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What kind of education a decent singer receives?

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Black Bones Iron
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I don't know if this subject was formerly discussed here or not, but this is one of those questions many people hesitate to ask nonetheless it's very important.

My question is as a wanna-be decent singer, what kind of tools I should have? Now, we all know about technique and its importance, if not we weren't here at all. But aside from the technique, let us discuss what a singer should know or be able to do.

We all hear things here and there that many notable artists didn't even know how to read music. There are many examples, such as Stevie Ray Vaughan or Buddy Guy etc. And we say to ourselves, OK calm down it's not that scary and doesn't need that much money and time to spend on things like sight-singing and music theory classes. But unfortunately there are other times that you hear a singer like Frank Sinatra goes into the studio, sings one take and comes out, or the amazing Adele (now this one really shocked me) does it right on the moment with no warm-up or anything, and God she does it 100 percent in tune!!

So what the heck! Should we know cliches of the genre we sing in, or should we be precise and on the point like a decent violinist finds his desired pitch whenever he wants? Or a bit worse, should we be able to sing eg. the seventh of an accompanying instrument right there?

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The singers mentioned in the original post, they all have one thing in common, despite various levels of singer training, genre, and presentation. They have (or had) a good ear. Part of education is expectation. For someone like Adele to hit it spot on without seeming to need any preparation is a result of tight focus and concentration. Not that concentrating like that is necessarily a strain. But it is a factor in her ability. She hears the music and sings to match. Same with Sinatra. And each singer is doing what it is that their voice can do. Stevie always had a raspy voice. It's in his speach, as well as his singing. He would have never made it in opera, nor was he interested in that genre. His voice was very suited for Blues, a genre where tone is more important than ultimate range.

But what they all share is pitch accuracy, and that comes from a good ear, at least at first.

Education takes many forms. Learning as you go, learning from instruction, either through materials or through a coach, or both.

But then, should we not define "decent"? Some people can sing technically well but we are often drawn to singers that bring out emotion, even if they are not technically good singers. Did Joe Cocker take singing lessons? Is he a great technical singer? He has a good ear.

Bruce Springsteen, from New Jersey, sounds like a hick when he sings. And he does not have what I would call a pretty voice. But he sings on key, he brings out emotion, and no one doubts his songwriting and presentation. Is he a decent singer?

Or is a decent singer able to sing on pitch and with some good volume and everything else is aesthetics?

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And then, let's go to extremes.

What makes a lousy singer? Is there such a thing as a lousy singer?

More importantly, what makes an awesome singer? What is it about your favorite singer that makes him/her awesome?

Even though I like and sing hard rock and am most comfortable with Led Zep stuff and Robert Plant is my favorite rock singer, my favorite voice in the whole world is Sarah Brightman.

It's not just the range, it's the clarity, the power, the "ringing of the bell" of her notes. And the emotion she evokes with that.

Same with Robert Plant. A number of people can sing his range. I can. What's different? Well, his tone. The emotion or mental picture he creates with his voice. But those are, I think, matters of taste. One singer is a result of loving jazz and r & b for decades, the other singer has had classical instruction and coaching for about the same length of time. And both are favored by me.

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But what they all share is pitch accuracy, and that comes from a good ear, at least at first.

But then, should we not define "decent"?

What I exactly mean by decent here is having pitch accuracy. I mean not needing auto-tune that much and not sucking when performing with the band.

It's not important for me that some could do it naturally some others not. What is important for me to know is the minimum requirements in the field of pitch accuracy for a usual singer.

And again my question would not be answered by answers like: "having a strong ear..." or "great understanding..." or these vague answers. Suppose you want to employ a singer to sing your stuff, how would you define his minimums. Answers like: "being able to sing the perfect fifth of a particular sound." ARE the answers I want (if they ever exist although).

Or let me put my question into another form. "I'm a no talent person, and I like to sing. But people say you sing out of tune. I don't have a good ear and I cannot differentiate between a perfect fifth interval and a major third. What should I learn and do in terms of pitch accuracy till I find my way up to the stage?"

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The one member of this forum that I have met in person has the ability to harmonize a minor 3rd above whatever someone else is singing. He has a really good ear.

And training, for he went through the entire 4 Pillars program and was coached by Robert Lunte, himself. He is an awesome singer.

So, you're right, my input may not be needed for this thread.

But I look forward to learning from others.

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My view is: the more education, the better. Knowledge is power. How well will you use it, is a totally different matter.

But my question for you is, why do you think that I should know what YOU should do?

