I’ve uploaded a piano backing track for you to sing along to while warming up your voice each morning or before a performance. You can bookmark the YouTube video below, or go to the ‘Free Stuff‘ tab at the top of the page and download the mp3 to your device so you can use it offline too.
Who’s your celebrity vocal twin? Check out this chart to see how your range matches up 😀
“Compare the vocal ranges of today’s top artists with the greatest of all time.
This chart shows the highest and lowest notes each artist hit in the recording studio. Hover over the bars to see the songs on which they reached those notes.”
Singing in a choir for just 1 hour causes physiological changes in people affected by cancer
Singing in a choir for just one hour boosts levels of immune proteins in people affected by cancer, reduces stress and improves mood, which in turn could have a positive impact on overall health, a new study by Tenovus Cancer Care and the Royal College of Music published today in ecancermedicalscience has found.
The research raises the possibility that singing in choir rehearsals could help to put people in the best possible position to receive treatment, maintain remission and support cancer patients.
The study tested 193 members of five different choirs. Results showed that singing for an hour was associated with significant reductions in stress hormones, such as cortisol, and increases in quantities of cytokines — proteins of the immune system — which can boost the body’s ability to fight serious illness.
Dr Ian Lewis, Director of Research and Policy at Tenovus Cancer Care and co-author of the research, said: “These are really exciting findings. We have been building a body of evidence over the past six years to show that singing in a choir can have a range of social, emotional and psychological benefits, and now we can see it has biological effects too.
“We’ve long heard anecdotal evidence that singing in a choir makes people feel good, but this is the first time it’s been demonstrated that the immune system can be affected by singing. It’s really exciting and could enhance the way we support people with cancer in the future.”
The study also found that those with the lowest levels of mental wellbeing and highest levels of depression experienced greatest mood improvement, associated with lower levels of inflammation in the body. There is a link between high levels of inflammation and serious illness.
Choir members gave samples of their saliva before an hour of singing, and then again just after. The samples were analysed to see what changes occurred in a number of hormones, immune proteins, neuropeptides and receptors.
Dr Daisy Fancourt, Research Associate at the Centre for Performance Science, a partnership between the Royal College of Music and Imperial College London and co-author of the research, said: “Many people affected by cancer can experience psychological difficulties such as stress, anxiety and depression. Research has demonstrated that these can suppress immune activity, at a time when patients need as much support as they can get from their immune system. This research is exciting as it suggests that an activity as simple as singing could reduce some of this stress-induced suppression, helping to improve wellbeing and quality of life amongst patients and put them in the best position to receive treatment.”
Diane Raybould, 64, took part in the study and has been singing with the Bridgend Sing with Us choir since 2010. Diane was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was aged 50. Her daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer at the same time and sadly, passed away from the disease at just 28. Diane said: “Singing in the choir is about more than just enjoyment, it genuinely makes you feel better. The choir leaders play a huge part of course, but so does the support of the other choir members, the inspirational programme and uplifting songs. The choir is a family, simple as that. Having cancer and losing someone to cancer can be very isolating. With the choir, you can share experiences openly and that is hugely important.”
Rosie Dow, Head of Sing with Us at Tenovus Cancer Care and co-author of the research, added: “This research is so exciting, as it echoes everything all our choir members tell us about how singing has helped them. I’ve seen peoples’ lives transformed through singing in our choirs so knowing that singing also makes a biological difference will hopefully help us to reach more people with the message that singing is great for you — mind, body and soul.”
Following on from this research, Tenovus Cancer Care is launching a two year study looking in more depth at the longitudinal effect of choir singing over several months. It will look at mental health, wellbeing, social support and ability to cope with cancer, alongside measuring stress hormones and immune function amongst patients, carers, staff and people who have lost somebody to cancer.
