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Tona De Brett's Vocal Points

Article from International Musician & Recording World, August 1985

Due to popular demand the swinging singing tutor is back with her own series

So you want to be a Pop-star, do you? Don't let's be modest, why not a megastar while you're about it — it's quite understandable. You sit with your feet up watching the latest videos, and you think to yourself "I could do that! With a bit of presentation I'd be just as good, probably better!" And from there it's an easy step to dreaming about being rich and famous with hoards of screaming fans following you around!

Well, there's nothing wrong with dreaming. Maybe you've already taken a few steps towards your goal. Perhaps you've got a group together with yourself as the lead vocalist. Or are you setting about becoming a superstar with nothing more than a handful of lyrics, a weird hair-do and a burning ambition to top the charts as quickly as possible? If this is so you're in for a nasty shock! Singing is hard work and you need tuition just as much as any instrumentalist does.

Let's assume, for the moment, that you are gifted with a pleasant voice, a good ear for pitch and a natural sense of rhythm. You are fortunate and certainly have a head-start over those poor souls to whom singing does not come naturally. However good your natural voice is though, it is always possible to stretch its range and improve the quality when you understand the amount of physical effort that is involved. Doing what comes naturally will get you a fairway, but learning how you do it and why it happens will get you a great deal further.

I often hear amazing stories about my pupils' studio experiences. One young lady had been singing happily with an amateur group once or twice a week. The group was heard by a trendy entrepreneur who swept them off to make their first single, promising that fame and fortune would certainly follow. Well, the instrumental backings were soon recorded, and so for my young lady the big moment came when she was to record the vocals. (Remember that her singing experience had been limited to a couple of evenings a week after work.) Into the studio she went at 11.00am one fine morning and was not released until 7.00am the next morning, by which time she couldn't even speak, let alone sing! The nervous strain had been unbelievable, the producer had no understanding of her vocal capabilities and these factors, coupled with a totally untrained voice utterly unused to long hours of singing, left her voice wrecked for more than three weeks.

I met her after this awful fiasco. She was still troubled with a sore throat and her confidence was nil. Now, supposing she had been an athlete and had decided to enter the London Marathon. She would never have dreamed of entering after running only twice a week. She would have watched her diet, she would gradually have built up her training programme until she was superbly fit and in the right frame of mind for the event. Running is natural; running professionally is not. Singing is natural, singing professionally is not.

"You must take yourself and your voice very seriously"

You must take yourself and your voice very seriously if you are going to sing successfully and happily. Of course you can belt songs out for a while, but it honestly isn't worth treating your voice badly. Your career won't last long and you'll have continual problems with laryngitis and sore throats, you may even end up by developing nodes, or nodules, on your vocal chords. If a guitarist breaks a string it only takes a moment to fit a new one. If a singer develops nodes on the vocal chords it can be a very long, frustrating and painful time before he is able to sing again. It may even be necessary to operate, and it is unlikely that the voice will ever regain its former quality.

How much wiser therefore to study, and prepare the voice properly before subjecting it to the rigours of professional life. Over the coming months I hope to be able to help you with your training programme. Next month I shall discuss the importance of personal tuition and of finding the right teacher. I shall also begin to explain about breath control, the very foundation of the singer's stock-in-trade. No amount of so-called style or tricky singing can ever replace secure control of the breath. The feeling of confidence and power it gives you is tremendous! I confess that I am always exhilarated when I find myself singing longer phrases than my much younger pupils!

You can begin training right away. Cut out smoking, eat sensibly, and begin to get yourself into condition for the next session.

Singing by the light of nature is fun, singing by the twin lights of art and nature is, oh, I don't know! Just about the greatest feeling in the world!

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 a personal reply write to Tona including an SAE at (Contact Details)

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Publisher: International Musician & Recording World - Cover Publications Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.

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International Musician - Aug 1985

Donated by: James Perrett

Feature by Tona de Brett

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