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Soprano Vocal blend

As always, the lists collective wisdom produced lots of interesting advice
and personal techniques for blending a soprano line. My sincere thanks to
all who responded. Here is my initial question and the responses received.

Peter Gilmour

My church choir has about 10 sopranos. Despite the fact that virtually all
are fairly light voices, the sound is not blending as well as it might. I am
hearing a lot of individual voices, especially some of our Asian ladies but
not exclusively them, rather than a unified sound. I would be very
interested to hear how some of the more experienced directors go about
obtaining their blend. Things you do with the voices and who you select to
sit with whom.
If you care to reply privately I will post a compilation in due course.
Many thanks for your assistance in advance.
Peter Gilmour
Auckland, New Zealand.

Peter: in my experience, "blend" is a dangerous concept unless treated very
carefully. I would not ask singers to sound like each other, or use language
which suggests they copy someone's sound. Most singers without substantial
private lessons don't understand that what they perceive of their own voice
is usually the direct opposite of what the rest of the world hears. So I
would concentrate on the goal of uniform, open vowel production. Make sure
you model clear, consistent vowel sounds to your group.

Floyd Slotterback
Northern Michigan University

From: Jeanne Rasmussen
Reply-To: jrasmuss(a)
To: pgilmour(a)

I do a lot of work with voice matching. Have 2-3 voices sing together
at a time and move them around until you find voices that work well
together. Some voices conflict with other voices and can make the sound
worse. But, moving them around and putting a 'buffer' voice in between
clashing voices will help with unification. You will be surprised how
this kind of placement will change the way your choir sounds. Also,
uniformity of vowel sounds will make a big difference.

From: David Griggs-Janower
X-Sender: janower(a)
To: Peter Gilmour

I take a half-hour (less if possible!) to hear them in combinations.
FIrst I try to order them by voice size, so the front row might have
the three lightest, the next row the middle three, the last row the
ones with the largest voices. This is all comparative. Then I hear
the front three in the various combinations, ie: standing ABC, ACB,
BCA, BAC etc, until the blend is best. Then I do the same with the
second row. Then I hear the second and first rows together, and
sometimes one of the rows has to reverse itself. Then I add the third

I never hear them individually- there is always a minimum of two
voices, and usually three at once, and sometimes it takes several
times to figure out who is who for size, color, etc. I always choose
a phrase of music they know very well, so they are really singing, and
which, if possible, covers a range of, for sopranos, about Bb to F or
G (must go over the break). I don't worry about the A's - that
usually a different problem.

This works amazingly well, but it sure takes some time! It's not
original, by the way. I was persuaded of this when I saw/heard it
demonstrated at a workshop.

Good luck.

David Griggs-Janower
Albany Pro Musica
228 Placid Drive
Schenectady, NY 12303-5118
SUNYA Music department fax: 518/442-4182

Dear Peter,

I was invited to start an amateur women's choir in our community 4 years
ago. Naturally the blend at the beginning was not all I would have wished so
I started using the Kodaly intonation exercizes. Worked like a charm


I forgot to mention that those intonation exercizes are also great for
teaching correct staggered breathing techniques.


From: Dennis Keller
To: pgilmour(a)

While I do not presume to have any "sure fire" answers, I have found that
seating the soprano section is very important. In other words some voices
blend well and others do not. It may even vary as to which side of each other
they sit. I have also, at times, alternated (by 2) altos and sopranos, in
order to have a women's sections that blends, (sitting in quartets is still my
overwhelming preference). Also, since I am in California and have many singers
from the Pacific Rim in my choirs and Voice Classes, I have found that many of
the Asian dialects, have many "harder" sounding vowels in them. Thus the
singers have these vowel concepts in their ears from years of the spoken
language. It is a long process to get them to relax their jaws, round their
mouths, and flatten the back of their tongues in order to get a more rounded
vowel concept. These are just some ideas (by all means not complete)regarding
the difficulties you are experiencing. Best of luck.
Dennis Keller

From: Mark Andrew Pope
To: Peter Gilmour

A couple of "quick fixes" that will also help them in other ways other
than blend.
1) Seat them so that the ones that sound most alike in tone quality,
strength, pronouciation, etc.. are seated together.

