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On Being A GREAT Singer

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When you have sung professionally for nearly forty years, have been a vocal coach for 35 years, you have been exposed to a veritable myriad of problems, all of which have begged or screamed for solutions.

Being a student of the voice, music, arranging, composing, songwriting, etc. has been and will be continuously studying the science and the art of the aforementioned. There have been debates through the years as to whether it is possible or even prudent to mix art with science. In actuality, one may well discover that the two are inseparable, in that one cannot exist without the other.

Acoustics, being the science of sound, has played an integral part in the development of better wind instruments. They are better in sound quality and in playability. Just ask a true professional musician about the difference between the trumpets of the 40s and the ones of today, such as the trumpets of Chris Botti, Wynton Marsalis, or Arturo Sandoval.

Acoustics as regards voice is alive and well on many levels. The interior of the singer's pharo-maxo-naso-laryngeal cavities varies from one singer to another and all result in contributing to the unique sound of each singer. Inside are several variables including a unique shape and size in which will be the absorption, reflection, resonance, diffusion, and reverberation of sound. All of these affect the tone quality, timbre, sound level, projection, and the overtones of the sound that is emitted.

We could say that we can ignore all of this because we are just singing and that is true to an extent. Definitely we need to ignore specific things as we perform because the distraction will detract from our performance in various ways. When the problem arises of a singer attempting to sound or sing a certain way which is contrary to the natural equipment of the singer, a solution or solutions may be addressed and explored. Science may hold some keys to the solutions.

For years anatomy, medicine, and physics were largely ignored by singing teachers and vocal coaches. People's tongues, teeth, lips and the interior resonating chambers are as individual as a fingerprint. How do you think you can identify the uniqueness of a speaking voice or a singing voice? These factors all play a part. Singers will tend to work for or against the natural equipment they are born with. As a vocal coach who has studied the variables listed above, I can assist in finding the natural road of least resistance to a person's own unique sound. This is one area where it is not nice to try to fool mother nature. And this is not to say that things cannot be manipulated, such as doing character voices, but there is a right way and a wrong way to do this. The wrong way may lead to vocal injury.

Singing is a hearing art. The audience hears the art but the singer hears so much more. After years of singing, many things transcend mere thought and occur on an intuitive level. To arrive at this level, we may learn several things at a profound level along the way.

Singing is musical. The best singers I have heard know music. They may or may not know the nomenclature or the terminology of music, but they still know music. It is purported that the great drummer Buddy Rich did not read music. This hasn’t been verified but I recommend seeking out some clips on You Tube and listen to his playing. Musicianship can be achieved at a very high level without getting past musical illiteracy. I am not sure if Frank Sinatra could read or write music. If not, that didn't get in the way of his long career.

Musicianship is a vast subject, when broken down into all the component parts, and therefore is a subject unto itself. It will be noticeable in the results of hearing all the components of music which include: rhythm, time, pitch, dynamics, tone, timbre, style, form, structure and much more. If we could all at once download this and the rest of what makes a great singer, I think your head would explode because there is much more to this than what meets the superficial ear and eye. Musicianship is huge. There is no getting around the importance of it as a singer.

Acting may lead to being able to more easily perform as a singer but if the singer doesn't move past acting, the performance will look like the singer is a fake, or even worse, a liar. The emotions have to be freed up and express-able with appropriate levels of intensity. Great singers perform to their audiences and are not a parody of a singer. Still there is the factor of communication. A great singer will make each person in the audience feel as if he or she is in the conversation, not just observing it. I personally felt this from a distance of perhaps 200 feet. The singer was, in fact, Frank Sinatra. People do not go to concerts to simply listen to a singer. They can do that on an I-pod or with a radio. Something else happens at a live performance and although lip synching may sound about the same, an almost magical phenomenon happens at a concert and it has everything to do with the live performance. You cannot scientifically measure it but you can definitely feel it, unless there is something wrong with you at some level.

The state of mind of the singer can make or break the greatness of the singer. I saw two famous singers one New Year Eve in Las Vegas practically fall flat. You would think that their integrity as professional artists and singers would have been sufficient to not affect the performance but they obviously failed to do their best that evening. It was disappointing, annoying, sad and sometimes even funny to watch them make fools of themselves (in comparison to their usual levels of performance). The disappointment was that the audience paid and the performers were paid to perform. They did perform but they brought the effects of their argument to the stage with them. I felt cheated. I felt that they betrayed the audience. I had seen them many times before but not one time after that ridiculous and immature debacle of a show.

The overall physical health of a singer will affect the greatness of a singer. You can think of examples of this yourself. Tiredness, illness, or injury will all affect singing. I am of the belief that there are levels of health which are above what is considered normal or healthy. There are optimal levels of health which, since we use our bodies to sing, will make subtle or even great differences in our ability to do our best.

Talent and intelligence will affect the greatness of a singer because ability and intellect are the areas from which we draw for singing at a star quality professional echelon. We cannot pretend that these factors have nothing to do with greatness. We also cannot necessarily create these things of intelligence and talent if they do not appear to be present. We can work harder at developing other strengths and improving weaknesses, though. If a person has a passion and an ability for singing, many things can be overcome but there may need to be compromises made as to how and where singing is done.

Work which is done in a diligent and educated manner will produce improvement as long as all other factors of greatness are present in the singer. Work done in a slipshod manner will produce no or little improvement. Work done in the presence of misinformation or false information regarding and of the factors of greatness will produce no results or even bad results. Singers can, have, and will injure their voices or if not that, never ever reach their full potential.

Greatness doesn't take forever but at the same time it doesn't happen overnight. It doesn't happen without preparation, correct knowledge, talent, ability, and the application of true, tried and tested techniques. It takes courage to be great and courage to persevere and near perfect discipline to consistently work toward a goal with high integrity to achieve greatness.


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