What is Legato and how to train for it?June 21, 2019
So what exactly is Legato?
Not be mistaken for Staccato, Legato is basically a string of musical notes that are played or sung with a smooth switch between notes, without any breaks in between and with minimal interruption from consonants sung.The ideal legatos are long, clean and well supported vocal lines and phrases.
Some examples can be found on Youtube:
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The benefits of knowing, using and practicing with legato, would be increased control of your singing voice, and also a smoother transition between notes sung.
A smooth legato singing technique requires good knowledge in usage of breath for singing, and you can refer to the article below for some tips on breathing for singing:
The coordination of your breathing is very important in this vocal technique as over-breathing will inevitably cause an excessive build-up of subglottal pressure, and this will affect the quality of the sound and also the ability to sing a smooth legato vocal line.
Inhaling and exhaling should be relaxed, easy and unforced or over-controlled.
During exhaling, the breath can be better managed by the usage of important muscle groups which include the lower back, the abdominals, as well as other anchoring and support muscles. Using natural body physics, the breath will leave the body naturally and there is no need to ‘push’ the breath out when singing in a legato manner.
However, many amateur singers would tend to ‘hold on’ to their breath when singing, resulting in tense abdominals and strained breath control, causing chopping singing and producing a voice that sounds ‘stuck’ or constricted instead. Like the saying goes, “If the breath is not consistent, the music won’t be either.”
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Now the question is how do we start to practice for legato singing?
In legato singing, we often put more emphasis on the vowels rather than the consonants, and mastering this vocal technique will provide you with more dynamics and control in your singing and even bring your performance to another level.
TIP! You can mark your score sheet to identify the vowels and consonants so that you can easily know which part of the word to have more emphasis.
Before starting the exercise, we will have to note that our jaw needs to stay flexible and not strained, and our tongue needs to be in an appropriate position for the vowels and tones that we want to sing.
During singing, we often have to rely on the interplay between the jaw, lips and tongue in order to be able to produce clear vowels that are pronounced well.
Exercises for Legato Vocal Technique
1) Practise with a simple lip trill or siren to allow your vocal folds to be able to manage the vocal runs and musical notes smoothly and in a jointed manner, which is what legato singing is all about. The lip trill or a simple siren allows the vocal folds to produce a healthy sound without being bullied with excessive breath pressure, if the exercises are done correctly.
2) Another vocal exercise you may wish to try out is to relax your jaw and imagine that you are doing some light chewing, and at the same time make sounds of closed vowels and open vowels, for example, “ee, oh, ee, oh, ee, oh” or “eh, ah, eh, ah, eh, ah”, joining the vowels together in a legato manner.
3) You can also practice a more controlled manner of singing by singing an “ng” sound (as per a siren exercise, with thin vocal folds and light controlled singing) and gradually open up to singing an open vowel, for example, “Oh” or “Ah”. This allows you to practice using thin vocal folds when singing, and this will allow you to have more flexibility when singing in a legato manner.
All of these methods will help you to achieve a smoother singing tone, and also be able to sing in legato as and when required in a song!
Using the exercises that we have mentioned above, let us put them to use in a song example right now:
In the song ‘Stay With Me’ by Sam Smith, let’s say we wanted to sing the 3 words – Stay With Me – in the chorus section. First, let us pick out the section of these 3 words that are linked to the vowels, namely ‘ay’ in ‘Stay’, and ‘i’ in ‘With’ & ‘e’ in ‘Me’, and begin with singing those vowel sounds only.
Once you are familiar with the vowels, and are able to join the 3 words well in a legato manner, you can then add in the consonants for each of the words, and sing the same phrase again. So, adding in the ‘St’ for ‘Stay’, ‘W’ for ‘With’, and ‘M’ for ‘Me, and focus on singing the vowels rather than the consonant sounds.
Then the desired end result instead of just “Stay with me.”, it would be, “stAY, wIHth mEE.”
Most of the time when singers include legato in their performances, it is always a given that the audience’s attention will definitely be captured and even moved emotionally by the singer’s vocal dynamics and control of the gentle and smooth vocal tones.
It is crucial to know that one of the characteristics of good musicianship in singing is knowing how and when to incorporate legato vocal technique into their singing, so as to provide an impressive and unforgettable performance for their audience!
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