How to Sing and Call Square Dance in a More Modern and Lively Fashion
One huge dynamic of striving to be an entertaining and uplifting modern western square dance caller is to be, well, more modern! Vocal sound is an effective way to convey many things with your calling instrument, your voice. Vocal efficiency is paramount to developing a style and presence as an entertainer and there are things that you can do to learn how to capitalize on this that will add to your overall promotional “package” as a square dance caller. Singing more effectively is an important element in the calling pool that callers must draw from to sound more lively and sound more modern. Following is a set of pointers to aid in becoming better at displaying your craft. Take some time to experiment with this set of directions and you can improve your vocal abilities faster and with less stress.
Start Your Practice Session With Proper Warmup Exercises
Practicing is much more effective if you use some plan of how to warmup your voice and setting goals or even specific material you want to work through. Vocal approaches can be different, but some techniques are useful only as exercises and some can be incorporated into your songs that you use and they can enhance your performance of those songs vocally. By using different dynamics you can transfer more of the feel of the song in terms of better relating to the idea behind the lyrics. And you can better intensify , strengthen, and elevate your singing calls to a higher place than otherwise might have been conveyed. A slow song typically will need a softer approach and there are several techniques you can use to improve your performance. Check out this article that I presented a while back for tips on singing square dance calling. Use some of these ideas listed below and see how they improve your vocal approach song by song. I have listed below some of the best ways to further improve the quality and the best types of square dance songs to apply these techniques:
Think of Your Practice Time As a Workout – BECAUSE IT IS!
You should warm up your voice with some sigh-hums and then work on counting to a metronome or drum machine. You are stretching and warming your vocal chords and tightening up your timing and you should think of this as warming up as if you were about to do physical exercise. Work on some simple phrases that you might use when you call and put these to some patter music. Next, work on some memorized material that you know well. After you work through some of these pieces, both hoedowns and singing calls, you are ready to move on to improvising and working on new ideas. Finish with your newest ideas and this will round things out.
Use Vocal Expression
This is a way to convey feeling in your vocal performance. Expression is the most important element of vocal singing outside of singing notes on pitch and in time to the music. This is where singing takes a powerful effect upon the audience, even square dancers, because in the end, they are listeners first. Try to ‘project’ your voice forwards and outwards by visualizing the note reaching the back of the square dance hall.
When you sing the lyrics of a song, do they animate a story for you? Can you visualize the theme and is there a lyrical storyline? Use a normal speaking voice and say the lyrics aloud and work on seeing yourself as if you are talking to someone else. If they were your lover or friend how would your inflection and tone of voice contrast to someone you might not know very well? If it is a love song or ballad, imagine how you would like to express those emotions to that person. Singing with feeling will always make a noticeable difference in your efforts to entertain on a grander scale.
Here is a very powerful and fun exercise that enables you to improve your vocal expression. The melody or notes you select are not important when you try this, but focusing on emotional feel is how you can reach a more expressive way of singing all the time! So that is the object here, being more emotionally expressive:
Pick an emotion you want to relate to the dancers in your singing call. Now think about what the opposite is of that original emotion. Without any music, speak the lyrics in the song, first, for example, in a very sad tone of voice. Then in an elated and joyous manner repeat the same lyrics and really focus on the opposite feelings that you sound when you speak during the exercise.
Once you have tried this method, you should be able to recognize the physical differences that happen in order to project sadness and happiness in the shape and opening of your mouth and how tone will color singing. See if you can determine the tonal color that you sonically create with your tongue that helps to create emotion. This is how you can sing with more emotion than you probably ever have before! This is a sound effect that you can apply to any syllable in a word or entire musical phrases that you can sing in any song. The aim is to push your ability to sing with more feeling in a manner that feels comfortable, is pleasing and emotional, and, by the way, it enables your vocal chords to operate at an optimal efficiency. Another goal of this exercise is to find the most relaxed ways for your voice to sing and remain relaxed, without stress and potential damage to your vocal chords. Additionally, keep yourself relaxed and in a good posture and you will sing better and more naturally.
