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Steven Fraser

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Everything posted by Steven Fraser

  1. Hi, TMV-ers! I thought it would be useful today to write a bit about how I approach and talk about vocal technique, in the hope that by putting these ideas out there, you can pick and choose some of them that make sense to you, and that you will hopefully find useful. As a starting point for this, I am inspired to recall an idea I read in Cornelius Reid's book, 'Voice - Psyche and Soma'. I cannot remember the exact quote, but the gist of it is that the mind and the body are acting together to produce the singing voice. I think this means for vocal technique that singing is simultaneously psychological and physical. A survey of books written on singing over the last 200 years shows that every teacher has a different approach to working with singers, a different mix of the psychological and physical. Some favor emphasis of the physical aspects, and talk about doing things with body parts, muscle groups, tendons, nasal cavities, lower jaw, the tongue, etc. Others emphasize the sensations of the singer, i.e., 'sing so that you feel such and such a sensation in such and such location in your body'. Still others rely on metaphors and imagery, i.e., 'sing out the top of your head', or 'imagine that you are projecting the tone toward a target on the wall', or 'think of a happy memory'. I don't do any of these alone. Perhaps better stated, I do them all, cherry-picking ideas and approaches from these authors that have these characteristics: 1) are based on anatomical fact, acoustical principles, and physiologically healthy bodily action. 2) are easily expressed and understood using in common language 3) can be practiced beneficially by the student without the teacher's constant supervision 4) help the singer build their ability to sing what they desire to sing - whatever genre or style that is. When it comes to teaching, I am also an optimist. :-) I believe that most people, with very few exceptions, can learn to sing for their own & others' enjoyment if they approach it with patience. In my next posts, I will be writing about the basics of how the voice works - 'what happens where' in the mind and body to produce healthy vocal tone. Along the way, I will address some common misconceptions I've encountered, and clarify some terms that are often used by singers and teachers, but not well understood. I have no illusions that the way I approach this is the only way, or even the best way. I am very interested to hear other ways of doing it as well, as that is how I learn myself. If you have a particular area you'd like to discuss, send me an e-mail or comment to my blog, and I will pull that text forward in a response. Best Regards, Steve
  2. 'Vocal Strength and Power' by Dena Murray Interview Steve: Hi, Dena! I understand that your new book on singing has just been published. Would you tell us a little bit about it? Dena: This is a book that has been 15 years in the making. From the time I started teaching (over 20 years ago,) I knew there was a problem with the prevailing concepts of diaphragmatic support. Singers were injuring themselves from too much pressure and misperceiving instructions. Steve: Do yo mean that the usual "singing teacher's lingo" was not helpful in leading the student in what they should do? Dena: Yes, exactly. They also were not getting what they'd hoped to get from taking lessons i.e., freedom when singing/performing. So after many years of study, I finally uncovered that the problem boiled down to correct intake of air (the inhale) and created exercises to correct it. Steve: You've published two other books on singing. How does this latest one fit in with them? Dena: Well, I never set out to do a three-part series but that was the end result of all my work. Vocal Technique: Finding Your Real Voice is a beginners book and focuses on the vocal mechanism. I did two things deliberately for the beginner: 1) I skipped the discussion of how to use the diaphragm for support, and instead created exercises to builid up the muscles and cartilages which control/support the vocal folds, and, 2) I separated the chest voice from the head voice because in my experience if there are problems in either register, those problems will show up when trying to bridge and combine them for that one-register sound.This book is the first step in how to gain support. Steve: Ok, I am with you so far. How was your approach received by your readers? Dena: Very well, I think. My European readers were especially open with their positive feed-back, and I still receive comments to day on that book's usefulness. Steve: Ok! What was your second book like? Dena: The second one, Advanced Vocal Technique: Middle Voice, Placement & Styles (co-authored by Tita Hutchison,) focuses on a step-by-step process of how to bridge the voice for the one register sound, vowel formation, and correct placement for any given style. Steve: So, that would make it the 'next steps' after clarifying the Chest and Head voices, and some discussion of the different vocal productions. Dena: Yes, that's right. There are 13 exercises in this book with every feeling and sensation one should (and shouldn't) have, literally spelled out for the singer. Again, we purposely stayed away from too much focus on the diaphragm. This book is the second step with regard to support. Steve: All right. How does this third book extend the approach of the other two? Dena: In this third and last book of the series, Vocal Strength and Power, the focus is solely on how to employ correct use of the diaphragmatic region for its support of the entire mechanism. Steve: How is your approach different from other's you've heard? Dena: Simply stated, I've uncovered a problem inherent with other approaches to 'support' instruction, and created exercises to correct the problem. Steve: Ok, I'll bite. What is the problem? Dena: The problem is the correct intake of air before singing. Steve: Who can benefit from your approach and exercises? Dena: Anyone should be able to add these exercises (if they should so choose) to already working methods of techniques when they notice they are struggling for not just the freedom, but also their inherent great sound. Steve: Dena, what else does the book contain? Dena: In addition to the CD of exercises, this book also includes a glossary of dictionary-definition.
  3. Starting Off This will be a short post, with much more to come later. I am happy to be a part of this group. I will likely be posting quite a bit in the areas of vocal technique and concepts for the younger or beginning singer of whatever age. I like to help folks improve and enjoy their singing more. Feel free to post technique questions to me, and I will do my best to respond in a respectful, thorough and clear way. Steve
  4. Introduction In the male voice lower and mid ranges, (what has been traditionally called the "chest voice"), the harmonic structure of the sung tone contains many partials - harmonics, which fit nicely into the pattern of resonances for any particular vowel chosen. Throughout this range, the strong, lower harmonics are reinforced by the first vowel resonance corresponding with Formant 1, (F1), midrange harmonics are reinforced by the second vowel resonance from Formant 2 (F2), and higher harmonics are emphasized by the higher "twang" or "singer's" formant resonances. The combination of multiple, powerful low, midrange, and high harmonics present in all vowels is a distinctive characteristic of this section of the male voice. In contrast with this, in the male high range, (what has been traditionally called the 'head voice'), the harmonics produced by the voice are higher in frequency and more widely spaced. Here, few of the harmonics fit into the vowel resonance pattern. For one particular span of notes in the head voice, there is no significant resonance available to amplify the lowest two harmonics produced. To achieve vocal power and consistency of tone in the high voice, the male singer uses what he has available, "twang" (singer's formant) and the resonance from F2 strengthening harmonic 3 or 4, depending on vowel. Between these two resonance strategies is a region of transition, too high for the 'chest voice' strategy, and too low for the F2 alignments of the 'head voice' strategy. This transition region is the passaggio. Acoustics of the rising fundamental Throughout the voice, as the fundamental frequency moves, the alignment of harmonics and resonances for a vowel changes. On an upward-moving scale or leap, the fundamental and all the overtones rise in frequency. Since the harmonics are spaced at multiples of the fundamental, the harmonics also get farther apart, too. For most of the chest voice range, this is not an issue, as the resonance from F1 covers a wide frequency range, and midrange harmonics are close enough together for at least 2 or 3 of them to get some benefit from F2. These conditions apply to all the vowels. However, in an upward pitch pattern, as the voice passes middle C (C-F, depending on voice type) eventually the scale reaches a region in the voice where the alignment of harmonics to formants is no longer advantageous. Overall vocal power and tone quality will be lost if an adjustment is not made. The particular point in the male voice where this occurs is as the 2nd harmonic passes F1. Visualizing harmonics and the /e/ vowel in a spectragraph As illustration of this, what follows is a series of spectragraphs made with different fundamentals sung to the vowel /e/ (ay), made using my own, baritone, voice. As representative of a lower chest voice tone, the first is of the A natural just a bit more than an octave below middle C , also known as A2. Each vertical blue line represents the intensity of a particular harmonic, where 'up' = louder. Low frequency harmonics start on the left side. The leftmost peak is from the fundamental, and if you look at each peak to the right of that (increasing frequency of harmonic), you can see that the 4th harmonic is the very tallest, and then the peaks become successively shorter. This peak volume for the 4th harmonic, and the emphasis of those surrounding it, is the result of Formant 1, F1 in its position for /e/ in my voice. Harmonics to the 'left' of the formant center get progressively louder as they get nearer to it, and those to the 'right' of the formant