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Phrasing. Is it a singer's Secret Sauce?

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Lately I have been exploring phrasing and the unexpected ways alterations to phrasing seem to affect areas of physical technique. More than I had previously suspected. Conservation of air. Accuracy of intonation. Rock solid rhythm. Flexibility of ornaments. Connection to support. All of which I had originally housed in the realm of physical control. Now I'm not so sure. Anyone else have any thoughts on how to manipulate phrasing to help master basic technique issues?

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Lately I have been exploring phrasing and the unexpected ways alterations to phrasing seem to affect areas of physical technique. More than I had previously suspected. Conservation of air. Accuracy of intonation. Rock solid rhythm. Flexibility of ornaments. Connection to support. All of which I had originally housed in the realm of physical control. Now I'm not so sure. Anyone else have any thoughts on how to manipulate phrasing to help master basic technique issues?

I am not quite sure how I can contribute, but phrasing does make a great singer a phenomenal one.

Crescendos and Decrescendos are what connect us to our primitive emotional responses which can help us to sound naturally better. So Amen

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Phrasing - in the end - defines the vocal performance. It doesn't matter how good the singer is technically, if the phrasing isn't good, the performance isn't good. There are so many facets to phrasing - so many nuances - the way to get better is to develop one's ear for phrasing. Or take pointers from a teacher. At the end of the day it will be up to the singer to develop the critical ear and develop his / her phrasing style. It will become a very individual thing and will define each singer as a unique performer. As you mention - if one can incorporate the phrasing nuances so that it is connected to the breath and minimizes tension, it will help reinforce good technique through habit.

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Lately I have been exploring phrasing and the unexpected ways alterations to phrasing seem to affect areas of physical technique. More than I had previously suspected. Conservation of air. Accuracy of intonation. Rock solid rhythm. Flexibility of ornaments. Connection to support. All of which I had originally housed in the realm of physical control. Now I'm not so sure. Anyone else have any thoughts on how to manipulate phrasing to help master basic technique issues?

"how to manipulate phrasing to help master basic technique issues."

i guess my question would be should phrasing be used to help with technique? is that what you are suggesting?

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Phrasing - in the end - defines the vocal performance. It doesn't matter how good the singer is technically, if the phrasing isn't good, the performance isn't good. There are so many facets to phrasing - so many nuances - the way to get better is to develop one's ear for phrasing. Or take pointers from a teacher. At the end of the day it will be up to the singer to develop the critical ear and develop his / her phrasing style. It will become a very individual thing and will define each singer as a unique performer. As you mention - if one can incorporate the phrasing nuances so that it is connected to the breath and minimizes tension, it will help reinforce good technique through habit.

Very well said, Geno. And I agree 100%. I'm hoping to find specific methods with detailed instructions for an anticipated result. For example: I have found that as they approach a high note most students stiffen and tend to slow down to prepare their b0dies immediately before the note. Unintentionally doing the worst things they could do. If instead the singer concentrates on keeping the [especially the upper]body loose and moving--that helps. The other phrasing trick that makes the high notes 'pop' is to actually go a tad early to the high note and leave out the hesitation that comes with over-preparation. You'll hear this device often on your favorite recordings. It can be up to 50% early. I'm always on the look-out for new ideas so maybe I'll get some here.

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"how to manipulate phrasing to help master basic technique issues."

i guess my question would be should phrasing be used to help with technique? is that what you are suggesting?

From my experience it is as important to the areas I've listed above as the physical issues. For one example, most singers do not lock on to the syncopation pattern in the track. If they sing without being aware that there is going to be a push (1 or more) in the music somewhere they miss out on the opportunitiy to be cradled in and carried along by the track. Thus they are out of sync or in conflilct with the music. This affects breath loss and accuracy of rhythm and pitch and tone. I make all my students identify the syncopation pattern and sing it on a nonsense syllable until they feel that as the 'heartbeat' at the core of the song.

So I guess the answer is "yes" for now.

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i'm (we're all so glad) to have someone of your caliber join us.

you know what i think is the biggest obstacle with a lot of beginning singers? they simply don't realize or don't want to realize or don't perceive how much physicality is involved.

i know you know that already. i just thought i'd mention it.

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Well phrasing is solo singing after all. So its an application of technique.

But yes, I completely agree. Nothing is better to break a bad habitual pattern than to disrupt the process. Make the person pay attention to the rythm, change a metric, change the dinamics, all works wonders. Some simple things like telling the person to not do a compulsive gesture works great (should be done with a great deal of care to not cause the opposite effect).

