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Gospel vs Choral Singing Technique: A Brief Comparison

Gospel Technique

This is a post I recently made in a choral class where there was much interest in the sounds made in non-choral vocal settings, one in particular being gospel choir.

This is continuing some of today’s lecture and discussion.

For me, a lot of the differences that stand out are technical. The choirs that sound more “classical”—European art music—are employing very different vocal functions to the gospel sounding ones. The “classical” sounding ones are using more vocalizing strategies we associate with bel canto: According to Fagnan (2005, 7), bel canto principles include, but are not limited to: (1) Il respiro—passive inhalation with breath “falling into the body.” (2) Coup de glotte—“stroke of the glottis,” beginning each attack with the antagonist relationship known as the appoggio (lean into the voice), with equal amounts of subglottic pressure and vibration through onset and phonation. (3) Chiaroscuro—the blending and balancing of the opposing dark and light resonances with equal parts brilliance and roundness through the range and vowel spectrum (Winnie, 2017). The gospel sound and execution is quite different: Due to the individualistic nature of the genre, there are many tone qualities used in gospel singing. Depending on the singer, the vocal timbres and colors can range from a raspy, brassy belt, or ‘heavy chest’ sounding voice, to a light, breathy head/falsetto voice. However in terms of registration, the registers primarily used are chest register, and/or Mix register. When head voice or falsetto is used, it is typically used with incomplete closure to produce a breathy sound (or the ‘sweet’ sound referred to by some of the contemporary gospel choir directors), or it is produced with a very firm closure with intensity (Robinson-Martin 2010). The mentioned belt and a “heavy chest” sound naturally differ from bel canto: At present, there seems to be general agreement on the following principles: 1)​belting is speech-like in quality. 2)​belting calls for an essentially divergent vocal tract strategy. 3)​therefore, the three characteristics of yelling listed above seem necessary to some degree (raised larynx, narrowed pharynx, widened mouth), 4)​vibrational mode one is extended higher—than in classical female singing at least—but may be achieved with a somewhat thinner vocal fold shape (still thicker than mode two, but somewhat less thick—referred to by some as “mix” when sufficiently high), that retains most of the timbre of “chest” but with less heft, sheer breath force, and airflow. 5)​belt only really commences above the normal F1/H2 intersections, especially of the mid to open vowels, where the possibility of yelling would also start. In other words, belt is primarily in open timbre, but not all open timbre is in belt mode (Bozeman, 2013).

References Bozeman, K. (2013). Practical vocal acoustics : pedagogic applications for teachers and singers / by Kenneth W. Bozeman. Pendragon Press. Robinson-Martin, T. (2010). Developing a pedagogy for gospel singing: Understanding the cultural aesthetics and performance components of a vocal performance of gospel music. Doctoral dissertation, Teachers College Columbia University. Winnie , Brian J. (2017) Bridging the gap between classical and contemporary vocal technique: implications for the choral rehearsal, Voice and Speech Review, 11:1, 55-71, DOI: 10.1080/23268263.2017.1370803


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