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  1. #1

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    Hi all.

    Up to now I've been mostly a lurker, since there are plenty of people with great contributions to make, and I'm just a deliberately amateur student myself. So I just learn and learn.

    This time I have a question I have't found answered. Has anybody tought of taking singing lessons? I'm talking about *guitar* players.

    I don't see myself (and I've never have) as a singer. On one hand I'm a bit curious about that instrument we all are born with, and I want to be prepared as well in case I can contribute some backing vocals and the like (which has happened a handful of times with not too bad results). But I'm not pursuing a singing career.

    My main goal would be to become a better *guitar* player, by thinking about music, improvising, visualizing... without the guitar. You know, sometimes you run out of ideas but your hands keep playing mechanical things, and I thought singing lessons could be of help for improving that: creating music with your head, not with your hands.

    Is this a silly idea? Has anyone tried this before?


    The Jazz Guitar Chord Dictionary
  3. #2

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    When I was at GIT Norman Brown was our group's main teacher and he was in process of getting his recording contract and do his first CD. Norman talked about his taking singing lessons and how much it helped his phrasing and he said really made the difference in his playing that got him his contract.

  4. #3

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    Vocal lessons are often mostly about technique, tone production, that kind of thing.

    I think the kind of singing that we talk about as aids to our improv and musicianship is more about just producing pitches with reasonable accuracy. Technique helps with that, but I think you don't need to have good vocal technique to be able to clearly conceptualize harmonies and melodies in your head without the instrument.

    A simpler solution to the problem you talk about is, whenever you are working on something new...a new scale, new lines, new concept, whatever, to try singing it. It doesn't have to sound good, the point is just that you are doing it without your fingers.

    One thing I do whenever I learn a new tune, a type from Ed Byrne, is to solfege the melody, then solfege the root motion, then solfege several different guide tone lines. I've also practiced sight singing a bit. Sight singing is a big part of most university ear training programs, but my understanding is they don't require you to sing with great tone, just to get the pitches.

  5. #4

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    Well, I feel that if you're going to bother to sing, then learning tome production and breathing should not be ignored, since "getting the pitch" is that much easier if the mechanism is in working order. Also, a few lessons with a good teacher may actually help one to find one's own voice, which could lead to real singing, making one that much more employable as either a backup singer or even as something to add to the jazz act. I've learned a few bossa novas in Portugese, and I have expanded my fan base and my gigs by being able to offer a few vocals a set, an especially cool pitch if one can sing in a couple of languages besides English. Even the overplayed and dismissed Girl From Ipanema becomes a great song again if sung in Portugese, or Estate in Italian, or Besame Mucho in Spanish.

  6. #5

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    I know from experience that your rhythmic skills are also improved, because in essence, you are playing two instruments at once, and fitting the two parts together. Very valuable.

  7. #6

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    I love to sing and I happen to play in a duo with a pro level singer who gives me incredible, and free tips!

    I'd say singing lessons can be about more than tone production, they are also about phrasing and timing. That can have a very positive impact on your guitar playing.

    But I think the greatest positive effect is from knowing the lyrics to all of our favorite standards. Music is a narrative, and knowing the whole story will change the way you hear the song, and the way you retell the story to your audience. I've heard others on the forums say that their teachers recommend learning lyrics, and I think it's good advice.

    Do you absolutely need lessons? No! As you know, having assignments and exercises sometimes kills the motivation. You can start by singing in your shower or your car, then crank it up to singing with your guitar.

  8. #7

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    There is nothing silly about it. It works. I took vocal lessons and I definitely improved not only as a singer but it made me play guitar better too. Well more specifically, it made me a better musician. My vocal lessons came in the form of majoring in voice in college. So it was the complete package - ear training, sight singing, theory, performing with a choir, doing solo voice recitals, etc...Quite a bit more than you would likely get out of a weekly voice lesson. I would say do it. It's definitely beneficial in more ways than one.

  9. #8

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    I decided to take vocal lessons years ago when I was starting out in the music scene. It helped me greatly. I learned to sing in pitch, and get a much stronger singing voice. I've only ever sung backing vocals but it's an asset to my career that I can do that and honestly it helped my self confidence. Nothing worse than being a musician that can't sing a basic melody in tune.

  10. #9
    Thank you guys for your wisdom and experience! I could interrogate each one of you several beers long... but the forum will do by now.