Practice Vocal Dynamics
Using exercises that emphasize differences in vocal dynamics can be used once in a while, but care needs to be used in experimenting with different volumes of the voice when singing. Vocal damage can occur, so this is not a technique that should be consistently used as a vocal exercise, just helpful ideas aimed at exploring singing mouth shapes and tonal sounds and how they are affected by volume.
Begin by singing a short set of lyrics normally. Then soften your voice to a low and expressive whispering quality. Try adding an airy and breathy style and feel how this affects the song and how that is conveyed. Now change the dynamic by singing much more loudly, almost to a yelling and dynamic and exxagerated stylish projection of voice. Pay attention to how the vocal chords in your larynx respond to this difference. Try moving your tongue in different places within your mouth. Try opening your mouth as wide as you can while you sing the lyrics. Take the other road and keep your mouth as closed as you can and still be able to sing the lyrics. Try this at both a loud and soft volume spectrum and then take this technique one step further: sing as sexily as you can and as sweet and naive as you can.
Be careful not to strain your vocal chords. If you are straining, stop the exercise and drink some luke warm water and sigh hum until your voice feels smooth and light. You might have to quit singing for a few hours, and maybe rest your voice for a day.
This post will give you the best tips on using a microphone properly. You will want to record your vocal dynamics to see what you find to be most effective and pleasing to the ear when you perform. Some things to pay attention to are your expression, dynamics and your diction.
Diction really is a fancy way of saying pronounciation. Your mouth, throat and tongue all come into play to allow for you to enunciate clearly and create different sounds. Key in on how all of this works for you. Feel and hear how your voice works and how you can drive your voice with authority or with very little expression.
Keep in mind that the art of square dance calling involves a combination of both talking or speaking voice and actual singing. Sing lyrics and speak them. Try to match the compelling strength and energy in both of these very different dynamics, as well, yet strive to keep your phrasing relaxed and natural, just as you would in a normal conversation. Almost all great songs that have been recorded have this quality about them.
Record Your Vocal Session and Analyze It
The idea behind recording yourself as you practice is simple: it allows for you to critique yourself, find the areas you need to improve on, and what specific approaches you can make to maximize your potential. It is very necessary that you use a quiet and private area to practice and to record yourself. Set up a practice space that does not disrupt others yet it allows you to be most effective in your practice time. Follow the warm up schedule and then work on singing using some of the above ideas. Training your voice and assembling a great performance takes time and lots of positive energy that you combine with emotion and great vocal dynamics that fit the songs you select for your dance program. Have patience and gradually improvement will come. Review your recordings of your songs after you practice each one and look for areas to improve on.
Remind Yourself About What You Need To Work On Next Time
After you review your recording, make a list of things that you will want to work on the next time. If you have a song that you are having trouble with, try to figure out exactly which part is giving you problems and work on that part only, first with music, then without music, then with music and you will work through improving that trouble spot for yourself. The next time you practice, the song should be much easier to express emotion, with a natural vocal delivery and a smoother and tighter performance. For a little more information on this try:
Always Set Yourself Goals For Improvement
Do write down your vocal goals, at least one long term overall vocal improvement you want to make and one short term vocal approach you want to use in a specific song and then decide what you need to do to truly improve and tackle those goals. It is important to do this – you certainly will not want to practice the songs the same way every time without a plan for improving upon your performance. This is how you can create a more modern, exciting, and entertaining approach to perform your songs and at the same time maximize your practice time!
Please do not hesitate to reach me if you are a learning square dance caller and you have a question! I would be glad to help!
Have a great day!
Mission Statement: The purpose of this post is to create a greater visibility of the square dance activity for future dance population growth on a national and local level. The coaching information provided here serves as a source for square dance caller education, training, and perspectives on dance. Future articles will be developed to improve the programs of square dancing and how those learning to square dance call can help contribute to the preservation of both modern western square dancing and traditional square dancing and to aid in the growth of the square dance activity.