“ I know
you have a beautiful voice but ... what are you saying?”
words from my new coach stunned me! Carlos Noble was the
brilliant pianist at The Horn, a night club in Santa
Monica, where I had been “discovered” ... which resulted in
my being hired by the Sacramento Music Circus for my first
professional job, two days later. We had been cutting an
audition tape for the Lawrence Welk show and I was just
doing what I thought I had learned from listening to Robert
Merrill’s recordings, singing full and strong.
“You won’t be able to fully appreciate what I am about to
tell you, for about five years but ...” and he began to
unload the overly “vocal” aspects of my singing and take out
some of the “weight” I was making by an excessively involved
The effect of his patient and insightful prodding was that I
began to think of a song as part of a conversation,
sustained speech on pitch ... just talking to my audience,
nay, communicating with the audience. I began to enjoy
singing in thoughts, instead of just singing words at my
audience, or (gasp) over its head. I listened anew to
Sinatra and Gordon McCrea, both of whom sang effortlessly,
and began to hear what Carlos was asking of me, in them.
(You might visit the Audio/Video page and listen to “Spring
is here” on The Tonight Show ...”)
It took a while to learn the technique, but it has also
served me well in all the other music I sing, from Grand
Opera to folk tunes ...
general: Buy a flat tape recorder from Radio Shack–$40–it
has a three-inch speaker, all the better with which to hear
yourself. Tape everything you sing! When just doing vocal
work, stop after each phrase and play it back, several
times. Are the vowels all in the same spot, spinning
upandforward in the honk? Did all of the Ah’s, Aw’s and Oh’s
fall out of line? That happens when the tongue drops ...
don’t do that!
Oh, what a world we live in ... now. Not so, when I was
learning all of this stuff.
Norelco came out with the first cassette tape recorder,
around 1963 ... and I could tape every rehearsal I did. The
first taping was the beginning of Act One, of La Bohème,
which I sang and direct for Duluth Opera. I was astounded at
how the tenor nearly blew me off the stage. It made me begin
to really open my throat, for the first time, after having
already sung leading roles at the NYCO ... for three years.
Before that ... it was an event to be taped ... since we
didn’t the luxury of being able to work on the voice, with
the true sound that came back. (Remember the first time you
heard yourself on a tape recorder? “That’s not me! I don’t
sound like that!” Well ... yes you do ... to your audience!)
Tape yourself ... you will immediately begin to sing better.
Smooth it out, sing through the line on an Aw vowel, no
words, keep the sound going. When it sounds better on the
tape, now softly add the words, without disturbing the flow
of the line, connecting vowel to vowel, easily, no sharp
corners ... keep the sound moving through, way over there
generous with your time in front of the mirror! The tendency
is to look at yourself, admiringly, then ... the moment you
start singing ... your eyes drop like a rock, out of focus,
in the direction of the parquet, as you mentally go inside,
to listen to yourself. Learn to listen to the real sound YOU
ARE MAKING, WAY OVER THERE, IN THE MIRROR! Then check it on
the tape recorder. Is that the sound you thought you made as
you sang that phrase? Wottayamean ... it doesn’t sound as
good? Welcome to how to work on your technique at home ...
in a productive way!
2. Really look at yourself ... and see! See, for instance,
that frown on your wrinkledbrow–put a piece of scotch tape
on it and it won’t do that. Do you see the wild distortions
your mouth makes, as you are “pronouncing your words?”
A quiet, slightly long and narrow mouth, gives better focus
and keeps the sound uniform. Watch how you maybe trying to
sell a song ... by “smiling,” even though, quite often the
lyrics don’t support the smile.
(Andy Williams said, “I realized that all of these years, I
was smiling, and I didn’t have to!)
Look at, seeeeee how you tighten your jaw and close your
mouth, every time you sing a closed vowel, trying to raise
the tongue where it mush be, to sing the E, Ih or A. You
will be amazed at what you will sometimes find yourself
3. In particular, watch your mouth ... the words are
essentially made inside the mouth, the tongue making the
vowels and the bulk of the consonants and the lips being
used to color and keep the tone focused, while the vowel
spins in the “honk!”
4. Learn to instantaneously–crisply–center the pitch, of the
vowel of the first word, of every sentence, as you lift and
grow through each phrase–by raising your chest, a bit. The
lifting and growing draws the support up and forward–upandforward–as
you move somewhat aggressively, flexibly through each
phrase, lifting every high note ... and the last note of
every phrase. (Lift grow ... pop rest!)
The lifting keeps the breath flexible and alive ... and
you’ll rarely find yourself running out of air!
Re: previous Tips on breathing/support.
5. Learn to grow on the important vowels in a phrase, making
them just a tad longer than written, then making up the
slight time to the next important vowel etc. The vowels, of
these signature words, are the signposts, that establish,
identify each key word to the audiences’ ears–they hear more
clearly–rather than having a sentence essentially sung, in
one dynamic, void of individual characteristics, that
delineate the meaning of the phrase–out of the monotonous
For example, try:
“The hiiiils are aliiiiive, with the sooooound of muuuuusic
With sooooongs they have suuuuug, for a thooooousand
yeeeeears ...” Lifting and growing each vowel as indicated
I hope you get my drift ... Lis-ten to my “Cabin scene,”
with marvelous Ruta Lee, from the “Unsinkable Molly Brown”
and “The Girl that I Marry,” from “Annie Get Your Gun,” on
the bottom of the Audio/Video page.”
See ya next month ... unless you call or send me an Email.
KILL A COLD IN FIVE DAYS
- A BIT MORE
- MORE SUPPORT