Guest Blogger: Terri Brinegar, author of Vocal and Stage Essentials for the Aspiring Female R&B Singer.
There has been an abundance of singing competitions on TV ever since the advent of “American Idol” over a decade ago. And I think it’s just great! Singing is a source of joy–even non-singers love to sing in the shower, sing in church and with family. No wonder those TV shows are so popular. And who doesn’t love to hear a great singer sing a heart-felt song?
I guess that takes us to the question of “What is a great singer?” I suppose this is a question similar to “What is beautiful”? There of course are very many differences of opinion. Consider this: In the Middle Ages, a great singer certainly wouldn’t be what you or I consider to be great today. Times change and opinions change. And some people never change–our parents think great singers are the singers from their generation, and might just think that your favorite singers can’t sing worth a hoot! Right?
Well, just as “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” great singing can be in the ear of the listener–ha!
But I have to say it’s more than just an opinion. There are some qualities that can be defined as “great” especially as we define it today (not like the monks would define it in the Middle Ages, or your parents for that matter). Here are a few things that we can put on the list:
Technique–that is, studying with a teacher, learning the in’s and out’s of the voice and how it works, learning to use your instrument (and yes, the voice is an instrument) to the best of its capabilities, practicing to strengthen your voice, striving to reach new heights (and lows) vocally, stretching your abilities. If you can’t study with a professional vocal coach, learn from books and CDs – there are plenty of books and CDs on vocal instruction (such as mine), and although it may not be quite as beneficial as one-on-one private instruction, there is much you can learn from reading and listening and applying technique offered in books and CDs.
Emotional Expression–putting your heart and soul into your singing. No one wants to hear a bland, emotionless singer – boring!! I’ve sometimes wondered why certain singers have made it big, when they weren’t great singers to begin with. Take Janice Joplin for instance–she’s not a technically great singer, but she just oozed emotional expression. She put her heart into her singing 100% – in every single note! She held nothing back, which really is like exposing one’s inner self. To be emotional in your singing, you must truly be connected to the song and FEEL it. If you can’t feel it, then pick a different song! If you’re bored, then the audience will be too…
Listening–yes, your ears are just as important as your voice (there I said it!) If a singer gets on stage and over-sings (or as I like to call her – a “melismaniac”), then it seems that she is just singing for her own benefit, to hear herself sing, which is really very selfish! Remember, it is your job as the singer to help people to connect to the music, to feel what you’re feeling, to get drawn in to the power of the song. It’s really not about YOU…Keeping that in mind, if you use your ears, you learn to listen, to learn to give-and-take, to work with the band, to let others shine, to allow SILENCE in a song. Do you realize that silence can be the greatest emotional expression in a song? Listen to Aretha Franklin sing “Dr. Feelgood.” She allows a TON of space, which creates emotional tension and release. It’s not all just in your face. We all like the suspense of “what is she going to do now?” Singers who over-sing and use too many riffs and fill every hole in the music get boring, there’s no suspense because we as listeners know exactly what’s coming: more notes! Learn to be a giver to the song, nurture the song–it wants to be coddled and treated with love and affection–not trampled on by a thousand notes!
These are just a few of the basics of what makes a singer “great.” But of course, tomorrow there could be a whole new set of things–it constantly changes!
I guess the most important thing is to sing from your heart, love it, and put your passion into it.
In Vocal and Stage Essentials for the Aspiring Female R&B Singer Brinegar shares with her extensive stage experience, her success as a bandleader to some of the greatest musicians in the world, her skills as a musician and songwriter, her training in classical voice, and her years as a vocal coach. Brinegar believes a strong foundation of vocal technique is necessity to success in any style of singing. She is probably one of the few teachers with both a classical background and years of stage experience singing blues and R&B. While there are many books on technique, few, if any, have been written with Brinegar’s broad and comprehensive take on the contemporary music industry.
Onstage and Backstage podcast from Hal Leonard is available on iTunes and Libsyn. Each episode authors and their guests have a chat about the topics of their books. Today, Terri Brinegar, author of Vocal and Stage Essentials for the Aspiring Female R&B Singer sits down and chats with Nashville singer-songwriter Joanna Cotten.