“Tell Everyone Now, today, I shall sing beautifully for my friend's pleasure We shall enjoy it As for him who finds fault, may silliness and sorrow take him!” Sappho

So You Think You Can't Sing

Published: Oct 15, 2018  |   Category: Uncategorized

Thought for the day. Or rather novelette.

Some people think if you can't sing like you were born to, then you shouldn't. Don't waste your time trying. Instead go develop a skill or gift you've already got a head start on.

I don't agree. Why? First, I've had people come to me who long and love to sing. To me it's like telling someone who can't run very fast but loves doing it, they shouldn't bother. That's silly. Just like if someone takes guitar with me and they are not quick on the uptake. It's still worth it. Music is fun and is for everyone! Anyway secondly....and this is the main reason I'm writing this... the things that make people not "sound good" are fixable. The chief reason why people think they don't sound good, and other people know they don't, is because they sing flat or sharp or wildly off pitch. Almost any kind of timbre in a voice will get a fan in today's multi-genre world of music. But being badly off pitch - it's less, to not-at-all, listenable. My first goal is fixing this. And actually, there is a very fast way in.

I start with the physicality of their instrument and getting them to feel what it’s like to manipulate it. To me, it's like helping them bring their own music map into focus.

What's cool is for low notes we use more muscle - our vocal folds are thicker and shorter. And when we sing higher we use less muscle, our vocal folds stretch out longer and thinner. If someone is singing flat they're using too much muscle. Singing ‘whiny’ will prompt the singer into thin-ing the vocal cords. If they are singing sharp singing with a heavy tool will drive the pitch down, so I give them that. I've seen the resulting look on faces now for years. A light-bulb goes off. They start experiencing their voice going into pitch, upon repetition they start recognizing they are causing it. Someone who always thought they were 'tone-deaf' starts moving their own body into pitch to match what they hear. From here we can go to getting a warm and beautiful bright tone out of their voice. If they're using too much or too little weight or compression their tone can be tinny, splatty, thuddy all that! It's fun to get that nice ring out of their instrument, and they immediately recognize it, as we all are musical beings, humans.

I've been teaching for ten years, so I've seen people improve and then in different contexts, like, a song or performance, it all falls apart and it's like we never did any work at all. I've learned a lot! So I combine the above approach with B. ear training and C. working with the nervous system by helping the student allow themselves to express and actually stop focusing on singing right! (Because often that focus starts backfiring!) We balance, balance balance: the physical instrument, the ear, and emotional connection.

It's one of my favorite things to do. It also takes the greatest commitment from a student. It's going to take some time, and it may be they do not perform, but they will sing better! I've heard a lot of stories from my adult students telling how parents, or other children, or chorus leaders or music teachers told them they "cannot sing". It is a joy to undo that falsehood, and, if someone wants to put the time in, help someone bring their music map into focus.

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