Sunday, November 02, 2008

You know, I learned something yesterday

Went to a singing workshop yesterday, run by my conductor Pete and our accompanist Robert, both of whom are singing teachers as well as conductors.
The first half was Pete teaching us how to breathe, warm up, etc. (most of which I already knew but always useful to be reminded), how to sing with different parts of the voice, how to sing louder, and most importantly of all for me, how to sing high notes without that horrible closed up squeaky nasy-sounding effect I usually get on anything higher than a top F (and sometimes get on lower notes than that).

Sometimes I do high notes quite well. There are times in rehearsal when we're warming up by singing scales which get successively higher, and I can manage to keep up with the sopranos almost all the way. I mean it doesn't sound nice, but I can do it.

But with the tips and techniques Pete gave us, I reckon I've added a whole lot of notes to the top of my range, which still sound good - and it was easy. Apparently it's always been there, I just didn't know how to do it before. Watch out sopranos! I might test myself later and see how high I can actually get, because it's always good to know.

Oh and I added a tone to the bottom of my usual range as well, but I don't know how I did that. Now I can sing almost all the notes in the tenor range (I can sing down to a low E, and the bottom of the tenor range is a D), and I've reached my actual physical limit. Cool.

The second part was Robert teaching us sight-reading, with a lot of useful short-cut type techniques. Now when I joined SingSoc 3 years ago I was awful at it, but I've definitely improved a lot since I joined (particularly when a certain alto who always got everything perfect left and I could no longer just listen to her and sing what she was singing).

I think my main problem in the past has been over-reliance on my ear, which has always been very good. I always learned everything by ear because I could - however in a choir you often don't get anything played to you unless you get it horribly wrong.

We went thought loads of exercises yesterday, of the type you get when you take instrument/voice exams at Grade 4 and above. The first ones I didn't find too tricky because they were just pitching notes - this gave me confidence because I thought I'd struggle.

I did struggle on the next bit though, when we moved onto actual pieces of music - I had trouble with doing pitching and rhythm at the same time. I blame it on being tired after all that work though, because I usually manage better than that with more difficult music. I'll try the exercises at home and see how I do when I'm not exhaused

In general, I feel much more confident. I mostly held my own with people who had much more musical experience and knowledge than me (if not singing experience) which means I'm better than I think I am.

And I also learned something important about sight-reading - I perform much better when I relax a bit, and stop working so hard. There's a part of my brain that knows all this stuff fairly well, and I should just stop thinking so hard and let that bit do the work for me.


  1. That is really cool! I can't read music either, but I can sing. I am, however, totally untrained and rather shy, so most of my singing happens in the car or in the shower. My son loves my singing.

    Your class/seminar experience makes me want to check out something like that, just to see what I can do with my voice.

  2. P.S. I have a little something for you over on my blog in the Fun Monday post!

  3. I wish I could sing. My kids always told me to shut up when I burst into song in the car :-(

  4. Love the cartoon - so true to real life!

    Is any of this stuff of Pete and Robert's written down? Can I have a copy? I really need to extend my top notes and improve my sightreading, so every clue would be useful.

  5. @Sayre, I do read music. We learned recorder at school when I was 6 or so, and right from the beginning we used normal sheet music. And later I learned flute and also had a bash at piano, violin and guitar (with the result that now I can't really play anything).

    The thing I'm not so good at is sight-reading, which is basically looking at the sheet music then playing/singing it without actually hearing/knowing what it should sound like first.

    It's made much more difficult with singing because you need to be able to pitch notes as well as read rhythm - with an instrument you can just put your fingers/mouth in the correct position for an A or whatever and the instrument will produce an A, but when you sing you need to be able to "hear" the correct note in your head first.

    Singing is one of the best experiences ever - I love the challenge of it, and the feeling you get when you sing well - there's nothing like it! Why not have a couple of voice lessons? Oh and you don't need to read music, but it's very helpful if you sing in a choir!

    @Lily, I think there are very few people who absolutely can't sing. But most people need some work to sound good. The biggest part isn't training the actual voice, but training the ear - mostly to listen to the music and the voice independently and compare them, and then making the adjustment in the voice as necessary. That's a skill that can be hard to develop, so I'm glad I'm one of the natural few who have always been able to do it!

    So many people are too scared to sing because they think they sound awful - but how are you going to improve if you never practice? If you're enjoying yourself, sing away. get the kids earplugs or something1, lol!

    @Rob - I don't think that stuff's written down, but I can probably remember enough of the high notes stuff to help you a bit. I'll try to post about it when I'm not mad busy with a concert!