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Vocal embellishment - guidelines?

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Margo 18 Feb 99 - 06:45 PM
Alice 19 Feb 99 - 12:23 PM
Alice 19 Feb 99 - 12:32 PM
SeanM 19 Feb 99 - 01:00 PM
emily 19 Feb 99 - 06:34 PM
Alice 19 Feb 99 - 08:25 PM
Margo 19 Feb 99 - 08:35 PM
rich r 19 Feb 99 - 08:51 PM
harpgirl 20 Feb 99 - 12:45 AM
Liam's Brother 20 Feb 99 - 09:01 AM
Margo 20 Feb 99 - 07:35 PM
andrew 21 Feb 99 - 07:33 PM
harpgirl 21 Feb 99 - 09:36 PM
Don Meixner 21 Feb 99 - 11:49 PM
Susan-Marie 22 Feb 99 - 08:27 AM
mountain tyme 23 Feb 99 - 03:38 AM
Alice 23 Feb 99 - 10:05 AM
MMario 23 Feb 99 - 10:19 AM
Art Thieme 23 Feb 99 - 11:28 AM
Bert 23 Feb 99 - 12:53 PM
SeanM 23 Feb 99 - 01:07 PM
Bert 23 Feb 99 - 02:08 PM
MAG (inactive) 23 Feb 99 - 02:28 PM
Dan Keding 23 Feb 99 - 11:52 PM
Penny 24 Feb 99 - 05:34 PM
Alice 24 Feb 99 - 07:04 PM
Margo 24 Feb 99 - 07:45 PM
Penny 25 Feb 99 - 05:54 PM
Alice 25 Feb 99 - 06:18 PM
Barbara 26 Feb 99 - 07:47 PM
jo77 26 Feb 99 - 08:43 PM
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Subject: Vocal embellishment - guidelines?
From: Margo
Date: 18 Feb 99 - 06:45 PM

In many of the old ballads and songs I hear vocal embellishments added (grace notes and turns). In my studies of the early art songs there were similar embellishments allowed, mainly for emphasis of key words or to add drama. Do any of you follow guidelines for where and when they are added, or is it the artists style that dictates their placement?

Also, the style of singing of art songs in the 16th and 17th centuries was one of straight, clear tones ie no vibrato. When you think of the traditional singers you like, do they have any vibrato?

Thanks,

Margarita


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Subject: RE: Vocal embellishment - guidelines?
From: Alice
Date: 19 Feb 99 - 12:23 PM

Yes, when it comes to liking a voice with vibrato, Joan Baez and Mary O'Hara.


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Subject: RE: Vocal embellishment - guidelines?
From: Alice
Date: 19 Feb 99 - 12:32 PM

I have to add that I know they obviously have trained voices, but I have been especially inspired by Mary O'Hara's recording of songs that were not considered commercial, and her committment to do it her way. I recently finished reading her autobiography, The Scent of the Roses, and I am even more inspired and impressed by what she has done for traditional music.
On the other hand, I also like to listen to the raw power of a sean nos (old style) singer like Joe Heaney.


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Subject: RE: Vocal embellishment - guidelines?
From: SeanM
Date: 19 Feb 99 - 01:00 PM

Coming from someone trying to make it in the modern folk scene, the embellishments you are talking about are pretty much up to the singer. As with almost all vocal tradition, a bit gets added on and passed down. Of course, if you're trying to do straight period recreation, then things are different, and you'd probably be better off looking in a University for music theory majors from the era you're singing from...


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Subject: RE: Vocal embellishment - guidelines?
From: emily
Date: 19 Feb 99 - 06:34 PM

As a more classically trained singer who is enjoying singing traditional music, I'm interested in this whole vibrato issue. Vibrato can add warmth and fullness to a voice without detracting from its purity. I have a friend who was raving about a singer who sang with a nice straight tone. This singer actually has a vibrato but the voice is still very clear and pure. People tend not to notice the vibrato but it is still there.

When people say they don't like vibrato, I bet mostly what they mean is they don't like a wobble which is too wide a vibrato. Or a tremolo which is too fast a vibrato.

I've just been to an early music workshop and I asked the very knowledgeable director about vibrato in early music. He did not think all early music needed to be sung straight tone, that much of it was written for castrati who would sing with a vibrato.

I like to think that people are singing with the best possible sound they can make, vibrato or not. And the listeners will appreciate that.