Daisy Fancourt, Aaron Williamon, Livia A Carvalho, Andrew Steptoe, Rosie Dow, Ian Lewis. Singing modulates mood, stress, cortisol, cytokine and neuropeptide activity in cancer patients and carers. ecancermedicalscience, 2016; 10 DOI: 10.3332/ecancer.2016.631
For the purposes of this article, the discussion will focus on live microphone technique, rather than studio performance, which I will write about in a later article.
Most singers start out learning their craft singing without amplification, e.g. in choirs, at a piano etcetera; some may discover their talent via karaoke nights at local bars. There will come a point when you begin using microphones more and more and it’s good to know your equipment.
One thing that is common among beginners, and sometimes with singers who have performed for years, is not holding the microphone properly or failing to utilise it in a way to get the best sonic results from the equipment.
Holding the mic round the shell may look cool but impedes sound quality and can create unpleasant feedback. And don’t blow, tap on or drop the microphone, and please please please do not swing it from the cable as this loosens the connecting parts in the end of the microphone (and can also damage the cable). Take note, rappers and cool kids!
Singing too close to the microphone creates ‘proximity effect’; a muffled sound which means your voice can get lost in the overall mix by producing lots of bass end. Experienced singers can use this to their advantage, in effect adjusting the tone of their voices while singing by varying the distance and angle of the microphone. If your voice is tired and you’re using an SM58 or similar, singing slightly to the side or above, rather than directly in front will cut out extra lower frequencies, making your voice sound a bit brighter.
TYPES OF MICROPHONES
Microphones pick up signals from different areas around the shell (and some in other regions), but it’s safe to say the best position to sing from is directly in front of the microphone shell.
If you’ve used a microphone as a beginner, or at karaoke, it’s probably a dynamic one. Designed with a mesh ball cover at one end, the dynamic microphone is used for nearly all live sound (and in the studio it can be used for recording drums, electric guitars and electric basses). Inexpensive and durable, they don’t need a battery or power supply to work (unless wireless models).
Dynamic microphones do not pick up high frequencies well and so are rarely used for recording studio vocals. However, they have a warm tone sympathetic to most voices in a live setting and are most effective when working with loud sound sources (so ideal if singing on a small stage in front of a loud drummer).
Capacitor/condenser microphones are much more sensitive than dynamic microphones, with a wider range of frequencies picked up. Capacitors produce only a small electrical signal (48v) and so require a built-in pre-amp to bring the signal up to a useable level (a factor that makes them more expensive than dynamic microphones).
Most mixing desks have a phantom power supply (which boosts the signal by 48v). Because of their relative fragility compared to dynamics and pick-up range, capacitor microphones are not commonly used for live performances (other than lead singers).
Capacitor microphones are offered in a variety of pickup patterns (see the diagram below). For a more in-depth discussion about microphones, please visit Sound On Sound.
MICROPHONE POLAR PATTERNS
The image above shows the various pick-up patterns of microphones. Most dynamic microphones have Cardioid/Hypercardioid (a unidirectional pick-up), which is ideal for live performance.
CHOOSING A BRAND FOR YOUR VOICE
This is all down to personal preference. The two most popular live brands among singers I have worked with are Shure and Sennheiser. I personally prefer Shure microphones for my voice, as Sennheiser tend to make me sound a little hissy and don’t always work well with my natural frequencies (higher spec models aside), but some other singers I know with a clearer tone prefer Sennheiser microphones.
When you go to purchase a mic, the store will usually have PA equipment set up for you to try out a few. The Shure SM58, a basic all-rounder is a good place to start, in my opinion. I was also pleased with my Beyer microphone, but found it irrepairable after dropping at a gig, so my experience is that they are more delicate than the SM58.
In a later article, I will write about EQ on the mixer and how to utilise it to achieve your best vocal sound. We will also discuss the varying mic techniques employed by lead and backing vocalists.
Melisma, in music, is the singing of a single syllable of text while moving between several different notes in succession. Music sung in this style is referred to as melismatic, as opposed to syllabic, where each syllable of text is matched to a single note. (Wiki)
Whitney Houston will be remembered as a master of “melisma”. But what is it and why did it influence a generation of singers and talent show aspirants?