    I've tried the "blow-as-you-play" exercise. It's great since, when you run out of air, you make a rest :-) and soon notice that your phrases are usually... too long, and hence senseless, directionless. I definitely need to do that one much more.

    Singing along your solos is a next step. I find two minor drawbacks. One: I fear that probably it's your hand who's leading your voice and not the other way around (so maybe you won't get rid of your mechanical habits). And two: even when you don't need any great vocal tone for this as some of you suggest, it's a bit frustrating, as a musician, when you enter a register where you can hardly hit the notes with your voice (if it doesn't sount somewhat "correct" you don't enjoy it).

    As JakeAcci said, from what I've enquiried around here vocal trainers (even great jazz singers) are quite biased towards technique (and that's reasonable, actually). On the other hand, we guitar players now too well that skipping the fundamentals is only deferring the inevitable :-) So maybe the shortest path is to do things right from the beginning and accept some months of basic training.

    From what you've said I think I'll give these lessons a try and get to sing reasonably, but right now I'll try to incorporate vocals to my guitar study in a conscious, systematic way (blow, sing what I play, etc.). It seems that it can be very positive, and after all it's the only damn gadget we can bring and switch on without messing around with bags, cables and batteries :-)

  11. #10

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    I think it is just fine. If that's what you want then go for it and excel. I remember someone he also wants to sing but he lacks the courage, he's afraid to try. Anxiety can sometimes hinder us from doing what we love to do. So if you want to be prepared, improve your skills. And always take confidence with you that you can do it and succeed. Here's a good link in case you feel a bit anxious.

  12. #11

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    I took maybe a half a year of lessons a while ago--8 years, feels like 3 wtf?--and the main things I learned, roughly in order of importance were: 1) sing songs in your range!, 2) keep those lungs FULL of air, 3) warm up by making funny sounds and singing scales, 4) when you need to hit higher notes than you are comfortable doing, use some twang, and 5) don't try and imitate other singers, their phrasing in particular, but try and develop your own voice.

    One thing that bothers me about singing while playing is that I have a low voice and tend to give up singing once I get to anything very high, which is most of the stuff that I play. I used to be able to whip out the falsetto and do a decent Benson impersonation, but I'd blow out my throat if I tried it these days. So what do you guys do when you get to the higher notes that you aren't comfortable singing? Do you just sing an octave down? Or do a Jarrett warble?
    Last edited by jster; 01-11-2013 at 08:03 PM.

  13. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by jster
    So what do you guys do when you get to the higher notes that you aren't comfortable singing? Do you just sing an octave down? Or do a Jarrett warble?
    I transpose the song into a key where that isn't a problem. There will always be a key you can sing without your voice cracking or having to sing falsetto. Just find it.

  14. #13

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    I mean when you are playing single line solos.

  15. #14

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    I have students play a few notes of a scale and sing the rest...

    or play one note and sing the next...etc....

    play the root and sing the third...or whatever note you want...good interval training too...

    who said...if you can sing it you can play it...

    singing practice with or without lessons is a good thing....

    as mentioned learning two instruments at the same also helps the other...

    time on the instrument...

  16. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by jster
    I mean when you are playing single line solos.
    I just started this ear training book:

    Ear Training for the Contemporary Musician: Joe Elliott, Carl Schroeder, Keith Wyatt: 9780793581931: Books

    One of the first exercises is to transpose notes up or down an octave. Then, you sing major scales, jumping up or down an octave when it gets out of your range. Doing that jump seamlessly is actually pretty tough for me. (Especially on the sixth, for some reason).

    I assume most people don't have the range to sing in unison with the entire guitar, so this might be something worth practicing. I guess you could check out what Benson and Rosenwinkel do on that point.

  17. #16
    Well, just in case this can be useful for someone, here I am again. I started this thread and I feel in debt, so I'll try to tell what happened; my particular experience is probably the only valuable contribution I can make.

    Not long after this thread, I did start singing lessons, which I'm still taking (my progress, be it with guitar or voice, is veeeeery slow, since I can devote only a small handful of hours a week to music; most days I don't practice at all. But I'm tenacious.)

    Since my progress is so slow, I don't now how this will really result in the end. But at this point I'm already pretty sure this is worth the effort (apart from being just plain interesting and fun).

    First thing I would say: find the proper instructor in the "musical" sense. I mean, a good vocal JAZZ trainer. Someone that understands the genre, that masters and is able to explain the many skills needed (improvisation, storytelling, pronunciation, acting, modern harmony, rhythm, style…) and focuses on them as much as on your throat. Studying jazz singing with an operatic teacher is not a good choice, in my opinion (you can learn tons of things anyway, that’s for sure).

