Singing 101 – a quick overview

Almost anyone can sing – as long as your lungs and vocal cords operate reasonably.  This is not BS; even if you can just squeak along with the radio, or sing in the shower, a bit of technical instruction (and confidence) will make that sound better.

SingingCartoon

In fact, singing has been proved to be very good for a huge range of people.  It’s often recommended for asthma/lung disease patients and it’s been shown to help rehabilitate people who have had strokes.  It even helps a little with the memory issues suffered by dementia patients.  Singing exercises your heart and lungs, produces endorphins in your brain and even uses both sides of your brain at the same time, as the activity that makes your vocal cords work uses a different bit to the production of the words, which come from the communication centre. Music in general improves the mind – as this article from Upworthy will show.  It has a comedy style to it, but it’s based on real science.

http://www.upworthy.com/heres-why-musicians-have-better-brains-and-its-pretty-incredible?g=2&fb_ref=Default

There are reams written about how to sing, and nearly as many ways of singing, so I’m not going to go into detail here.  The simplest way to summarise singing is that there is one way to produce a beautiful sound and a million different ways of teaching people how to do it.

There are things about your voice that you can control, and things that you can’t.  The things you can control are the way you breathe and therefore “support” the sound, the way you produce the words and the way you communicate a song to your audience.  The things you can’t change significantly are the basic tone (timbre) of your voice, and the pitch of it.  This is a result of the way your throat and resonating chambers are made, so this is all down to DNA. You can definitely enhance what’s there, but the sound you make when you sing is as individual as a fingerprint.

Some people are just blessed with beautiful, natural voices, and the teacher’s job is to enhance and develop it.  Some have a great basic tone, but other faults, but they can still be turned into great singers if they put the work in.

The basic sound Adam makes is a high tenor (what a classical musician would call a tenor leggiero).  You can tell he’s going to be a tenor when he talks, as he has a light speaking voice.  Light voices can never produce the colossal tone of a singer who does grand opera, as their bodies just aren’t made that way.  Light voices will never sing over a symphony orchestra unamplified, they will get swamped and you won’t hear much of them at all.  However, what a light voice can do is make sensational, stratospheric top notes.

As human beings, we seem to be more turned on by the higher frequencies produced by singers; the soprano who can sing the Queen of the Night (Mozart) will completely slay an audience if she can execute it well.  The music is spectacularly written and is near the top limit that a female voice can produce.  It’s an instant box of fireworks and will be memorable every time.  The same applies with male voices – in opera it’s the tenor who can do the high C’s who will have the audience fainting in the aisles.  The same principle applies with pop and rock music – it’s often the high notes that grab our attention.  For the performer, there is a danger to top notes; will you get the note cleanly, or not?  I think subconsciously we are aware of that danger and that’s what can make it more thrilling.

I know you’re not really here for classical music, but this clip from TV posted by Turlom Csatornaja is the operatic equivalent of what Adam does with his high notes.  The Queen of the Night is really, really pissed by this point in the opera and she is trying to incite her daughter to kill someone.  It’s… fierce.  Give it a try if you haven’t come across it before.

Light voices are usually more naturally even than heavier voices.  If you listen to some people sing, you will hear a sort of “gear change” as they go through their range.  This is because our larynxes move as we sing – if you sing up a scale and watch your throat in a mirror, you will see your larynx rise.  Of course, it can’t rise for ever because our throat structure stops this happening, so at a certain point, it will drop back to its resting position before starting to rise again.  Technically, this is known as the “passagio”, but often it’s just referred to as a “break”.  Our ears like even tones, so one of a singing teacher’s major jobs is to even out those breaks and produce a joined-up sound.  One of the very attractive things about Adam’s voice is that it’s even throughout; our ears will automatically like a cohesive sound more than one that is peppered with gear changes.

However, there is another really important facet to a good singing voice, and that is vocal colour. This is a bit more complicated and relates to the way music works in the world of science.  The amount of space from your vocal cords to your lips will vary with every person, and the size and shape of this space will dictate the basic colour of your sound, and how much you can alter or colour that sound. You change tone colour physically by minutely changing the size and shape of the space.   However, when you’re singing, you don’t think about this as a physical thing – your colour the sound with your mind, and by using the words that you’re singing.  This is where singing can get a bit “woo” as an awful lot of it is mind over matter – you think what you want to do with your voice, and then your body does it.

The best singers are (usually) the ones with the biggest range of vocal colour, as they have more connection with the words – and naturally the drama – of the song.  Therefore a singer who engages with the words that they’re singing is more likely to colour those words well.   This is a particular skill of Adam’s, and again it’s down to that music theatre training.  As he has done stage productions (and also has worked hard on performance skills), he engages with the music and we get the full-on impact of those Queen power ballads.

You get a precursor to how Adam managed Queen’s “operatic arias” with songs such as Soaked.   I love Muse – their music is like Queen – The Next Generation to my ears and the vocal style really suits Adam.  This is another song that has more than a little hint of opera about it, and you can hear the range of vocal colour he has to use.

That really is the briefest “singing 101” that I can do – I’ve just condensed 30+ years of vocal training into just over 1000 words!

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2 thoughts on “Singing 101 – a quick overview

    • Hi Cynthia

      I accept the challenge! (anyway, I think it’s a suitable badass question)

      I haven’t been following Adam for long, but there seem to be pics of this rather interesting phenomenon all over the internet! It can happen to women too but for obvious anatomical reasons it’s not visible and the audience are never any the wiser.

      I think there are probably two causes; one physical and one mental.

      Physically, one of the things that can trigger involuntary sexual arousal can be stimulation of the nerves near the bottom of the spine (it’s one of those “hip bone connected to the backbone” things…) When you sing, you engage an awful lot of the muscles in your abdomen and pelvic cradle – and exercise increases blood flow. The extra blood flow prods the nerves into action and you get – a Twitter meltdown!

      However, the mental reaction is actually a bit more interesting. Some people simply get off on performing; the sense of power from it is incredible and there are all sorts of different facets that make it a powerful experience. Some of it is related to how much you’re engaged with the music you’re singing; some of the Queen songs that Adam has been performing on the QAL tour are intensely sexual, and to add to the words and music he’s communicating, we’ve also seen him dancing and flirting, with the other band members and also with the audience. When you’re in that position as a performer, you’re utterly in control and when you’ve got 12,000+ people eating out of your hand, that is going to be one hell of a turn-on. Even though Adam’s had image issues in the past, he covered this with his costumes and outrageous behaviour, which would have made him feel safe – or even invincible. And, he said on a TV interview a few days ago that he’s “starting to like what he sees in the mirror”, so maybe he’s starting to realise – and enjoy – that he’s desirable.

      On a mental level, engaging with music is a tremendous, whole-body experience. In my opera days, I very rarely got to play femme fatales (I just wasn’t that kinda girl), but did a lot of wicked queens. Being evil (or even fierce) onstage is a fabulous experience, much more fun than being a fainting princess. There’s such a thrill from hitting a high note perfectly and watching peoples’ mouths drop open; for me that wasn’t a sexual thing, but when you’ve performed well it’s an immense high and you want to jump around punching the air for hours. I can see how that would extend into sexual excitement.

      Hope this answers your question! xx

      Like

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