EXO’s Vocal Analysis: Chen [Rewritten]


Vocal Range

E2 – Bb5 (3 octaves and 3 notes)

Supported Range

A2/Bb2 – A4

Voice Type

Tenor

Strengths/Achievements

  • Best Technique in EXO overall
  • Able to support his lower register all the way down to C3 previously, and A2 as of late
  • Often sings with a lifted soft palate
  • Agility has seen slight improvement since debut
  • Placement is kept outside of supported range
  • Most supported lower register in male tenor idols(and possibly ballad singers) thus far
  • Best sense of pitch in EXO
  • Sings with the least tension in EXO

Weaknesses

  • Tends to sing with a larynx vibrato
  • Notes below A2 tend to be unsupported with a low larynx
  • Belts with a high larynx above A4
  • Sings with an overly airy falsetto
  • Sloppy runs

Registers

  • Lower: Arguably the most developed lower register amongst tenors in K-pop, idol or not. With a very forward full tone and developed cord connection, he’s able to sing with a lot of ease even in the second octave.
  • Middle: One of the better mixed voices amongst tenors, Chen is able to consistently produce resonance without issues and brings support even as high as A4. Despite that, strain is still obvious and present above A4, where he sings with a high larynx and a tight throat.
  • Upper: Generally airy and disconnected, good placement can be present in his falsetto. However Chen has yet to produce a connected sound in his upper register, not singing either with a head voice nor with proper support in this register.

Agility

While not his forte, Chen has seen an improvement in this area. During EXO’s debut era, Chen’s runs would often be sloppy and done without precision or accuracy, often sliding from note to note or simply becoming more tentative and unclear when approaching runs, such as in “Fool“, “The Last Time“, “Open Arms” and “빨래.” However he has learned to sing with more accuracy and precision as time went on. Despite not being as skilled in this area as Kyungsoo, he has shown to be able to handle runs with more ability than previously shown.

Overall analysis

The main vocalist of EXO M and one of the vocalists of EXO, Chen debuted at a skill level higher not only than all of his group members but also higher than most of his peers. While having a naturally high tenor voice and a lot of potential in range, Chen is one of these idols who has taken the time to show improvement and a good work ethic throughout his career as a member of EXO. Despite debuting with a high enough skill level, he never stopped improving and has made great progress in his singing technique, especially his lower range.

Despite being praised for his high belting, Chen’s strongest register is his lower register. When he first debuted, Chen had support down to C3 and was even able to project notes in the C3 – E3 range with absolutely no effort as seen by the C3 and D3 in “Just Once“, the D3 in “응급실“, the Eb3s in “What Is Love“, “The Last Time” and “빨래.” He always showed a very good understanding of how to properly connect his vocal cords without any use of tension in the third octave, while staying very audible and placing his voice well in his chest and mask. However, after EXO’s hiatus, Chen came back and showcased the ability to support lower as shown by his A2 in “Drunken Truth“, his Bb2’s in “Người Ấy“, his B2 from “Visiting Super Junior” and his C3 in “Love Again.” Below A2 though, Chen loses support and becomes airy though without sacrificing his larynx position as seen in his E2 and F2 in the “Low Note Battle“, his F2 in his duet with Suho, his F#2 in “Drunken Truth“, and his G2 and G#2s in “빨래.”

