Don’t be a Hummer!

Don’t be a Hummer, Be an Audiator

We have established the Webb-Mitchell Centre for Choral Studies in Zhuhai, China as a “No-Humming Zone”. Our Chinese character:


Rather than hum, we audiate. Audiation is a cognitive learning process by which the brain receives input , digests it, then defines it. In other words, one internalizes the pitch before one produces the pitch. Retention and production of the pitch must take place in the head before it can be accurately produced via the mouth.

There are other benefits to audiating:

+ Listening to an entire phrase with an engaged brain organizes sequences and patterns so they may be recalled with greater precision.

+ It decreases intonation issues. If you can hear it in your head, you can sing it correctly. As my colleague Dr. William Baker of the Choral Foundation always says: “Choirs that sing in tune, don’t hum the pitch!”

+ Focus is maintained. Humming along to the piano or while others are singing interrupts the audiation and production process of others. It also contributes to a noisy learning atmosphere encouraging others to hum along.

+ Sight-reading and tonal memory aptitude improves. Singing too quickly can bring about confusion with other patterns already stored in the brain. Hearing then thinking about the current intervals and rhythm will bring about more success with the initial attempt.

+ Avoids adding noise to the rehearsal room. Noisy rooms produce the Lombard Effect which has a negative impact on the singers via the instructors compensation for this situation. Any noise levels that are increased during instruction causes the instructor to increase phonetic fundamental frequencies, sound intensity, volume and overuse of articulators.  This can cause vocal fatigue and produce other negative results. 

Increase your musical aptitude by becoming a disciplined audiator. The more you audiate the more others will audiate. And the more pleasant our world will be.

        Don't Hum The Pitch!

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Opportunity presented ~ Opportunity pursued ~                                                                  Challenge presented ~ Challenge accepted ~                                                                          Goals accomplished ~ New doors opened ~

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Jerry (English name) flanked by the Danny Boys successfully scored an 85 out of 100 on MP3 recordings submitted of repertoire for the performance at Chinese Conservatory, Beijing, China.

Zhuhai Classical Children’s Choir                                                                                                  The Webb-Mitchell Centre for Choral Studies, Zhuhai, China.                                                Andrew Webb-Mitchell, Founder and Director                                                                                Lynn Swanson, Assistant Director                                                                                                      Central Conservatory of Music, Beijing, China. 

The Piano Sound Board The Human Voice Box

Normally, our children rehearse in a room equipped with a digital piano. Because of our combined rehearsals in preparation for the performance at Chinese Conservatory, we re-arranged our rehearsal space. This meant three of our youngest choirs were able to practice with the Kawai grand. Not only was this good for them musically, but it also provided an impromptu opportunity to showcase how a piano makes sound and in comparison to how our voice box makes sound.

Most of our youngsters have never seen the workings of a piano much less what is under the lid of a grand piano. . .

Since the strings of a grand piano run parallel to the floor, it’s easier to imagine how our vocal folds are situated in our neck. Watching the piano hammer strike and observing the release of the damper, our youngest choirs (Byrd and Purcell, ages 8-11) witnessed the vibration that begins and heard the sound that happens. We compared this to the air pressure that causes the vocal folds to abduct and adduct in order to initiate vibration and create sound. We also noted the striking of the hammer as being similar to the collision our vocal folds make when we speak and sing. We talked about the speed of the hammer hitting the strings and compared it to the gentle or glottal onsets of the vocal folds. This also allowed us to contrast the difference between legato and staccato articulation.

They could also see the similarities between their small vocal folds and the piano strings in the treble register. Of course, their folds are not near as long or big in diameter, but they could see the difference in the size of strings at the upper end and the lower end. This helped them understand proportionally a little more about the size of a child’s vocal folds and adult female and male vocal folds.

We compared the sound board to our natural resonators, the throat, the mouth and our nose. We talked about the speed of the hammer hitting the strings and compared it to the gentle or glottal onsets of the vocal folds. This also allowed us to reinforce the difference between legato and staccato. Even though we have used kinesthetic movements to experience these elements of singing, we have now made another connection with the visual aid of the grand piano.

In our Purcell Choir the children are 9 – 11 years old. For most of them, it is their first year to sing in our choir. When asked how many study the piano privately, 14 hands shot up. That’s 60% of our class! Pretty impressive China!

I believe that by the end of our rehearsal, we made a lasting impression by pointing out the workings of the piano in contrast and comparison to our own voice box.

Just look at that shining face in middle of the frame! This is the afternoon Byrd class. . .

Teaching German text to Chinese Singers

Teaching German to Chinese Singers

In some ways, it’s easier for a choir to sing a foreign language than it is to sing in its native tongue. The reasons may or may not be obvious. Every language has socially distinct varieties that will differ from its standard language.

In the Zhuhai Classical Children’s Choir, the children sing in Latin, English, and Italian. They are now preparing two pieces in German. The first is Beethoven’s Merkenstein for alto and soprano voices. The second is Schubert’s Psalm 23 for four-part treble voices.

The two select choirs named Elgar and Britten are capable of reading English. For the most part, they have been singing Latin and English for a few years. They performed the choral score of Madame Butterfly in Italian of course, with orchestra and professional soloists this past June.

Now, we are teaching them German. Just a quick note, many of the English sounds made for our language are not a part of the Chinese language. Imagine the confusion, when after having read English for a number of years the “w” is suddenly pronounced as a “v”. Then, there is the even more explosive ending consonant necessary in the German language. “Und” must be pronounced with an exploding “t”.  The final syllable “en” becomes an “un”. Let’s not forget that singers must suddenly remember to make an “sch” sound for what is an “st” sound in English. The umlaut has not been as big of an issue as expected even though they do not encounter this production in English or Chinese. For the most part, the greater issue is the brain making the switch as to how a certain vowel or consonant differs from English to German.

They are relieved to know that the “th” sound only appears in English. I have found this sound to be by far the most difficult blend for Chinese children to produce. Of course, I believe it is a difficult blend for English speakers as well. Even in well-rehearsed English singing choirs, the “th” often comes across as a lazy sound because the tongue is allowed to remain behind the teeth.

I have included two excerpts from a tutorial session with three of the boys that sing in both select choirs.

They have only been learning this piece, notes, rhythm and now text for three rehearsals.