Vocal Masterclass Discussion Thread For American Idol Season 9 Top 10: R&B Music With Usher


American Idol Season 9 Top 10 Singers

Picture Courtesy Of AmericanIdol.Com

 

Last week,  the adorable Paige Miles was eliminated from one of the coveted positions in the Top 10. It really is a shame, she really does have a beautiful voice, but her illness coupled with her inability to cope with her performance anxiety closed the door on this tremendous opportunity.      

Hopefully, she will use her American Idol experience wisely and continue to pursue her musical vision. Certainly she has left the competition armed with memorable performing experiences that others can only dream of achieving.     

This week the Top 10, known as Aaron Kelly, Andrew Garcia, Casey James, Crystal Bowersox, Didi Benami, Katie Stevens, Lee Dewyze, Michael LyncheSiobhan Magnus and Tim Urban, will be performing Billboard R&B Music.     

And, it is very fortunate that Usher agreed to mentor each Top 10 singer prior to the live telecast this evening.  So, I am expecting a very good show and much-needed improvement in the performance level of all the singers.     

And, to all the Siobhan fans, it seems that the young songstress will eliminate  or temporarily retire her powerful “upper note” vocalizing.  Personally, I hope it’s the latter – she shouldn’t allow this unique vocal element to permanently disappear from her performances – just use it judiciously and with discretion.     

Best of  luck to the Top 10 Finalists and feel welcome to add your comments before, during and after the live telecast this evening.     

UPDATE VIA MJSBIGBLOG.COM:    TOP 10 SONG SPOILERS:   

Siobhan Magnus – “Through The Fire”  Casey James – “Hold On I’m Coming”  Mike Lynche – “Ready for Love”  

Didi Benami – What Becomes of a Broken Heart   Tim Urban – “Sweet Love”  Andrew Garcia – “Forever”  

 Katie Stevens – “Chain of Fools” by Aretha Franklin  Lee Dewyze – “Treat Her Like A Lady”   

Crystal Bowersox – “Midnight Train to Georgia”  Aaron Kelly – “Ain’t No Sunshine”   

     

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About Masterclass Lady

Rosanne (Giallonardo) Simunovic began her musical career in Timmins, Ontario. She studied piano with Anne Pizzale and later, at an advanced level, with Soeur Anita Vaugeois (Sister Cecile of Les Soeurs De L’Assomption in Timmins). Her vocal and accompaniment skills were nurtured by her aunt, the late Dorothea Mascioli. When Rosanne graduated from O’Gorman High School, she moved on to the University of Toronto where she continued her piano and vocal studies while attaining a Bachelor of Arts Degree. She was hired as a piano accompanist for several musical companies, most notably, the National Ballet Of Canada. She presently holds an A.R.C.T. Teacher’s Diploma in Voice from the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. Rosanne has studied choral conducting with numerous well known Canadian Conductors, including Wayne Riddell of Montreal, Quebec and the internationally renowned Dr. Elmer Iseler. She has been a founding member of numerous community-based arts organizations: the Timmins Arts Council, later known as Arts & Culture Timmins, the Timmins Symphony Orchestra, and, the Timmins Youth Singers…as well as the TYS Alumnus choir, the Timmins Concert Singers. In 1987, she was also selected to be the conductor of the Timmins Board Of Education Choir, comprised of talented students from Grades 5 to 8. In 1988, she was elected to the Board Of Directors of the Ontario Choral Federation (now known as Choirs Ontario), where she served as Chair of the Festivals Committee for six consecutive seasons. In 1996, in honour of the Ontario Choral Federation’s 25th Anniversary, Rosanne was selected as one of 25 recipients of the OCF’s Distinguished Service Award for outstanding contribution to the choral art. The ceremony was presided by Lieutenant Governor, Hal Jackman. In November 1997, Rosanne Simunovic was selected by the Rotary Club Of Timmins to receive the prestigious Paul Harris Award for her years of dedication to the artistic development of young musical talent in Timmins. In August of 2002, Rosanne Simunovic was selected by the Board Of Directors of Choirs Ontario to serve as Conductor of both the Provincial Junior and Teen Choir Camps, now renamed in honour of the Camp Benefactors, Don and Lillian Wright. In November 2002, Rosanne was the one of the recipients of the Commemorative Medal for the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, honouring her work in the development of the arts in Timmins. Under Rosanne Simunovic’s direction, the Timmins Youth Singers and the Timmins Concert Singers have been featured in numerous choral festivals and performing opportunities outside of Timmins. In 1985, they were selected to partici

37 Responses to “Vocal Masterclass Discussion Thread For American Idol Season 9 Top 10: R&B Music With Usher”

  1. Here are the songs each of the contestants will sing tonight from mjs blog.

    Siobhan Magnus – “Through The Fire”

    Casey James – “Hold On I’m Coming”

    Mike Lynche – “Ready for Love”

    Didi Benami – What Becomes of a Broken Heart

    Tim Urban – “Sweet Love”

    Andrew Garcia – “Forever”

    Katie Stevens – “Chain of Fools” by Aretha Franklin

    Lee Dewyze – “Treat Her Like A Lady”

    Crystal Bowersox – “Midnight Train to Georgia”

    Aaron Kelly – “Ain’t No Sunshine”

    Some surprises here. Have fun discussing it all.

  2. Sorry, my apologies. I didn’t read the above. MCL has already posted the songs.

  3. I am a fan of Siobhan, and I think she has SO much potential, but she really picked the wrong song this week. Yikes. “Through the Fire” very much revealed the weak part of her range. Siobhan’s heavy mix range is not extended enough to pull off a song like this. The song was way too big for her. I feel that powerful notes in the C5-G5 range should really be done in a heavy mix and not in twanged head voice. The “chance at/to” phrase was consistently off pitch. The word “chance” (on a C#5) might have been a mix, but the “at/to” (on a D#5) sounded like twangy head voice, and the “time” note (on an E5, and then up to an F#5) was definitely twangy head voice. For me, the coordinations were just too light, and the vocal performance just didn’t work. The “all” (on a C5) was a good balance in terms of fullness, but she was constricting while hitting it. (The “way” note was better, but it sounded on the cusp of constriction.)

  4. More comments later.. ;)

    This is the performance I feared from Siobhan. I suspected ever since “Think” that her vocal weaknesses would manifest themselves the way they did tonight—a weak mid-to-high heavy mix range—but until now, her song choices allowed her to showcase the other (stronger and more interesting) aspects of her voice. I guess it was inevitable that she’d have a performance like this, though.

  5. Well – the judges certainly have their favorites and,suffice it to say that, for the most part, they weren’t mine tonight. I just don’t. get. it!

  6. If I may ask, who were your favorites tonight, MCL? The show hasn’t aired on the West Coast yet, but I did get to hear Siobhan’s performance so far.

