Steven Fraser

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Everything posted by Steven Fraser

  1. Hi, Vasil. The book is published by Scarecrow press, though right now they are out-of-stock. You can track availability at's-Overtones-of-Bel-Canto-Phonetic-Basis-of-Artistic-Singing-with-100-Chromatic-Vowel-Chart-Exercises The list price is $US 85. Scarecrow also publishes Barbara Doscher's 'The Functional Unity of the Singing Voice'. Doscher studied with Coffin at Colorado, and then continued his pedagogy there on the faculty.
  2. JJ: Several thoughts on this. What you suggest, working outward from a neutral position of \ ə \ , is very reasonable, especially when working with a student with unnecessary tension. I try to keep in mind that the audience, once they have heard a singers /i/, /a/ and /u/, automatically calibrates to the singer's voice, and from then on in a performance, has little issue understanding them, even if they are singing different text from others who are singing at the same time. This calibration happens in our hearing for speaking voices, too, which is what allows us to understand strong accents speaking English. As to the utility of 'thinking about the technique of every note', I agree with you... its not desirable. The state of mind of the singer (what they are thinking about) comes out of the voice automatically. Time spent in thoughts which detract from the expression of the meaning of the text and the underlying emotional content reduce the effectiveness of the song. For this reason, the 'so-so' singer, whose thoughts are completely devoted to the content of the song, can give and have a more effective performance than the 'perfect' vocal technician who is thinking real-time about the myriad aspects of the performance. All that said, in unamplified singing, especially for the stage, there are additional benefits for singing the most resonant vowels as often as is possible: Audibility and Vocal survival. Regards, Steven Fraser
  3. Felipe, JonJon: You both make excellent points. On an acoustic level, as the fundamental rises the harmonics are less and less likely to align with the 1st and 2nd resonances, which are used by the listener's ear to discriminate the vowel. (I don't use 'Formants' here, because that is the term for the resonance peak that is _lacking_ in our situation). Yes, information, in the form of harmonic amplitude and Formants, is lost during the upward scale. However, in good singing, the 'perception' of the vowel in the mind of the listener is what I was going for. I did not expand on it then, but I will now. In my comment earlier this month, I was noting that the listener hears 'AH anyway as this occurs, even if the tonal envelope has no Formants in it that resemble AH. The spacing of the harmonics has precluded the stimulation of the lower 2 resonances, conspicuous by their lack in the spectrum. Fortunately, the listener's musical ear readily accepts, and even prefers the modified vowel, as it is not possible to sing the 'actual' AH in that range, for the reasons you both have mentioned. Smart composers and adroit performers write and do syllabification (text on top of notes) gracefully in this range, so that the notes performed there do not have to carry critical textual content that would require minute discrimination of a particular vowel to understand the intent. In classical music, the syllables (if any) that will be used by the singer in the high range have already been heard in a range where the word has been discriminated, in prior verses. Once the listener's ear has experienced that, the singer is free to sing 'whatever is their best vowel' for the note, and the imagination of the listener will insert the syllable mentally. The alternative to this, that is, insisting that the same vocal tract adjustment for a given vowel in a low range would be used in a high... is a recipe for reduced tone quality. In Coffin's piano vowel-chart, he indicates the gradual transition from the lower and mid-voice, where harmonic alignment with resonances can be good, to the range (he calls 'organ pipe') where the singer just gets out of the way, and sings what sounds the best. Regards for the New Year, Steven Fraser
  4. Hi, All. Its late, so just a short post for now. Here is some of my perspective on your topic. Given a choice in the matter, singers choose the vowels that are consistent with they way they conceive the song should be done, that is, consistent with their musical and aesthetic choices for it. It does not matter if they have been trained in a genre, or just grew up with it, the statement still applies. The issues come when a vowel choice which is perfectly reasonable for one range, does not work well in another. For the male voice, singing lower fundamental notes, there are very many harmonics above that fundamental that fall within the bandwidth of the vowel resonances (R1, R2 and to lesser extent, R3). The higher harmonics will also be amplified if the singer has 'twang' or 'singing formant' in the voice, which have their own, relatively constant bandwidth. As the scale is sung in an upward direction, the harmonics become farther apart, and fewer of them align well with the vowel resonances. While this changes which harmonics are amplified by the resonances, the perception of the vowel does not change... we still hear 'ah', for the most part, if the posture of the vocal tract remains stable. Any change in the posture (larynx height, pharynx dilation, tongue hump position, jaw drop, lip shaping) will move the resonances around. Some of these changes do not change the perception of the vowel (heard 'ah') but are an ah produced with a different vocal configuration that arguably be called a different 'sung ah'. Such an ah, even though different, can be more appropriate for the aesthetic of the song, or may be inappropriate in the singer's and listener's experience. Now, as to the reasons for considering modified vowels from an aesthetic point-of-view. Some note/vowel combinations are not very resonant, because few of the harmonics of the fundamental fall advantageously in the bandwidth of the vowel resonances. This is especially true for voices without twang or ring. However, because the listener's ear is very accepting and appreciative of resonant vowels, and 'hears' the words intended even though the singer has shaded a vowel slightly darker or lighter, those modified vowels can work in performance: they can be heard, are easier to do, and they are thrilling to experience. As to what vowel is 'best' for a given syllable on a given note.... that goes to the artist's aesthetic and expressive intent. How they achieve what they want is what guides their technique, and different singers make different choices based on the aspects of their physical instrument, and how they have decided to 'play' it. Best Regards, Steven Fraser
