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Hearing and singing, e.g. in the car

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Hearing accurately, as a technique to learn singing, is, in my opinion, a difficult achievement. After all, why does anyone need a vocal instructor (rather than a music interpretator), if one could accurately hear his or her voice in relationship to the music.

The "practicing in the car" thread gave some excellent clues on how people learn to sing.

Some people listen to the car's interior acoustic bounceback. Others, less so, in my case, I don't sing very loud in the car, and principally am using my bone hearing and body vibrations to sense how the song would sound. I've also noticed other singers sing in their mind.

What are the ways singers use their hearing to learn how to sing?

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Best thing you can do is record yourself, let it rest, and then after some time after you listened to other stuff revisit it and listen as though you were listening to someone else. It's quite though, but it's the best way to learn what you're voice is doing. You can listen critically, and write down what you think that limits you, and what you can change to improve.

There's also that ear thingy that you can buy that is supposed to give you the real sound, haven't tested that :P

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Thanks Elrathion,

I think recordings is also very difficult. Even with the best microphones and studio conditions, it's difficult to accurately capture what one sounds like. Also, if someone has lots of resonance or subtleties in his voice (produces many tones), microphones do not capture well at all.

My experience with self-recording is it takes a long time before revisiting and then being able to mentally accurately hear the recording voice. The mind is continually playing tricks against the singer.

I have the Vocal Acoustic Monitor (VAM) with bass amplifier. This device is good for beginners, but not so good for more experienced singers, because its tones aren't that accurate. Also extremely loud.

Just purchased Olympus WS-321M portable recorder; will give a report on this, supposedly good vocal recorder. There are better ones still out, but they cost three times as much.

I'm not that experienced of a singer, but my opinion is that for experienced singers, the best thing to do is to learn how to listen to oneself. This is challenging though

Anyhow, I'm going to give another try at recording method, as suggested by Elrathion, using the WS-321M.

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Just quickly guys I'm just passing through......you have to tune into yourself...there is really no substitute. You can cup your ear with your hand whilst you sing and you have to 'train' your ear. I'll be going into depth soon! love h

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I want to add for the record as far as the hearing yourself properly statement. That in the 80's Maestro Kyle had a student (i can't remember her name ,only that she came down from Canada) who was 80 percent deaf. He tought her to sing by vibration, putting her hand on the piano top. Now she wasn't Maria callas, but I must admit I was amazed when I heard her sing "can't help loving that man of mine " from showboat it was as good if not better then I've heard most of the hearing girls do it. The point I stress here is inspite of monitors, playback etc. even when you can't hear yourself. You should still have a sense of where you are by internal vibration. In live performance people tend to stress and push when they can't hear themselves. Instead I recommend you stay calm ,focused and replace who's running the board. Standard Opera mic-ing is at 18-22 inches , In other music venues with a handheld your in control.

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Great post Darrison! In my training in Australia we had a deaf lady..and she explained to us that for her her body was like a bell. The sound vibration inside her allowed her to produce the vocal tones! On a slight tangent I have worked with blind pianists who could play all my songs without music....there's another example of finely tuned hearing! I've just finished my blog on listening and pitching will be posting it later! love H :cool:

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Thanks Hilary, I know I am occasionally misunderstood on here and do not in anyway wish to come off as a snob when I don't engage in all the technical terminology. I do know in general how everything functions, but for the most part I found knowing it interfered too much with my artistry. Just too much to have floating in my head. For myself the mechinism was very well trained by my Uncle Caravello, David Kyle and then I refined it along the way, once i've learned a piece I can have the flu , a fever and no monitors and still decently execute it. I just focus on the meaning and expression. As I've been focusing more on the opera, starting arias like Di Quella Pira, II Travatore which is a difficult aria in proper full voice execution. I find I need to eliminate the rock thinking from my mind as I find I will perform it fantastically and pops up in the middle a note that belongs in metallica lol. I really am trying to focus entirely on my opera at this stage in life, however I keep notes. When I resume teaching It will be great to have some of the new information for my Rock, pop students.

