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“Float the Sound!”

“Float the Sound!”

Singing jargon and the quest for vocal health

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          Those of you who have met me and been unfortunate enough to get me ranting about arbitrary images as a limited tool for explaining to singers what you want them to do, know that I whole-heartedly reject this practice. That is not to say that these images or symbolic explanations don’t have value, but it IS to say that without a slightly more objective explanation you can run into several problems.

         I figure a personal example is the best to describe my perspective on this issue. When I first started singing in professional groups, my exposure was to a relatively high-calibre group known for exquisite attention to blending and mixing the voices. When you listened to recordings of this group it was amazing how well they could move, sound, and inflect as a single unit. This was several steps up to what I had been used to in community and school choirs that basically were just happy if you could sing the right notes loud enough so that each of the various parts in the music could be heard. (Disclaimer: this was my own experience in school and community choirs, and in no way is meant as a generalization for all such groups; however, I have been in a lot of them and my experiences have been relatively similar).

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         Needless to say then, I came into this group with the same “obnoxious” singing style I had acquired from my past choral experiences and it was pretty obvious that I immediately stood out (we’re talking evil glares from even the sweetest members of the choir). My big vibrato and generally uni-dynamic (one loudness) singing was out of place, to say the least. Time and time again I was told to “float” the sound, use “straight tone” (by eliminating all traces of vibrato), and “cover” the sound. Every choral director has their own jargon, but the experienced members had grown accustomed to what this meant and adapted well. The sound was covered but floating and boy (or girl or gender neutral) was it piercingly straight in tone. Basically I had to find ways to adapt the output of my sound, and fast.

floating sound waves! So I guess... bring your rope to choir rehearsal??http://www.danielpalacios.info/en/waves

Floating sound waves! So I guess… bring your rope to choir rehearsal??http://www.danielpalacios.info/en/waves

         When people are put in these kinds of positions, instinctively they tend to be concerned only with the sounds they are making: the end result, if you will. And in all fairness, this tends to be all that conductors have time to worry about as well. Every voice is unique, so for a conductor to take the time to try and discuss the ways each voice could adapt to be more cohesive with the group is completely unrealistic and I’d argue, not their responsibility. They are the director and as such, convey their vision and it is your responsibility as a singer to make the necessary and INFORMED accommodations to your own instrument.

         If you don’t inform these accommodations, you get what happens to many of the people in the choirs I have sung in: you increase vocal fatigue, promote poor breathing habits, and can even cause damage (potentially permanent) to any amount of your vocal apparatus (components such as muscles associated with the larynx, pharynx, palate, tongue, etc).

choirs come in all shapes, sizes, and sounds! Every conductor will ask for something different... so how do we adapt?

choirs come in all shapes, sizes, and sounds! Every conductor will ask for something different… so how do we adapt?

         For the next month or so, I want to talk about some of the key terms I have come across and maybe as a singer you have too. I want to explore how I believe is the best way to achieve the sounds that conductors or voice teachers ask for. If you aren’t a singer, it could be fun to think about how these changes could be applied to your speaking voice or… you could just start singing… I mean… why not join a choir? (I would advocate for that option).

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