The vocal technique traces its roots back to Gregorian chants and the ragas of Indian classical music.
In the modern era singers such as Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and Sam Cooke are credited with bringing melisma from the choirs of churches to mainstream audiences.
Mariah Carey’s Vision of Love was a notable use. But it was Houston who popularised it and stretched the standards by attaching complicated strings of notes to single syllables.
But the term “melisma” is still relatively obscure within the pop music industry, with the effect often described simply as “ad libbing” or “riffing”.
Some people seem able to effortlessly deliver compelling presentations to an audience. Perhaps they are completely at ease talking to a crowd, but the best speeches involve preparation and practice.
If your career or training course involves you having to present convincing content, it is in your best interests to practice, practice, practice. Whether your weak spots are choosing relevant content, or tackling crippling anxiety, the more you do something, the easier it becomes.
Nerves are not the end of the world. It’s good to be a little nervous and, providing you do not have crippling anxiety, the elevated adrenalin will help you perform better. Most people get nervous speaking in public and your audience understands that. It’s okay to acknowledge your nervousness. Also, take comfort in the fact they assume that simply by being the speaker, you have authority on your subject. They are not there to catch you out, they are there to learn and gain from the experience, so take comfort in that.
Speak from the heart, rather than from a sheet of paper or teleprompter. Written speeches lack a certain spark. If you are fearful of forgetting what you want to say, or are easily distracted, brief notes are fine, but don’t recite verbatim. You need to be able to make eye contact with your audience in order to maintain their interest.
You may wish to use PowerPoint slides; everyone likes something interesting to look at. They will help keep you on track, but limit them to 10 – 15 slides per presentation. You don’t want your audience to be more interested in what’s on the screen than what you are saying.
Slow down. Nerves have a tendency to make us rush our words, then we notice we’re not breathing properly. Oh my goodness, sweaty palms! And thinking about these things hampers us thinking about our topic. What was I saying? Everyone is looking at me! Then it’s all over.
Do some breathing exercises at home or with your voice coach in advance of your presentation. If you feel your throat drying up, take a pause, have some water, refocus. Your coach will help you learn where to leave spaces in your speech. If you constantly talk, your audience has no room to process the information. Leave gaps for the data to sink in.
Practice your speech with your coach, in front of a mirror, or record yourself on your smartphone. Do you move about too much? What other body language is distracting? Nerves can make us sway or wave our hands too much for emphasis, so work on other ways to relax or you will lose the listeners. Do you have any annoying tics or click your tongue, or say ‘Um’ while thinking. The ‘um’ comes from not preparing the thought before it comes out of your mouth. So pause, think, and then speak
Do you mumble? You might think your speaking voice is fine until you see yourself on camera. Learn to project your voice without shouting. If your audience can’t hear you properly, either in terms of volume or because you are rushing your words, they will grow fractious, and seeing them move about and mutter will further distract you.
Learn some power postures. One of my favourites is Superman Pose. It really works! Do it before you go out to your audience, or they might think you a trifle odd. Spend two minutes in your favourite power posture, and it will make a huge difference to your state of mind.
It was noted in an article on Wired.com that two minutes in a power pose—arms and legs stretched out—spikes a person’s testosterone and dropped their cortisol. (Wired)
When out of the home, this is my preferred Superman Pose, as illustrated in the Grey’s Anatomy video below. Hands on hips, feet apart, chest forward, chin raised. It’s easy to do and does make me feel like the Marvel superhero I was born to be.
If you practice yoga, you might wish to engage in this alternative version, but it is probably inappropriate for most presentation environments!
When you do it, give yourself some words of encouragement. One of my favourites is ‘Good things are always happening to me’ (Esther Hicks/Abraham). Another is ‘I am a Champion!‘ Find somewhere private to prepare, and psyche yourself up for victory.
There is nothing worse than being nervous already and then, as you take the stage, having to wait around while someone fiddles with the equipment. If you arrive early, you can check there are no technical problems, and relax and focus on preparing your speech.
