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“Vocal Advantage: Tone (part 4)” by Dina Else

VOCAL ADVANTAGE: TONE (part 4), by Dina Else (no. 27 in a series)
Through our discussions on resonance and singer’s formant, we’ve established that the voice is a musical instrument, responsive to the laws of acoustics like any other instrument.  Let’s continue moving forward under the broad umbrella of ‘tone’ and chat about ‘focus’ or ‘core’ in the sound. 
These two words used to frustrate me to no end when I was a young teacher, (or a younger singer for that matter).  “You need more core in the sound.”  “Your voice lacks focus.”  “Your choir’s tone needs more body or core in it.”  Okay, awesome.  At the time I could identify whether or not it was present but wasn’t always sure how to go about ensuring its consistent/constant presence. 
For me, core or focus to the tone, first and foremost, equals breath energy.  Edward Baird in A Spectrum of Voices defines focus as “The core in the middle of the tone that’s going to give the tone uniformity and quality throughout the range and the thing that is going to make it project.” He likens it to an electric cord, saying “if the cord doesn’t have a copper wire in the middle of it, it’s not going to carry any current, no matter what color of insulation you put around it.”  I LOVE that!  What a great definition! 
In younger singers I find it especially helpful, once the breath information has been correctly assimilated, to work from their speaking voices.  98% of them have a nice, clear speaking voice and a misconception that the speaking voice shouldn’t be similar.  I’ve even had younger singers tell me that they were purposefully singing with a breathy tone because that’s what they thought was what their director was asking for.  As directors we have to be careful when we say things like “move your breath through this phrase”, or “give this note more breath support”…If a singer doesn’t clearly understand breathing, these phrases can take on a whole new meaning.