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Singing: The Essential Guide to Learning a Song

First Scenario - Learning by EAR

Hearing a Song and wanting to learn it.

Okay, so you've found a Song that you like the sound of and it seems to be within your range. How do you go about learning it proficiently?

Here are some pointers:

1. Listen: Get a copy of it and to listen to it... even if this means that you get somebody to play it onto a tape for you. If you are in a band and a member of the band knows a song that they want to play, but doesn't have a copy of it, then this is an ideal time to get them to play the chords and hum the melody for you on to a tape. Better still, if they know the words then they can sing the melody and words as well. This way you can get some idea of how the song goes. Just be careful that you don't learn a lot of bad habits in melody and timing before you hear the actual track. Always endeavor to get a copy of the original recording.

2. Words: Write out the words neatly or type them up. Be a little wary of getting the words off karaoke sites on the Internet, as often they have them wrong. You may be better off going to go a fan club site, where you are more likely to get the right lyrics. Believe it or not, it can make a difference to how easy or hard song is to sing in certain parts. It's also annoying for fans if you have the words blatantly wrong.

3. Phrasing: Figure out the timing and phrasing of those words, as they fit into the bars of a song. When a song is quite difficult, I actually write out the rhythm in bars with the lyric underneath. Then I refer to this until I have it strongly in my mind. I can't remember where I learned to do it, probably in my first singing lesson where I had quite a strict teacher. However, I recommend it.

4. Melody: Learn the tune so well that you can sing it without any backing, hold the melody and stay in the same key. One way to check whether you know the tune well, is to pretend that you are singing it on high-speed dubbing. If you can get the tune right whilst singing it quickly, then you should be able to slow it down and sing it with high accuracy. Record yourself to make sure that you are staying in tune and in key. Hit your starting note or chord on the guitar or piano, and then check at the end to make sure that you are still in the same key. If you don't record yourself then you may not be hearing your own errors. There are plenty of singers who think they sound great but sound awful. Don't be one of them.

5. Backing music: Acquire a backing track or have an instrumentalist record one, even a rough version will do. This is particularly important as you need to get practice in the key that you are singing the song in. It's called "singing the song into your voice". When you practice in the key that you're performing the song in, you become accustomed to maneuvering your voice around the melody. Don't underestimate the importance of this type of practice.

6. Practice: Practice to the backing music and record yourself while you are doing it, mistakes and all. Don't be lazy. Sometimes I have recorded myself thinking that it sounded great, only to realize upon listening back, that I had tried too hard or that a vowel sound was wrong. Or that maybe I wasn't using the right tone' in my voice. It is through recording yourself and listening back objectively , that you will become better as a singer and vocal performer. It also helps you to become better at interpreting songs convincingly. What you think works when you're singing, and what you hear when you listen back, can be two different things. It's better to know in advance and be able to make adjustments.

7. Revise and Learn: Listen to your practice tape -- all of it -- do not avoid the off notes, the wobbly bits -- hear it all. The only way you will improve is to make peace with your mistakes and emulate your successes. Do exactly that. I usually leave several hours between recording my practice and listening back to it. There are several reasons for this. One reason is that when you have the sound is that you've created fresh in your mind, it is difficult to be objective. The second reason is that after a practice, often your ears need a rest. Even a day between recording and listening can have great results. So give it a rest after you've recorded and let some time pass before you listen back to it. That way you will be more objective and better able to assess your performance.

8. Be Specific: Write down the words or notes, or the parts of the song or melody which are tripping you up. Example - "next step" - cracking note on "step" - pushing with throat - too much pressure... If you have to pull the whole song apart and do it bit by bit, phrase by phrase, then do it. Some songs are very hard and some songs will be easier. For the harder ones, you'll need to put in more time to make them sound good. Be prepared to do this. Writing down what you need to change and how you're going to do it, is one way that you can keep on top of your vocal progress with the song.

9. Seek solutions: Consider what strategy or approach you will take and try to improve the parts which are not so good' in your performance. For each difficult part of the song - each part that you're having trouble with - you will need to figure out what is causing you to trip up. Ask yourself whether it is tension, breathing, lack of knowledge of the melody or words, wrong timing or a myriad other things. Get to the source of the problem. If you can't fix it with the melody as it is, then you may need to consider making some subtle changes.

10. Keep on Improving and Hang In There!! Put it all together and give it another go. Repeat the practice, recording and revision part. Keep on going and listen for improvements. Any improvement is a step forward. Congratulate yourself and keep up the good work. Don't expect yourself to be brilliant overnight. Give it time and be persistent.


Article written by Sheena B. Mackie for Vocal Lifestyle Exclusive Newsletter

for Contemporary Singers.

Copyright 2006 All rights reserved.

1,079 - 6 - 0 - US

Sheena Mackie is a writer, as well as being a musical and visual artist.

She was a key feature article writer and columnist for several Australian quarterly print publications from 1999 to 2016.  More recently, she has been developing her academic writing, primarily in the field of Sociology.

More information about Sheena


On Twitter @Thelema22