Chen’s second strongest, and most famous, register is his mix. Even as low as F4 Chen shows a nice forward placement and resonance which, unlike his fellow vocalists, is unhindered by jaw tension. He is able to bring his support and resonance up to A4 by consistently engaging the correct amount of breath support with the least amount of tension, allowing him to sing with freedom and an overall relaxed sound through his mix. This is shown by his F4’s in “The First Show”, “XOXO”, “Nothing Better“, and “Overdose.” His F4’s and F#4’s in “I Really Didn’t Know.” His F#4s in “MACHINE”, “With You“, “The Last Time“, and “Wolf.” His G4’s in “Baby Don’t Cry”, “Lucky”, and “빨래.” His G#4’s in “Miracles In December“, “History”, “Open Arms“, and “Don’t Go.” And his A4’s in “Lucky”, “I Really Didn’t Know“, “In Heaven“, “Best Luck“, “I Miss You“, “Baby Don’t Cry,” and the studio recording of “Although I Loved You“. Despite the support and resonance often present in sustained mixed notes, his laryngeal vibrato tends to make his belts sound rough and even closed at times due to the unnatural tension he uses to create that vibrato. Above A4, Chen begins to push his larynx up as shown in the Bb4 and B4’s from “I Really Didn’t Know” and “With You“, as well as the C5’s in “Mama”, “It’s Still a Dark Night” and “What Is Love.” The C#5 in “Wolf” and the D5’s in “Vesti La Giubba.” The Eb5’s in the “EXO High Note Battle“, the E5’s in” Wolf”, the F5 in “What Is Love“, and the G5 in “Drop That.”

Unfortunately, Chen’s straining is often showcased due to the fact that no other member in EXO M is able to sing the most difficult parts of their repertoire and he will be left having to split singing parts amongst him, Kyungsoo and Baekhyun. To compensate for this, Chen began to lessen the amount of chest in his mix above C5 to avoid dealing with as much strain as he previously dealt with as seen in the D5, E5, and F5 from “El Dorado.” Much like many other male idol groups and even solo singers in the Korean music industry, singing as high as a female is still a part of EXO’s music and in many cases, Chen is one of the only vocalists who can handle singing these demanding high passages. Although he’s minimized the strain in his voice above C5, there’s still a lot of tension in his voice whenever he sings above A4, mostly caused by the unnecessary demand for such high notes in K-pop tenor songs.

Chen’s weakest register is his falsetto which is often overly airy and pushed above D5. At times he’s able to place his sound more forward and produce a more head placed falsetto, such as in “The Last Time” but that usually comes with only the “ooh” vowel where he shows more throat and tongue tension. Although he’s able to stay more or less relaxed in his throat up to D5, he tends to have a more locked jaw when he sings in his falsetto which creates a lack of freedom in this register, as heard in “I Miss You” and “Nothing Better.” As he sings above D5, his voice becomes tighter and tighter, where he is unable to escape the tension present both in his upper mix and his falsetto. To overcompensate for the lack of freedom, Chen uses air pressure and a very forward mask placement to sing from Eb5 ~ Bb5 most of the time, as heard in the “EXO High Note Battle.

As an overall vocalist, Chen is one of the most promising young male idols of the debut era past 2010. Showing great discipline and growing quite considerably throughout his career as a main vocalist of EXO, he’s become one of the top male idol vocalists today and only shows promising potential for the future. To further develop his voice addressing tension in his tongue and jaw would help him free up the upper part of his mix and falsetto range, allowing for him to maintain a more relaxed approach and keeping a more neutral larynx as he sings higher.

Musicianship/Musicality

Chen is a vocalist who knows his strengths, often using his lower register rather than mixing above B4 when given the choice. He never truly approaches things in a very show offy way, often attempting to keep true to the original versions of his covers. This helps him always deliver songs lyrically and musically rather than trying to do things he’s unable to do. When singing solos he avoids messy performances and favors the dynamic delivery of a song over adding runs and high notes that he could most likely not sing properly.

Rating

Proficient to Good Vocalist

Vocal Range Video(s)

video by: Edgar Cárdenas

Video by: 1zhxzhx

Best Vocal Performance(s)

video by:1zhxzhx (zhx)

Analyzed by Haruko & Ahmin

(originally analyzed by : zhx)

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About ahmin3

kitsunemale from YouTube, AhMin33 from Twitter and Ahmin from OneHallyu! https://www.youtube.com/user/KitsuneMale

346 thoughts on “EXO’s Vocal Analysis: Chen [Rewritten]

  1. I was going to post something about that exact same ”performance”, Ahmin. I’m not going to ask you any questions but simply show you what allkpop author wrote:

    ”As one his talents, Chen decided to show the cast of the program why he is the main vocalist of the group by singing So Chan Whee’s “Tears”. Before he started singing, he mentioned he will be singing the song in the original key even though it is extremely high for many singers. He impressed and shocked everyone in the studio by performing the song in a very comfortable fashion and made it look easy. “Tears” is a track that is very well-known for having numerous high key notes that only a handful of singers are able to perform.”

