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How do I coach my vocalist? Is she using her voice properly?

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mikegug
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First off, thanks for taking my question.

Second, here's the background info. I am a parent/band manager of a talented teen Christian rock band. The vocalist is a 16 year old girl. Great voice. Limited training. We do ballads to medium-hard rock songs (some Contemporary Christian Music covers and some originals).

Issue: my vocalist likes the pop scene style music. She has a good ability to hit a note dead on, but she frequently chooses to hit the note a full tone or a semi-tone flat and then "slide up" to the correct tone in the pop star style (ala Miley Cyrus/Taylor Swift). This frustrates me because 1. I see this as a cheater type of technique used by vocalist who can't hit the note dead on and 2. that's not our band's style.

I've never had vox training and I don't know how to direct her. Will you please help me flush out the issues here and help me direct her?

Please tell me if I am wrong anywhere. You won't hurt my feelings, I promise. :)

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Can she control it? Is it stylistic? Is it turning fans away?

Maybe sit her down, explain what you see, and try to teach her how to 'not' do it. And once she can have control, give her the final say? That's how I'd do it.

For pitching differently, you might actually have her first try singing sharp and sliding down to the note. Or mentally visualizing landing on 'top' of the note. But maybe best give her a drone note (piano whatever), and encourage her to bend above and below it until she gets acquainted with it.

Ear training in general would also be very good (interval training singing and recognizing pitch changes)

http://www.musictheory.net/exercises/ear-interval/9989yby

But if she's like a lot of 16 year old people I know, that would be 'boring.'

I guess bottom line, if she's serious she will want vocal control, even if in the end she still loves flat to sharp bends that annoy you!

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First off, thanks for taking my question.

Second, here's the background info. I am a parent/band manager of a talented teen Christian rock band. The vocalist is a 16 year old girl. Great voice. Limited training. We do ballads to medium-hard rock songs (some Contemporary Christian Music covers and some originals).

Issue: my vocalist likes the pop scene style music. She has a good ability to hit a note dead on, but she frequently chooses to hit the note a full tone or a semi-tone flat and then "slide up" to the correct tone in the pop star style (ala Miley Cyrus/Taylor Swift). This frustrates me because 1. I see this as a cheater type of technique used by vocalist who can't hit the note dead on and 2. that's not our band's style.

I've never had vox training and I don't know how to direct her. Will you please help me flush out the issues here and help me direct her?

Please tell me if I am wrong anywhere. You won't hurt my feelings, I promise. :)

mikegug: Be gentle, but direct with her. As a rehearsal begins next time, tell her that for the style of music you are doing that you'd like her to sing the notes as accurately as she can, without approaching any notes from below, and ask her if she will work toward that goal for all the songs.

Just FYI, its not a cheater technique... its entirely stylistic.

I hope this helps.

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mikegug: Be gentle, but direct with her. As a rehearsal begins next time, tell her that for the style of music you are doing that you'd like her to sing the notes as accurately as she can, without approaching any notes from below, and ask her if she will work toward that goal for all the songs.

Just FYI, its not a cheater technique... its entirely stylistic.

I hope this helps.

I will be gentle. :)

OK. It's not a cheater technique. Interesting. I always thought a singer was cheating because they could land the note anywhere and slide around until they eventually get on pitch. :D My vocalist CAN hit the note and it sounds AWESOME when she does. Is that considered more of a hard rock vox technique: hitting the note dead on? If so, can you give me some good examples I can show her?

What terminology would I use when I describe that technique? Is it called simply called "pop-style vocal technique"?

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Can she control it? Is it stylistic?

She can control it for sure. But it appears as though she's sliding around on purpose. Sometimes so much that it sounds like the first three weeks of American Idol. Well not THAT bad, but... :P

Is it turning fans away?

It's not turning fans away but it sounds out of place. It sounds like it doesn't fit. But I don't want to approach her with just my opinion and no fix.

I guess bottom line, if she's serious she will want vocal control, even if in the end she still loves flat to sharp bends that annoy you!

;)

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Yeah, it's only cheating if you 'can't' hit the notes without sliding. I actually believe a legato slide is technically more difficult to execute for many singers than a segmented string of notes, because you need fine tuned musculature to react quickly in real time while being able to hear the micro-tonal shifts well enough with your ears!

It's kind of like violin vs guitar. Your ears and musculature have to be really fine tuned to find the sweet spot in real time. Still, someone overusing it could be annoying beyond belief, I feel you there. Hopefully she'll tone it down.

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Yeah, it's only cheating if you 'can't' hit the notes without sliding. I actually believe a legato slide is technically more difficult to execute for many singers than a segmented string of notes, because you need fine tuned musculature to react quickly in real time while being able to hear the micro-tonal shifts well enough with your ears!

It's kind of like violin vs guitar. Your ears and musculature have to be really fine tuned to find the sweet spot in real time. Still, someone overusing it could be annoying beyond belief, I feel you there. Hopefully she'll tone it down.

Is that the technical term: legato slide? It sounds right.

Do you know of any good song examples you'd bring to a student as a teaching tool showing one genere vs. the other?

And even if it's not entirely a cheater technique, I'm ok with that because she CAN still nail a note and not all vocalists can.

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... someone overusing it could be annoying beyond belief, I feel you there.

Picture Miley Cyrus singing for Creed and neither one adapts their style to the other. :/ LOL!

Again, this is not a major issue with every note, but it sneaks into her technique sometimes where it's like nails on a chalkboard for me.

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That's what I'd call it. Legato usually means smoothly 'connected' notes as in no separation, but it kind of depends on the instrument exactly what it means. With guitar, it's like hammer ons, pull offs. With piano, it's a series of notes that ring into each other rather than being staccato or 'short' and separate.

