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My Voice 25 years Ago

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Matt
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Bit of a private musing here. As a teen I was positive I was going to be a rockstar and sang with a million bands and was known as one of the better local singers. Then reality and bills hit me as it does to most of us and those dreams never happened. I carried on singing as a hobby through adulthood and took an interest in vocal technique to remedy my limited range and the fact that I was blown out after each gig or rehearsal. As I picked up little tips and hints through the years, I became more and more confused and changed and lost the sound I originally had, which I had got from emulating vocal heroes by ear. As an adult, Ive often wondered what I sounded like back then, and suspected I probably sounded awful. However, through the years, I also began to get less compliments for my voice and I have often wondered if I actually had more of the voice I originally wanted back then.

Through the magic of facebook, some old band members contacted me the other day and sent an old recording of an outdoors festival we played at over 20 years ago which rips off with a Detroit Rock City cover at double speed and just gets louder and faster through the gig. I was surprised and pleased to hear that I actually had more of the tone back then that I always wanted have, than I have these days. I was whacking B's all over the place, and all I was really doing badly/incorrectly back then was too much excited overkill/shouting on high notes, though in the context of hardrock even that sounds quite reasonable.

Now I cant help thinking its a shame that I went astray among all the different vocal technique tips I listened to and only half understood since those carefree days, when a good teacher could have quite easily just pointed me in the direction of stepping back just a little bit from crossing over into actual shouting. Anyway, really fun blast from the past. I guess this is more of a private blog posting, but there ya go ;)

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I would agree, to a point, that "over"?technique might take away something you had, it must also be remembered that a young voice heals quickly and you can do a lot of "bad" things that sounded great. 20 years later, you simply can't do those any more and when you do, it takes longer to heal. Plus there must be some kind of acceptance for the voice one does have.

Twice, I have tried to do twangy rattle and get pretty close and twice, I have strained my voice and lost it for a few days recently and for two weeks, not so long ago. Granted, perhaps I am doing the twangy rattle the wrong way but for me, it feels like a closure or constriction in the throat, which is certainly where the strain is happening and it takes time, especially at my age, to get over a muscle strain of any kind. And that is what we are dealing with. Muscle is muscle, period. And neurology is totally individual. So, I am back to accepting that I have a clean voice and that my best rasp that allows me to sing the next day is with open throat in a slight twang and I back off both air pressure and fold compression. What I call "leaking air." I can do that in my set of songs and still do it the next day. So, to some extent, I still have what I could do 20 years ago. But then, back in 1988, when I started to really work on my voice, I had learned how to produce clean sounds. And achieved rasp by "de-tuning," so to speak. So, no, I will not get the same growl as Dio, or the same rattle as Axl. And that's alright.

I have been reading a most insightful book that is literally chocked full of interviews with tremendous singers, including tips they learned from other singers. One of them was friends with Ronnie James Dio. RJD had advised him against doing extensive scales and warm-ups. "You're just wasting notes." And I understand the thinking behind that, too. Muscles, again. Just as in martial arts, some warm up is okay in order not to pull a hamstring, for example. But muscles are muscles and they fatigue, even for professional athletes. Warm-up or not.

Watch a pitcher in the bull pen. He throws a few pitches, then rests. And his pitches are not full speed. Just enough to keep the shoulder arm and body loose and relaxed.

There are many different lengths and styles of warm-ups, education ranging from none to 3 years of opera lessons. But the common denominator is hydration, rest (lots of it. muscles are muscles), and emotional conviction. As one singer put it (I think John Bush from Anthrax), "singing is 10 percent technique and 90 percent attitude." Which fits in with your earlier style, Matt. I'm not saying that you should go back to screaming yourself hoarse but maybe you can get back to the emotion informing the song. Another common denominator from the pros is to keep the throat open, except for whatever twang required to resonate. The note should feel like it's in the cold spot behind the soft palate. Most of them get distortion or rasp by driving a little harder (increased volume) or by relaxing off the brightness (the way I do.) The absolute no-no is constricting or singing from the throat. And these are guys who do this for 200 days on tour and 50 days in the studio, every year.