    First, Chen clearly doesn’t understand the problem with straining that high. Second, His veins were popping out, his larynx was high, his throat was tight, He was gasping for air and sometimes hardly projected, too much high phrasing, his neck looked like it was going to explode, he dipped down to hit the highest notes in kneeling fashion, etc. Somehow the author said he made it look easy and did it in a comfortable fashion. I don’t know how all of that even remotely looked comfortable.

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    1. I doubt Chen doesn’t understand anything we do. Also, being the singer himself, there’s no way straining doesn’t take an actual toll on his throat, so I’m sure you’re wrong. Granted, you have to keep in mind he’s singing this in a female’s pitch, which is difficult for them, so there’s no way this is a regular thing he does unless it’s a party or for the shows. From the analysis and common theory, you’d also know singing outside your supported range will cause faster air usage, so at the end of it all this can all be explained by that “the AKP authors don’t know jack about vocal theory” and that you shouldn’t believe anything they write. I mean, they’d place Taeyang over our competent vocalists here, so I don’t know what you’d expect.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I am an exo fan and I noticed the same. And since I am an exo-l, I have seen other videos of him too and this isn’t the only time that he did this to himself. I honestly hope that he doesn’t end up harming himself this way. I wonder though if they know that they’re doing it wrong. They’re trained after all.
      P.S: I don’t know much myself either as I am still learning stuff by myself.

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  2. Chen has sang down in the second octave in their new album, EXO are finally having bits of going in the second octave in their discography repertoire

    Was the passage at 0:19 – 0:24 supported ? I can’t tell if it goes down to Bb2 or A2 (probably Bb2)

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    1. He was hitting a bunch of supported C3’s and then sang a G2 with quite a bit of vocal fry and I’d say a bit of a lowered larynx.

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      1. Was his improvement big or he just, for example jumped from A to AA ?
        How would you rate him around his debut, just an estimate ?

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      2. I honestly don’t know, I feel like Baekhyun was believed to be a to aa back then, and D.O. was like AA? And Chen was also believed to be AA? I’m not sure.

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  3. Hi again.. lol sorry i bombarding your blog. just a curiosity here..
    here’s one of chen’s current performance showing his vocal tech. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dd0Y_js-JJc
    first question : i am not vocal expert at all but i found he strains a lot. what about his control & intonation by the way ?
    Oh and eunkwang also sing this song.

    second question : which one do you think sing it better ? i mean which one has “healthier” technique to sing this song. idk how to say it tbh, lol sorry.

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    1. Neither of them are doing well because this is mostly within the C5 to G5 which is high even for girls so it’s expected they’d strain.

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  4. Uh, what? seriously Jongdae you’ve placed below Lina? Are you deaf, Jongdae sounds much better than her. mean geez, you got that seriously wrong.

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    1. Chen has a pretty high ranking and is in the Top 5 of Male Idols. Also Lina has slightly better Technique so it only makes sense for her to be placed higher. If you dont like how she sounds thats ok but thats no reason to call people deaf. Its your own personal preference if Chen sounds better.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. You’re welcome to explain how! ^ ^ Because “sounds much better than her” doesn’t mean anything if there is no reasonable explanation as to why.

      Like

  5. Thank you for your amazing analysis, as always!
    You most likely wrote about this already but i’ll just be honest and say I haven’t read everything on the blog haha, but I was wondering, since you said no kpop singer is “great”, who is? Does it take to be an opera singer to be considered “great” ? (which makes some sense to me now that I think of it).

    And what did you think of Chen in 기다렸다 가 (nosedive)?

