Thursday, May 29, 2014

How to Excel in Singing!

The answer to this question is short. In order to excel at singing, you must work at it. Singing is part craft and part artistry. When we are emotionally moved by a singer, I believe it is because the singer is able to move beyond the technique of singing into the artistry of the song and to invite us along for the journey.

We all know someone who was just born with a naturally gorgeous voice. The baritone in my high school choir was someone like that. He was born with a beautiful voice and when he sang, he almost always managed to make a beautiful noise. However, even the most gifted singer must learn vocal technique in order to sing well consistently and to be able to make and implement artistic choices on a consistent basis. That baritone went on to study voice extensively, and to my knowledge, he is still singing some thirty years later.

Voice lessons are fairly expensive. I know teachers who charge $50.00 an hour on the low end and teachers that charge $150.00 an hour on the upper end. Unfortunately, the cost of the lesson does not always correlate with the quality of the teacher. Look for a teacher who comes well-recommended by a broad spectrum of singers in the community. Teachers come in a broad range of vocal styles from classical, to jazz, to musical theater. While I am a teacher who leans toward the classical style, I believe that healthy, beautiful singing is the goal in most styles of singing. Therefore, look for a teacher who can help you produce a well-balanced healthy tone throughout your vocal range.

Most teachers work on vocal exercises and repertoire. And although we may not want to hear it from our teachers or from others, there is no substitute for daily practicing. As a voice teacher, I try to encourage daily practice in my students and I engage in daily practice myself. Practice the vocal exercises given and practice the songs that you are working on with your teacher. Make practice a part of your daily routine. It is just another form of exercise really.

Work on connecting emotionally to the music and the text. See the scene that you are singing about. Feel the emotion that is present in the music. Read the poetry of the music aloud. What does it say to you and how does it move you. Find ways to make the poetry come alive as you sing. Sing in front of others in this way. Invite them to hear and connect to the text and music with you.

Finally, find performance venues and perform publicly often. Performance venues can include a church, a senior citizen center, a school or community musical or opera as well as recitals, concerts and the like. Sing for others as often as you can. You will learn so much about the music, about yourself and about performing when you are busy doing it.

As a closing note, I think it is important that you love to sing for you to excel at it. Singing becomes a large part of our identity and our lives over time. It requires effort, time, patience and persistence. In order to continue the work of singing, we must come to love the daily work of singing as well. So, enjoy!

copyright/all rights reserved Audrey Howitt

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

How to Practice Sight Singing

To be able to hear internally the music you see on the page is one of the most valuable skills that a singer can develop. This skill can shorten the time that it takes to learn music and it makes you a valuable addition to any vocal ensemble. Professional and semi-professional vocal ensembles require some level of sight reading ability to be considered for entry into the group.

Sight singing is a skill that develops over time. It requires practice on a fairly consistent basis and it requires one to continue to challenge oneself with ever increasingly difficult tasks. It also requires combining a number of skills. You must know some basic music theory. Theory encompasses time signatures, rhythm, key signatures, as well as chordal structure and other elements.

Of the theory elements needed to sight read, I find that rhythm and key signatures are the most helpful. In my own sight reading practice and in teaching others, I have also found that systematizing your process is very helpful. The systematic process eliminates anxiety around the task. For myself and for my students, I try to do the following:

1. Start with very easy snippets of pieces. Most sight reading books start with easier exercises which get progressively more difficult. Pick an easier exercise to start with.

2. Determine the pulse or tactus of the piece. This task necessarily requires that you can understand the meaning of the time signature. For instance, in 6/8 time, there are six beats in each measure and the eighth note is getting the beat or pulse. In 4/4 time, there are four beats in each measure and the quarter note gets the beat or pulse. Is the quarter note getting the beat? Is it easier to give the eighth note the beat if there are many eighth notes? Determine what note value is going to be getting the beat and start to pulse that by tapping with your hand or foot. Is all this gibberish to you? Then a basic music theory work book would be the place to start. Then start to look at other sight reading skills. First basic literacy, then advanced skills. I think of sight reading as an advanced skill.

3. While keeping the pulse by tapping your foot, clap the rhythm. In doing so, see if your inner ear starts to "hear" the notes on the page in front of you. Often singers find that they can hear some of the notes, and often singers will get a sense of the musical line and the chromatic alterations of notes.

4. Determine the key signature. I use solfege syllables: do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti and do for the major and minor scales, with altered syllables for chromatically altered notes. (A word for those in the know, that means that I use la based minor. I find it is easier to use only one set of solfege for both major and minor keys) The name of the key signature indicates where do is. So if the key of the piece is G major, G will be do, A will be re, B will be mi, etc.

5. Notice the beginning solfege syllable that you must sing. Notice the ending solfege syllable, notice the highest and lowest solfege syllables. Finally, notice any chromatic alterations. If you are a beginner, try to select pieces that have no chromatic alterations. Stay with simpler pieces until you feel comfortable with the solfege.

