Tona De Brett's Vocal Points
Choosing A Teacher
Sing out with Tona's bona fide guide to melodic yelling
A good many years ago I was invited to a party where all the guests were expected to "sing for their suppers". Quite fun really, and one can never tell what sort of entertainment to expect.
At this particular party there was a young man who sang not one, but three songs, each one more painful on the ear! After he had finished he sought me out (I had escaped to the kitchen after the first song!) He looked me in the eye, and said "There! And I've never had a lesson in my life!" To which I could only reply "Really?"! He was perfectly content with the way he sang, and certainly wouldn't have believed me if I'd told him that his tone was nasal and his tuning was constantly flat. Fortunately he was not aspiring to be a professional singer.
There are many people who tell me that they won't take lessons because they're afraid that their style may be changed. Not true. A good teacher will help you to develop your individuality and will encourage you to create your own style. After all, your greatest asset is that there's only one you! You may sound a little like one singer or look similar to another, but you will never be exactly like anyone else and, though it's a good idea to imitate singers you admire from time to time, don't slavishly copy them.
It is impossible to study singing all by yourself. You need to find a teacher whose judgement you respect and whose ear you feel you can trust. After all, you can't hear your own voice as others hear it. Yes, you can record it and listen to the machine, but the machine can't advise you on how to improve tone quality or tuning, whereas a teacher can and will.
Personally I like to give at least one trial lesson to a prospective pupil before he or she makes any long-term commitments. It is difficult to decide whether you will be able to learn with anybody after just a consultation. I think a trial or sample lesson is necessary for both pupil and teacher and I would be wary of schools or teachers who demand payment in advance and before having given a trial lesson. You should expect to pay the full fee for such a lesson; this is money better spent than if it were a 'consultation fee' for half an hour's chat!
Your teacher should be able to show you how to do exercises and how to use the necessary muscular support; you mustn't be surprised or embarrassed to be grasped round the middle or punched lightly in the diaphragm! Singing is a physical art! Never be afraid to ask questions. You need to know why you are asked to do this or that, and if you don't understand the reason don't simply let it pass, ask "Why?"
A frank and open relationship is essential between pupil and teacher. All sorts of emotions are involved in singing as I am sure you will understand, and your teacher should be the sort of person in whom you can confide and can happily trust with your confidence.
If you live in, or near to a large town or city which has an adult education centre, you may well find excellent tuition in singing classes. A class situation can be very useful for the beginner. It's not nearly as expensive as private tuition. It's good fun doing breathing exercises and vocalising with other people and it is very interesting and informative listening to others perform and hearing the help and criticism given to them as well as benefiting from the opportunity to sing in front of an audience. If you can sing confidently before a super-critical audience of fellow-students and the teacher, Wembley will hold few fears for you! You may also find that the teacher would be happy to give you private lessons.
This month you'll find two more exercises. Exercise one is a simple downward scale similar to exercise two in last month's article. This time sing each degree of the scale for four slow beats on "oo-ih-aa". Take a breath after each note and use firm pressure from the lower abdomen to increase the amount of sound. This is logical since "oo" is naturally a small shape, "ih" is a little bigger and "ah" is biggest of all.
In exercise two every note is bounced on the diaphragm; use a light "uh" as in "hut" and concentrate on getting each note exactly in tune. This is a difficult one. Play it over several times before you sing it, so that you know exactly what you're doing! I hope to tackle the subject of "words" next month. Many a song is ruined for the listener because the words are inaudible, when of course they should be immediately comprehensible. More tongue twisters next month too!
Tona de Brett gained an ARCM in teaching at the arts centre at Dartington Hall and has taught at the City Lit and other adult education establishments. She now teaches solely at home and her pupils have included Green, Morrissey, Curt Smith, Strawberry Switchblade, John Lydon, Edwyn Collins, Martin Fry and Liz Frazer. For information re vocal exercise cassette write to Tona including an SAE at (Contact Details).
Feature by Tona de Brett
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