center get softer. Proceeding to the right is a section of quite harmonics, not so tall in the display, and then there is another build up to the 13th harmonic. This is the area amplified as a result of the location of Formant 2, F2. The spacing of F1 and F2 is what makes this vowel sound like 'ay' to the listener. After another gap, there are two more areas of emphasis, which are the result of F3 and F4, clustered together. These formants move very little vowel-to-vowel, and form the high frequency 'brightness' resonances of the singer's formant. The reason we start with this: for any given vowel pronunciation, (like /e/) the formants stay at the same locations even while the fundamental (and the associated harmonics) are moved during the production of different notes. Especially important in the understanding of the male passaggio is the relationship of F1, F2 and how the harmonics align with them. A2 on /e/ vowel. Harmonic spacing As mentioned earlier, for any given sung note, harmonics are always the same frequency distance apart. That frequency spacing is the same frequency as the fundamental... the note being sung. So, if a fundamental is 110 cycles per second (like that A2,) all the harmonics will be 110 cycles apart from their neighboring harmonics. You can see this equal spacing in the picture above. Because of the closeness of the harmonic spacing, you are able to see pretty well the 'shape' of the formant regions. Up an Octave The next picture is of the same /e/ vowel, but singing the A up one octave, the A just below middle C, A3, which is 220 cycles per second. Notice that the peaks are farther from each other than in the prior picture... now they are 220 cycles per second apart. Looking at the peaks for a moment, you can see that the amplification effects of F1 and F2 are still in the same place (left to right), but now different numbered harmonics are boosted, and fewer harmonics are affected by each individual formant. In the case of F1, the 3rd harmonic is now the most emphasized, with the 2nd harmonic also getting some help, while F2 is emphasizing the 7th harmonic tremendously, but not much else. This excellent alignment of F2 with a harmonic makes it really ring distinctively, and is an example of 2nd-formant tuning, which will get discussed later. Finding the exact location of F1 for /e/ Are you curious about the exact location of F1? Look at the bottom of this next picture, right beween harmonics 2 and 3. See the blips? All voices have some soft, non-harmonic noise. When that noise falls under a formant, it gets amplified enough to measure. These low blips on the spectragraph are the giveaway to the location of the formant. A3 on /e/ vowel Continuing the scale upward As I continue up the scale from A3, three things happen due to the musical intervals represented by the harmonics: 1) My 2nd harmonic gets closer and closer to F1, strengthing that harmonic. This makes the warmth of the voice 'bloom' in this region, and the resonance makes it possible to oversing some and still get away with it. 2) My 3rd harmonic gets higher above F1, and so it gets progressively softer. In combination with #1, this changes the tone quality somewhat. 3) F2 tunes to successively lower harmonics. These three trends are very important in understanding the male passaggio. More on 'What happens when a harmonic rises above a formant'? As a particular harmonic rises above a formant center, it rapidly decreases in intensity. In this next picture, now singing Bb3 (up just one half step from the A), you can see the effect on the 3rd harmonic. It is quite softer now when compared to the 2nd harmonic. For this note, the principal power of the vowel is being carried by the 2nd harmonic. You may also note that the F2 tuning is emphasizing harmonics 6 and 7 more or less equally. That is because F2 is between them. Harmonic 7 is no longer in the 'ringing' position, and harmonic 6 is not yet high enough to be there. Bb3 /e/ vowel The male upper chest voice My voice is now in the 'fattest' part of the upper chest voice, where most of the vowel power is coming from the 2nd harmonic. This range is just about a perfect 5th wide, because that is the spacing of the 2nd and 3rd harmonics. The region begins as the 3rd harmonic passes F1, and ends as the 2nd harmonic passes F1, in other words, for my /e/ vowel, from the Ab below middle C, to the Eb above middle C. This is what makes my voice a 'low baritone' quality. (Note, you can still see the noise blip.. its getting closer to the 2nd harmonic the higher I sing) Now, the Db in the following picture. Notice that there are little noise blips on each side of the 2nd harmonic. This indicates optimum alignment of the harmonic with F1, the place where the 2nd harmonic is exactly aligned with F1. Db4 /e/ vowel The effects of strong resonance on ease-of-singing Through the entire compass of my voice, up to this point, lower harmonics have been boosted by F1, which has provided for some cushioning effect for the vocal bands. That situation is about to change significantly as the fundamental rises past this point. A very important challenge to the singer as this happens is to resist the temptation to maintain vocal power via pushing. And now to the Eb. The 2nd harmonic has just past F1. Its still very strong, but will lose ground very rapidly as I proceed upward. This is the beginning of the tricky section of the passaggio, where the resonance provided to the 2nd harmonic decreases rapidly, and I must, to retain vocal power and tone quality, find another way to shape the vowel. Eb4 /e/ vowel My next post, 'Male voice passaggio 102' will discuss the various strategies that can be used to retain resonance through the passaggio.
  5. Introduction This blog post is an extended version of a response to a question in the Forum from Mr.Steven Bradley, who wrote requesting some analysis of the scream as done by Steven Tyler in 'I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing' at: Discussion - finding a cool video of Steven Tyler's Vocal cords during a scream I was not really able to do an analysis of the particular section he had in mind of that song, but I did find a wonderful little section of a National Geographic special on youtube, in which Steven Tyler's ENT (Dr. Steven Zeitels, of Harvard Medical School and Mass General Hospital )was interviewed, and which included some video of stroboscopic laryngoscopy with simultaneous audio , which makes the vocal cords look like they are moving in slow motion while the listener is able to hear the sound that is being made. Yes, that is right, a slow-mo of Steven Tyler's vocal bands during a scream that you are also able to hear at the same time. At about 1:10 in this video, which was made with a combination of performance and ENT's video and audio, you can see some very interesting things. Right at that time, (with the strobe on) you see the cords vibrating slowly and hear his tone quality in the ENT's office while he is singing that top Ab. There are a couple things to note: 1) Location of oscillation: Right before the narrator cuts back in, Steven sustains the Ab he is screaming for a moment while it is being scoped. Its at that point that the close observer can see fairly clearly see what is going on, including what part of the vocal folds are vibrating. The scoop here: The vibration is at the 'top' part of the picture, which during the exam, is the posterior part of the vocal bands. In a word, this is not 'zipped up' so that vibration is only at the front section of the vocal cords as one sometimes sees, but taking place at the back close to the arytenoids. 2) Phonation Motion The motion of the vocal bands is not uniform during the scream, but can be seen to have some complexity or variation. This kind of phonation results in complexity of the glottal pulse wave shape, which will be reinforced by the vocal tract if some of the frequencies are close to vocal formants. Here is what that looks like spectrographically: The Scream, Spectrographically To understand what this shows us, follow along from left-to-right: 1) The first upward peak is the sung fundamental (also called the first harmonic, or H1) . Its about the Ab above the treble staff, (at 820 Hz, for those interested - I measured it). It is a very narrow peak, indicating that he is singing it with no vibrato. Look to the right now, and find the highest peak on the chart. This is at 1640 Hz, exactly twice the frequency of the fundamental, which makes it a harmonic as well, in this case, the 2nd harmonic, H2. It is also narrow. Find the 3rd narrow peak, and you will see the third harmonic (H3) which is at 2460 Hz. Above that, there is not much intensity of sound. NB At this point: If these 3 harmonics were the only sound present in the vocal tone, it would be very powerful, and sound very pure to us... clean and clear. But, Steven's sung tone is not that simple. It has a complexity which is a part of his 'scream' vocalism. Lets look at that. Between the H1 and H2 peaks is another one, with a fairly wide base that ramps up to a peak almost as tall as H1. That peak is fairly wide (when compared with the harmonics we have been discussing up to this point,) and then it ramps down in a way that the harmonics do not. This display is characteristic of a multi-frequency cluster of sound energy, which is being amplified selectively by a vocal resonance, IMO probably due to the lowest vowel formant, F1. The line traces the shape of the resonance influence of the formant as it selectively amplifies the pink noise input. Just FYI: The frequency 'center' of this sound energy is about 1218 Hz, which is not a harmonic multiple of the sung fundamental. These partials are, therefore 'non-harmonic partials'... components of the sound which are not in the expected harmonic series, so our brain interprets them as noise. The overall effect of the combination of 3 strong sung harmonics, with the loud noise component, gives us this particular version of the 'Steven Tyler Scream'. Request for '2nd Opinion' I am by no means an expert in either the analysis of vocal screaming or of interpreting the nuances of phonation characteristics as revealed by stroboscopic laryngoscopy. However, there are TMV-ers who are very familiar with both of these territories. My request: Write comments to this blog, to affirm what I have offered, or to give other opinions about what you see or hear. I am very interested to know your reactions.
