Artistic and creative students are often left stupefied when faced with all the Greek symbols and equations you find in your normal science or maths classes. The same is true when the scientifically-minded venture into classical music or even just certain aspects of music and the arts in general.
After all, a lot of the terms and vocabulary used are hardly the kind of things you’ll hear every day. A lot of them even seem like a foreign language!
Surely these musicologists are just being pedantic, right? Of course not! In fact, there’s a good reason they need to use all the pretentious-sounding words!
After all, every single musical instrument requires different techniques and skills in order to be played. The same can be said when you learn how to sing. When it comes to the world of singers, one thing is far more important that you’d first think, timbre.
Whether you dream of becoming a tenor or a soprano, or want to be successful as a contemporary singer, you can’t ignore how important timbre is.
So What is Timbre?
This is a word that often comes up when we speak about sounds since it can refer to any sound made by anything.
This means that you can use timbre to talk about the sounds instruments make as well as the sounds the human voice makes (which is also an instrument in its own right). Make sure you don’t confuse the term with the idea of tessitura when you first learn to sing as this is the natural range the voice can make, in terms of notes and octaves.
Tessitura is used to distinguish bass, baritone, tenor, alto, mezzo-soprano, soprano, etc. And during your vocal training, you'll be encouraged to sing in one of these ranges.
Timbre, on the other hand, is the character or quality of a musical sound or voice rather than its pitch and intensity.
In short, it's the type of sound that allow us to identify a singer or an instrument. For example, both a guitar and a piano can play middle C but it's the timbre of each of these notes that help us know when the piano’s playing it and when the guitar’s playing it. The same goes for voices. This is also how you can tell different pianos apart. The timbre contains all the audio information we need to tell one instrument from another and identify the unique aspects of every sound.
Pitch, vibrato, amplitude, attack, these are the main elements that make up an instrument’s timbre. Timbre allows us to experience all of humanity since every single voice is unique with its own personality. This concept is a fairly recent notion which was developed in the fields of organology and pyschoacoustics (with the harmonic analysis of sounds) and orchestration in general.
Timbre was understood to be related to the colour of voices and instruments. If somebody’s already said that you have a beautiful voice, you’ve already taken your first steps towards being a successful singer. Learning how to sing in tune is the next step.
Modern singers sometimes talk about vocal colour when referring to their voice. A person’s speaking voice is usually their first vocal colour and it usually will mix low and middle notes at the same time.
Three Tips for Finding Your Singing Voice
Remember that, for both men and women, a singer’s timbre and tessitura will change over time. The change is generally towards the lower end of the spectrum rather than upwards.
While it’s generally understood that your timbre occurs naturally (due to your larynx, pharynx, glottis, and vocal cords, etc.) and changes over time, you can work on your voice with vocal exercises as well as towards changing your timbre.
You can see this in action when impressionists impersonate other people by changing their voice. While you’ll never be able to fully change your timbre since it’s so complex, nuanced, and it changes over time, you can get a better knowledge of your timbre in order to better manipulate it. It’s not the easiest task and it will require a lot of work.
There are three things you should know if you’re looking to attempt such a challenge.
1. Identify Your Range and Tessitura
You’ll need to determine the lowest note you can reach as well as the highest note you can reach. Of course, in order to work out your range you need to consider the notes you can make perfectly with minimum effort in your chest voice. Then you can see which notes you can reproduce approximately with your head voice so you know which notes you’ll have to work on.
This work will be incredibly easy if you’ve already got perfect pitch or an understanding of music theory and are able to push yourself to limit of your abilities. If this isn’t the case, you should consider enlisting the help of a quality vocal coach.
2. Take Singing Lessons
Learning to sing requires a lot of hard work on both your singing and the vocal techniques used. You’ll also want to avoid picking up bad habits and ultimately wasting your time. When it comes to singing properly, there’s not much better than a quality teacher.
A singing school or music school is a great place to go to find contact details for teachers. However, don’t forget that you can also use Superprof to find tutors near you or tutors who offer private singing tutorials online.
3. Sing Frequently
There are always plenty of opportunities for you to sing whether you’re in the shower, doing the laundry, or out and about.
In addition to working out your vocal chords, these exercises will also help you to familiarise yourself with your timbre, and work on your repertoire. This is especially useful during adolescence when your singing voice changes.
Make sure that you keep track of all the work you’re doing so that you don’t overdo it or burn out. Don’t forget that you should always do warm up exercises before you sing, too. Singing teachers can give you useful singing exercises and techniques during your voice lessons in order to sing correctly without straining your voice.
The Top 5 Tips for Improving the Quality of Your Vocals
1. Improve your Range
Your vocal range includes all the notes you can comfortably perform and will change over time depending on the work you’re doing.
Maria Callas was far from being content with being solely defined as a soprano. In fact, settling on a given range and believing that it’ll never change can hurt your future prospects.
Working on scales and practising melodies at either extreme of your range is one of the best ways to improve. As the old saying goes, practice makes perfect.
You should also try to learn how to perform the notes you can in your head voice in your chest voice.
2. Work on Your Posture
By its very nature, singing is a very physical activity and human physiology plays an important role as well as your posture and your attitude. You should always remain relaxed since stress will negatively affect your performance and your voice.
Additionally, you should stand up straight whenever you can. If you have to perform while seated, you should try to sit up to the best of your ability. An orthodox approach to music will make all the difference when it comes to the volume and how your audience perceives you.
3. Improve Your Breathing
Constant pressure is the best way to modulate your voice without too much difficulty. Finally, when you sing, you have to breathe in a very particular way. Focus on diaphragmatic breathing. There are a number of exercises you can do to help you control your breathing in this way.
Without using your diaphragm, it’s impossible to fully project your voice and you can end your dreams of ever becoming a soloist.
4. Work on Your Elocution
Articulating well makes the difference between a good singer and a bad one. Every singer worth their salt needs to be able to pronounce every vowel perfectly. Articulation exercises will help you better pronounce the lyrics and also help you when it comes to projecting your voice.
This will help you to sing with presence without tiring yourself out. Singing and public speaking have more in common that you’d first think. Public speaking involves pronouncing words clearly and opera, for example, has songs in a number of languages including Italian, German, and French.
Learn more about online singing lessons here.
5. Choose Your Repertoire
The songs you choose to perform are important when it comes to your future as a singer. You should choose the songs best suited to your tessitura as well as those in the ranges you’re working towards. Regular vocal coaching can also help you avoid overexerting yourself and losing your voice.
You’re not the first person to embark upon this journey, after all! Find out other ways you can work on your voice daily.