Jazz Singing is a priceless educational process, in which the singer is getting to know his/her voice, appreciates its multiple expressive potentials and learns to use it as a musical instrument. Meanwhile, he/she discovers the magic of jazz… More
Singing is one of the most archetypal human forms of expression whether these might have been vocalizations and yodels or more sophisticated improvisations and melodies along with words.
However in our modern culture, people, especially those living in big cities, scarcely use this means of expression.
Modern lifestyle along with any type of complex or “blocking” it causes in the first place, also deprives the humans of this very important and inherent way of expressing emotions, mood relieving, balancing the psychism, etc.
And here I would like to add something. It cannot certainly be regarded as a genuine means of expression, this kind of “singing” (being promoted during the last few years through TV talent shows) that is urging the candidates to “express themselves”, thus very often being over-exposed, aiming for the profit (from the TV channels’ point of view) and for the so-called fifteen minutes of reputation, on behalf of the participant.
So shallow it is, unfortunately, the importance given to the act of singing, on behalf of the cheap bearers and transmitters of modern human civilization.
Fearing that I might have slightly drifted away due to my comment above, I would like to return, deepening a little more on the subject of the psyche of the modern humans.
I will only add one more important factor that affects the formation of the personality and the psychological background of a person. It is the crucial environment to which a human relates… and of course, this is the family, most of the times.
It is not within my field of knowledge so I will not extend to such an analysis of the sociological and psychological elements of modern life and human evolution, I just want to place some arguments about how significant the mood or psychism is for the singing process, whether it concerns the professional singer or the person that just wants to express himself/herself with authenticity and sincerity.
The psychism is inevitably connected to the singing process, in my opinion.
For example, when someone generally is aware of the deeper emotions and in accordance with them, then the sound of his/her singing voice can be calm and free. His/her singing has a free-flowing energy and the voice fills the space.
The listener subconsciously perceives this specific “quality”, feels the “balance” of the performer (regarding what kind of emotion he/she wants to express) and surrenders with pleasure in the listening experience.
On the contrary when the mental state of the singer is negative or when there are insecurity and lack of confidence, all these are reflected in the sound, which becomes dull. The song does not have the required energy and there is a feeling that the body is not responding to the process. The flow of the breath seems to “slack”… and along with it, the voice and the expressive power are diminished, too.
The listener subconsciously realizes that something is not working properly, but usually cannot decode and interpret the cause of this discomfort.
The voice is produced in the body. Thus, since any mental or psychological condition directly affects the body, it is clear that it also influences (to a greater or lesser extent) the singing voice.
I emphasize the phrase: “to a greater or lesser extent” because the human mind has the ability to recognize, understand and suspend these psychosomatic symptoms that affect the function and performance of the voice (from the technical and interpretative point of view) during the singing process.
Therefore the unceasing quest for mental balance and accordance with emotions on behalf of the singer is of great importance!
The authentic and honest expression through singing is priceless. For that very reason, this specific “contact” with such an experience is pleasurably overwhelming for the singer who will convey it but also for the listener that will receive it.
Exactly like any other field of knowledge, music (in its learning process) depends largely on the role of the teacher.
Elements such as stimuli, information, tips, technique of the instrument, general musical knowledge, the cultivation of aesthetic criterion, the «opening» of the («thirsty») spirit and its redirection towards «wealthier sources», the love and devotion to music, the call to the inner quest for self-knowledge and liberation of the self and the inspiration that the student seeks, are highly necessary for music guidance, which needs to be provided profusely and selflessly by the music «teacher».
In jazz music, all the above become even more necessary and urgent since the personality and spiritual growth of each musician are catalytic elements for the value of his musical entity and creation.
Having thus identified the main features that the path to the music knowledge should contain and have assessed the enormous contribution and importance of the teacher-mentor, let’s look at how can one find the «appropriate teacher.»
As we’ve said before… «In the beginning, there was sound» (read the related article on sound), therefore the first thing we perceive (consciously or unconsciously) when we hear a musical instrument, is always its sound.
The dominant element that should lead the student towards the appropriate teacher is obviously the sound of the particular teacher and in the case of jazz singing, it’s the sound of his singing voice.
The first and quite infallible criterion is the «identification» of the student with the sound of his/her teacher. Out of pure instinct and without any musical knowledge or developed evaluative criteria, the learner is largely able to perceive the beautiful sound in a voice. Learning to sing properly is a difficult and complex process that relies enormously on imitation… so it is very easy to realize how «vulnerable» the student can be regarding the «information» that his/her ear perceives. Therefore it is crucial that the teacher has an open, clear, free and natural sound because it’s the only way to ensure that the auditory stimulus, that the student will be called to imitate, is technically the most beneficial for his/her own vocal development and maturation.