  6. Hi! This week, I'd like to introduce you to a tool that very valuable when discussing vowels for singing - the International Phonetic Alphabet, commonly called IPA. If you remember learning to read using Phonics, (sounding out letters, etc) you've had an informal intro to one of the IPA's core ideas: that each spoken sound can have a written symbol. In IPA, all of the sounds of languages are assigned a unique symbol, one symbol per sound. When languages share sounds, that is, when sounds occur in more than one language, the same symbol is used to represent the sound. In this manner, someone who knows IPAcan read the IPA of a text of a song in another language, and get the pronunciation very close to, if not exactly correct. I had my first intro to IPA as an undergraduate vocal music student, in a 2-semester class called 'Foreign Language Diction'. We applied IPA to the pronunciation of Italian, German and French songs, and it worked pretty well, even for the bunch of us from the midwest :-) These days, I use the 'typewriter' version of IPA mostly in discussions of vowels. If you see /a/, /e/, /i/, /o/ or /u/ in something I write, you should have no difficulty interpreting them as sounds in these English, Italian, German or French words: ah as in father, caro, gestalt, par ay as in pay, che, gegeben, pays - note here, not the dipthong. That takes 2 IPA letters :-) ee as in free, cosi, spiel, qui oh as in blow, bello, hohe,clos oo as in blue, pura, du, doux There are many resources out in the Internet for the IPA, and simply wonderful books of phonetic readings of song texts for hundreds and hundreds of classical songs. To begin to explore this vast world, simply google IPA, and follow any references you may find.
  7. Introduction In the Opera world, one of the most exciting things to anticipate and hear is the brilliant, climactic high note of the tenor soloist in an aria. Not only does the voice carry well without amplification, but takes on a distinctly thrilling, impressive quality of resonance that other parts of the voice do not quite have in the same way. In this post, I will explore the ways that these fine singers manage their voices to enable such singing. Since we will be objectively discussing vocal tone quality, I will be using spectragraphs to assist. With some of these particular ones, I will include annotations to the images so that the reader can make the connection between the visual representation and aural experience of harmonics within the vocal tone quality. The spectragraphs I use will all be of the final note in the Tenor Aria, 'Celeste Aida', from Verdi's Opera Aida, which is on the syllable 'Sol' on the Bb above middle C. To give credit where credit is due, my investigation in this area was inspired by the published work of Donald Miller at www.vocevista.com. The spectragraphs were produced with Spectragram16, by Richard Horne. Bjoerling and Domingo The spectragraph to the left shows that note from recordings of two of the most popular and capable operatic tenors of the 20th Century, Jussi Bjoerling (represented with the blue line) and Placido Domingo,(represented with the white line.) To help orient you to the image, I have annotated it with lines and text to show the locations of the harmonics of the sung tones. On this diagram, left=lower frequency, right=higher frequency. Up=higher intensity, down=lower intensity. The frequency range represented is 0 to 4000 cycles per second (Hz). So that these notes could be compared as well as can be from recordings, I equalized the volume of the fundamentals. What we can see and conclude With this equalization, the fundamentals and 2nd harmonics (H2) are about the same strength when comparing voice-to-voice, as evidenced by the nearly exact overlay of the blue and white lines. However, a very great difference is noticable in the intensity of H3. Bjoerling's H3 goes way higher on the intensity scale than Domingo's, indicating that it is very much stronger. H4 and H5 are also more intense than those of Domingo, though their intensity in Domingo's voice increases until they are in rough parity with that of Bjoerling at H6. From there, the intensity of harmonics falls off dramatically in both voices. So, as a proportion of the overall sound of the recorded voice, Jussi Bjoerling's tone quality and power are created mostly by H3, H6, H5 and H2 (in decreasing order by intensity) while Domingo's tone quality and power are created mostly via harmonics H6, H2, H1 and H5, again, in decreasing order by intensity. These different balances, while they both sound like tenors, make them distinguishable to our ears. What we cannot conclude Does this mean that Bjoerling's voice was 'bigger' or 'more resonant' than Domingo's, or perhaps the other way around? Neither one!. Engineers who make recordings adjust volumes and balances at their own discretion, to make recordings have a satisfying overall effect for the listener, while not overwhelming the recording or playback machines. There is simply no way to tell from a recording what the original sound intensities were, only how they were after they were recorded and mixed down. Sometimes (though not much with Opera) some EQ is added to overcome a recording problem, or to 'sweeten' the effect a bit. Some of that latter can be seen in some of the images here, and is discussed below under the section 'Engineering Artifacts'. So, even though we cannot learn the size of these voices in absolute terms, we can learn (in general) how the sound energy of the harmonics is distributed relative to one another within a single recorded voice, and can compare recording to recording. Vocal Resonance Strategies Vocal power that is distributed across the various harmonics is perceived by the listener differently, according to the frequency range of the particular harmonics. In the case of the Bjoerling and Domingo notes, the reason that there is such a dispartity in the displays of the blue and white lines is that these singers have balanced their resonances differently for this note in the recordings selected. Surveying recordings of more than fourty of the top tenors of the 20th Century, these voices predominately use one or both of two strategies to create the powerful top voice. In this next section, we will explore the strategies that they used, and comment on the overall effect. The 'Singers Formant' region Looking back at the picture for a moment, you may notice the two vertical red lines which bracket the frequency range of the 6th Harmonic, very strong in both voices. These lines show the 'center 400Hz ' of the Singers formant region, and also indicate the area of highest hearing sensitivity. When harmonics are strong in this frequency region, they are very audible, adding to the carrying power of the voice, and to the listener's perception of voice quality as well. For the singer without amplification, presence of these frequencies allows the voice to cut through above the sound of a piano easily, and even a full orchestra in the concert or Operatic venues. These frequencies also help the audience member locate the sound source very specifically on stage, a big help when singing an ensemble :-) Both Domingo and Bjoerling have this important feature in their voices. Incidentally, the frequency of the 6th harmonic is 2 octaves and a major third above the sung fundamental. The first most common strategy for vocal power and audibility is to have a strong singer's formant, as strong or stronger than the fundamental and 2nd harmonic. We could also call this the 'high ring' strategy. Lowest 3 Harmonics The perception of the 'darkness' or 'warmth' of the voice comes from the intensities of the lowest 2 harmonics, H1 and H2, which are the fundamental of the sung tone, and the octave above it. For these, both singers have about the same proportion, and this forms a solid core to the sound in both voices. To the listener, these two harmonics are very difficult to distinguish individually when they are approximately the same volume. The presence of the proportionally louder H3 in Bjoerling's voice introduces an interesting difference. H3 is the frequency an octave and a perfect 5th above the fundamental, what (to a classical organist) would be called a 'quint'. This quite strong harmonic colors the tone distinctively, and, because it is an odd-numbered harmonic, it stands out in the awareness of the listener, adding brilliance to the vowel. When the 3rd harmonic is the loudest in the whole voice (such as it is for Bjoerling) this becomes a significant feature of the tone quality, and carries a great deal of the vocal power. The second most common strategy for vocal power (and coloring) is to have a strong 3rd Harmonic. The strong H3 is obtained by singing a vowel which tunes the 2nd formant (F2) to just a little bit higher than H3, a process sometimes called vowel modification, or vocal tract tuning. We could also call this the mid+high ring strategy. (Note: For other combinations of note and vowel impression, the tuning of F2 is more advantageously made to H4.) In professional voices, both of these individual strategies can be found, and also combined. Jussi Bjoerling is a fine example of the combined, and Placido Domingo is an excellent example of the "singer's formant" or low+high ring strategy. Another Singer for Comparison - Franco Corelli Franco Corelli (one of Dennison's faves) is known for an heroic tenor voice. This spectragram shows the relative strength of the harmonics in his voice for the same note we were examining with Domingo and Bjoerling. Though there is a bit more orchestral clutter in the sample (sharp spikes here and there, and on the left end,) you can see clearly that