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Thanks too Darrison....I also come from more an intuitive approach and find too much technical detail very distracting. Yes we need to know it...but singing is far beyond technical detail! love H :cool:

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  • 2 weeks later...

as far as ive heard vibrational bone conduction is usually employed by singers as a method of knowing if they are pitching correctly rather than a way of monitoring what sort of tone or resonance thay are producing but i guess it kind of goes hand in hand. for instance i only really get ´´mask`` vibration/placement when i produce high notes on vowels that are very forward. i think vibrational bone conduction techniques are usually used for monitoring your voice in say, a live setting (doesnt really work though when your singing with a very loud metal/rock band as you get so ´´vibrated`` lol by all the other instruments- though the one ear blocked by a ear plug method sometimes is useful) rather than a means to critque or learn better vocal technique. i dont think you can ever accurately hear what you voice sounds like (as another person would)as you are actually singing. the nearest your gonna get is recording yourself and of course the better the recording equiptment I.E. microphone, recording format etc the more reliable the accuracy of the recording. a professional studio condenser microphone (infact even some of the more budget studio mics are pretty good!)will do a very good job of picking up the resonance and tone, every little nuance is captured. i mean you can hear a flea´s fart with a good mic in a studio they are that sensitive lol !!!

as for things such a VAMs or cupping the ear, well they will help you hear your voice acting as a monitor as such but it is definately not accurate to how you sound.

if you cant afford some budget recording gear then something like the dictaphone you mentioned will be your next best bet, however dont expect the greatest accuracy fom its tiny inbuilt mic.

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  • 5 months later...

as for things such a VAMs or cupping the ear, well they will help you hear your voice acting as a monitor as such but it is definately not accurate to how you sound.

Vam helps you hear yourself accurately, more than acurately. If you listen to yourself with the Vocal acoustic monitor (reflector for your voice) and listen to your vocal studio recording it sounds the same. studio recordings generally give you a upfront and personal aspect of your voice, developing your voice with VAM gives you the up close and personal all the time giving you much deeper understanding of your hidden tones and textures that commonly are only discovered in studio sessions.

BC

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We guess this is where we come in -- hearing yourself sing is what HearFones were born to do. We have two identical ellipsoidal-shaped sound guides that precisely reflect sounds at one focal point (your mouth) in phase and coherently to the ellipsoid's second focal point (the entrance to your ear). God, that sounds technical!

In reality, it's more simple: you hear yourself as if you were right in front of your mouth, like a listener paying attention would hear.

There are several reasons supporting the benefits of hearing yourself this way, instead of listening to a recording:

1. As with the VAM, there's a tremendous amount of detail in your voice that you simply can't hear any other way; those higher-frequency sounds are directed to carry away from you and away from your ears.

2. Hearing this detail -- especially for the very first time -- gives you immediate, "real-time" feedback of how you're sounding, and among other things it focuses your dedicated attention on what's going on; you change, right now! It's fun, and surprising.

3. Because it's fun, you're encouraged to try different things and hear what they sound like; and because it's loud, you're encouraged to lighten up and sing more efficiently.

4. In terms of learning and long-term improvement, there's been much written and studied about motor learning, which this is; you are building new habits that work, just as the tennis player in "The Inner Game of Tennis" is learning by doing. The big difference is that he can see the target, and you can't -- unless you have your HearFones on. Without them, it's like a nearsighted person practicing tennis without their glasses on: you hit; you wonder; your coach suggests aiming a little higher next time; you try, but you don't really know what to do or just how far to do it. This is no way to learn!

Chen Sun originally posited this discussion around the statement "Hearing accurately, as a technique to learn singing, is, in my opinion, a difficult achievement."

It was . . . but it isn't any longer.

Oh! Did we forget to say that HearFones work fine in the car! Lots of users do it, because unlike headphones (our electronic cousins), we were designed from the get-go to let all those outside sounds come through just as loud as before. Singing is fun!