2) Make sure they have a good concept of vowel unification. If there are
four different ways of prnouching [u] (in IPA) choirs will do it. Make
sure they practice this during warm-ups for at least the five most common

3) Have them do exer. that have them put their finger in front of their
mouth (like shhh-ing someone) and then sing on a very light and airy 5
note scale or another common warm up. This will help them to have the
same sort of tone rather than accentuaing the vibrato or tone that they
might be using to "hear themselves". Some of them may be singing out,
not due to a diva attitude, but rather, it helps their voice be
distinctive and therefore stick out. Don't discourage this as much as
you encourage a light airy sound... it will help blend...

Hope this helps.

Mark Pope

Date: Sun, 14 Mar 1999 14:17:38 EST
To: pgilmour(a)

In a message dated 3/14/99 1:37:50 AM Eastern Standard Time,
pgilmour(a) writes:

I find most blending problems come from too spread a vowel sound. Try warm-up
exercises using all the vowel sounds. Have the work at placing the sound so
there is "length" in the vowel sound. Don't tolerate a "spread" sound.
Ususally you can get a blended tone in these warm-ups. Then when you are
singing words, if they are not blending, go back and have them do a few of the
warm-up exercises to get the good unified tone back.

Ron Markle, Director
Clinton Heights Lutheran Church Choirs
The Columbus Maennerchor & Damenchor
Columbus, Ohio, USA

Return-Path: Ronmarkle(a)
From: Ronmarkle(a)
Date: Sun, 14 Mar 1999 19:46:38 EST
To: pgilmour(a)

By "length" and "spread" I am talking about the relative depth as opposed to
shallowness of the singing vowel tone quality. I am not sure I can really
illustrate it by simply writing about it, but I will try.

If you sing the vowel sound of a long "A", you could spread the sound by
leaving the mouth just barely open and singing through a wide smile made with
your lips. We get that rather undesireable and shallow sound a lot in the
speech and some poor singing sound where I live in the midwestern U. S. I
hear a lot of untrained singers, especially young voices who are in high
school, singing with this sound. (I am an adjudicator for the Ohio Music
Education Association and we have solo, ensemble and choral contests in which
thousands of young singers participate). I always try to tell them to not sing
with a spread sound that they often make, especially on the "A" and "E"
vowels, but to drop their jaw and sing with more of the "length" that comes
more naturally on the "O" and "Oo" vowels.

It is easy to illustrate when I am directing a choir. When I taught choral
music in high school several years ago, I found that I could get the sound I
wanted from my young singers if I told them I wanted a more mature sound--even
an operatic tone. What they did was to usually simply sing with what I have
always called more "length" in the sound.

I often use warmup exercises that are "Ah" (on CDEFGFEDC), continuing with
"Ay" (CDEFDFEDC), concluding with "EE" (CDEFGFEDC). I make sure they don't
sing the "Ay" or the "EE" with the shallow "spread" sound I am trying to
explain. I then move the exercise up a half step to D flat and
repeat--continuing to D natural, etc.

After that exercise, I move to one that concentrates on the naturally warmer
"Oh" and "Oo" vowel sounds combined with the "Ah" which often tends to be sung
with a rather shallow and what I call "spread" sound.

The important thing is to focus on dropping the jaw for the "length" I am
trying to illustrate and not letting them open their mouths in almost a smile
as they sing. I have always found that, if I can get the vowels right in
warmups, I can get them to translate that same good tone to music with words.

I hope I have explained what I am talking about and that it will work for you.

Regards and best of luck.

Ron Markle

From: Susan E Nace

Hi, Peter!
We correspond again!
Actually, what I do with "problem sopranos," I approach actually as an
entire ensemble.
My general approach is to place the strong voices (one from each voice
part) in the middle (stong voices usually are the ones that read the
best, too)
"s" means strong "p" means pretty "o" means ordinary.

