How To Be “In Tune”…

There are many things in this life that irritate me to the point of… well, maybe not violence, but certainly a heartfelt “GRRRRR!” under my breath and stalking away to put the kettle on.  Bullying, racism, being rude to waiters….  And first and foremost: people who think that if they can’t hit a note reliably from the age of 3 or 4, then they are ‘tone deaf’ and should never be allowed to sing.

I’ve spoken at length on every platform I can think of about why this is a complete fallacy.

Yes, some people do seem to be able to hit notes more reliably than others.  If you look a little closer into the background of these people, you will see that they’ve often had a very early exposure to music.  Maybe their parents played music, or they had older siblings who played records when they were around, or they were just encouraged to sing along in the car to make journeys a little less boring.  None of these things *seem* exceptional, but they encouraged the people to start listening and experimenting with their voices early.  They didn’t have time to learn fear, and by the time that external judgement and fear kicked in, the habit of singing was already ingrained.  They weren’t child prodigies, able to belt out the collected works of Wagner from their pram before they could talk – no, they just started *working* a little earlier than everyone else, and before they understood that it was, indeed, working, at all.

Everyone else, and it’s a big percentage of the population, just has to do a bit of work to catch up.  Make no mistake, however, you can catch up.  In much the same way that some children can walk at 9 months old and others are still happily shuffling around on their bottoms at three, but almost everyone eventually manages to make it onto two feet, you can totally learn to sing at your own pace.

Singing is more than the simple act of opening your mouth and hitting the right note.  It involves breathing, learning lyrics, telling a story, the muscular techniques of controlling your voice and much, much more.  But to start with, we’re going to concentrate on just hitting the right notes.

So – having problems hitting those notes?  Can you hear that you are wrong?  If you can’t hear that you are wrong, the most basic advice is to go back to the drawing board and listen to lots and lots of music.  Listen to it all the time.  Sing along with it constantly.  Slowly but surely, you’ll start to differentiate between the notes and understand where your voice is sitting in regards to the tune (in tune, out of tune, varying between the two?).

At this point you can come back to how to get your voice singing the same notes as you are hearing.  (And make no mistake, singing is *always* about what you are hearing – whether it’s out loud, or internal, you always hear what you are meant to be copying…).

I would recommend getting a piano, or a cheap keyboard – it doesn’t have to be expensive and take up a lot of room, your local electronics or music shop will probably have something for under £50 which will do you just fine.  Now remember that you don’t have to be able to “play the piano” to get a note out of it.  You’ll probably look at it in confusion for a little while first and wonder what the heck you are meant to do with it.

Play a note.  Any note, but one from near the middle of the keyboard is probably a good move.  Play it a couple of times and really listen to it.  Imagine in your head how it is going to sound before you play it for the third or fourth time.  Before singing it, play it and imagine it again.  Finally, after imagining it a LOT of times and playing it even more, open your mouth and try to sing it.

How was it?  A bit high?  Too low?  Not sure?  Kind of wobbly?  Play it again and try again – any better, or can’t you tell?  Try a few notes, one after the other and try to copy them with your voice, always using the trick of “Listen, imagine, sing”.  Always imagine before you open your mouth!

This is not an overnight fix.  You need to put aside a few minutes every single day to do this exercise, and slowly but surely you will find that your voice and your ear start to work together.  You can hit the pitches you are aiming for!  A happy side effect is that if you are singing for just 15 minutes, but every single day, your voice strength and range will increase as well!  Hurrah!  Get singing!

To Perform or Not Perform? That is the Question…

There are a few different views about the issue Adrenaline-Logo-300x168of performing in public – some
choirs just like to gather together and sing for the joy of it without any of the stress and adrenalin that comes along with performing for external people.

Other choirs really enjoy performing, and thrive on the excitement and gratification of a job well done and the obvious enjoyment of an audience.

So which is the best sort of choir for you?

Remember that this might not be an “either/or” kind of decision – some choirs may be performing choirs, but be perfectly happy for certain members to bow out of concerts and appearances.  It is always worth asking to see what their policy on this is.

