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. Download All Things Vocal podcast on your fav app!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Singing with others: A time to blend, a time to stand out

In singing as in all else... "There is a time for everything under heaven" (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

It is as irritating to hear a group of singers singing with individual voices sticking out like wild hairs as it is to hear a soloist sounding they could disappear into the wallpaper. When you do what would otherwise be the right thing at the wrong time, it is inappropriate and ineffective at best.

We just passed a season of choir music. Think back on what you experienced or heard: Was it a blend of voices or a chaotic ego fest of solo divas? Ouch, I know... we don't usually do this on purpose :)

You need to know both how - and when it is appropriate - to:
  • step out with individual communicative power,
  • step back to add your important presence and resonance to the blended power of a group of singers in such a way as to make it hard to pick you out of the mix.
For solos or step-out singing:

Make sure you are in the right mindset: As a solo you are SUPPOSED to be heard above anything else. This is no time to be shy or timid... you should understand that you goal to capture the audience's ear is no ego trip... it's a job description. If you just wrap your head around that, it will cause you to automatically assume a more distinctive sound so your message can be understood clearly. When your musical and lyrical delivery has been made you can fade back out of the center of attention until your solo voice is needed again!

For group or choir singing:

Again, make sure you are in the right mindset: As a group singer you need to blend with other voices or you will distract the audience and detract from the message in the song. How do you do this?

Tips for blending voices:
  • COMPETITION has NO place in group singing. No place whatsoever. It should be an "all for one and one for all" vibe, not "I sing better/poorer than ___ does" or "I better sing loud or she/he will drown me out." or "watch this...I'll show the director/audience/fellow choir member how well/loud I can sing". Ewee. You will stick out with these attitudes and the whole performance will suffer. If you are in a choir competition ... my suggestion is to focus on out-blessing the other choirs instead of out-doing them. Make friends with them, share information and techniques and keep in touch with them to encourage them after the competition is over. (What a concept).
  • TRAIN and apply good vocal techniques that give you options of tone color instead of "all or nothing at all" sound, techniques that give you access to different mixes of chest and head voice registers as well as blending your register breaks seemlessly. If you have breath, control, pitch, tone problems but you'd love to learn to sing in a group, invest some time and money with a coach, even if for just a short time. Or consider buying vocal training products like CDs DVDs or books from vocal coaches you trust. If you're interested, my Power, Path & Performance products can be found by clicking here. also this site offers an interesting list of choral training products.
  • LISTEN to other voices carefully.
  • MIMIC the blended sound, volume intensity AND the articulation chosen for the words (Ah-le-lu-ia, Hal-lu-lu-ia... one or the other but not both!!!). Use the amazing power of intention...just listen closely and intend to duplicate the composite sound of the group.
  • CHECK yourself... can you hear yourself stick out of the group? Are you backing off TOO much, instead of adding valuable resonance contribution which enhances the sound and makes sure the harmonies are balanced?
A great way to blend voices is to get everyone in a circle or semi-circle where you can really hear each other. Too many times, choirs only rehearse straight towards the audience and never really hear the sound of all the other voices with which they should be blending and matching diction. Everyone assuming a correct posture will also greatly aid in breath and open throat issues, which limits among other things, vocal blending capacity.

A group of confident, colorful but blended voices is the sweet sound of true, loving community- of playing well with others. There is power in community; there is emotional power in the voice of community to be sure. Like angels voices, there is great emotional power in this sound... it's probably a link to the "music of the spheres", whatever that is. It's worth learning to do.

In fact... I have made a lot of money learning to blend me voice with others. For anyone wishing to pursue session singing, jingle singing, live performance and tv backgrounds, etc), learning the fine art of blending is basic job requirement. I call the extreme techniques of stunt singers (professional level group singers) "surgical blending". You can't fit a gnat's wings between voices like this!

What are your thoughts, pet peeves, success methods and experiences with appropriate or inappropriate vocal tone for solo and group? Comments most welcome!

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  • At January 23, 2009 at 8:17 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

    OK here's a hilarious video that illustrates what happens when you get "when to blend" wrong... sent by a friend on Twitter...



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