The Case: An over – ‘affected’ delivery
The Singer: Anita, 18 years old
Case Summary: Anita was studying Performing Arts at FE level and was continually achieving low grades for performance assessments. She decided to seek outside help in her summer vacation. Any singer who wants to find the ‘real you’ in their voice can learn from her experience.
Anita had clearly picked up some habits in singing that related to her love of the country ballad. She ‘cried’ her way onto phrases with a squeak and applied the same sound in crescendo.
However she was studying a variety of styles in college and this sound just didn’t fit with most of them; in fact it was too much for even the country sound
I asked her when this habit had started but she seemed unaware of its existence; this was a well-formed habit!
The Shape of Sound
In our session I taught Anita a simple larynx exercise on her scales; it allows the singer to achieve a smooth beginning to the start of every note (this is called balanced onset); the singer begins to sing before all the breath is inhaled – so beginning the sound without ‘closing’ the throat; I sent Anita off with a folk ballad to prepare for the following session.
When Anita returned she had learned the song, but as I suspected it came with squeaks and all! Interestingly, she repeated the exercise with fairly good accuracy.
We broke down the actual phonetic shape required to speak each word of the first two phrases, involving the breath, tongue, teeth, lips and palate; she repeated these in speech several times
As instructed Anita then sang the phrases on one note – the squeak was absent
We worked painstakingly through the song like this, carefully adding snippets of the melodic contour until Anita heard herself sing from inside, every onset relaxed and ‘real’ – but very slowly!
Old Habits Die Hard!
It took several visits for Anita’s squeak to reduce notably, but more importantly she became much more excited at hearing her own natural timbre arrive; I encouraged her to recognise its beauty and to select material (at least for a while) that allowed for gentle and easy delivery.
She passed her singing exams and has a new repertoire of folk songs!
It’s very tempting to go for affecting a voice or a quality that is not our own.
I believe this stems essentially from a fundamental lack of confidence.
The singing voice is so close to us – it’s a very deep expression of who we are. To alter it drastically is bound to lead to problems before very long!