Round Sound Lost and Found
I’m going to wrap up this series for beginning singers by covering several other relevant topics at once. I don’t want you to get discouraged by thinking there’s just too much. This is a process, like learning to speak or read. I’ve met far too many who love music but stopped trying to learn to sing or play just because someone they cared about said they were no good at it. If you loved someone, would you give up trying to get close to them because someone else said you don’t deserve them? Very few are gifted beginners. Most of us have to practice – a lot. So what if it takes years? How long did it take before you could read, understand and appreciate a whole grown-up novel? Once you start really learning about music, you won’t be satisfied with a diet of just Top 40.
Music is important! The more you learn about how it is made, the more deeply you will be fulfilled by the experience of listening to it and performing it. I already gave exercises for breath control practice in Part Three, but I only listed the musical benefits. When you use your voice as an instrument, you are activating and accessing a different part of your brain in addition to the logical side. You are stimulating the place where pictures and dreams come from. Singing relieves anxiety, improves your general self-confidence, and gives you better control over your speaking voice. It has been used for pain relief as well. Singing is a valid, beneficial form of physical exercise requiring attention and producing better heart and lung health. The deeper you breathe on a regular basis, the more oxygenated your bloodstream will be. Every cell in your body needs oxygen. When you sing, you are feeding yourself both physically and psychologically.
There are many kinds of vocal timbre, also known as tone. Different types of tone are used for different styles of music, but if you learn to make a ROUND tone, any other kind is much easier. I already wrote about the necessity of having enough breath, and having control of it. That really is the toughest part. Good tone is part physical and part mental practice. Physically, it helps to be sitting up straight with your head upright but your neck and throat relaxed. If your throat is too dry or too tight, you can’t make a good tone. That’s why you must not smoke cigarettes (or anything else), or drink too much alcohol or caffeinated beverages. The best lubricant for singing is water, which is why you’ll see so many choir members with their sports bottles at rehearsal.
The next most important thing after breath control and upright posture is to KEEP YOUR MOUTH WIDE OPEN.
Well, that’s a bit extreme. Think of it this way. You’ve built up a lot of sound by having it resonate around your chest, sinuses and throat. It’s focused. You want to project it forward so it can be heard, and so you can produce more volume (amplitude). You must open up that sound hole. Whenever you close your mouth, it’s closing off the sound. You need to practice pronunciation that allows you to keep it open wider for a longer time. A word like “sad” should be sung not as “saaa-d”, but almost like “sod”. You cheat the pronunciation toward keeping your mouth wide open. Instead of “mrr-see” for mercy, sing it “muh- sih”. When you sing words that end with consonants, don’t close until the last possible moment. Try “round”. Make sure you don’t go “rahwoond”, closing over the duration with a dipthong. Go “raaaaaaaaaa-wnd”, staying open until you close it real quick at the end.
Round Tone: Christina Aguilera, Pink, Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Carrie Underwood, Ann Wilson (Heart), Ella Fitzgerald, Rosemary Clooney, Joan Baez, Elvis, Johnny Cash, Paul McCartney, Roger Daltrey, Freddy Mercury, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Opera Singers (in general).
Not Round Tone: Jewel, Nellie Furtado, Missy Elliot, Kim Feist, Nancy Wilson (Heart), Dionne Warwick, Joni Mitchell, Robert Plant, John Lennon, Tony Bennett, Hank Williams, Justin Timberlake and American Idols (in general).
The rest is ear training. You need to be able to repeat a pitch when you hear it, so that they match. The easiest way if you are unsure is to use a tape or digital recorder, or record to your hard drive. Play a note (from any source including another person), sing it then listen and compare. First practice single notes, then short phrases, then melodies. It’s just step-by-step practice. The thousand note symphony begins with one note.
A shortcut to listening and remembering melodies is recognizing intervals, the amount of distance between two adjacent notes. You don’t have to memorize the names, but here are some familiar tunes with the intervals between notes their melodies begin with:
Minor second: JAWS theme, Für Elise
Major second: Frère Jacques, Mary Had a Little Lamb
Minor third: The Impossible Dream, Hey Jude
Major third: I Could Have Danced All Night, Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
Minor sixth: The Entertainer-Scott Joplin (big interval after pick-up), Because (Beatles)
Major sixth: It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, Over There
You get the idea. Practice making the jumps. You’ll get better.
In conclusion, I want you to focus on the reason you wanted to sing in the first place. It opens the door to our emotions. You will be more moved by singing than you can possibly be by just listening, especially once you break down the artificial barrier your own lack of confidence has put before you. By becoming an instrument yourself, you cross the line from audience to participant. Even if no one is there to hear you, it’s an important line to cross. You become a channel through which a world of spirit and art may pass. In this way, by attuning your body and mind, you can release your mind to soar outside the body. You can defeat gravity itself.
Just Start Singing.