    I want to weigh your perspective against the judges’ as I watch tonight. ;)

  7. I was quite disappointed in Siobhan tonight, but hopefully she will not be sent home so that she can make it further in the competition.

    My favorites of the night were Big Mike, Crystal, and Lee. There were moments in Crystal’s song when I thought her voice was really beautiful.

    I was really annoyed with Ryan for trying to force Didi into saying something personal that obviously she didn’t want to say. I also don’t understand what she is doing. Her appearance tonight made me think of an older lounge singer. If she stays this week, I hope she goes back to the folksy young singer that we saw at the beginning of the competition.

  8. I enjoyed Lee, Crystal, Mike, and Andrew. I thought all of them really stepped it up and showed us different sides of their voices. Lee finally got some personality and gave a great performance. I loved seeing Crystal on the piano, and she sounded quite good. Mike’s performance was very haunting and intimate. I loved it! And I enjoyed Andrew’s arrangement for his song, as he finally sounded and looked comfortable. Casey was alright. I give Didi props for trying, but the performance did feel flat and stagnant, though I loved the tone of her voice. Katie was pretty good, a little boring, but pleasant to listen to. Tim sounded ok, but his performance was horrible IMO. His eyes were so vacant and it just wasn’t believable. I felt Siobhan really struggled with her song. Parts of it were ok, but much of the song displayed her weaknesses.

  9. Hey there! Rushed entry- I’ll give you my rankings and write more later, maybe

    Crystal by far #1. The first time I cried this season. She had one moment that was off (when she tried to do that soft high thing…sorry not very technical) but other than that it was amazing.
    I have to put Casey next and I was struggling between putting him second or Lee. It’s just I love the way Casey smiles during his performance. (plus he sounds great!) Tonight Lee sounded great but there is still this fear in his eyes???? There’s a wall there….
    Number four is Andrew. Really enjoyed his version. Number 5 is Katie. I really liked her. Some pitchyness again. What made me laugh was Simon saying how she was cold tonight! Wasn’t she trying to get the message of the song across? Ha! Silly Simon. #6 is Michael. Great voice. I found it quite slow though and boring at the start. Wasn’t one of his strongest performances vocally either. Loved him on the guitar. Sadly, Siobhan is #7. She just didn’t have it tonight. I still love her and she is still my fav. But I will comment on Kara’s comment – about it being ok for a singer to have an off night. Realistically you can’t be on every night but I tell you if I am paying big bucks to see someone in concert, she or he better not be having an off night. And now that I think about it, I think it was the song that hurt her more than anything. I’ll say it wasn’t an off night – just an off song. Number 8 was Aaron. He just wasn’t good tonight – sorry. I find his lower register really shaky – warbally vibrato???? When he kicks it into high gear it’s better (but still not strong enough for me). And I know MCL you did a whole blog about comparisons but I am going to make one nonetheless – Kris Allen’s version of Ain’t No Sunshine was incredible. Hard to listen to Aaron after that – brave of him to do that song so soon after Kris did it.
    The last two are a toss up for position. I’ll put Didi as 9, I guess. I knew we were in trouble when I heard her session with Usher. TOTALLY WRONG SONG CHOICE. DID NOT SUIT HER VOICE AT ALL!!! And I really like her normally. And Tim, well….maybe it’s time to fo rhim to go. But I think Simon’s comment was correct (and so *&%#$$ funny!!).
    And I’m going to make one other comparison…well kind of. Sorry can’t help it. During seasons 7 and 8 I was madly downloading the music that I was SOOO THOROUGHLY enjoying. My ipod was jam-packed with songs. This year I have only downloaded 4 songs: 2 of Siobhan’s songs and 2 of Crystals. hmmmmmmm
    On a more positive note, it looks like many of the performers are getting better. I love improvement! And I love seeing / hearing growth!

  10. J – Well, I shouldn’t voice my favorites before I write the VMC article. However, just flip around many of the singers who were obvious favorites tonight and subsitute them with those were not and then you will have your answer.

    Sorry, I am really not on the same page as anyone here. Sorry Cookie Monster, but the only tears shed tonight were tears of laughter when Simon addressed Tim- the only time there was a smile on my face the entire evening. Not going to be an easy Masterclass article to write as it will not resonate with the majority of the readers.

    Not a great show. They had great mentor, but Usher could only do so much.

  11. MCL — That is fair. ;) I feel that I have an inkling of what you mean. I have some pretty good guesses for some of the contestants, but with a few of the contestants (e.g. Michael Lynche, Siobhan Magnus), I admit that I’d be a little surprised if you disagreed with everything that was said on this page and by the judges.

    I admit; now, I’m very curious as to what you’re going to say!

    Just to add a new direction to the discussion thus far, I am particularly fascinated by how people who are knowledgeable about vocal technique and people who are not (1) hear vocal performances differently and (2) respond differently to the same performances.

    I feel that the way I hear vocal performances is constantly evolving with my conception of what “correct” technique is, and as someone who tries to see all valid sides/reactions to an issue, I try to avoid falling into some of the traps of overemphasizing certain aspects over others and being unable to relate to others’ responses at all.

    I know that in the past, there were contestants who I mistakenly thought had better technique than they actually did, and during those contestants’ runs on the show, I couldn’t understand the negative comments against them at all. And now that I have much more knowledge about singing, I have to admit that I don’t hear those contestants the same way at all, and I understand the valid criticisms a lot more. (And in some cases, I’m not even a fan of the contestant anymore!) On the flip side, there were contestants who I thought had horrible technique and that impaired my ability to enjoy them at all, and now, I realize that some of them actually did have some bright spots in their technique. And perhaps, I didn’t give those contestants as much credit as they deserved.

    That’s why I like the public’s (non-singing experts’) reactions because even though I wildly disagree at times (there are some vocal flaws that I admit I cannot get past—at all), I think the public is sometimes better at NOT losing the ability to see the forest for the trees. The public may not understand the nuts and bolts about vocal coordination, but they do understand “artistry,” “emotional connection,” and on-stage performance ability, and realizing this has helped me to understand public opinion and bridge the gap in understanding when the public reaction to certain contestants initially confounds me a bit (whether by being more positive or more negative than my own). I’ve really learned that “singing” is much more than the technical aspects of vocal production; it also involves other aspects—emotion, phrasing, communication, visuals, performance, and so on—and sometimes a technically inferior contestant possesses some of the other aspects of singing more strongly than a technically superior contestant. And that’s why, sometimes, technically inferior contestants are praised more highly than technically superior contestants. Depending on the contestant, I may agree or disagree with this happening, but I’m starting to understand why it happens, which is very enlightening and helpful for me.

    I think we all choose to be sticklers about different things, and as such, different vocal weaknesses will impair listeners’ enjoyment differently. And I have to say that some of the methods of vocal technique that are on the cutting edge of science are really turning notions of what’s healthy or unhealthy on their heads.

