Showing posts with label good singing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label good singing. Show all posts

Monday, January 9, 2012

How to sing

By and large choral societies like the City of Dunedin Choir consist of members who are untrained singers, singing for the joy of singing, and the friendship of people sharing an activity they love. Choir directors realise this and do their best to guide singers to achieve a good quality sound, but this guidance can never take the place of individual voice tuition.

There is no requirement for singers to attend professional voice tuition classes, but these days there are wonderful vocal technique resources freely available online, that singers can use to guide them towards singing better. If you already love singing, it follows logically that you will love singing better even more!

Here are some links to good quality "how to sing" resources you might find useful:

Youtube playlist of Alexander Massey's "How to Sing" series:
and his "How to Breathe" series:

Singing teacher (and Virtual Choir member) Henny De Snoo-van Breugel has created a Vocal Technique Tips site with lots of information and tips to help you improve your singing.

David Burchell (choir director/conductor) is always telling us to smile when we sing - very good advice. This is what Henny says about singing with an open throat:

"Opening your throat is not just about relaxation. There is more you need to do to give your vocal folds as much room as possible.One of the best ways to give your vocal folds room is SMILE!
When you open your throat like this, you open your false vocal folds. By doing that you allow you vocal folds (the ones you sing with) to move more freely. Your breathing becomes more effective too."
The Vocal Technique Tips website has been set up specifically for the Virtual Choir 3 project, but it is an awesome resource for any singer, and it continually has more useful content added.

Here's another interesting tip from the same website:

"There are some do's and dont's when you are suffering from hoarseness or a breathy voice:

1. Drink a lot of water!

2. Give your voice some rest

3. Do NOT use any stuff that has menthol in it! This candy may taste good and gives you the feeling that is helps your throat but it will increase the swelling of your vocal cords and the tissue around it! Because menthol dries out the tissues in your throat, these tissues will react by producing more swelling and mucus. Your voice will only deteriorate!"

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Singing Teachers

Are you looking for a singing teacher?
Not sure that you should get singing tuition?

Have a look at the NEWZATS website. NEWZATS is the New Zealand Association for Teachers of Singing.

You could email the folks at NEWZATS if you'd like a referral to a singing teacher in your area:

You could also contact Dr. Tessa Romano at the University of Otago School of Performing Arts for advice and a referral.

Private singing teachers:

Isabel Cunningham, 027 209 7926 or isabel_cunningham at
Claire Barton, 021 444 997 or claire.a.barton at

Thursday, July 15, 2010

You're sounding too darn white!

I think African music has three great attributes: rhythm, movement, and richness.

I'm going to talk about these attributes, and also going to briefly discuss a few white musicians who are almost good enough to be black. And give you what I view as their "secret ingredient" that makes them so great.

Read on...


African music - and black music generally - dances in a way that white music just...doesn't. The rhythms are interesting, catchy and live.

It's music you have to learn and know. You can't read it in a concert off the page, and expect to do it justice.

So tough luck suckers, if you didn't attend the rehearsals and take the time to learn it!

This is music that, in many cases, has hung around for a long, long time before being written down, and oftentimes the notes on the page are just a very rough approximation of how things should sound.

It's actually kind of funny, because African music can really stump white music's highly trained experts. They don't "get" it.

So you see them scratching their heads, looking at the notes, singing everythng a bit too precisely and purely - and sounding altogether too..."white".

Because that's what that "white" sound is, of course - it's a reluctance to let go, to feel, and to really grok the music on a deep level.

Sounding white is about keeping the music in your head instead of in your belly and soul.

Do I dare say it? - a white sound is never a sexy sound, because it is anchored completely in the brain. But black music can be incredibly sexy, because it embraces the body-mind connection.

No wonder rock n roll, which has its roots in gospel and african music was so challenging to the white establishment when it first started taking hold in music!


The thing that struck me when I went to my first choral concert (which was when I was in my 20s) was how stiff and bored the singers looked.

