Musical Theatre for the Female Voice: The Sensation, Sound, and Science, of Singing

PDF Musical Theatre for the Female Voice: The Sensation, Sound, and Science, of Singing 1st Edition

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  1. Shaun Aquilina
Musical Theatre for the Female Voice

Female musical theatre singers produce some of the most exciting and expressive singing an audience can experience. They also face a unique and specific set of issues when approaching their craft, from negotiating the registers of their voice to enable them to belt, to vocal health challenges such as premenstrual voice syndrome. This is the only book that offers a full and detailed guide to tackling those issues and to singing with full expression and technical excellence.

Musical Theatre for the Female Voice covers the origin of singing in musicals, from the bel canto style of 300 years ago through to the latest developments in high belting, in shows such as Wicked and Waitress. It offers the reader exercises and methods that have been used to train hundreds of singers at some of the UK’s leading musical theatre training institutions and are underpinned by the latest academic research in journals on singing, psychology, and health. Every element of a singer's toolkit is covered from a female perspective, from breath and posture to character work and vocal health.

This is an essential guidebook for female singers in musical theatre productions, either training at university or conservatory level or forging a career as professional triple-threat performers.

Shaun Aquilina is a singer, director, and teacher. He has trained singers at the UK’s leading musical theatre institutions such as GSA, ArtsEd, and Laine Theatre Arts. He is currently a Lecturer in Musical Theatre at Anglia Ruskin University.


I’m always happy to meet a new student. Usually, you would walk into a small teaching room and I would greet you from the other side of the piano. Today, it’s from the pages of a book. But it is a meeting no less and the beginning of our work together.

The goal of our work is expressive Musical Theatre singing. Expressive singing should connect with an audience, be exciting for you to create, and be healthy and reproducible for eight shows a week. To achieve that goal, we will explore the technical and artistic sides of your singing. Part I of the book deals with the technique: your physicality; how to engage your whole body when you sing; how to breathe; how to access your whole voice from chest to mix to head to belt; and how to stay vocally healthy. Part I is the groundwork that allows you to develop Part II. Part II is all about the artistic side and in that we will explore: expression; how to deliver meaningful words; how to unlock emotional sounds; what is a character; and how do you act on a character’s intentions. There will be exercises along the way which will help you develop and practise all of this.

The subtitle of this book is “The Sensation, Sound, and Science, of Singing”. These three perspectives have been used to train singers for hundreds of years. “Sensation” is what you feel physically as you sing; “sound” is what the listener hears, including pitching and tone quality; and “science” is the controlled investigations into the anatomical functioning behind singing. We will draw on all of these perspectives because each one supplies pieces of the singing puzzle.

We are part of a rich theatrical and singing tradition and I have tried to draw on that to give you a clear and efficient path to expressive singing. Everything in this book is either informed by my own singing, my experience of teaching top level students at UK conservatoires, the views of industry professionals, academic research, or all of the above. You will find frequent quotes supporting the ideas in this book because it’s important that you know those ideas are well-grounded in the expertise and research of others. We will also weigh the merits of those ideas. Sometimes, as in the discussion on breathing, I will suggest what I think is the best of way doing something, and other times, as in the discussion on character histories, I will leave it open to what you think works best for you. This is your book, now, and these are your lessons. Take what works for you.

This book is interested in the development of expertise. Expertise sometimes gets confused with talent but the belief in talent, that performers are “born with it”, is and unhelpful and probably untrue. I advise students to ignore talent and focus on effort instead. The performer who is concerned with effort, practice, and growth, will become better than the performer who is concerned with talent, achievement, and results.

To become an expert, recent research suggests performers have to develop a sophisticated mental network of concepts which underpins what they do. This is built up through years and years of practice, coaching, and performance. Once a performer has a highly developed mental network, putting it into action looks effortless (possibly giving rise to the belief that someone is “born with it”).

In singing, there are several concepts in our network: posture, breathing, expression, words, tuning, rhythm, and more. Understanding how they work and how they interact can be mapped out. Here’s Figure 0.1 my take on the network of concepts that underpins the expert singer’s performance. I hope by showing you this, you will have a visual representation of the kind of network we are trying to develop in you. At first glance, it might look confusing but don’t panic. Read through it, tracing the lines that link one concept to another and look at the linking words that describe the relationship of one concept to another. We will explore every concept and how it fits into the network of singing over the course of this book (Figure 0.1).

As I said, when we watch a great singer perform, we only see the smooth working of that network. This can also be mapped. It’s called a “chain of procedure”. It’s a chain because it goes from one action to the next. Figure 0.2 is what I think is going on in the procedure, or performance, of an expert singer.
As you can see, this is much simpler than the network. This expert procedure is what we are aiming for but to achieve it we have to recognise and develop the network of concepts that underlie it.
With all that said, let’s begin. We start with Part I: Whole-Body Singing. Our first chapter is going to establish the foundation on which your expert singing will be built: posture.
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