Building Your Vocalist Vocabulary

The singer’s toolbox contains an ever expanding list of terms –says Mister Tim

“A person’s vocabulary is the set of words within a language that are familiar to that person. A vocabulary usually develops with age, and serves as a useful and fundamental tool for communication and acquiring knowledge.”
-Wikipedia, “Vocabulary”

If you will indulge the thought, let us expand this definition to include any set of skills used to communicate.

In the case of a singer, that means that you have a musical vocabulary, a physical vocabulary, and a stylistic vocabulary… and you can constantly be striving to build each of them.

Think of these sets as your toolboxes: you don’t use one tool all the time, and you don’t use the same tool for every job.

Musical Vocabulary:
This is a set of words, but also how you put these words into practice: dynamics, tempo, rhythm, blend, timbre. These words allow you to communicate with other musicians, with students, with teachers, and with sound technicians. Vocalists should feel comfortable describing to a band what they want to happen at a certain section of a song. They should be able to express why they sing things the way they do, and what techniques they are using. They should be able to talk to a house sound engineer to make sure the sound is great for a performance.

Physical Vocabulary:
Your movements and gestures do as much, and at times more, to communicate your thoughts than your words do. Arm movements, staging and choreography, the way you hold your microphone, what you do with your hands while someone else is soloing: all these things influence the overall impact of your performance. Singers that take dance or movement classes develop a sense of how their body works and feels. Filming your performances gives you a good idea of how you are moving. Coaches and teachers can help you find gestures that add to your performance.

Stylistic Vocabulary:
This refers to both the style (genre) of music you are singing, and the style (technique) in which you use your voice. You learn the style of your genre by listening to the best singers in your genre. You learn the style of your technique by working with great teachers who have achieved mastery over their own vocal instrument. And you must commit yourself to spending a lot of time working, singing, experimenting, and especially recording yourself and evaluating what you hear.

My Reactions To This Week’s Peer Review Videos

Amee van Kuyk – Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Demons (original)

I couldn’t understand a lot of your words in the middle of the video. You know what? I don’t care. Your voice was lyrical and interesting enough that I enjoyed your sound. A good mic and a better recording set up will fix the lyric problem. You can’t use technology to fix a mediocre performance (which yours wasn’t!). You sing interesting lines with intrigue and emotion, and that cuts through in spite of the sound problems. So, go for it!

Pat Fultz – Pretty Woman (cover)

Great work, Pat. Your voice generally seems to come out without undue effort or strain. You do seem to be thinking about a lot, and concentrating on your playing (less than three years playing guitar? Not bad!), which is causing inconsistencies in your singing. Specifically, you’ll sing the same note multiple times in the same phrase, and two out of the three you are right in pitch but the third is under. Sing it often without the guitar so you can concentrate on the individual notes, and try to carry over that discipline to when you play and sing together. Keep up the great work!

-Mister Tim

Mister Tim is a modern voice artist who respects the history of the vocal arts while not being afraid to push into new, uncharted territory. He artistic directs an eclectic array of vocal ensembles that range from traditional choral to cutting-edge, technology-based, ultra-modern vocal rock bands. A published composer, award-winning recording artist, and in-demand performer and teacher, Mister Tim is also a viral video star, sponsored kazoo player, and dedicated husband and father. He created and sings with 2010 Harmony Sweepstakes champions Plumbers of Rome, internet sensations moosebutter, beatbox online teachers and performers Mouth Beats, and all-original vocal band THROAT. He also tours with his solo vocal live-looping/beatbox shows.
www.mistertimdotcom.com and www.vocalitysingers.com

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