: How versatile should your voice be ?
From: Pseudolus
Date: 27 Aug 00 - 09:57 PM

I have found that it's best to concentrate on "style" rather than trying to change your voice or tonal quality. Having said that, if I happen to be singing an Elvis song, I will absolutely pick a line or two that I can fake a little. It's a no lose situation cause if it's good, people say hey, not bad, if it stinks, I generally get a chuckle out of it because I'm not seriously doing an imitation. Capturing the style in your own voice will come across a lot better and for those that like to hear it "like the record/cd/etc." will recognize the style and those who want to hear your interprutation of that style will appreciate what you've done with the song.

Having said that, I can never resist at the end of singing "What a wonderful World", throwing in a little Louis Armstrong singing, "Oh Yeah!!!!"


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Subject: RE: How versatile should your voice be ?
From: GUEST,Joerg
Date: 27 Aug 00 - 10:34 PM

Lox - my opinion is yours - with only one slight correction: Learn to enjoy the song yourself as long as there's nobody present to object to what you don't like either. Once you enjoy your song - why not allow others to enjoy it too? Be confident - they are much more like you than you are maybe thinking.

Don't worry if you sound a little like the artist you learned the song from. Of course you like it also because of the very special way he did it, why should that be some bad way? And why not also learn singing some way that isn't bad?

One of my own recent experiences: I finally (FINALLY - pfffff) got the lyrics of 'Tom Traubert's Blues' by Tom Waits, a song I knew from the performing of Rod Stewart. When I then was ready to tackle that song I also found a sample of Tom Waits performing it himself. Well there may be people who consider the voices of Tom Waits and Rod Stewart to be similar - I don't, they are very different. But both sing that song exactly the same way which was new to me, and I had to learn singing that way too before I could enjoy my own performance. Let me tell you that my own voice is COMPLETELY different from those of Tom Waits and Rod Stewart. Now that I'm through with it I don't think I have to hide - as long as I obey the special way of singing this song needs to develop its special charm.

Of course that is not a method some professional singer can get along with. Once you are a star and a millionaire you can select the songs that fit your voice and your way of singing - and that's what the people want to hear from you, so you'll just get even richer by that. Those who must sing what is paid to be sung ... yes, Alice, that's athletic, and those professionals do have my whole respect. It's such a pity that they simply aren't allowed to enjoy me - I suppose they wouldn't consider difficult what I want - and I would even pay for it.

I am getting my money from some other source, I needn't obey the restrictions professional singers suffer from, so I can enjoy the freedom of any great star AND his success (in terms of singing, not of income, but that's enough for me).

I also don't worry of copying something or someone. *BG* - that would take me an amount of work I'm MUCH too lazy for. (I can't understand professionals who spend that work - when they are done the audience takes them for the juke box - no joke, they do.) When there is a song that I can't make fit my personal style or v.v. - well I don't forget it, I just leave it alone for the moment.

Singing is fun, it's joy - at least, thank God, to me. It's true, nobody can sing without practise, but with it everybody can - that's an aspect which can be called athletic, but I wouldn't use that word to explain what singing is. (And I would never dare to tell how or what singing 'should be'.)

Hoping not to sound like a parrot - take it easy. Sing as you enjoy it yourself and it will be enjoyed by others as well.


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Subject: RE: How versatile should your voice be ?
From: Little Hawk
Date: 27 Aug 00 - 10:49 PM

I think it's important not to push the top end (the high notes) too hard...something I did a lot when I was young and inexperienced, and something I tend to do when I can't hear myself too well. It's hard on the vocal chords. I have moved a number of my old songs into a lower key than I originally did them in. I just move up on the microphone, relax, and get those richer tones in the lower register going.

Most people sound dreadful when they try to imitate Neil Young. Why in God's name do they do it? Neil writes great songs, so why not just sing them in one's own voice? That's what Neil does. I wouldn't say he's a very good singer (technically speaking), but it's a sound that works very well for him. I do NOT try to sound like him when I play one of his songs.

I occasionally imitate the Dylan sound quite consciously, just for fun. Mostly I do it my own way, though.

Inflections of Dylan will creep in from time to time, but I definitely have grown into my own voice.

As for varying the voice...yeah! Do it. Vary the vocal technique to suit the song, the emotion, the mood, and the occasion. Try singing a song in a brand new way, even if you've done it 500 times the same way. The results can be very refreshing for both you and the listener.

Check out Dylan's entire career for the most astounding examples of that very technique.

Try changing the lyrics too. It keeps the songs alive, and can lead to whole new discoveries.

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Subject: RE: How versatile should your voice be ?
From: Escamillo
Date: 27 Aug 00 - 11:17 PM

Only to add two cents more: look at what the great singers do. With the help of their teachers, they try to find their path in the vast and complex jungle of singing, and once they find it, they keep in their path. It is usual to hear them saying "oh, that role is not within my possibilities", "I'll try that author in ten years more", "No, please don't ask me that song". For that reason Kraus didn't sing Wagner, Pavarotti does not sing in German, Sutherland didn't try Puccini (and Escamillo doesn't sing Verdi, Puccini, Wagner, and 300 others).

Pop singing is more distressed, indeed, but the reasoning of a good singer may well be very similar: I'll not sing anything out of my reach, mainly because I want to keep my vocal cords healthy for many years. I'll keep studying and may be within 2, or 6 or 15 years I'll be prepared for a much wider repertoire !

Un abrazo - Andrés

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Subject: RE: How versatile should your voice be ?
From: Mbo
Date: 27 Aug 00 - 11:20 PM

But Andres! I have Turandot with Sutherland in it!

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Subject: RE: How versatile should your voice be ?
From: Escamillo
Date: 28 Aug 00 - 02:18 AM

Oops.. well, it was a bad example, or.. Sutherland should have never sung Puccini ! :)))

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Subject: RE: How versatile should your voice be ?
From: M.Ted
Date: 28 Aug 00 - 02:41 PM

Les, a nice discussion has developed here, concerning vocal technigues, but the issue that you brought up at the beginning is not a technique issue--it sounds like the person had fair techinque--it is an issue of "feeling", and it is obvious that the person that you were listening to didn't have any--they were just plain boring, and it took you a few songs to notice it--

Chances are that if you had a tape of the first song, and listened to it, you would realize that it hadn't been very interesting either--the singer had a pleasant sounding voice, and had memorized the songs, and could reproduce them without "mistakes" but there was nothing else there--no reason to listen--

Singing technique is important for only one reason--it gives you the tools that you need to reproduce a song--but that alone is not enough, after you have figured out how to "sing" the song, it is necessary to interpret it for yourself--to find away to express your own feeling through the song, to make it your own--

Truth be told, I have encountered few teachers of any sort, whether they be vocal coaches, art teachers, writing teachers, etc, who could do much more than provide the technique. because the truth is that only a few people, writerss, musicians, singers, artists, have found the way to express real feelings in their work--Everybody else settles for technique, peppered up with a few cheap tricks--

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Subject: RE: How versatile should your voice be ?
From: Les B
Date: 28 Aug 00 - 07:31 PM

M. Ted - you're right it is mostly a "feeling" issue. I suspect if one stops and briefly meditates/visualizes/immerses oneself in the mood and intent of the song, one's voice, upon starting to sing, will reflect the correct "feeling".

The guy I heard singing that lead to the discussion in this thread wasn't bad -- if fact he has written some songs recorded by major artists. Its just that he started every song with the same intense body posture and soft, somewhat whiney approach. Perhaps trying too hard to project himself as the sensitive "Artiste" -- ie, too stylized. Just once I wanted to hear him step up to the mike and really belt something out.

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