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Best way to learn to sing is to rely on a trusted voice teacher to be your "ears" until you've reached the point where you can associate what you hear in your "inner ear" with the appropriate physical sensations required to produce a healthy phonation. The intermediary is the voice teacher - he/she is the one who can hear your projected voice, and who can (if she/he is competent) diagnose your physical approach to voice production to directly associate what she/he hears with what you are doing. When it sounds right, and it looks right, she/he will tell you so you can begin to associate (through muscle memory) what it FEELS like PLUS what it sounds like "in your head" (vs. through a recording). Once you get familiar with what a correctly-produced "in your head" vocal sound is like, you can reproduce it endlessly without ever having to hear a recording of yourself.

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My final tip is listen to your silence!

When you shut out the cocophony of sound you subject yourselves too each day and LISTEN to your silence whihc includes the internal sounds of your own body and let them dissipate too...you learn how to HEAR yourself.

I teach that you sing without accompaniment first in your natural voice and you HEAR your sound and FEEL your vibration and release your true timbre.

We are analog beings and you must remember you are subjected to a hell of a lot of digital sound these days....I will say no more! Check out The Beginners Voice we have sime great discussions in that group!

love Hilary :cool:

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I like that, Hilary! I've heard many choir members who have stepped forward to sing solos -- several of them young teenagers -- who have offered their solo voice to special church services like Christmas, Easter or even funerals who have never, ever taken what passes for a voice lesson. Knowing them as I do, personally, what they tell me is that they "just love to sing" and sort of started out as junior-choir members or by quietly, tenderly singing along with the radio at first and gradually built up their own confidence to where they're willing to step forward -- gingerly.

We even have a few who have migrated to the "gospel singing" level where their ad lib accompaniment to the choir is offered at such a level that it flies out over the other voices. You'll catch some of that in the choir video that's linked to my TMV page.

This is "building on silence" -- singing to yourself in a quiet bedroom or (yes) the car. By carefully adding to the silence, and not overdriving your natural voice, you can learn some beautiful things. All alone.

Pete

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Best way to learn to sing is to rely on a trusted voice teacher to be your "ears" until you've reached the point where you can associate what you hear in your "inner ear" with the appropriate physical sensations required to produce a healthy phonation. The intermediary is the voice teacher - he/she is the one who can hear your projected voice, and who can (if she/he is competent) diagnose your physical approach to voice production to directly associate what she/he hears with what you are doing. When it sounds right, and it looks right, she/he will tell you so you can begin to associate (through muscle memory) what it FEELS like PLUS what it sounds like "in your head" (vs. through a recording). Once you get familiar with what a correctly-produced "in your head" vocal sound is like, you can reproduce it endlessly without ever having to hear a recording of yourself.

Hearfones and VAM help you develop these strengths much faster...The Hearfones and VAM are not a crutch, it allows the singer to hear their voice similar to what the instructor hears... the products or tools work hand in hand with a voice coaches professional opinion and allows one to take practice home...the Hearfones and the VAM help reflect what the voice coach is identifying...What’s nice is you can pull the products away instantly sing with it on sing with it off. Hold a note that you felt the instructor has helped identify as a week point ( if you’re lucky enough to have one); try it with the VAM or hearfones to really hear all the details and perfect it even further.

I was classically trained in the early 90's with a very fun But strict Broadway singer; who had performed with Carol Burnett and others for years on stage…a real treat to study under him) I have also perfomed sang with professional choirs...and have three albums with all original rock bands.

I developed the VAM in 2007 to get even better....I wish I had the hearfones or VAM when I was being trained like a race horse 3 times a week back in the day. It would have allowed me to want to practice more, hear myself doing a warm up in a loud back stage bar or rehearsal. If no one was ever around me as a singer; and I had perfectly quiet settings with beautiful reverb…the VAM would have never been conceptualized…

There is no one way to train a voice...I think having tools finally available for singer is a new secret weapon to become better singers faster and encourage more at home practice...

