What is “singing”?
Singing is a physical manifestation of our increased emotional expression, state and personality, through the production of musical sounds, a larger and sustained form of speech. The act of singing consists of three components:
- Body: skilful use of the body parts in order to sing properly, also known as vocal techniques
- Mind: consciousness, habit, concentration/focus, musical creativity and intelligence, muscle memory(e.g vocal direction, sense of pitch)
- Emotions (or soul): motivation, desire, interest, joy and passion in the act of singing, emotional release or total confidence, as well as the portrayal or delivery of a certain character’s emotional state.
All three components work together to produce a “perfect” vocal performance (“perfect” because emotions are entirely subjective, and a performance can be perceived to be moving by one person but bland as a Korean ballad by another (once again K-ballads are also entirely subjective).
Talent VS Training
Everyone can be taught to sing well simply because everyone possesses vocal cords, for example Minkyung learned how to be an above-average singer during her days as a trainee and further improved her singing on Immortal Song 2. Our vocal cords all produce the musical sounds the same way. Being able to sing well means you are capable of adjusting your vocal cords at their optimal position during vocalization, or in other words, sing with power. Voice lessons can help you achieve that. So in a physiologic sense, anyone, whether they have vocal talent or not, can learn to sing well.
Singing is 98% mental. The rest is physical and emotional. You need to apply the correct technique every time you sing. You need to make it a habit every time you vocalize. Your brain needs to remember every sensation and muscle memory that happens when you sing. This is why singing is mostly a mental/habitual process. Training the mental part of singing highly affects your vocal consistency, which is the most essential aspect for a good vocalist.
One way to determine the presence of “talen”t in singing is the speed of vocal learning. “Talented” people in a field tend to learn the skill in question faster than others. “Talent” is basically superficial because there’s no set definition as to what it is, and it’s pretty much immeasurable (unless we’re talking about the old-fashioned currency were talents were worth a shit ton).
Regardless of whether one has talent of not, it does not change the fact that everyone needs to be vocally trained in order to sing well. A raw talent NEEDS to be trained. Talented singers such as Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and Beyoncé all had vocal training to develop their talent and become virtuoso singers.
Differences between a Vocalist and a Singer:
- Vocalist: Someone who has COMPLETE control, manipulation and authority over their voice, similar to an instrumentalist. Hence, they are judged by vocal technique and consistency.
- Singer: Someone who uses their voice to deliver a message musically and convey emotions. They are partly judged by technique, but mostly subjectively judged by sense of interpretation wit, musical and vocal delivery, musicianship, musical and vocal creativity.
When most people sing they mainly use three parts of the voice: lower register (chest voice), middle register (modal voice), and upper register (head voice and/or falsetto). Each part of the voice requires a different placement (which I will get to later) and produces a different sound. However, the basic technique required remains the same for each register: good breath support and control, and proper placement.
The chest voice is the part of the voice that is most commonly used when we are speaking. The chest voice, also known as the lower extension, is where a person sings the lowest notes of their range (below F#4).
Used for notes at F#4 and above, it’s the mixture and blending of the chest voice and the head voice together. It’s used when singing high notes (not in falsetto or head voice) in a belted manner. For example, when you hear singers belt they are doing it in their modal voice. You can belt in a chest dominant-mix (Ailee) or with a balanced mix (Younha). A head dominant mix is also used to hit high notes. A chest dominant mix is dangerous for those with light voices because it wears away at the vocal cords, so Ailee needs to learn how to belt with a balanced mix if she wants to keep that voice intact!
Used in upper notes. It has that “ringing” and bright sound. It’s called “head voice” as the feeling of the resonance is in the head when singing. Example of head voice in K-pop (3:31-3:33):
False, airy voice that makes the upper register (high notes) easier to access with this voice. To be more specific, it is a weaker, breathier extension of the head voice. An example of falsetto in K-pop is Rain‘s “30Sexy“.
Head voice and falsetto differ in tone and production. Head voice is produced by thyroarytenoid muscles fully vibrating and coming in contact with each other, whilst falsetto is produced by only thin edges of the thyroarytenoid muscles vibrating and coming in contact with each other, which offers less resistance of the breath flow. In other words, in falsetto production, there is air passing through the vocal cords, as opposed to head voice production where no air is passing through. This causes the tone to be airy and weak with lack of resonance.
Falsetto is therefore a disconnected part of the voice, while head voice is a connected part of the voice (the whistle tone is, however, a disconnected part of the voice). We can also refer to falsetto as a “disconnected head voice”. If the falsetto is unnaturally airier than usual, meaning that an extremely small portion of the vocal cords come in contact, then we can call this falsetto a “disconnected falsetto”. When a head voice is resonant, we call it a “developed head voice”, and a well developed head voice usually sounds operatic, for example Ock Joo Hyun at 3:53-3:57:
Falsetto can also lead to vocal irritation, which leads to the damage of vocal cords if it is used too much.
Other Parts Of The Voice
Vocal Fry Register: Lowest register of the human voice. It has that “frying”, sizzling, or rattling sound. This register is useless in singing and it cannot be counted as part of one’s vocal range. Plus, using this register too often and bringing it up to relatively higher notes can be very damaging to the singing voice.
Whistle Register: Highest register of the human voice. Think Mariah Carey’s whistles.
Passagio: Place within the vocal range where the voice shifts into a different register. Each voice type has a different passagio, which is why the latter is a good indicator of what voice type you are.
