A few friends and I did a small 4 song performance at our pre-wedding get together. Each song was a dedication and as the first one was a dedication to my to-be wife, I was to sing it. Having never taken any vocal lessons, I was all sorts of afraid and went on to sign up for a 4 hour vocals crash course. It turned out to be a great learning experience and I thought I’d share the lessons I learnt.
1. If you can’t imagine it, you can’t do it. Vocals is an exercise in imagination. If you don’t believe you can make the pitch, you just can’t. And I had great difficulties with the mental aspect in my first lesson as I tended to panic as soon as I hit what I thought was a high note.
My teacher then asked me to close my eyes while he had me follow the piano’s key. He pointed out that while my vocal range was fairly high for a male (a “G”), I used to panic by the time I hit an E flat i.e. 4 notes lower. I had to learn to open my mind..
2. Don’t take casual feedback too seriously. Tony Buzan famously asserted that every kid is a born artist who stops drawing because some harsh teacher or parent criticizes an early work. I’ve found Buzan’s assertion true – with a bit of practice, all of us can become pretty good at many a hobby but we let casual feedback get to us.
I clearly took casual feedback on my singing too seriously and it got in the way of what I could actually do.
3. Difficult -> Natural -> Easy -> Beautiful. Focus your practice on moving across these stages. Move it from difficult to natural. Once it sounds or feels natural, try to make it easy and only then should you try the flourishes and add ons that make it beautiful. It’s a lovely 4 step framework.
4. We all have 2 voices. This was a big learning for me – we all have a “chest” voice (deeper) and a “throat” voice (higher pitched). Switching between these voices is a mental thing. We have to understand which voice would work better for a song and then imagine it before we do it!
5. Physical comfort results in mental and emotional comfort. The first step to a great vocal performance is physical comfort – we need to understand what makes our voices and bodies comfortable. Some singers drink cold water before a performance while others prefer hot water to keep their vocal cords in shape. Know your body.
6. Find your style. Vocals are all about finding your style. As a singer, you mix natural talent with style. There are many singers with tremendous natural talent (Frank Sinatra) who don’t need to worry about style since “showing up” is all they need to do. And yet, there are others with less talent (Rod Stewart) who really understand their limitations and work within them to create great music.
Needless to say, I’ve added vocals on my always expanding “skills to learn” list.