  12. Just to throw some guesses, I’m guessing MCL probably didn’t enjoy Casey‘s performance as much as the judges. From a purely vocal perspective, there was a LOT of constriction in Casey’s vocal production. His tone itself is rather “emaciated,” and he’s not completely centered or grounded in his vocal production. I think Lee‘s performance also probably sounded as though he was tearing his throat to shreds, but interestingly enough, I would rate Lee’s vocal slightly higher. For one, Lee’s tone was much more focused and resonant (even compared to himself in previous weeks). For another, I definitely say there were spots of constriction in Lee’s performance, but I don’t think it was all constriction. That said, the line is very blurry and tricky with the sound that Lee is going for, and I can’t guarantee that even the parts that didn’t sound constricted to me were completely free of constriction. There are effects—distortions, growls, and so on—that singers can use to produce a very intense sound that, if done correctly, actually do NOT wear out the vocal cords. However, on the flip side, constriction and/or pushing from the throat also produces a similar intense effect. I suspect that the growl made his voice sound much more intense and “pushed” than it actually was.

    However, I do think that there is this general sense of “push” that Lee should watch out for and back off of to be safe. He could benefit from better “body connection” (as the Swedish/Italian schools of thought call it) and vocalizing through exercises dealing with airflow and breath support. I think David Cook’s recent performance of “Jumping Jack Flash” is a really good contrast because in terms of MCL’s terminology, David employed a growl effect as well, but he added enough “head tone element” to release his voice of tension and give his voice centered clarity. I would use slightly different terminology, but I think this terminology still captures an important distinction between the vocal coordination that Lee is using and the coordination that David uses.

    That said, Lee’s performance for me was still one of the standouts (along with Crystal’s and Mike’s). He still looks slightly awkward at times, but he’s starting to grow more confident and natural in his facial expression and body posture. Good for him! He’s a really genuine guy; he just needs to take better steps to protect his instrument.

    *

    Also, not to get down on poor Siobhan (I love this girl, remember!), but in case I wasn’t clear, I wanted to say that my comments can be framed in what MCL said earlier:

    She does tend to spread her mouth instead of maintaining the very important circular formation. But, she has a beautiful timbre to her voice – it just needs a bit more depth and less constriction from the throat.

    Siobhan has a problem with adding depth without adding constriction, so that’s just another way to say what I said before. I really wish she could sing fuller without constriction.

    I loved the comments that Usher made. He’s such a talented artist and performer; I have loads of respect for him.

  13. Well, I am ready to give my thoughts on tonight’s performances. I have been reading everyone’s comments and it’s been quite interesting.

    Siobhan – I love this girl dearly, but as soon as I heard she was going to sing “Through the Fire”, I knew it wouldn’t work. I get a gut instinct, a sense about what may or may work with a voice that I love. This was just all wrong for her. I think J had everything technically that was going wrong in that performance. I am concerned, because she looks lost. Where is the fearless, gutsy young woman who tackled every song with gusto? I am worried for her. Just the expression on her face was bad enough.

    Casey – I do not love his voice. It’s hard for me to give a fair critique, because I don’t connect with him. I think his voice really sounds strained. I still do not see any originality that would make him stand out in my eyes.

    Michael – I thought he took a real risk with this song choice. He brought out his guitar and left all the shtick behind and sounded beautiful, haunting, moving. He has a technically great voice, but is also a wonderful interpreter of lyrics. He just made a sincere connection to the song and conveyed that in his performance.

    Didi – Another one where, as soon as I heard the song choice, I knew it would be trouble. Didi is trying to sing power ballads and she doesn’t have the voice for it. This is a big song and it needs a powerful voice with a lot of range. It’s a tricky song to sing. I love that she picked something with words that had meaning for her and shame on you, Ryan, for being so persistent in trying to make her reveal the private meaning of the song. Leave it alone! But she also needs to make sure that the song works for her voice. I am losing what is great in her voice, that lilting, lovely, unique quality that makes her so distinctive. It gets drowned out in these big songs. Please, Didi, pick songs that will showcase your beautiful voice. I would have chosen “Have You Ever” by Brandy. I think Didi could have done quite well with that song.

    Tim – Thank you Usher!! He told Tim that he didn’t believe him when he was singing. Yes!!!! I think he gave him some really good advice. The problem I have with Tim is not who he sings, but the fact that he has no connection whatsoever with the words of the song. It’s like he is totally in his own little happy world and has no idea what he’s singing or why. This was not a good song choice for him. He is not Anita Baker, not be a long shot! Even with Usher’s help, the song just fell flat. I don’t hear any conviction when he’s singing. He’s pretty much on pitch, but that’s not enough if you can’t tell the story of the song.

    Andrew – Welcome back! Thanks to Usher! He somehow got through to Andrew and freed him up to sing so much more relaxed. He was much more on pitch, seemed more comfortable and just plain sang a whole better than he has in weeks. It’s a good thing when a mentor can help a young person find the way back.

    Katie – I thought this was the wrong song choice. I think it’s too old and way too big for her voice. I still hear problems in her pitch when she sings. It’s very hard for me to connect with her and I am trying very hard.

    Lee – Thanks again, Usher! What a wonderful thing for him to tell Lee what a great vocal instrument he has. You could see Lee’s face light up. He sang tonight like he almost finally believed it himself. But I think he’s really pushing his voice way too hard. I feel as thought it is from the throat. But I will leave that up to MCL and J. I think he needs to improve his vocal technique and then he will sound even better and save his voice. But it was nice to see him feeling so good.

    Crystal – I thought she did seem a little tentative when she was playing the piano and that took the focus off her vocals. I also didn’t like the backup singers. Crystal doesn’t need them. When she got up and moved forward, then I thought the performance got stronger. She can lose the lower notes, but still and all I love the emotion in her voice. She hit some glorious notes.

    Aaron – This wasn’t a good song choice. First, Kris Allen sang it memorably last season and the viewing audience will remember that performance. I hear Aaron losing his lower notes completely. I love the emotion and feeling in his voice, but he did struggle with pitch issues.

    I will listen again tomorrow, with my eyes closed and see if I feel differently about the performances. I can’t wait for MCL’s critique. I am incredibly curious now!

  14. I hope this link works. This is something I found in the comments from people on mjs blog about tonight’s performances. I have never heard of Joan Osborne, but this is the way to do a song like “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted”. The Funk Brothers accompanied her

  15. Just popping in to share a few thoughts.

    I am not as critical of Siobhan as the musically experienced particpants are. Yes, it was an off night for her, but not as bad as some think. The judges spent an awful long time with her. I felt sad because she was on the verge of tears. Simon was more than his usual cruel and rude. She needs to take this experience and learn. She has a beautiful vocal range and I expect a better performance next week.

    Also, she need to replay what Usher said. You know, we see only an edited version of a longer session. I think he is a fan, and gave her some good advice. Simon is messing with her mind and she needs to block it out. I didn’t like the camera following her backstage, but I guess this is something new.