Bs Bo Bp BsTs Tp To Ts
Ss So Sp SsAs Ap Ao As

Bo Bp Bs Ts Tp To
Bo Bp Bs Ts Tp To
So Sp Ss As Ap Ao
So Sp Ss As Ap Ao

The prettier voices (one from each voice part) are the "second" voices
The more ordinary voices (one from each voice part) are the "third"
voices out.
Then the process repeats with the second of the strong voices

What I find with this process is that the stronger singers don't feel
they have to sing as loud to "support" the rest of the group because they
are hearing stronger voices around them.

The other thing I do with a larger ensemble is have three singers (from
one section) sing with each other a simple phrase and then arrange them
in accordingly (the "s" "p" "o" thing.) (Beforehand, you might "classify"
your singers as strong, pretty and ordinary - and then mix and match)

If I have a number of womens voices that are strong with weak men's
sections, then I split the voices, such as

From: Meg Hulley
Reply-To: mhulley(a)
Organization: Loyola University
To: pgilmour(a)

As far as "blend" is concerned, what we're really talking about is a
concept of group sound in which vibrato, vowel formation, volume, and
tuning all play a role. Singers whose voices blend easily may have an
innate (and even unawares) ability to imitate those voices around
them... singers who don't "blend" may not.
I do not believe in attempting to make all voices sound like one ideal
voice; I do, however, believe that singers can and should be able to
alter the shapes and colors of their vowels, which usually solves most
"blend" problems. By the way, my soprano section has around 13, of all
volumes, vibrato sizes and speeds, and origins (lots of regional
pronunciations), and I believe they blend rather well with focus on
their vowel formation.
Singers who cannot control the speed and size of their vibrato may
cause some troubles (and for some reason, church choir sopranos are
frequent culprits!), but you might try reminding them that vibrato
should confirm and not confuse the pitch, and experiment with singing
with less vibrato in passages that are particularly exposed or
Using just those two tools, vowel formation and control of vibrato, has
solved almost all troubles of "blend," in my experience. Good luck with
your choir!
Dr. Meg Hulley, Loyola University New Orleans


This is a problem that requires time before or after rehearsal. The only way to
really find balance and blend in a section is by ear. First you must isolate
the section. After isolating the section, take them through a simple vocalise.
During the vocalize the seating arrangement will seem to "evolve". You'll find
a good place up front for three or four and maybe two or three in back.
Inevitably one or two voices will end up being tough to place. Keep them
moving. In time you will find an arrangement that stands out to your ear as
"thee one". It's my preference to put warmer tones in front and brighter tones
in back. The warmth seems to take the edge off the brightness and vice versa.
However, choral sound is a very subjective sensation and your own ears have to
be the final judge. For more information on choral sound placement consult the
"What You See Is What You Get" video by Rodney Eichenberger. He has wonderful
ideas on voice placement.
n Todd Henry

You probably know the usual approaches. Make absolutely sure that all
vowels are identical in sound. Different native languages can do very
peculiar things to vowel qualities! And work on getting everyone breathing
properly, supporting the sound properly, and opening up the resonators

Beyond that, I really think that you are at the mercy of the gods!
Sometimes you get a group of voices, by the luck of the draw, that is not
destined to blend together. If you have a professional choir, you can fire
people and hire new people, but you don't have that priviledge with

The kind of voice that I really treasure is what I call a "focus voice."
This is a voice that does not stick out itself, but somehow has a quality
that gathers and unifies the rest of the voices in that section in an
almost magical way. They are few and far between, but when you find one,
cherish it!


John & Susie Howell (mailto:John.Howell(a)
Virginia Tech Department of Music
Blacksburg, Virginia, U.S.A. 24061-0240
Vox (540) 231-8411 Fax (540) 231-5034

To: pgilmour(a)

Besides the usual continuing emphasis on good support and balanced
sounds, there is an additional technique a lot of conductors use -
placing the voices.

