Monday, September 24, 2012

Voice Diary

Here in the past 6 or 8 months my sense is that my singing has gotten a lot better. When I've sung around other people there have been a few spontaneous positive comments that suggest that what to me seems a tremendous shift is at least big enough others can hear some difference. Here are a few things I think are contributing to the improvement:

  • I did not begin to sing until in my 20's when I began playing guitar, and my guitar playing was always stronger. What's dawned on me lately is that my guitar playing was leading my singing, rather than the other way around. Most conspicuously, I was laying into the down beat strum on the guitar to such an extent the syllable sung on those beats was getting covered up. Lately I've been just very lightly strumming on the downbeats and letting my voice learn how to lead. There's definitely some brain rewiring going on, because not paying attention means the old habit creeps back in.
  • Listening back to recordings has made me cringingly aware of how my affectations were suffocating the poetry and music. I was so caught up in trying to convey how wonderfully artistic my stylings were, there was a lot more ego than artistry on display. Now I'm trying to just sing the song - letting all the consonants and vowels come alive and the phrases more naturally spring from the words, chords and rhythms.
  • I've been giving songs I've sung for 40 years a rest and working up more new ones so as to stay out of the old ruts. Exploring new pieces makes it much easier to try new ways of singing.
  • Back when Dietrich Fischer-Diekau passed away I clicked on a video of him singing and noticed that he sometimes tilted his head down and that made me realize I'd always assumed looking straight forward or tilting one's head up a bit was the best way to sing. Tilting it down a bit changes the way the sound feels in my head. There's the sense it's resonating more fully up there - and it also changes the musculature around the throat. Both those effects give me the sense of having more tools to work with to create a good sound.
  • Brass players sometimes use the cliché, "let the air do the work", and that's sort of the feeling I have now when the singing is going well, that I'm not forcing or making it happen, but simply letting it happen. Rather concentrating on projecting sound, I'm more focused on singing expressively, syllable by syllable, phrase by phrase.
  • Playing the horn has given me a much deeper nonverbal appreciation of phrasing and its connection to breathing. Just to play a phrase on the horn, you have to keep the energy level up throughout. For me it's harder to simply "phone in" notes on the horn as I sometimes feel I do with the flutes, and that in turn made me aware of how from time to time I've been just sketching in phrases with my voice, rather than giving full support to every syllable and pitch.
  • For years and years my singing was either in day rooms in psych wards and nursing homes or leading music therapy groups in closed classrooms for emotionally disturbed children (and never with a mic). In both cases volume and projection were of paramount importance. Now I'm more often singing with pro level players and sometimes with a mic and it's a totally different environment and allows for a more nuanced approach.

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