  5. Hi, Robert. If you would like an article, I'd like the opportunity to craft it better, and fill it out with other relevant references to what Coffin actually did in the studio. His approach to vocal pedagogy, which he taught at UC Boulder (and took to SMU, Dallas as visiting professor, and also while resident in Vienna), was continued at Boulder by Barbara Doscher (The Functional Unity of the Singing Voice) and Dr. Patti Peterson, who studied with Doscher. Under fair use, I could pull together some of the web comments made by others about what he did in the studio... how he used his own principles to guide vocal development, for example. Just let me know the scope of the article you would like, and I would be happy to cover the topic in a 2-4 page offering for the site. As to what I have been up to... working hard this last year on a major IT project for a hospital in Saudi Arabia. Not travelling, but telecommuting there. Best Regards, Steven Fraser
  6. Hi, JJ. I have put the question out to a friend who studied with Coffin at UC in Boulder... In the meantime, I found a quote from Shirlee Emmons that indicated that they knew each other from singing on the first tour of the Robert Shaw Chorale, in which they both sang. So, I would have to answer your question with a 'Yes, He sang!' at this point. Knowing the quality of singer Shaw recruited for the Chorale, I would have to guess he was quite accomplished. I will let you know further info I get from my friend. I agree with this impression. Its one of the reasons listeners are largely unaware of the vowel tuning (modifications) that the singer is doing... because when done well, the singing appears effortless, and sounds wonderful and appropriate, regardless of the genre of music. Best Regards, Steven Fraser
  7. Hi, All. Since Robert mentioned me, I thought I would chime in. I can speak a bit to the references about Berton Coffin, who taught at the University of Colorado, some of whose students I know. To call his approach a 'method' is a little too expansive, I think. He was, by training, a Physicist, and applied a strong acoustical perspective to singing. if you want, you could reasonably say that he took Gunnar Fant's treatise on 'The source-filter theory' and systematically applied it to vocal studio work. He used, in the studio (per his students I have discussed this with) two things he invented for use there: 1) the chart of the 'best' vowels to sing on all notes of the range, which was based on his understanding of how the harmonics of the phonated tone interacted with the vocal resonance, and 2) the 'vowel mirror', a small speaker issuing a sawtooth wave, which was held by the singer in front of their mouth (glottis closed), issuing a particular fundamental, and used in place of phonation, to help the singer discover their most resonant vowel for the note. All this taken together (that is, Coffin's pedagogy) was to make systematic, and provide the singer some assists in discovering resonant vowels. It turns out that the most resonant vowels are those where the harmonics are fairy well aligned with the resonances of the vocal tract for the particular vowel, particularly as the vowels chosen needed to change based on the type of voice and range being sung.. In listening to classical singing, the ability to perceive a particular vowel declines as the voice ascends in fundamental frequency, as the harmonics spread apart so that they only occasionally align with the resonances. The classical singer does not worry about the intelligibility... the composer has already taken care of that (if they were any good) by writing a syllable on the higher notes that either could be communicated by multiple vowels, or by picking a syllable that had the best vowel for the voice type. In any case, the wise singer chooses a vowel they can perform consistently with confidence, and does that, even if is not the one that seems appropriate if spoken. I use as a good example of this compromise (vocal survival vs vowel purity), the aria from Adam's Le Postillion de Longjumeau 'Mes amis, ecoutez l'histoire' , in which the written part for the tenor contains, G4, B4 and D5 for a word written with the 'oh' vowel. The composer, in his wisdom, gives the tenor this great vowel, which can be sung open or closed with beauty, even across the passaggio, for these notes, as (we know now, via Titze's work on the nonlinear theory) the vocal tract inertance is helpful for reducing strain, especially when the tone is sung with some twang, making the voice more efficiently produced, and easier to sustain on stage. Best Regards, Steven Fraser
  8. I vote to hear it, first. All speculation before then is not worth time.
  9. Hi, singing is a creative art, and people take it personally. I do. We wrestle with the art on technical and interpretive levels, and strive to achieve the ideal, the perfection we have found inspires us. We discover, or learn, what aesthetic to apply to the situation and the music...doing so over many, many years in most cases. one thing that rarely happens in musical productions is the building of the 'team'. Even without the egocentric tendencies of the art, arising from the strong, inner drive to create what has been imagined, it is very, very hard to build camaraderie and a culture of mutual support when we are competing for a role, and the attention ( and responsibility) that attend it. such things lessen in importance with experience, and especially accomplishment and success. This also applies to the interpretation of other people's comments, which are filtered via our own presuppositions of situational elements. ok, stepping down from my theoretical bulk soap container...
