Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Even a Rock Star Needs "bel canto"

My singing teacher, Susan Eichhorn Young, often repeats that good principles of vocal technique underlie every style.  I believe this is correct.  I think that before singers can put on a vocal style, that it is good to strip down the voice to it's bare essentials and get that right first, before specializing into different styles of singing.  Much of the plain, unadorned vocal line that you hear me practicing in Frescamari's Practice Room is my attempt to achieve that pure vocal state.

Well, today, thanks to the blog of Judy Rodman -- a vocal instructor and subject matter expert at The Modern -- I was pointed to an instructional video called, "Robert Lunte's "Lift Up Pull Back" siren exercise.".  This fun youtube video she links to in her post comes from a different angle than the one I am used to from studying classical technique.  I thought it was refreshing to get a "free lesson" from someone who is not necessarily coming at it from the traditional or classical mode of teaching.

I recommend you head over to Ms. Rodman's post and click the link to the video.  It is very interesting to hear Mr. Lunte talk about handling the primo passaggio from a rock singing point of view.  As I listened, even though he is using a completely different style, and not using the traditional words used to describe classic bel canto technique, I couldn't help but get the feeling that I was listening to someone describe age-old principles of voice -- the universal voice puzzles that confront every singer, and that every singer must figure out in order to sing their genre.

They were having a discussion over on in the New Forum for Classical Singers, about throwing around all the old Italian terms from the tradition of teaching European classical style singing ("Impostazione, appoggio and other fun Italian jargon", by author of the blog Kashu-do: The Way of the Singer).  I have encountered these terms and expressions over the years -- terms like "appoggio," and "mezza di voce" and "cantare come si parla," and the newest one I have encountered, "Impostazione della voce" -- and have been slowly come to understand what some of them mean, but sometimes I have found them intimidating.  Prompted by the discussion on the singer message board, I figured it was about time I started to fill in some of my sketchy knowledge about bel canto.  In an introductory-type article I have found called "The Tradition of Florentine "bel canto" by Liliana Celani, Kathy Wolfe, and Stephan Marienfeld (found on the web site, The Ancient Vocal Method), I was surprised to read that  the physical principles of the human voice, the voice registers and other vocal qualities that are developed in bel canto, were first discovered by Leonardo da Vinci.  Who knew?   Well, I guess a lot of people knew, but it's my turn to learn it now.   A lot of the aims of instruction for bel canto were for the purpose of smoothing out and discovering how to manage and handle these registers.

Like the exercise Robert Lunte shows in his video, classical singers use siren exercises to find this smooth transition between registers too.  I found it interesting and useful to take this exercise "out of the box" that I am familiar with and see a rock singer demonstrate it, and hear the modern language he uses to try to describe feelings that I have heard describe as "inhaling the voice," or "drinking in the sound."

Armed with a fresh point of view, and someone talking in a language of my times, I think I'll do some sirens today and try to incorporate some of the suggestions in the video.  Of course I will do them, I hope, in the more classical style.

 It is always important to define a language under which we can discuss a discipline.  The terms should be accurate and precise.  But, those words can be translated into different languages besides Italian, and expressed in new ways, as long as the vocal principles are preserved, and the voice stays healthy and functions in the way it was designed to function.
Please come on over to Frescamari's Practice Room to hear Avocational Singer try out these "Lift Up Pull Back siren exercises" classical style.


  1. Hello, thank you for recognizing my fun video "lift up / pull back". This interim technique was just an after thought, but like many hit songs, it seems to have struck a chord with so many people. I will add to what I have learned about my own technique since the video was produced.

    Lift Up Pull Back Essentially is developing two coordinations for the singer.

    1). It trains the singer to bridge from the chest register to the head register by completely bypassing any trigger of the constrictors. Learning to bridge without constriction. I now often say to my students and Master Class participants, "tip toe past the sleeping giant"... or "stop trying to get to the head voice by gowing through the passagio, but instead, go "around" the passagio".

    2). If the x axis represents pitch and the y axis represents time, "Lift up / Pull back" trains the singer to learn the timing of bridging, WHEN to bridge. Most people, especially rockers bridge too late and trigger constriction. This technique teachers singers that proper bridging is facilitated by learning to get to the head voice sooner.

    I hope this helps and thanks again for recognizing my work.

    Robert Lunte
    Founder of The Vocalist Studio
    Founder of The Modern

  2. Thank you for your comment, Mr. Lunte. I think you are doing some exciting work, and I look forward to checking out the rest of your videos.