6. Do not write in any of the solfege syllables. Writing them in defeats the purpose. The purpose is to read the notes, not the solfege, so resist the urge to write them in. Sing the scale of the piece from low do up to high do and then back down to low do. Play the opening pitch on the piano if you have one, then avoid playing any more notes on the piano. Then go ahead and slowly attach the solfege syllables for the note in your mind and sing the appropriate solfege for each note. Take the piece out of rhythm if you must, but try to hear each note in your mind before you sing it. Once you have gone through it several times, then go back and tapping the pulse, try to sing the solfege in rhythm. Do not worry if the pitches or solfege are elusive. If you miss a note, go back and sing the scale to find the missed note and try again. Remember to do this all from inner hearing rather than from the piano.

7. Practice daily. You can practice the same piece over and over as your mind begins to learn the interval associations. When you get bored with the one piece, go on to a slightly more difficult one, always following the same system. Over time you will determine your strengths and weaknesses and then it becomes easier to work on them.

Have fun and happy singing!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

An Introduction to the Issue of Fach

One of the thorniest issues in vocal production can be the issue of fach. Fach is a German word which literally means "compartment" or subject of study. In singing, fach refers to the issue of categorizing voices. We all know the major categories: Soprano, alto, tenor and bass. But beyond that, there are numerous subcategories which refer to specific issues such as weight, agility and the like within each major category.

Fach is used worldwide, but originally grew out of German opera houses. If a singer was categorized as a full lyric soprano for instance, that singer would only be asked to sing roles within that category.

Many voices clearly fall into one fach or another. But often, a voice will have qualities of more than one fach. Categorizing those voices can be difficult. What do you do with a woman who has a lot of smoky color in her mid range a mezzo-soprano, but has the full range of a soprano, or a male who comes into the studio who sings in the tenor range, but with a lot of "chestiness" in the midrange.

The issue is important because singing out of fach, can not only be a failure to live up to the potential of the voice, but can be damaging to the voice. A person whose voice "rings" in a higher range, but who chooses to sing in the lower range without access to much resonance can often sing with a depressed larynx, which can cause a host of problems.

So how can we determine fach in our students or for ourselves? Sometimes it is clear. A young soprano comes into the studio and she is clearly a soprano. The problem is most often faced by voice teachers in regard to "middle" voices or voices with clear tensions such as jaw and tongue tension. I think the most clear indicators of fach lie in vocal timbre and vocal tessitura.

Look to where the vocal passaggi lie when the voice is cleared on tension and the throat open. If the voice is not free of tension, work on relieving tension and correcting breath before worrying about fach.

Renowned teacher, David Jones, explores this issue (along with many others) on his website. His articles are clear and quite informative. I value and respect his opinion. You can find more information at:

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Friday, July 9, 2010

NATS National Convention 2010 Salt Lake City

I am recently back from the NATS (National Teachers of Singing) Convention in Salt Lake City Utah. It seems that there is a buzz at every NATS national convention and this time, the buzz was all about teaching belting. There were four workshops covering the subject this time: everything from teaching kids how to belt to teaching "super" belt.

I went to three out of four of the workshops and I have a better sense of how to teach it. I started out singing musical theater as many young teens do, and learned how to engage a heavier mechanism (AT vs. CT). Then when I went to college, I had to learn how to use a lighter mechanism--or head voice (CT) From there, I was able to smooth all the registers out.

I wonder about the ease and/or difficulty of learning head voice after one has spent a significant amount of time singing in a belting style. Belt necessarily means more pressure on the larynx than is used in a classical production. For me, it was quite difficult to undo. It took a long time and I still find that I can exert too much pressure on the larynx when I sing.

On the flip side, I still love musical theater. I have a fair amount of mix in my mid range and though it isn't belt, it is a meatier sound. One of the most interesting aspects of belting vs the classical sound, is the size of the mouth. In belting, the mouth is more open and wider for much of the range. In classical vocal production, the aperture is smaller for most of the range.

So the question is: What is belt? Is it that meatier sound? Is it "super" belt? Is it the sound we hear in R & B?

Lots to think about I think.

For further information, check out Lisa Popeil's website. She was one of the presenters at the conference.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

NATS Singing Festival--San Francisco Chapter

Congratulations to my student, Allison Rosengard, who placed 4th in her age division for art song. This was her first time participating in the festival and I am so proud of her.

It is a joy to see your students sing well. It is a joy to see them progress from week to week, month to month, year to year. I can be feeling a bit low and will feel so much better during and after I am done teaching.

Love it!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Recitals, recitals, recitals!!

Today, my students at Head Royce have their end-of-year vocal recital. I am running through the odd bit of music, the difficult passage, the runs, the ornaments, the rests with them prior to the recital. I worry for my students. I hope for them. I am excited for them!