Monthly Archives: May 2016

What makes a good performance?

By | May 5, 2016
Audience reaction

What makes a good performance?

I recently gave a presentation to the NHS on the subject of Performance Anxiety, as part of a wider day on Social Phobia.

We discussed the physical responses to stress (irregular breathing, constriction etc) and simple solutions to deal with those triggers.

But the part that caused the most debate was when I asked them to discuss what makes a good performance.

I gave them two scenarios:

1. A technically secure performance which gets a lukewarm audience response.

2. A technically insecure performance which gets a highly enthusiastic audience response.

(Normally there’d be a correlation between technical facility and audience reaction, but these are extreme examples, designed to clarify a point, so indulge me…!)

The question is: which is the best performance?

Most people on the course plumped for 2.

The correct answer is 1.

The reason is that you can influence audience response, but you can’t control it.

control the controllables

Taking a concept from Sports Science, as a performer you have to control the controllables. And in the case of a singer, those controllables are all the technical issues that you have to manage, the ‘tricky corners’ you need to negotiate in every song.

An audience is a collection of individuals, each of which has their own issues and agenda. Why give them the casting vote?

As a singer, you have to be self-reliant, knowing what you did well and knowing what you can do better, regardless of feedback.

It’s like you have a mental ‘tick list’ that you define before the gig and go through as part of your post-performance review.

And if you tick all your boxes and the audience don’t like it? Stuff em!

What is ‘Mix’ anyway?

By | May 2, 2016
What is 'Mix' voice?

What is ‘Mix’ voice?

‘How do I sing in the mix?’, ‘What is my mix?’, and ‘How do I find my mix?’ are fairly common questions I get asked by singers.

But what exactly do they mean?

I suppose the first thing to say is that every Voice Quality is a ‘mix’ – a combination of structures that contribute to the overall sound. Whenever we sing, we – consciously or otherwise – manipulate those structures to give us specific sounds.

But the terms ‘Mix voice’, ‘Mixed voice’ and ‘singing in the mix’ seem to refer to something specific, so it’s worth analysing what those terms mean.

Although ‘Mix’ is a very in-vogue term and may seem a fairly recent development, it actually dates back to the 1800s, when it was described by Manuel Garcia (the ‘father of modern voice science’). At that time it was confined to Classical singing and was known as the ‘Voix Mixte’.

As I’ve discussed elsewhere, the vocal folds vibrate in distinct ways (what we refer to as ‘Laryngeal Mechanisms)’, each of which gives a distinct starting point to the Voice Quality.

Of course, resonance effects have a role to play, but the basic mechanism needs to be controlled initially at the level of the vocal folds, so to keep things simple(r) for now, we’ll focus purely on what the vocal folds are doing in the ‘Mix’.

Why is it important’?

The transition in the middle of the range of an untrained singer is very noticable – often described as a ‘crack’ or ‘break’.

While this may be desirable in certain styles and songs, most of the time we want to disguise the transition. And it’s certainly a great skill for any singer to acquire.

What are the ‘ingredients’?

Volume and tone are influenced heavily by subglottic pressure (SGP) ie how much pressure builds up below the folds on each vibration.

This can be altered by controlling the mass of the vocal fold (Laryngeal Mechanism) and the way that the folds are held together against the breath (Medial compression)

I like equations, so here’s one for you:

SGP = mass x compression

1. Laryngeal mechanism

Wherever you are in your range, your vocal folds are vibrating in a specific way. Lower in the range, the full body of the vocal fold will naturally be involved. Higher, the body stops vibrating.

These are described as M1 and M2.

The thick, deep mass of M1 naturally resists more breath than the thinner mass of M2.

Try clapping with your hands normally, then with just two fingers to get the effect.

2. Medial compression

The vocal folds can be held together at the midline with more or less effort. One of the natural actions of the larynx is to close completely when you swallow. Using these compression muscles in a controlled way allows you to manipulate the amount of SGP that builds up, and therefore influence the tone and volume.

How to find the mix

Imagine that your M1 sound is ‘Red’ and your M2 is ‘Yellow’. Around your transition, you should be looking for an ‘Orange’, slightly less than ‘Red’, slightly more than ‘Yellow’.

In other words, around the transition, you need to reduce the intensity of your M1 and then increase intensity as you switch to M2.

To do that, you decrease the medial compression / breath pressure in M1, increase them in M2.

Time for another equation:

M1- = M2+

How to strengthen your mix

The best exercise is an old Classical exercise called the ‘Messa di Voce’ which is essentially sustaining a note and changing the dynamic, going from pp to ff and back down to pp in a very controlled way.

Practice that exercise on low pitches in M1 and high pitches in M2 and you’ll find that you have many shades of ‘Orange’ that you can utilise as you go through your range.

Do that successfully and you’ll completely disguise the fact that your voice has changed gear, giving you a technique that sounds the same from bottom to top, with a full range of tone and dynamics throughout.

And who wouldn’t want that?!