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What Do you Hear in a Voice That Makes you Think "He/She can sing"?

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Gsoul82
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I was talking to Ron about something, and this idea for a discussion topic came to mind.

What do you need to hear in a voice in order for you to think they "can sing"?

Is it just something like pitch? I would've thought so, until I remembered a few certain people I've heard, have come to mind. Their pitch was consistently off, but they had crazy texture to their voice, so they still sounded good.

So, by your standards, what do you need to hear in a voice, for that proclamation to come to mind?

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    I am more of an impression/expression guy than pitch perfect guy. Does the mood in the voice match the mood in the song. Some people like the tonal qualities of Opera, that is not me. Give me Janis Joplin, John Prine, Jim Croce, James Taylor, ZZtop, Molly Hatchet, 60 to 70s Motown,

    To be honest I cannot stand to watch things like "The Voice", "X factor" .......... Melisma and Runs are pretty cool when taken a little at a time but too much is not musical to my ears. Same thing with Kick ass tone like Adele in "Hello"  One song with the tone of "hello from the other SIDE " is enough. Some try to put that tone in the whole song and it is just too much.

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As far as I remember, I never needed a structured definition of what sounds good to identify it. That's to me all there is to it, when you listen to something and you say "ohh it sounds good", that's all. So its your taste that will guide you and you better use it really well!

We could identify some common points that are very useful when dealing with a "can't sing" person, or to improve a performance that is still not sounding good. But I think that its not possible with the current knowledge to deconvolve taste and reach a set of parameters that can make something good on its own (you would still need a human and his/her taste to impement it).

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In the end it comes down to taste like Felipe said, but if this is a topic where we are addressing our personal tastes, I usually make the proclamation that someone can sing usually after hearing really well placed belts and runs, complex phrasing, creativity in riffs, ascending and descending through coloratura-like passages with ease, having a lot of agility and legato, having a lot of stamina and breath control for long, held, or fast phrases etc. Texture and tone is always variable and is usually secondary for me if they are doing any or all of those things.

With some voices I make a near instant emotional connection and with others it takes time, whether it's a few songs or over the course of a particular song.  But yeah, you can't qualify what makes good singing for everyone's ears.

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I agree with MDEW. A tone seems to go a long way. Granted, some pitch accuracy helps and I prefer it but it is not the only thing. And there are singers who were consistently off, like David Allan Coe, Lou Reed.

I am a bit picky about runs. I am not totally against them but they need to be done right and it is more advanced a technique but should only be used to convey emotion, not to just show off technique.

There is some magic in a voice that is beyond tone and pitch accuracy. Like Jack Nicholson said in "Batman," "I don't know if it's art but I like it!"

Because there are singers who have pitch accuracy and even a good tone but they don't grab my ear, so much. But just in the general sense of saying a person can sing, yeah, pitch accuracy and a pleasing tone. Having watched the voice shows, as well, I can see some people that maintained a pitch, sometimes too well and too long until it became an "enhanced interrogation technique" and the tone was something designed to scare dogs and provide a homing signal for bats.

Granted, the voice competition shows are fixed from the beginning but, still, there were some who were better than others.

Another quality of a singing voice is a sense of melody in the voice. Like, you could hear the chords of accompaniment in your mind while the singer sings a capella. That's a singer.

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3 hours ago, MDEW said:

    I am more of an impression/expression guy than pitch perfect guy. Does the mood in the voice match the mood in the song. Some people like the tonal qualities of Opera, that is not me. Give me Janis Joplin, John Prine, Jim Croce, James Taylor, ZZtop, Molly Hatchet, 60 to 70s Motown,

    To be honest I cannot stand to watch things like "The Voice", "X factor" .......... Melisma and Runs are pretty cool when taken a little at a time but too much is not musical to my ears. Same thing with Kick ass tone like Adele in "Hello"  One song with the tone of "hello from the other SIDE " is enough. Some try to put that tone in the whole song and it is just too much.

 

Now, I'm a melismaniac, but I'm kind of picky now. Depends how they're executed and the note selection. They can really show you how good of an ear somebody has.

I won't watch those shows, but that's for another reason.

 

2 hours ago, Felipe Carvalho said:

As far as I remember, I never needed a structured definition of what sounds good to identify it. That's to me all there is to it, when you listen to something and you say "ohh it sounds good", that's all. So its your taste that will guide you and you better use it really well!