And not every one starts from the bottom and goes through classical scales. Geoff Tate starts out softly in head voice and works his way down. Bruce Dickinson hums with his mouth closed and smiling to find his resonance and tone range.

And we must accept limitations. As Steven pointed out on one of my recordings, my lowest notes did not seem well tuned. And he could certainly be right. I have noted before that it is a struggle for me at low baritone and bass is mostly inaccessible to me. And that may be a combination of desire or genetic ability. The lowest baritone notes are not all that necessary to me, though it's fun to play with. And I may simply be a high baritone to tenor, and that's fine, too. I have actually capo'd up a song before because the original was too low for me. "Peace, Love, and Understanding" is originally in G. Nick Lowe, who wrote it, sang it lower than is comfortable for me. So, when I play it, I capo up two frets and sing it in A. That way, the low parts still sound baritone - "y".

What's interesting to note is that while a number of singers were inspired by other singers, they had their own unique sound that wasn't about any taught technique but was based on how they feel or what sounds inspire them. The members of Judas Priest grew up next to metal fabrication factories. So, the music sounds like a steel press and Halford's singing sounds like the scream of metal as it goes through a shear press (forms and cuts metal simultaneously.)

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In addition, I remember one singer who mentions that the only thing he did for voice training was breathing. He spent some time learning to breath with just the diaphragm and stomach muscles, training to never raise his shoulders. After it became a habit, he never had to think about anything else. And that reminded of Dio, who started out playing french horn and the breathing he learned from that (also diaphragmatic breathing) was the whole basis of how he sang.

Granted, learn proper fold adduction is key. But it's nothing without air.

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folks, i wish each and every one of you nothing but the highest vocal achievements. you're all great people.

matt, i'm kinda the exact opposite.

i gotta tell ya, at 57 (except for out of the blue phlegm issues, and reflux for life) as i close in my first completed year of vocal, breathing, and tongue exercises and a few hundred books and discs, (lol) i have made gains i never would have figured. could i be further along had i had actual lessons with a teacher, probably, but i'm doing the best i can with what i can afford.

the biggest thing i've learned lately, which i had no idea of, (even when i thought i did) is to ultimately make the vocal folds exclusively responsible for your notes or pitch. very simply put, figure a way to make a direct physical and mental connection with the folds. disconnect everything else around them.

the second biggest thing is the realization of how little air is actually needed to sing.

i am definitely singing more "efficiently" and "effectively" than i ever have before. do the exercises get boring, yes, at times, but man i'm so glad i stuck with them for the one year.

do i still hope to do this for a living again? yes, as much as i know it's unlikely...i will keep trying. i don't need the big arenas and limos to be happy, just an intimate coffee shop gig would suit me just fine.

please let me know you'll all keep trying too.

bob

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Most definitely, Bob. I am not knocking technique and instruction. I just think they should serve the singer and his/her emotion, not the other way around. I think Matt is wanting to regain the perspective and desire of his youth. Which we can do at any age. And after your set, I will do mine, that way neither one of us gets tired.

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Most definitely, Bob. I am not knocking technique and instruction. I just think they should serve the singer and his/her emotion, not the other way around. I think Matt is wanting to regain the perspective and desire of his youth. Which we can do at any age. And after your set, I will do mine, that way neither one of us gets tired.

ron, in my particular world, i swear by the effectiveness of the exercises...all three..the breath, the tongue, and the vocal.

i wanted everybody to please embrace that fact. i want to hear how we're all getting better!

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Oh, Im better technically today, somewhat at least, and when it comes to theory, Im a lot better at hearing whats going on. I lost the attitude as Ron said though. I also had a more of a Paul Rodgerish or Coverdale-covered sound or whatever, and I dont really use covered sounds at all anymore, because I try to stick to my natural voice and think about staying close to the few techniques I understand. I'm over the top in this recording and shout my way up to the top notes a lot, but its closer to the vocal sound I prefer than what I have today and much more attitude. But it was interesting to hear that I wasn't that far off doing things reasonably correctly. If only I had known to just back off from the shouting a little bit, I would have been closer to what I wanted to do than I am today...