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Subject: RE: Vocal embellishment - guidelines?
From: Alice
Date: 19 Feb 99 - 08:25 PM

emily, I agree. We had quite a discussion a year ago about singing, and I posted links at that time to websites with guidelines for singers in promoting vocal good health. (clickhere for most of the messages with links regarding the voice) My voice training has been classical, too, but my intention has always been to perform more folk and traditional music than classical. It became apparent in our earlier discussion on the Mudcat that some people think anyone who has voice training would sound like an opera singer trying to sing a folk song, and of course this isn't true. Knowing how to use your breath support and being able to sing in a clear voice is alot easier if a singer has had a good coach and has had time to develop those techniques. Training the ear and training those muscles pays off no matter what type of music we sing.

As far as vocal embellishments, Margarita, here are links to descriptions of sean nos. Styles of Traditional Irish Singing
A Brief Overview of Irish Singing

Alice in Montana


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Subject: RE: Vocal embellishment - guidelines?
From: Margo
Date: 19 Feb 99 - 08:35 PM

Oh Emily, that makes sense to me! I also am more classically trained and have recently fallen in love with the early ballads from the UK area. So far, I've learned from listening to others on CD's and I emulate those singers that I like. I guess I'll just continue on in that fashion. Thanks for the input... Margarita


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Subject: RE: Vocal embellishment - guidelines?
From: rich r
Date: 19 Feb 99 - 08:51 PM

I recently stumbled on some Richard Dyer-Bennet recordings in a library. He excelled in incorporating various embellishments in all manner of traditional songs and ballads. His snort/squeal on "Little Pig" is probably the best I have ever heard because it fits so tightly into the song itself. When the word vibrato is mentioned my mind always drifts back to high school and the Kingston Trio. Some folks I sang with always mockingly referred to John "Machine Gun" Stewart, but it never kept me from enjoying his music.

rich r


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Subject: RE: Vocal embellishment - guidelines?
From: harpgirl
Date: 20 Feb 99 - 12:45 AM

Margarita,
If you are listening to old american ballad singers with interesting vocal embellisment and style, have you ever listened to recordings of Almeda Riddle? She lived near Heber Springs Arkansas and sang many old ballads with trills and such and waved her delicate hands inward and outward to keep time...many singers who grew up singing in isolated spots like hollers in the Apalachians and Ozark mountains have interesting vocal styles...in fact we should start a thread about it again...harpgirl harpgirl


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Subject: RE: Vocal embellishment - guidelines?
From: Liam's Brother
Date: 20 Feb 99 - 09:01 AM

Hi Margarita!

It's important to realize that singing styles are not national in nature so much as regional, local and individual. By that I mean there is not, for example, a single American or Irish singing sytle.

In the inside front cover of The Folk Songs of North America by Alan Lomax there is a map of the Folk Song Style Areas of North America and I would suggest you take a look at this when you have the opportunity. In brief, it shows
a Northern singing style extending from about New Jersey and southern Pennsylvania, along the banks of the Ohio River, on to St. Louis and out to Laramie, Wyoming,
co-existant white and black Southern singing styles south from Maryland, West Virginia, the Ohio River and St. Louis to Dallas, San Antonio to the Rio Grande, and,
a Western singing style west from St. Louis, Ft. Smith, Dallas andan Antonio.

In Ireland, the 4 provinces are the main divider.

However, within these broad general areas, there is considerable variation locally and individually.

I would say, if you're interested in singing in an authentic style, the thing to do is to get a number of recordings of real honest-to-goodness traditional singers from the broad area you're interested in and do a lot of listening.

I hope this is helpful.

All the best,
Dan Milner


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Subject: RE: Vocal embellishment - guidelines?
From: Margo
Date: 20 Feb 99 - 07:35 PM

Thank you Dan! I see now that I don't have to be too concerned about my style of singing. I always sing with my own guidelines, namely clarity in diction and poetic expression. I just didn't know if there was a particular style that I needed to learn to sing the early ballads without offending the sensibilities of traditional music lovers. (I know you can't please 'em all....)

Margarita


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Subject: RE: Vocal embellishment - guidelines?
From: andrew
Date: 21 Feb 99 - 07:33 PM

The embellishment you ask about, in the Irish tradition, is drawn, in its purest sense, from something deep within us. You mentioned Joe Heaney and rightly so. His style is representative of the Connemara sean-nos style which is very much alive in those parts today. The embelishments heard in his voice could probably be traced to the origins of the Celtic race, and can also be heard in the singing of those celts who moved east ie. India. However, when all is said and done the individual singer should develop his/her own feeling for when and where and to what extent they use such embelishment. I heard one sean-nos singer liken it to blowing up a balloon....you need a certain amount to get it right but too much and it will burst ie destroy the song.


