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  • Writer's pictureKaren Pauley

Starting Well

How much attention do you pay to how you start the first note of your song?

I have been reviewing audition tapes for a new musical and there is not doubt that many people struggle with the first note. It may be because they are worried about coming in on time and are holding their breathe or that they are more worried about the words than the note or that it starts on a sound that is difficult to sing in a certain style.

The term ‘onset’ is used to describe the way we start singing a note and there are four of these that are commonly talked about - co-ordinated, aspirated, glottal, and fry. Musical theatre covers a wide variety of vocal genres, which does mean that all of the onsets could be appropriate, but you need to pick one that works with the style you are trying to sing. I start watching every video eagerly waiting for the person to sing, but if you start a legit song like If I Love You from Carousel with a hard glottal or fry I will think that you either don't understand the genre or that you lack control.

For a legit song you want to start with a coordinated or ‘simultaneous’ onset, where the breath and the sound are initiated together. Think of a gentle ‘ah’ with no breath preceding the sound, and no hard attack on the ‘a’. If you allow pressure to build up under the folds, while they are closed, and then have the sound produced you will end up with a glottal and the sort of sound you get when you say "uh uh", which is not how you want to start a legit song. If you allow too much pressure to build up the note can sound harsh and the pitch can be unstable.

We are also able to change how our notes notes sound by the way that we approach and pitch them. Do we slide up to a note? Come in from about the note? Do we use vocal fry at the start of our notes? And if we do these things how will the note be perceived by others? If you start singing under the pitch of the note, as you would in fry or a slide up, this sometimes sounds great but it can also clash with the backing and make it sound like you can't find the first note that you are meant to sing.

Image from Voce Vista showing how a note looks if you start with a fry onset
VoceVista image of the word "If" with a fry onset

The image above shows you just how much I was below my opening note as I started with fry. This can happen quickly and can be hard for some people to hear, but that sliding up of pitch can make it sound as if I am out of tune.

The first note and the first phrase you sing are incredibly important. People, unfortunately, judge a voice really quickly when they are listening to lots of audition tapes and you want to make the best possible impress

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