Singing is full of little interrupters, changes in pitch, vowels, or consonants that can throw you off balance and into vocal tension.
By utilizing legato to smooth out your singing, you can diminish these interruptions and stay locked-in to your vocal sweet spots.
In this episode, John discusses legato and how to practice and employ this concept in your own singing.
Episode 188 – The Importance of Legato Singing
Hey there, this is John Henny, welcome back to another episode of the intelligent vocalist. I do so appreciate you spending this precious listening time with me.
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Alright today I want to talk about a really important concept in0 singing and that is Legato and legato is the opposite of staccato where staccato is short and this neck dead. Legato is everything is connected. And it’s not just for ballads and classical music that we want to develop a legato style. The reason that you want to work your voice in legato as much as possible and sing and legato as much as possible is you mitigate the amount of interruptions to the flow of singing, you want to diminish all the different elements that can throw us off the track that throw us out of balance. Every time we change pitch. We change vowels, we have consonants, we take a breath, we separate notes. All of these events are another opportunity for us to fall out of vocal balance. I believe I’ve talked about this before that consonants are an incredibly important part of singing. And consonants give us rhythm and little pops in different colors in our singing. It can’t just all be about vowels. However, consonants are obstructions in the vocal track, every consonant to varying degrees is going to create an obstruction. So you have voiced consonants with a minimal amount of obstruction like M and N all the way too hard geez got that just completely stop singing and you have non voiced consonants sst.
Where you interrupt phonation your vocal cords stop vibrating. And all of these mean that we have to restart the vocal folds vibrating for pitch. And in the act of restarting, we can create issues a lot of times where tension is coming from. Is in the onset of the note and if we are singing in a choppier way, a more staccato way, if we haven’t really worked on how to smoothly get an onset in the voice, smoothly get the voice phonating we can very very quickly add tension. And I’ve talked about this before this idea of the flow of the signal the carrier signal, which is a concept that I heard Dr. Ingo teach a talk about and then you don’t want any element to be bigger than the carrier signal of singing.
So if I’m singing a note, and I go to change pitch, and I change pitch in such a way that I over muscle, and I overshoot, and that disrupts the carrier signal of singing, I’m a, I’m going to go into the ditch with my song, and you can feel it, I’m sure you’ve probably experienced, you’re singing a song and everything’s feeling good. And then a little bit of tension starts to creep in, and then a little more. And before you get to the end of the song, everything is clamping up. It’s almost this cumulative effect. And it feels like you can’t let go of the tension of the whole song is going to fall apart. So the idea is to eliminate this in the first place.
So if you practice legato, you can go a long way to diminishing these interrupting events. And one of the first things you want to do is really focus on the vowel and the purity of the vowel. And if you have words that are diphthongs, where you have two vowel sounds together, AEIOU, you want to stay usually, unless there’s a musical reason not to stylistic reason, you stay on the first vowel sound. So it’s not I, it’s I and then you just do the E the very end or no, it’s just the oohs at the very end, and you want to purify these vowel sounds, you want to stay almost static with the vowel. You don’t want the vowel wandering. And words that have voiced consonants, especially Ls, like follows. You don’t want that tongue drifting. You want to stay in that pure Ah, and then the consonants are just very, very quick. And you want to diminish their impact.
I do YouTube reaction videos. Yeah, I know, it’s a little cliche, but they’re kind of fun. And they get a lot of views and while I was doing my book, I definitely did not do as many. And now that the book is out, I just did a little burst of them. And people wanted me to do this band nightwish which is from they’re from Europe, I think the Netherlands are around there, please don’t get angry with me. They’re their fans are really hardcore. They actually, the nightwish army is like a literal army. So, they’ve got a really nice fan base. They’re very supportive. But I was analyzing the singer, Flora Jensen and she is just remarkable. And I did an epic song of theirs. It’s like 14 minutes long called the poet in the pendulum.
And after I did a reaction video, I thought you know what I want to go back and just highlight a few spots, and really focus on what Flora does with the vowels because she’s just masterful without tuning and vowel modification. And I picked a few places, and you and I made a video, I think I called it for hardcore nightwish fans only for vocal geeks. You can just go look up John Henny Vocals on YouTube, or I’ll put the link here in the show notes. Just go to johnhenny.com/188 for Episode 188.