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    1. We do have K-pop singers who are great, just not idols. If you check our great rating, we have Lena Park, Park Hyoshin, Naul and Ann. No, we are not an opera blog, this blog has nothing to do with opera singing. So no, singing opera doesn’t make you great or not. This is contemporary vocal technique. The issue is most idols are young and the great and excellent vocalists are older and have had more time to improve and for their voices to mature. Oh for excellent? We have Sohyang only, because it’s a rarer kind of skill to achieve.

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      1. His voice sounds kinda thick to me, even though he sings with his throat. When he sings on a lower range, it feels more natural.

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      2. Everyone who is untrained will find it easier to sing in a lower range, but singing in a lower range and being more comfortable there (E3 ~ C4 for him, for an example) doesn’t make him a baritone. Suho’s voice shines above E4, where he really starts to really mix, which is the first indicator of a tenor. Second he has no presence of voice in the second octave or even lower third octave, an untrained baritone would sound at least like their voices belong down there. He’s just untrained, but he’s still a tenor.

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  6. If Chen is able to develop head voice, would he move up to be a good singer? And theoretically is it possible for him to hit higher notes with head voice?

    I think it’s impressive how he can belt so high in his mix when he doesn’t use head voice or falsetto 0.0

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    1. I’ll try to help with this one. The width of a supported range is almost always the less important factor when deciding a rating. Na-ul has less than a 2 octave supported range without head voice, but his mixing technique is considerably superior to Chen. In other words, it’s the technique within that range that matters. Extension matters, but more so the overall technique. Also keep the criteria in mind because I believe he is missing Bb4 for his mix to make it to good category.

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  7. Hi Ahmin! I have a video I’d like to show, because I was wondering why Chen went off-pitch during this performance (I know it’s old, but I just found it):

    He couldn’t hit the high note and went flat. What about that note at the end? Also, is it proper technique to bend over while singing a note? I keep seeing these guys doing it. Thank you so much!

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    1. No, bending over is not a good idea. You can bend down slightly as if you’re sitting, but not forward. That will mess up a lot of the breathing posture. 0:16 This note is indeed a flat Bb4, it was much closer to A4 than anything else.

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      1. Thank you! Also I’m wondering what exactly a larynx vibrato is. I looked up an explanation and it says it’s when you move your larynx up and down to produce a vibrato. I always thought Chen’s vibrato was lovely. How can you tell he’s using a larynx vibrato?

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  8. 1/is chen hitting notes lower than baek so he looks a bit airy in his lower range in the start of song (start from 0:19)

    2/ they used their upper register so could you tell me who produced head voice in the song and which is falsetto (you can skip from 2:11 to 2:49 there is no singing in it) and for suho somehow i feel his upper register is more connected or less airy than chen and DO and are they in their upper register like baek >chen>DO where would you put suho according to just this register

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    1. 1. 0:28 Eb3 is the lowest note that both of them hit actually. Don’t get confused with singing softly and airy and singing low without support. Singing with breathiness in your lower range like singing an A2 and then D3 and you have mostly airy on A2 but suddenly your voice is back at D3, that indicates lack of support. Choosing to sing with breathiness stylistically throughout one’s line is not a lack of development of the lower range, especially for a vocalist that we know could do much more. So no, they’re both singing softly and a bit breathy on purpose.

      2. There’s too much of an autotune and echo going on throughout, it kind of bothers me. Stylistically they’re all singing with breathiness and nearly no support at all in their upper registers. Suho’s falsetto, if it’s his, sounds a LOT like Chen’s. Like at 1:39. I would not rank them based on this for their head voices..or at all, really.

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  9. Hello!

    So I was thinking about Chen as a vocalist compared to Sandeul.
    Chen has A2-A4, pretty consistently. Sandeul has C3-Bb4/B4 with B2 occasionally.
    They have pretty similar (even) supported ranges, what is it that gives Sandeul the edge?
    I think Chen has the more balanced mix, because Sandeul can get chesty.
    But Sandeul also has better agility (even if it’s not great) and a healthy vibrato.
    I guess laryngeal vibrato is a much bigger issue than jaw vibrato, since it actually causes problems with tension and such?
    Does Chen’s belting outside of his supported range often impact his analysis?
    If Chen only belted to A4, would that change anything?

