Valerie Nicolosi Niemerg
Lecture 16 - The Men: Part II - Sing Like Men
Knowledge of the octaves (Lesson 15) certainly helps. I’ve seen quite a few gentlemen turn their singing around as soon as they understood this concept. But this knowledge will only bring you to singing the right notes. It will not help you sing the notes well.
By well, I mean far more than hitting the correct pitches. I mean singing with your whole voice, your male voice, your whole God-made instrument, your human body.
To do this, you need to revisit the two resonance chambers of the voice: head and chest. For a quick review of the terms “head” and “chest” voice, check out blog Lessons 12 & 13.
Head and chest voice. The "average" male voice is predominantly chest voice resonant. Men have a head voice, but it generally takes up less range than head voice does. For the lay man, let’s say your voice is on average 70-80% chest voice, and 20-30% head voice. In other words, most notes are in your chest voice. You will need your head voice to sing an occasional note in hymns and chants, but most of what you sing in congregational singing, is in your chest voice range.
For women, it is the opposite. Sopranos generally have from five to ten notes in their chest voice and up to and exceeding two octaves of head voice. Head voice takes up the largest percentage of the female range (unless you’re a contralto and those are incredibly rare).
Understand, that these two “voices,” head and chest, SOUND different. And for the singer, they FEEL different. Neither voice is based in throat tension. In both head and chest, I’m talking about resonance. Parts of your body vibrating, buzzing, shaking around. When you’re in the head voice, you generally feel this buzzing sensation in your head. And chest. . . well, I’ll let you use your imagination . . .
In singing, the line between what we hear and what we feel is perilously thin.
So, when you’re a man standing alone in a room of thirty women, and none of the men in the congregation are even lifting a hymnal, well, chest voice is just going to FEEL so wrong to you. You are most likely going to do what is only natural in this circumstance. You’re going to try to sing in your head voice.
So, for simplification purposes, assume that your brain associates higher notes with head voice and lower notes with chest voice. When I get these Deacons in my studio, I find over and over again, each one is trying to sing the low notes in their head voice. Because of constantly hearing nothing but women singing with them in church, and the natural use of the organ in higher registers, they think they are too low, and are trying to make their voices “sound higher.” To do this, they are literally “pulling” their head voices down far below the break into what should be their chest voice range.
Some guys can pull this off with little more devastating effect than a wispy, pinched sound. But many times, this manipulation of the male voice produces an unintentional “higher pitch.” And so, the infectious lie of tone deafness begins. . .
Of course, the voice does this. OF COURSE IT DOES. Your head voice was not meant to sing that low.
You’re supposed to be singing in your chest voice down below your break.
Wait – tone deafness??
Yes. Tone deafness can be trained in. All you have to do is tell yourself a little lie.
Over and over . . . and over. . .
Whenever one of my Deacon students starts singing a random "higher pitch" instead of the one I played for him, he just keeps going, like the wrong note will somehow magically go unnoticed.
I stop them.
“Are you on the right note?” I ask.
“No,” they always respond. Sheepishly, I’ll add.
They always know when they are on the wrong note. But they keep lying to themselves about it because they’d rather re-train themselves to be tone deaf, than be the only booming chest voice in a room of singing women.
And frankly I don’t blame them.
But, I can’t make the other men in the church sing . . . yet. So, if you are one of the poor souls trying to sing in liturgical worship and this scenario sounds at all familiar to you, go to Confession, because you’ve been lying to your ear.
You know you’re on the wrong note, like a pathological liar knows the truth . . .
Until they don’t know it any more. . . tone deafness.
Men. Wake up. Snap out of it. Most of your range is in your chest voice. Stop trying to mix and blend with the women by singing in head voice. That’s not the way God made your voice to sing. You sound thin and wimpy. You do not sound like you’re worshipping Someone who died on a cross to save you from eternal damnation. You sound sort of Kumbaya and seventies-flower-child, let’s all hold hands and “chill.” (Anybody want a cigarette?)
This is not the way God made the male voice to resound. A man’s voice should not be weak and wispy. It should be strong, deep and full of chest resonance.
But if you sing in your full chest voice, you will most certainly stick out.
I have some advice for you.
That will be sixty dollars please. (My rates went up this year)
Everybody (not just the men) needs to stop singing like apologetic blobs. What are we afraid of??
How wonderful it would be if ten strong and confident men walked into each Mass and started singing in the voices God gave them, the way the male voice is supposed to resonate. And like they meant it, darnit. Like Heaven and Hell were listening. Like they were standing on a spiritual battlefield, and fearlessly letting the other guys have it.
I guarantee that suddenly everyone else would being experimenting with their natural voices as well. The “par” of hyper-piano singing would be demolished by the overwhelming resonance of honest praise and love-filled worship.
I know this because I’ve seen it. . . . of course it was in a room full of Protestants. Once a week at Eastman (oh so many years ago), the “Inter-varsity Christian Fellowship” would meet in a large room on campus to read scripture, listen to preaching and sing. Only about a twentieth of the room was singers. But holy cow! That room RANG with full, rich, resonant praise. You could almost feel the earth shaking beneath you and the powers of Hell trembling as they scurried away with their tails between their legs.
The male singing voice is an incredible instrument that holds a lot of power. Most of us, in our generation, don’t even know what the male voice is capable of. When I used to take opera singers to grammar schools, the kids were astonished. The boys would just gape and stare in disbelief.
If you don’t know what a male voice can really do, it wouldn’t hurt for you to listen to some incredible singing. And this guy. And definitely this guy. (And don’t’ skip one of the most stunningly beautiful voices of our time in a pro-life body. If he can sing so beautifully in his chest voice. . . shame on the rest of us.)
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to turn anyone into an opera singer. But if this is what your voice is capable of, why are you singing for God like a wispy flower-child? If God gave you a Porsche to praise and worship Him, why are you singing with a Hyundai?
Remember the Israelites dancing around on the beach on the other side of the Red Sea? They were singing. All four hundred thousand of them. They were literally bursting with glory and praise for God. And they had only been rescued from a lifetime of slavery. We’ve been rescued from an eternity of despair.
Sing like men.
Sing low, in your natural octave, and feel the resonance deep in your chest. (Chest, not throat). Embrace the lower sound in your voice and let all the ladies, the children, the servers, the rafters, and Heaven and Hell hear you.
Forever and ever. Amen.