There is musical education. There is technical trainning in singing. There is theater school. There are books where you can read stories and be inspired. There are people you can talk to. There is a lot of music around you can listen to. There are infinite sources of information for use with music.

If what you want is a recipe like: learn technique and music and you will be a super star, sorry but it does not exist. If you want a recipe for success, check the latest sensation: Gangnam Style. It has little to do with music, Im afraid.

I cant even tell you: learn technique and you will become a singer. There are other things that are important, like having the right mindset, do you see yourself performing on stage? Is it something that you really want to do? Singing technique kinda excludes the unsure ones, it takes just too long and its not really a gold mine for those looking to just have large incomes of money, still these are good questions to begin with.

Pitch acuracy is something that in my opinion is the minimum that is expected from a singer. Others may have a different opinion.

Opinions are just that, opinions.

What makes no sense is trying to find quality in the absence of one or more of these skills. Joe Cocker could not read music, and that made him good. Adele never had technique lessons, thats why she rocks. Paul Mccartney cant read portuguese, thats why he is great. Freddie Mercury never knew how to operate a crane, thats why he sounded so good.

It all makes just as much sense.

Could it not be the case that maybe, just maybe, they all were good because of something they were doing right, and are actually awesome at? Not just Frank Sinatra for having good pitch (which in my opinion is a very shy quality compared to the whole picture of what he did on stage).

So Joe Cocker could not read music. Great. But what about the interpretation lines he delivered, how did he use things like dynamics and rhythmic divisions? So maybe he never even thought about it, who cares? Its all there! And yes you can learn from it, a lot.

Instead of thinking about the things you will not do, start thinking about the things you want to do.

If you seriously believe that by not getting any sort of education you are comparing yourself to some of these persons, you are in for some unpleasant surprises along the way, specially with names like those mentioned.

On the technical context, there is absolutely no doubts about the quality of pitch control, agility and homogeneity. Thats why technique is usefull to discuss singing. It leaves no room for second guessing and personal taste.

Singing technique has a few things that is not comparable to any other instrument. The first and most important is its importance on the health of the musician. The second, is its apparent subjectiveness, because of need to train your perception in order to understand it, you cant see your voice working, unfortunately.

These two things, in my opnion, makes technique a very important thing for anyone who wants to sing, be it as a profession or just for having some fun.

Now if YOU should or not learn it, man, the only thing I know is that I should.

What I can tell you is that the best approach to take issues related to how you control your voice out of the way is technical trainning. And that usually includes interpretative resources. But its not nearly enough to compare yourself to any of these names, of that Im totally sure.

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One point that a singer needs is the ability to hear if he is off key or not. Most of the time the reason a singer can just walk up to the stage and start singing and sound great is because they practiced that song over and over again. Working out those parts that did not sound right to them.

I can jump up on stage and sing Brown Eyed Girl at the drop of a hat. But I have been singing it in the same key for over 20 years. If you are looking for a singer do not judge him on the first try of a new song. The subtle nuances of a great performance need to worked out.

If you are going to be the type of singer that sings those supposedly fancy runs when the song calls for a held note. You better practice scales and know how to use them. It's not just about being able to match a note at a given time. It's also about making those notes fit with the music you are singing to and being able to tell when you are off the mark.

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Awesome post, Felipe. I could have quoted your entire post and that would be redundant.

Black Bone, you have said, now, that pitch accuracy is the mark of a decent singer. Most people, singers and listeners, have relative pitch. Very few people actually have true pitch. Relative pitch varies up to 1/10 from true pitch. Anything more than that becomes noticable, though not always undesirable. Bon Scott ends the last note of "Highway to Hell" off-pitch and I think it is perfect. To end it on a perfect cadence would take away from the feel of the song.

Robert Plant ends "Stairway to Heaven" almost a 1/4 off of, I think, C5 but it still sounds cool. I can't do that. So, when I do the song, I go to E5. It works better for me.

But, Black, if you are saying that a "decent" singer should also be able to harmonize at various intervals, why pick only the blues scale? Why not locrian?

Either you're not going to get those answers or you are going to get as many answers as there are genres and sound ideals.

Heck, I still like Rolling Stones' songs and Mick has one of the wonkiest, honkiest voices I have heard.

And, like Felipe said, you could work at classical singing with an eye toward arias, operas, and art songs. But it does not guarantee success or money. Though, you would have the artistic sense of satisfaction of being good, adequate, decent in that sound ideal.

So, maybe we are better off with sticking with pitch accuracy as a basic definition.

But the definition of "decent" might prove elusive after that. My wife cannot stand the tone of Macy Gray. She might be singing on just the right pitch but that tone is grating to her. Seriously, she has made me change the channel.

