Choral and Solo Singing-The Difference

Many think that because one has a good solo voice, he or she will be a good choir member. But, they might be wrong. In this blog, we shall discuss, “Choral and solo singing-the difference.

While participating in a local choral group this week, I was impressed by one of the voices I heard. It came from the tenor section and its location was not easily detected. The voice clearly was that of someone who had studied and was proficient in singing the part.

There was never a time during the rehearsal, when the choir was singing, that it was not heard. I do not say this to criticize the voice, but to make a point. There is a difference between singing as a soloist and singing in a choral group.

The Soloist

Solo Singing voice
Solo Singing

Most people are not aware that there is a difference in the vocal production of a solo singer and a choir singer. But, there is.

The soloist endeavors to produce a voice that makes him or her to be heard above an ensemble or orchestra. This is the way it should be if one is to be a good soloist.

The choral singer

Choir singing
Choral singing voice

On the other hand, the choral singer is almost the opposite. Rather than seeking to stand out above the crowd, he or she seeks to blend in with the crowd.

In the choir situation I mentioned above, this was almost to the extreme in not blending. It was a unique voice but used in the wrong situation.

Vibrato in choral and solo singing

Another characteristic of the solo voice is vibrato. If a soloist has no vibrato it is not long before “boring” sets in for the listener. Vibrato for the solo singer is the same as it is for the violinist. The string player who does not use vibrato tells right off that he or she is a beginner or amateur. A good soloist has just the right amount of vibrato. It may range from 4 to 7 oscillations per second. Good vibrato is a good indication of controlled relaxation and tension working together.

Choral singer and vibrato

Though some vibrato may be tolerated in the choral singer, it is best not used very often. In a sense, the choral singer must have excellent control over his or her vocal instrument. To have too wide a vibrato makes it hard to tune two singers of the same part. To have a fast vibrato makes it impossible to blend voices. An almost straight tone is the best for choral singing.

The 2800 factor in choral and solo singing

There is another factor that must be considered. That factor is what is call the “2800”. This factor is the general area of 2800 cycles per second. The pitch for 2800 would be between the F and F# at the top of the piano keyboard. The exact overtone varies from person to person. But this overtone is what gives “ring” to the voice.

This “ring” enables the singer to cut through the other sounds. It also gives a unique distinction to the voice.

The soloist and “2800”

The soloist strives and practices to develop this particular characteristic. It is necessary when singing over a chorus in operas or oratorios. The “2800” also helps to carry the voice in larger halls or auditoriums.

After developing the freedom and breath support, the soloist then should address the development of ‘the ring”.

The choral singer

When it comes to choral singing, the “2800” factor is a “no-no”. We learned that “2800” is what makes the soloist be able to stand out. It helps to cut through instrumental accompaniment and project to the back of the hall. This is not what we want in a choral singer.

This is what I heard in the rehearsal I referred to earlier. The tenor had a powerful ring (2800) in his voice. The voice could be heard over the whole choir. There is no way for a singer to blend with the other choir members when there is too much ring in the voice.

So, even if you are a trained soloist, you should be trained well enough to know how to cover “ring”. It might be better stated, trained not to produce the “ring”.

How to be a good choral singer

When we begin to learn good singing techniques, we learn vowels. The most open vowels are the “Ah” and the “Oh”. Those that are the most closed are the “ee” and the “i”, as in “it”. We work on “Ah” and “Oh” to get open and full sounds. We work on the “ee”s to get focus or ring in the voice.

It is good to work on both spectra to develop the whole voice. But when it comes to choral singing, we should lean toward the “Ah” end of the spectrum. But we should not be at the end of the spectrum. We should lean toward the “oo” on the other side of “Oh”. The “Ah” has, by its nature, some “ring” in it. By leaning toward the “oo” we cover the hard surfaces(teeth) that reflect that ring in the “Ah”. This will help tone down the “2800” and facilitate the blending of the voices.

How to blend

What is the best approach to produce a choral voice that blends with others? A choral conductor that I knew many years ago used the approach of opening the throat like a “yawn”. Hold that, and sing. Needless to say, it sounded a little odd. But, I believe he was headed in the right direction.

The “yawn” was in the right direction. When you “yawn” you open the throat and pharynx to its maximum. It is practically impossible to get any “ring” in your voice that way. But, it is not practical to sing in that manner.

(As a side note, if you want to hit the high notes that you can’t, try yawning and sing those high notes. You may surprise yourself just how easily you sing them.)

solo and choral singing
A yawn

Rather than assume a full “yawn”, assume the feeling at the beginning of the yawn. This is the time when the throat opens up and the larynx drops. Keep that feeling and sing an “Ah” on any pitch. Feel the openness. Even when you vocalize an “Ah”, you get the feeling of a little “oo”. Work to develop that feeling.

As you develop that sensation of beginning a yawn, you will develop a richer fuller sound. Because of the dropped jaw, it will be harder to “bare the teeth”, thus stifling the “ring”. Hence, it is easier to blend with other singers.

Carryover- Choral and Solo singing

As you develop this technique with the “Ah”, begin to do it with the other vowels. You will find yourself singing with a more open mouth, thus producing richer sounds. Can you imagine just how wonderful that will sound with a whole choir doing that? Then as we all begin to blend, though we are many, we have become one.

We become an instrument to show what Jesus had in mind when He established His church. He does not want to do away with your uniqueness, but He wants us to come together as one, just as He and the Father and the Holy Spirit are One.

Hear, O Israel. The Lord our God, He is One!

For more reading on singing, you can go HERE.

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