Byron

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We couldn't agree more! This field of singing is so wonderful, and so broad. All of us intuitively know that singing came long before the development of language and speaking, so it goes far back in pre-history. People -- and probably proto-people -- have been playing around with their voice for tens if not hundreds of millennia.

That rich history brings with it a tradition, built on what works and what doesn't work, with a strong and proud heritage. Heritage is a product of language -- the ability to pass along stories of the past -- "logging," as we say in the Navy. For almost as long as writing has existed, and back when only a precious few 'scribes' knew the secrets of forming these new 'logos' by scribbling with charcoal on a palm leaf or chipping them into stone or clay, the art of writing, and reading, and keeping the heritage has been ascribed to the academies.

And hence today, it is the academies and the academics who -- quite properly -- represent the epitome of science . . . that body of knowledge we have accrued over all those years. These people are proudly, and rightly so, conservative -- as conservators should be.

An unfortunate side effect of this, however, is that in passing on their knowledge -- what we call 'professing" -- these conservators, and their students, collectively find it comfortable to assume that they know all there is to know. It has even been given the phallic descriptive word "higher" education, though it's clearly not higher -- simply broader.

The end result of this effect is that when new ideas come along, through ingenuity (a.k.a. "engineering"), these conservators and their graduates find it hard to accommodate. We don't just leap into new things without being sure, and testing, and validating. And then, only after the results are promulgated in the academic, peer-reviewed, press, do we reach out and gingerly take a sip to see for ourselves.

To do otherwise would be childish -- which is why all children are engineers.

So it is with VAM and HearFones. The first tools exclusively designed for singers since Guido d'Arezzo invented "the scale" and sheet music was born. As more and more curious people reach out and try these devices, more and more will be learned and passed along and will become heritage. We inventors simply need to wait, and try to survive.

Richard Miller, our dear friend who passed on just a few months ago, was one of those exemplary academics who also welcomed new technologies. He published videotapes showing how visualization of voice spectra could be used in training new operatic tenors -- to find and develop what Johan Sundberg calls "the singers' formant cluster." He wrote a short column in the "Journal of Singing" back in 2001 about the relative merits of "hand-cupping" to hear yourself sing -- an age-old tradition -- and it prompted Ray Miller -- co-inventor of HearFones -- to visit him in his college office to show him HearFones -- invented only four years before, and not yet having reached Dr. Miller's desk. Ray and Richard (no relation) became fast friends.

The same article prompted Pete Mickelson -- the other inventor of HearFones -- to e-mail Johan Sundberg and ask if there might be a way to evaluate HearFones in the laboratory, and he said "send me some." Then he invited us to introduce HearFones at the PEVOC IV conference in Stockholm, where we met TMV expert Lisa Popeil and Finnish researcher Anne-Maria Laukkanen, who took some home to her University of Tampere and performed authentic , peer-reviewed research that showed HearFones make a difference ("Effect of HearFones on Speaking and Singing Voice Quality" -- Journal of Voice 2004) and that the effect was almost universally a positive one -- in both sound and vocal efficiency.

Today, if you 'Google' "HearFones" you see something like 70,000 'hits', and yet so few singers actually know of them, or give them a try.

We imagine that the hammer -- when it was first invented, as a stone attached to a stick -- was slow to catch on as well. Most artists of the time would have preferred that comfortable old traditional "feel" of the stone in their hand as they chipped away at arrowheads and engraved text. But gradually -- first perhaps as a weapon -- the hammer caught on as a valid tool, and today you'd be hard pressed to find a carpenter or a smith without one.