    Sorry, I am really not on the same page as anyone here. Sorry Cookie Monster, but the only tears shed tonight were tears of laughter when Simon addressed Tim- the only time there was a smile on my face the entire evening.

    The judges said he wasn’t out of tune. I thought he sounded fine, well as best as he can be. He took Usher’s advice and sang to the camera. I think Simon knows Tim should get at least another week or two. It is good for the ratings, and he is a charming young man. Who knows, he may improve.

    Mcl, I laughed last week, and again this week. Tim is adorable and I believe Ellen is a fan. Her reaction is cute. I like his attitude!

  16. Oh, real quick…I think Didi is going home. It is my hope that Siobhan isn’t in the bottom three.

  17. For me it was all about Lee and Crystal last night, I loved them both!

    I thought Casey was also very good, my only thing with him…he reminds me of an old boyfriend, and it is a little put-off’ish, LOL!

    I thought Usher gave some great advice, However, someone made the comment that Miley seemed rehearsed in her comments last week, I kind of got that vibe from usher too. He seemed to be repeating the sentiments from the judges each week. Does the mentors watch the show? Otherwise, I thought he gave some good advice, pertaining to the kids song choices.

  18. J – I’m loving your critiques! Could you please explain what a singer can do to create more vocal depth? Also, what are some of the cutting edge vocal techniques you’re talking about? I’d love to further educate myself on vocal technique. Do you (or MCL, of course)have suggestions for some good sources I could read up on? There’s so much bad information out there.

    As for the performances last night, Mike and Katie were my tops. Siobhan and Tim were my bottom. I thought Crystal and Andrew (I just wanted to grab him by the shoulders and tell him to sit up straight!) did a much, much poorer job than the judges said. I honestly think Ryan was trying to save Didi with a potential sympathy vote, but he went about it the wrong way. The girl cries at the drop of a hat. Why would she want to go into more detail about her dead friend?

  19. I mostly lurk, but thought I’d add my 2 cents.

    Tonight’s performance by Lee was the very first one from him that I’ve enjoyed. I just think the song suited his voice perfectly, and he seemed like he was having fun with the performance. He usually seems off-pitch to me, and I’ve never really liked anything he’s done before.

    I love Crystal, and although she seemed tentative during the piano portion of the song, she sang beautifully. Song interpretation just seems to come so naturally to her. What a talent!

    I’m a big fan of Siobhan, but last night just didn’t work. I didn’t care for the song, and she sounded all over the place with it. My favorite performances of hers have been Wicked Game and House of the Rising Sun. I also hated the way the camera followed her after the performance, when she seemed so dejected.

    While Casey’s performance tonight was okay, he always seems so stiff on stage, and it bugs me that he doesn’t open his mouth more while he sings. He just seems to smile and sing through his teeth the whole time! (Obviously I don’t know the technical terms – LOL!)

    As for Michael, I enjoyed his performance very much. I like that his movements were much more toned down tonight than usual. While I always think his singing is spot-on, sometimes his performances come off as a little cheesy.

    Didi, Aaron, Tim, Katie, and Andrew – I wasn’t in love with any of these performances tonight. I’ve liked some of Didi’s performances in the past, but not the past couple of weeks. Aaron seemed to ignore Usher’s advice last night. Katie was okay, but her side to side head movement was distracting (made me think of Kara!). And Tim, I just find his singing boring, but he’s a cute kid. Andrew was better than he’s been lately, but he just hasn’t recaptured the magic of “Straight Up”.

  20. I have listened to the performances again, just closing my eyes and focusing on the singing. These are my thoughts.

    Kariann,

    Thank you so much for saying what you did about Siobhan. When I listened again, I thought she started out great. The first part was wonderful, but she kind of lost her way. The notes that J mentioned were really off. I don’t know that I have ever heard Siobhan this much off pitch. I don’t know if it was nerves or what, but something went wrong. Actually, those high notes were totally on pitch and sounded really good. I also despise Simon for what he said to her. To accuse her of manslaughter with this song, was simply cruel. You could see the hurt in her eyes. I wish I could give her a hug and tell her that she really does have a great voice. This one performance that didn’t work, should not destroy her. She is too good for that.

    I still don’t love Casey. I really think he is pushing his voice too hard.

    I figured out a few things that bother me with Tim. He couldn’t do the phrasing correctly. That is part of what ruined it for me. Also, I hear absolutely no emotion in his voice, still no connection with the words. Kudos to Usher for at least trying to get Tim to do it. At least he doesn’t let what Simon or any of the judges say, really get under his skin.

    Didi just didn’t have the voice for that song. The link I posted above doesn’t work unless you click on the youtube part. Then you can hear it. She has a great voice and it’s uniquely her own. She doesn’t have to push herself to be something she’s not. In her video clip, even she expressed doubts that the song was too bid. Listen to your gut, Didi! You were right. She may be in trouble this week. I just wish that Siobhan and Didi could have shrugged off some of the heartless comments, particularly from Simon, the way that Tim does. I truly despise mean-spirited comments.

    I thought Lee was good, but he seemed to be fighting to stay on pitch. He sounded more committed, more intense. He has that husky, raspy voice that is so like Michael McDonald and even Joe Cocker, but he has to learn to use it so that he doesn’t wreck his voice.

    Andrew was much better, still not perfect with his pitch at times. He just sounded more confident. All credit due to Usher for getting him out of his own head and letting him find the enjoyment of singing again. He will benefit from low expectations. But this was definitely his best performance in weeks.

    Listening to Crystal, I could actually pinpoint the moment that she stood up and left the piano. With my eyes closed, I could hear her voice get stronger. I love the emotion in her voice. The backup singers were unnecessary. Nothing should interfere with that beautiful sound of poignancy in her voice. Gladys Knight is a tough act to follow, but I think Crystal did a great job.

    Katie is one that I am still struggling over. I did not like this song for her at all. But I do hear a quality in her voice that is different and interesting. Maybe it’s the relative pitch thing.

    Aaron just shouldn’t have done “Ain’t No Sunshine”. I first took notice of Kris Allen when he did it last season. A lot of viewers will remember that and compare Aaron. That will not work in his favor. He loses the lower notes and also struggles with pitch.

  21. mariah – Thank you so much for your wonderful feedback! Your enthusiasm is really encouraging; I love meeting people with the same thirst for knowledge about singing. ;)

    I will get to your question about vocal depth in a moment, but first, I wanted to ask: What exposure to vocal technique/pedagogy have you previously had? I just wanted to know, so that I can tailor the resources I send your way. I know, for myself, I definitely found certain resources more beginner-friendly (even though they may not have been as precise), and I’m thankful that I mined those first before delving into the more advanced resources (which I now prefer).

    As for your question (which is a great one, by the way!), vocal depth is related to ideas of (1) eliminating constriction and (2) achieving balance in vocal coordination and tonal quality.

