Esoterics sing Schnittke – Chiaroscura

Review of Esoterics singing Alfred Schnittke’s Concerto for Chorus, Sunday February 20 2011 at Holy Rosary Catholic Church in West Seattle as part of their Chiaroscura program

The intonation was wonderful. The Russian was, with only a couple exceptions, clearly and cleanly enunciated. The choir sang it very well and movingly. A word needs to be said about the venue and how the choir handled it. Holy Rosary Church is very treble friendly. It would have been wondrous if the soprano’s could have subdued their sound a trifle. Their overtones often served to obscure the sound of the rest of the choir in this Church. I don’t know how they could accomplish this, however on notes that often spent a lot of time above a high C. My other comment about dynamics and this hall is that they tended to hit fortisISsimo rather often. It would have been wonderful if the composer, conductor and acoustics could have conspired to allow this to happen once or twice a movement. But as already noted singing that high that often (and after having sung high many times in the first half) is very difficult vocally.

After singing the first 3 poems ably, the Esoterics then took the fourth poem to greater heights of sensitivity to the vocal lines and text. I was very impressed. Bravo Esoterics; you did both yourselves and the composer’s work proud.

<standing ovation smilie>

Steve Ericson’s Tips for Singing (Part V – Surviving a Concert)

previously at – Surviving the Long Concert

Republished with Permission


One of the best Basses I've ever had the privilege to sing with and a good friend.

One of the best Basses I’ve ever had the privilege to sing with and a good friend.

Most choir directors know better, but every once in a while they go a little crazy and put together a program that has the choir members singing at the extremes of their vocal capacity, both in terms of range and dynamics.

As a singer, how do you cope with the fatigue? What can you do to have enough voice to finish the concert? Today I hope to answer these questions, at least enough so you stand a fighting chance.

First things first: You know how long this concert is going to be because you have been rehearsing the music for several weeks. Sometime early in the process you found yourself going home with a tired voice, and you realized this was going to be one of those concerts. Time to start getting in shape to handle the load.

The sooner you start preparing, the more likely it is you’ll survive the experience, so once you’ve had that revelation don’t wait to start gearing up to handle it. Begin by spending more time practicing the music on your own, paying attention to dynamics and phrasing. Remember, dynamics are relative, so if you can sing the soft passages very softly you won’t have to sing the loud ones quite as loudly to compensate. Of course, if the performance involves something like Verdi’s Requiem or Orff’s Carmina Burana you have a rather large orchestra to contend with, but the principal still applies.

Proper support for your tone is vital in this situation, so whatever you need to do to get those neglected abdominal muscles in to better shape is strongly advised. If the abs are soft you’ll use your neck and throat muscles to compensate, and you’ll run out of juice around intermission.

Pay attention to posture, too. If your back gets tired from holding your rib cage high you need to work on it. Build up the stamina so you can make it to the end. If you use music on stage and hold it in a folder, then start practicing with the music in the folders at least four weeks before the performance. You’ll want your shoulder muscles to get used to the weight.

Beyond the physical conditioning you need, don’t forget to exercise your voice so it’s in the best shape possible. Practice the music using the dynamic markings as soon as possible, so the whole package is in your muscle memory, not just the notes. Practice the passages with sudden or frequent dynamic changes on your own so they don’t come as a surprize at show time. Few things are more embarrassing than being the only one still singing fortissimo when everyone else has observered a subito piano.

Make sure you start getting plenty of water at least two weeks before performance time. The vocal mechanism needs to stay moist, and if you’re underhydrated you’ll end up fighting a dry, scratchy throat. Proper rest is important, too. We all have a life to live, but the social part of it won’t suffer too badly if you spend a couple of weeks going to bed early.

Finally, on the day of the performance pace yourself. Don’t let the excitement of the moment steal away your preparation and cause you to over sing. Save some of it for the end of the concert. You want the finale to be grand, don’t you? – Keep your voice healthy

All too often singers develop problems with their voices which could have been prevented by a little knowledge applied at the right time.

Today I’m going to try to provide a few simple guidelines that I hope will help spare some of you the frustration of having your voice go out on you at a bad time.

