Vocal Training: Melisma

Melisma, in music, is the singing of a single syllable of text while moving between several different notes in succession. Music sung in this style is referred to as melismatic, as opposed to syllabic, where each syllable of text is matched to a single note. (Wiki)

Whitney Houston will be remembered as a master of “melisma”. But what is it and why did it influence a generation of singers and talent show aspirants?

The vocal technique traces its roots back to Gregorian chants and the ragas of Indian classical music.

In the modern era singers such as Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and Sam Cooke are credited with bringing melisma from the choirs of churches to mainstream audiences.

Mariah Carey’s Vision of Love was a notable use. But it was Houston who popularised it and stretched the standards by attaching complicated strings of notes to single syllables.

But the term “melisma” is still relatively obscure within the pop music industry, with the effect often described simply as “ad libbing” or “riffing”.

Read full article here at the BBC.



Taking Care Of Your Voice & Related Singing Tips: The Basics

I’ve read some articles online that advise singing in the morning, which I wholly disagree with. The voice takes a little longer to wake up than the rest of you and so should be gently coerced into cooperation for a few hours. Afternoons and evenings are best if you want full range, power, and control of your sound production.

My voice is at its best evenings, or at the very least, 6 or 7 hours after waking. If I have a session booked at the studio, I make sure it’s after 2pm (at the earliest, I prefer to sing after 5pm) and I warm up for an hour before arriving so little time is spent preparing when I’m in the vocal booth. I also make sure I’m hydrated in advance. This is especially important when working with paying clients and it’s professional to nail the recording in a couple of takes, rather than spend all afternoon giving them a mountain of wavs to sift through.

I refrain from eating several hours before singing as a lot of foods play havoc with my vocal cords. I’ll sip water all day to hydrate my body as the first place to suffer from dehydration is – you guessed it – the vocal folds (and other non-essential muscles). If I’ve neglected to hydrate properly all week, I’ll be running to the bathroom every 30min for the first hour or two, but then my body adjusts.

Some tips for improving your voice quality:

  • Rest your voice before performing. Get a good night’s sleep, refrain from unnecessary talking prior to singing.
  • Refrain from eating for a couple of hours before singing. Not only does the body divert its attention away from the larynx to the process of digestion, various foods cause phlegm or dryness in the throat.
  • Reading a book exercises the vocal folds; though you are not speaking aloud, the folds are approximating with every word you read and so being unnecessarily taxed. Don’t waste your voice reading before singing!
  • Put your head over a bowl of steam to clear out the nasal passages.
  • Citrus fruits such as lemons can be useful when you have a cold, but too many can dry out the vocal folds, so I tend to avoid them when singing in good health.
  • Drink adequate fluids. As a singer, you should be drinking plenty of water. Carry a 2l bottle with you wherever you go and sip regularly. Stay away from coffee, tea, juice, milk.
  • Avoid mucus-forming foods and drinks. Juice creates phlegm and milk is the worst liquid offender. Cheese, chocolate, no no no.
  • Back to water, room temperature or warmer only. No iced drinks! What does ice do? It numbs. That’s why we put it on injured limbs. Iced water is going to freeze up your vocal folds and expose you to injury by using bad technique that you can’t feel.
  • Boiled water left to cool to tepid is best for clearing out the throat. You get used to it.
  • Alcohol dries out the vocal folds and is best avoided when singing.
  • Smoking, like alcohol, robs the vocal folds of their natural lubrication. Not only does it dry the throat out, but can also cause extra phlegm production, especially in the morning, as the body attacks the chemicals in cigarettes as a foreign invader.
  • Excessive salt intake also causes dryness in the larynx.
  • Avoid aspartame at all costs (commonly found in diet sodas, other diet foods and drinks, and in chewing gum).
  • Snack foods such as nuts that leave behind remnants in the throat after eating should be avoided before performing, as they can lead to excessive clearing of the throat.
  • Try to avoid coughing. If you need to clear your throat, practice a near silent ‘Huh!’ sound instead; think of how you would puff air out to see your breath form in a cold room.
  • Spices should be kept to a minimum, however, I find chilli powder and cayenne pepper can be useful when recovering from a common cold or other phlegm-related problems.
  • Another thing to consider for female performers is your monthly menstrual cycle. The body is dehydrated during your period and it affects the voice. When you know your voice well, you’ll notice this and even be able to pinpoint when your cycle is due from this alone! Opera divas never schedule concerts during this week for this reason.
  • General fitness. It is much easier to sing when you are in good shape. Cardio exercise helps with breathing and weight-bearing activities that develop the muscles will help to displace the effort your body puts into singing, leading your vocal folds to focus on producing sound. Posture is very important. Consider taking a dance class, Alexander Technique, or Pilates to improve your posture and flexibility.
  • The more relaxed you are when singing, the better you will sound. You should not be out of breath after singing a full song. When my voice is in excellent condition, I can perform for two hours or more without needing a rest break, though I prefer to split sets to take a loo break after drinking all that water!

Finally, when you practice is all down to a matter of preference. As you start feeling comfortable singing and get to know your voice, what it likes, how it best performs, you can decide what time of day is best for warming up and doing your exercises. Mornings don’t work for me at all. I think I breathe through my mouth during sleep and when I wake up, I can barely croak, let alone sing higher than Middle G! Schedule lessons with a coach from noon onwards.

However, if you’re booked for a session with a professional studio, you sometimes have to work with their availability. If you know in advance you have to sing earlier than you’d like, then prepare by adjusting your bedtimes leading up to the booking accordingly so you can get up earlier and give the voice adequate time to wake up.

If you take singing seriously, you’ll have the added bonus of being an extremely fit and healthy person, and look like one, too! This is not an extensive list, by any means, and I will go into the points listed above, and others, in greater detail at a later date, but these are a few things for you to think about.

Happy singing!

Emma x

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