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But my question for you is, why do you think that I should know what YOU should do?

Actually that's not what I thought.

Let me rephrase my question once again. Now I don't intend to talk about technique in this post, I'm not ignoring, but my topic of discussion is different.

Well, I used to play violin some time ago, and it's a fret-less string instrument as you know. The first problem I had to tackle was to be able to hear some conventional intervals just before playing them, in order to be on tune. I wanted to know if that's also a challenge for a singer or not. And then if it is, then to what measure?

I think what ronws said:

" ...or you are going to get as many answers as there are genres and sound ideals."

is getting me closer to the answer I want. I guess that what I need (at least as minimum) is to be able to switch between some conventional intervals in my respected genre.

But, there is another thing. Let me assure you, I'm not one of those lazy angst and excitement-driven yearning teenagers just looking to get my ass on the stage in order to have chicks combing my hair, Felipe. And for God's sake I know how much pitch accuracy is important, but are people like THOSE BIG NAMES able to sight-read an odd Bela Bartok kind of music on the exact moment?

What I'm trying to say is of course being able to sight-read literally ANYTHING, is one of the hardest tasks on the earth. And of course a popular music singer doesn't have to go all that way, does he? So again my question is how much of this ability is necessary for a singer.

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The best study for me in the regard of intervals is carefull listenning... I pick a song, listen to the drums patterns, the bass lines, what guitars are doing and so on... Until you can play it back in your mind...

But thats my case only. I like to be able to help the band Im in besides just doing my part. I dont perform alone. I also record material of other artists so I need it.

For singing, technique is the most solid start. You dont need to read music unless you plan on reading music....

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The book "Singing Exercises for Dummies" has something I call "The Interval Song". :D

Soundcloud link:

http://snd.sc/PaKa3H

They even have a Rhythm song.

Also, if you like books "Ear Training for the Contemporary Musician" by Keith Wyatt is

one of the best books for ear training. Really practical and useful exercises.

Anyway, good luck.

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What I exactly mean by decent here is having pitch accuracy. I mean not needing auto-tune that much and not sucking when performing with the band.

It's not important for me that some could do it naturally some others not. What is important for me to know is the minimum requirements in the field of pitch accuracy for a usual singer.

I'm going to take a stab at answering your question here.

For the kind of music you're talking about (rock and pop) you ought to be able to sing a melody line on pitch 99% of the time. No, you don't have to sing it perfectly the first time you look at the music. You listen to a recording, or if it's an original song, you get a piano recording or create a midi of the melody and learn from that.

Melody lines in pop and rock music are USUALLY pretty simple and intuitive. This is the case for most of the songs by the two singers you mentioned, Adele and Frank Sinatra. If you can't learn one of those melody lines with relative ease and sing the pitches correctly 99% of the time (in a key that is comfortable for you), then the problem IS NOT in your ears or anything to do with ear training. The problem is that you're doing something with your larynx that's causing you to go too sharp or too flat. Find a voice coach who understands vocal anatomy and physiology and they can help you fix this. Coaches that have some understanding of Jo Estill's work should be particularly helpful.

The kind of harmonies you will need to sing in rock and pop music, are relatively simple. You should be able to memorize these and sing them on pitch 99% of the time by listening to a track of them over and over again. Although you'll probably have to work a little harder to learn these parts than the melodies.

Ear training is something you'd want to have if you're singing in an ensemble and constantly having to sing really complicated harmonies. Otherwise, you're better of focusing on your larynx and not on your ears.

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I get it, now, because I think that Remy caught it more clearly. The voice is a fretless instrument, just like the violin is. So, the answer is yes, you will have to listen to tune your voice. But, yes, you can sight-sing and there are books to help guide that but, essentially, it will be the same as it was to learn to sight-read music for violin.

Here's the beauty of standard tuning. A4 in the singer octaves is the same as A4 on the guitar (1st string, 5th fret.) As it would be on the violin. A4 is 440 Hz, regardless of what is making the sound. So, when you sing an A4, you are experiencing the opening and closing of the glottis 440 times in one second.

Probably the hardest part is that you cannot hear outside of yourself and using some acoustical feedback can be misleading because of the near-field effect, you will tend to back off the intonation, thinking you are louder than you really are. So, if having pitch problems, you have two options. Record yourself and compare. Or get a coach or someone to listen to you, preferrably someone one with a trained ear.

Although, if you are used to hearing true pitches from somthing like the violin, you may have a head start over others in listening to your own recordings. For you have already identified by ear where the pitch should be and changed what you did in the neck of a violin.

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