Monday, November 26, 2007

Over Improv: how much is too much

A melody, is the heart of a song, a composition, a masterpiece. Without melody, a song is lifeless, like an empty vase. Like love at first sight, you can instantly fall in love with a song just by listening to it's melody without knowing the lyrics.

A lot of singers (especially young ones) I know loves to improvise every melody of every song he/she sings, until the original melody is completely gone. So, what's the point of singing that tune then? I mean giving some embellishments here and there or improvising making a tune sounds more interesting is fine, but when someone improvise a melody from the beginning to the end, it will only make a song pointless. It's like getting a brand new BMW sports car and pimping it to the max until it looks like a parade car.

For you young singers out there, think about it, the real challenge here is not to sing a melody with fancy technique or with a lot of added notes and crazy high notes whatever. The real challenge is to be able to sing a simple song, and touch people's hearts. When you improvise a melody too much, it sounds more like you're trying to compensate a bad singing :( it sounds rude, but, really. Check out Frank Sinatra, as a pop singer of his time, he didn't need too much of improvising to become world famous and loved by people all around the world, he just sings the original melody, and give it his own original touch, simple and strong.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Scat Singing How To

What is scat singing? scat singing is simply singing nonsense syllables like "doo wop, ba doo ba doo bop". Louis Armstrong (Pops) made it popular during the swing era, probably the most popular scat phrase is in the song "What a Wonderful World" where Pops scats the ending of the song continued with an "Oooh Yeeaahh..." you must know that right? Vocalists like Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Torme, Bobby Mcferrin, and Kurt Elling are among those who scat a lot in their music. Vocalists use scat singing as a way of improvising a solo, they use their voice like an instrument, like a sax or trumpet. Now you know what scat singing is, let's talk about the technical side.

Where do we start? Jazz Phrasing, for me, I believe that phrasing is the most important aspect of scat singing. There are of course other important technical aspects for improvisation like scales and stuff, but really if you phrase good, you'll sound good. How do you phrase a line? Well, there's not a better way than to listen a lot to the masters like Lester Young, Charlie Parker, and other cats from the bebop era, why? cause that's when the jazz language starts to take form. It won't hurt to listen, if you can, transcribe their solos, you don't necessarily have to write them down, just try to sing along with the recording. A good improvisation line will sound even greater with a good phrasing. You can start by taking a simple 4 bars solo line from a bebop recording (that you think sounds good), write it down, and replay (sing) it yourself without any emphasis, no dynamic, no swing feel, whatsoever, that solo line is guaranteed to sound lame. It's impossible to explain more about phrasing in writing, maybe I'll post a video later to take us further.

Next, the syllables, do you say bop, doo, wop, dah, day, what?? well, there are no rules in singing the syllables really, that's why they call it nonsense syllables. But why people tends to sing bop doo wop bee doo? believe it or not, if you listen to a sax solo, a piano solo, or bass solo whatever, you will somehow can hear a syllable that matches the notes, in time, you will automatically find a syllable that sound just right for the notes. You can improvise a solo singing Da da da, or La la la, or Bu bu bu, it doesn't really matter, as long as it sounds right for you.

How about improvising, what notes or scales do I sing? improvisation is a big topic to discuss, we will need another blog to talk about improvising since there are lots and lots of things in it, chords, guide tones, options, changes, scales, modal, outside inside, upper structure, blah blah. It's recommended that you look for books or other sources that discuss music theory for this matter. But for a start, improvisation is spontaneous, expressing yourself, making melodies on the spot, singing what you hear in your head. If you listen to those bebop recordings and you can sing along with it, you're learning the language, as a whole, not note by note. Tyr raedngi tihs lein, adn yuo wlil udnerstnad it anwayy, why? like I said, you understand the language as a whole. My point is, just go ahead and try it NOW, don't need to worry too much about anything other than expressing yourself, just start scatting. Listen, listen, listen, absorb music, jazz, learn the technique, know the theory, do it step by step, but just do it.

