Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog

Training & insights for stage and studio singers, speakers, vocal coaches and producers from professional vocal coach and author of "Power, Path & Performance" vocal training method.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Choir Singing: Does Your Choir Know How To Control Vocal Volume?

I got a great question about controlling choir singing volume from a caring choir director named Tim Ingersoll. With his permission, I'll share our discussion:
"Hi Judy ... There is a perception I've formed over the years that I'm hoping you'll either confirm the correctness of, or point me down a different path. That perception is that, in order to sing softly with energy, you have to have developed the ability to sing loud with control, otherwise, soft just sounds wimpy.

There are some beautiful voices in the choir and I want to help them to learn to sing LOUD. Not only because this will give us a broader range of dynamics to work with, but I expect it will also help us retain that vocal intensity when singing softly. I think most of the choir members were raised in families where loud is impolite or something :-)

A technique I've been thinking about using, just to help them learn how powerful their singing voices CAN be, is to have them shout or yell (imagine your kid is stepping in front of a moving car) and then shape that into a sustained tone. I know for myself, those types of emotionally driven vocalizations instinctively seem to use the body very effectively. What I'm not sure of, is whether generating this type of vocalization will help others discover the power of their own voices, and if there are any risks in trying to teach "loud" in this manner?" -Tim
My answer:

First of all, Tim, thank you on behalf of your precious choir members for your care for them. You honestly care about both their impact and their vocal well-being.

Yes, you're right, a soft "meek" sound doesn't really bring the message adequately. As to your visualization of shouting or yelling like a kid is stepping in front of a crowd and sustaining that sound... Here are three tips to increase volume:
  1. I think you're on the right track to try and make them connect vocal sound with a real message. This affects their breath, open throat, and communication skills.
  2. Make sure they are standing tall, stretching spines flexibly and not leaning into the audience when they sing loud.
  3. Vocal volume should come from RESONATION, not OVERBLOWING PRESSURE! SPECIAL CAUTION: You need to avoid a common mistake I see so many choir directors making -- equating vocal volume with pushing more air pressure through vocal cords at the audience.
For increasing volume, singing loud without vocal strain...
instead of vocal strain, here's an exercise I recommend:
  • Ask choir members all to stand at a wall, head and heel flush against a wall. NOW tell them to "PULL A SCREAM". It should feel, as rock teacher Jamie Vendera puts it, like an "inhalation sensation". That is, for all the world it should feel like there is so little forward pressure from their throats that sound is being pulled up and back. Another way to help them find this would be to have them put their hand right close in front of their mouths. Then have them yell or scream while trying not to feel their breath on their hand.
The squeeze to power this big sound should come from the pelvic floor, not from the ribs or throat. They should be encouraged not to hand their hands & arm heavily against the sides of their rib cages, either. Hands are best used above the waist, like "talking with their hands, maybe holding their music or placing hands on a choir rail in front of them.

For singing soft with rich, communicative sound...
here's are some suggestions:
  1. For vocal control, the ribs should be just as wide as when singing loud. Collapsed ribs take away the ability of the diaphragm to control itself, which is extremely important when singing softly.
  2. For "life" in the sound, choir members should be encouraged to have expression in their eyes and faces when they sing. Not over-acting, but no dead eyes or frozen visages, please. Go over the WORDS in the music... what message should they bring? The expression of the physical face actually affects the inside of the "voice cave". To prove it, have your choir try singing a simple phrase dead-panned, then with expression such as they would use with a child or little animal, or just crazyfaced. This should help them see, feel and hear the difference their eyes can make when communicating a message with feeling.
  3. Also, encourage them to open their mouths well and keep jaw movement flexible... which increases the size of the resonance cave, important not just for loud singing, but also for soft. Soft sound needs resonance to avoid that "wimpy" sound you're talking about.
FYI, folks, I have an inexpensive 1-CD version of Power, Path & Performance vocal training available at this link to my website . There's even an instantly downloadable version now of this smaller course for which you pay no postage. Great for choir members who don't wish to invest in the more comprehensive 6-cd pro course.

Anyone else like to share some experience or insight on choir volume?

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1 Comments :

  • At July 21, 2009 at 8:16 AM , Blogger Mike Coleman said...

    Great blog post. You are an amazing teacher and do a great job of articulating how to sing better. I have both Power, Path, & Performance courses and they are worth ten times the investment.

     

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