Will you be using a microphone? If so, please hold it properly! Sometimes, speakers can forget about mic placement through the talk and hold it further and further away from their mouths, until it is rendered useless. Learn the best position for your microphone and do not cover the metal grille with your hand as you will limit its capacity to pick up sound and increase risk of feedback
Perhaps you will be using a lapel mic, in which case, make sure you have new batteries and test it out for feedback before the presentation. Also, wear appropriate clothing and ensure you have no jewellery banging against it while you deliver your talk.
ENGAGE YOUR AUDIENCE
The foundation for a great experience is rapport. When you begin, pull your audience into the experience, rather than reciting a long list of facts at them. The more involved they feel, the more actively they will listen and you will have a mutual exchange of energy which will help you relax.
You don’t have to ask anything that requires direct answers from them, as they may not yet feel confident replying, but giving a few rhetorical questions at the beginning of your talk will get them thinking. Introduce your topic, explain why you feel so passionately about it and why they should, too. They don’t want to hear a list of your achievements, they want to be drawn into a collective experience.
MAKE EYE CONTACT
This may feel uncomfortable at first, but with practice you will get used to it. If you have someone or several attendees there that you know, even better. Pick several kind-looking people in the audience and speak directly to them. Make sure they’re spaced out, and don’t forget to speak to the back of the room. If this is very difficult for you, pick some imaginary ones! It is fine to look down at your notes as long as you make sure to look at the audience regularly. And smile! (Unless it is inappropriate to do so.)
PROBLEM- REACTION – SOLUTION
Follow this formula to create a satisfying experience for the audience. After your introduction and overview of the topic, present your listeners with a problem. Through the middle section of your talk, give them the reaction, what transpired as a result of the problem. And then, offer them a solution.
Let’s examine the sections of your talk.
Consider what your audience already know about the subject and reinforce this without stating the obvious or losing them in technical jargon. Boredom is your enemy and you only want to make friends. Perhaps you may want to include anecdotes or a tell an engaging tale. Humans love stories. Leave the PowerPoint slides for now; you can introduce them later.
Personalise your lecture. Most topics have been talked about already, but there is only one You. By taking your listeners on your personal journey, you can give them a unique experience. Make sure this journey follows one direction. No matter how much great material you have, if you aimlessly dart from point to point, you won’t get your message across adequately and your audience will leave unsatisfied.
MINUTAE – LEAVE THE KITCHEN SINK AT HOME
Next come the finer details. This is where you can include data, but don’t overload your listeners with too much information. You cannot sum up a lifetime of knowledge in one speech. Stick to the specifics, you can always schedule further lectures on related topics. This is the section of your presentation that may benefit from your slides or a short video.
Finally, tie up the components of your presentation with a satisfying closing section. Remind the audience of the main points of your lecture, reinforce the message you transmitted to your audience, i.e. the Why of your shared journey, and then resolve the talk with a target thought for them to ponder long after they leave.
Excellent preparation will make for excellent delivery, and who knows, you might enjoy it. I wish you many great speaking engagements in the year ahead and beyond.
Great tribute singers are like method actors. They study their chosen artist and perfect their own performance. It’s not difficult to imitate other singers as long as you ground your performance in good technique.
As singers, we should always find our own style, but there may be times when you want to sound like someone else. When session singing, studios can have particular vocal styles and tones in mind, and if you can change your voice at will, it means for more work from the studio.
You might want to work a season in production shows at hotel resorts or on cruise liners, and when there are a plethora of singers performing the same tribute act as the one you are creating, you have to make sure you stand out.
As usual, I must stress the importance of being guided by an experienced vocal coach if you want a sustainable career in singing. Before you try to become a soundalike of another singer, you need to develop excellent technique. This is the foundation for vocal health, which is paramount to be a durable performer with many years left in your voice. It is also how you find your signature sound, which is essential if you want to be a memorable performer.
