Voice: The "Natural & the Trained". Various thoughts on preparation of the use of Voice.

Before anything else (as far as voice is concerned) was the developement of vocal expression through sound to speech, and how the "voice" is used to convey our feelings and thoughts. In time, depending upon our social upbringing, music is introduced into the equation. From lullabys to simple "sing-song" ditties, a child learns to respond to and engage in this simple form of communication. Later, that development becomes more complex.

At an early age, with a good ear and the ability to mimic what is heard, a child soon learns to use their voice in a variety of ways. As far as singing (everyone can sing, not all become accomplished), there is something that happens that is acknowledged by listeners and qualified as "pleasant to the ear". Most of us learned to sing by what was available for us to listen to. We learned to develop our voice by the positive reinforcemnt given by listeners, and, to a lesser extent, what we, ourselves, found pleasing. Of course, older or adult singers, radio, songs sung in school or church, etc. have an impact in this development. There are "natural singers" that have the ability to produce sound that place them above others. At some point, a "training" comes into play, either self taught (through mimicry) or by an individual that may wish to provide the guidance. My brother and I sang at an early age. We were able to produce harmonies that were pleasing. Later, in school, someone took it upon themselves to provide direction for our talent. Later still, when we were old enough to have our own likes and dislikes in music, we sang the songs we liked with our own style. Mimicry (as a means of self training) plays an important role, with us wishing to sound like a favorite singer, or style of music (classical, rock, blues, jazz, traditional/regional, etc.). Then there's also the "established trained way"/"formal training" which incorporates breathing, projection, balance, scales, development of "one's ear", practice for perfection, etc.

The gist of this discussion is: how did you, as a singer, develop? What influences can you cite as meaningful and having an impact on how you use your voice?


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David Henderson said:

Now watch a traditional singer perform a ballad.  Eyes closed, focussed on his or her inner space.  Then notice how the audience respond and how he draws them into him, rather than he reaching out to them.  The knack is in creating your inner space and singing in it.  make the audience do some work.  That's why amplification is not always a good thing. Forget about the projection.  That's ok for rowdy sea shanties and the like.  For the more lyrical and poetic songs, have confidence in the audience's response.  If you are doing it right, they will shush each other up.

Hiya David,

I think this vid of Muirrean , Pe in Eirinn I,  is the perfect example of what you mean here....Just look at her......When she opens her eyes, there's this sort of "inward" focus. IMHO this is one of the best trad vids around on the net...


cheers, Kees, tradjunkie, Iwish, and wannabee Sean Nos Singer :-)

I have been a traditional singer for the past 12 years. I started my journey by attending singing classes given by Deirdre Scanlan in Limerick (Limerick Deirdre Scanlan, not Solas Deirdre Scanlan). I would definitely have mimicked her to a certain extent in the beginning. I knew no better... The older I got, the more I was introduced to other styles of traditional singing. Over the years, Ive fallen into my own style. During this formal training, I did learn about breathing. I learnt about the importance of ornamentation and when it was appropriate to use it. But if Im asked if I was trained, I say no! I wasnt trained to sing, I was given advice on how to sing in a traditional style.

Sometimes I close my eyes when singing, other times I tell the story of the song to the audience I have before me by looking at them and engaging them. Theres no cut and dry formula, theres no wrong or right! If we all sang in the same traditional style, Irish singing would be very boring!

As regards amplification, I prefer to sing without it.. For the simple reason that it is different in every venue.. Some you need to stand right into to be picked up, others you could be a metre back and it would pick you up. Rarely is it "just right" in my opinion. Traditional singing is nicer without it and like a previous poster said, an appreciative audience will have the cop on to shut up.... And if they don't, well they're not worthy of hearing you in the first place!!

This is my traditional style. www.youtube.com/ElleMarieODwyer

't is true, Elle. An appreciative audience will shut up when you sing. Years ago I was in France, for hollidays, and I met up with a group of Irish. We met at the bar every night, where they sang songs all night. At the first night, as I stood listening to them, they invited me to sing a song too. God, was I scared!! I had never before sung in public. I knew a lot of stuff though, mostly Dubliners stuff, but other songs as well. So I sat with them, and gave them my favourite, "the shores of Loch Bran".

And though they were a noisy lot, and the Guiness flowed free, the moment I, or one of the others, started singing, they were

silent, and listened with so much respect. I still savour that memory.....Love your youtubes by the way, lovely stuff!! Particularly love Allow Waters, great performance...

cheers Kees

Hey Elle, I have to agree with Kees' agreement with your comment. Also, I've engaged your link to your YouTube stuff and listened appreciatively. Love your "voice"!!! Would love to have you join the Sean Nos & Traditional Singers group, and so formally invite you do so. (Go to "Groups", click & find us.) I believe you would be most welcomed. Cheers,


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