What is expression?

Expression is the variation of vocal sound to convey emotion, or to communicate more vividly the meaning of a text.

What does expression consist of?

The variables include dynamics, tone colour, tempo and diction.

How do I teach expression?

Expression is a highly individual matter. A great deal of the work in this area is done in specific pieces, and the motivation to sing any given piece with expression must come from the emotional commitment of the singer’s interpretation. In addition I encourage my students to listen to good vocal models, and I include expressive variables in vocalises (vocal exercises) when possible. Tonal and dynamic variation can be built into any vocal exercise.

An example of an exercise specifically for dynamic control, which many consider the utimate vocal exercise because of its extreme technical difficulty, is the messa di voce. In this exercise the singer begins a note pianissimo (very soft), slowly increases the volume to fortissimo (very loud), and then returns to pianissimo. In theory a singer should be able to perform this exercise on any pitch in their range, and on any vowel. This is an exercise for those whose technique is already fairly advanced, but can be useful for intermediate singers if confined to comfortable pitches.