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Subject: RE: Vocal embellishment - guidelines?
From: harpgirl
Date: 21 Feb 99 - 09:36 PM

I like what Dan says about singing. The old singers were mostly illiterate and when they did write it was often rather poorly. Thus, songs were traded orally and when written down they might be written and spelled as heard. The Arkansas/Missouri style is one I am familar with and it is easy to hear the similarities in style in a region and to imagine that this is because of oral trading and listening, with written text and phonographs not a part of the process, at all. In a song circle I started last Tuesday ( inspired by mudcatters, of course) a friend sang a field song she heard her nanny sing her in Mississippi about little sally walker. mmmmm, she captured the drawl and rythym of mississippi singing so well. I love the voice of Sarah Makem, Mrs. Joan Clancy and Paddy Tunney. What can you say about their styles, Dan? harpgirl


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Subject: RE: Vocal embellishment - guidelines?
From: Don Meixner
Date: 21 Feb 99 - 11:49 PM

Margarita,

From my end of things I think a little goes a long ways. Just because Joni Mitchell and others are capable of multilevel octave acrobatics is not an excuse to do so. It has the same effect on me as some dental equipment. Singing with a vocal vibrato can be ver effective. I still love Buffy Ste. Marie fr'instance. It all depends on the song and the situation.

Oh God, protect me from Minnie Rpperton and "How Gentle is the Rain."

Don Meixner


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Subject: RE: Vocal embellishment - guidelines?
From: Susan-Marie
Date: 22 Feb 99 - 08:27 AM

I think it was either Joe Heaney or Frank Harte (traditional Irish singers)who said that ornament should be used for drawing out a particularly beautiful part of a song. SO, look for the part of the song where the words or melody are most beautiful, and see if ornamentation will work.

Also, it gets boring to ornament the same part of a song with every verse, so look for ways to ornament different verses different, even when it's the same melody. Sometimes it's even more interesting to stop ornamenting for a line ot two, just for contrast.


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Subject: RE: Vocal embellishment - guidelines?
From: mountain tyme
Date: 23 Feb 99 - 03:38 AM

We have presented a vocal duet style (f/lead-m/tenor) with guitar and mandolin for over twenty years. Some of our songs we learn from cylinders of the "Parlor Song" era which ended in 1905. Most of the songs we do come from the 20's thru the 60's. Because our style is that of the parlor era most folks assume all of our material is from that era. It is the embellishments common to that era that cause this assumption. These imbellishments not only makes us quite unique, they also cause us to be labeled as "traditional". What this all means is not a subject new to the threadworn. We just love the style and it is well received. Embellishments to us are the driving force which expands the attention span of the listeners and causes the great streams of tears to flow in the first few rows. We recommend the effort be taken.


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Subject: RE: Vocal embellishment - guidelines?
From: Alice
Date: 23 Feb 99 - 10:05 AM

This reminds me of a conversation I had yesterday with another singer. We were discussing the story telling of song, and how frustrating it is to sing with musicians who are playing as if it's dance music. I call it the "American Bandstandardization"... you know, give it a beat you can dance to. As Joe Heaney pointed out, you have to "say a song", if you are singing in the way I think we are discussing here. My friend gives the band a lecture on "recitative". From my experience, people in the US are unused to hearing songs sung freely, unmetered, and solo a capella. To stand up and sing a song that conveys an emotional story is unusual for listeners in my part of the world. But, that's the best way I like to sing. The song changes a little each time in the way it is expressed, with the meaning and emotions being "put over" by, as Susan-Marie stated, the singer bringing out words and meaning from the way the emphasis is placed with ornament, firmata, change in meter, etc.


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Subject: RE: Vocal embellishment - guidelines?
From: MMario
Date: 23 Feb 99 - 10:19 AM

Alice - you said: "From my experience, people in the US are unused to hearing songs sung freely, unmetered, and solo a capella." and a lot of other good stuff...I have been singing with some friends for about 2 years now --before that it was always solo and a capella. They ALL have more musical training then I do (not hard, I have basically none) but the biggest point we are always having problems with is when I slow down or speed up phrases to put more emotional expression in. The only reason they "let me get away with it" is that I sing most of the verses solo...[not my idea - theirs] but even then I am constantly getting told "stick to the beat". The trouble is, even they admit it sounds BETTER with the changes - so why do they insist on forcing it into a steady beat?

totally confused.... MMario


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Subject: RE: Vocal embellishment - guidelines?
From: Art Thieme
Date: 23 Feb 99 - 11:28 AM

The idea seems to be to make your voice sound like a bagpipe. ;-)

Art


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Subject: RE: Vocal embellishment - guidelines?
From: Bert
Date: 23 Feb 99 - 12:53 PM

Alice & MMario,
Re: ....songs sung freely, unmetered, and solo a capella....

