Monday, June 15, 2020

What singing online can and can’t achieve

Last week I looked at What is unique about singing together.

In this post, I’ll consider which aspects of singing together can be duplicated online and which can’t.

During this pandemic we all miss singing together in the flesh. A great deal of singing has moved online.

There has always been singing online: online singing lessons, virtual choirs, YouTube vocal technique lessons, and so on. However, groups of people using online conferencing software such as Zoom has sky-rocketed during lockdown.

Singing online has many advantages:

  • people who are widely separated by geography are able to sing together;
  • voice and singing experts can offer their services to far more people than they can face to face;
  • people who can’t leave their homes for whatever reason can join a choir;
  • extremely nervous singers can join in anonymously without having other people hear them sing or even see them;
  • much larger groups of singers can take part than would normally be possible due to space limitations.

There are obstacles to participation though:

  • you’ll normally need a smartphone, tablet or computer in order to participate fully (although it might be possible to join in via a landline);
  • you’ll need a certain amount of technical know-how; 
  • you’ll need a good quality internet connection;
  • you’ll need access to a relatively quiet, private space that you feel safe in.

Of the many special benefits of singing together in a group, here are those that you can also get online:

  • having fun;
  • social interaction – especially if it’s a group of singers who already know each other. Good to see old friends!
  • having a good old sing;
  • learning new skills – most online sessions will involve warm ups, vocal technique, etc.
  • sense of achievement – especially by singing against one of the other harmonies that are being played by the person leading the session.

And if your online singing session offers the option to create a ‘virtual choir’ (by individual singers sending in recordings which are then edited together), you can get these benefits too:

  • building something together – the virtual choir recording being the end product;
  • making and hearing harmonies – whilst you record your own part, and also when you listen to the final recording;
  • making beautiful music together.

But there are three important aspects of singing together which are not easy to replicate, if at all:

  1. connection: eyes and ears – even though you can see other participants, you won’t be able to hear them or to connect with them in real time due to the inherent time lag of the internet;
  2. working and breathing as one – similarly, you won’t be able to sync your own breathing with the other singers;
  3. making and hearing harmonies – although this is possible when creating a virtual choir, you will not be able to respond in the moment to the other singers’ voices.

For many singers, these are the vital parts of singing together that they are missing whilst we can’t be in the same physical space. I don’t know of any way currently to achieve these online. Do let me know if you have an answer!

In the meantime, whilst we can’t meet in person, you might want to make the most of what online singing can offer, and not focus on what it can’t.


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Chris Rowbury




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