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Dreadful quality and perhaps only I can hear my voice, but I had lots of attitude at the age of 18-ish lol

http://www.speedyshare.com/files/26424229/detr.wma

Of what I could hear, you sounded good, though you were probably having to sing a little too loud to be heard over the other musicians. Funny how they want you to sound like Plant or Coverdale (when I was trying out for bands in the early 90's) and then proceed to cover you up with their wall of sound. 400 watt Marshall stacks against a 100 watt practice amp for the vocal mic. Numb-nuts, they were. The only band I auditioned for that had a clue had a stage-ready p.a. system (that they sometimes rented out) and that was Razin Cain. Excellent band, all around, I just didn't have the timbre that they were looking for. The drummer sang on the demos but he would rather play drums than sing.

I would invite you to listen to my latest recording of "Heaven and Hell." Not just because it is with the new mic but for a specific reason. And I was going to leave it at that and let you guess and see what you think but never mind that "cleverness" of mine. It's my "old school." Granted, my time here has helped focus notes better. But here's the deal. It's "live." Me singing and playing guitar at the same time. And the rasp I get on the high notes is my "old school." What I call leaky air. It doesn't hurt me at all, as opposed to trying to get a twangy rattle. The support starts in the belly, as it always should. I just back off the fold compression and some of the air push. I sometimes thought of it as a high fry but others said I was wrong. Anyway, point being, you can retain some old things if they work well for you, as long it's not damaging you.

As for perspective, I still feel these songs in my heart, and that's where it counts. I've been reading a book that is primarily interviews with the greatest hard rock and heavy metal singers that you could name. Ron Keel, for example. And Geoff Tate. His interview was the least technical of all. He sang choir in school and all they taught him was terminology and group singing. After high school, he decided he wanted to sing professionally. He had a total of six lessons with David Kyle. But over and over, he doesn't "think" of technique. He feels the emotion of the song and that informs him of what to do. And the main thing he learned from lessons is breath support and head tones (how to feel the resonance in his head for high notes.) He doesn't even think of the tone in terms of pitch but how it feels.

That's what you need. You need the feel. I dare you to re-do "Detroit Rock City." With backing track or just your guitar, I don't care. I want to hear you wail.

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Matt - that sounded cool even though the quality of recording wasn't ideal. Your young voice rocks! It doesn't sound like you were straining too much, but if you hadn't built up the stamina back then I could see what you mean about fatiguing your voice.

I'm in the same camp as Bob - I've never sung better than I do right now. Oh how I wish I knew then what I know now.

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Thanks! yeah, the impenetrable wall of sound and arguing with the guitarist about turning his volume down was just a part of life back then...

There are examples that you guys didnt get to hear where Im clearly straining though, but in general, I do prefer that voice back then, before I confused myself with poorly understood vocal techniques. I had both more attitude and beef. Yeah, I wish I'd understood more back then and perhaps been able to combine stuff better. I was surprised to hear myself smacking out some pretty high notes though reasonably well and with some power, long before I'd ever heard of twang and vocal fold closure etc (please excuse me laughing at something in the middle of a note halfway through this piece):

http://www.speedyshare.com/files/26428833/changes.wma

The memory I have was that I was always so disappointed in not having a high range, but back then I guess as ron said, everyone wanted you to sound like Rob Halford or Dio at his top register...impossible odds...

But what I find quite interesting is that, the difference between having blown out my voice by the age of 30, if I'd continued at that pace of gigs and with that lack of conscious knowledge of what I was doing, and surviving all through a career, was really quite small adjustments, just learning to step back a little and not try to increase volume whenever I wanted to sound powerful, but a huge difference in longevity and health.

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Then, you'll have to educate me, Matt. I couldn't hear any strain. Granted, the mix is such that it would be difficult for anyone to hear strain in your voice and perhaps what you hear is at least partially influenced by your memory.