The word will get around. : )

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The assumption here is that the student will have enough expertise to DO something with what she hears. Frankly, I think hearing what one "actually" sounds like to others is a red herring; at best, it's "interesting" to hear how we sound to others. But because it is impossible to use Hearfones/VAM simultaneously with hearing how one sounds to one's self, there is no possibility of directly relating what one hears when actually performing and the sensations of producing THAT "how I sound to myself" sound. A third party - the voice teacher - is required for that purpose: the student associates "in real time" what the teacher says sounds good with how it sounded in his "inner ear" and how it felt in his body, and rejects the "inner ear"/sensation version of what the teacher says sounds bad, thereby refining technique in a way that can be consistently reproduced in actual performance, i.e., when singers don't have the luxury of Hearfones/VAM to bridge that gap between what sounds good to others and how producing that sound should feel.

KM

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I don't think that VAM or HearFones is advocating against using a teacher; certainly the "Singing Secrets" booklet advocates FOR a teacher -- "use them with your vocal coach or teacher." Over the last eleven years, most of our customers in singing have been teachers, a number of whom later outfitted their entire choir with HearFones when they picked up on what was going on. Ask Lisa Popeil if she heard a difference between "choir without" and "choir with." According to her, it was like day and night.

Learning comes in many forms:

First, there is the beginner process, where an individual tries to sing, on their own and in a particular style or 'genre' of singing, most often by copying or singing along with a professional recording. Here, you want a coach or teacher who listens to you and offers his or her valuable suggestions. Later, there is the learning process, where you mentally store the overview of the music but still rely on the sheet music for reference. Here a director is often the best helper, or a lot of self-study.

Finally, there's the honing stage, where you learn the song so well that you don't rely on the printed music and where -- especially for the professional (who earns money) -- you want every sound to be perfect, or at least under your full control, so that you can make each live performance unique unto the individual audience you meet. At this stage, master-class level teachers are very helpful. Every master class I've monitored has brought new insight to the singer and tried the skills of the instructor. The most recent was with Marvin Keenze in Philadelphia.

Along the way, even at stage one, there's the matter of building muscle-neuron 'subroutines' (a computer programmer term, but very apt for this task). These are the short but connected brief actions that you perform subconsciously, drawn from a library of learnings inside your body -- part brain, part action neurons and part muscles who have learned how to respond to the signals they're sent -- and who even have built the strength and stamina to do it. These function all the way from your knees to your nose -- literally -- and "getting the feeling" of all that complexity is virtually impossible.

In a performance venue -- which can range from a one-person audience's soft attentive breathing to the megawatt splat music that engages even fireworks to thrill the audience -- these 'muscle memories' are what we call on for performance. Rarely can Julius Caesar sing a fortissimo aria on his way riding a horse through fighting soldiers to Cleopatra's death scene, while he's calling on "how his body feels." He has other things to think about.

What we know from research is that HearFones (and perhaps VAM too, although it's for a different purpose) work through intuitive neural pathways to effect a better sound and a more efficient production of it. Exactly what path, and how they do this is a subject for further work, but the fact is that simply by singing -- or speaking -- with them on results in better practice routines that build better muscle memories.

That's not all bad.

People who are learning a new (to them) language tend to hang onto what we call "an accent" -- the vestiges of muscle memories they developed when they were less than a year old. These people -- without feedback -- think they're doing a great job, but those sneaky subroutines get subconsciously called up and the 'native listener' thinks, "Aha! This guy is from away!" A famous example is the folks who grew up speaking Chinese or Japanese and have never developed a clearly separate subroutine or memory for the difference between R ("ARE") and L ("ELL") as we use them in daily English.

This muscle learning is what feedback encourages. Not verbal (or "the hairy eyeball") feedback that comes from a teacher, but rather the memorized learning of a physiological practice -- that may, or may not, be suggested by a teacher.

Here on TMV we have any number of singing teachers who are emphasizing "learning your own true voice." If you are three years old, sitting in the back seat of your Mom's car, on the way to see Santa Claus at the mall, you will sing "Silent Night" with a beautiful, properly pitched and sweet voice that truly is your very own. These teachers respect that voice, and they know it will never be used by Julius Caesar to order his legions around. Therefore, they know that practicing this voice with HearFones is harmless and beneficial and will help you build excellent intonation skills (jumping quickly and precisely from one pitch to another) and articulation skills (shaping your physiology to produce the exact sound pattern (vowel sound) that you want).

