Several months ago there was an article in AG on how to sing. I opened the magazine, really looking forward to hearing what the author had to say.
But I was disappointed.
Not to demean the author, she was very knowledgeable and wrote clearly, but her article was no more than what I've seen in several singing courses. She covered posture, breath and diaphram control, mouth and lip formation, and ways to affect tone. These are all essential for a good singer, though some styles break the rules and give, blues for example, its special sound. I wrote to this author and told her that, while I appreciated her article, she was basically assuming her readers could sing to pitch - would she be willing to do an article on how to avoid singing flat or sharp - how to carry a tune? She graciously replied and said that if the editors wanted her to do such an article, she'd be happy to. I wrote to AG, told them such, but did not hear back from them.
In my mind, singing to pitch versus technique is sort of like learning to walk before we run. I can see where breath control might be part of pitch control but a guitar player's analogy of hers, and others', articles would be someone picking up a guitar and fretting wildly, picking aggressively and at the speed of light, and moving up and down the neck - all without making any sort of tune whatsoever.
You MUST hit the notes.
So... how do you do that in singing? I've been living with my voice a lot longer than I have been playing guitar yet I can hit the notes easier on the guitar. As I said, I've never seen a course teach this. Maybe a voice coach could do it - if you could find or afford one. Many people take for granted that you can just open your mouth and the melody effortlessly comes out.
At this point, I'd like to state two of my firm beliefs; if you disagree I sure would like to hear your opinion and why. First, there is no such thing as being tone deaf. You might not be able to carry a tune in a bucket, but if you can tune your guitar, you can hear pitch (tone). I've noticed that it is easier to tune a guitar today than it was 45 years ago when I began playing. This brings me to my next belief: There is no such thing as natural talent or ability. What we musicians do is the result of dedication, commitment, practice, and just plain love of music. If anyone appears to be a natural guitar player or a natural singer, it's most likely because they have more of an interest or have donated more time to the subject. I've not seen a baby come out of the womb singing with a guitar in its hands! I'd love to debate these topics more, but perhaps that is the subject of a future discussion...
For those who believe they have a natural talent and can just sing without thinking of it, I would like you to think on it and try to explain to the rest of us what it is you do when you sing. Try to detail why you can do it while others cannot. I recently watched, "The King's Speech" and it was frustrating to those who do not stammer to listen to someone agonize over trying to speak clearly. You saw it in his father (King George V). But we must remember that it is so much more of a torture to the person who is trying so hard to speak yet cannot seem to do so.
I can sing but I'd like to be better. My faults lie in the area of pitch control. I sung in high school (choir and male chorus) and don't seem to have any problem when I sing along with others. Hey, I'm GREAT in a car with the CD playing! I can also sing really good backup and even harmony. Again, another discussion topic would be why it is easier to sing the higher notes in harmony than the lower notes.
When I try to analyze the reasons why pitch is so difficult, I come up with one word: Lazy. This is not to insult someone's character or to describe their lifestyle. What I mean is when I try to sing, I notice sometimes I hit the highlights of the notes but miss some of the in-between notes by making them (usually) flat. I'm not the only one who does this as I see this in a lot of people. Is it that I am not listening closely enough to the tune? Am I sort of skipping over notes?
Also, if anyone has suggestions on using a PA system, monitors, and maybe even ear monitors, I'd sure like to hear what you have to say. It seems as if I can sing a song perfectly with just my guitar on my patio, but when I am on a stage and step up to the microphone I can't complete the circuit of singing a note and hearing it on the monitor. My voice tends to lose control. Is something out of balance (band instruments with each other, PA volume, bass and treble)?
I'd like to mention perhaps another discussion topic before I close with some ideas I have: How do you train your voice to sing in a higher (or lower) register? It seems like most of the music out there is in the male tenor (first and second) range as opposed to baritone or bass (a la John Fogerty). What are the dangers of doing so? I mean, if it hurts you should stop, right? And will drinking, say, tea with honey help calm your vocal chords? Should I avoid clearing my throat and coughing excessively?
1. I believe it would help to become intimately familiar with the tune you are trying to sing. Listen to it over and over again. Think about it and recall every note in your mind's ear. Much like a golfer playing a course in his head, go over the song in your mind and imagine singing it.
2. Play a note on the guitar and match it with your voice. Play a chord and match the root note. Play the root note and match it, then sing the 3rd, then the 5th while still plucking the root note. Sing a scale while playing the root note and along with the guitar while playing the scale. I think this would also be a great help while learning the fretboard.