the 3rd harmonic is very prominent in his voice, . Looking to the right, you see some strength with H4, H5 and H6, and then a strong H7 as well. This would make his approach a 'combined' one. Others for comparison. See if you can identify which strategies they employ Alfredo Kraus Benjamino Gigli Luciano Pavarotti Special note here: Pavarotti's voice is very interesting in that he uses the H3 formant tuning, but does not combine it with a strong singer's formant. The overall effect is very distinctive. Enrico Caruso Mario Lanza Engineering Artifacts - possible The clustering of the formants F3, F3 and F5 which combine in the Singer's formant region ordinarily produce somewhat jagged peaks in a spectragraphic display. When recorded and displayed 'as is', without any 'sweetening' EQ, they do not often take the shape of smooth curves, rounded on top, but will ramp up and down fairly sharply across 3 or 4 harmonics. Go back to the Kraus spectragraph, and look at the shape of the curve created by the tops of H4, H5, H6, H7 and H8. Disregard the leading (rightmost edge) pointy peaks that show up, that is an orchestral note. The 'wide' part is from the voice. IMO, the slow ramp-up of the harmonic intensities in this region, peaking at H7, and then diminishing a bit to H8, just looks too regular. I think this is a likely example of some EQ shaping to allow the voice to cut through the orchestral mix. Though I cannot be quite so sure on this one, the suddenly very strong H7 in the Correlli spectragraph looks a bit out of place, with the intensities of the immediately 3 lower harmonics at the levels they are. Now you know what you might look for, I will leave the judgment to you. Its not likely, while listening to the recording, that you would be aware of any of these harmonics individually, anyway. None of these latter points reflects on the quality of the singer in any way, nor would the singer likely have been aware that tweaks were done on their behalf. As I said earlier, the Engineers work to create an effective recording of the voice that fairly represents what the performance sounded like to them. Summary We've seen with these examples the most often occuring resonance strategies for creating the ringing top notes of the Operatic Tenor voice, and readily-accessible examples from some of the most popular singers of the 20th Century. We've also discussed the limitations of using recordings to make these conclusions. If you'd like to see more articles of this type, studying the vocalism of other voices, please send me a comment as to your interests. In any case, I plan to do a parallel discussion of the resonance strategies of the Operatic Baritone (Warren, Milnes, Tibett and Bastianini!), the female high voice, and discuss in detail the challenges involved with the transition from mid voice to the top in both types. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - A Christmas Egg The following spectragram is of Michael Bolton (in blue) and Luciano Pavarotti (in white) singing the climactic note of Puccini's Aria 'Nessun Dorma' from Turandot. These were public, large-hall performances, and the performers were close-miked, a very interesting way to hear Pavarotti's voice :-) The note being sung is the B natural above middle C. A problem I encountered in comparing the voices with these recordings is that orchestra is playing quite loudly, so the first harmonics are cluttered by those sounds, so much so that we cannot really distinguish what component of the sound is the singer, and what is the orchestra. To do this particular equalization, I matched volume of harmonics H2 (right above the '1' on the bottom scale) and H3 (midway between '1' and '2'), since the vocal vibrato in both voices makes the trace wide enough to see. Interesting, that Michael Bolton and Luciano Pavarotti have almost exactly the same resonance balance ratio for these two harmonics. Remember, this sort of comparison does not tell us about the absolute volume of the voices, just how the resonances are balanced. You can see some places in the higher harmonics where Bolton's voice has relative strength, too. He has characteristic singer's formant strength that peaks at H6, (right in the sweet spot of our hearing) which would make his resonance strategy for the note a 'combined' one, from our former terminology. If you are interested to listen to these performances: Luciano Pavarotti at
  8. Introduction Of all the dynamic effects used in singing, one of the most challenging to do elegantly is the 'messa di voce' (pronounced by English speakers more-or-less like 'mess ah dee voh chay'. :-) It is the combination of a smooth crescendo (getting louder) for some amount of time, followed by a smooth decrescendo (getting softer) for the same amount of time, on a single vowel, on a single note. Using musical symbols, it can be represented this way: Why is this challenging? The exercise requires that the singer be able to: o Start a note cleanly and vibrantly, but softly. o Crescendo that note smoothly, progressively adjusting the balance of breath energy and laryngeal muscle action so that the tone gets louder, not going sharp or flat, and maintaining the vowel color until a specific louder level is reached . o Decrescendo that note smoothly, with similar requirements as during the crescendo, while approaching the end of the usable supply of breath o End the note cleanly and vibrantly, but softly The easiest of the skills For most singers with some training, the skill which most readily can be managed is the 2nd one, the crescendo. Even so, the requirement to maintain the vowel and the pitch consistency represents a challenge. If the breath energy is not balanced with the laryngeal muscle action, the pitch will go astray. The intermediate skills Next in line of difficulty is the soft starting and stopping of the vibrant tone. This skill requires the singer to be able to manage breath energy at very low subglottic pressures, with the requisite light laryngeal muscle action levels, while at the same time keeping the tone free, clear and accurately pitched. The starting of the note is challenging, because there is usually a surplus of breath energy for the 1st onset, and the ending of the note is challenging, because there is very little left for the release. To correctly do these two skills, the singer must have mastery of soft dynamics with full lungs, and with nearly empty ones. The most challenging of the skills This is the smooth decrescendo. As the singer begins to do this on the latter half of the breath, there is a great tendency to make the action too swiftly. If, for example, the crescendo is taken for 5 seconds, the singer will tend to make the first part of the decrescendo very much too rapidly, returning to the original volume in 3 or 4 seconds. Additional difficulty lies in the need for the singer to perform the decrescendo smoothly, and while doing so, gradually decrease the subglottic pressures by coordination of breath energy and laryngeal muscle action, maintaining pitch and vibrancy on an increasingly smaller lung volumes of air. This presents a breath management/support challenge. And, to top it off The exercise should be able to be performed throughout the complete performance compass of the voice. Pedagogic Use of the Messa Di Voce The exercise is useful for both voice evaluation, and for training. When performed, it immediately reveals where the singer's issues are, by the characteristics of the individual skills which are combined in it. When first performed, the student takes a small breath, begins and ends at mezzopiano (mp), and crescendos to mezzo forte. (mf) over a few counts time. When smooth and accurate with these levels and times for all vowels, the teacher may either (1) extend the dynamic range (starting softer, i.e., at piano, or ending louder, i.e., at mezzo forte), and/or (2) lengthening the time for the crescendo and the matching decrescendo, with a slightly larger breath. As the singer becomes more accomplished, the teacher may vary the dynamics and lengths independently, so that complete facility of dynamic control is gained. Examples of Use If you listen carefully to some of the longer notes in 'The prayer' http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ELLI2-lRTM you can hear the messa di voce done very subtly. Also, you can hear good examples of the sustained notes in decrescendo, which is the 2nd half of the exercise. Probably the best example I have found of this effect in theatre is the sustained, almost inperceptible decrescendo on the last note of 'The Music of the Night' in Phantom of the Opera. Michael Crawford does it very well at Amongst the singers of the 'Standards', excellent examples are in the singing of Tony Bennett. In 'Fly me to the moon', at you can hear some very subtle ones. Messa di voce is not an end in itself. The abilities it requires, and which it helps to develop, are essential in the dynamic shaping of phrases, the ebb and flow of vocal volume to create arched, legato lines. In Tony's singing, you can hear how he nuances these volume relationships note-to-note so smoothly. In classical music, especially pieces in Bel Canto style, this effect is very readily found. For example, in the 'mad scene' in Donizetti's Lucia, (eg at you can hear some of the longer notes with it done subtly, but also how the singer uses dynamic control to connect the coloratura in long, shaped phrases on a single vowel. Interesting note: This is the same aria which begins the 'Diva' section in the Bruce Willis movie 'The fifth element' (as seen at before the 'dance' section ). Conclusion By varying the dynamic levels and the lengths of the crescendo/decrescendo pair, the singer becomes very familiar with the way their own instrument responds to these demands, and how they must be thinking to achieve the effect in the various ranges of their voice. The end results is a wonderful ability and sense of mastery that comes from the familiarity of these aspects of singing, and which is directly applied to the artistic use of dynamics in performance.
