Oh, that sounds so professional… It sounds like I know what I’m talking about, doesn’t it? What does it mean, though?
The quick (and not terrifically accurate) definition is that audiation is “singing along in your head”. It is much more complex than that, but it gives you a handle on what we are talking about here. Audiation is how a composer can write multiple lines of an orchestration or arrangement without playing them all simultaneously. S/he is running the lines in their head, experiencing the interplay between them without them being played externally, and as they write each new line, they are running the existing lines in their head, over and over again.
To a much lesser (but more accessible) degree, audiation is also what unwittingly happens when we get an earworm. You know the routine – you are walking down the street, doing nothing very important, when all of a sudden “Close to You” by The Carpenters pops into your head and won’t get out. Round and round it plays in your head, demanding your attention and constantly surfacing like an inflatable toy in a swimming pool… You can’t sing it out loud because… well, there are limits to how many times you can sing, “Birds suddenly appear, every time, you are neeeeaaaar!” without your co-workers killing you. But it is still in your head. If you want to properly shift it, the best thing to do is probably to sing the entire thing. Out loud. Maybe with a backing track. Go on – look up the lyrics, lock yourself in the bathroom and go for it. The unfinished nature of earworms makes them worse.
Anyway – if this has happened to you, then you know that you have the ability to audiate.
I often say that I usually have a backing track playing in my head whilst running choirs, whether there is music going or not, as is proved by the fact that I continued to conduct a totally absent backing track during a choir rehearsal last night, whilst explaining a point about breath control and pronounciation. In my head, the music was still playing, going round and round the instrumental until we were ready to come back in, at which point we moved forward into the next verse.
It is easy to audiate a bit – playing the hook, or earworm section of song in your head is easy. More difficult is playing the entire song from the beginning through to the end, carefully running through key changes, breathing spots and tricky passages, not stopping at any point. But when you do this, and hear the music in your mind as vividly as you can in the outside world, you are culturing a skill which will help to improve your overall musical ability, and particularly your ability to sing accurately on pitch.
Listening to music and singing along internally, is a very useful skill to learn.
- Start small – it is very helpful to try matching notes internally and then externally. First play a note (I recommend getting a free keyboard app for your smartphone or tablet if you have one, or a cheap electronic keyboard), and then try to sing the same note inside your head a few times before opening your mouth and trying to sing it. Keep on with this – it may be hard to start with, but will get much easier with practice.
- Move up – when you can do this, try a three or four note sequence and sing it internally before externalising it.
- Try the melody line of a song you know. Pick a song that you know well and search YouTube for backing tracks or karaoke versions of the song. Play it on your computer screen (tip: karaoke versions will often have the words on the screen to help with your timing) and sing it internally. Don’t do it out loud! This needs to be internal. Try it with several songs and repeat the exercise a LOT. Repetition is the key here. If this is something that you are not used to doing, what you are trying to do is to build up a skill that has developed over years for some people. Go easy on yourself. Don’t expect it to work immediately. Give it time. You may discover that it comes really easy to you – there is a lot of evidence to show that children who are offered a lot of musical opportunities before the age of 7 find this considerably easier than others. If you sang a lot as a small child you may be pleasantly surprised to find that it comes back easily to you. If not, don’t worry – it *can* be developed as part of your toolbox of vocal tricks.
- The ultimate test is to use audiation to learn your harmony and alternative part vocal lines. I am a visual learner and find it easier to learn if I audiate whilst I look at the notes (notational audiating) and I find it easier to take the movement of a part this way. Depending on your learning style, this may or may not work for you. If you are a kinetic learner, you may want to try moving to the music, conducting it, lifting and dropping your hands as the part rises and falls.
Experiment and see what works for you, but do try singing along internally, matching pitches and going from the beginning to the end of the piece before you open your mouth to sing. You may just surprise yourself!