And it's funny that, to sound powerful, the actual solution is to back off to get rasp, in some cases, or back off and overtwang to get a rattle in other cases, but in either case, it involves a less than max power note to achieve "power."

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Ok, found a nice example of shouting. Back then, this was my attempt at emulating a Dio roar, and I can still feel and cringe at the pain in my throat during the "I - Want - You" at the end:

http://www.speedyshare.com/files/26432905/shouting.wma

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Now, I could hear it. But certainly, these days, you could make a sound similar to that without hurting. What most people did wrong when they started without training is that they thought the growl or rasp came from tightening the throat. When actually, it involves a relaxed throat and either a slight increase in volume or a slight decrease in volume, replaced by relaxing the adduction just a hair. But, in either case, the strain was kept away from the throat, to avoid damage. Problem is what we hear is not always what we think we hear. With Dio, it would sound like he was shouting his lungs out when he was actually singing just above conversational volume. Which is why he could do it for 40 years.

Oh well, it's up to you. I think, like Bob, refinement in technique will serve you well in the long run and you are better off trying a more relaxing way to get grit or rasp or whatever you want to call it that doesn't involve actually squeezing the folds or the throat around it. And, again, that was 20 years ago.

For me, there are some things I can't and won't do that I would and could that long ago (inside of and outside of singing.) The same can be said of the major singers. I've often heard it said, mostly here, but elsewhere, too, that Operation: Mindcrime marked the "decline" of Queensryche and my reply is BS. Yes, Queen of the Ryche and Early Warning were astounding albums and Tate was flying in head voice almost non-stop. A technical feat. But I don't think he should have stayed there and it's not a question of endurance. It's a matter of material and emotion. There is no way that "Silent Lucidity" would mean the same thing if it was all centered around C5. And I don't care a flip that it was the biggest commercial success. Great, they "sold out," as others might think of them. But it was an important song to sing. As far as selling out, BS and it's wonderful that the song did so well for them. By then, Tate could afford a decent house for his wife and his new born child, upon whom the song is based.

Tate is friends with Brian Johnson and they've had discussions based on their different styles and timbres. Others have asked if Tate could sing like Johnson. Tate's reply was not if he could, but would he want to? And the answer was no.

As we age, our perspectives change. And the big singers learn to drop at least 1/2 an octave now and then, not because they are getting tired but because there is more to express than one octave of supersonic wailing.

But behind the changes in style, material, arrangement, there is still the 21 year old Tate (now about 48) who still has something to express and will continue to do so, whether that requires a booming low or a screeching high that calls the dogs in from the neighborhood.

Another thing the big singers respect and adhere to is genetics. You are born with a basic tone, that you may embellish on. You are born somewhat with the range you have, though good technique will usually increase your range by at least 1/2 to one full octave, whether you were trying to, or not. Do the stuff you can do and avoid the stuff you can't. For example, low baritone is not all that strong for me, so I should find a way around parts that have that in there. Bass, pretty much out of reach. So, if it turns out that I only have a 2.5 to 3 octave range, fine, I will make a gourmet sonic "meal" out of that 3 octaves. What my time here and in my other studies can do is refine and make solid all the parts of that range, whatever it is (I haven't measured it. If I can hit the note, fine, I can hit the note.)

And, finally, perhaps yes there are some tonal qualities that went away once you quit screaming and developed some good technique that eventually saves your voice so that you can sing 20 years later. Doesn't mean you can't produce some good meaty sounds, now. I am reminded of about 14 years ago. I was wearing my mountain climbing harness and hanging from a 500 lb test rope with my feet hanging on the top rail of a 33 foot scissor lift working on the Lowe's at Preston and George Bush Turnpike in Dallas, in order to reach something. Envision the scene from David Lee Roth's video for "Living in Paradise." Would I do that now? Age has it's effects.

Imagine me doing that hanging from steel bar joists. Even last year, I was climbing a 90 foot high stadium pole light with pegs only as wide as my shoes, with totally the wrong equipment. So, that's the flip side. Don't count yourself out because of age.

