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Are there any exercises you can do as a singing group to improve the blend between the various voice parts, that's soprano, alto and tenor...? If yes, any recommendation is welcome...

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Some points I want to hit right up front here (and then I'll get very wordy w/ the actual exercises). As you can tell, this is a subject near & dear to my heart.

  1. Good blend between voice parts is actually (mostly) about good blend between individuals. Once a person has decided that they'll pay attention to good blend, then they tend to bring that attention and that good blend to whatever voice part they sing. So any work you'll do on fixing blend between voice parts is really going to boil down to getting individual people to buy into the "let's blend" mentality.
  2. Good blend starts with good listening, so exercises that get you to listen to each other are very important. So, for example, even if the exercise in question normally is just aimed at having you listen for pitches, you'll find that success in pitch-correction will eventually translate into success in blend-correction, or at least it will translate into opportunities to point out blend issues (e.g. "okay guys, we've fixed those pitches there, but now let's try it again with a consistent tone & resonance, and here's how").
  3. Not only do you need people to be willing to listen & blend, but you'll need some kind of agreement (even if it's unspoken) of what you're blending towards, i.e. how a particular bit is supposed to be sung, especially if it can be expressed in terms of real in-the-room examples that people can hear and follow, right then and there. For example, should your group sound be more ethereal and choir-like in this particular passage, and so should you all be trying to sing more in a head resonance like what Jane is doing over there? Or is this actually supposed to be a loud, blatty passage, in which case we all need to add some more nasal resonance here, like this (**sings loudly through nose**)? Those are just made-up examples, obviously, but hopefully the point is clear.

A couple exercises now.

For simplicity, you can't beat "unison vowels":

  • Before: Get the group where they can actually hear each other. Standing in a tight circle of 4-12 people is ideal. If your group is too big to do that, then consider breaking them out into smaller groups for this exercise.
    • Blending really well in a 100-person group isn't really possible (you get the "choir" effect), unless you first break up that group into smaller-level chunks, build blend/agreement at that smaller level, and then bring back that blend/agreement to the larger group. If someone wants to question this point in a comment on this answer, I'll be happy to add (perhaps elsewhere, cited here) a recorded demonstration of the difference between the blend of a famous barbershop men's chorus and a famous choir, within the same song performance, which illustrates the difference of results I'm talking about.
  • How: Have all voice parts sing, in unison, a particular vowel sound (see details on particular vowels below) on the exact same pitch (not octaves), like maybe a middle C (C4) or the A just below that (A3), which will be slightly low for most women and slightly high for most men. Sustain the singing as long as is necessary (to observe effects, make corrections, etc.); people will probably need to "stagger breathe", i.e. individually sneak a breath and re-join the group singing.
  • What you're looking for:
    • You want everyone to listen and correct to get on the same pitch; if they don't do that, then these other blending effects will probably be destroyed.
    • You want everyone to sing at the ~same volume, where they're conscious of both their own volume level and (more importantly) the group's collective volume level.
    • You want everyone to pronounce their vowel sound in the same way (e.g. are they all actually singing the exact same "ah" part of the "iih" triphthong ("ah-eh-ee"), or is someone jumping ahead and is holding the "ee" part, which will sound nasty).
    • You want everyone to be using the same sort of resonance; e.g. (in the nomenclature I was taught) is everyone singing with a clean, light "head" resonance, or is someone resonating nasally/post-nasally, or is someone belting it out with a "mouth resonance". To get the most mileage out of this exercise, you probably want to mostly use "head" resonance, but you might experiment with other resonances. But the key is that everyone should be doing that same resonance (= blending), not just doing their own thing.
    • If you happen to be using a rather pure vowel sound (e.g. "ooo" or "ahh") and a rather clean resonance ("head"), and if people are listening and correcting their pitches, then you should start hearing audible acoustic effects like overtones (will sound like a phantom person singing one octave up, and maybe a fifth above that, too) and beat patterns (= slow oscillations when someone is close but not exactly on pitch... you listen for the beats, correct your pitch, and the beats will slow and then disappear).
  • Some details & nuances:
    • About different vowel sounds:
      • "ooo" will give you natural blend that comes to everyone the most easily (albeit with pretty low volume), it and will let people feel what their "head resonance" feels like, which is important generally and which comes in handy when using other vowel sounds on this exercise. So use the "ooo" vowel sound kind of like training wheels, to help people get acclimated to this exercise; but probably don't use it as your mainstay vowel sound, and eventually switch to "aaah" instead.
      • "aaah" will give you more volume so that everyone can hear what's going on; it's still a pretty clean, un-complicated vowel sound (sort of like "ooo"), so it's good to mostly use "aaah" whenever you do this exercise.
      • "eeee", "iiii" (eye), and other vowel sounds ("you"?) can be useful, but mostly only for pointing out peculiarities that are relevant to those sounds. For example: use "eee" to spot & fix bad resonance habits (too much nasal/post-nasal resonance); use "iiii" (eye) to spot & fix misunderstandings about how to sing diphthongs and triphthongs ("iiii" is an "ah-eh-ee" triphthong, and you want to dwell on the "ah" sound); etc.
    • If you're a directed group (if someone waves their hands while you sing), or maybe even if you're not, go ahead and direct the entrance, so that the group gets used to attacking the sound in unison (no one early, no one late; vowel sound starts on the directed downbeat; and prior consonant sound comes just before the directed downbeat).
  • Variations:
    • You could try the same thing on octaves, e.g. ladies on F4, men on F3. The way that things lock & blend (pitches, resonance, etc.) won't be quite as pure and simple as with the unison (so start with unisons before you really work on octaves), but you may notice some additional interesting effects (e.g. you could even get "undertones", i.e. phantom voices a fifth lower than the lower pitch on the lower pitch (thus reinforcing it), due to the (distant) beat pattern between the notes of a perfectly-tuned octave).
    • Given a particular song passage in which you think your group is having blend issues, sing that passage through a couple times, the normal way, with parts and with whatever blend problems people normally bring to that passage. Then do the "unison vowels exercise" for a bit, to get people using their ears and making corrections. Then sing that particular song passage again, and see what problems have "fixed themselves".

