Posted by Jeremy Fisher on 10/20/2013 to Teaching and performance thoughts
Students from music college or dance college often carry odd memories with them. Part of my job as a vocal and performance coach is to find out what beliefs about singing the client has (see Webinars 1 and 2 for full details of our diagnostic list).
Today's singer had been told that, as a young high soprano, her belt voice would be from the A below middle C (A3) to the D a ninth above (D5), and that people just didn't belt any higher.
Sorry, but that's enough to make me spit right there.
NO-ONE belts at the A below middle C. Not even basses. This is a misunderstanding of what belt is.
I'm afraid it became obvious that this choice piece of misinformation came from a classically trained (and biased) teacher - the sort you find occasionally teaching in a musical theatre dance school and who doesn't see the need to use anything other than their old classical training.
What you end up with is a large bunch of confused graduands who are unprepared for the rigours of singing in Musical Theatre, and with totally unrealistic ideas of what their voice can or can't do.
Back to today's client. Because she’d been told that she must be belting at the middle F (F4), she was overweighting her voice and using some strange dark resonance to try to get more thickness to the sound. Result? A self-fulfilling prophecy. She had been told she couldn't belt above D5, so she couldn't.
Now I've worked with a lot of voices like this - clean, clear and bright. In this case the singer was very comfortable singing legit, with notes up into the stratosphere.
This type of singer tends to have a speech quality that is neater than a heavier voice, and without the punch. The speech quality will go quite happily to C, D or E5 a tenth above middle C without much effort.
And if she can't do that, she’s usually using too much fold mass, too big a resonating space or too low a tongue and larynx in an attempt to "push chest voice up".
So, five minutes into the lesson it became clear very quickly that this soprano's belt voice actually STARTS at the D a ninth above middle C and goes on up. Within minutes of being given exercises appropriate to her voice type, she was belting D5, and went on to belt the G5 (an octave and a half above middle C) without even realising where she was.
The result was a much easier, more appropriate, more holistic sound that she felt she could sustain, and one she felt was more ’her’.
Once she’d got over the shock!
So here's the rant.
First of all, know your voice types. A small, bright, young soprano in her early twenties in a slim, small body is NOT going to be belting until AT LEAST the C above middle C if not higher.
Second, even if she’s got amazing super Fs and can trill around at the top of the stave, she still needs to be able to sing much of her repertoire in a thicker fold mass or a tilted medium-thickish fold in the middle range for her casting. So it's no use ignoring it and just working on the top notes. Again.
And one last thing. She's not going to be producing the thick dark sound of an Idina Menzel, so don't give her Pirate Queen or Defying Gravity to sing.
Even if you think she might look good in green.