Voice Classification (Fach System)
The vocal fach is a system used to identify opera singers’ voice type. Although it is a mere speculation if applied to “pop singers” (keep in mind that opera singers use a completely superior technique as opposed to pop singers), many people do believe there are undeniable components of the pop voice that could be associated to that of the opera voice, leading us to believe that certain pop singers have such and such voice types, or will have such voice types, if operatically trained.
Voice classification is done by analyzing certain aspects of the voice, such as timbre, vocal weight, tessitura, passagi, and vocal range. However, when it comes to pop voices, only timbre, vocal weight, and passagi are useful in identifying their voice type. The more well-trained the voice is, the more accurate the voice classification will be.
Timbre: The quality of their voice. Examples are bright, dark, cold, rich, soft, steely, metallic, mellow, warm, etc.
Vocal Weight: Refers to the “lightness” or “heaviness” of one’s voice. It is determined by the “thickness” of one’s vocal folds. Lighter voices are associated with the term “lyric”. Heavier voices are associated with the term “dramatic”. Lyric voices have a thin, small, and bright sound. Dramatic voices have a huge, deep, and dark sound. Lyric voices have more speed and better agility/flexibility than dramatic voices. Dramatic voices have more power and more volume output than lyric voices. Spinto voice refers to a voice with medium vocal weight. They have that “creamy”, “rich”, “womanly”, and fuller sound than lyrics, but are not heavy or dark enough to be considered dramatics. The weight of certain voice types may be sub-categorized into “full” or “light” (light lyric soprano, full lyric soprano, etc). Light voices possess that “youthful” or “girlish” quality, whereas full voices sound more mature or smooth.
Tessitura: Range where a singer is most comfortable singing and where their voice sounds the most pleasant. It is also known as “supported range” or “comfort zone”.
NOTE: These aspects MUST be analyzed in the MIDDLE VOICE of a vocalist, the most important part of the voice.
- Lyric Coloratura Soprano: Mariah Carey during her prime.
- Light Lyric Soprano: The majority of female K-pop vocalists are LLS, like Hyorin, Ailee, Taeyeon, Luna, and Haeri.
- Full Lyric Soprano: Celine Dion, Lara Fabian, SeeYa‘s Yeonji, Ock Joo Hyun, Big Mama’s Younghyun, CSJH’s Lina and Stephanie, Apink’s Eunji
- Spinto Soprano: Sohyang, Whitney Houston during her prime.
- Dramatic Soprano: Patti Labelle, Monica Naranjo
- Falcon Soprano: Vanessa Amorosi
- Lyric Coloratura Mezzo-Soprano: Beyoncé
- Lyric Mezzo-Soprano: Barbra Streisand, Toni Braxton, Big Mama’s Jiyoung, Lee Hi
- Dramatic Mezzo-Soprano: Anastasia
- Lyric Contralto: Cher, Ana Carolina (Brazilian Singer)
- Coloratura Contralto: Annie Lennox
- Countertenor (arguable term): Ney Matogrosso (Brazilian Singer), Mitch Grassi, Chris Colfer
- Leggiero Tenor: Naul
- Light Lyric Tenor: Most of male idol vocalists in K-pop, Chris Brown, Bruno Mars, and Ne-Yo
- Full Lyric Tenor: K.Will, Luther Vandross, Peabo Bryson, Park Hyo Shin
- Spinto Tenor: Michael Bolton
- Dramatic Tenor: N/A
- Baritenor: N/A
- Lyric Baritone: SHINee’s Key and Minho, SS501’s Park Jung Min, EXO’s Chanyeol, John Park, Busker Busker’s Jang Beom-Jun, Rain, Big Bang’s T.O.P., Super Junior’s Kangin, Kibum and Siwon, B.A.P’s Yongguk, and certain male rappers in K-pop.
- Dramatic Baritone: N/A
- Bass-Baritone: N/A
- Lyric Bass: N/A
- Low Bass: N/A
Falcon Sopranos, Basses, and Contraltos are very, very rare voice types.
Series of notes that a singer is able to produce, starting from the lowest note to the highest note. Only notes that are musically “useful” are counted as part of a singer’s vocal range. Notes produced by squealing, screaming, and shouting are not counted as part of one’s vocal range as they cannot be used musically. A vocalist has full control over their instrument when they can produce a healthy and powerful sound in EVERY single note of their range.
A person’s vocal range can be very small (Judy Garland) or very large (Mariah Carey), but the size of one’s range does not determine whether or not they’re a good vocalist — contrary to common belief. Therefore, if someone says ‘X’ is a good singer because they have an “extensive range”, they’re most likely talking out of their ass.
You can find your range by using this video:
Your vocal range also doesn’t determine your voice type.
A couple vocal range videos in K-pop:
As you can see, Taeyeon has quite a small vocal range whilst Ga-In has a significantly bigger one; however, Taeyeon is far superior as a vocalist to Ga-In, emphasizing my point.
One of the commonly used methods to name a note is through the “Scientific Pitch Notation”.
The musical notes consist of (in order): C, D, E, F, G, A, B. If you count the next C, it would be one octave. So one octave is eight notes. The number next to the note is the octave. For example, C5 is the note C (from the piano) in the fifth octave.
b = Flat = Half Note Lower
# = Sharp = Half Note Higher
Musical notes in order (sharp and flat notes included): C, C#, D, Eb, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, Bb, B.
For example, my vocal range is B2 to C#6. Therefore, I have three octaves, one note, and a semi-tone of vocal range. Most untrained people have around a two octave range, but as you master vocal techniques, your range can expand.