Thursday, July 18, 2013

Learn to Sing with Your Ears

The mastering of vocal technique is what I strive for as a vocal coach. However, I have been known to exhort my voice clients to forget about technique and simply, "Sing with your ears." Unbeknownst to me until recently, I fear this has been largely mistranslated by my students to  mean something about a pianist playing without sheet music in front of them. That's called "Playing by ear!" Not the same thing! No wonder they seemed confused.

To me "Sing with your ears" means there comes a time when you need to let go of your controlling left brain and simply surrender to the flow of the music and lyrics. This phrase has a lot in common with another of my favorites, "Shut up and sing!"

I don't intend that you should abandon the vocal techniques you have worked so long and hard to master. But technique should be only part of your study. You must continually challenge yourself to let go of your concentration on techniques and just sing what the song means to you.

After all, isn't that what a singer's job should be? We're there to move the audience to feel emoti0ns, both new and old. Perfect technique will never accomplish that. If you are singing a dance song, your song should make people's feet want to dance. If you sing a sad love song it must strike a chord with those who have loved and lost. When you are singing a spiritual song, it should inspire those who listen to an even greater faith.

Pure technique does none of this. In fact, although vocal technique does wonders for the sound, in and of itself, it does nothing useful for the soul.

There is an additional meaning behind my instruction to "Sing with your ears." And that has to do with how your vocal relates to the underlying track, accompanying you. The band, orchestra, piano or guitar sets up its own internal rhythm and sub-rhythms. Then along comes the singer's voice, the most audible instrument in the mix, but there is a great tendency for the singer to march on to the sound of its own drummer -- ignoring its relationship to the underlying rhythm in the track.

This shows not only poor social skills, but actually makes the singer's job harder. Instead of ignoring the band, why not let its rhythm and rhythmic pushes cradle your singing? Singing with your ears lets you surrender to the group rhythmic push and pulls, and the give and take with the instruments. You invite unity with the music instead of adversity.

How to accomplish this? Try closing your eyes and concentrating on just the music as you sing. Feel its inner rhythms and its melodic play with the vocal line. Then, still with closed eyes, gradually insert your vocal line into the mix, making certain that you fit into the grooves instead of fighting them. This is why we practice -- so we can let go of our obsession with technique. That's making music!

Nashville vocal coach Renee Grant-Williams reveals the trade secrets that have already helped hundreds of aspiring singers become celebrities: Tim McGraw, Martina McBride, Dixie Chicks, Miley Cyrus, Huey Lewis, Kenny Chesney, Faith Hill, Jason Aldean, Christina Aguilera...

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