One of the most important things you can do for your voice is to stay healthy. I know, not all illnesses can be avoided, but if you are serious about keeping your voice in shape you should make an extra effort to stay healthy. Ear muffs in colder climates can help prevent numerous ear and throat infections by keeping the inner ear passages warm. Washing your hands before touching your face or after contact with people who have the sniffles can help you avoid many forms of the common cold. Getting plenty of rest can help your body’s immune system resist the ‘bug’ that’s going around. A healthy diet will also help.

Beyond such obvious steps to maintaining your health, there are a few things you can do specifically to keep your voice at its best.

Drink plenty of water. It not only is good for you, it helps keep the vocal mechanism lubricated.

Moderate your alcohol intake, especially for a few days prior to any planned performances. Alcohol dries out your throat and can cause unnecessary strain on the vocal cords.

If you smoke, quit. The husky lounge singer sound belongs in a smoke-filled bar, not in the choir. You know all the health reasons to stop, so I’ll just add that it’s possibly the worst thing you can do to your voice.

Reduce your use of dairy products. They increase mucous production and aare generally not good for your voice. If you don’t believe they affect your voice, take this challenge: cut out ALL dairy products for a month, preferably the month before a scheduled performance. After the performance, resume your normal dairy intake and see what it does to your voice (and the rest of you).

Get plenty of exercise, too. However, avoid doing much exercise that involves heavy lifting. Many voice coaches teach that this type of activity can put excessive strain on the neck and throat, affecting the vocal mechanism.

Another thing: be aware of how tired your voice is. If you are tired, your voice is probably tired, and you shouldn’t strain it by trying to sing too loud. Once you have had a chance to rest, and to rest your voice, then you can use it with strength.

Here’s to healthy singing! – Glossary of vocal physiology

The following is a brief glossary of the parts of the body involved in vocal production. It is not a comprehensive list, but does explain somewhat how the parts fit together to produce a good vocal sound.

Abdomen – area below the ribs containing the digestive organs.

Cartilages – The framework of the larynx. The largest cartilage is the Thyroid Cartilage, whose bulge creates the Adam’s Apple. The Circoid Cartilage is a structural part of the larynx, and is attached to the trachea. The Arytenoids Cartilages are responsible for adjusting tension and the amount of separation of the vocal cords. The vocal cords are attached to the Arytenoids Cartilages at the back and to the Thyroid Cartilage at the front.

Clavicle – collarbone.

Clavicular Breathing – breathing from the top of the chest.

Costal – pertaining to the ribs.

Costal Breathing – breathing with the ribs, above the diaphragm.

Diaphragm – flexible partition of miscles and tendons separating the chest and abdominal cavities.

Diaphragmatic Breathing – breathing by relaxing the abdomen, forcing the diaphragm to drop and the lungs to expand.

Epiglottis – cartilage at the root of the tongue which covers the vocal cords during swallowing, protecting them.

Glottis – space between the vocal cords.

Hyoid Bone – the bone at the base of the tongue. Both the tongue and the larynx are attached to the Hyoid Bone.

Larynx – voice box. The cavity holding the vocal cords.

Palate – roof of the mouth. The front is called the hard palate. The back is called the soft palate.

Pharynx – throat. The cavity connecting the nose, mouth, and larynx.

Sinuses – small cavities in the skull behind the eyes and nose. this is where most vocal resonance occurs.

Sternum – breastbone. The front of the upper ribs are attached to the sternum.

Thorax – upper part of the body between the neck and the abdomen. Separated from the abdomen by the diaphragm.

Trachea – windpipe. The air passage leading into the larynx from below.

Uvula – fleshy hanging projection at the back of the soft palate.

Steve Ericson’s Tips for Singers (Part IV Blending and Phrasing

formerly at – Blending the choir – part 1

Republished with permission

One of the best Basses I've ever had the privilege to sing with and a good friend.

One of the best Basses I’ve ever had the privilege to sing with and a good friend.

Many people who listen to our choir comment on how each section sounds like one voice. This is not by accident, or good luck, but is a tribute to the work our director puts in on fine-tuning the choir.

It takes a well-trained ear to match voices so they reinforce the sound he is after, and it is not something I could possibly hope to teach in a text article online. I can, however, offer some tips that will make your director’s job easier.