  9. Introduction TMV brings together singers and teachers representing a wide range of singing backgrounds and techniques, each with its own concepts and terminology. With the encouragement of a number of TMV members, I have volunteered to pull together a research project to collect and organize a side-by-side equivalency (or 'Rosetta Stone' if you will) of these core concepts and terminologies, incorporating the perspectives and experiences of TMV members. Our first step I am writing this blog to invite you into the first phase of this project, which is to identify terminology sources and traditions, and any particular schools, teachers, materials or training systems having their own particular verbiage that you think we should include. To participate All you need do is respond to this blog, and indicate your interest, and name a terminology source with which you have been trained, along with your most preferred genre(s), and your years of training. For example, if you are a classical choral singer that was trained for 4 years at Westminster Choir College, you could post that as 'Westminster Choir College - choral singer - 4 years'. Or, if you have been (or are currently) using one of the popular CD-based systems, Name it, your genre(s) and how long you have been using it. If you have studied with a private teacher (and feel comfortable discussing the core concepts and terminologies that they have used with you), by all means mention the teacher by name, the genre(s), and how long you have been studying with them. What I will do It will probably not take too long to collect the first round of information. In the next couple weeks or so, I will be setting up a discussion group, and inviting those who wish to help with the project to join. There, I will put up a first questionnaire, and we can begin to collect textual and sound clip examples of the concepts, and (especially interesting) clips which allow us to hear the sounds of voices using techniques and tone qualities that may have differing terminologies in the various schools/approaches. So, Let's Begin Please respond to this blog, and I will begin to build my lists! Yours in TMV, Steve
  10. Hi, TMV-ers.! Work has kept me on the road, and definitely very busy in the past month. While not blogging or writing on the Forum quite so much during this interval, I have had the opportunity to share dinner twice with Robert in Seattle, both times with very lively TMV-related conversation as you might expect. In our last sitdown, along with Jason, we spent a bit of time brainstorming some possibilities for a TMV-internal publication, by members, for members. Something on a level a bit more formal than what is currently going on with our blogs, and with a breadth, scope and quality that all of TMV can consider 'Our 'Publication'. To tell the truth, we three got pretty jazzed about some of the ideas, and Rob asked me to write a blog to share some of them with you. What follows are items based on that conversation, which I consider a good starting point for development & refinement. Please respond here, or send an e-mail and tell me your ideas! - The publication will be by the TMV Community, and for the TMV Community, containing high-quality materials produced specifically by us and for us. through this publication. - The Journal should have a core group that helps to coordinate content creation, the publication schedule, and which takes responsibility for setting the scope and tone issue-to-issue. - Content will be Web 2.0, media-rich, using the same technologies that we currently use online, and new ones as we acquire them. Yes there will be well-written words, but also pics, vids, tracks and animation as they are useful to the author of an article as they get their point across in an engaging and compelling way. - Content will be planned out in advance, for specific 'issues', much like a professional journal would be, with recurring subject areas, article series, new research results, and items of interest and practical use to the community members. Other sections of a less formal nature could include community events, get-togethers & milestones. These elements, when combined, will make TMV Journal unique to us... an expression of who we are, what we are doing, and providing an ongoing value to the membership. There you have it! If you are inspired to make some suggestions, here are areas where I would be very interested to have your thoughts: 1) What would be recurring topics of interest to you as a teacher, performer or student? 2) How often would you like to see such a publication produced? 3) What five TMV members would you like to see interviewed? 4) Your other ideas here: I look forward to your responses. Steve Fraser
  11. Steve: Hi, Dena! I understand that your new book on singing has just been published. Would you tell us a little bit about it? Dena: This is a book that has been 15 years in the making. From the time I started teaching (over 20 years ago,) I knew there was a problem with the prevailing concepts of diaphragmatic support. Singers were injuring themselves from too much pressure and misperceiving instructions. Steve: Do yo mean that the usual "singing teacher's lingo" was not helpful in leading the student in what they should do? Dena: Yes, exactly. They also were not getting what they'd hoped to get from taking lessons i.e., freedom when singing/performing. So after many years of study, I finally uncovered that the problem boiled down to correct intake of air (the inhale) and created exercises to correct it. Steve: You've published two other books on singing. How does this latest one fit in with them? Dena: Well, I never set out to do a three-part series but that was the end result of all my work. Vocal Technique: Finding Your Real Voice is a beginners book and focuses on the vocal mechanism. I did two things deliberately for the beginner: 1) I skipped the discussion of how to use the diaphragm for support, and instead created exercises to builid up the muscles and cartilages which control/support the vocal folds, and, 2) I separated the chest voice from the head voice because in my experience if there are problems in either register, those problems will show up when trying to bridge and combine them for that one-register sound. This book is the first step in how to gain support. Steve: Ok, I am with you so far. How was your approach received by your readers? Dena: Very well, I think. My European readers were especially open with their positive feed-back, and I still receive comments to day on that book's usefulness. Steve: Ok! What was your second book like? Dena: The second one, Advanced Vocal Technique: Middle Voice, Placement & Styles (co-authored by Tita Hutchison,) focuses on a step-by-step process of how to bridge the voice for the one register sound, vowel formation, and correct placement for any given style. Steve: So, that would make it the 'next steps' after clarifying the Chest and Head voices, and some discussion of the different vocal productions. Dena: Yes, that's right. There are 13 exercises in this book with every feeling and sensation one should (and shouldn’t) have, literally spelled out for the singer. Again, we purposely stayed away from too much focus on the diaphragm. This book is the second step with regard to support. Steve: All right. How does this third book extend the approach of the other two? Dena: In this third and last book of the series, “Vocal Strength and Power”, the focus is solely on how to employ correct use of the diaphragmatic region for its support of the entire mechanism. Steve: How is your approach different from other's you've heard? Simply stated, I've uncovered a problem inherent with other approaches to 'support' instruction, and created exercises to correct the problem. Steve: Ok, I'll bite. What is the problem? Dena: The problem is the correct intake of air before singing. Steve: Who can benefit from your approach and exercises? Dena: Anyone should be able to add these exercises (if they should so choose) to already working methods of techniques when they notice they are struggling for not just the freedom, but also their inherent great sound. Steve: Dena, what else does the book contain? Dena: In addition to the CD of exercises, this book also includes a glossary of dictionary-defined words, the most commonly used words for instruction. As I was looking up the words to pull this section together, I was quite surprised at the meanings associated with some of these words, as I'm sure others will be too. I found that most misperception comes down to the true meaning of a word. Steve: Moving on to a different aspect of this work, how did you go about getting published? Dena: Let me answer that by describing how I got my first one published. Once I knew the subject I wanted to cover, I started writing. I got a name at Hal Leonard to contact, and pitched my idea by e-mail. Steve: What was the response? Dena: He got back to me within a few days and asked that I I send a table of contents and the first chapter so they could review it. I was very nervous about all of this because it was my first book so nervous that I purposely wouldn't check my e-mail. I decided to go camping for a few days and when I returned, checked my phone messages never expecting to get an answer by phone. Oh My