Tuesday, January 30, 2007

More thoughts on vocal pitch problems

I want to add some thoughts to my previous post:
Slowwww Dowsnnnn when you try the target practice exercise. Take plenty of time to:
  1. Hear the music- the note(s) you play
  2. Intend to hit that pitch dead center (focus your mind in a purposeful aim)
  3. Support your aim (use your breath support centered in the pelvic floor to lift your voice into the right placement)

You can go a bit faster only when you are consistantly accurate in hitting pitch at the slower speed. This slowing down is vitally important... don't shortcut training the automatic nervous system. If you are used to being inaccurate with pitch it may take some time to re-train yourself and to trust yourself to sing in tune.

Before long your singing won't be like a game of vocal pin-the-tail-on-the-pitch. Your ears will be wide open and you will have begun habitually AIMING your voice at the right pitch!!

Another suggestion having to do with studio singing... don't think the recording engineer can make your vocal all it should be with vocal tuning. This technology is used, in my humble opinion, FAR TOO MUCH in today's recordings. The human voice sounds and communicates to the heart better with natural variences not usually allowed by those who over-tune vocals. Flying the same chorus everywhere can backfire and sound BORING!

Not to say vocal tuning and flying should not be done. On the contrary, sometimes it's wonderful to keep a vocal that has just the right magic but needs a slight pitch tweaking. And sometimes the chorus really is the same. It depends on the genre you're going for. Ask yourself (or someone whose opinion you trust) if you sound like a machine. If so, swallow your pride, get out your checkbook for studio time and sing a couple more passes of that song !!

Vocal Training: Pitch Issues and Target Practice

If you have pitch problems, it can usually be chalked up to:
  1. The acoustic instruments (piano, ac. guitar) aren't loud enough
  2. You aren't really listening to the music
  3. The bass is too loud (overtones can fool you)
  4. The electric guitar is too loud, or you're swimming in violin, steel, harmonica or organ
  5. You don't want to listen to the music!
  6. Your earphones are all the way flush against your ears instead of one side partially off (ok, so some people do well this way... go figure!)
  7. You can't hear yourself acoustically and get aurally disoriented
  8. You aren't connecting to your voice to the music
  9. There is too little or too much reverb on your voice
  10. You aren't really listening to the music
  11. Your shoulder/back/neck/spine/big toe or some other part hurts and you aren't supporting your voice well enough for accuracy
  12. You aren't really listening to the music

There are a lot of suggestions in the list above, but did you notice a certain redundancy? YOU AREN'T REALLY LISTENING TO THE MUSIC... You think you are, but you're not aiming at the center of the pitch in the music. And it's hard to hit something when you aren't aiming. Many times this is what is going on.

Here is a great way to fix it. Target practice!! Every day, make time to practice your aim. Hit a piano key or a note on guitar. Sing a short syllable like "la" or ya" and try to hit the pitch dead on. IMPORTANT: make sure you know when you're right- if you're not sure, enlist the help of a friend who CAN hear whether you're on pitch or not. Check yourself one note at time, then picking more random notes ( a short phrase) and see if you can hit them. Keep making the notes harder to hit.

You'll be amazed. Even people who have had damage to their ears from childhood infections, etc. can learn to be on pitch. If you want to bad enough, you can do it. Just make time for target practice!

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Vocal Performance: Messages

There's an ancient Chinese proverb that goes something like this:
"A songbird doesn't sing to be heard, it sings because it has a song." I translate that proverb into this observation- The most important part of vocal performance is... THE MESSAGE!!

Here is an interesting vocal exercise:

Next time you choose to generate sound waves with your vocal apparatus, (or write something for someone else to sing!!)- I challenge you to honestly ask yourself: What is my motivation(s) for using my voice? Check all soul-searching answer (or answers) that apply:

  • I'm trying to get someone to like me
  • I'm trying to impress someone with my talent
  • I'm trying to win a contest
  • I want to make a fortune- no matter what addiction, violence, hate or sexual misconduct I have to sanction with my music.
  • I want to be famous (worshipped)
  • I need to know I have a voice that is heard
  • I want to make a living with music I believe in
  • I'm looking for a musical rush- to feel the passion of my own voice
  • I'm singing as background vocalist for someone's recording project or live show and they are trusting me to give my best vocal efforts
  • I'm speaking my truth for anyone who will hear
  • I'm mad and want to expose something
  • I'm in love and want to sing about it
  • I want to entertain and make people happy (and it's really about them)
  • I want to make people think
  • I'm trying to share some insight on love/faith/justice/forgiveness/freedom/mercy/integrity/faithfulness/life/etc.
  • I have a song you need to hear!

Btw... the only right answer is a truthful answer :)

The first answers, as you can see, involve insecurity and nervousness centered around yourself. I'd be lying if I claimed I have never been nervous or vocally insecure (that's how I know what YOU are doing! hehehehe)

As for contests... I'll share my thoughts about them on a future post, but here's a clue: I would like a contest named something like"American Positive Role Model" to take the place of "American Idol". (Investors welcome!)

If you're like me, you have more than just one motivation. And if you, like me, make a living with music, you have to draw your own fine line between the business and the art of music. As for me...I sang jingles and background vocals exclusively for many years, and I found that I almost lost my love of making music until I began writing songs that meant something to me. I still do background vocals and jingles today, but I know I also have to regularly sink my teeth into a message my heart needs to communicate to keep the fires going.

The paradox is, the more you make your performance a useful message to your listener instead of all about you, the better your vocal technique tends to be. See previous posts about body language on this blog.

Here is a possibly uneasy fact to wrap your head around. When you use your voice, you are sending a message. That message may cause people to like or dislike you, buy or not buy your music, reject or dismiss you, or... change something in their life or mark a memory because of your vocal performance. Music is THAT powerful!

Every choir practice. Every songwriting session. Every casual jamfest. Every recording. Every show. Remember who you are. Remember what messages you want your audience to hear. Then your singing can be considered - dare I say - a holy art. Comments always welcome...