With voice, it's an unbroken sequence of notes on the same breath. Slide, is yeah a bend. :D If you want to train her further, you can focus on her legato, and try to speed it up so there is less slide. This would be good, especially if she likes pop. Changing notes as quickly as you can, while sustaining breath is a very good exercise for developing voice fluidity and is what enables those 'vocal runs' you hear like Mariah Carey (over)use. These are actually very good skills to have, but 'how much' there's a pretty wide range of preference of what is too much.

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Something else you might consider is exposing her to more singers that you do enjoy or feel would fit and see what she thinks of them. For me I have a huge fondness for soul singers. Mary Wells and Nina Simone are probably my favorite female singers, and I believe they could probably sing any style I wanted and convince me.

If she's a Miley Cyrus fan, these kinds of singers would be a tough sell! But if I was in a band with a female singer, I'd want nothing more than someone like Mary Wells or Nina Simone!

Here's Mary singing some rockin' soul!

Here she is dialed in for pop (and one of the most famous songs of all time):

And Nina Simone, yes, she was playing the piano there while singing this (she was so good she wouldn't ever needed me in a band):

It's not that there are not more skilled singers out there, it's their 'attitude' and vocal persona is ideal for the kinds of music I want to make. It 'fits.' Raw, sexy, talented, sure but they got the 'intensity' I'm looking for. The way they pour themselves into the songs, their vocal persona, this really fits with what I want to make and play.

If Miley Cyrus was in my band, it wouldn't really be the bent notes or the 'technique' that would get me. It's like, how can this kind of vocal attitude work musically for me? Or like Avril Lavigne, how am I supposed to play the riff to Skater Boy without feeling like being castrated?

But you know, maybe it's your place as manager and parental figure to accommodate for her. It's much easier for a band to change their sound to accommodate more so for a singer, than it is for a singer to change their voice to accommodate for a band. A band is a bunch of instruments and people playing them in patterns. A voice is a physical part of a human being, tied into their physiology and psychology. They can only do so much. But if the music isn't fitting, at the very least both sides will have to meet in the middle, it's just a lot easier to play something different on guitar or adjusting the tone knobs here or there, than trying to change the way you sing into something that is not you. So you are wise to be cautious and kind, singers are people first and foremost, their instrument 'is' them. You have to be extra kind to singers, and work with them as best as you can, respecting who they are and what they are. I think a lot of times, if I could get to know some of the singers that are in styles outside my preference, I mean really truly get to know what makes them tick. What makes them passionate, and why they sound this way? I might be less annoyed by the idiosyncrasies, and they might be less grating.

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mike, a lot of younger singers try to do what i call "wiggly singing." it "hip" with younger singers and goes over well with kids.

i hear more and more singers with all of these trills and runs and i happen to agree with everyone here that they most definitely can be overused.

this kind of singing is analygous to the kid who likes to wear their jeans hovering near the crack of their butt. they like that sound.

what i would do is make certain she understands the importance of being able to sing without them and like killer said provide her with some examples of singers who are incredible to listen to yet rock based.

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That's what I'd call it. Legato usually means smoothly 'connected' notes as in no separation, but it kind of depends on the instrument exactly what it means. With guitar, it's like hammer ons, pull offs. With piano, it's a series of notes that ring into each other rather than being staccato or 'short' and separate.

With voice, it's an unbroken sequence of notes on the same breath. Slide, is yeah a bend. :D If you want to train her further, you can focus on her legato, and try to speed it up so there is less slide. This would be good, especially if she likes pop. Changing notes as quickly as you can, while sustaining breath is a very good exercise for developing voice fluidity and is what enables those 'vocal runs' you hear like Mariah Carey (over)use. These are actually very good skills to have, but 'how much' there's a pretty wide range of preference of what is too much.

KillerKu: In my generation, we just called it 'scooping'.

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KillerKu: In my generation, we just called it 'scooping'.

That makes a lot of sense, actually. Just googled it, apparently it's one of those big classical no nos, eh?

Then again I'm getting older by day too. I'm pretty much already shaking my fist at the autotuned kids on my lawn so I can relate.

Back when I was learning, I remembered practicing my voice to guitar notes and my voice felt just as choppy and segmented as the guitar at first. But doing something similar to sliding between notes helped me a whole lot at teaching my voice to 'feel' the pitches in a more human way, so even when I stopped sliding, I had more awareness of voice geography.

I've been trying to play violin a bit, but while I'm physically terrible at it and usually play it more like my guitar, this same method is useful for me in learning to pitch on there more fluidly. My brother says his teacher told him to memorize positions more so than use his ears and slide, but I find it more rewarding for my ears to just listen to and absorb the sounds for now. Cause with enough practice, if I can get the violin in tune to my ears like my voice, then I can probably mentally sing with it. I'd be better off with a fretless guitar though and one of those sustain devices though!

I'd agree though, that for an actual song, bending up for every note could be very annoying but demonizing the bend itself, not a good idea. It tunes my brain the more I do it!

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I dont think its such a simple issue to address, specially if you dont have experience coaching.

The very first step would be determining with accuracy if there is any strain, which is something very likely since she is so young and you said that she has "limited trainning", which in my experience is equal as having no trainning at all.

Please do take care when interfering, this might be just a sympton of another problem. Do you have any recordings of her doing what you describe? Are you certain that it is just a full or semi tone? Does she hit this previous note square and sustain it? Or does she slides it from a much lower tone? The previous CAN be used as an ornament but is annoying if overused, the later is plain ugly and she would benefit from getting rid of it.

The simple fact that she is used to this will result in strain if she just start to force another way of singing without first learning how to do it properly.

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