Sunday, December 9, 2007

Becoming a Great Vocal Ensemble

If you want to become a great ensemble, such as a chorus or a quartet, here are the four main areas you need to focus on. Each of them is more or less independent of the others, so that you can choose to work on any of them at your convenience.
  • Become a better individual singer.
  • Become a better ensemble singer.
  • Own your music.
  • Sing with passion.

The following four posts elaborate on these topics.

Become a Better Individual Singer

It all starts with each singer becoming a better singer individually.
  • Stand with proper alignment of your body, allowing your skeleton, rather than muscles, to keep your body erect.
  • Make sure there is no tension in your body, because any tension in your body will ultimately find its way into your singing. Become aware of your own patterns of carrying tension around in your body.
  • Sing with solid and consistent breath support throughout your range.
  • Sing with free, open, resonant tone.
  • Sing with one voice, high or low, louder or softer.
  • Take voice lessons or work with a voice coach if possible.
  • Record yourself singing often and learn to become your own coach!

Become a Better Ensemble Singer

An equally important step is to become a better ensemble singer. This brings in a whole new list of skills on top of individuall singing skills.
  • Become a better listener!
  • Use unified instruments.
  • Match vowel sounds.
  • Synchronize attacks and releases - in other words, start and stop at the same time.
  • Synchronize word sounds.

Two key tools to becoming a better ensemble:

  • Singing in unison, paying attention to the points listed above.
  • Duetting between sections, paying attention to the points listed above.

Use them often! It will help you enormously by getting in synch with the other singers/section. Recording the duets will also help you become more aware of being in/out of synch.

Know Your Music

This would seem to be the first step in singing a piece of music well, yet it is amazing how many quartets and choruses choose not to know their music.

  • Own your notes and words.
  • Learn your notes and words correctly the first time!
  • Sing on top of your notes.
  • Understand your entrances and exits and how they fit into the music.
  • Understand how your notes fit into the music.

Again, recording yourself and checking your own singing against the written piece is the best way to own your music.

Sing with Passion

This is the not-so-secret ingredient that makes your music into magic. This is what makes for a memorable performance and brings people to their feet. Singing with involvement and passion is a skill that should be developed in parallel with the other skills.

  • Understand, learn, LIVE the lyrics.
  • Develop a sub-text or story-line for your song:
    • Who are you singing it to?
    • Where are you?
    • Why are you singing?
  • Unify your story-line across your ensemble.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Using Learning Tracks

Barbershoppers have always relied on learning music by listening to learning cassettes. The digital age has taken this to a different level. This includes learning CDs and the latest entrants on the scene, learning tracks created by great singers such as Tim Waurick and Chris Arnold. One of the best things you can do to accelerate the growth of your quartet is to use high-quality learning tracks as much as possible - even if you read music. It will help you:
  • learn the correct notes and words, right the first time!
  • learn the other musical aspects - breathing plan, entrances, exits
  • unify the interpretation of the piece across the quartet

As a bonus, you can use the tracks to record yourself singing against the other tracks. We have used this tool with great success at the Granite Statesmen to take our contest package to the next level.

All you need is:

  • learning tracks
  • recording software such as Audacity (free, open source software)
  • a USB recording headset that connects to your computer, such as this

You will be amazed at the growth of your ensemble once you start using this approach.