The other way also works. Phrasing that is never the same, but its never quite right, change it into a defined melody/dynamics and vowel usage.

The key element is the change in some part of the pattern where the problem is installed, kinda breaks the whole thing appart and allow you to interfere.

Old habits die very hard and require not only this intervention, but the awareness of the student. Personal experience :(.

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renee - there are so many little things. One big one that comes to mind is one that my first voice teacher beat into my head. When I first started taking lessons I had been singing in a rock band just doing whatever came naturally to me. Evidently I had a bad habit of accenting or "hitting" notes at the beginning of the word / phrase. My rhythm was always naturally good, however, I would attack the words - kind of like a percussive instrument like a piano hammer strikes the string and then the sound decays. She got me to do the reverse - start a little softer and grow into every note, like a string player would.

If the student has problems with rhythm I would suggest doing what you already said, talking the syllables, and in addition, slow it way down with a metronome. Go as slow as needed until the student can talk the syllables perfectly in rhythm. Then go up a couple notches and slowly get faster.

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I like that Geno. Good post and I took note for my mental files.

I am very into phrasing and for me it is important since my genre is Blues. When I played harp phrasing was important and on harmonica you try to mimic the human voice musically. Like singing the blues through the harp. Similar phrasing is used in horn playing, sax etc. But for my vocals I try to use the same principles to add texture and emotion to the song. Like telling a story in a conversation with another person. But alas, it's a work in progress. I am still developing.

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renee - there are so many little things. One big one that comes to mind is one that my first voice teacher beat into my head. When I first started taking lessons I had been singing in a rock band just doing whatever came naturally to me. Evidently I had a bad habit of accenting or "hitting" notes at the beginning of the word / phrase. My rhythm was always naturally good, however, I would attack the words - kind of like a percussive instrument like a piano hammer strikes the string and then the sound decays. She got me to do the reverse - start a little softer and grow into every note, like a string player would.

Geno. It sounds like you had a good teacher with good ideas. I've found that my novice singers tend to start off a phrase so strongly that there is no way to grow. A great singer makes the phrase grow. In intensity. In volume and in speed. It's exhausting to the listener to let each phrase drop in energy. But it's exciting when it grows and builds.

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Sorry I am new to the sing and the technical terms. I read the conversation but I still can't comprehend "phrasing". Can you break it down Barnie style for me?

I wouldn't know how to describe phrasing in text. But the best I can do to give an idea might be to think of a song or piece of music like this.

Phrasing can apply to any instrument but let's apply it to vocals here. You can sing a song or a bar or measure of music like this: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10. That would be very uninteresting musically. But then you can play with the phrasing and sing it like this: 1,2...3...456...789........10. Or 1....2..3,4444, 567,8 9...10. How you "phrase" your notes, words, intervals etc. I find Blues harp players and sax players to have interesting phrasing.

I'm sorry. My example/explanation is extremely simplified and not very educated musically. But I sort of have my own method :)

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something told me to really devote a lot of time to breath management and support, still do. i believe when you really have a commanding strength and versatility (for lack of a better word) in that area, just that capability alone, you can really play with the subtle inflections, the volume changes, the effective pauses, the trills, and all of that so much easier.

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I wouldn't know how to describe phrasing in text. But the best I can do to give an idea might be to think of a song or piece of music like this.

Phrasing can apply to any instrument but let's apply it to vocals here. You can sing a song or a bar or measure of music like this: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10. That would be very uninteresting musically. But then you can play with the phrasing and sing it like this: 1,2...3...456...789........10. Or 1....2..3,4444, 567,8 9...10. How you "phrase" your notes, words, intervals etc. I find Blues harp players and sax players to have interesting phrasing.

I'm sorry. My example/explanation is extremely simplified and not very educated musically. But I sort of have my own method :)

Thanks for breaking it down for me, but I think I am able to wraped my mind around that now... So it's like Blues lick, and every musician have there own way of making the lick sound unique and different even though they are both playing Blues.

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Sorry I am new to the sing and the technical terms. I read the conversation but I still can't comprehend "phrasing". Can you break it down Barnie style for me?

h1e7r3d. Think of it this way, phrasing is defined by conflict and resolution. Push and then pull. Tension and release. Music is a very manipulative medium. It pulls the listener forward and then holds them back then pulls forward once again. It creates drama and builds suspense. It's a very effective technique.