Just one more exercise (there are many more, but this answer is running long).

Unison vowel to the chord

  • How:
    1. Start with the "unison vowel" exercise as described above.
    2. Once the group has reached equilibrium in singing the unison vowel (good pitch, volume, everything... good blend, in other words), direct a downbeat, and on that downbeat everyone will change pitch immediately to their particular part of "the chord", i.e. some agreed-in-advance part of a I chord in the key that you're singing.
      • Your own group's definition of "the chord" may vary, but what's worked for me in the past is: basses drop an octave to the root, altos stay on the exact same note, tenors drop down (a perfect fourth) to the fifth scale tone (the "dominant"), and sopranos jump up (a major third) to the third scale degree (the "mediant").
    3. As in the "unison vowel" exercise, everyone holds their part (stagger-breathing as necessary) while we listen and correct for blend issues.
  • What you're looking for:
    • Everything that was described in the "unison vowel" exercise further above.
    • Further, you're looking for people's volumes to change. When the group was singing unison before, they had a certain "group volume". When people break out to individual parts, you're looking for that "group volume" to be maintained at a consistent level, and that generally means that people will need to sing somewhat louder on those individual parts, according to what's referred to as the "unison rule" (which is usually expressed in a reverse form: "when we come together to sing a unison, we back off on our individual volumes").
    • Further, you're looking for tuning to get trickier. Depending on whether your group sticks strictly with "tempered tuning" or allows yourself to wander into "harmonic tuning" territory, you'll find that you can start fiddling with how you tune the chord to get the most resonant sound (e.g. the most "ring", the most audible overtones, etc.). That'll be especially true for whatever voice part is singing the third scale degree, and slightly less true for whoever's singing the fifth scale degree, and not at all true for whoever's still on the root(s).

I'll just leave it at that for now. I have another good exercise that involves descending lines that lock into different chords on the way down, but I want to see first how this already-lengthy answer is received before I dive into any of that.

I anticipate that you'll get a bunch of good answers to this question, since different people have different exercises that will have worked for them in the past. Even if you pick other exercises than the ones listed here, try to make sure that you bring to those other exercises the same fundamental principals I’ve touched on here, which I would summarize as follows:

  • Blend starts with listening; you can’t blend if you don’t know what to listen for.
  • Blend is about noticing something that needs correcting, and then making that correction.
  • Blend can encompass not just tone/resonance, but also pitch, volume, attack, and as many other things as you care to add to it.
  • @Raphael Gbologah, since I don't have enough reputation points (yet) to comment directly on your question, I'll ask here: can you possibly add a little bit of information in your question describing what kind of music and what kind of group/ensemble you're thinking of? E.g. is it a choir of 100 people that sings with orchestras, or a chorale of 16 people that sings early Renaissance a cappella music, or doo-wop group of 5 people that sings covers of heavy metal songs? Just wondering. – mlibby Dec 5 '15 at 15:03
  • @Raphael Gbologah, from your comment on PA System Factors to Consider, I'll guess that the group you're asking for is the same worship band you mention, with lead vocals and SAT parts (I guess as backup singers). Based on that, I just want to point out that there are some types of ensembles and songs on which a blend-y sound is not normally sought. For example, soloists in operas aren't really supposed to blend (they need to stick out individually). And sometimes rock/praise music can sometimes be like that, too. So don't blend too much. – mlibby Dec 5 '15 at 15:36
  • Fixing my erroneous claim of a "fifth below" undertone for the unison octave exercise. I was mistakenly thinking of how a perfect fifth can produce octave-below undertones, in the some scenarios. Instead, the biggest harmonics you'll get from a perfect octave will be reinforcement of the lower root tone (because the frequency difference between the octave's two tones also happens to be equal to the frequency of that lower tone). Oops. – mlibby Dec 5 '15 at 16:18
  • yes it's the same group of about 20 people...and is a charismatic singing group, hope you get what that means... – Raphael Gbologah Dec 16 '15 at 12:48
  • Thanks very much for the answer, will like to know more about the rest of the exercises...@mlibby – Raphael Gbologah Dec 16 '15 at 13:06

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