MEMORABLE TRIBUTE SINGERS
In order to pull off a great impression of a well-known singer, you need to listen first. Start with their big hits and listen to them many times. Break each session down into the following areas of study:
If you’re planning on spending a whole season singing an artist’s repertoire that is out of your range, forget it. Unless you transpose the music into a comfortable key, it is inadvisable to sing out of your range for more than a few gigs. If you are using backing tracks most websites offer the option to order your track in any key (if you change the pitch too far, it will distort the quality and tone of the track, so choose wisely). You will spend less time perfecting your performance if you choose an artist who has a similar voice to you
VOCAL TONE AND CLARITY
If you have any sound production experience and know your way round a mixing desk, you will be familiar with the equalizer. The EQ section allows you to add and cut certain frequencies in the sound passing through the channel, changing the tone of the signal.
Some singers have bright-sounding voices, others have warmer, lower frequencies prominent in their voices. You can learn to modify these frequencies in your own voice without touching the desk at all, but choosing the right microphone and speaking to your sound engineer, or learning how to modify the EQ section will help greatly.
What accent does your chosen artist sing with? Most contemporary Western singers employ an Americanized sound, but there are some who sing with a more English-sounding voice. One feature of their sound is their vowels are narrower. Adele and David Bowie are very English sounding singers, as is Sting. Practice singing different vowel sounds with your voice coach
ATTACK AND PHRASING
Does your chosen singer hit the beat when he or she sings the lyrics to a song or do they have a lazier placement? Do they attack the notes from a closed cord position, or employ slides and fry into the beginning of a lyric? Do they use unusual phrasing? How and when do they breathe?
Tori Amos and Alanis Morissette use interesting phrasing styles. Have a listen to them singing and you will notice how they divide their lyrics in non-typical ways. Tori tends to use less definite attack in her melodies, while Alanis’ attack is more immediate.
How loud does your artist sing? Are they a ballsy diva, or do they have a more intimate, delicate quality to their voice? Do they modify their dynamics during a song, with quieter verses and louder refrains, or do they stick to the same volume throughout?
Does your chosen artist use a lot of vibrato or sing with a straight sound? Sade sings with very little, if any, vibrato. Excessive vibrato can be irritating to listen to, and messes with your pitch control, but vibrato is something to pay attention to. It can take work to be able to switch between vibrato and non-vibrato singing, especially when you have your own natural rate of vibrato, but it is manageable. Your voice coach will give you exercises to practice.
What makes the singer’s voice distinctive? What is the main standout feature of his or her voice?
Elvis had a notable slur to his singing. Amy Winehouse used wide phonation and a jazzy style. Christina Aguilera employs a lot of melisma during her performances. Steven Tyler from Aerosmith uses lots of blues licks, ascends to falsetto, and has a raspy quality to his voice. He also changes phonation during words and phrases, as does Tori Amos. Maroon 5’s Adam Levine stays connected and attacks the notes without sliding.
Listen and define what your chosen singer does most and then practice it. Over-use it until you get it down pat, and then tone it down a little.
The key to pulling a great impression off is not just the voice, but the body language. Find the prominent features and movements of the celebrity singer you are imitating and emphasise them. Do they move around a lot when they sing, or stay relatively still? How do they hold their microphone? Do they use a mic stand? Do they play with it, or use other props during their performances? Do they sit during certain songs? Watch live videos of their shows and see how they interact with the crowd. Perhaps you may want to interact more, and that’s okay
Educating yourself in the different aspects of what makes your chosen singer’s performance can help you do a great job imitating them.
Last of all, convey emotion. This is how you best sell a performance; the audience want and need to be pulled into your experience.
First, let me say it is a personal choice to change your voice when transitioning, and is not a requirement. You may already have a voice you are happy with; if so, that’s great! However, if you do wish to develop a voice that you feel is better suited to the new you, you can do this by working at it with the right vocal coach, or even by yourself with carefully chosen video tutorials on YouTube.