God, they were SO excited about this book wanted it as soon as possible, sent me a contract, and advance money. Steve: That must have been a very pleasant surprise! After the initial contact, how long did the process take? Dena: The first book took a year to write and another to get it printed and published. It surely was one of the most exciting things that ever happened to me. I established an excellent relationship with the vice president and several editors by keeping them updated as to how far along I was every three months or so, and always remembering to tell them how appreciative I was to them for this opportunity. They then told me they wished all authors were this responsible about communication. Steve: I take it from this comment that not all authors are so communicative. Do you have any advice in this regard for any writers out there that would like to have a book published? Dena: Yes, I do. My best advice: if you get a name to contact at a publishing company and can secure the deal... keep your publisher updated as you write the book. Right along with that... never forget about the opportunity they have provided for you. Steve: Dena, this is great information. For those interested, where and when will the book be available? The book is already available to pre-order on Amazon.com (my link on www.denamurray.com will take you straight to the book,) It has already been shipped to Barnes and Noble, Borders, most music stores, and other bookstores. It will be available for purchase in the stores around Thanksgiving. Steve: Thanks, Dena, for taking the time to provide this information.
  12. This article is 2nd in a series on the Male Voice Passaggio. Introduction In the first article in this series, I explained the acoustic basis of the male voice passaggio experience. In short, the passaggio is a place in the range where the resonance characteristics of the voice are 'between' those of the so-called 'chest voice', and 'head voice'. Of particular interest is the relationship of the first hamonic of the sung tone with the lower vowel resonance. In this article, we will examine some of the resonance strategies available to the male singer in this range, and how those strategies help consistency of vocal tone, power and ease-of-singing. 'Chest voice' power... to a point As mentioned in the prior article, a great deal of the power of the voice, and the sensation that the voice is 'in the chest' comes from the strength of the lower harmonics. This situation continues during the upward scale until the the 2nd harmonic passes F1, the location of which varies by voice type and vowel. Singing upward from there, the 2nd harmonic rapidly loses power halfstep-by-halfstep, and since the fundamental is an octave below it, there is now no strong resonance in either of them from the lower vowel resonance. The 'bottom' (powerful low resonance) has fallen out of the tone quality, and the sensations of that resonance in the chest and other tissues, becomes rapidly much less. The sensation for many is that the voice has 'left the chest'. Also, since the middle harmonics are farther apart in frequency now, F2 has not yet been of an advantage to make up for the missing power of the lower harmonics. In another way of putting it, the singer is no longer in the chest voice, but not yet in the 'head' voice. Passaggio effects This change in resonance character and power does two things to the singer, one at the laryrngeal level, and the other in tone quality: 1) it removes the cushioning provided the vocal bands by the inertive vocal tract, and 2) it causes a tone quality change which favors the brightness (singers formant component) of the tone. Item 1 makes the voice less stable (sensitive to disruption, for example, cracking, blips, etc), and item 2 makes it brighter by comparision to the notes immediately below it, without having any satisfying vowel resonance. Arriving in head voice Continuing the scale, the male singer reaches a point where F2 finally aligns with the 4th or 3rd harmonic (depending on vowel) and F2 greatly strengthens this harmonic, to the point that it is the most prominent in the entire voice. Very often, this circumstance is accompanied by pronounced sensations in the bones of the front of the front of the face, and very often elsewhere. For the singer, the voice is now fully 'in the head'. In effect, the passaggio is the section of the voice between these two distinct areas of resonance characteristics, above the area where F1 helps the 2nd harmonic, and below the area where F2 helps the 4th and 3rd. When the word 'passaggio' is used to mean an active technique, it means whatever is done to keep the vocal quality consistent in this area, and also keeping it from becoming unstable. In other words, to connect the secure, powerful lower and upper voices in a manner that makes the voice as consistent as is possible. Passaggio resonance strategies A) Principal among these is the use of epilaryngeal resonance, in either the form of twang orsingers formant, which we might describe as twang with classical vowels. This has several desirable effects. 1) The use of this resonance boosts vocal power by ~20dB (that is, greater than 8 times as loud to a listener,) particularly by increasing the volume of harmonics in the 2500 to 3500 Hz region, the most sensitive range of human hearing. With this resonance, the singer gets much more sound, and much more audible sound, from the same amount of effort, and can thereby be heard effectively without having to push vocally. More sound, more apparent volume, less work. Sounds like a winner to me. 2) Epilaryngeal resonance, which occurs in the small space immediately above the larynx, before it continues on to the upper parts of the pharyx, provides a cushioning acoustic feed-back to the vocal bands, so they do not take so much stress as they go through their motions. For the techies out there, it can be thought of an impedance-matching layer between the vocal bands and the pharynx. In common parlance, 'riding the vocal ring' across the weak area. For the classical singer, its often the region where vowel darkening (via modification, discussed later) is done to counteract the brightness of the rising-voice tone quality, a technique which to some extent increases the intertive character of the vocal tract, providing some helpful cushioning. An epilaryngeal resonance strategy is not only helpful in the passaggio, it has these effects in the lower and upper voices as well. However, in the passaggio, it provides much-needed tone quality consistency while the vowel resonances are 'between gears' so to speak. Vowel Modification can be used to advantage. There are two approaches here to be mentioned. 1) Because the passaggio starts and ends at different notes for different vowels, the singer can benefit from shading a vowel which has become unresonant toward a related vowel that is not. For example, the first vowel resonance for /i/ (ee) is lower than it is for /I/ (ih). The passaggio for /i/ starts lower than it does for /I/ in a given voice. If done gradually, the singer can shade the /i/ progressively toward /I/, which the listener will not notice because it sounds so well. Acoustically, the effect of this maneuver is to raise the first vowel resonance, and lower the 2nd vowel resonance, bringing them closer together. This technique can be used by singers who use low, medium or high-larynx approaches. The vocal tract retains most of its inertive quality because vowel resonance is being maintained with these alternate vowels. 2) Vowels can also be modified by changing them to more 'closed' or 'darker' forms on the ascending scale, so that both the vowel resonances are lowered. In some circles,this technique is called 'covering', and if done well, is not noticable to the listener. If it is noticed, it was overdone :-) In this approach, vowels such as /a/ (ah) are modified to aw, and /o/ (oh) toward /u/ (oo) through the passaggio. Other vowels have their own series of similar modifications. The technique is generally usable with classical vowels, and with lower-larynx technique, without objection by a listener. If done by a mid-or high-larynx singer, the tone quality variation would likely be more obvious if not done very subtly. The effect of this type of vowel modification is twofold: ---to create a lower position for the first vowel resonance, and to bring the second vowel resonance downward so that it will align with harmonics 4 or 3 sooner than it would otherwise, and ---to increase the inertia the air in the vocal tract, making it more cushioning for the vocal bands Either, or both of these vowel modification techniques can be used by the singer to create the tone quality effects that suits their artistic expression. Passaggio Width and location As a practical matter, the passaggio region for any vowel is about a perfect fourth wide. The starting point will vary by voice type and vowel. /i/ (ee) and /u/ have the lowest passaggio entry points. /e/ (ay), /I/ (ih), /o/ (oh) and /E/ (eh) have the next lowest, and /a/ (ah) has the highest. Other vowels are spaced between these. Passaggio locations are a general indicator of voice type. Bass has the lowest passaggio point, baritone somewhat higher, and tenor highest. Conclusion, or the Benefits of Passaggio technique Why bother with all of this? It makes singing more consistent, powerful, enjoyable to do and pleasant to hear. It reduces vocal strain, and increases tone quality stability in a region of notes that can be fraught with problems for the male voice. There are several approaches from which to choose, and the singer can combine them in whatever way makes sense for their vocal endeavors.
