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Improving Rhetoric & Aesthetic of Vocal Performances

Instructor: Rachel Matz

Rachel teaches acting and voice. She has an MFA in Acting and an MBA in Business Administration.

Learn about how to improve vocal performances with evaluation and strategies. Explore the many ways singers and speakers have the opportunity for evaluation, the multiple areas of evaluation, and the evaluation strategies.

Vocal Performance: Evaluation and Improvement

Think about actors, pop stars, radio announcers, rock singers, and other performers. When listening to speakers and singers, we make a decision almost immediately whether or not we like the sound of the voice, the style of the song, and the quality of the performance. Pitch, tone, rhythm, style, diction, resonance, breathing, and overall aesthetic are the considerations used to evaluate a performer. However, before performers reach the stage, performance evaluation is a positive tool to improve their work and the outcome of their final performance, before the public, and the media, have the opportunity to critique them.

A Performer in Action
performer example

Vocal Performance Evaluation

Singers and speakers have many forums for evaluation, such as taking voice classes, working with vocal coaches and teachers, and rehearsing with directors and musical directors. Taking a voice class allows an artist the chance to perform in front of a teacher and other artists, and then, receive feedback from them. Although the artist has less individual attention, this setting provides a built-in audience and constructive criticism.

The feedback can discuss pitch, diction, projection, resonance, inflection, volume, pacing, tone, and performance value, but the artists, who stand out, must have style, passion, energy, commitment, believability, and intention. In a class environment, the singer or speaker incorporates comments into the rehearsal process, and eventually, sharpens the performance to be audience ready.

Let's say Elaine, a singer, is preparing for a concert, and she needs to ensure her vocals and performance style are right on the money. She would set up a session with her vocal coach to pinpoint any performance issues for her to improve. A vocal coach focuses on song performance, rather than technique, and helps expand repertoire, strengthen stage presence and showmanship, and develop overall performance style.

What if a speaker needs coaching? Well, voice coaches are not only for singers. They help speakers communicate better in terms of performance and presentation skills. Speakers need to work on rhetoric, resonance, breath support, clarity, and prosody, which is the pitch, volume, pace, and rhythm of speech used for vocal variety, and they need to be aware of how the emotional tone of speech influences the performance. A vocal coach works with the speaker to pull all of these pieces together.

A voice teacher works with singers individually to solidify technique, maintain a healthy singing voice, and enhance vocal quality. A voice teacher's evaluation focuses on pitch accuracy, vocal range, breathing, and control rather than performance style elements; however, sometimes a voice teacher and a vocal coach can be one and the same.

Suppose Nathaniel is cast in a Broadway musical, and he is a singer/actor. He would have the opportunity to rehearse with a director and musical director, and he would work on both speaking and singing in the production. During rehearsals, he would get feedback on a regular basis along with the rest of his cast, and he would incorporate his notes into his work.

Rehearsals follow a creative learning, evaluating, and improving sequence, ultimately to prepare for opening night. Each individual is responsible for the individual's vocal performance, yet in a cast, relationships with other cast members are taken into consideration; for instance, singing a duet or exchanging dialogue. Even artists, who work on solo projects, rehearse with directors and musical directors. Performers have the opportunity to improve their work through interpretation, repetition, and evaluation with the guidance of the aforementioned directors.

Vocal Performance Improvement Strategies

Self-Evaluation

Can performers evaluate themselves in addition to classes, rehearsals, and private instruction? Of course. First, try recording a speech or a song, and then, listening back for places of improvement. Then, explore areas such as technique, interpretation, presentation, diction, and musicianship, for singers, by asking questions like:

  • How is my breathing?
  • Am I articulating every consonant and vowel?
  • What is my intention with every phrase or beat (a change in objective)?
  • Is my interpretation appropriate?
  • How are my rhythm and musical phrasing in a song?

These questions help an artist discover how to rehearse, interpret their own work, and check in with each element of their process.

In addition, fill out a self-evaluation form, answering different questions such as:

  • How long is a practice session, and how many hours per week do I practice?
  • What is the structure of the practice?
  • What skills am I focusing on now, and which skills should be practiced next?
  • What are the vocal exercises I do?
  • Do I work on my voice outside of practice sessions?

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