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The Power of the Pause

Master your phrasing and you master your song -says Rachel Lebon

What do successful vocalists have in common?

Their mastery with phrasing.

Whether it’s an Italian aria, a Musical Theatre piece, a folk song, or full-on hard Rock, vocal artists merge music and language together so that both elements sound natural, automatically communicating to the listener.

You will push your own style ahead as you intentionally develop your approach to each phrase of your songs.

Breathing and Phrasing

There is no reason for a vocalist to run out of breath, particularly in commercial styles, since the singer can tailor phrasing choices around their breath capacity.

Jazz vocalist Mark Murphy once told a student at a workshop to “design me some silence.”

Language has natural pauses built in.

Let those textual breaks coincide with inhalation to put your body in synchronization.

Make Your Pause Intentional

Pauses are particularly effective during the verse of a song, since, like classical recitative, the verse is usually sung “rubato” (freely), setting up the rest of the song.

Meaningful space between phrases and words contributes to a sense of spontaneity, resembling extemporaneous speech.

So take your time!

Within a song, singers can get into trouble singing long, extended phrases without replenishing their breath supply.

Out of air and feeling rushed, they take a catch breath, which tends to

• Be shallow and audible, calling attention to itself
• Draw in cold, de-humidified air, affecting vocal quality and position of the larynx
• Present itself at the most inopportune time –e.g. in the middle of a word
• Throw off coordination of the body with the music, making it difficult to recoup.

Catch Your Audience’s Attention

Speech therapists maintain that after approximately 7 to 9 seconds of continuous speech, the listener automatically tunes out.

This probably holds true for nonstop singing as well. So feel free to take a break… pause… then inhale.

My Reactions to This Week’s Peer Review Vids

Alec Smith – “I’ll Be” (Cover)

Alec, you have a very nice vocal instrument with many possibilities for development as you acquire more experience and vocal control. Right now, your intonation and dynamic control issues need addressing, probably with the help of a voice teacher/vocal coach. Continue to work with your “guitar chops” to acquire greater facility and variety to back-up your vocals. One idea is to practice your performance minus the guitar in order to give you a chance to develop phrasing and delivery. Putting your own take on the words will also individualize your interpretation.

Sandi – “Falling” (Cover)

Sandi, I liked your energy and the genuine quality to your presentation. Your rendition became stronger vocally as you went along. Consider starting with a softer dynamic on the first verse – and at the front of the chorus so that the second statement builds. But never let a softer dynamic obscure clarity – I couldn’t make out some of your words on the first verse. Listen to yourself on audio to determine where you need to become clearer. “I’m falling” is repeated several times, so you need to have some differences in approach and dynamics enabling it to build to a climax, then conclusion. I liked your sustained chords on the bridge. Continue incorporating some spontaneity in interpretation.

-Rachel L. Lebon, Phd

Rachel L. Lebon, Ph.D. has been a professional vocalist and studio singer in Dallas/Ft. Worth, Nashville and Miami. She was on the faculty at Belmont College and is currently at the University of Miami, has toured toured world-wide with “Tops in Blue” and on a State Department tour of the Soviet Union and Portugal. Rachel is the author of two published books and conducts lectures, symposia and adjudication worldwide on vocal pedagogy and voice disorders.