  13. A spectragraph is a picture that tells us about the frequency and intensity of the different parts of a sound. Here is one which contains two vocal sounds graphed, a 'vocal hum' in blue, and a 'vocal buzz' in white. Both sounds were produced on the same pitch, with the mouth closed. (These are from a demo from Robert Lunte. My thanks to him) If you click on the picture, you will get a bigger one. In my last blog post, I introduced you to the idea that there are multiple sounds in a sung tone, and that the resonances determine what vowel we perceive. Even sounds which are not vowels (this hum and buzz) have resonances which we interpret as tone quality. Lets learn a bit about how to read a spectragraph, so we can discuss the physics of vocal resonance. On this picture, all of the sound energy from 0 cycles per second up to 5000 cycles per second is graphed. Left=low frequency, right=high; Up=louder sounds, down=softer sounds. The scale is even left-to-right, much like the inches or centimetres on a ruler are all the same size. When you see a peak up fairly high on the picture, then that means that a sound of a particular frequency is quite loud. Go ahead and count the white ones you can see. You should get more than 20. Just for fun, count the blue ones, and notice if there are any that go higher than the white ones. The note that the singer (Robert) is producing is the very lowest (leftmost) peak. In musical acoustics terms, this is the called the 'fundamental', or the first harmonic. All of the peaks to the right of that are the 'overtones', or the 2nd through the 25th harmonics. The relative strength of these harmonics is what we percieve as tone quality - the way our mind differentiates sounds for us. Here is a different spectragraph, this time of two vowels, ee and ay. ee is in blue, ay is in white. As I mentioned in my prior post on Vowels, the two lowest resonances are the ones primarily responsible for the perception of a particular vowel. Let's find them. Starting from the left, look for the highest blue peak. Its the 2nd one. Find the highest white peak. Its the 3rd one. This shows us that the lowest resonance for ee and ay are not the same. Ee's is lower than ay's. Now, lets find the 2nd resonances. Moving to the right, find the next place a blue one sticks up fairly high above the white. This is the 2nd resonance for ee. Just to the left of it is the 2nd resonance for ay. The 2nd resonance for ee is _higher_ than the 2nd one for ay. When compared in combination with the lower resonances, the ones for ee are farther apart than the ones for ay. Between the two resonances, there is a fairly deep 'valley' where the harmonics are much softer. In a given voice, each distinguishable vowel has particular spacings for these two resonances, and that is how we tell the vowels apart as listeners. More next time! Best Regards, Steven Fraser
  14. Introduction This weekend's article is a comparision of the 'belt voice' production as used by female singers, the 'robust head voice' as used by Operatic tenors, and the male 'Rock' pharyngeal voice . These types of vocalism share some characteristics which make them similar to each other, but also have some characteristics which differentiate them. As I have done before, I will use spectragraphic analysis to assist in the understanding of how these voices can be compared and contrasted. A first example: 'Top Line F', Belt and Robust Head Voice The following spectragraph shows the harmonic content of two voices singing the F natural usually written on the top line of the treble staff, that is, the F at the upper range of both the belt and tenor voices (the F the octave and a perfect fourth above middle C.) The female singer, represented in blue, is Patti LaBelle, from a televised recording of "You'll Never Walk Alone" from Carousel , recorded in the mid-'60s. The tenor is classical tenor Nicolai Gedda, from a 1973 recording of "Credeasi Misera" from I Puritani. Patti http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTAOD-2Fnqw at 2:19 Nicolai http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9w_TTK7UP1c at 4:50 As I have done with prior recordings, I have matched the volumes of first harmonic (H1) so that the relative intensity of the upper harmonics can be identified. With this matching, we see the following: 1) There are five strong harmonics displayed by both voices, and for both of the notes, the 3rd harmonic is the strongest. This gives the voices power and color. The relative intensity of the harmonics is approximately the same in both voices. 2) H1 and H2 are lower in intensity than H3, but strong enough to make the core warmth of the tone quality very solid. 3) The 4th harmonic is both voices is in within the 'red lines', the most senstive part of our hearing range. 4) The white trace sections are 'wider', indicating that Mr. Gedda's vibrato is as well. Ms LaBelle sang her note with almost no vibrato, so the peaks are very pointed. A second example: Middle line B, Pop Belt and Rock Pharyngeal voice This second spectragraph, which I have annotated for harmonic identification, is of two voices singing the B above middle C. The two voices are Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin, singing 'A whole lotta love', and Whitney Houston singing 'I will always love you', on a vowel approximating /a/. I have matched the fundamentals as before. Robert Plant's voice is in blue, and Whitney Houston's is in white. The spectragraph shows the following: 1) With the fundamentals equalized, the loudest harmonic in both voices is H2, and approximately the same intensity in both. With fundamental matched, and H2 so similar, the core of the tone for both voices on this note is identical. H2 in both voices carries the bulk of the volume for both. 2) H3 in Robert Plant's voice is somewhat louder by comparison to Whitney Houston's, but for both it is louder than the fundamental, and the 2nd loudest harmonic overall for both as well. Recall that the 3rd harmonic (an octave and a perfect 5th above the fundamental) as an odd harmonic, adds color to the tone quality. The relative strength of this harmonic in Robert Plant's voice is helps us to distinguish his from Whitney's tone quality. 3) H4 for both voices is about equal, but H5 and H6 in Plant's voice are stronger than Whitney's. This may be the result of "Singer's Formant" in Plant's voice. H6 is particulary well situated, as it is not only strong, but within the sweet spot of hearing. Example three: Broadway Belt, and Operatic Tenor This one is a fun one. The following spectragraph is of two very famous singers, Ethel Merman (the quintessential broadway belter of the mid-20th Century) and Luciano Pavarotti, Operatic Tenor. Ethel is singing the last note of 'Theres no business like show business' from Annie, Get Your Gun, and Pavarotti is singing the last note of 'Celeste Aida' from Aida. As usual, for comparison I have equalized the strength of the fundamentals so that relative harmonic balance can be shown. Can you tell which is which? Without giving away yet which is which, the following can be observed: 1) With the fundamentals equalized, the Blue voice has a louder H2 than the White one, which makes the core of the tone quality just a bit brighter, but not much. 2) H3 in both voices is the loudest harmonic, so they both have the color this harmonic brings to the tone, with a small advantage for the White voice. 3) H4 for both voices is quite a bit softer than H1, H2 and H3, adding some brightness, but not much to both. 4) The higher harmonics have less energy in both voices, but overall the White voice has more than the Blue one, which gives it more ring. 5) Both voices have vibrato (as evidenced by the 'wideness' of the harmonics), with the Blue voice having just a little bit more than the White one. Have you determined which is which? Scroll down a bit to learn.... Pavarotti is in White. Merman is in Blue :-) Conclusions In looking at these representative voices, there are some commonalities that we can identify for this pitch range: A) In each voice type, the principal strength of the tone is in the 2nd and 3rd harmonic. The fundamental is often 4th or lesser in strength, meaning that other harmonics align more closely with the resonances of the vowels chosen than it does. Some voices display presence of singer's formant, and others do not. C) Each of the singers shows strong voice production characteristics, but not equal balances of resonance.
