28 Days to Diva: Day 2 – Bel Canto Bootcamp (#28daystodiva)
I never directly mentioned the need for a solid vocal technique in last year’s series because I figured it was a no-brainer. Divas around the world have been studying vocal technique with their personal teachers and in master classes for years. However, a voice teacher’s assertion of having to start over – building technique from the ground up – has felled many a diva. Do not fret. It is very likely that singers know what healthy singing sounds like and maybe even feels like. Likelier still, singers have had someone watching them like a hawk for any signs of bad technique. With that, put yourselves through the paces with a Day 2 Bel Canto Bootcamp!
Take time in the practice studio today, right now even, to do a technique double-check. (I’m imagining some sort of “discount double-check” move for singers…) How do you feel when you sing? Head to toe, which muscles are too tight? Is your breathing low and elastic? Ponder the total system of singing from support to resonance. What is working and what isn’t? It is as simple as that in words. Now comes the difficult part: changing the negative or failing aspects of your technique. It is less likely that you will be able to do it on your own. You can learn a language on your own. You can practice repertoire on your own. You need a master to help you with technique. Which brings me to an important side note for this post. Find a reputable teacher that understands vocal technique and is able to explain it to you. Unfortunately, not everyone that sings with solid technique is able to teach other singers how to do so.
The Bel Canto style of singing is often regarded as the healthiest style of classical singing. In its narrower definition it is considered to be the style of singing attached exclusively to the operas of Rossini, Donizetti, and Bellini and throughout the bel canto era (1805 to 1840). In this case, I’m using bel canto as a marker for healthy vocal production. Even if you are singing verismo opera, or even Wagner, most voice teachers will still espouse the tenets of bel canto technique such as:
- A clean onset of the voice
- Seamless, legato production throughout the entire range
- Demonstrated agility and flexibility in the voice capable of singing fast division and ornamentation
- A balanced timbre of bright edge and depth/roundness (chiaroscuro)
- Avoiding breathiness in the tone
After you have done your own technique double-check, you should consult your teacher. Ask for his or her opinion on your technical strengths and weaknesses. Remember yesterday’s post when I mentioned that you can make 28 Days to Diva as challenging as you desire? This is a challenging moment. Listen to both the strengths and weaknesses. Together discuss how your technique could improve and what steps you will need to take to get there. Perhaps your teacher has even more resources or etudes that you could help you focus.
Such singing requires a highly refined use of the laryngeal, respiratory, and articulatory muscles in order to produce special qualities of timbre, evenness of scale and register, breath control, flexibility, tremulousness, and expressiveness. This kind of singing requires a different vocal technique than “natural” or untrained singing, and it also differs from both choral singing and the many forms of popular singing nowadays referred to as “vernacular” styles. -Bel Canto: A History of Vocal Pedagogy by James Stark
It does not hurt to go back to those touchstone texts we may have come into contact with during undergraduate or graduate studies. If these are new to you, even better! Be a sponge of technical information. Having a baseline knowledge will help you put into practice the different exercises your teacher provides. Even if you are a singer that prefers imagery in lessons, understanding the anatomy and science of the voice can only help. Divas, put those library cards to work!
Here are some suggestions for further study:
- On the Art of Singing by Richard Miller
- Training Soprano Voices by Richard Miller
- The Technics of Bel Canto by Giovanni Battista Lamperti, Maximilian Heidrich, Theodore Baker
- Bel Canto: A History of Vocal Pedagogy by James A. Stark
- Singing: The First Art – Dan H. Marek
- Coffin’s Sounds of Singing: Principles and Applications of Vocal Techniques with Chromatic Vowel Chart by Berton Coffin
- Historical Vocal Pedagogy Classics by Berton Coffin
- Singing: The Mechanism and the Technic by William Vennard
The necessity of having a superior technique is obviously a no-brainer. Therefore, doing a little bel canto bootcamp every so often can be a catalyst for you to reach your diva goals more efficiently. Be open to the teachers you trust when it comes to their suggestions. You can always go back (and probably will revert at times) to the technique you have had. Try etudes and exercises with optimism. You may find something you didn’t know you were looking for. Go. Explore. Conquer.
Do you have any more suggestions for good technical resources? Do you have an “it happened to me” technique story? Share them in the comments below.