We could identify some common points that are very useful when dealing with a "can't sing" person, or to improve a performance that is still not sounding good. But I think that its not possible with the current knowledge to deconvolve taste and reach a set of parameters that can make something good on its own (you would still need a human and his/her taste to impement it).

 

Alright, so then what do you find to be tasty? :lol:

 

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One of my biggest Pet Peeves in music (and most other things) is this idea that if something sounds good in a particular song   someone will take that to the extremes and a new Genre is born. Machine Gun Drums, Extreme screams, Songs that are all Melisma and no general melody, Lighning fast guitar solos to where you cannot distinguish the notes............... Music and art is also found in the silence between notes.

   Sometimes the sound makes you feel like you have been assulted and dragged away instead of lifted and carried off............

 Edit: I do not mean to say the Runs, Melisma, Fast drums, fast guitars......... are bad. Sometimes they are overdone to death. Sometimes they are beautiful.   The Taste thing again.................

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In a word I like a lot of emotion and soul with a side order of decent technique. Once the technique becomes the focus (e.g. Mariah Carey) I lose interest.

 

I'll mention some things I like about this one guy that most of you have never heard of....at least not in a singing context. John Sykes. If the name sounds familiar, he was the guitar player on the Whitesnake 'Whitesnake' (or "Serpens Albus" or "1987") album. That album was essentially the hard rock album of the decade for the 80s. So anyone who listened to radio in those days has heard Johns playing on Still of the Night, Hear I go Again, Crying in the Rain etc

Long Story short, David Coverdale fired the whole band after they recorded that album and he hired a new crew to tour with. So after recording the album of the decade, John was out of a job. He formed Blue Murder and he sang on the demo's himself. He looked for a lead singer for like 2 years and finally the record company told him to just sing it himself or the deal is off.

So he sort of reluctantly became a lead singer. Naturally he was going to be in the shadow of David Coverdale...yet IMO his singing is the equal of Davids. (and David is one of my faves too)

So what about his singing? It mirrors his guitar playing perfectly. Beautiful tone, lots of soul and emotion, great vibrato and expressiveness. It helps that he is a great songwriter. Unfortunately he puts out like 2 albums every 15 years lol.

Im going to throw up 4 short examples off of Blue Murders 2nd album "Nuthin' But trouble" (1993)

 

This first clip is the bridge from "Save My Love". Its interesting because I was attempting to sing this line at work today. I probably gave it 30 good attempts. I struggled getting that one syllable on "I" right, when it says "i STILLLL feel so alone". Dude just has great tone and it all just sits in the pocket so perfectly. Melodic, soulful, and IMO  https://clyp.it/l4f0d2ys

This is the chorus from "Save my Love". More of the same great tone and soulful vibe. The chorus itself is sort of long and winding but he just keeps it so relaxed and in control. https://clyp.it/py3vlt4r

Intro to 'Cry for Love'   just good powerful, soulful rock singing. Total control from a genius musician. Its crazy that he shopped around for a singer for two years!  https://clyp.it/ejgfolo1

Intro to "I need an Angel".  Beautiful haunting intro. Nice little smokey rasp and great melodic control. Very powerful https://clyp.it/1qzkw2ph

 

It hardly gets any better than these 2 albums

 

 

 

 

and if you can stand the late 80s hair. His singing on this intro is just beautiful. The BGV are good after that but too loud IMO. The BGv sort of drowns John out a bit

 

 

 

 

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Usually the singer is trying to express something human within a musical context and I'll either hear what they are trying to express or something different but also relate. Sometimes the human element will break the 'rules' of the music (pitch, rhythm, ugly timbres)  more than others but in the end some kind of expression will connect.

It's mostly whether an emotional connection can form. Often for my favorite singers pitch, syllables, and timbre are varied for every single word to best try to express something human. There are a few quotes from singers who have touched my life that I find more descriptive than I can get:

“What I was interested in was conveying an emotional message which means using everything you’ve got inside you sometimes to barely make a note, or if you have to strain to sing, you sing,” Nina Simone

"I don't know what kind of voice I have. It's just the feeling I get for the song." David Ruffin

"Well people ask me, you've sang Georgia over a thousand times, how can you be fresh with it? And you see this is what happens. When you're performing, here I can start Georgia on the 2nd beat, the 4th beat or anywhere in between. And it depends on how you feel that day. And each day you don't feel exactly the same way as the day before. When I'm on stage and doing what I'm supposed to be doing, whatever I feel at that moment, that's what comes out. Sometimes it isn't always good, but that's what you get." Ray Charles

"I can see everybody's face. That's what is called the Shakespearean theory about rock n roll. If you're doing a Shakespeare play, the actor can see everybody. There was a kind of size there, which was about linked to eyesight. I always thought that was the best. Cause then they can see if you're lying." Joe Strummer

 

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Control, feel, musicality, and most importantly, the ability to express sincere emotion through a song.  I've heard guys do vocal licks up and down the scale going from C4 to C6 that have left me desiring more than some guys/girls who sing one note a phrase.  It's just one of those things hahaha... damn hard to pinpoint.  