A second criterion, that the student should keep in mind in his/her search for the right music teacher, is the training and experience of the teacher, that he/she will eventually choose.
It is particularly useful for his/her evolution, to take all knowledge (technical, musical, etc) from a methodical teacher who has the indispensable inventiveness to «transmit» it in the most effective way. And of course, it is essential for the student to be «inspired» by the teacher-mentor… therefore it is highly necessary that the teacher can actually do (in practice) everything that he/she teaches in theory.
In very general terms… it is not possible to theorize about the groove, the phrasing, improvisation, etc and not be able to improvise after all!
And the third and last criterion, which is directly connected to the previous one, is the presence of the teacher on the stage, in this case, the jazz scene. Especially in jazz music, which is constantly evolving, the teacher should be an active musician, playing this music, studying, continuously evolving, in order to meet the constant demands and challenges, as a teacher and as a performer, too.
The role of the teacher is to guide the student towards the knowledge and skills that will help him/her develop into a complete musical personality with confidence, maturity and openness. To instil honesty, aesthetics and sincerity to the student, in order for him/her to become a musician with self-awareness, who appreciates the virtues of other musicians (and his/her own, of course) and enjoys playing music with his/her colleagues.
Above all, what the teacher must impart to the student, is the selfless love for music.
Throughout its recent history, evolution and contemporary route, jazz music has been identified with improvisation.
One point in which jazz differentiates against other musical idioms (that also share the element of improvisation) is that improvisation in jazz is not a static “snapshot” nor is a purpose.
We could say that improvisation is the very language of jazz.
The jazz musician deals with a musical piece, that constitutes the medium, which he/she uses as a motivation in order to express himself/herself, to expand his/her boundaries and imagination, to take risks, to be creative and of course to get into a musical dialogue with the other musicians!
One could compare this situation to the testing of a rope walker, who keeps his balance, has been practicing with discipline on the technique but is not able to predict what exactly is gonna happen on that rope, during the show!
The musical score (usually a jazz standard) is a kind of “canvas”, on which the musician will almost recompose its components (phrasing the theme, reviewing its harmony, improvising its melody, changing its time signature, etc), will interact with the rest of the group and will improvise, having mastered the piece’s form, while respecting its current arrangement, style and context.
As with every other instrument, the voice shares the same field of action.
The jazz singer must always be alert, being able to rhythmically move with freedom within the form of a piece (phrasing the theme), changing-improvising the melody, having the ears wide open while keeping a constant conversation with the other musicians and improvise with imagination and inventiveness, having the musical context and style of the piece, always in consideration.
In jazz singing, the voice is a musical instrument.
And in jazz music, the significance lies also on how… not only on what.
Jazz is a common universal language, that throughout its history has proven its power to evolve, to bring musicians together (who have the unique ability to play and communicate musically, without even knowing each other beforehand!) and of course to unite civilizations from every part of the planet, under the inspirational force of continuous artistic creation.
The cornerstone, the centre of gravity or however you call the mask in the process of singing, becomes immediately apparent how extremely important it is for the quality, power and homogeneity of sound.
The control of support in breathing (read more at the article about breathing), while the sound finds an “open space” within the oropharyngeal cavity (read more at the article about the mouth) and the targeting of the voice towards the resonator of the mask, show us the right direction for mastering homogeneity, volume and dynamics in our vocal instrument.
The activation of the mask while singing and the support of the diaphragm in order to hold back the breath, are the two main elements that a singer is first trained in and they are the ones that “collaborate” in order to achieve homogeneity and power (i.e. the ability to project the vocal sound) at a primary stage. Almost at the same time and as the connection and cooperation of these two is improving, there comes the mouth, playing a significant role too, with the contribution of the dome in the oropharyngeal cavity and of the good articulation, in order to integrate the best possible result in the sound production of the vocal instrument.
If the sound is not guided towards the mask, then the result is a voice that’s weak and blurred, has low frequencies mainly, it’s lacking in “presence” (power and projection) and is incapable of maintaining a steady, resonant and homogeneous sound throughout its range.
An even worse consequence of the above is the gradual fatigue of the voice that results in hoarseness, pain and the development of callus or even polyp on the vocal cords.
It is essential that the singer understands how to project his/her sound onto the mask and learns to recognize when it is succeeded and when it’s not, in order to develop a strong personal criterion, which will protect him/her from the above-mentioned risks.
