Monthly Archive: December 2013

Speak the same language

There is a saying, knowledge is power. Well, I agree. I noticed that musicians look at you differently if you speak the same language, if you know what you’re talking about. I mean the stereotype of female singers is not pretty. We are considered divas and unfortunately people also think that we know nothing about music. We just come to practice two hours late, burp out a few lines and leave for manicure. I guess some of us might be like that, but I never met anyone.

What I keep meeting is singers who do not know how to speak the same language with the rest of the band. A bar is not just where they serve drinks, okay? Being a professional musician means you have to know your music theory, you have to have a vocabulary. Even if you are not aiming to become a professional, it makes your life easier. I can tell you from my own experience, there aren’t many other things that I hated more than music theory and solfège.  But it gave me the vocabulary, the words to speak the same language, to be on the same page or this case sheet music.

Where to start?  Probably memorising a few words and what they mean is a good start. I gathered here a few words that I find useful from a singers point of view:

Genre: a category of music; like pop, rock, jazz, opera

Time signature: shows how many beats are in each bar, like such as 3/4 or 4/4, or 8/8 and many more. The upper number shows the beats, like 4 beats per bar, the lower is the note value, if it’s a quarter note for example. See the picture below:



Bar or measure: a segment of time defined by a given number of beats

Beats: the basic unit of time, the pulse

You can find a thorough explanation about time signatures here:

Tempo: the speed of the music

Sheet music or score: the written version of the music

Staff: the set of five parallel horizontal lines used for music notation

Pitch: the lowness or highness of a sound

Key: a term for the scale used to create a particular piece (careful here, the piece might not be in the same key all the time, which leads to the next word, modulation)

Modulation: changing from one key to another

Scale: according to Wikipedia, a scale is any set of musical notes ordered by fundamental frequency or pitch. In western music, (and I’m not talking about jazz here) there are two scales that are commonly used, major and minor. (

Interval: the difference between two pitches

Chord: a chord is two or more notes that are heard as if played simultaneously.

Melody: is a linear succession of musical tones that the listener perceives as a single entity and it is usually what you sing.

Harmony: the use of simultaneous pitches or chords. Unless you sing by yourself you usually have an accompanist to play the harmony for you. Or if you are skilful enough, you can harmonise with yourself, by using overtones(will get to them later) like the Tuvan throat singers or Lalah Hathaway in this video at around 6.20:

Musician: Insert your picture here below!

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You can read more about music theory here:

I would also recommend, if you are serious about learning the vocabulary and understanding theory to buy this book (it will be the only book you’ll ever need about theory): The jazz theory book by Mark Levine

And if you still haven’t had enough, sign up for music theory lessons at your local music school. It really don’ t matter if they are classical or pop or jazz, some of the basics are the same. And I can say that as much as I disliked it at the beginning, I am happy that I can read sheet music, I can transpose and most importantly, I can communicate with other musician. I wish the same for you!

Inside the box

I encourage you to do this before you move on to reading the rest of the post. Try not to google the answer. 🙂

Connect the Dots

Connect these 9 dots with only 4 connected straight line segments. (Don’t lift your pencil.)

Long time ago after I graduated from the University of Applied sciences, I didn’t get a job immediately, so I went to a course provided by the Finnish unemployment office.

I can’t remember how long it lasted, a month probably. Again I was taught how to write a CV, cover letter, how to prepare for interview. Personality tests too perhaps? I wasn’t the only one on the course, there were about 15 of us.

I came away with one thing that I  still remember. Actually it was more of a revelation.  I It was the following simple task: Connect the dots. You have these dots with the given straight lines and without lifting your pen from the paper, without bending the lines, you have to connect them. You have about 5 minutes to finish it.

At first I was like, what? There is no way, simply you just can’t connect them. It’s a trick. Then all of a sudden it hit me. Seriously it did! I was dumbfounded by the revelation of the key to the exercise.  Nobody told me that I could not go beyond the dots with the lines, I created the invisible barriers in my head. I saw obstacles when there were none. I finally connected the lines.

The sad part was that I was the only one from that group. What I am trying to say is that isn’t that sad? I don’t particularly think that I’m a genius of any kind. I am not. I am saying is how many times we come up with obstacles that we create in our minds that just stop us from really seeing the light. What does this have to do with singing?

Like I said before, our inner monologue tries to control us, it builds barriers when there are none. Maybe I’m repeating myself, but I think that learning to sing is actually for most part learning to get out of your own way. I argue that you can have the best teacher in the world, all the money, the connection to make you a great singer, but none of that will help, if you are in the way.

Don’t resist new things, try to be open. They might not work at first. I think I said before that our body is used to old and sometimes bad habits. Our only job as singers is to allow that new feeling to happen. And here is where a good teacher can help, in experiencing the correct feeling. Yes, we will have “relapses”, we go back to our old ways. But at least we get the chance to experience other ways too. And eventually new things will become good habits.