    Let me unpack these ideas a little bit. Constriction, most simply, is any imbalance in vocal production; it occurs when the “equilibrium” among all the different processes and elements involved in singing is disturbed or upset in some way. Healthy singing involves all the muscles in the larynx (and a host of other factors that tie into vocal production) working together in harmony; no part of the vocal apparatus is outpulling another.

    Thus, the first point I made above is HUGE. Different singing methods may disagree on which sounds “count” as constriction and which mechanisms “cause” constriction, but every singing method agrees that constriction is to be avoided at all costs if healthy vocalization is to be achieved. Style should never occur at the expense of healthy vocal production (which is why I understand MCL’s hesitation towards some of the judges’ favorites). Some people think that certain “sounds” are inherently unhealthy, but I really do believe that any “sound” can be produced without constriction. Constriction can be caused by many things (using too much air is a big one; having tension in the face, jaw, lips, and tongue; lacking adequate diaphragmatic support, etc.), and constriction can exist to many degrees. (Lots of constriction is often called “strain,” but small degrees of constriction may be hardly audible.) Very constricted voices lack depth because when the vocal folds are unable to vibrate freely (which is what happens as a result of constriction), the resulting vocal quality is usually tight and lacking in resonance. I really like a quote that Brett Manning (of Singing Success) once said: “The greater the release, the sweeter the sound.” The “best” sounds are free of constriction.

    However, there is an additional step, I feel, to achieve “vocal depth,” and this is where I make the point that perception of what types of sounds are “beautiful” is highly cultural. Yes, eliminating constriction will result in “balance,” but there are sounds that are “balanced” on a physiological level but still do not meet cultural ideals of what is “beautiful. For example, nasality is highly frowned upon classical music (and for the record, I am not a fan of nasal tones either), yet as “unpleasant” as it may sound to many of us, in other cultures, nasal singing is the norm and considered quite the opposite—as desirable, maybe even preferable. Nasality in itself is not necessarily unhealthy (although it is sometimes accompanied by other bad habits that ARE unhealthy). Western classical schools of singing tend to prefer a tone that is: (1) not nasal (i.e. the soft palate is lifted) but has nasal resonance, (2) not breathy (bel canto emphasizes the ability to sing in front of a lit candle without causing the flame to flicker); (3) accompanied by a low to neutral larynx, as opposed to a high one, (4) not distinctly twangy, (5) has the appropriate “chest versus head” balance for the pitch being sung, and (6) is not bogged down by extra weight. [There are other technicalities, such as tongue position, mouth shape, vowels, and so forth that distinguish different styles of singing, but those were a few aspects of tone.]

    The fifth and sixth points I mentioned, particularly the idea of “vocal weight,” are very interesting. One of the things I like about MCL is that I feel she is more open-minded than some other teachers of classical singing technique. Some people believe that “powerhouse singing” (I despise the term “belting,” so you will never see me using it) is inherently unhealthy and incorrect, but MCL’s articles have indicated that she believes that this type of singing can be done correctly if the proper measures are taken to eliminate constriction and tension and to balance the voice. And accordingly, scientific research also supports the belief that “powerhouse singing” does not have to be unhealthy.

    I want to make a slight distinction between how I think of “chest voice” and how classical pedagogy tends to think of “chest voice.” Chest voice, to me, is not a register or a particular vocal fold thickness but a sound quality, more than anything else. And I think MCL would agree with me that the “safest” and “easiest” way to sing higher in “chest voice” is to drop vocal weight and to thin out the vocal folds, thereby relieving the vocal folds of tension. (This is what, I believe, MCL means when she tells contestants to “add head tone element”; she’s talking about the thinning of the vocal folds to create release.) I wholeheartedly agree with this idea that “chesty sounds” in the mid-to-high range are more healthily accomplished by the thinning of the vocal folds, correspondingly. Thus, when I talk about “adding more chest voice,” I am NOT suggesting that singers use thicker vocal folds, nor am I telling them to add more constriction (I am definitely NOT doing the latter!); what I am saying is that the singer’s tonal quality could use more of this “chest” element in sound quality to sound fuller.

    I hope the last paragraph made sense(!). The term “chest voice” is loaded with a lot of baggage, and the way I use the term strips it of a lot of the negative ideas that are usually packaged with it. I don’t think that chest voice in itself is unhealthy, but I do think the ways that many singers attempt to implement more chest voice involves constriction. (However, some singers even constrict trying to achieve lighter coordinations! Constriction can occur anywhere!) Thus, I want to make the distinction that chest voice is not the enemy; constriction is!

    This was my long-winded way of getting to the point that in addition to freedom from constriction, “more depth,” especially in Western conceptions, usually implies that the tone fits the six conditions I mentioned above. The “chest versus head” balance is highly subjective, however, and really depends on the school of thought one subscribes to. Classical voice teachers are usually hesitant to suggest adding more chest voice when a singer’s vocal production is already relatively free because they fear that such advice would result in constriction, which is why I believe MCL might take issue with my suggestion that Siobhan needs to develop her heavy mix, rather than relying on twangy head voice. However, I do believe that according to cultural preference, there is such a thing as “not having enough chest voice”; the tricky part is learning to achieve more of a “chesty” quality without constricting.

    I want to emphasize that the only truly “bad” tone, in Jo Estill’s words is “one that hurts or scratches or constricts the larynx.” Everything else is cultural preference. What Siobhan is doing isn’t necessarily “wrong” for the most part (the exceptions, clearly, are when she IS constricting), but as a matter of cultural preference, for Siobhan to achieve the powerhouse sound quality that she is going for and that a song like “Through the Fire” calls for, then more “chest” quality is needed to create the level of “depth” that listeners expect.

    I tried to be really clear, so I hope that makes sense. Thanks for asking a really great question, Mariah! =D

  22. Also, here is a great point a friend of mine made about style. My friend says, “It’s style if you can turn it on or off. It’s limited technique if you can’t.”

    For example, a singer who knows how to sing in a non-nasal fashion and still chooses to sing with a nasal tonal quality is exhibiting style. A singer who sounds nasal because he or she doesn’t know how not to sound nasal has limited (or poor) technique.

    When a singer sings in a way that deviates from the cultural ideal, I always ask: “Is the singer doing this on purpose (style) or because he or she doesn’t know better (limited technique)?”

    As a singer, I always seek to expand my “technical arsenal” and learn as many constriction-free sounds as possible; I love exploring possibilities. And I want to encourage these contestants to explore the possibilities because I fear that some of what others may deem “style” is really the exhibition of limited technique.

  23. Mindy –

    The notes that J mentioned were really off. I don’t know that I have ever heard Siobhan this much off pitch. I don’t know if it was nerves or what, but something went wrong.

    I don’t believe she’s ever been that off key before either. I just believe that switching between coordinations in that part of a female singer’s range is very tricky, and the trickiness got the best of her.