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I wouldn't know how to describe phrasing in text. But the best I can do to give an idea might be to think of a song or piece of music like this.

Phrasing can apply to any instrument but let's apply it to vocals here. You can sing a song or a bar or measure of music like this: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10. That would be very uninteresting musically. But then you can play with the phrasing and sing it like this: 1,2...3...456...789........10. Or 1....2..3,4444, 567,8 9...10. How you "phrase" your notes, words, intervals etc. I find Blues harp players and sax players to have interesting phrasing.

I'm sorry. My example/explanation is extremely simplified and not very educated musically. But I sort of have my own method :)

Tommy. Your description is totally weird but somehow I understand it. I really do! Very creative.

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To me phrasing is like punctuation marks in writing. If you put an emphasis in the wrong place you could turn a question into a statement. Then you will get a totally different meaning out of your lyrics. Listen to what you are singing. Does it make sence conversationally? Starting in sync with the music or out of sync can give a different emotional value.

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Tommy. Your description is totally weird but somehow I understand it. I really do! Very creative.

I kind of paint a picture don't I. :D An odd one. It would have been much easier to say it's the manipulation of the building and resolving of tension but I thought that leads to another question. My answer to what is building and resolving tension is listen to a good blues guitar solo!

Thanks for understanding my analogy. :D

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I think, at times, physicality is the problem. When you think some passage or note is a herculean struggle, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Then you lock up, tense up, and shoot yourself in the foot, to borrow a local expression. The note or passage is not impossible unless you think it is. And that's mental.

Phrasing. We sing on the vowel but articulation is with the lips. So, it doesn't matter what vowel sound you use as much as it matters how you "punctuate" that sound. Without phrasing, all you have is florid passages of endless legato. Which sounds pretty but the meaning of the words in the song are in the phrasing and it's nuts-n-bolts, articulation.

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I think, at times, physicality is the problem. When you think some passage or note is a herculean struggle, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Then you lock up, tense up, and shoot yourself in the foot, to borrow a local expression. The note or passage is not impossible unless you think it is. And that's mental.

Phrasing. We sing on the vowel but articulation is with the lips. So, it doesn't matter what vowel sound you use as much as it matters how you "punctuate" that sound. Without phrasing, all you have is florid passages of endless legato. Which sounds pretty but the meaning of the words in the song are in the phrasing and it's nuts-n-bolts, articulation.

ronws

I love what you said about the self-fulfilling prophecy, which in most cases also involves a strength-gathering hesitant pause before attacking. Add that to what you said about the tension and you have a recipe for high-note failure. I try to get my singers to convince themselves that they are speaking the high note (in their imagination). And, in fact, go a millisecond early to the high note also.

Try these sometime and let me know if they work as well for anybody elae as they seem to to me.

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When I would "prepare" for a high note, I would gather tension as I gathered breath and trepidation.

Instead, I mentally close my eyes and use "the force," to borrow from Star Wars. Feel the note. It's there, let it happen.

The more I relax, the better I get. Of course, for me, part of that relaxation is accepting that I pretty much have a 3 octave range, rather than 4 or 5. Some may think I am limiting myself, but I find it freeing.

To borrow from my own lyrics, "I'm a bad man ..."

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I guess phrasing is a learned thing just like anything else. With a little added personal touch and feeling. I know that when I record or practice a song I often do it over again if I'm not satisfied with the phrasing. It can make or break a song for me. Maybe I finally get everything right but the phrasing just doesn't do it for me. I do it over. I've been struggling with Stormy Monday this way for some time. Tomorrow I will be on my third recording session just trying to get the phrasing how I want it. That's third recording "session." Each session consists of do overs! The song has to say something to me.

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When I would "prepare" for a high note, I would gather tension as I gathered breath and trepidation.

Instead, I mentally close my eyes and use "the force," to borrow from Star Wars. Feel the note. It's there, let it happen.

The more I relax, the better I get. Of course, for me, part of that relaxation is accepting that I pretty much have a 3 octave range, rather than 4 or 5. Some may think I am limiting myself, but I find it freeing.

Aha yah! Yes The Yoda take on fear control. I suppose that's one possibility. Relax, it's all in your mind. Unfortunately you have to deal with some kind of fear. When you don't, it can really kill a high note, not to mention a whole performance. After all "Fear is the little Death," to borrow from Dune.

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