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!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Why Singing On Mic is Hard For Opera Singers

I just got a great question about classically trained singers having trouble using mics. 
I am a classical/operatic soprano who is starting to do live radio and studio work. I also play guitar to accompany myself on some original songs. My vocals are fabulous when I'm at home practicing, but when I find myself in front of a mic, holding a mic, or singing and playing guitar at the same time in the studio, my vocals suffer. Is it just nerves? Does it just take some getting used to? After all the years I've studied how to project without amplification, how do I become a great recording artist? - Maria Kate Fleming
This will be a longer post, folks. To answer this question, you need three things:
  1. A psychological paradigm shift ... focusing on a different vocal goal.
  2. More speech-like articulation ... of consonants and vowels
  3. Use of your hands ... to help with breath control.
1. Make the psychological paradigm shift:

As good actors know, there is a huge difference between acting for the theater stage and acting for the camera. Theater stage acoustics require a lot more volume in the natural voice and bigger body language gestures to communicate to the people in the chairs. If you tried to do that for the camera, it would look absurdly over-done. A slight lift of one eyebrow, difficult to see from the theater audience, communicates reams of information to the camera. Subtlety creates a sense of realism for the camera, like an intimate portrait of emotion. Try that in the theater and your performance will fall short.. literally.

Classical singing demands theatrical voice. Usually  not electronically amplified, the voice must learn to resonate it's own natural amplification surfaces loudly and richly enough to be heard well and to emotionally move the audience. This kind of singing actually causes tissue adaptations- for instance in veteran opera singers, a thickened ridge of tissue develops in the suture line in back of the front teeth. When a singer who has learned to do this well suddenly finds themselves in front of a mic, there must be a shift in thought to back off the volume and resonance and create the appropriate vocal sound and articulation.

Your voice has to accomplish a different goal when using a mic than when performing unamplified to a hall. All it has to do is talk into someone's face or ear, not across a room. The mic will pick this conversational voice up and along with other recording electronics will "color" the tone with reverb, eq and level equalization. Important: Even in heavy metal rock, the scream volume should be a result of amplified tone so as not to strain the voice, because the resonating cave and tissues of the open throat will not be as expanded in the same places and "trained" to resonate as the classical voice. The throat should not feel the effort.

2. You must articulate more like you talk.

The soft palate lifts a little differently for speaking vowels and you don't hold vowels so open so long; instead they should flow from and into the consonants more naturally. Your paradigm mind-shift goal of conversing should help you do this... you wouldn't articulate when talking to someone like you would if you were singing an aria!

Try holding a pad of paper in front of your face to check your articulation. How do you sound to yourself? Do you believe you?

3. Use your hands to help control your voice:

When you sing (well) classically, notice what is happening in your hands. Sometimes you will lift your hands or clasp them formally in front of your lower ribcage. Even with hands to your sides, if you're singing well, your hands and arms have an energy in them that will take their weight off your ribcage... and when you raise your hands, notice what you do with them that causes your ribcage to expand. Your hands can help you control your breath and balance your head tall upon your spine to ensure an open throat.

Now, when holding a mic, translate what you do with your hands to control your classical voice by learning to hold and use the weight of your live mic appropriately. Don't hold it limply in your hand, and don't crush your arms to your sides. You must control your volume to use a voice that is more like speaking than what you think of as singing.

In the studio... use your hands in front of your ribcage as you would singing classically. Don't hang them limply at your sides. Control is king - and queen! I have a technique I use which I call "studio hands". Put your fingertips together and press them into each other in such a way as to open your ribcage. Also, stand with your feet close to the mic so your head can't move forward without hitting the mic.

Finding yourself with more control will give you more confidence, so that you can stop "thinking" and commit to delivery that will elicit an emotional response.

Comments anyone? Go here for Power, Path & Performance vocal training products, here for lessons

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  • At July 10, 2013 at 8:14 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Articulate more like you speak? I don't think so....this is completely opposite of what will take the stress off the voice....Articulate like you speak is a great way to get all of the unwanted tensions everywhere above the larynx.
    BAD advice.

  • At July 16, 2013 at 4:28 PM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Anonymous... First of all, I'd like to know who you are and from where your opinions originate. I love to discuss voice matters and welcome alternative viewpoints, but not when you offer argumentative and unsubstantiated viewpoints anonymously.

    That said, you bring up an important point, so I've included your comment. It's ONLY good to articulate like you speak when you use good speaking habits. If you tend to speak with a tight jaw and tension in the base of your tongue, you certainly don't need to sing like you talk. In fact, you need to get some training for your speaking voice to protect it, and to communicate more effectively. For a video with lots of free tips for your speaking voice, go here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hkdJqnKGT4I .

    You can also use classical voice techniques for some background vocal work, especially for phrases sung with only vowels.

    Bottom line, however, is that I stand behind my assertion that contemporary style lead vocals need to be articulated more like a healthy speaking voice. Classical forms of articulation will not work for this.


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