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    1. So are you thinking of supported ranges as a number of notes as opposed to what notes and what part of their range they’re singing in? It’s explained in the criteria that most of this is in relation to their passaggi, so B4 vs A4 in relation to a tenor’s passaggi is a huge difference. The lower range portion is also impressive, but it’s just not the same principle. Sandeul has a more consistent column of sound as well and really strong stamina while maintaining power and control. Chen closes his throat sooner and loses the ease because of his jaw and glottal tension as he goes higher. Him only belting up to A4 would just make things inconclusive.

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  10. Oh, I see. Thank you for explaining about passagi. I was asking about singing only up to A4 because Chen sings too high much more often than Sandeul does, so I thought that might make a difference. Sorry if I came off as rude, by the way. It wasn’t my intention to imply you were wrong or anything.

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  11. Hey Ahmin! I was just wondering, even though Chen is technically the best EXO vocalist, who is your personal favorite vocalist from EXO? Whether it be because of their vocal timbre, tone, etc.
    Love your blog btw! 🙂

    Like

  12. Hello! Just a quick question. 🙂
    Ik this is a bit of an older video, but I was just wondering what that low note Chen hit at 0:33 was and whether it was supported or not? Thank you!

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  13. I don’t really know how to phrase this so sorry if it comes out vague and weird but like, how good is it for a tenor to be able to support A2, on a scale of 1-10? Like would you say Chen being able to support A2 makes his lower range just a bit better than a tenor who supports C3, or does it make his lower range insanely good for a tenor?

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    1. A scale of 1 to 10 is too broad and I can’t really say anything but very good. It’s pretty impressive but not necessarily impossible nor unheard of. I’d say it’s considerably better than a tenor who supports C3 but not insanely.

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  14. I know just by listen to it, Chen’s falsetto isn’t comfortable enough to be heard. Even tho I don’t know anything about singing.
    Actually there is a comment that ask about this to. But I want to ask if he made improvement or not on his falsetto on this video at 3.24-3.30 https://youtu.be/wLPgdkLMCKU .
    I tried to search his live performance on this song but didn’t find it.

    Thanks a lot for the analysis. It makes me more objective as a fan. I really appreciate your works.

    Like

  15. I have a few questions so please bear with me lol. I’m not a vocalist myself but I find this whole blog and the Debunking Kpop Vocal Myths and Vocal Tips for Kpop Fans really interesting. I think I can differentiate between strain and support fairly well now, but I still have a hard time noticing resonance without some kind of comparison. So please excuse me if I get some things wrong.

    1) I saw ahmin’s video on finding the right key for your voice, and it made me think of how Chen has performed “It’s fortunate” twice. Is the first one from 2013 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SngJdAw7km8) in a different key because it sounds like he’s singing higher? Or is it just that his technique wasn’t as developed back then? Because in the 2016 performance (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mZ-dneYetcM I think the vid quality should be okay) he sounds kind of…fuller? That’s how I describe it, particularly from 2:00-2:06, and I think that he was fully resonant there? Or at least supporting? Also, after listening to some of his outside of EXO performances, I think it’s pretty safe to say that he prefers to sing in a lower range considering how much higher he goes in the group songs.

    2) I’ve heard a lot of people say that Chen is nasal when he sings. I didn’t think so though, and this analysis never mentions anything about nasality. But in his recent SM station “Bye Babe” with 10cm, I thought he might have sounded a bit nasal (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3t3qKc1xwCE) throughout. Then again, 10cm sounds like he places his voice entirely in his nose, so I wasn’t sure if it was a stylistic choice for Chen to blend in or if that’s how he’s always sounded and I never noticed lol.