I know just what you mean. I was trying to sing an English version of Foggy Dew one time. Only to be helped out by others in the circle who decided it needed accompaniment with a steady meter and the wrong chords.

Also, I can't sing Manurah Manyah any other way because I first heard it sung that way.

Bert, (Who's glad he's not the only one who "can't sing properly")


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Subject: RE: Vocal embellishment - guidelines?
From: SeanM
Date: 23 Feb 99 - 01:07 PM

This is mildly tangenital, but...

Is there really a way to sing something 'improperly'? Amongst my singing friends, we have a saying that 'Unless you wrote the song, or personally know the individual that did, you can't say that a folk song is being sung wrong'. One of the vital things about folk music is it's ability to change to suit the needs of those singing it at a moment's notice. Be honest... how many of us out there have heard a wonderful new song, and then tried to sing it later... only to alter the melody because a) it's out of our range, b) we didn't like a bit of it or c) we were too drunk to remember how we got home, let alone how the grace note on that last 'Too-ri-aye' went... The same goes for the lyrics. My personal motto has always been: Keep true to the spirit of the song, and the music will follow.

M


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Subject: RE: Vocal embellishment - guidelines?
From: Bert
Date: 23 Feb 99 - 02:08 PM

c) that's me.


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Subject: RE: Vocal embellishment - guidelines?
From: MAG (inactive)
Date: 23 Feb 99 - 02:28 PM

Margarita, I'd like to second what emily said awhile ago (me having just discoveredthis thread) about clear and pure still having vibrato. Jean Redpath and Cilla Fisher are both singers with classical training who choose to do folk material. Their voices are so clear and pure ou don't notice the vibrato until you try to sing like them.

"Song of the Seals" is a good example of what is referred to above as "recitative" -- you remember at Portland Song Circle (where I enjoyed meeting you and Craig and Merle and everyone else) it was a sung story, without regid phrasing.

Listen to Moira Connell's version of "Western Highway" to see how she places her turns differently in each comearound. (I just love her recording; playing it as I cross Snowqualmie Pass toward Seattle is one of my big highs.)

Mary Ann


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Subject: RE: Vocal embellishment - guidelines?
From: Dan Keding
Date: 23 Feb 99 - 11:52 PM

The song comes from the heart and when you sing the feeling you have for the music is found in your voice. With some people its just straight ahead with no frills with others it swirls and floats. Neither way is wrong, neither right. They both fit the people who sing in that fashion just right. If the way you imagine the song comes out with embellishments that's right for you, if the way you envision the song is simple and sparse that's it. I sometimes sing with more grace notes when I sing unaccompanied. When I sing with the guitar I usually am more straightforward. The song's the imporatnt thing, let the words and music carry it, just go along for the ride. Dan


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Subject: RE: Vocal embellishment - guidelines?
From: Penny
Date: 24 Feb 99 - 05:34 PM

I've been reading this with great interest, since I missed out on the musical education I need to understand some of it. I learn by ear, or by picking out tunes from music on the piano and then singing the way it seems right for the song, either a capella or with my own guitar accompaniment (and that's not brilliant). I remember singing in performance at college, something formal with a pianist, and being asked after if I was trained, and if I used vibrato. I would have thought if they knew what it was they could have heard it if I used it. But I didn't know. I had carefully avoided training. The only two teachers of singing where I lived taught a style of standing in a stilted stiff way, singing in a robotic emotionless way, and I DIDN'T WANT TO END UP LIKE THAT. OK, they were robotic with grace-notes, and probably vibrato. But what is it? How do I do it? Or avoid it if I don't want to? Where can I hear it?

Penny


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Subject: RE: Vocal embellishment - guidelines?
From: Alice
Date: 24 Feb 99 - 07:04 PM

Penny, the vibrato for voice is very misunderstood. (And as you point out, not all voice teachers are good teachers. I've repeatedly quoted my teacher at the Mudcat until people are probably tired of reading about her.click here .)