HearFones are for skill building -- not necessarily for skill critique.

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Ok, but can you guys build a better sound trap?

When I tried VAM--so loud! Nearly blew out my sensitive ears. I figure going deaf wasn't going to help me become a better hearer. :)

Good learning product, but when are you guys going to come up with a volume control? Also, seems like improved designs might help with more accurate sounds. I personally believe that the sounds I heard wasn't that accurate.

So, there's your new engineering challenge--From never satisfied Chen.

BTW, Olympus W321M recordings are worse than VAM.

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Lastly, maybe we should also talk about what is good hearing, in relationship to good singing. Adding feelings is critical to great singing. Even if we could hear accurately through recordings, Hearfones, or VAM; all of which I doubt, this hearing accurately doesn't translate into how to effectively emote. In another word, how are we to account for great emotive singers who don't hear accurately? Would they be able to singing as well, if they could hear accurately?

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Hi Chen, thank you very much for purchasing a VAM, that is really great...Try moving it away from your face while singing so you can find a comfortable volume...you must have excellent vocal power to reflect your voice for you to feel that it is too loud...(Thats actually a positivce in relation to what the product is supposed to be doing) with the VAM...The VAM is powered by your voice so you have the freedom to move it toward you if you are singing soft and pull it away as you sing louder, this ways you learn your own dynamics...as far as ones emotive skills, this comes with practice and a true desire to learn the proper skills and techniques to build a good voice...It’s nice to start off with a good ear and vocal foundation; but many who strive to be better singers or attempt to show convincing emotion comes from practice, some people are given the gift, others fake it, while some work to achieve it...

I would love to hear you sing...do you have a link to some of your vocals?

Have a great evening.

Byron

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Well, HearFones are all about hearing -- however, we don't recommend you use them to hurt your ears. If VAM was too loud, then HearFones will be louder still -- on both sides!

We suggest two ways of handling this:

1. Take a facial tissue (for example, Kleenex) and crumple it up in a ball about the size of a golf ball. Stuff it into the soundguide where it sits over your ear. Do this on both sides. The tissues will act as broad band filters and absorb some of the loudness without eliminating the effects of hearing yourself directly.

2. Rotate each soundguide downward from its correct position near your mouth. By moving the first focal point away from the source, the sound pressure level at your ear will grow weaker and weaker . . . until you essentially aren't using HearFones at all. This method will have the largest effect, but also (obviously) takes away the very reason for using HearFones in the first place.

We're sorry if this doesn't satisfy "never-satisfied Chen," but that is a good thing too. People who are never satisfied are the most likely to be great engineers -- applying their ingenuity to everything they see . . . or hear! And this world needs good engineers FAR MORE than it needs good singers. (See Mazlow's Hierarchy of Needs)

Here at the HearFones plant, we talk incessantly about emotive singing. Our inventor, Ray Miller, is a professional singer and accomplished barbershop singer. He's coined the term "ATOS" for this aspect of singing. Greek as it may sound, "ATOS" is an abbreviation for "All The Other Stuff." Not a very romantic way of putting it, but certainly apt. To emote emotions, one needs do more than simply sing.

On a good quality recording, you can capture and replay the beautiful sounds of beautiful singing. But beyond beauty, there are subtle audio dynamics -- pauses, breathing, breathiness, roughness, sobbing . . . -- that may be invoked by the singer as he or she sings with passion. If this were a live performance (as distinct from a "live" performance), then we the audience could visually witness and be affected by the body language and eye contact of the singer. That is part of ATOS.

Other parts, of course, include the venue, acoustics, accompaniment, lighting, special effects . . . even the little baby sitting behind you screaming in pain from all the loud, scary noises.

HearFones are best used for learning, where subtle effects are best practiced. If you lived closer to Plano, we'd suggest you might drop in at Music in Motion and see if they'd let you try a set. But Plano is a long horse ride from Houston!

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