    3) This last question isn’t about Chen but I thought I may as well ask. I saw the video about baritones and it got me thinking. I know he isn’t a vocalist so you may not know, but what’s NCT’s Taeyong’s voice type? Because his speaking voice seems like it’s in a similar pitch as Taeil and Doyoung’s (the tenors) and definitely higher than a baritone like Jaehyun’s, but his rap is much lower. In this video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pd3hQCkShjU) you can hear his speaking voice from 0:20, and I’m even more confused now. My guess is that he’s a tenor but pushes his larynx down a lot/his rap gets processed in the studio to sound deeper in NCT songs? TBH, I have no clue.

    Oh god that was pretty long. Lol I’m sorry, please excuse this literally tone deaf soul. And keep up with the good work! 🙂

    Like

    1. Actually compared to another user whose question is being left for approval until I have time to respond, this isn’t that bad. At least you’re specific and not asking about the vocal line of 4 different groups lol Anyway!

      1. He didn’t sing it in a different key. However he used to let his jaw take away the size of resonance more back then and so he sounds fuller. I wouldn’t call 2:00 resonant cause he was pushing his larynx down slightly, it was a bit intentional to kind of sound funny as he was singing like in their faces and not the actual lyrics of the song.

      2. 10CM puts his sound forward in his nose but he also squeezes his throat muscles to sound thinner so it makes him sound extra whiny. The thing is Chen isn’t generally nasal but he’s bright vocalist and people often mistake brightness for nasality, like for Sohyang. Chen is slightly nasal in this video though but it’s mostly cause he’s emphasizing the phrased N’s a bit too much. He’s not nasal when he belts for example.

      3. This video only shows me his speaking voice assuming he’s the first one talking in korean before the Chinese member started talking. He sounds like a tenor when he speaks but that’s not enough for me to be sure I’m afraid.

      Oh and thank you very much!

      Like

  16. Hi Ahmin! I’ve recently made an observation about Chen’s voice that he prefers mixing over the use of head voice or falsetto. I’m basing this off of the high note battle, which he approached entirely with mix, and other performances where he felt more comfortable mixing over the use of his falsetto register (Forever, where his falsetto was overly airy but his mix was strong on the same note in two different attempts). Is that an accurate observation? I know his mix is stronger than his upper register, so does he attempt high notes with mix rather than head/falsetto?

    Like

  17. Hello! I’m sorry for posting this here but Suho doesn’t have an analyses of his own and I was wondering if you see any improvement in his vocal technique after training for his musical. I hoped that there would be an improvement in his breath support but personally I don’t really here much of a difference from before. What do you think about this performance? https://youtu.be/keRKtaWudMA

    Like

  18. Hello!

    I quite liked their Sing for You performance in this video.
    How was Suho’s F4 around 11:43 ish? I feel like he’s been improving a lot vocally in the past year or so.
    How did Chen do from 11:57 to 12:05? Is he straining the Bb4? Was it supported?
    Last question: what even happened at 12:18 ish with Suho? I heard a low G sharp or something. Was it vocal fry?
    Thank you for your wonderful work!

    Like

    1. 11:43 I don’t hear support there at all. It’s very shallow and in the throat. 11:57 ~ 12:05 His jaw could have dropped more throughout but good placement, although he pushed on the Bb4 it had pretty good placement. 12:18 He let go of the cord connection before he let go of air, so the C4 in the melody at the end was more of a puff of air than actual singing. I heard G#3 at the beginning of the new phrase, again more of a puff of air than actual singing. Thank you btw!

      Like

  19. Hi! First of all I wanted to say that I find this website super useful and I think you’ve done an great job with all the analyses (plus the fact that you’re always answering comments as well is amazing). As for my question, I wanted to know your overall opinion on Chen’s performance here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RgKsjXhPB90) because I didn’t see it mentioned in the analysis (although I could’ve missed it). He’s my bias, so I don’t think I’m being objective when I say that I love it, so I thought I’d ask someone who’s got the knowledge. Thanks!!

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    1. Hi there! Thank you so much, we really appreciate it! This has been asked about before. I think it’s a good performance, it’s not high so there’s little reason for him to struggle but he was a bit rough on KoMS, he sounded tired. Is there any more specific question you’d like to ask about it?

      Like

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