    I also despise Simon for what he said to her. To accuse her of manslaughter with this song, was simply cruel. You could see the hurt in her eyes. I wish I could give her a hug and tell her that she really does have a great voice. This one performance that didn’t work, should not destroy her. She is too good for that.

    … I just wish that Siobhan and Didi could have shrugged off some of the heartless comments, particularly from Simon, the way that Tim does. I truly despise mean-spirited comments.

    Oh my! I didn’t realize that Simon was so cruel to her. I watched the performances on Rickey.org, which didn’t contain the judges’ comments. If I realized that Simon had already been so tough on her, I wouldn’t have added any more fuel to that fire, so to speak. Siobhan, if you’re reading this, I apologize! You don’t need any more negativity. You had an off week; just shake if off! You are super talented. Just keep working on expanding your technical arsenal. ;)

    And I also truly, truly despise mean-spirited comments. I always, always try to be constructive, never spiteful, in my critiques, and I hope that comes across. As a singer myself, I know how hurtful negative feedback can be, and I’ve really learned that the key to surviving it all is learning to extract the constructive elements and chucking the rest out the window. Really. A singer cannot please everybody. You’d go crazy trying to do so. Not to mention that most non-constructive negative feedback is prompted from jealousy, spite, and all sorts of irrational, unpleasant emotions. (Because the people who have valid reasons to dislike a performance are usually constructive and civil in their comments!)

    To all the singers out there: You cannot take every negative comment to heart because the negativity is just going to eat at you. At the same time, you need to have discernment; hear the person out if he or she has something constructive to say that will improve your singing.

    If the people critiquing you have musical knowledge, listen for the valid comments that they may make (although be wary of people who think they understand vocal technique but really don’t; YouTube is full of these), but if the people admittedly know nothing about music and are bashing you for no apparent reason, why are you listening to them in the first place? STOP. That just isn’t good for you; it isn’t.

  24. Also, thanks for supplying the link to the Joan Osbourne performance, Mindy! Very cool. I really like seeing the possibilities a song like this has.

    *

    And a random thought to throw into the universe (I don’t want to make any comparisons, so I’m just saying this in isolation): I LOVE Kris Allen’s version of “Ain’t No Sunshine.” His rendition is one of my favorites for the song and one of the highlights of last season (for me, personally). I love his piano arrangement (I believe he may have included some nifty chord substitutions as well!), and I love the creative ways in which he bent the vocal melody (especially in the “I know” segment). Also, as I have said time and time again (but it continues to be true!), Kris has a gorgeous timbre. I love it. =)

  25. Dearest J,

    You don’t need to feel bad about anything you said about Siobhan. You didn’t know what Simon said to her, so you are not to blame for her looking so forlorn. It broke my heart! Was it really necessary for Simon to say that she committed “manslaughter” on that song! Honestly, I know he has a job to do, but you could see that comment just take the wind out of Siobhan! She was crestfallen! That’s not helpful in any way.

    I am trying to understand your technical anaylysis of her vocal issues. I had a feeling that this might happen to her, because I think she just doesn’t really know how to fully utilize her voice to its best effect. Are you saying that there was an imbalance between head and chest voice? There seems to be a lot going on technically that interfered with her performance.

    Didi was destroyed by the judges. I didn’t like this performance, but there is always something good that can be said. I still feel that it was the wrong song for her. But I did applaud her for picking a song whose lyrics touched her deeply. I included that video of Joan Osborne to show how I think the song can be done to great effect. I think Didi was honestly trying to try something different from her usual performances. There’s nothing wrong with that. I just happen to think that she asked her voice to do what it could not. But the judges just went after her, especially Simon. He was brutal.

    I really do feel for these young people having to perform in front of a nationwide audience every week. It’s nerve wracking! At least Usher tried to give them some constructive criticism and advice.

  26. Dearest Mindy,

    I do think the “manslaughter” comment was out of line; I’m not sure what prompted Simon to say it (well, besides wordplay!). I’m glad, however, to see that the other judges were trying to affirm Siobhan and her talent; Randy, Kara, and Ellen were pretty fair in their critiques.

    As for my technical analysis: I did get a little long-winded back there; didn’t I? No worries. My analysis—in the simplest nutshell, possible—is that in Siobhan’s mid-to-head range, she needs more “chest voice” to give her voice the depth and fullness of sound expected for “powerhouse singing.”

    The reason why I got very long-winded is that my use of the word “need” might be debatable. Does she need more chest voice to make the sound healthy? No. But does she need more chest voice to replicate the sound quality she is going for (the cultural expectation/ideal)? Yes.

    What she is doing now is not necessarily unhealthy or imbalanced in the sense that it is constricted (although there were two spots of mild/possible constriction I pointed out), but in a cultural sense, Siobhan’s sound in that part of her range does not meet the “ideal” sound. In other words, the chest/head balance she has on those notes is not “wrong” as much as it is “inappropriate.”

    Does that make more sense? (And please do not hesitate to ask me to clarify things. I’m always glad to do so. ;)) This whole issue is the same one we’ve discussed all along, way back with “Think” and also with “Paint It Black”; Siobhan lacks chest presence in various parts of her range. And sometimes, her attempts to engage more chest voice result in constriction.

    So, for Siobhan to expand her technical abilities, I’d like her to be able to add more of this “chest” element to her sound without any accompanying constriction.

  27. The twangy head voice that Siobhan uses is a legitimate coordination, but it sounds thin and reedy, especially in the part of the range that Siobhan was using it here (D#5-F#5). Twangy head voice only sounds powerful for really high notes (such as the top note in “Think” or “Paint It Black”). Here, a “heavy mix” (as I mentioned above) is much more appropriate, but it does take quite a bit of skill to do correctly.

  28. Dearest J,

    The way that comment from Simon came about was when Siobhan was defending her decision to do this song. She said that she thought she would “kill it”, but then she looked at Simon who started saying that she did kill it, and she said to him – not the way you mean it. So then Simon made his “manslaughter” comment, letting her know that she didn’t totally kill the song, but was guilty of the lesser offense. I know Simon can be blunt and forthright in his comments, but you could see that Siobhan was already pretty shaken by her performance. There is such a thing as piling on and that’s what Simon tends to do. Then they showed Siobhan walking to that backstage room and the contestants were trying to comfort her, but she kept her back to the camera. Then Mike, bless his heart, went over to her and gave her a big hug from behind. That’s why she said on the results show that people shouldn’t think she is defeated. She cannot have been pleased that they showed that footage of her. Sometimes these people need a private moment to compose themselves.

    Thanks so much for your explanation. I know we have had this discussion about the head and chest voice mix. Do you think she doesn’t know how to use her voice correctly or to its best effect? I understand what you are saying about too much head voice. I hear it and sometimes I don’t like it. What would your advice be to her at this point? I am thinking that she is trying to do too much in every performance. Remember when I said hearing “Paint it Black” was like three songs in one? Maybe she is over singing. But I am not sure right now. I am afraid that she will lose her confidence.