And in one of the sections, I break down, Flora doing this amazing belt and she’s belting like crazy up on, this high d phi, which is the D, the octave above middle C and she’s just roaring on it. But if you listen very, very closely, not only is the vowel tune very well, but she just stays in this pocket. She takes everything towards this kind of Ah condition so that the vowels aren’t popping around between oh, ah, eh between narrow and wide and interrupting the flow of her singing. And then she really diminishes the impact of the consonants. So she finds that pocket and just flows in it and then she’s a really smart singer, so she doesn’t allow herself to be pulled out of that pocket and she employs a beautiful legato approach. Where everything is connected.
And I remember when I was first taking voice lessons and trying to get the concept of legato together. And what I would do is I would walk around and talk to myself. I did this in private because many things we do as singers look to the outside world like we are losing our minds. But I would talk like this and jazz can act and everything holding out the vowels, consonants very, very quick, not giving them a lot of weight. And but by what I mean by a lot of weight is, if I have to sing something with hard G’s, like, Got good, I’m not going to go, God good. You soften those God good you just barely touch the tongue up to the soft palate gently so that you’re not doing these intense G’s.
Now, sometimes in vocal exercises, you’ll use a harder G to give a little more resistance to the air. And when you’re practicing legato watch that you don’t fall apart to breathiness. That’s pretty easy to do. breathy singing it’s probably a good topic for another podcast. But breathy singing is relatively easy to do. It’s not something that you want to be practicing a lot. Because you want to find your center, go to sound, where you’re going to do most of your singing. And then you use breathiness for accent and color and expression.
So don’t let it fall apart to breathiness. But don’t give the consonants so much weight that they come in and they cause tension. So what I recommend that you do is practice finding a nice ballad that’s going to give you nice long sustains. If you’re still getting your upper register together. If you’re struggling with higher notes and you tend to have tension, choose something a little lower. For women a really good go to song is the old Bette Midler song, The Rose. I don’t think it goes much higher than the G goes to the G above middle C. I don’t know if it goes to the A but it’s a pretty simple song. lots of nice sustains, and work that on the legato, just holding that connecting that making it beautiful. See how long you can build a phrase before you have to take a breath, which is the ultimate interrupter is breathing.
That’s why singers work on not constantly taking breaths. For men, I usually like Elvis Presley can’t help falling in love is a nice one doesn’t go too high. On the street, where you live, from my fair lady, just something that’s just a nice ballad and work on that legato, flowing, connected. And seeing if you can diminish the interruptions, the interruptions of vows, the interruptions of pitch change, that when you go to change pitch, you don’t suddenly muscle up, it all connects through and it can be very helpful to start thinking of it in terms of a phrase, when I am putting together a sentence, it would be very distracting if I interrupted constantly I want to give a phrase and a thought. And when someone is talking, you can hear that they’ve come to the end of a thought or phrase because they’ll usually be a downturn in the vocal pitch. And so you know, I’m done. You follow the phrase and you want phrasing within your singing.
So keep that legato and that energy through the phrase. A lot of times when singers are singing a line, and they’re worried about a higher note in the line, when they hit it, they’re so happy with themselves and they’ve achieved the higher note than then everything just kind of the energy wavers at the end. And a lot of times at the end of the line, the notes just kind of die out. So keep your energy through, keep it through the sustains, be deliberate and how you end the final note of the phrase or the line and within the legato then you can start even developing within that phrase and legato line your dynamics and where you’re going to swell and push and pull back.
You can get really, really musical with this but thinking in legato is really going to help you and a lot of times vocal exercises because they’ve got consonants in there and they’re we’re drilling to get it balance in there, they don’t always work a smooth legato and you need to work songs. Do not get just stuck on exercises, you got to come to songs and work the songs. That’s how you get musical; you’re not going to get musical through exercises and applying legato to songs is a great way to build your technique and your musicality.
And if you can’t do the whole song, just do the verse. If the chorus is too high for you, that’s fine. It’s about just discovering the energy of legato, the focus through the legato, the purity of the vowel, the color, everything that singers want to do with a line. And it’s a way for you just taking it in small pieces to be able to just really laser focus. And then you’ll really get used to finding those pockets in your voice and then you just ride that pocket, you just ride that balance, rather than feeling yourself buffeted all around and hanging on by your fingernails. So work on your legato this week.
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And until next time to better singing. Thank you so much. Bye bye