Nera

Monthly Archive: February 2014

Do re mi

Solfège, my old friend and enemy. What is it? You can find more details here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solfège Basically it is sight singing. “The study of solfège enables the musician to audiate, or mentally hear, the pitches of a piece of music which he or she is seeing for the first time and then to sing them aloud” You get a song, the sheet music and just like an instrumentalist would play it, you sing it.  Solfège in it’s simplest has two things, intervals and rhythm. You might add chord center or tonal center. Yes, it’s this:

It’s the least favourite thing in singing for me. Why? Cause I am terrible at it. I’m used to learning things by listening to them. Yes, I can read sheet music and I can play it. But I can’t sing it. Or well, depends on the music. I might be okay with a simple tune that is in a major key, like Old McDonald had a farm. The notation is here:

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Old_MacDonad_Had_a_Farm.pdf)

To my knowledge Hungary has a long tradition of teaching solfège to everybody in school, it’s part of the Kodály method.  That doesn’t mean that everybody learns. Last time I studied solfège a few years ago in a singing school in Budapest, my friend was wondering how can I sing that, a simple fraze that was in major key with not many interval jumps, when he can’t although he has been in a solfège class for 8 years. I guess I did pick up a few things over the years and it does help that I remember the melody if it’s not too complicated if I hear it once, but it’s not solfège. For the record I still sucked. But I wanted to suck less, so I started to do something about that.

Have to say that just like my friend I’ve attended probably about 5 years of solfège lessons. And no, I didn’t learn much. I was probably a poor student and my patience was just not long enough to get it. Plus I never got to start from the beginning. I mean it was already an advanced class where the others would know the basics and I hoped that I’d just pick it up in time. Surprise, that didn’t happen. I was okay with the rhythm, but I had no idea about the pitches.

And just like with math I started to hate solfage, because I didn’t get it just like that, yet I wasn’t willing to put any effort into it. What a silly thing to do, I know. Anyhow, back to doing something about it.

My studies in Budapest didn’t last long, but it got me started on the road less travelled for me at least. I bought a book called Beginning Ear training by Gilson Schachnik: 

(http://www.amazon.com/Beginning-Ear-Training-Exercises/dp/0876390815)

I sat down every day at 3 pm and did the exercises for an hour. All of them are in major keys. With this book, it sure helps if you can read music, but I bet you can learn that fairly easy if you want to.

The other book I bought was called 333 Olvasógyakorlat by Kodály, that means 333 reading exercises, an intruduction to Hungarian folk music. If you are in Budapest, go to the Rózsavölgy könyvesbolt, that’s a book shop/cafe/music store close to Váci utca, the shopping street in downtown. It will cost you 2 euros and 30 cents. You might be able to buy it online here:

http://www.kotta.info/hu/product/3741/KODALY-ZOLTAN-333-olvasogyakorlat

It has really simple melodies where you can work with only two notes at a time, like do and re.

But what is do re anyway. It’s a different system of naming the notes. In solfège, well you use do re mi fa sol la ti do. In the Kodály method and what Berklee( the prestigious music school in Boston) teaches is the movable do. “There are two methods of applying solfege: 1) fixed do, where the syllables are always tied to specific pitches (e.g. “Do” is always the pitch “C”) and 2) movable do, where the syllables are assigned to different pitches based on musical context.” as Wikipedia explains it. The movable do makes a lot more sense to me.

But what does this have to do with singing? I could just play the melody, right? Well, as in Schachnik’s book title, it’s ear training at the same time. It will help you with your general hearing and you’ll get better hitting the correct notes. And just in general, if you consider the career of a background singer, you can’t do it without the skill of sight singing. It’s just a basic tool in your musicianship. Trust me, in time it will get easier.

What I do with it now is not much, I should get back to the daily practice. Call me silly, but I find it cool that I can solfège the announcement tune on the ski lift, it is pretty simple, I admit it, do mi sol do sol mi do. Or the subway alert tune, or how you want to call it.

I’d encourage you to try it. First it will feel like hitting your head deliberately to the wall, repeatedly, but in time it will be easier. Oh another thing, it will help your life if you want to be the queen or king of riffs. What are those? Check this out, especially at 2:00 the ruling queen of riffing, plenty of riffs and runs here:

I find that Christina is over doing the riffing for my liking, but that’s matter of taste in the end. As in the Sound of Music: “When you know the notes to sing, you can sing most anything” 😉

 

 

Feedback

Right, feedback is not just what you get from your microphone being too loud. It’s what you get from everybody, want it or not. The question is what to do with it and even more so, how do you know what is complete crap and what is valuable. I can’t tell you that. I’d say, you can learn from anything that is thrown at you, but sometimes it will be hard because your emotions will get in the way.

The latest I’ve heard was that I should work on my breathing on my higher register with my voice teacher. This I got from a judge in the only competition I ever attended. There were 8 judges, the rest didn’t say anything, just stared at me. So what did she mean to work on my breathing? This is from the soundcheck:

What really happens is I let go when I hit that D, not so much at the soundcheck, but then I got nervous and it was worse at the actual performance. But the thing is, no matter how I breath, it would be the same, I mean there would not be any difference to the sound. The worst I could do is try to push more air out. Okay, so if air or breathing exercises is not the solution then what is? What do I mean by letting go? I mean that things are all fine when I sing in my chest, I’m way too used to that. Then I get into trouble or used to get into trouble when I go higher, to my middle range or actually around where my bridge is. I still want to hold on to my chest voice, so I either try to take it as high as I can and yell or just let it all go, including vocal fold closure and get this breathy, little girl sound that is head voice. How to avoid this? Work on the bridge, and stop singing in chest only. The other thing I found was that I am not really used to how my head voice sounds or how my mix sounds, especially when it’s light, so I though that I sound bad. But I realised that I have to rely on other people’s opinion here. People that I can trust to tell me how I sound.