That's it for now. Have fun y'all!

Recommended listening:
  • Charlie Parker
  • Lester Young
  • Miles Davis (50's)
  • Dexter Gordon
  • Cannonball Adderley
  • Ella Fitzgerald
  • Louis Armstrong

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Breathing technique

Breathing is the number one thing you want to master, it’s like fighting stance for a martial artist, without it he/she will fail to deliver a strong attack and will fall easily.

When you breathe in, imagine you’re filling your lungs from the bottom up, like filling a glass of water. When you breathe properly, you can feel not just the front of your stomach expand, but also the sides of it. This happens because when you breathe in, your diaphragm moves downward to force air to come into your lungs, and that movement alters the positions of the organs under it. So, let your stomach expand when you breathe in to sing, don’t hold back.

What’s a diaphragm?

A dome-shaped muscle separating our lungs and heart from our abdomen, plays a big part in our breathing.

How does it work?

When you breathe in, the diaphragm contracts, it moves downward, expanding the lungs making the air pressure in it to drop, forcing air to come in. The opposite happens when you breathe out.

What is support?

You have support when you have a strong diaphragm to control your breathing. Try singing a soft long note and keep it steady like drawing a line with a ruler, till the last drop of air.

What is good breathing?

- When you breathe in you acquire a lot of air in a very small amount of time.
- You don’t make too much breathing noise while singing.
- Keep your breathing low, filling the lungs from the bottom up.
- Chest and shoulders not be going up and down while breathing.

Vocal Exercise: Examples

Here are some basic exercise examples from my unpublished book.

Do this exercise very softly, keep your tone at the same intensity throughout the entire sequence. This exercise will improve your support, and pitch.

This exercise will help you with your resonance, try to feel the difference in the vibration when doing hmm and aaah. We'll talk more about resonance later.

Try feeling your diaphragm with this exercise. This exercise will strengthen it.

Train your lips and tounge with this exercise.

It's always a good idea to warm up your voice before a performance. Not only it feels better when you sing, it can give you more confidence, endurance, and most of all, it will protect your voice in the long term. Humming is one quick and easy way to warm up. If you have time though, do the exercises mentioned above.

More later...

Vocal Exercises, why we wanna do em?

Vocal exercise can be really boring, singing scales, patterns, nonsense syllables. Why are they important? there are many reasons for doing vocal exercises.

First and most important, doing vocal exercises will help protect your vocal instrument.
You see, our vocal instrument needs to be taken care of very carefully, if we abuse it, then it will be damaged for sure and the cost of that for singers is unimaginable. Singing for a long periode of time without proper warm up is like doing gymnastics without stretching, a sure fire way to hurt yourself.

Second, it will improve our hearing, thus improving our control of pitch.
Holding a steady long note, singing scales up and down, diatonics, chromatics, arpeggios, bending notes, are some of the ways you can do to improve your hearing and pitch control, especially when you do them with the help of a piano. It's like a "note calibration".

Third, it will train our vocal muscles improving our breathing, diction, and endurance.
Some vocal exercises will focus on training our diaphragm muscles, some will target out mouth and tounge, and of course vocal exercises train our overall vocal muscles, giving them more power and endurance. Imagine a professional basketball NBA player without a proper fitness training, he/she will not be able to play for even one set.

Fourth, it will "make" your voice.
If you do your exercises properly and make it as a daily routine, your vocal range will stretch, you'll have very nice full tone on each high and low edge of your range, you will sing effortless, because the vocal technique is now automatic, so you'll be able to focus more on something else like lyrics handling and expression.

Those are just a few reasons to do vocal exercises, really, if you're serious about singing, you WANT to do vocal exercise. Click here for some vocal exercise examples.


The Voice Cat

voice |vois|
1 the sound produced in a person's larynx
and uttered through the mouth, as speech
or song.

cat |kat |
2 informal (particularly among jazz
enthusiasts) a person, esp. a man.