    Find as well the proper instructor in the "strictly vocal" sense. The vocal training world is full of, so to speak, alchemists. If you take dancing lessons, your teacher will probably refer to your left foot or ask you to raise your elbow. If you take singing lessons… your feet and elbows are, in this case, hidden inside your neck. To get to control those unknown organs, people resort to metaphors, or to sensations, or just invent things. So it seems to me that the singing world is bloated with contradictory schools of thought, keeping endless discussions about names, about whether something exists or not. Most singers (and teachers, I fear) do not have real knowledge about what's going on inside their throats, and they don't use the metaphors as a mere communication resource; they rely on the metaphors.

    By any means, avoid that. Avoid religion, beliefs, myths, mysteries; flee alchemists, embrace chemists. Don't let anybody train you with metaphors. Singing is producing sound; period. Find a teacher who really knows the basic stuff. For me, that means someone trained in EVTS (Estill system) or something similar: something based on biology, physics, with a consistent nomenclature based on scientific principles.

    If you find the correct teacher, he'll give you the technique first, the basic tools you need. But as time goes by, he'll soon be switching to, and focusing on, repertoire, rhythm, improvisation and the like (provided you do your vocal homework). That is, the stuff you are most interested in.

    Assuming you find a decent instructor... what's the goal of this?

    Many of you are professional, first-class musicians that have done all the hard work in advance, and this could not make any sense for you. But if you're like me, and you've learned music through the guitar, and everything you know is tied to the guitar, you absolutely must get the guitar out of your way for making music.

    When I started singing, I noticed that I really didn't know my own phrases and licks so well. I was able to produce them and anticipate their sound, but much of that knowledge was in my hands and eyes; not in my head. I really got to know that when I tried to sing them in a guitar-less context. Without the guitar, I had to face the music, I had to admit that I didn't have any fluence computing intervals or reading music. So I started to study and practice all of this much more. And it takes much less time than you'd expect; but you'll never do it if you can survive with your beloved fretboard.

    I also became aware of other things. During my singing lessons, I had to study the lyrics, do emotional work over them and build my storytelling around that work, prepare the phrasing (long or short syllables, time shifts, speech rhythm, motive development)... When singing, dynamics are a must; you can whisper, or shout, you are forced to make a decision, and the music you make is dramatically different at each moment. (Dynamics are a very powerful, emotional component of music, at a very low cost, and it's probably the most underrated and forgotten resource for us, guitar players). Not to mention rests; if you sing, you have to breath or die. So eventually your solos will have pauses from time to time. The list could go on.

    I'm neither a great singer nor a great guitar player, but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't work on all these things if I hadn't started to sing. We "intellectually" know that (dynamics, rests, phrasing, yeah), but we can play guitar anyway putting little intention in what we do. When you're alone and your instrument is your own body, you cannot dodge your intention; you are forced to take a more involved, conscious approach to music. You are forced to pay attention to these things. My guitar teacher (I haven't stopped my guitar lessons, of course) tries to teach me many of them, but the guitar is always in the middle and requires our attention.

    So I think that, at least for people like me, (jazz) singing lessons are a terrific idea. Step aside the guitar several times a week, try to sing over a dominant chord or sing a ballad believing in your own story, and then go back to the guitar.

    Because, of course, that beast is reclaiming much more practice from you.

  18. #17

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    I haven't taken lessons but I do sing what I practice much of the time and I've found that singing lines, scales and arpeggios a few hours a day has improved my singing tremendously. Especially pitch control.

  19. #18

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    Good thread. Singing is so much fun, and gives you an instant connection with your audience. It really is an entirely different world of making music and forces you to rely on your ear far more than any instrument other than, perhaps, some fretless string instruments.

    I think sometimes we get too down on the instrumentalist's path to learning, though. Many singers that I know, even at a very high level, have no understanding of song forms, of structure, or of harmony, really. Voice and guitar or piano is a killer combo, because you end up exploring all the different aspects of performance to create your sound.

    A lot of good advice already given here. I'll put in my two cents and suggest that anyone who is serious check out the Singing Success series of CDs. They're goofy, and the marketing is silly, but they do their job. It's easy to do serious damage to your voice if you strain, and you might as well learn how to do things right starting out.