Like identity documents, the voice is personal and non-transferable. The voice is the oldest acoustic instrument (it must be considered as such) in the world. Inherent in the human being, it has been used to talk and make music since the beginning of time, long before the first percussive elements appeared and were used.
It is also a very special instrument, more sensitive than any other to the different stimuli of the environment: both external and internal. That is why we must dedicate a greater care and attention than the rest. We only have one set of vocal cords and we can not go to a store to buy others if they spoil us. Then a few small theoretical notes express about the education of the voice for modern styles.
The voice, a bit of history
The human voice was defined by Plato as an impact of the air reaching the ears to the soul. The voice is the substrate on which supports the habitual method of communication of the human being, with which the culture is transmitted, with which feelings and emotions are expressed. Due to its daily life, its extraordinary importance is often overlooked; however, because of its specific and exclusively human nature, it has been studied since the beginning of our civilization. We review the contributions of scholars in the main periods, especially from the sixteenth century onwards with anatomical dissection studies on The human larynx. A time of extraordinary importance was the seventeenth century where the works of Dodart and Perrault provided the basis for the next century Ferrein to initiate the experimental physiology of the larynx. Special mention should be made of Johannes Müller whose experiments would allow us to establish the theories of phonation that remain valid until today.
Although we set out to discover some of the secrets of singing for modern styles in general (pop, rock, blues, soul, etc.), it is worth noting that much of the theory and practical exercises of voice are equally and perfectly valid for both lyrical as for modern, since the foundations on which the song is based: breathing, phonation, and resonance, are the same in both types of music saving some small differences. That is why, I think it is appropriate to start with the characteristics common to both, and then distinguish those more specific of contemporary music.
Elements that give rise to the voice
Respiratory system. It is the place where air is stored and circulated. It consists of the nose, trachea, lungs and diaphragm.
Phonatory apparatus. It is the place where sound is produced by passing air through the vocal cords. It is formed by the larynx and vocal cords. The larynx contains the vocal cords and is the vibrating element of the voice.
Resonator apparatus. It is the place where the sound produced acquires its characteristic timbre. It consists of the palate, sinuses or nasal cavities and pharynx.
Types and traditional classification of voices
First, the voices are classified by gender: female (or white) voices and male (or serious) voices. Children’s voices are also considered “white.” Secondly, they are classified according to their tessitura or register (range that range from the most serious to the most acute, which is usually two octaves):
- Soprano: sharp female voice. Tesitura: it goes from a do4 (the central one of the piano) to a do6.
- Contralto: serious female voice. Tesitura: from a sol3 to a fa5.
- Tenor: sharp male voice. Tesitura: from a si2 to a sol4
- Low: male voice serious. Tesitura: mi2 up to a do4.
Here are the voices known as intermediates:
- Mezzo soprano: between soprano and contralto. Tesitura: from a la3 to a la5.
- Baritone: between tenor and bass. Tesitura: from a sol2 to a mi4.
Finally, we can also find other types of voices, very particular because they are male voices that use a sharp unnatural tone:
- Castrati: Singer submitted as a child to a castration so that, as adults, they maintained a sharp tone capable of interpreting voices characteristic of female roles
- Contratenor, falstista or sopranista: The appearance of these singers arises as an alternative before the refusal of the Catholic Church to continue using castrati. These would be the equivalent of current Heavy-Metal and Hard-Rock singers who use the “falsetto” or “lead voice” technique in their songs.
Modern VS Lyric
In lyrical singing is considered as a sign of quality of the interpreter the ability to maintain in a passage the same color and a homogenous line of sound.
In modern music, on the other hand, the interesting thing is the ability of game, the vocal versatility, the use of an extensive range of colors and vocal qualities within the same musical theme.
The relationship with the score is very different in the two worlds. In lyrical singing, the classification of voices, mentioned above, is taken into account when choosing a repertoire, and in general, the score is interpreted as written. In modern styles, however, the traditional classification of voices is not usually taken into account, since, in principle, the messages do not cover extreme notes of acute recording. In addition, the original tonality of the song is usually modified to achieve the singer’s comfort or to enhance in the voice the color most appropriate to the version that you want to make.
It tends, therefore, to adapt the work to the personality of the interpreter. Moreover, modern interest or virtuosity usually lies in the ability to improvise notes and phrases to recreate a song, even moving away much of its original form if not its composer. While it is true that the interpretations in the context of theatrical assembly tend to stick faithfully to the written, reserves the improvisation for the jazz or for live versions.
The Importance of Proper Breathing
A well-developed technique for controlling inspirations and expirations is invaluable to singers and extraordinary to the general health of anyone. It will expand the chest, flatten the fallen muscles and even correct our posture. In addition, it cleans the lungs, effectively reoxygenates the blood and relaxes when we are nervous or tense.
Breathing when singing diaphragm The correct breathing is done with the lower part of the lungs, which allows it to be deeper and longer lasting and is the one that maximizes our lung capacity (chest breathing does not). With diaphragmatic inspiration, the muscles and ribs expand, the diaphragm flattens and is pushed down, and the abdominal muscles are pressed downward and outward, producing a general outward expansion of the body. Diaphragmatic and abdominal inspiration are often confused, but the latter causes swollen guts rather than a general expansion of the back and chest, so that their positive effects are less. At the expiration, the abdominal muscles and the diaphragm recover their original positions soon, the rib cage shrinks to its original position, pressing into the air to come out.
As important as knowing how to breathe well is knowing how to maintain the pressure of that air to attack long notes and give them the necessary power. This is done by keeping the diaphragm down with the air pressure.
Five of the seven total chakras, coincide with strategic points used singing. The first one is placed at the top of the head, at the height of the crown, which is exactly the point at which the vibrations in lyrical are carried. The second is in the brow area, key point of the upper resonance, known as the “third eye”. The third and fourth correspond to the vocal cords and the heart respectively (lower resonance), and the fifth is placed above the navel at the height of the diaphragm, where we maintain the pedal of the air. The theory of the chakras argues that when we are distressed or nervous these centers are closed and stop working, transforming positive energy into negative. Knowing these points can be of great help in the interpretation and the feeling of modern singing.
Complete and concrete exercise
There is a placement exercise based on a Buddhist mantra which, in my opinion, is one of the most complete to work for the top resonance: “Om mani padme hum”. It refers to “the lotus flower”, that is, to the Buddhist conception of the soul. Mantras are repeated ad infinitum phrases based on the nasal sound “m” and “n” and used in almost all religions. In typical Western singing classes vocalization exercises are used using the syllables “ma, me, mi, mo, mu”, which serve exactly the same purpose.