– a guide for composers and singers who work together


Summarizing my findings, I separated my observations of problems and their solutions into a paragraph of suggestions for both sides (sometimes overlapping).


Text, subtext, character



8.1. Suggestions to singers, wishing to sing modern music

To summarize my findings, I separated my observations of problems and their solutions into a paragraph of suggestions for both sides (often overlapping).

Help of a specialist

8.2. Suggestions to composers, writing for the Classically-trained voice

Text, subtext, character

Help of a specialist



8.3.  Closing thoughts


            Conducting this research gave me enough experience to successfully mediate between the wishes of composers and the needs of singers. It made me into an expert on the topic: a vocal composing specialist, who could assist in such creative processes for a better flow and more fruitful relationship.The collected material here could be used to make a booklet in the future, guiding composers and singers that wish to create beautiful and exciting new vocal repertoire - together.

Thank you to all the musicians, singers and composer colleagues, coaches and friends that helped me on my journey!




- Study the voice as ‘instrumentation’, with its terminus technicus

  (range, tessitura, passagio etc)  (Chapter 4.2.2., 7.3.2.)

- Respect the limitations of voice (for example extreme range comes in limited colours

  and dynamics, jumps have to be prepared in the line, certain effects are possible only in

  a certain range or on certain text etc) (Chapter 3.3.2.)

- Prepare by getting to know as much about your performer and her/his virtuosity within

  the boundaries of performing classical pieces (Chapter 4.3.)

- Listen to vocal repertoire, ask for recommendations from the singer you will work with

  about pieces and singers to listen to, develop a taste for vocality (Chapter 4.3.3.)



- Work closely with your singer, map the voice thoroughly (Chapter 3.3.1., 4.2.1.)

- Experiment together with your singer on colours, variations and extended techniques and

  effects. Explain your wishes, both in terms of resulting effect and technique of producing

  that sound – yet don’t be stubborn and keep both fixed. Be flexible so that maybe one or

  the other can change (maybe your effect can be achieved better with a different technique,

  or a technique described by you will give different results than what you expected or you

  experienced with your voice) (Chapter 3.3.2.)

- Exploit the personal possibilities of a singer, but keep in mind making the piece available

  to other singers (ossias)

- Consult your singer about ‘singability’, as sometimes seemingly simple musical material

  can be ‘not vocal’ (see examples in chapter 7.2)

- While composing, think in parameters and their possible combinations, with the ‘tessitura’

  (favourite octave or fifth) being where all options are available (all colours, vowel clarity,  

  flexibility, jumps, extended techniques etc) (Chapter 7.3.2.)



- Think of notation as an ‘instruction’ (that is inviting to the performer to ‘make music’)

  not a notation of the ‘result’ of a musical process (Chapter 3.2.2., 7.3.2.)

- Make your score as appealing to the singer (and not to fellow composers) as possible.

  User-friendly notation saves a lot of preparation time and rehearsing (Chapter 3.2.2.)

- Use known symbols and terminology, if it exists already, don’t re-invent it(Chapter 3.2.2.)

- When needed, make a vocal score (with piano reduction and cue-notes from the orchestra)

  and in the case of more singers always include all singers' parts! (Chapter 3.2.2.)



- When dealing with text, define your relation to it, think of ‘subtext’ (Chapter 3.3.4.)

- Check your prosody (how you set your text musically, the rhythm and intonation of

  the language etc…), the ratio between the sound of the words versus their meaning

  (understandability), underlining or prolonging stressed syllables etc. (Chapter 3.2.2., 5.2.)

- Don’t forget, your singer is an instrument and a personality. The body (and mind)

  will produce more genuine sounds if it finds the right motivation. (Chapter 3.3.4.)

- Give expression marks, side explanations, and additional information to help your singer

  imagine how to perform (character, subtext) Bear in mind – ‘neutral’ is also a character,

  and thus needs to be expressed (Chapter 3.3.4.)

- Share information about your compositional process, if it can help the singer while studying

  your lines (Chapter 3.2.5., 3.3.4.)

- Be open to her/his suggestions, make changes where needed, notate all changes made

  in a new version of the score right after the premiere (while it's still fresh), summarizing

  the ‘results’ of the whole process of working together (Chapter 7.3.4.)



- Besides studying books written about the voice and its possibilities

  (for example Michael Edward Edgerton: The 21st-Century Voice, Contemporary

  and Traditional Extra-Normal Voice) get as much practical feedback

  as possible by experimenting in a kind of lab-setting with your singer

- Consult a vocal composition specialist or coach who can guide you while composing

  and rehearsing your vocal music





- Study solfege, music theory and analysis to achieve a deeper understanding of music

  (mentioned by both interview subjects in Chapters 3.2.2. and 4.3.1.)

- Be the master of your classical technique, know your instrument/yourself

  (Chapter 3.2.2., 3.2.4.)

- Dare to go beyond your limits, be flexible enough to experiment (chapter 3.2.4.)

- Be up-to-date in the field of contemporary music, be aware of different musical styles

  and genres, develop your musical taste (Chapter 3.3.5., 4.3.3.)

- Study everything in your ‘bel canto’ voice, then add colours and extended techniques

  (Chapter 3.2.4., 3.2.5.)

- Invent your own methods and processes how to study a piece

  (for that you can use methods, such as in Chapter 3.2.5.)



- ‘Educate’ your composer, show him/her vocal repertoire that can be inspiring for the piece,

  and that fits you vocally (Chapter 3.3.3.)

- Explain terminus technicus, such as the difference between range/tessitura/passagio

  and the basic functions of the body while singing (Chapter 4.3.)

- Map your voice correctly, express your specialities, but explain what could be

  doable by others (like suggesting composers write ossias for difficult

  or extreme passages) (Chapter 3.3.1., 4.2.1.)

- Find the intention of the composer, detect the ‘goal’ of what and how they notated,

  and find the correct ways to produce that effect (Chapter 3.2.3, 3.2.4., 5.3.)

- Communicate your needs, explain why the notated technique can’t be executed,

  give other  solutions and alternatives and underline them with technical explanations

  (Chapter 3.2.3.)



- Always find subtext in your lines, a character or intention behind them, so that you can

  give your body an honest motivation (that can be heard in your voice

  in a subconscious level) Neutral is also a character! (Chapter 3.3.4.)

- Look at the collaboration as co-creating, giving birth to a new piece

  (and use this free, creative attitude when you sing existing repertoire pieces too!)

  (Chapter 3.2.3., 4.3.)

- Use all help of your training, teachers and methods, and consult with

  a modern vocal music coach 

Mapping the voice - a questionnaire for singers (pdf)