  15. (Note: This is an update of a post which first appeared on TMV in November, 2008) Introduction This article delves into the basics of vowels: what they are, what makes them, how we influence their characteristics, etc. The formation of vowels is an area common to all singers, and in many ways influences the listener's experience of the voice. There are a multitude of approaches taken by singers to making vowels: some based on grunts, groans, wails, screams and sighs; some based on spoken language; some based on concepts of 'bel canto', chanting, 'toning' and just about everything in between these. Even 'overtone singing' can be described in terms of vowels. What is a vowel? For the purposes of this discussion, vowels are two things: a) spoken or sung sounds (not written letters), and impressions in the mind of the singer and the listener - caused by experiences of the sound through the sense of hearing. By shaping (producing) vowels in a particular way, the singer influences the experience of the listener, and creates a communications connection person-to-person. So, what is a sung vowel? As a general, nontechnical description: A sung vowel is a sustained sound, sung with the mouth and throat open enough so at least some of the sound comes out of the mouth. The particulars of the vowel sound depend on the shape and dimensions of the vocal tract, which is usually considered to be the spaces from just above the vocal bands to the outside of the mouth. Sometimes voice scientists include the part of the trachea below the larynx to the point where it branches in two sections to go to the lungs, but for out purposes today we will not include that section. What makes differing vowels? A key principle is worth mentioning now: Anytime the vocal tract changes shape or dimension, it produces a more or less different vowel, depending on what has been changed by the person. The vocal tract aspects that, when changed, have an effect on vowels (more-or-less in order of importance in the singer's technique) are: 1) the position of the tongue 2) the position of the soft palate 3) the vertical opening of the jaw 4) the shape of the lip opening 5) the height of the larynx in the throat 6) the diameter of the pharynx. Resonances and Vowels By way of explanation - To modern language and voice scientists, the perception (on the part of the listener) of a vowel is the result of a combination of resonances in the voice, especially the lowest two resonances. The six items mentioned above, when combined, cause these two resonances to have specific frequencies. Any vocal sound components which fall near these two frequencies will be emphasized in the overall spectrum of sound energy. The sense of hearing of the listener 'decodes' the overall sound into a conscious experience, and (according to current psychological theory) the mind interprets the relative intensity of the sound components as a vowel. What does this all mean? All this relates to singing in that we can make very many different kinds of vowel sounds. By changing the positioning of any of the vocal tract components listed above, even if only slightly, for the pronunciation of a syllable or word, we change the way they are perceived, and, by extension, the quality of the connection that we have as singers with our listeners. Best Regards, Steven Fraser
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    Steve Fraser is a noted expert on vowel modification, phonetics and formants for singing. Mr. Fraser is a recognized expert in the analysis of spectrograph analysis of singing. A spectrogram is a a time-varying spectral representation (forming an image) that shows how the spectral density of a signal varies with time. In the field of Time-Frequency Signal Processing, it is one of the most popular quadratic Time-Frequency Distribution that represents a signal in a joint time-frequency domain and that has the property of being positive. Mr. Fraser has a Bachelor’s in Vocal Music Education from Millikin University, and a Master’s in Choral Conducting from Washington University in St. Louis. Mr Fraser is also an active member at The Modern Vocalist World Forum. Steve Fraser www.SteveFraser.com
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  17. There is nothing quite so frustrating as to read an article or hear someone speak, and the originator uses a term, which is unfamiliar. I did that this week in The Modern Vocalist Forum, with the term “tessitura”. When one of the readers asked me to explain it, I thought I'd just post it here for everybody. Definitions Here is a link to a very useful Wikipedia article. Start with the first paragraph. Here's another from Miriam-Webster dictionary online.   Discussion When we perform a piece of vocal music, it has several characteristics that affect how we perform it: It has a range, from the lowest note, to the highest. Very practically, we don't -- often, or ever -- perform pieces that contain notes that we cannot produce consistent with our vocal tone quality standards. It has tessitura, which indicates where in the range of the piece that most of the notes are found. For individual singers, some sections of the vocal range are more tiring or challenging than others are, when desiring to maintain our tone quality standards. It has dynamics that indicate how loudly the singing must be in the various sections. Very soft and very loud singing put special demands on the technique of the singer, while trying to maintain our tone quality standards. It has duration, which is the amount of time that singing must occur during the length of the piece. To sing a few notes over the period of a minute is not difficult. To sing 1,000 over the period of an hour requires a different level of endurance, while maintaining our tone quality standards. What Does “Tone Quality” Have to Do With This? I mentioned for each of the above items the desire to maintain our vocal tone quality standards. That is my way of saying that the singer has aesthetic, genre and stylistic preferences and values that influence the singing they choose to do. Paraphrasing Robert Lunte, some pieces require certain types of tone quality to be effective. The countertenor sings the C above middle C in a Purcell verse anthem differently than a Death Metal front man would warn of the destruction of the world. When all of these items: the tone quality, the durations, the dynamics, the tessitura, and the range are combined, they represent the totality of the vocal requirement for the piece. Why is Tessitura so Important? The tessitura determines which notes in a piece get sung the most often. The singer's ability to perform those notes repeatedly, while meeting the other performance requirements mentioned factors into the experience of vocal fatigue. For example: The high-school choir bass who can take the occasional E above middle C briefly but loudly in concert, will have a much more difficult time singing that same note 10 or 20 times in a row. The rock balladeer covering “Stairway to Heaven” better be able to sing that hook line in his sleep, because it will get repeated very many times. (Mercifully, the piece has lots of nice interludes for recovery.) The singer handling Neil Young's parts in quartet harmony has a similar challenge. The bass covering a Johnny Cash tune, or singing the low melody in a Stamps Quartet gospel song, better be able to live below the bass staff, and balance everybody else, too. It’s not enough to have one low D in a song -- there may be 20 -- and notes even lower. The college baritone learning a Verdi aria will discover that he spends most of his time in the passaggio and that it just wears him out when he tries to sing the entire aria. Covering a Janice Joplin tune... well, you get the idea. Summary The tessitura of a piece, large or small, places certain demands on the singer's ability to sustain their technique when combined with other musical factors. For these situations, the tessitura of the singer (that is, the areas that the individual singer can sustain) should be matched to that of the piece. Other factors being equal, this is best done by adjusting the key of the piece to the ability and voice type of the singer.   This essay was first published January 17, 2009 on The Modern Vocalist.com the Internet’s #1 community for vocal professionals, voice health practitioners and pro-audio companies worldwide since November 2008.
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