Vocal Lessons | Chambers Music

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Vocal Lessons

Singing is the act of producing musical sounds with the voice, which is a form of regular speech with tonal and rhythm augmentation. A person who sings is called a singer or vocalist. Singers perform music known as songs that can either be sung without accompaniment (a cappella) or accompanied by musicians and instruments ranging from a single instrumentalist (e.g., a duet with a piano) to a full symphony orchestra or big band.

Singing is often done in a group of other musicians, such as in a choir of singers with different voice ranges, or in an ensemble with instrumentalists, such as a rock group or baroque ensemble. Nearly anyone who can speak can sing, since in many respects singing is a form of sustained speech.

Singing can be informal and done for pleasure, (e.g., at a karaoke); or it can be very formal, (e.g., singing during a religious ritual or professional singing performances done on stage or in a recording studio.) Singing at a high amateur or professional level usually requires innate talent, instruction, and regular practice. Professional singers usually build their careers around one specific musical genre, such as classical or rock, and they typically train with a voice teacher or vocal coach throughout their career.

Singing when done with proper vocal technique is an integrated and coordinated act that effectively coordinates the physical processes of singing. With an effective singer or speaker, one should rarely be reminded of the process involved as their mind and body are so coordinated that one only perceives the resulting unified function. Many vocal problems result from a lack of coordination within this process.

Singing is a skill that requires highly developed muscle reflexes. Singing does not require much muscle strength but it does require a high degree of muscle coordination. Individuals can develop their voices further through the careful and systematic practice of both songs and vocal exercises. Vocal pedagogists instruct their students to exercise their voices in an intelligent manner. Singers should be thinking constantly about the kind of sound they are making and the kind of sensations they are feeling while they are singing. Vocal exercises have several purposes, including warming up the voice; extending the vocal range; “lining up” the voice horizontally and vertically; and acquiring vocal techniques such as legato, staccato, control of dynamics, rapid figurations, learning to sing wide intervals comfortably, singing trills, singing melismas and correcting vocal faults.

The salaries and working conditions for vocalists vary a great deal. While jobs in other music fields such as music education tend to be based on full-time, salaried positions, singing jobs tend to be based on contracts for individual shows or performances, or for a sequence of shows (e.g., a two-week series of performances of an opera or musical theater show). Since income from singing jobs can be unsteady, singers often supplement their performing income with other singing-related jobs, such as vocal coaching, voice lessons, or as working as a choral director in a church. Due to the large number of aspiring vocalists, it can be very competitive to get jobs in singing.

As examples, American church choir soloists can make from $30 to $500 per performance (all figures in US dollars). Performers in a community choral group there can earn from $200–$3,000 yearly; members of a professional concert choral group can make $80 and up per performance. Singers who perform on radio or TV shows can make $75 and up per show on a local station and $125 and up per national network show (e.g., CBS or NBC). Jazz or pop singers who perform with dance bands or nightclub show groups can make $225 and up per week. Professional opera chorus singers can make from $350–$750 per week. Opera soloists, for which the number of job openings is very limited, can make from $350 to $20,000 per performance for the most elite performers. Classical concert soloists, for which the number of job openings is very limited, have approximate earnings of $350 per performance and up.