Magic Choral Trick #389 3 Fast Acting Tips for More Musical Singing

Although I’ve written about all of these before, I thought it would be useful to describe them again in the context of creating a more musical performance.

The development of musical artistry takes a lifetime, but there are some shortcuts. Like these…

The Propellant Dot 

For more musical lift in the sound, a greater awareness of pulse and a sense of musical meaning that drives the song forward.

Although I originally created this phrase to apply to dotted quarter notes it also works beautifully with half notes. Not only does it create ‘musical lift’ on the second pulse in both the dotted quarter or the half note, but it also cleans up synchronization issues in any half note at the end of a phrase.

Here are my suggestions to my singers:

– love the pulse on the dot

– more emotion on the dot

– open the vowel, the heart or the mouth cavern – just open something on that second pulse. I’ve taken to calling it the mouth ‘cavern’ because the image is so evocative, and discourages singers from just dropping the jaw.

I found that if I simply said “Give me more on the dot” my singers thought I wanted more volume. There was a tendency to bear down on it, creating unwanted tension – especially amongst my super achievers. Though a slight lift in volume is a by-product, that’s not where I wanted their attention.

Because this creates more rhythmic awareness, I find that the eighth note following the dotted quarter is more likely to be sung in time and less likely to be inappropriately accented. However, I still occasionally have to remind my singers to sing that eighth note with the mouth in a completely neutral relaxed state.

The Propellant Dot has proven very easy to teach to all my singers in all of my groups, and the musical result has been almost instantaneous.


The Whole Back End

I’ve always spent a lot of time on clean vowels, but perhaps even more was spent getting my singers to execute diphthong resolutions together. And even when the diphthong was turned well and together, I found that the result sounded a little contrived. In addition to that, at a time when I wanted my singers to remain emotionally connected to the lyrics, their brains were working overtime remembering exactly which and how many vowels made up the diphthong, or the triphthong.

Yes, in a perfect world all of my singers would go home and drill and drill the warm up exercises on this. But life intervenes and not all the singers can get that work done. And for diphthong resolutions there needs to be 100% buy in for the result to be clean.

I came up with a very simple and elegant fix.

Target vowel……………………..Whole Back End of the word, sung briefly, on the cut off or attached to the next word.

For ‘night’ it would look like this. Nah………………………….ight

‘Home’ would be Hoh…………………………..ome

‘Name’ would be Neh………………………..ame

In each case the target vowel is reiterated as it would naturally be spoken as part of the diphthong resolution. To prevent an accented, clipped release I tell them that the back end of the word is their last chance to love that target vowel. It still does take a little drill, but much less than the hours I’ve spent on drilling diphthong resolutions that had no emotional connection to the lyric.

I find this helps my singers’ brains stay freer to think and feel the emotion of the song.



Cello Bowing

After telling my singers about the drag effect of rosin on a cello bow’s movement over the string I had them mime bowing their own cello, with their right hands, feeling the isometric pull across the string as they bowed in each direction.

Then I introduced them to down bows – the bowing used for strong beats, from left to right – from the frog of the bow to the tip. And to up bows – for upbeats, from right to left – from the tip of the bow to the frog. The essential thing is that they needed to keep ‘feeling’ the contact of the bow on the string at all times.

After they’d sung and bowed a musical phrase a few times, they were very responsive when I used the gesture as part of my directing.

I would suggest having singers experience the physical sensation of ‘air bowing’ for themselves before using this as a directing technique – perhaps in warm up. I often use this in rehearsal.

Cello Bowing is great for legato line, for sustaining vocal integrity, for feeling the strength of a downbeat or the up bow pull towards the next downbeat. It’s also a great gesture for indicating a phrase that I want carried over to the next with no break or breath.

I find that if I ‘air bow’ as if I’m really feeling the drag of the rosined bow across the strings my singers intuitively understand the legato line, and react to it without me having to say anything.

About janetkidd

I've been waving my arms in front of choirs now for more than 35 years - and these are descriptions of all the very best things I've learned. I direct a Women's Competitive Barbershop Chorus, a Men's Competitive Barbershop Chorus, a Med School choir, and for a few weeks each year - Big Choir (about 100 voices) - which performs at an annual fundraising concert. Hope at least some of these Choral Magic Tricks will be useful to you - and thanks for reading. Janet

Posted on March 17, 2020, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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