Line up all the section and vocalize them. Any arpeggio or scale you
like can work. Listen for the singer whose sound best represents what
you would like. Try that singer with the next voice which you think
might be of approximately equal size or timbre. Have them reverse sides
- I sound different standing on your right than I do standing on your
left, because our ears tend to hear unevenly. Gradually keep adding
voices. try each new voice in various spots in the line, until you get
the sound which works best. I find that I usually end up getting the
lighter voices together, so they don't have to force to hear themselves.
then play with the rows. Sometimes, having the stronger voices in back
helps encourage the lighter singers, if they are insecure on their
parts. Other times, placing the strong singers in front allows the
lighter singers to not be overwhelmed. the answers lie in your choir and
in your taste.

One last thing. A friend of mine uses the "pick up the phone" idea as
well. Ask the singers to think of which hand they usually use to hold
the phone. have them pantomime picking up the phone. Some will use both
hands equally, which is fine. Having the dominant ear (the one with "the
phone" in it) pointed into the section helps the blend.

I suspect many people will email the same ideas to you. Good luck. BTW -
a fringe benefit is that going through the process really amazes your
choir, because they can HEAR the differences.

Joel Pressman
Beverly Hills High School

From: Kerry Leyden
To: pgilmour(a)
I was taught that blend was unity of vowel sound -- nothing more,
nothing less. When I have blend problems, I do warmups using sustained
notes on different vowels. In fact, your email reminds me that we need
to improve the EH sound -- two of my sopranos are singing AA (as in the
Mid-Western "grass") when they should be singing EH.

Kerry Leyden
Saint Paul's Epsicopal Church and/or Las Lomas High School
Walnut Creek, CA

From: SCMatz(a)
Date: Mon, 15 Mar 1999 13:36:13 EST

I am rehearsing the Faure Requiem at this season. Trying to get the blend in
the Sanctus for sopranos is very necessary here. When I was at Westminister
Choir College John Finley Williamson told the choir at a rehearsal that the
most holy moment in his life was when he saw a father pick up his dead son and
hold him. The choir was shocked! We were all in late teens or early twenties.
"That is what Holiness is; not the cheap way you all sing it." I told my adult
choir this story at the last rehearsal. Of course even adults were aware of
this emotional impact. The next time we sang that section, there was no
vibrato, excellent pitch, beautiful tone, and a blend which we had never had
before. Charles H. Matz

From: Helen Climo
Subject: Soprano blend

Hi Peter,
One really useful exercise we did in Festival Singers a few years ago was to
set an entire session aside to work on blend.

A section would be lined up and asked to sing a few bars, and assessed by
the other (listening) sections for blend. Then people would be asked to move
around and the new arrangement would be compared to the immediate previous
one. After half a dozen such iterations, the best arrangement was pretty
clear. The most distinctive and strongest voices wound up side by side in
the middle of the group. The process involved the whole choir and made them
really think about what they were doing. Of course, you have to get people
to buy in to singing beside someone different, if you want it to be permanent.

One other comment I have heard about blend is that to blend voices singing
at the top of the stave, one asks them to darken the tone, whereas to blend
voices at the bottom, one asks them to brighten the tone.
From: "Jeanie Neven"
To: pgilmour(a)

I worked with a university women's chorus which had a very diverse membership in
both experience and cultural background. I focused a lot on the unification of
the vowel sound in my attempt to unify their sound. I also focused on "head
voice" and "support". When all three things were working - the sound definitely
came together. Perhaps you could work on sound by having a smaller group with
the sound you want sing and then start adding to it. This would provide a model
from which to work. This might involve moving your sopranos around to influence
sound. I also would focus on "listening" and have the choir do little exercises
involving "sound" and "color". Sometimes I would ask them to sing "like a
16-yr-old California valley girl" or "British" or other stereotypes to bring
their attention to the different kinds of sounds they can actually make.

Good Luck.

* * * * * * * * * * * *
Jeanie Neven
on October 21, 2007 10:00pm
See if having them imitate a male falsetto would help. This produces a healthy, truly mature female sound that they never hear in pop music, and don't believe is available or useful or "good".

Vowel purity, real breath support and a raised soft palate and and expanded ribcage with elevated sternum.