3. Play two notes simultaneously (harmonic), even if they don't sound well together such as a D and an Am, and sing out the higher note without wavering or searching for the pitch. Then do the same but sing out the lower note. Go up and down the fretboard with this. Hint: It's much more difficult to listen for, pick out, and sing the lower note! (At least for me)
4. Get the notation for the tune you want to sing, play it (single string) with the guitar and sing along.
5. Record yourself and listen critically to what you hear; correct as necessary.
6. Start with some relatively easy tunes to sing - anyone have any ideas what they would be?
I know I've made this discussion long, but there is a lot I'd like to learn and I'm sure I'm not the only one. As much as we love to play the guitar, it can be so much more enhanced by being able to sing a song without wincing! I believe it would also help when trying to pick out the melody of a tune on a guitar. I'd really love to hear what ya'll have to say - especially regarding the possible solutions I've briefly outlined.
I very much appreciate the folks on these groups and have come to consider you as my extended family. Thank you for your time!
Thanks - m
Ahhh... tenors. I can touch into that range, but not very far. Has really held me back regarding R&R groups I've been in!
Thx - m
Looking forward to it! I have not heard of Voicetrainer.
Thanks - m
Just for fun, boys, but I can't agree when I hear someone saying that "tone deaf" people does not exist... Those who say this thing... have never heard the wife of a friend of mine, singing(??) "Dedicated to the one I love".. The only thing she has in common with Mama Cass is not the "tone" but the "tonnage"! (Not to mention with Michelle Phillips...light years away!). Believe me, she's really out of tune and out of time... unlistenable!
Are you saying your ears really hurt when you listen to her? Hey... maybe you can get her to pay for your CDs. I mean, if you have to go out and buy something by Michele Phillips to listen to - so you can forget about the assault on your ears - she should have to pay for it, right?
Pretty funny. Sounds like she needs to be part of this group - maybe we can all learn together how not to offend people!
...There IS such a thing as "natural ability" when it comes to singing...I KNOW, because I HAVE it. I truly don't mean to sound condescending...just the plain simple truth...some people are born with certain natural abilities. Not to say that vocal talent can't be cultivated, but if you're born with the natural ability, it's just a little easier. But, whether you're born with it, or you have to cultivate it, the key word is CONFIDENCE. Ones' natural instinct (pertaining to nearly everything) is this...If you're not sure of it, you tend to shy away from it. Watch an unseasoned performer as they sing into a microphone...when they aren't sure of the words, or if they'll hit that high note, they tend to pull away from the mic. Same thing goes for when you're singing...if you're worried about hitting that high note...you'll try to avoid it by softening your voice, or by screaming it out, HOPING that the correct note will happen. the solution to this problem is really very simple...SING! SING LOUD! Practice as much as you can (in the shower, just hanging around the house, WHEREVER you are). Be confident in your ability...and...if you should NOT be on pitch...make sure your mistake is loud enough for everyone to hear. If you HAVE a natural ability to sing, you must still work hard at maintaining it. When I say "natural ability" I am referring to the sound of ones voice, ie: the overall tone and asthetic properties of the vocal instrument. Some are born with a naturally pleasant sounding speaking or singing voice, but they still have to perform routine maintainence to OPTIMIZE the sound of their instrument. I hope this is making some sort of sense to you. I think my main point, as I stated earlier, is to be CONFIDENT...but...most importantly...HAVE FUN! It is an enjoyable experience to sing...even moreso when others enjoy your talent! The BEST way for this to happen is to enjoy yourself while doing it...Take some voice lessons...learn about all the little tricks and exercises there are to tone your voice up...and DON'T WORRY about not being perfect...just be HAPPY. One of my favorite performers is Neil Young...now...(forgive me Neil)...he isn't exactly known for his superior vocal ability (I have even likened him, at times, to a cat in heat)...LOL!...but...he makes it work for himself by the confidence he displays in the music he performs! He truly ENJOYS what he is doing. I sincerely hope that in all of this rambling I'm doing, that there is at least one thing that will be helpful to you. We do it BECAUSE it's fun! Now...go forth and share YOUR fun with the world...the trail or path you leave behind you, is what we call...ART. :)
There really is no substitute for just plain old doing it. I liken it to what psychologists tell their patients who want to quit smoking, lose weight, or change some other nasty habit: Decide what person you want to be and then become that person. Sounds simple, I know, but it's often very difficult. I used to tell this to my music students. When they told me the couldn't make the music, I told them to pretend they can and just do it. If they stuck with it - they found out that they really can do it.