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Tips for Singers:
"Shades of Passion"
(Sing your heart out . . . not your voice)

by Mark Baxter 
Screams are red, whispers are blue. Funk is orange with some green mixed in too.

These, and the rest of the rainbow, are the colors of emotion. In general, we tend to paint with a limited pallet of vocal sounds. Singing in a single hue not only limits your expression, but may lead to vocal problems as well. While screaming is an obvious example of vocal abuse, whispering can be stressful in a different way. Fortunately, the healthiest technique also creates the most compelling results. You simply need to sing with a wide variety of tints and shades.

It takes equal parts strength, flexibility and coordination to keep your voice out of harm’s way. A pure vocal tone is the result of balanced muscle activities. Think of it as white light. This balance (equal amounts of pressure and resistance) creates a slippery, free-floating sensation that allows maximum range and dead-on intonation. You can sing this way for hours and not feel the slightest bit of fatigue, but it’s about as exciting as painting by numbers. Popular music is about passion. Feelings like love, hate, anger, joy, lust and loneliness inject color into everyone’s life. To accurately capture the spectrum, you’ve got to be willing to mix it up and sing outside the lines. However, physical realities like strength and condition cannot be ignored. Here’s where the tints and shades come in.

Picture a deep, red scream coming out of your mouth. As you sustain this ruby roar, you notice your pitch is flat. This is classic imbalance -- too much red (pressure). Lighten up just a tinge. Think of it as adding a drop of white to the color of the sound. The audience won’t hear any difference in the new tint but your larynx will immediately feel less burdened. Continue to back off the pressure (adding white) until you have satisfied both pitch and passion. Your new scream remains red but is now semi-balanced, which means less vocal fatigue.

Now sing with a pale blue whisper. With so much air dumping out, it’s hard to sustain notes and finish phrases. Your throat becomes dry and ticklish. Just as an artist adjusts the air/paint mixture on an airbrush, blend more pigment into your sound. The more blue you add, the less air escapes -- increasing control. Again, the new shade will be undetectable to an audience but make a world of difference to your larynx.

The coordination required to make a micro adjustment in sound-color is the skill of singing. Some are born with it and others develop it by performing and/or training. Since physical abilities change slightly from day to day, an internal awareness is necessary to consistently stay in balance. Monitors and head phones mixes can’t provide much help. Dialing in the perfect shade relies on feeling, not hearing. This is a difficult, advanced concept, but well worth pursuing. It develops a respect for the smallest of details. The result is a vocal performance that is as rich in color as the moment allows without sacrificing tomorrow’s performance. In other words, a singer with a future.

Mark Baxter is a vocal therapist who offers private and video lessons. To contact him, call: (800)659-6002. Visit his website at:

(reprinted with the kind permission of Mark Baxter)

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