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Here's a slightly aged one. I think this recording is about a year or so old. It was before I was coming to this forum. Thanks to the USB interface, I can jack my 4-track analog into it. The analog is what I recorded on since I got it back in the 90's. It uses a standard cassette tape. And condenser mic that was lo-tech karaoke but it was better than nothing. I recorded this live, setting the mic on a tv tray. Second track was some chicken-pickin' to go along with it. But this is how I used to sing it before and never had a criticism. Until I came here. Then, again, I'm tall and look like a Hell's Angel, long hair or short hair. Maybe I scare people and they are afraid to say something. :lol:

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/8750209/hth%20-%20analog.mp3

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My schedule is complete chaos atm, so Ill check your links when I get some time over Ron, but I did notice something interesting. While messing around, trying to find my back to that beefier, covered sound I originally had, I noticed that for the first time, support became completely necessary, something I havent felt when using my SLS, uncovered voice. Will have to experiment a little more with that.

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Matt - that sounded cool even though the quality of recording wasn't ideal. Your young voice rocks! It doesn't sound like you were straining too much, but if you hadn't built up the stamina back then I could see what you mean about fatiguing your voice.

I'm in the same camp as Bob - I've never sung better than I do right now. Oh how I wish I knew then what I know now.

yes, i'm delighted with my progress....i hope this for everyone...i happen to like the strained sound but now it's elective...lol!!!

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Major revelation. I realized I'd stopped listening properly to myself while singing. I did the same thing as a guitarist for years. I spent all my time listening to the band instead of listening to myself.. Same thing with my vocals, though this time I stopped listening to myself because I was concentrating on the sensations in my throat and abdomen instead.

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I think my voice is better now than 23 years ago, when I first started concentrating on singing. I think I have more control, now. And I still have as much range as I did then and I think this site and the pointers and exercises are helping me to maintain that. I will be 47 in March and I still sound as "young" as I did then. And, I still have the fire in my belly to sing the songs like they mean something. I may have to start the day with ibuprofen and my hair is starting to thin in front, but I'm still a 20-something snot inside that will take on all who think they can take me on. "Young man, hard man, gonna take on the world some day. You got blood on your face, big disgrace, kickin' your can all over the place. Singing we will, we will rock you ..."

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I think my voice is better now than 23 years ago, when I first started concentrating on singing. I think I have more control, now. And I still have as much range as I did then and I think this site and the pointers and exercises are helping me to maintain that. I will be 47 in March and I still sound as "young" as I did then. And, I still have the fire in my belly to sing the songs like they mean something. I may have to start the day with ibuprofen and my hair is starting to thin in front, but I'm still a 20-something snot inside that will take on all who think they can take me on. "Young man, hard man, gonna take on the world some day. You got blood on your face, big disgrace, kickin' your can all over the place. Singing we will, we will rock you ..."

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KPe7Xjg_OlA

well folks, this is still a work in progress, what a bitch to sing this. (urgent!)

my goal, to do it with that same punch!!! i keep trying. the difficulty is what i love...

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Here's a slightly aged one. I think this recording is about a year or so old. It was before I was coming to this forum. Thanks to the USB interface, I can jack my 4-track analog into it. The analog is what I recorded on since I got it back in the 90's. It uses a standard cassette tape. And condenser mic that was lo-tech karaoke but it was better than nothing. I recorded this live, setting the mic on a tv tray. Second track was some chicken-pickin' to go along with it. But this is how I used to sing it before and never had a criticism. Until I came here. Then, again, I'm tall and look like a Hell's Angel, long hair or short hair. Maybe I scare people and they are afraid to say something. :lol:

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/8750209/hth%20-%20analog.mp3

This might be my favorite of all your Highway to hell covers so far :) . It could be because you probably had a more care free attitude back then, before you started to maybe overthink things a bit, just like so many of us :) . Cheers.

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KPe7Xjg_OlA

well folks, this is still a work in progress, what a bitch to sing this. (urgent!)

my goal, to do it with that same punch!!! i keep trying. the difficulty is what i love...

That's what I call a powerful singer!

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