We’ve described how important it is to sing in your vocal comfort zone. But there is a place in performance for uncomfortable sounds -says Gillyanne Kayes and Jeremy Fisher.
Think of the sounds you make in an extreme emotion: yelling, screaming or breathlessness. Now think of the patterns people make with those sounds – the yell hits peak in volume then drops the scream rises and falls, the breathlessness comes and goes.
These on/off patterns are easy to put into your singing, without changing your signature sound. You’re adding the effects of high-intensity emotion without actually having it. This allows the audience to feel the ‘pain’ without your voice feeling it.
Here are the top three uncomfortable patterns you can add to your singing:
1. The Gasp
This is a burst of air that we hear before or after the note. You can use a fast or slow airspeed for different effects. Choose a line from your favorite song and add an H before the word you want to feature. This is easier if the word starts with a vowel, but it’s possible to add an H to almost any word. So “I” becomes “(h)I”, “love” becomes “(h)love”, “you” becomes “(h)you” and so on.
You can also add the gasp afterwards – “I(h)”, “love(h)”, “you(h)”. You can keep the same vowel you just sang in the breath gasp, or change it to “uh”, so you could sing I as I(ih) I(ah) or I(uh) – different vowels give different emotions.
Adding the gasp before or after makes the word stand out, and makes the singer sound more emotional, more desperate, more exhausted.
2. The Pitch Bend
The pitch bend creates the tension-release effect by making you sing “out of tune”. This deliberate detuning means that the note does not fit with the surrounding notes and sets up a clash, creating tension for the listener, which you then resolve by moving to the correct note.
Find a comfortable note and hold it on your favorite vowel (with or without vibrato).
Now without losing the volume, drop the pitch very slightly to sing flat. At first this might cause you to lose the “tone” of your voice, but stick with it. Your aim is to stay sounding like you but flatter!
Hold the note slightly flat, then go back onto the correct pitch. This gives the effect of “warming it up” – by resolving the perceived problem you are releasing the tension for the listener.
You might want to start with large pitch bends (of at least a semitone), gradually reducing the move until you are just slightly flat from your target note.
Rock singers and belters often use this slight flatting to give their high notes more urgency, starting them flat and resolving them into tune. It makes them sound as if they are “weight-lifting” their voice, without actually pushing the sound.
3. The Volume Change
Sudden volume changes can make you sound highly emotional. A suddenly loud single note or a half-phrase has shock value, and a suddenly quiet note has a feel of the emotion overpowering your voice.
Sing a phrase from your favorite song and choose a word to work on. First, sing the phrase at the same volume throughout. You’ll need this to compare the other versions to.
Now sing the phrase and make the chosen word louder. You may want to drop the volume of the rest of the phrase slightly to make the loud word stand out.
Sing the phrase again, this time making the chosen word softer. You may want to raise the volume of the rest of the phrase to make the soft word more surprising.
Sing the next couple of lines of the song, adding suddenly loud or quiet words. Your aim is to make the volume “landscape” more jagged. Experiment with different volume landscapes – can you make each version work for you?
All successful performances are a balance of tension and release. These three patterns show you how to increase the “tension” in your sound without losing control.
My Reaction to This Week's Singing Competition Entry
Mc Jefferson Agloro - Life Support
You have a beautiful falsetto and you can sing with both clear and breathy tone. You seem to be holding a shape of the yawn inside your mouth the whole time you are singing. This works quite well for the falsetto (giving you depth) but it doesn’t work in the middle and lower range. You need to sound natural but this is making you sound too classical and too old for your look. Explore singing with a shallower space in your mouth. A quick way to do this is to sing everything on “a” (as in the English word “bat”) or “e” (as in the English word “bet”). You are also using your tongue, jaw and lips as one unit, so we’re missing out on some of the lyrics. Separate your tongue from your lips and your soft palate with this exercise. Put your little finger between your back teeth to stabilise your jaw. Sing Ngah, Ngeh, Ngee, then Mbah, Mbeh, Mbee, then Ndah, Ndeh, Ndee as clearly as you can. Then choose some lyrics from the song and sing them on one note, aiming for the same clarity.
Voice experts, authors, team-teachers for 20 years, Gillyanne & Jeremy train performers and their teachers to find the most appropriate techniques to sing their best, whatever the style of the song. This Is A Voice: 99 exercises to train, project and harness the power of your voice’. Speaking, singing (opera, rock, pop, soul, jazz, country and everything in between), beatboxing, finding your voice (and someone else’s).
Special Opportunity! Gillyanne and Jeremy are offering a special 26% discount to VoiceCouncil readers for any of their 18 voice training webinars. There are lots of specific topics like Taking chest voice higher, Finding head voice and Troubleshooting breathing. Just use the code VoiceCouncil at the checkout – and the price will go down to under $30 (£20) for an hour’s voice techniques webinar, available online at any time. Just go here for the offer. The offer runs until the end of June.