Singing for Health 8

Here’s another bulletin about how to make your singing, whether solo or choral, more beautiful. I have already written about the importance of bodily and facial relaxation and freedom of the breath, now I am going to ask you to join these ideas up to encourage a most important vocal concept: Legato, or ‘singing with line’.

The Italian word ‘legato’ sounds a bit fancy, but it is vital to the most lovely singing. It is all about smoothness and the linking-up of all the notes to form an unbroken line — a line disturbed as little as possible by the production of words.

One can begin just with the idea of the ‘vocalise’ — sing some tunes you know just to ‘aaaaaaah’, with a smooth, released air flow and no bumps between notes. Do this until you feel the line is utterly smooth. Now for words…

It is the words that get in the way, so how do we stop them intruding too much?

Firstly, we can do our best to prevent chopping up the ‘line’ with explosive consonants. Last time I mentioned the ‘singing’ consonants of ‘n’, ‘m’, ‘l’ and so on. You can begin by making sure that they are always sung through without stopping the breath. Now I want to direct you towards minimising the machine-gun effect of over-produced consonants.

We have all heard people talking with microphones who forget the power of the plosives ‘b’ and ‘p’, sending explosions through the loudspeakers and making us wince (almost as much as when people cough into a microphone). Now imagine that is going to happen when you sing and practice minimising them by loosening the lip tension that creates the bumps. See how little lip engagement you need to make a perfectly clear ‘b’ or ‘p’.

You can do this much more easily by thinking even harder about relaxing your face (‘tips’ passim), but here’s something new to add to your facial relaxation routine:

Lip trills and raspberries: In the USA they are ‘lip trills’ and here they are ‘raspberries’ — you know what to do! Make your lips as relaxed as possible and then blow raspberries as loosely as you can with a steady, voluminous flow of air. Aim to be completely relaxed, as though your mouth is full of dental anaesthetic. When you start singing, try to keep that feeling of looseness and total relaxation throughout!

Even more percussive are ‘d’ and ‘t’ and, to overcome the ugliness of these, you have to take ‘thinking Italian’ to a whole new level. Instead of using our usual English method of enunciating these two consonants, try doing this:

Place your (relaxed) tongue immediately behind your upper teeth. With as minimal and gentle a movement possible, use that position to create ‘d’ and ‘t’. Try singing something you know really well using this technique and feel how much smoother your singing line is.

For Advanced Singers

Consonants should always be formed before the note. In other words, each note begins with the vowel. This means that you need always to look head constantly to ensure that your organs of articulation don’t need to make sudden journeys, creating those bumps and hitches that destroy the legato line.

So, if you’re starting to sing with the word ‘Let’ as in the hymn ‘Let all the world in every corner sing’, you need to breathe well in advance, fix on the starting pitch, and sing the first note on the ‘l’ before the phrase begins and allow the ‘-eh’ to fill the first note.

If you’re starting with the word ‘Tell’ as in the song ‘Ten green bottles’, you need to breathe early and place your tongue in the ‘t’ position (above) so that the first note is filled with the ‘eh’. Word of warning! If you make that ‘t’ too hard, the pitch will wander around the note rather than be bang in the centre!

Once you find you can start songs, hymns, or whatever you want to sing in this way, start to apply this principle within the phrases. This takes a lot of work but the result will be so lovely that it will be worth the extra effort and concentration.

Thanks for reading, folks — stay well and keep on singing!