Singers, Know Your Instrument!

A letter to my younger singer self would tell me to do so many things- Learn your opera languages! Learn to ballroom dance! Audition for everything! Learn more repertoire (even if your voice can’t sing it yet)! Practise every day! … One thing I didn’t really have on my list was read about and truly understand your instrument.

What do I really need to understand? Surely I just open my mouth and sing!*

Oh… I still have so much to learn. And thank goodness I’m broke and on maternity leave, or I wouldn’t have ended up in the library looking for something to feed my mind. Two must have books for classical singers have come into my hands, courtesy of Auckland library, but I wish I’d read them 10 years sooner- Singing in Style by Martha Elliott and The Owner’s Manual to the Voice by Rachael Gates, L. Arick Forrest and Kerrie Obert.

Singing in Style is the perfect read for someone looking for a cheat sheet for interpreting a composer’s intentions, particularly with regard to embellishments/ ornamentation. As a singer of Baroque opera and oratorio arias, this is really useful. While I was preparing my pieces for my DipABRSM and while preparing to sing ‘Piangero la sorte mia‘ by Handel (just because) I really needed to know what kind of ornamentation was appropriate to add in Da Capo Arias, and now I know that you can go as crazy as Natalie Dessay does in the link.

The Owner’s Manual to the Voice is great for a bunch of reasons

1. gory medical pictures of the voice in action

2. breaking down medical terminology about the voice

3. dispelling myths about how the voice works

4. Reminding singers everywhere to drink more water!

5. Informing (scaring) singers about what can go wrong with the voice and why, based on actual science (instead of old wives tales passed from one singer to the next), e.g. did you know that the trachea (wind pipe) is only wide enough to fit an index finger down it? (I always pictured it 3 to 4 times as wide!)

So, yep, that’s about all I had to say about that. Reading books is good.

*  = My long list of singing teacher’s will kill me for implying that’s all they taught me, especially given how much singers have to overcome that stereotype! Now I’ll have to write another blog post thanking them for making me the enlightened singer I am!

About Alison Armstrong

Alison Armstrong BMus./BEd. (Queensland University of Technology), Dip. ABRSM (Performance- Singing) I have trained to teach Music (Elementary, Middle and High School) and Drama (Middle and High School). This is my 7th year as a teacher.
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6 Responses to Singers, Know Your Instrument!

  1. Laura Lamere says:

    Hi Alison – I love this post and will re-blog it! Would you give me your permission to post it on as well? I recently posted an article written by a voice teacher at UMass – I’d love to get your thoughts:

  2. Laura Lamere says:

    Reblogged this on Laura Lamere and commented:
    I’m happy to share this expert’s musings on shat she would say to her younger self. Also included is a brief review of The Owner’s Manual to The Voice – great for singers!

  3. Yep. That’s fine. Reblog away.

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