First and foremost is intonation. If you can’t sing in tune you will never achieve the blend that’s necessary for a top-notch choral sound. There are some excellent ear-training resources available. Check out your local college bookstore for the kinds of material being used by the school to train music students. But the most important part of intonation is active listening.

Active listening involves learning to hear your own voice when you sing, and recognizing the difference between what you hear in your head and what others hear. A tape-recorder is an excellent tool for discovering what your voice sounds like to others.

Once you can pick your own voice out, listen to the sound of your section. Are you producing notes that match exactly the pitch of your section? You should not hear any ‘beats’ or waves of sound. Those indicate a difference in the pitch.

Another, often neglected, component of singing in tune and blending the sound is vowel alignment. By that I mean singing exactly the same vowel sound that everyone else in the choir is singing when you sing the same text. It is easy to hear the effect of different vowel sounds if you sing vastly different vowels, for example some people singing an EEEE sound while others sing an OOOO on the same pitch. That’s because the shape of the vowel alters the overtones of the pitch, and affect the intonation. What is not so obvious is that the SAME problem with intonation exists when you have two different versions of AH going on at the same time.

This is just the beginning of the problems a choir faces with blending. Next article I’ll discuss some of the common solutions, and which ones are better than others. – Blending the choir – part 2

Achieving a good choral sound can be a challenge, particularly in an amateur choir. Many of the voices are underdeveloped, or the singers have had little formal training since leaving school, and it can be somewhat like herding cats to get the choir to sound like an ensemble.

Many choir directors try to accomplish this by asking the singers to use a more breathy tone. This foggy sound seems like it would blend more easily, partly because nobody can actually hear what the sound is. Of course, that approach is wrong for a number of reasons, including possible damage to the voices of the singers.

A better approach, though perhaps more difficult, is to concentrate on producing a mature vocal sound. A sound that is focused and full of resonance. This requires more effort on the part of the singers, but the rewards are well worth it.

Once the singers start using their whole voices you begin to hear the rich overtones that comprise a good choral sound. When you combine the mature sound with the proper vowel alignment as discussed in the previous article you can accomplish wonderful things with a choir, and the sound will cut through even a large orchestra such as you would find with a work like Carmina Burana or Verdi’s Requiem.

The remarkable thing to many people is that the mature choral sound can be quite successful doing contemplative a capella works like those of Palestrina, too. Of course, some works call for a less turbulent sound (less vibrato), but that does not mean less intensity. A choir should sound the same at pianissimo as it does at fortissimo, only softer. Think of it like this: when you hear a work coming from the next room, then walk into the room and realize it is much louder than you thought. Same group, same music, different volume level.

This is important. It is more difficult to sing quietly because you have to work harder to maintain the support, yet without the support the pitch will not hold.

Here is another idea. Some voices should not be placed together. Either because they reinforce each other too much, or because they cancel each other out. A good choir director can hear this, and will often take steps to separate such voices. By the same token there are some voices that should be placed together. These voices compliment each other and form a more complete sound together than separately. Remember, if your choir director moves you around and pairs you up with someone else this is usually the reason (unless of course you are a talker and disrupt the rehearsals – but a good director would just encourage you to drop out in that case…). – Make it Mean Something

Have you ever gone to a choir concert that seemed uninspired and lifeless? Chances are you have, even if the sound was well blended and perfectly on pitch. Today we’re going to take a look at another part of the whole puzzle – the text.

As a singer the music you perform is more than just notes, tempos and dynamics. You have the added dimension of text to deal with. This adds a whole new set of concerns for phrasing the music, because you have to deal with more than just the melodic line. Text has meaning, and unless that meaning comes through you might as well sing the whole thing on LA.

Putting the meaning in the music is naturally easier if the music is in your language. For most of us reading this article that language is English. We are able to give the words their proper emphasis, and shape the phrases, because we understand what we are singing. If you sing in a small church choir that may be all you need to remember from week to week. You sing mostly hymn arrangements or other songs that speak to the text of the sermon, and you usually sing it with an understanding of what is being said. But what about foreign languages?

If you sing in a symphonic choir, or a non-church community chorus, you have probably sung songs in Latin and German. Possibly French or Spanish, and if you have an adventurous director, maybe even Russian. Carmina Burana is a very popular piece which uses Latin and an obscure language known as Frankish in some of its movements. So how do you convey the same level of meaning to your listeners that you do when you’re singing in your native tongue?

