Sunday, April 29, 2012

Singing is all about listening

I wrote last week about people who think they can’t ‘sing’ because they think they need training or singing lessons first (Your singing voice: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!).


We focus so much on our mouths and what comes out of them, that often we forget one of the most important aspect of singing: listening.

listening to your own voice

This is what we tend to do the most of. We worry if it’s any good, if we’re getting the notes in the right order, what other people might think of us, why our singing voice is such rubbish, if we’ve remembered the instructions from last rehearsal.

The problem is, if we focus too much on ourselves and the production of sound, we stop being part of the choir or the song and become a self-centred island. We need to focus outwards too.

When we’re new to this choir lark or when we’re particularly nervous, our tendency is to focus inwards and worry about ourselves. But what can help enormously with nerves and other worries is to take the focus off ourselves and remember we’re part of a greater whole.

listening to others in your part

This is the first stage of focusing outwards and it’s a check-in to make sure we’re singing in tune, not singing too loudly (or softly), blending well with the other voices, getting our part right (and making sure we’re actually in the right part!).

But that’s not enough if you’re singing a song in harmony.

listening to your part against another harmony

You need to listen to your part in relationship to other harmonies in the mix. Are you pitching accurately, are you in synch time-wise with the other part, does it sound ‘off’ at all (if so, who’s to blame?), are you drowning them out or are you in perfect balance, what about blend of voices?

listening to the overall sound

It’s no good if you’ve got the mix perfectly with just one other part because that doesn’t tell the whole story. You need to get a sense of the overall sound of the song. This can help enormously with balance (of volume and vocal quality).

If you can only hear the other harmonies, then you’re too quiet. If you can only hear your own part, then you’re too loud. Like Goldilocks, you need to get it ‘just right’. Sometimes that means a perfect balance with all the other parts, other times it might mean being a support act to the main tune and taking a bit of a back seat.

listening from the outside

It can be hard in the midst of rehearsal to hear the overall mix. Many choir leaders allow individuals to step out front and hear the whole choir as one. Or your whole part can be put in the middle of a circle with the other parts around it.

If your choir leader doesn’t do this, then you can always record the session to listen to later, or you could always skip performing in a concert for once and spend time in the audience.

listening to your choir leader

There’s listening and there’s actually hearing. Yes, the sound might go into your ears, but you have to pay attention too! This applies to all the above, but particularly when your choir leader is speaking to you or your part.

I find it amazing how many times I have to repeat myself in rehearsals because entire sections are having a good old chit chat. I don’t mind a bit of socialising in the session, but when I’m trying to explain a tricky part of a song’s structure, then that’s the time to pay attention.

listening to the audience

Any good singer will be constantly making small adjustments to their performance when singing live. There are many subtle cues given off by audiences that can be taken on board when in concert. Dozing off, craning forward, restlessness, rapt attention, people leaving – all hints that can be dealt with in the moment.

listening to feedback

Again, you need to really hear what people are telling you afterwards. Pay attention to what they’re saying then decide if they have a point. If they do and you can do something about it, then take action and make changes. But if you’re happy with what you’ve done, then you are allowed to ignore them!

Speaking of feedback ... I’d love to know what you think. Have I missed anything out? Have you noticed that when you focus on listening rather than producing that things get better?

Do leave a comment and share your experiences.


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