    Honestly, I wish Siobhan would try to go back to what she did on “House of the Rising Sun”. I thought it was genius. She has a lot of material with the Lennon/McCartney song catalogue. I hope she tones it down, does a slower ballad or just strips it down and goes simpler, maybe some acappella.

  29. Dearest J,

    I reread your analysis of the issues with Siobhan’s head versus chest voice and constriction problems. Having read it twice, I now think I have a better idea of what is going on with her.

    One question I have is that MCL mentioned the “bel canto” singing in Siobhan’s voice. I know that we discussed this last season, but would you be so kind to remind me what exactly this is or where I can get more information.

    Thanks!

  30. Dearest Mindy,

    I’m sorry for the slight delay! I meant to reply earlier in the day, but happenstance has a mind of its own. ;)

    I do think that Simon tends to “pile on” the negative sentiment. I never really thought about it that way before, but you’re so right. Even when I agree with Simon, I do think he tends to purposely try to push the envelope in how mean he can be with his metaphors.

    Mike is a sweetheart! I love the bond between the different contestants; they all seem to really care about each other.

    No problem! =) The simplest answer I can say is: yes, I do think, as of now, she does NOT how to use her voice to its full capacity. There are certain coordinations that she still has problems readily accessing. At the same time, I think very many singers fall into the same boat. There is a finite number of skill sets, once learned, that enable a singer to sing pretty much every genre there is, but even though some skill sets overlap in certain ways, other skill sets are almost entirely separate.* Thus, it is highly possible for a singer to be excellent at particular skill sets—and thus, vocalize “correctly” when employing sounds that spring from those skill sets—but be completely deficient in others. I want to emphasize that not having mastery over all the possible skill sets does not make a singer untalented or “poor”—and indeed, I feel that few singers truly master all these skill sets, and that is why the ones who do are very formidable forces—having mastery (or at least competence) in as many skill sets as possibly really enables a singer to be much more versatile, expressive, and therefore, effective in his or her singing.

    I think Siobhan already has developed some of the individual skills that are needed to produce the “powerhouse” sound I’m talking about; she just hasn’t learned how to apply the skills together in the right proportions to really maximize the depth in her sound.

    If I were to give her advice at this point, I really would tell Siobhan to be true to herself and to her instinct, and I’d encourage her to choose songs that really highlight the skills she has already mastered and to explore other skill sets in her free time. Siobhan needs to restore her confidence in herself and her artistic instinct, rather than worrying about pleasing the judges or the audience with vocal acrobatics or complicated performance elements. As you said (and others have said, including MCL), at some point, all this flurry of activity does become “too much.” Throwing in screams for no particular musical, interpretive, or communicative purpose can certainly be considered a form of oversinging. (Vocal acrobatics for its own sake often is.)

    I think you’re onto something when you said that Simon’s negative critique of Siobhan’s performance of “House of the Rising Sun” may have discouraged her from doing something like that again. She hasn’t done a performance like that one ever since, and I really find it a shame. Her voice is so beautiful in simpler, stripped-down songs. I think Siobhan’s much better with songs that allow her to display restraint. (“Wicked Game” was another gorgeous performance!)

    On a last note, I really do wish Siobhan could get in touch with the right vocal coach—someone who could do a quick sit-down session to demonstrate to her what she’s doing and what she’s going for. As Darlene said, I really think Siobhan could pick up this skill set rather quickly; she just needs the right guidance to get her to that place.

    * An example of skill sets with little overlap is “powerhouse” pop singing and classical singing in terms of the coordinations used in a female singer’s upper range. Very little “chest voice” is present in classical singing in the high part of female singers’ voices, so a soprano can be excellent at singing high notes operatically and still be unable to produce them in a “chest-dominant” way appropriate to powerhouse pop singing.

    And your last question: Bel canto is Italian for “beautiful singing” and refers to a particular model of classical music (particularly, opera). Here’s the Wikipedia article about it. =)
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bel_canto

    In other ways, MCL was saying that Siobhan has some classical elements in her singing, and I definitely hear that background (and particular skill set) in her voice as well. Her pure head voice is gorgeous, really lovely and centered.

  31. * In other ways = In other words

    [My post was so close to being typo-free! ;)]

    ===

    I just wanted to clarify that certainly some overlap exists in very basic aspects of how a female singer sings high notes in opera compared to powerhouse singing—avoiding tension in the lips, jaw, and tongue; paying attention to mouth shape; paying attention to vowels; and so on—but a “heavy mix” sound and especially a “very chesty” sound in a female’s upper range falls outside the scope of classical voice pedagogy.

    As someone who loves to sing both classical music and pop music (and has used insights from studying both to solidify the basic vocal foundation of both), I have to say that in the most substantive ways, the skill sets are extremely different. The support levels are much higher when producing “chesty” or “heavy mix” sounds in the upper range, and a lot of fine-tuned details of how the vocal tract is set up differ in each coordination.

  32. J – In a word, WOW! Thank you for providing such a detailed analysis to my question. You’ve certainly helped me understand the meaning of vocal depth. Your subsequent discussion with Mindy was very insightful, as well.

    To answer your question, my exposure to vocal technique is comparatively limited. I sang in both classical and show choirs as a child and into my late teens. Most of my technical knowledge comes from those choirs, which was over 15 years ago. I took voice lessons for three years during that time. I don’t recall discussing a particular pedagogy, but the lessons were most similar to classical technique (though I do think there some adaptations and liberties taken by my vocal coach). I sing for my own entertainment, mainly, and I do recall many of the techniques I learned long ago (such as diaphragmatic breathing, mouth positioning, and vowel placement. Unfortunately, much of my skill set has long been forgotten. Essentially, I’d like to re-learn what I’ve forgotten and expand on that knowledge so that I may improve my own voice and gain a better understanding of it. At this time, I can usually identify where the problems lie (both in my voice and in others), but I often have trouble understanding the reasons for those problems or how to correct them.

    Thank you again for all your help!!

  33. mariah – No problem! Thanks so much for asking; I feel really fortunate and blessed to have people asking me questions because I really do enjoy answering them. :D

    I think Voiceteacher.com (HERE is the link to past articles) sounds like a great starting resource for you. I refer to this site very often! The articles focus on classical singing, but many of the topics relate to basic aspects that underlie and form the foundation for singing in general. =) Speaking for myself, getting my “classical singing” well-aligned gave me a nice foundation and starting point for learning the skill set needed to sing other genres of music (e.g. “pop music”).

    I know you mainly sing for your own entertainment, but is there any particular type of music you’d like to be able to sing better? I’m just curious because that also has some bearing on what types of resources I send you. ;)

    Also, I haven’t watched all of Eric Arcenaux’s videos, but the videos I’ve seen provide really beginner-friendly tips, explanations, and advice.
    http://www.youtube.com/user/EricArceneaux

    Check out the “Voice Lesson Vids” and the “Daily Vocal Warm-Ups.”