It would be great if we could all learn to speak five or six languages. That isn’t likely to happen, though, so we have to look for some clues in the music itself.

Much of the music you will do in other languages was written to be sung in those languages, and the composers did a lot of the work for you. The pulse of the music is a good clue about where most of the syllabic stress belongs (though not always). You should also look for hints in the way the text is broken up in your music. Most music publishers put dashes between the syllables of a word that is broken up by several notes, and they leave space between words. The punctuation can give you a sense of the phrasing – periods at the end of sentences, etc.

Some publishers now even help by marking the stressed syllables in the text, either by underlining the stressed syllables, by MAKing the stressed SYLLable all caps, or by other obvious markings.

Careful attention to such details can make a huge difference in the music. Choirs who successfully master this aspect of choral singing tend to stand out from the crowd, and their audiences will keep coming back for more.

Steve Ericson’s Tips For Singers (Part III How to have a productive rehearsal)

formerly at – How to have a productive rehearsal

Republished with permission

One of the best Basses I've ever had the privilege to sing with and a good friend.

One of the best Basses I’ve ever had the privilege to sing with and a good friend.

If you have been singing very long at all you have experienced at least one rehearsal which frustrated you because of its lack of accomplishment. Today we’re going to take a look at what it takes to have a productive rehearsal – a necessity for producing an excellent concert.

Be on time. One of the things that will cut into the productivity of a scheduled rehearsal is late arrivals. If your rehearsal starts at 7:00, be in your seat at 7, not out parking the car, or talking to your friends. Arrive early enough to handle all the socializing before the rehearsal.

Warm up ahead of time. You can start your warm-ups early by humming or singing gently in the car on the way to rehearsal. If everyone in the choir arrived with warm voices the group warm-ups can focus more on the ensemble sound and intonation drills rather than shaking the road dust out of everyone’s throats.

Respect the other sections. If the director has to take a few minutes to work with one of the sections, it is not an excuse for you to start talking to your neighbor. That disrupts the rehearsal and makes it hard for the section that’s getting the extra work to accomplish what needs to be done. Even more important: don’t hum your part while another section is being rehearsed. If the other section wasn’t having trouble with the part your director wouldn’t be wasting rehearsal time on it. Don’t make it even harder.

Be prepared. No, I’m not talking Boy Scouts here. I’m talking about practicing between rehearsals. The night you get your music it’s OK to struggle a bit with notes and text, especially if you’ve never seen the piece before, but the next rehearsal you have the work should be learned, at least as far as the notes and words. Let the director concentrate on musical interpretation as early in the rehearsal schedule as possible. Your concert will sound better for it. Invest the time outside rehearsal and reap the dividends in performance.

Be clean. OK, can we get personal here for a minute? If you work a physical job that leaves you sweaty at the end of the day, go home and take a shower before you go to choir. And leave off the perfume, after-shave, cologne, or other scents. There are people with allergies to such things, and chemical allergies are one thing you can’t really get good treatment for. If you smoke, your clothes stink. You can’t smell it because your nose is half dead, but the people around you certainly can. Shower before rehearsal, put on clean clothes, and don’t light up again until after you are headed home. Better still, quit.

Keep these tips in mind, and you’ll be amazed at how much more productive your choral experience becomes. Who knows? You may even find yourself starting to do more challenging music as a result.

Steve Ericson’s Tips for singers (Part II Extending the Range

Steve Ericson’s Tips for Singing (Part II – Extending the Range)

previously at – Extending the range – higher

Republished with permission

One of the best Basses I've ever had the privilege to sing with and a good friend.

One of the best Basses I’ve ever had the privilege to sing with and a good friend.

One of the biggest challenges facing most singers is the high end of the voice: those notes which are at or slightly above the range where singing is comfortable. Often that part of the voice sounds strained, or if abused too often becomes permanently strident.

This is not good.

As a young bass, my voice coaches often despaired of my ever being able to sing above the staff – anything above a B-flat for me was a real struggle. Looking back on it now, I can see what I was doing wrong (and where they missed some chances to help).