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"I want to bring everyone in to be part of the event, the moment in time. Even the bloke in the very highest and farthest seats out, I want him to feel like he is in a closet, jammed in with the rest of us" - Bruce Dickinson on why he sings big and moves on the stage in a grandiose way.

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14 hours ago, Gsoul82 said:

Alright, so then what do you find to be tasty? :lol:

 

 
So many, many things... Just a few:
One of my references when it comes to virtuose/technique (and of a lot of people hehe)
 
This is something that transcends, I love how the audience reacts to the maestro simply relaxing from his performance state at the end of the piece:
 
Power:
 

Heavy Metal:

 

 

Tone and interpretation:

 

 

More power, and interpretation, and delivery, and just everything :P:

 

 

Lyrics and musicianship:

 

 

Tone, technique, delivery, again a complete performer:

 

 

Just great:

 

 

Awesome:

 

So good:

 

 

Awesome:

 

 

Also great:

 

 

Killer:

 

 

Love it too:

 

 
Awesome:
 
 
Great:
 
 
 
Wonderful:
 
 
Wonderful:
 
 
Anyways I could go on forever, I have been listening to music since I've learned how to play my father's LPs on my own as a kid, classical, opera, rock, samba, pop, J-Rock, Bossa, Jazz...
 
 
To me the evaluation must be simple: is it good? While the answer is not yes, then I believe more objective measures are possible. And to get better at this, you listen to more music you love and evaluate whatever you are hearing like you do with the rest.
 
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I also listen for a singer to sound believable with the song and type of music he or she is singing. The singers we really like and say, "man, that guy can sing" don't sing across multiple genres. They stay with what sounds best with their voices. For example, Ed Sheeran is probably never going to do a cover of "Death to All but Metal" by Steel Panther. But he would have the right sound, though, different, to cover "Community Property" by that band.

"I'd give you all the stars in the sky but they're too far away ..."

 

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 Felipe, James Brown did not sing "Play that Funky Music". Although James Brown did Sing The most Funky Music I have ever heard. A group of White guys called "Wild Cherry" sang "Play that Funky Music".

 

   This is what I call singing, The things these guys are doing while playing and singing

is the same way this song makes me feel.

 

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I'm glad you like Pink, Felipe. I read people criticizing her somewhere like it happens with many pop singers, but she sounded good to me when I listened.

As for the topic, I like many different styles of singers. In general, they all sing beautiful songs, and do it well. :D

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To clarify a bit from the topic title, I believe anyone 'can sing.' From the youngest toddler, to someone with Down Syndrome who faces real physiological challenges controlling their voice: anyone.

If I hear someone making a vaguely sustained pitch and they seem 'into it' you know. I'm convinced they can sing. So always thought it was silly when people would say things like 'X can or can't sing.'

It seems like an attempt gaining authority over another human being to tell another person what they can or can't do. What's next, going to go up to someone in crutches and say they can't walk cause you don't like the way they do it?

So beyond that it's just a matter of whether it connects. I believe people have been singing from the stone ages and before. It might not match a contemporary culture. But who is a given culture to tell someone they can or cannot sing? Seems very authoritarian to me. An attempt to rob personal freedom while benefiting no one.

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If we can define what makes a good singer is someone who can hear tone. I don't mean pitch accuracy, which is important, but what is a pleasing tone. Some of the failures on the voice talent shows, it's like, they don't know how to hear what is a good tone and I think that can be trained, also.

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I believe both of those singers are singing. They could learn to sing more palatable to tastes (either their own tastes or other people's tastes) but that is different from the act of singing. No one on the planet has to enjoy a voice for it to qualify as singing by any definition I understand.

I didn't really enjoy either performance, but at the same time I've never really gotten into Karen Carpenter's performances style, personally. It honestly sounds a bit banal to me. So none of them really connected much with me, but that doesn't mean they weren't singing.

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