Saturday, May 29, 2010

Moving from "Ay" to "Eh"

Today, while practicing singing, I became much more strongly aware that my failure to habitualize singing the "e" sound in Italian as a more open "eh" as opposed to my natural "ay" sound was of greater importance than I had realized.

Up until now, when teachers and mentors have corrected this faulty tendency to sing "e" like "ay" I have dutifully complied in the moment, and made a mental note to be more careful and make sure I do it.

However, I have not taken the drastic step of spending concentrated practice time with the specific goal to correct this problem of mine.  My approach thus far has been less focused, just trying to correct it if I think of it, or leaving it up to chance almost that it was going to fix itself eventually.

But as I discover more and more and am moving into more advanced territory with my singing, I am beginning to see how this more open "eh" shape is needed to facilitate the better singing.

In that book I mentioned yesterday, The Inner Athlete: Realizing Your Fullest Potential, by Dan Millman, he talks about the need for preparation and laying a good foundation.  If we don't prepare, he says, we risk developing bad or compensatory habits. Mr. Millman says, in fact, that "nearly every difficulty we face in our chosen form of training can be traced to skippnig steps in the past -- to weakness in our foundation. [emphasis mine]"

Today I came to recognize one of these weaknesses in my foundation, and before I proceed further, I want to tend to it.  I have come to realize today that a failure on my part to improve my faulty "e" vowel could lead to such a development of compensatory habits as I move into more advanced singing.  I decided to take some considerable time and effort today to work on the "e" problem.

Mr. Millman has quoted an anonymous person as having said,
"Champions in any field have made a habit of doing what others find boring or uncomfortable."
Although I'm not exactly ready to describe myself as a "champion",  the work I did today on the "e" vowel today was tedious, boring, and uncomfortable.  It took a lot of patience.  I put the recordings of my work up in the practice room, but most people will probably find them as boring and tedious to listen to as they were to execute and will not bother to continue to listen after a few seconds.

However, this is the work that is building the right foundation, and after I was done, the good stuff that it did to my singing is undeniable.  So the time and patience it took to belabor the "e" was worth while.  There is a payoff, and once the student recognizes that payoff, the motivation to get through the tedious steps becomes much greater and patience increases!

After having worked this way today, I have come to the conclusion that correcting this "e" is not a mere cosmetic or aesthetic correction.  The more open "eh" sound is actually foundational, physically, to getting the instrument working properly.  A better "eh" shape helps the vocal line and the flow of air, and is important in lining up the whole technique.

Here is the manner in which I proceeded:  First, I went through the text of the song and wrote "eh" above every place there was an "e" vowel.  I decided to do this because my physical reaction to seeing the "e" vowel on a page was to connect with my habitual regional more closed "ay" sound, so I had to break the visual-physical hold that was so strong.  By writing "eh" I had a new visual to connect with.  I had hoped to reprogram myself to respond to the written "e" in a new physical way, but it obviously wasn't happening.  In  humility, I realized I needed to help myself by writing "eh" over and over again.

What better song for this then the very first of the 24 Italian songs I've worked on recently,  Sebben crudele?

The next thing I did was read through the words, exaggerating the places where there was an "eh."

And finally, I sang through the songs with this new "eh" awareness.  Besides Sebben crudele, I used O cessate di piagarmi, and also Pieta Signore.  It was very fortunate that I have learned these songs, because I now find I have vehicles for these kinds of exercises all ready for work.

In the past, I have skipped over many foundational basics, but from now on I shall keep the following of  Mr. Millman's words in mind as I approach the work of mastering singing:

"... Few of us act on the basis of our understanding in our haste to achieve flashy skills, because preparation isn't as exciting, or because we don't understand how to build a foundation ..."
Click here to observe and listen to "e" vowel work in Frescamari's Practice Room:  (working on "Eh" vowel shape)
Click here for an interesting research paper on vowel formation in singers:  "An Investigation of the Acoustic Vowel Space of Singing" by Evan Bradley
Click here to read a subsequent post with evolved understanding of the [e] vowel:  "The Tongue and the [e] Vowel"

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