The Jelly Bean Effect

jelly beanFor most singers the term vocal style has an assorted line-up of descriptions. Enter the Jelly Bean Effect. Allow me  to digress a little. I promise you there is a point to this meandering.

For those of you who don’t know, let me fill you in on a little secret love of mine: Jelly beans. Jelly beans are probably the most moreish (can’t stop eating) and flavourful little sweets ever invented. You know that old phrase “like a kid in a candy store”? That’s me with Jelly beans. Jelly beans to me are like fruits are to a fruit bat or carrots are to Bugs Bunny or spinach is to Popeye…I think you catch my drift. I never really know what I am going to get bite after bite. Distinctive flavours explode onto my tongue, drawing me into a blissful experience that inspires that unavoidable “mmm”. They’re simply amazin

What Is The Jelly Bean Effect?!

Ok, so I hear you asking, “Josh where are you going with this? What do jelly beans have to do with vocal style?” Well, I would like to present the idea of vocal style as ‘Ear Candy’, a phrase coined by producer Quincy Jones. Or as I like to call it, “jelly beans for your ears”. Distinctive flavours and colours that leave you wanting more, igniting the senses with such vocal delights that your audience members almost feel like they are kids in a candy store. The Jelly Bean Effect.

Style by its very definition is about being individual, distinctive in appearance, idiosyncratic. In fact the word idiosyncrasy is made up of 3 Greek words: “idios” which means ‘own, private’, “sun” which means ‘with’, and “krasis” which means ‘mixture’. In other words, style can be defined as your “own mixture”. Isn’t that what we are all trying to be… ourselves? For me, vocal style is about being YOU – singing in a way that gives people the pleasure of hearing your “own mixture” of different vocal shades, colours, nuances, effects and so forth. Causing your very own Jelly Bean Effect.

As singers we should create the time and space to really explore this idea. To allow ourselves to embrace the sound making process and all it involves: making mistakes, trial and error, discovery and acceptance of one’s ‘own mixture’ of voice. It’s the one thing that makes you different, that makes you stand out from the crowd. But all too often singers try to hide  their own voice (consciously or unconsciously) in favour of another sound that they feel is more acceptable. The journey to discovering your own vocal style starts with accepting and loving yourself, your voice and  realising that yours is a truly unique and significant voice. It does mean something and it brings meaning to others.

girl with dressTo my mind, vocal style looks like different colours, textures and effects containing vocal nuances (subtle expressions and shades of meaning) that a voice is capable of creating. Singers should explore wearing these ‘vocal effects’ to understand how they can make a variety of sounds with their voices. Once the singer has grasped a few of these ideas and tones, the process of implementing these nuances into a song with the appropriate emotive intention is the next stage. This process should be based on what the artist is trying to achieve or communicate. A unique mixture of vocal subtleties and niceties helps to convey the story embedded within every song.

Why should singers explore wearing these ‘vocal effects?’ Lets put it in the context of getting dressed in the morning. When faced with a variety of outfits we all ask ourselves, ‘what should I wear today?’ However, in actual fact we are unconsciously asking, ‘who can I be today?’  We dress according to our emotions and feelings, choosing the appropriate mixture of colours and outfits that reflect the way we feel inside. One answer to why singers should explore vocal effects is because doing so is the power of an artist’s self-expression and it helps form part of the bigger artistic picture, our deeper connection to music. The freedom of being able to fully express how you feel inside, the liberating feeling of having your message heard, listened to and responded to, the magic of being at the helm of that mutual exchange of energy between performer and audience member, these are the components that have inspired both sides of the stage for centuries.

That said, vocal nuances should always come from a place of intention. They should be used to convey various emotions and feelings rooted in the song’s story rather than simply used for their own sake or to show off. However, I think this depends on what the singer is trying to achieve. A sense of fun and vocal flair also has its place – younger singers tend to approach songs in this way. I believe in allowing younger vocalists to express this way because it’s part of their musical journey. This should, however, be balanced with an emotional connection to the song, achieved in an intelligent way and with the right emotive intention utilising vocal colours such as riffs and runs, breathy qualities, nasal qualities, growl qualities, vocal fry, flips, blips, whistles, falsettos, belts, vibratos, etc.

The list is endless. (Please note that these vocal nuances should always be complemented with good healthy vocal technique so as not to damage your voice.)

Vocal style is incredibly empowering; it is able to do more than we realize, and singers would do well to explore it more consistently. Consider what colours or vocal nuances your voice can manage. Start with the sounds you like by turning them into ‘ear candy’ within the delivery of your songs and see what responses you evoke in yourself and your listeners. Simply experiment with them, be patient with yourself and start walking the path to creating your own Jelly Bean Effect today!

Future articles will be dedicated to exploring vocal expression and understanding its depth in more practical ways. Using video and audio demonstrations, I’ll be illustrating different exercises and methods that are used to apply vocal expression successfully. I hope that, together, we can discover more about this magnificent, built-in musical instrument in a way that helps us all to “play it well”.

About the videos  

Check out the videos below. They are taken from my new book ‘Mad About Vocal Style Part 1’ in which I focus on the 7 vocal nuances seen in the diagram below – how to practice them and utilise them in developing your unique sound, your Jelly Bean Effect.

These videos look at using flip/yodelling as a vocal nuance. I believe that when used deliberately and intelligently it can bring something quirky and compelling to a song. Yodelling isn’t restricted to the Swiss Alps! Artists such as Adele, The 1975, Björk, Shawn Stockman (Boyz II Men), B. Slade and many more all use this nuance to give added colour and interest to their performances.  It is part of their vocal identity, part of their unique sound and how they bring about their Jelly Bean Effect.

This nuance is only one of a plethora of nuances that I cover in my ‘Mad About Vocal Style’ video enhanced eBook series.

Cheers Joshua

about the videos

EXERCISE 1

Joshua demonstrates vocal flipping and yodelling and how you can practice these vocal qualities.

EXERCISE 2

Joshua demonstrates how to apply the flip and yodel on his song “A Kiss”. Go to YouTube where you can hear him sing the whole song with Valentina Monetta.

NOTE: To do the exercises in these videos it is assumed that you are vocally fit and healthy. Naturally if you feel pain, discomfort or a change in your vocal tone at any point then stop the exercise immediately. If the pain persists then consult a general practitioner or voice specialist.


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Joshua Alamu is a professional voice coach with over 15 years experience as a singing teacher in the music and television industry. He has been a voice coach for the TV talent show The Voice UK and is currently vocal coach stars such as Fleur East, Little Mix and JP Cooper. Joshua’s video-enhanced vocal style course Mad About Vocal Style part 1 was launched in 2014 to rave reviews. Joshua is also the co-founder of Ultimate Artists, the UK’s most in-demand artist development camp (eight days of music industry mentorship and artist development).