Monday, January 30, 2023

The good enough singer

Last week I wrote about the notion of being “good enough” and how it could be applied to choir leaders: The good enough choir leader.

This week I want to look at how singers can usefully use this idea.

In all the community choirs and singing workshops I’ve run over the years, most people don’t think they can sing that well (see You are not alone – most people in your choir think they can’t sing well). They tend to be apologetic about their voice and believe that everyone else in the room can sing better than them.

And yet, when I’ve finished teaching a song and the whole group sings together, the sound is always amazing. Despite what any individual might think of their voice.

Singing in a group is a forgiving activity. You don’t have to be the best singer in the world. The combination of different kinds of voices is what creates the richness and texture of a choral sound. To take part, you only have to be a “good enough” singer.

What might a “good enough” singer be?

Someone who:

  • is allowed to make mistakes;
  • mostly gets things right (most of the time);
  • is usually in tune and in time (but not necessarily perfectly);
  • has a voice that doesn’t stick out by being too loud or strident (whilst not being too quiet and hesitant);
  • doesn’t necessarily blend perfectly with their fellow singers.

The joy of the choral sound is that it doesn’t depend on any individual singer, and yet every singer is equally important in their contribution (see You are the most important singer in your choir).

I was listening to the isolated vocals of a Beatles recording the other day. I remembered that John Lennon always said that he hated his own voice and didn’t think he was a good singer. Because of this, he insisted that he was double-tracked when he was singing the lead vocal. That meant that he sang along to his own pre-recorded voice singing the lead. This gives a certain depth and texture to the vocal line. It also means that the singer is not that exposed vocally.

If you listen to an example of this, you can hear that Lennon doesn’t blend or match timing perfectly. If he did, there would be no point in double tracking! The slight mismatches are what gives the vocal its quality.

The same kind of effect goes on in a choir. If it was enough for John Lennon to be “good enough”, I’m sure it’s OK for you!

older posts

You might find these older posts of interest too:

Why be perfect when you can be great?

Learning to love the sound of your own voice


Chris Rowbury


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