Sometimes you couldn't even see them over their scores. Nothing but a tuft of hair. If they were bald, not even that!

The choir seemed to be totally disconnected with the music they were singing.

I just couldn't get it. Like - huh?

But I totally understood why the auditorium was three quarters empty.

Think of your typical white choir - or think back to how you stood in your last choral concert - and compare it to the choir in the clip below, taken from the classic movie, The Blues Brothers.

Nothing still and stiff about this!

Of course, a lot of what you're seeing in the clip above is Hollywood fooling, but if you watch the choir in the back (purple gowns), you'll see they're moving about, getting into the music, grooving with it.

They're fun and interesting to watch, and you just know there's no way they could sing half so well if they stood still and straight with their books up in front of their faces!

Music and movement are interconnected. You cannot have the one without the other - you really can't.

Unless performers feel the music in their bodies and react to it, providing cyclical positive rhythmic and tonal feedback within themselves, they're just providing a half-hearted show.

If it were me running our rehearsals I'd have us all up on our feet, stomping, dancing and grooving to the music. You should probably be thankful that it isn't me up front!

But you can hear whether a choir is moving or not in the quality of their sound. Just have a listen to one of my old choirs singing "The Lion Sleeps Tonight".

You can tell the choir was up on their feet, dancing around - you can hear it on the recording.

And yes, the audience loved it! And yes, the choir performed to packed audiences time and again, because word got out that they'd provide a performance - not just a bit of dull sound coming at the audience from behind black folders held up high!

[Melbourne Gay and Lesbian Chorus, The Lion Sleeps Tonight]


African music, gospel music, black music - and actually some of the music we're now starting to hear coming out of maori and island culture - has an intense richness to it.

I think that part of this is definitely genetic.

I've lived in Hong Kong (Asia) and in West Virginia (USA), and I've seen quite clearly that vocal placement is genetically based, to a point.

Whether you're a soprano or alto, tenor or bass, is due to the size of your vocal equipment, and the size of your body generally. But it also depends on whether you've been encouraged to train "up" or "down".

Hong Kong and China, having smaller people generally than Europe on average, naturally tends to produce more sopranos and tenors. Smaller bodies, smaller vocal equipment resulting in higher vocal ranges and lighter choral sounds.

And in West Virginia I couldn't help noticing that the larger, more solid black men and women were all basses and altos - real, deep, glorious altos, with the kind of voices I would kill to have!

Listen to black music, and you'll hear the strength of these deep, rich voices coming into their own.

In black music, alto isn't the middle-of-the-chord afterthought. It's up front and center stage. Alto power!

Sure, you'll hear soprano over the top, and counter-tenor too - but it's never the pure, light, laser-beam Cathedral sound we appreciate and produce en masse in the West.

Instead, it's a dramatic, rich, full-bodied, totally supported, chesty, throaty, rounded sound. Supported by solid, rich, deep notes in the bass line that are thrilling and inspiring and enticing.

And I could listen to it for years!

Good enough to be black!

The final secret ingredient is conviction.

This is why Freddie Mercury was Freddie Mercury - he sang with more conviction than just about any singer that ever lived.

And yes, Freddie Mercury was good enough to be black.

Singing with conviction. Compare his singing with Brian May's opening verses. May isn't a bad singer (he's actually quite good), but he lacks the conviction Mercury has in spades. And notice the body movement of Mercury. He couldn't have sung this well sitting still. RIP, Freddie.

Elvis knew this secret, final ingredient too. Hear him singing "Amazing Grace" and you would think you were listening to a black man. A large part of his popularity was due to the fact that he managed to recreate a black(ish) sound in a hunky white man.

New Zealand's Hollie Smith has conviction in bucketloads.

She's awesome, and was in Dunedin recently. Peggy and I went along to see her at refuel. Our response: WOW.

That's my assessment of black music.

So if you think you're not getting the African music we're doing right now, you need to get up, get grooving, sing with conviction, and feel the rhythm.

Your brain might not get it, but your body will!