I’ll stick with my side of things. For too long I tried to muscle my voice up to the high notes. What I really needed to do was back off the pressure and tension I was putting on my throat and free up the vocal mechanism. More importantly, I had to learn to place the voice up into the big resonating chamber of the head. (Note: placing the voice in the head is a conceptual process, not a physical one. More on the mechanics shortly.)

If you are having trouble with the top of your range, try using a more gentle approach to singing. Relax the neck and shoulders. Lift the ribs and take a comfortable breath. Open your mouth tall, not wide, and imagine your voice floating above your head. Then gently sing a note that you know is higher than you are normally comfortable with. Don’t worry about the exact pitch, the idea here is to see how effortless it can be, and notes can get in the way at this point.

If you can grasp this idea, listen to the quality of the note you just sang. It may sound nothing like your regular singing voice at this point. That’s OK. There will be time to develop that sound later. It is important not to rush this process, as you can hurt yourself trying to do too much too soon.

When you achieve this free-floating high, light sound (not falsetto) you should feel a “buzz” up in your nose, behind the eyes, and along the brow ridge. That is because your sinuses carry most of the resonance in that range. With the relaxed neck and open mouth you are actually lifting the soft palate and giving your voice more room.

Once you have discovered the buzz you should work on bringing it down into the middle part of your voice as well. A real benefit of discovering and exercising this part of your voice range is the fact that it adds depth to the rest of your voice by opening up the overtones of your voice and giving it a vibrant resonance. With consistent practice you should find yourself singing notes you had previously given up on with relative ease.

formerly at – Extending the Range – lower

I am often asked how I sing so low. (I am a bass.) The short answer is that I just open my mouth and sing the notes.

Of course, there is a bit more to it than that. A naturally low voice helps, but my normal range is not that much lower than most good basses. I sing a comfortable D below the bass clef most days, but there are a few choral pieces which demand lower notes. Rachmaninoff’s All Night Vigil (Vespers) has B-flats and Cs in most of the movements, for example, and a handful of the basses in our choir were able to work down to that range for performances a couple of years ago.

So, how did we do it?

The first thing we had to do was get over the idea that those notes are going to sound pretty. Much of the “pretty” sound of a sung note is its resonance, and unless you have an unusually shaped head (and a large one) the chances are you won’t have the resonance needed to make those notes sound as nice as something in the middle of your range.

With that in mind, we can approach the extremely low notes with a new freedom. Now, just because they aren’t pretty doesn’t mean you don’t have to sing the notes in tune, but we’ll see how that’s done, too.

A common term for the very low notes in the male voice is fry-tones. That’s because they sound like bacon frying on a hot skillet – a controlled series of pops from the vocal cords. To achieve that sound you need to place the voice very far forward – go for a bright AH sound – and completely relax the jaw, tongue, and throat.

A good exercise for placing the voice is to do some downward glissandos. Start on a comfortable note, say a D in the middle of the clef, and slide down a fifth to the G on the bottom line. You want to start the top note on a bright EEE sound and end it on the AH sound, still bright and forward. Then go back and do it again, this time starting on the C-sharp and ending on F-sharp. Repeat this pattern until you can’t go any lower, then do one more.

The more you practice this exercise, the stronger your lower notes will become. And, as you practice this, listen carefully to the sound you are making. Work on tuning it with the piano so you learn to hear the intonation in that range. One word of caution, though. Don’t push it. Don’t expect your range to increase dramatically in just one or two sessions. This takes some time, usually a period of several weeks to achieve noticeable changes in your range.

Now here’s one of the great things about this. If you can sing the note in tune with the rest of the choir they will supply the resonance and make it sound like a beautiful low pipe on an organ.

This technique can be applied to all the voices, though the effectiveness is not as great with the other voice parts as it is for the low basses. Still, next time your choir director asks you to sing something really low you can just open your mouth and sing it.

Steve Ericson’s Tips for Singing

Steve Ericson’s tips for singing: formerly at

Republished with permission

One of the best Basses I've ever had the privilege to sing with and a good friend.

Steve Ericson was my best friend in Washington State. He chewed good fat (prime fat). Very smart (MENSA) man and the best Bass I’ve ever had the pleasure of singing with. He could handle Madrigal, Jazz, Opera, Chant, Barbershop, Large Choral, Quartet, Musical Theater, Doo Wop, in short he did it all and he did it very well. He could sing the low notes of a Basso Profundo and the high notes of a counter tenor. He was 4 basses in one. Steve died in 2008 of complications after minor surgery.