    *

    Do you think you’re more interested in relearning past skills or in learning new ones? And to what extent/level? Depending on your interest, you might go different routes. In the first case, just reading more about singing in general and watching videos (with correct knowledge!) are very helpful and can give you tips to deal with many of the larger, foundational aspects of singing. And especially for someone who picks up these skills quickly and can connect abstract, written ideas to the real-life act of singing, a person can theoretically can become quite competent for just reading these general resources, alone!

    Many people, however, eventually reach a limit with how much they can learn from those types of resources, and for some people who don’t mind having vocal limits and are happy with their voices doing “enough” and/or have no desire to pursue professional singing, then that’s a reasonable place to “stop.” (Singing is a craft, so I don’t think any singers every “stop” learning, especially since old skills constantly need to be practiced to be retained! I guess by “stopping,” I mean deciding to no longer focus so much on learning new skills and focusing more on honing present skills.) For people who really want to learn and improve their voices to a professional level, however, getting involved in online communities (e.g. message boards about singing) can be really helpful because they can post clips of their own singing and have a community available to give them specific feedback, support them, and answer more specific questions. (And of course, in real life, the role of a vocal coach is very similar!) And that route is more fitting for people who are more intensely pursuing vocal training. If you’re intending to improve your singing just as a hobby, then the first route is perfectly valid. Let me know! ;) [I post on some singing message boards, so I do have some recommendations for those! There is such a thing as "information overload," depending on one's interests/intentions, so that's why I'm bracketing these remarks, hehe.]

  34. *competent FROM
    * singers EVER

    Very minor typos, but I thought I should “fix” them anyway, hehe.

  35. Thank you, again, J! I plan to spend some time on The Voice Teacher’s site. I’ve run across Erik Arceneaux on youtube and was impressed with what I saw and heard, so I’m happy to hear your support of his lessons.

    As for my preferred singing style, there’s a disconnect in what I’d love to be able to sing and what I think my voice is best suited for. I’d love to be able to sing big rock songs like Ann Wilson of Heart, but I don’t have the type of power in my voice required for that style of vocal. Further, I’m a contralto (I actually sang tenor in my middle school choir because the alto section was too high), so I’ll never be able to hit a full out high C. But, I’m not so interested in hitting big high notes. I have a bluesy and jazzy quality to my voice, and I’m told I sound a little like Patsy Cline, Brandi Carlile, or Karen Carpenter (of course, I’m not saying I’m at their levels, but I guess there’s something in their sounds that people hear in my voice). I do like singing pop and rock with a folky or bluesy edge to it, but I have no interest in singing country. I really hope this makes sense!

  36. Hello, again, mariah! =) I apologize for the long delay! I really wanted to sit down and write an in-depth post, but this week was much busier than I expected! There’s a certain clarity in being concise, though, so hopefully, this short(er) post will do! [P.S. In retrospect, this wasn't short, but it was in simple English, which I see as progress!]

    Genetics certainly influences range and power in certain ways (and really, this is simply yet another version of the nature versus nurture debate), but I truly do believe that “technique” (or more precisely, a singer’s level of coordination) is much more responsible for imposing and/or overcoming “limits” than genetics.

    I like the term “coordination” because people tend to understand very clearly what being uncoordinated means: lacking dexterity, skill, or ease in movement. In simple terms, being able to sing with a wide range and impressive power is really akin to being well-coordinated. It is all a matter of coordination, learning to have better control over the movements in your larynx and your diaphragm and so on.

    To use an analogy: imagine your range (as determined by your genetics) as being a house with many doors (rooms). Being able to coordinate your voice in certain ways gives you keys to certain rooms. However, in order to unlock the doors to other rooms (i.e. other parts of your range), you have to learn how to coordinate your voice in different ways—ways that you may not be used to or have difficulty with.

    I feel that many singers, especially those with “limited” range, only have the keys to a very small number of rooms in the house. Some singers can get quite good at playing in those rooms and taking advantage of what’s in those rooms—to the point that some fall into the trap of thinking that those are the only rooms in the house when in reality, there are many, many more. (This relates to my idea of multiple non-overlapping “skill sets” above.) These singers simply haven’t found the keys to the other doors! In other words, the potential for a wide range is there; singers just don’t know how to access it. Also, along with opening up more range, better coordination allows for more power as singers gain control over a better range of dynamics (volume) and a wider continuum of chesty versus heady sounds among other things.

    Contraltos (and mezzos) certainly can have a greater difficulty in learning particular coordinations compared to sopranos because lower voice types have longer vocal folds and, thus, greater vocal fold mass. (My friend uses a very simple rock analogy. To hit the same note in a particular coordination, contraltos have to move a notably bigger rock [more vocal fold mass] than sopranos do, which will require more effort.)

    True contraltos are very rare (if you are one, that makes you unique!), but I can say that I’ve heard true mezzos sing wonderful G5s in a heavy mix with tremendous power. (Yes, the bigger rock’s going to be harder to move, but once you figure out how to move it, it’s going to have a bigger impact, isn’t it?)

    My takeaway point is this: I really want singers to realize that their voices are capable of much more than they realize! A singer’s voice type can certainly make it easier or more difficult to gain a high level of coordination, but I like to think that any voice type can become well-coordinated!

    I think you’d be surprised with what your voice can do once you learn how to coordinate it! Toni Braxton is the only true contralto that comes to my mind immediately, and she is not lacking in power or range at all!

    *

    The reason why I asked was because I was curious as to whether you’d be interested in resources that deal with popular (non-classical) singing as well, and it sounds as though you would! =) Personally, I aim to be able to sing any genre, and I don’t see why you can’t sing rock as well as more folksy and bluesy songs! Genres are distinguished mainly by preferred coordinations and elements of style. I discussed coordination above, and style can be developed. And really, if you have an extensive technical toolkit—I like that analogy too; the idea of the toolkit containing different skill sets—your voice has the flexibility to emulate different styles.

    The main point of this post was to encourage you to believe you can learn to sing the way you want; I still have so much more I can say to help you get there, though! I wish there was a way I could private message or contact you without asking you to post personal information publicly. Do you happen to have a YouTube account? I could send you a personal message through there. ;) I think I’d feel less guilty about writing gigantic posts that way, lol!

  37. Feablyspeepsy May 26, 2010 at 12:52 pm

    Hello guys,

    My name is Daniel and I am from Stirling in the UK. I have in recent past discovered this forum and I like it alot.
    I am a little bit shy so I will not write much about myself but maybe when I will get more confortable, you will get to know me better!
    My main hobbies are playing chess and watching movies. I also love outdoor activites but the temperature has been very bad for the last weeks or so here in Stirling.

    I was wondering if anyone else here is from the UK too?

    I am happy to have joined this forum!
    Have a nice day! :)

    PS: Sorry if this was posted in the wrong section. I could not find the right one!

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