Oscuro, Chiaro and Belting

Weekly Teaching Tip – May 26, 2015
by Dean Kaelin

Question #1: I usually use an exercise called Gu-Gu-Gu- Ma-Ma-Ma or Nei-Nei-Nei- Ma-Ma-Ma – Ga-Ga-Ga to train mix voice/ negotiating passagios with the patterns 8-5-3-1 8-5-3-1. Could you recommend me another similar to develop this function, with similar patterns and similar consonants/vowels functions? I would like your suggestions for exercises that help achieving the chiaro-oscuro sound of bel canto. Do you work with exercises separately to achivee the chiaro and the oscuro separately and then equilibrate it or together at the beginning?
 Thank you

Answer: If I can get a singer directly into the mix without exaggerating the “clear” (chiaro) or the “dark” (oscuro) sound I will do this. Most singers can find their mix using the “bubble lips” or other “double resistor exercises on the long scale. Then the trick is to gradually move the singer towards singing a song (moving to vowels and consonants that the singer will need in the songs) without falling out of this place. I try and help the singer find consistent airflow, consistent resistance and a centered vowel. Usually when they find this they are in a good tone and in a good Mix and are able to move through their bridges smoothly and easily. Then we gradually move to other vowels and consonants while trying to keep all of the vowels in the same, centered place as possible.

However, occasionally the singer will have problems and I will need to exaggerate one or the other of these sounds. If they need more of the oscuro “dark” sound I use what I call “hooty” sounds for this, exaggerating roundness in the mouth and a lowered larynx. And if I need more of the chiaro “clear” sound I will exaggerate the “nasty” sound. nays, etc.

Basically, this is what my whole book is about, how to get singers into a mix and keep then there as you move to a song. So what exercise I use very much depends on what the singer is doing and what is missing in the voice. It is important to think of the mechanics of the voice and give exercises that address different issues that the singer is having, such as high larynx, wide vowels, reaching for high notes, letting go of vocal cord closure, etc. The exercise you use should address whichever issue the singer is having. There are several very good videos about these things on the IVTOM website.

Question #2:
What’s for you the Belting technique? I always hear opposite things about that. Another question that I’m a little bit confused is about cover and vowels ajustment. I always have to use both together? When should I use one and when should I use the other? When in the scale is the ideal for a tenor to start adjusting the vowels into the schwa sound? Thank you for the helping! Thanks!!!!

Answer: Belting is really just another word for singing with power. So belting is not a bad thing if it is done correctly. It is more of a chest voice (TA) coordination, but still should be done in Mix and not just in trying to pull the chest voice higher. However, many that teach a Belting technique are simply teaching yelling and it will be harmful to the voice. The key to singing strongly (belting) without yelling is in the vowel. Some people call it “cover”, some call it “vowel narrowing”, etc. The key is that if someone is belting with wide vowels, usually the larynx will rise and there will be too much pressure on the voice (F1/H2 tuning). If the singer belting will keep the vowels rounded, narrowed or centered, they can sing with a powerful sound, but it won’t fatigue the voice or injur it and the singer will still be able to move through their bridges into their higher notes (F2/H3 tuning). Normally this narrowing or “cover” will have to occur by at least D4 in the male voice, (and Ab5 in a female voice when singing pop/rock, and even earlier (E4) when singing classical), but I encourage singers to keep a centered vowel all of the time, then you don’t have to worry about making an adjustment. The vowel is in the right place to get through the bridge (centered place) all of the time.

When many singers try to “belt” they end up using too much pressure trying to get a higher vocal cord closure and they limit the air. This causes “pressed phonation”, the sound becomes strained and it is not healthy for the voice. Good singers always keep the air flowing through the vocal folds and keep a relaxed jaw and tongue, even when singing aggressively. Keeping the vowel centered also encourages the TA and CT muscles to work together and keep smooth transitions between the registers, even when singing aggressively.

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