Eternal Memory Steve. †

With permission of his widow, Dawn, I republish this from his ChoirSinger Blog

How to Sing – Posture and Breathing

The pages on this site are about producing a good vocal tone. They are intended to help the community choir member whose formal education may not have included advanced voice training.

1. Posture

There is a good reason to start with posture. It is the foundation on which all other techniques stand.

You have heard of “good” posture, but what does that mean to a singer? Certainly it is not the ram-rod straight posture one associates with a military inspection. Nor is it any stiff and formal pose. Good posture for a singer is instead:

Spine straight and centered for balance but not stiff.

Ribs raised as if at the peak of a normal breath.

Shoulders squared but relaxed (not rounded).

Head up as though looking in the distance. Note: the chin should be at a normal angle to the neck, neither stretched up nor tucked down, to allow the vocal chords maximum flexibility.

Feet slightly apart.

Knees slightly bent.

2. Breathing

Once your posture is correct you can learn to breathe properly. “What,” I can hear some of you say, “is he talking about? Breathing is a natural thing.I know how to breathe.”

Let me explain: if you have ever observed a baby asleep, you may have noticed that the stomach goes in and out while the infant is breathing. Think about this for a moment. Take a deep breath. Did your shoulders rise? Your chest expand? If they did then you have a lot to un-learn in order to give your voice a properly supporting air column.

Go back to the baby again. Now, assume good posture as discussed above – spine straight, ribs slightly lifted, shoulders squared but relaxed – and then expand only your stomach. Did that feel a bit awkward? Try to do it without moving your shoulders or ribs. You’ll find a natural limit to the expansion you can get before things start to move. That is all the breath you need to sing.

Now the next part is easy -maybe. Breathe out. Keep your ribs and shoulders in position (but not tight) and push in until there is no air left. Again moving only your abdomen breathe in. Push it all out again. If you can learn to do this repeatedly with little or no movement in the shoulders you are well begun. All good choral singing begins with these two steps.

On the next page we will begin to discuss tone production. What makes a good singing tone? This page will discuss this issue, as well as taking a look at some techniques for reducing the risk of injury.

More about Breathing

Today we will investigate a few of the things we can do to enhance the breathing techniques we need to practice as singers. We all understand the concept of breathing from the diaphragm to draw the breath into the lower part of the lungs, but there is more to good breathing technique than just getting the air.

One of the more useful analogies I have heard is to consider breath support like inflating a tire (some of us who carry a ‘spare tire’ know where we’ll be inflating it). Before the onset of sound the tire should be inflated to a comfortable pressure. Be sure not to over-inflate; your abdominal muscles don’t have as much control if they are over extended.

Once the tire is inflated, you should always try to keep it between 80 and 95 percent full. This allows you to catch quick breaths as you sing without the need to ‘suck wind’ after a long passage. Collapsing the lungs too far also creates a poorly supported tone, something to be avoided at all costs.

Now that we understand how much air to put in the lungs, let’s look at how we use that air.

It doesn’t take that much more air to sing loud than it does to sing soft. Singing very softly actually requires more control over the air, as the support for a good tone must be balanced with the reduced volume. For that reason, singers should have strong abdominal muscles. However, they should not work the abs to the point where they are no longer flexible enough to accommodate proper breathing.

The dynamic range of the sustained tone will vary from singer to singer, but there should be a noticeable difference in the volume. If you are singing solos in a piece accompanied by a large orchestra you will need to learn how to project your sound, but not necessarily to sing louder – but I’ll save that discussion for another time. The important thing is to use that top 10-15 percent of your lung capacity to support the tone at whatever volume you are singing, and to breathe when you need to in order to keep the tire inflated. Timing your breathing with the phrasing of the music is, of course, ideal, but in long passages you may need to take a breath somewhere in the middle. Plan where you’re going to breathe in those instances, and avoid breathing at the same time as your neighbor (also known as staggered breathing).

Sustaining the tone is important, but how do you start and stop it? The answer, of course, is by breathing.