Whether you are transgender or working as a female impersonator, you may want your voice to match your appearance. There is no ‘right’ tone or pitch to the female voice. It’s about what’s right for you and what suits your personality (and, to a lesser extent, your body type). Voice usually matches build and height, because your larynx and chest cavity are proportional to the rest of your physical makeup (there are many exceptions to this rule).
When you start to live as your true self, there can be times when you feel uncomfortable with the sound of your voice. This can be particularly important to you in new social settings. If you wish to raise your vocal pitch and develop a more feminine voice – if you have been speaking all your adult life in a deep voice, you’re not going to magically develop a higher voice overnight. This takes regular, consistent practice.
The first thing you have to do is listen to yourself. This sounds simple, but we are so used to hearing our voices as they are, we don’t really LISTEN. Record yourself talking and listen to any nuances in your vocal rhythm and pitch, pick out things you like, things you don’t, and get to know your voice. Be aware of your tone when speaking and singing.
You should aim for a natural sound, not falsetto high. Lots of women have low voices – mine is very low! – as low as some males, but there is a brighter tone to their sound than men’s voices. Listen to famous females speaking, particularly women with low voices. Become acquainted with the melody of their voices, how they rise and fall on certain words or syllables.
Lavern Cox (below) doesn’t speak at a particularly high pitch, but she has a feminine quality to her voice. Going too high can sound like a caricature of a female voice, and you don’t want that. You want something you are happy to live with and that isn’t tiring to produce every day. You want your voice to become natural. When you were a baby and you learned to walk, you had to focus and concentrate on balancing and putting one foot in front of the other, but now you walk without thinking about it. That is the result you should want to achieve from developing your new voice. Your age will also determine a comfortable pitch for you; our vocal pitch drops slightly as we age.
The video below features Isis King and Janet Mock in conversation. They speak at different pitches and tones. Find your signature sound and work at it. When you find it, you will know.
Practice speaking in different pitches and tones. Mimicking can help you to explore your voice and use it in ways you’re not used to. Switch to your favourite daytime soap and repeat dialogue the female characters say. How high are their voices? Do they pause in particular parts of their sentences? Do they have any particular characteristics to their voices that are their vocal signature? How is their body language?
A lot of times, people emphasise what they are saying with their hands or other body parts while speaking. Become a conscious observer of human behaviour. Listen to lots of people, sit at a cafe and eavesdrop on conversations around you. Your ultimate goal is to develop your own signature sound, but this is a fun exercise that opens you up physically and mentally to hearing your voice sound differently to the way it has always been.
If you are looking to develop your female voice solely for performance purposes, you might want to focus on soft whispery, overly-feminine voices such as Marilyn Monroe and Dolly Parton. If you impersonate a particular celebrity performer, pay special attention to the melody of their voices and body language while talking. Vocal imitation is a small part of being a great lookalike/soundalike performer.
Think higher! Focus on your voice sitting right in front of your face, in the space between your nose and lips, rather than in your throat. We call this area the ‘mask’ and speaking from here, instead of your throat or chest, helps you maintain a higher pitch with less effort by the larynx.
If you still find it difficult to raise your pitch, think higher still! imagine your voice is coming out of your third eye (in the centre of your forehead) like a unicorn horn! Imagine the sound is already outside of your body. You are not trying to push noise out of your mouth, the sound already exists and you are merely maintaining it at the right pitch.
Practice reciting poems or short proverbs, and each time you say them, take less breath before talking. You want to make it so even when you are taking a smaller breath, it is still easy to speak. Try not to speak in a false accent, unless you intend on changing your accent altogether. Just focus on the pitch; you want to sound natural.
Relax your jaw and do some siren sounds (like an ambulance) while vibrating your lips as you exhale. Keeping your jaw muscles relaxed enables you to add volume and increase resonance in your mouth cavity. Keep a light tone and say a long yawning ‘mi’ sound. Imagine your voice is at the top of a slide or rollercoaster and sliding down.
These are just a few suggestions you can start with. If you would like to work with me in developing your voice, either in Palma or via Skype, please send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org
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