There is a natural vibrato for the singing voice, and each voice is unique in its vibrato. It is not a wobble or tremble of the voice, which is a forced vibration. For example, you have seen a violinist or guitar player add vibrato to a tone (rapid variation of the pitch) caused by rapidly moving the finger that is pressing down on the string. For a singer, the vibrato is a more natural tremulous effect, since it isn't a deliberate change in pitch like a trill, or as I stated earlier, a wobble or tremble of the voice, which you don't want. Whether with a voice or with an instrument, vibrato adds an expressive richness and depth to the quality of the tone. Whatever you do, you don't want to force an artificial tremble in your voice. Just keep singing, use good breath support and keep the sound from going nasal, sing music in your natural range, learn as much good vocal technique as you can, and eventually you will find your natural vibrato. Here is a website about The Singing Voice (click here).

alice in montana


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Subject: RE: Vocal embellishment - guidelines?
From: Margo
Date: 24 Feb 99 - 07:45 PM

Hi Penny. I can tell you that I have always disliked a very un-natural stiff type of singing. With classical training, a person is encouraged to find the way to make thier voice resonate in the body: head voice resonating in the head, chest voice in the chest and mid range in both. Your body is your instrument.

I can't stand high schreeching sopranos and wobbly vibrato that sounds forced. But when a singer finds the place where the voice naturally resonates, you get a tone like a bell ringing clear. I can sing straight, but I always seem to have a little vibrato which was what I was concerned about.

My voice teacher asked me to.....you're gonna love this...go home and stick my head in a garbage can and hoot high and low until I find the resonant spot at which the can vibrated loudly. (I did this, too!)

Grace notes and turns are notes you add to the melody for an artistic effect. If you think of the song "Amazing Grace" you'll never hear any two singers perform it exactly the same.

I hope this helps, Margarita


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Subject: RE: Vocal embellishment - guidelines?
From: Penny
Date: 25 Feb 99 - 05:54 PM

Thanks very much, Alice and Margarita for the comments and the references - very encouraging - when I've got rid of my current catarrh I'll go and find a bin - we have plastic wheelie-bins which I think will be acoustically dead, so I'll have to look around a bit.

A bit of synchronicity struck today, a colleague, much younger than myself was saying how she had lost the voice she had when young, with a nice trill, which led to another colleague, ex-chorister telling how he had been told never to use vibrato - women's voices wobble! I'm glad to hear his choirmaster was leading him astray(?)

I think, though, from what you say, that I may be doing things generally right, with a need to work on the breath support - practice required.

Thanks again, Penny


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Subject: RE: Vocal embellishment - guidelines?
From: Alice
Date: 25 Feb 99 - 06:18 PM

A humorous story about vibrato. A friend who is an opera singer told me that when she was a teenager and went to a particular voice teacher for the first time, she started to sing for the teacher with a wobble in her voice, thinking she was using a vibrato, and the teacher stopped her and said, "What are you trying to do, sound like a 'Has-been'?"


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Subject: RE: Vocal embellishment - guidelines?
From: Barbara
Date: 26 Feb 99 - 07:47 PM

Singing a capella is the main way I make music.
Just recently I have learned the value of singing with a more strict time: it drives the song. It also makes it easier for others to sing with me.
One can sing "in time" without turning it into a dance step(American Bandstandization) by keeping the sense of time internally, and when you slow down or speed up while "telling the story" keep the internal metronome going. This is called "rubato". If one keeps the beat going through the rests, and the verse to chorus breaks, the song builds much better than if you pause while you recollect the next stanza. Trust me, I know.
I think the most important part of singing the song is to tell it fresh from your own heart/self/experience each time you do it.
Blessings,
Barbara


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Subject: RE: Vocal embellishment - guidelines?
From: jo77
Date: 26 Feb 99 - 08:43 PM

May I just giggle and wiggle - really the folk I recall in Britain was more a case of roughly in tune - no instruments - people just got up and sang or if in a Pub they just go with it. Embellishments - he haw. It is better by far to have fun even if the melody wanders out of key and the vibrato is caused by the floor of the bar shaking from the passing traffic or train. Folk is about a living tradition - complete with soot diesel fumes hip hop rap and all that good stuff. The idea of Classical renditions of Copper Brother songs makes me sick. Sorry. This sort of silly stuff is typical of Colonial dreaming and it does not cut the cake! Irish embellishments are from my point of view overdone and often ruin an otherwise beautiful melody. Don't know what I am on about - wrong - am Irish also play trad all my life too. :)


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