Many choir directors who have an instrumental background use terms like attack and cut off to indicate the onset and release of sound. Unfortunately those terms also carry mental pictures of violence to the voice. When you begin singing it should be with the breath. I don’t mean put a ‘H’ before each entrance, but rather make sure your vocal cords are not clenched. In the same way, you should never ‘cut off’ the vocal sound by slamming shut the vocal cords. Instead, you should end each passage by inhaling. This not only helps preserve the vocal cords, but it prepares you for your next entrance that much more quickly.

I realize these concepts are difficult to convey without a demonstration, so I will once again recommend that you work with a vocal teacher or coach to master the techniques. No matter what your age or experience level, there is always something new to learn, and working with a good teacher can help us catch and correct any bad habits we may develop.

How to Sing – Tone Production

These pages are about producing a good vocal tone. They are intended to help the community choir member whose formal education may not have included advanced voice training.

What makes a good tone?

Generally, in Western culture a good vocal tone is considered to be one which is full, clear, and audible.

A good vocal tone should not be strident, shrill, scratchy, or breathy. It should also not sound “forced” or “strained,” but instead should sound as if it flows effortlessly from the singer.

Within that definition is still a great deal of room for individual vocal timbre (pronounced TAM-bur), or characteristic sound, and for stylistic interpretation as called for by the music being performed. A singer trained to the Opera would use a different quality of voice than a member of a vocal Jazz group, yet both must produce a “good” tone or face the unemployment line. What is considered appropriate for early music in the style of Palestrina would be entirely inappropriate for a major work with a symphony orchestra, such as Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

How, then, is a singer to produce a good tone appropriate to the variety of musical styles typically encountered in a community choir? It all begins with the basics.

3. Producing the Tone: Placement

Beginning with good posture and breath support, the singer must also relax the jaw, so the air passage is not restricted in any way. The tongue should be relaxed and behind the lower teeth, and the throat slightly open – as though on the verge of a yawn. Be careful not to force the tongue down or exaggerate the yawning sensation, as these produce tension on the larynx and can make the voice sound “swallowed” and artificial.

Take a comfortable breath – not too large, but sufficient to support a sustained pitch. With the jaw relaxed and the throat open begin to sing with an “ahh” sound. Experiment with this sound, opening the throat more, then less, while singing at a comfortable volume. Notice the difference in your sound when you force the throat to open too far. Also hear how pinched it becomes if you don’t open it far enough. Find the range of positions that are most comfortable for your throat. That is what you want to feel when you are singing.

4. Putting It All Together:

Now you can put all these elements together: posture, breathing, and placement. You are ready to begin singing. You now have the foundation of good tone, so it is time to practice what you have learned. Try putting these elements together with some simple songs, ones which are familiar to you so you don’t have to concentrate on the words or notes, but can instead think about maintaining this comfortable feeling as you sing. Try singing them first in the middle of your vocal range. Then move up a few keys into a higher part of the voice. If it is too high, don’t push. Instead, concentrate on your breath support, and you will find yourself able to sing higher with less strain.

One word of caution here: Learn to recognize when your voice is becoming fatigued. Much damage is done to the vocal chords of amateur singers when they are tired, as they often try to compensate for the fatigue by resorting to poor vocal technique. Always go back to the basics of posture, breathing, and placement. This will do much to reduce the risk of vocal injury, allowing for years of singing enjoyment.

5. Odds and Ends

Some miscellaneous tips for the amateur singer:

Listen carefully at all times.

Learn to hear the other parts as you sing, and work on tuning with them.

Listen to the vowel sounds. Try to match the vowel sounds of the rest of the choir. When everyone is singing exactly the same vowel the perceived volume of the choir will be amplified, as the sound will be in better focus.

Take a foreign language. Concentrate on the sounds of the language. Your singing will be improved by your broader knowledge.

Listen to other choirs. If you are fortunate enough to live in an area with several choirs, be sure to attend some concerts. Listen for what works and what doesn’t. If you don’t have access to other local choirs, look for a variety of choral music recordings at your local record store. If they don’t have a good selection of classical music then join one of the record clubs and build your library.

Try something new. Even if you don’t like it, you will have learned something.

Enjoy yourself. Relax and have fun. Remember, you sing because you like to sing. Sometimes the stress of rehearsing and performing can tend to make you forget that. Get back the enjoyment.