I’d like to emphasize at this point, the enormous importance of complete understanding the sensation of the resonator of the mask, because it is very common for a singer to believe, that he/she has “enabled” the mask, just because he/she manages to produce a nasal sound. Unfortunately, things are not so simple.
The activated mask throughout the range of the voice ensures homogeneity of the sound, since the high notes are given strength and volume (with the assistance of suitable air pressure through the support of diaphragmatic breathing) and the low notes maintain their presence, while the mask “uplifts” and “cleanses” frequencies, that have the tendency to weigh down.
Finally, when you join all three elements Support – Mouth – Mask, then the most open sound can be achieved, full of vibrating energy, volume and dynamics.
One more factor that affects the quality of sound of a voice and the articulation is the mouth. The singer has to learn how to articulate properly and to be able to produce a homogeneous sound (read more at the article about the sound).
This is a goal that can be succeeded with the collaboration of the three elements Breathing – Mouth – Mask.
In this occasion, the mouth is the main element for the attainment of good articulation, of volume and of the homogeneity of sound, with the contribution of the mask, which will be analyzed in the next article.
It is very important that the singer studies articulation in front of a mirror, where he/she will be able to observe, control and manage the opening and shaping of his/her mouth accordingly. Vowels should be pronounced clearly, thus the mouth (along with all the other muscles, “working” together) should be flexible, free, “expressive” and also relaxed. The next step for achieving the “clear” vowel and the “rounded” sound is the creation of the called “dome” in the oropharyngeal cavity. This can be achieved by understanding the sensation of lifting the soft palate, therefore watching the uvula going up.
This “dome” constitutes an opening, an expansion of the space inside the oropharyngeal cavity and it is the factor that gives “volume” and enriches the voice with harmonic frequencies.
All the above, with the simultaneous operation of the support of diaphragmatic breathing (read more at the article about breathing) and the targeting of the sound towards the mask (for which there will be an extended analysis at the next article), show us the right direction for mastering homogeneity, volume and dynamics in our vocal instrument.
The first and most important chapter, regarding the “opening” of the sound of the voice, is breathing.
The great importance of breathing in singing, as in any other wind instrument, is absolutely understandable.
It is even more important though, to realize the great value of diaphragmatic breathing in comparison to the “short” (shallow) breathing.
Diaphragmatic (deep) breathing is a natural process of the human body and its indisputable benefits can be found in any research on the subject. Despite all that, people rarely use it in their daily life, except for some cases such as during their sleep, when the body is totally relaxed. Most people adopt a “short” and shallow respiration, which does not oxygenate their body efficiently and it is completely inappropriate during the singing procedure.
“Waking up” our natural deep (diaphragmatic) breathing is a necessary condition, in order to relax our body and understand the meaning of the terms “support” and control of breathing while singing.
The activation of diaphragmatic breathing can be perceived through special exercises, that are essential for mastering support and control of the “air pressure” required for singing.
What’s most important to keep in mind is that the air inhaled in order to sing is not different in quantity and calmness from the air we need for our natural respiration. The inhalation of a larger amount of air has utterly opposite results and negative consequences, regarding the natural function of breathing while singing and the procedure of support and controlling the airflow.
So it’s quite obvious that breathing-supporting is one of the three elements that continually interact with each other, in order to master the most “open” and free vocal sound:
Support – mouth – mask = control – articulation – power
The three elements for mastering vocal technique.
Introduction to the concept of the sound.
The first thing we perceive (consciously or even unconsciously) when we hear a voice singing, is always its sound. And it is a matter of taste and of other conscious or again unconscious factors, whether we’re gonna like it or not. Regardless of all that, there are in fact some objective and undisputed elements, that constitute a beautiful voice.
Terminology such as tone of the voice, timbre, homogeneity of sound, range and volume are very well known and prove the great importance of the phrase ” beautiful voice”.
How can someone combine all the above elements, successfully?
Τo what extent can someone improve his/her vocal tone (timbre)?
A well known and acknowledged otolaryngologist, Alfred Tomatis has proven (in his book “The ear and the voice”), that each person produces the kind of sound, that his/her ear perceives. In other words, according to Tomatis, the ear is responsible for the kind of sound we produce with our voice, when we talk or when we sing.
Despite all those things, the quality of musical experience, stimuli and environment, where the body is free from any stressful factors, can boost the voice’s most natural and free sound and help it produce its greatest possible range and volume.
And finally, become a powerful vocal instrument (making the best of all its range, volume and tone), which will allow the singer to acquire all the musical, expressive and improvisational skills, in order to be able to perform with musicality, self-confidence, freedom and pure joy.
After all…jazz singing means to be able to use your voice as a musical instrument.