  10. 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
  11. '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.
  12. 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
  13. and you might also try this... sing along with a song (full track) listening over headphones while recording yourself. Then, listen to the karaoke track mixed into one ear, while listening to your vocal on the other ear. Sing along with yourself for multiple runthroughs, and even boost the volume in your ear and match it as you sing. after about an hour of this, take a break, and then return to singing with yourself, but lower the volume of the vocal track just a bit. You issuing like you did before... Confident and strong. Repeat a few times, and then lower the volume of the recorded coal a bit and repeat. Over time you will find it progressively easier to maintain volume with the other voice softer. in no time at all you will be singing a strong vocal,with just the karaoke track. i hope this is helpful.
  14. I find a nice, relaxed walk while doing Insets, light sirens on oo and ee, and semi-occluded voiced consonants helps loosen things up, and that being moving helps me keep from postural stiffness. I hope this is helpful.
  15. Paul... I read your original post again, and now realize what you implied you wanted to improve... Your 'consistency', particularly for its effect on your performance, how that feels as it is occurring, and how you react to those feelings. If this interpretation is correct, there are several, tried and true things you can do to improve the singing consistency, and through the success that follows, more fun. The following are in in priority order, most important first (from my perspective... Others may have different priorities) 1) You are a professional, working Musician, even if you may do other things with your life to make money. So, like professional athletes of all disciplines, you must train to raise your game toward your aspiration...wherever you want to take it. IMO, first thing to do there is acquire lifestyle and game-day practice habits that get you ready for your best performances. Most practically, this means adopting daily practice habits that contain realistic assessment of adjustments you must make to work through any daily variance in how your voice feels due to health/weather and other circumstances. 2) Groove your technique, that is, incorporate it via repetition into mental and muscular habit. Even small improvement in some problem notes during a set will reduce accumulated strain, improve overall pitch consistency, reduce fear, and increase your sense of performance enjoyment. 3) Plan to sing mostly in your 'vocal comfort zone'. In a song, in a set, in a gig, in a career... build on your core capability. Be prepared, too, with optional songs, to Skip or Include something based on how your performance is progressing. Going great one night, swap out a regularly performed song with one that you'd like to do in its place. 4) Always be training, (not just coaching) with a teacher and program that will help you build your chops. This not only will help with endurance and range, but also widen the scope of what you can handle vocally. Sure, you can be coached on style, but you need to be grounded in technique Growth. 5) Antipate that your adrenaline will show up before the performance. When it does, interpret it as excitement, not fear. I personally find that verbal acknowledgement works very well. Though it seems a little funny to describe, I pump my my fists in the air (like a footballer that has just scored a goal) and say firmly, "I am getting excited about this performance!" I try to carry that attitude on to the stage as well. 6) Let the clams go. Once a note is out there, you cannot change it, nor affect how the listener experiences it. What you focus on instead (as has been said) is what is now going on, and where it immediately leads. Be in the 'now' of the song. 7) Accept praise and appreciation from your audience graciously, even if you could have done something better that gig. Most audiences have no idea when you are not at your best, they just know what they enjoyed hearing, for whatever reasons they have. So, when you receive a complement for a performance, respond in a manner that affirms their enjoyment..that does not make them wrong. I hope this is helpful, and that you will continue posting.
  16. Hi, Paul. You made a comment about quitting lessons because you were not making progress. My question.... What kind of progress were you looking for?
  17. To the or,iginal question... either breathe in less, or exhale on the release. Make your choice. They both work.
  18. My personal experience of this (yep, I use it in practice) is to also learn the throat sensations of the lighter-mass phonation that is provoked, and then to maintain it while opening to the vowel. If the transition is done too rapidly, I clunk back into the heavier registration...and can hear it and feel it. The key for me was to open a low first-Formant vowel ( oo or ee) verrrrrry slooooowly. I hope this is helpful.
  19. Gino, Nica talking to you this evening. ,I listened to the song, both recordings.. I like the higher one. With 1 word change, it could be a response ( over the whine of the line) from the person that he wants 'for all time' As I mentioned earlier, I used to listen to this Campbell album in High School. The only thing I miss in your interpretation is a little of the loneliness I remember feeling from Glenn's recording... But that was long ago. on a side, technical note.. The vibrato is very well xt time you record, just a bit more twang to make it more plaintive might work well. Personal taste, I know.
  20. Great advice, Daniel. Generalized into a principle... We warm up to speak, much like we do to sing.