I would also suggest that it is worth asking yourself why you want or don’t want to perform.  What are the underlying reasons?  For many people, singing is a very personal thing, and singing in public can feel very exposed – an uncomfortable feeling.  If this is the case, then do bear in mind that singing in a choir is a very different thing to singing on your own.  You will be part of a section – a number of people all singing the same thing as you – and the aim of the performance is to blend your voices together to make them sound as much like a single voice as possible.  Nobody is going to be listening to your voice on your own, unless you ask to do a solo.  Also remember that when you are surrounded by people all singing the same thing as you, it is much harder to get lost and sing the wrong thing.  If you do all go spectacularly wrong at the same time, then nobody will be blaming you on your own, and the choir leader will gently figure out where you’ve gone wrong and try to find a way to make it easier to stick to the part you should be singing (if you have a choir leader who shouts or makes you feel bad about either the music or your own skill, LEAVE IMMEDIATELY, OK?  Nobody should have to put up with that sort of behaviour.)

Of course, what it is impossible to describe is the high that one gets from singing in public for an appreciative audience.   Yes, there can be nerves, butterflies in the stomach, and an adrenalin rush (whether you enjoy the adrenalin is a very personal thing – personally I detest it – it makes my fingers go very cold, I feel sick and I need many trips to the bathroom, but other people absolutely adore that “riding a rollercoaster” feeling.)

The thing that it is almost impossible to understand until you’ve experienced it is the feeling of being a part of something much bigger than oneself, losing oneself in the music and creating something utterly spellbinding.  And when you’ve finished?  When you are standing there in the spotlight, having performed the very best that you could, and listening to the crowd clapping just for *you*…  Well, it’s the best feeling in the world, bar none.

Personally, I love performing, and enabling others to perform is the thing that motivates me, and makes me want to get up in the morning and start my day.  I’d love everyone to have the opportunity to feel that incredible buzz.  Even if singing solo is not your thing, give a choir a try, it is less scary, less pressure and all of the happy buzz, along with the pleasure of companionship with your other choir members.  What’s not to like?

Don’t Let Others Sabotage Your Creativity!


i canLast time we looked at how words can affect small children, crushing their self-esteem and leaving them unable to join in with our singing culture for decades.  It’s horrible.  Don’t do it.

But there is a flip side, and one that I know all too well.  The chances are good that you aren’t the person making the comments, but the person to whom the comments have been made.  That one little comment haunts you, and has done so for decades.  You want to sing – you desperately do – but you are frightened that you are going to make a fool of yourself and that someone is going to tell you to be quiet, shut up or that you can’t sing.  And then you’ll feel like you are 7 again.

I get it.  I really do.  And so does every other community choir leader EVER.

It might help a little to understand that a lot of the people in any choir you decide to try out are dealing with similar issues.  Family members will laugh and make fun of the fact that you are doing something creative.  That is the hardest thing to cope with, I find, and the hardest thing to ignore, because the comments are made by people we love.  However, it is important to understand that these comments are generally also made with no concept of the meaning behind them.  I have never yet found a singer who has made these comments about another singer.  The comments usually come from people who don’t sing.  They will portray them as “poking fun” and be very resistant to understanding how hurtful they are.

So, if you get that comment from someone close to you about the fact that “you can’t sing” or some “funny” remark (you sound like a cat in heat, someone will call the police thinking a siren has gone off, etc. etc. ad nauseaum), the first thing you have to do is remember this mantra:

“They don’t sing.  What the heck do they know anyway?”

Because really, they don’t know squat.  Maybe you don’t sound like Katherine Jenkins or Pavarotti yet.  That’s OK.  They didn’t either, when they started.  And maybe, just maybe, you’d rather sound like Billie Holliday or Ray Charles, instead.  Because, hey – who wouldn’t?

There’s also another, slightly nastier undertone here.  People make those sorts of comments because they want to stop you.  To sabotage you.  They don’t want you to succeed at something that they can’t do.  It is hard to acknowledge, but often those comments are not made with love at their heart.

When you receive comments like this, the best thing is meet them head on:

“Actually, I think that’s kind of hurtful.  I’m enjoying my singing, and I’m doing it for myself.  What makes you think that it’s OK to make a comment like that?”  I can guarantee that meeting a ‘joke-y’ hurtful comment with a response like that will shut it right down.  Do it twice, and it is very unlikely that person will try again.

You don’t need external people trying to hold you back – you deserve to fly!