Sunday, October 02, 2011

Sing like you speak – the ‘folk’ voice, or how to sing like a Bulgarian

I’ve always known that I’m more interested in traditional songs, but I’ve only just realised that it’s the vocal quality that I’m most drawn to.

Bulgarian women

Bulgarian National Women's Choir by Bruce MacRae

There’s something thrilling and primal about the sound of traditional singers’ voices. How do they achieve that and how does it differ from, say, ‘classical’ singing?

I came across a fascinating video the other day where the incomparable Dessislava Stefanova (founder and leader of the London Bulgarian Choir) explains how to get that extraordinary Bulgarian singing sound (you know, like Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares):

Dessi keeps things simple and non-technical and using lots of imagery.

Very broadly she explains that for the folk voice to have its power, singers try to keep the weighty quality that we have in our voice when we speak naturally.

As we sing higher, there is a temptation to switch into that ‘church choir’, angelic, sweet voice that is sometimes called head voice.

You can often hear when people switch between their normal speaking level voice and their head voice. It is this switch that allows people to yodel and lots of folk singers consciously employ it, whereas classically trained singers spend a lot of time trying to smooth over this obvious ‘break’.

Dessi points out that if we keep this speech quality to our voices as we sing higher, it produces a ‘twang’ (rather like a seagull!), but can become very unpleasant and whiny quite quickly.

The secret is to open the back of your throat (as you do when you yawn) as you’re singing. This is why Bulgarian singing (and other similar styles) is often known as ‘open-throat singing’. Also, if you don’t relax and open the back of your throat your voice will soon get tired and you will end up with a sore throat!

As well as producing a loud, powerful, resonant, grounded sound, singing like this results in a wonderful array of overtones (all those other notes which resonate with the main note) giving the voice a rich texture.

There is nothing to replace being taught one-to-one when learning a particular singing technique. You certainly can’t learn these things from books (although you can learn some of the technical terms and more about how anatomy works). However, you can get some useful insights from videos as you can see from this one.

So go and play with you voice now! Showers are a good place, but there’s nothing to stop you doing it anywhere you please. Or join a choir and discover your own, powerful, natural voice.

Have you tried this? Can you sing like a Bulgarian? Do leave a comment and let us know how you got on.


Chris Rowbury's website:

Chris Rowbury


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