Another feedback. I tried out for a choir about 6 or 7 year ago. My reasons for joining were pretty off, I just wanted to join them so I can go and sing with them in St. Peter’s church and sing Mozart’s requiem. So yes, my motives weren’t that “honest”. Anyhow. I went and tried and sang my part. There was a trial period of two weeks where you went to the practises and sang with the choir. Can’t remember, I think I might actually been assigned to second soprano, which would be surprising, considering they usually put me in the alto section. Anyhow, the real “audition” was that I had to learn an alto part and sing in a quartet, soprano, alto(me), tenor and bass. I thought that went fine, except the soprano was so loud that I couldn’t hear much of the others or myself…Then I had another session with the choir conductor. Singing some scales up and down. Then got send back to the choir, until I was called again and told that I didn’t make it. No feedback. A few days later I ran into the choir director, she was collaborating with the place that I was working in back then. I asked for feedback, she said my tongue wasn’t fast enough. I thought that was the lamest excuse that I ever heard. And I had a hard time understanding it. I still don’t get what does she mean.

But my point was trying to make you see what you can get out of feedback that are not that constructive. Yes, I agree that tongue tension can affect your voice and rob you from the brilliance that you might actually have, but that was not what she was saying. Not too fast. Okay, take out the metronome and do whatever exercises in all the tempos you can get and see if you are fast and accurate or not. No problem there. Then what? What DID she mean? I don’t know, seriously. Until this day I don’t have a clue. The only explanation that I could come up with was that since she had to see me and I asked for feedback she just said something. Sounds strange? Well, how many times do you really say what you mean? What she should’ve said was more like, well, I don’t think that your voice fits my choir, it’s too pop/jazz/rock and too dark. This is of course just guessing, based on what I heard in the choir. I mean what kind of voices where there. It’s was just too thin and no chest.

For me most of the choirs I heard in Finland lack something. It’s just not rich enough. If you read Finnish, here is an article about the choir sound from a Finnish voice teacher Ritva Eerola: http://www.provoce.suntuubi.com/?cat=27

But then again, it might be just about opinion and matter of taste. Have to admit that I’d rather go and listen to a gospel choir.

Then the worst kind of feedback I got was about 12 years ago and I still feel it. It was my final test in the conservatory. It was a concert on a Friday night that had to include everything from Finnish old style dance music to jazz with a scat solo. Probably I would do things differently now, but it doesn’t matter anymore. What matters is the feedback that I got. On the scale from one to five, five being the best I got a two. So you’d say, well that’s not that bad. True. The worst part was the actual talking, not the grading. The teachers had nothing to say. Seriously, it felt like they would rather be anywhere else. Then finally they started saying things, like it was all my fault that the drummer messed up the break before my solo. What? How could’ve I prevented that from happening. I have to say it’s pretty vague by now what was said, what I remember was that “on the other hand you looked really good” and when again all of them fell quiet after telling me how I sucked I asked, do you have anything positive to say, the answer was no.

So how do you walk away from that? How do you build anything from that? You don’t.

I am not saying that no one ever should point out what needs to be fixed. But I think that pointing out all your faults and mistakes without giving any ideas or solutions or anything how to fix them is just, well worth of nothing. Unfortunately back in the days I didn’t understand that and I frankly had no means how to deal with that kind of feedback. You think I sound dramatic or exaggerating and I don’t have a thick enough skin. How about those girls that walked out a few months later from a similar feedback sessions crying?

But what did I do after it? I called Aija, my teacher in Finland. I saw her briefly the summer before and I had this feeling that I could trust her. She would not have any personal issues with me or anything. So I took a 7 hour train ride just to see her and ask her what is wrong, cause I didn’t understand. I knew there was plenty of wrong. But I had no idea what was it particularly and how to fix it. Yes, my technique was non existent. But what is technique anyway? I didn’t know how to breath, no idea of head voice or mix or anything.

Aija  made me realise that there is nothing wrong with me. So she helped me getting back to myself and I’m really thankful for that. Yet, I didn’t start regular studying with her until years later. Why? Remember I lived 7 hours away. That was one of the reasons I guess.

Frankly what really happened after that feedback and as a result of many other things, like my ears ringing, was that I stopped singing. I started to believe what was said to me, the negative, that I’m just not good enough. Yes, I am insecure. Many of us are, no matter how hard we are trying to hide it. So that feedback fed that part in me and I gave up.

Funny thing is, I didn’t know that I might give up singing but singing would not give up on me. I wont say to you grow a thicker skin. I haven’t, not that I haven’t tried, but it just wont grow. If I’d get feedback like that today I might be as devastated as before, I can’t really say. All I can do is focus on myself and the wants and needs I have and let the world have their opinion. There will always be opinions. Take what you need, if you can.

Under the knife

“Okay, you want to sound like John Mayer. Do you want to have also his vocal problems?”

Unfortunately John Mayer is not the only one with vocal problems. If you are not familiar, I think he had Botox injections straight to his vocal folds and at least one vocal fold surgery: http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/1537544/john-mayer-talks-about-post-surgery-voice-everything-has-changed

You might have vocal problems from time to time. You speak too much, too long in a too loud environment, you’ll definitely get hoarse. Or you just sing wrong for one reason or another. But I hope that what ever it is, with a bit of rest and working on proper vocal technique, both for singing and speaking will fix whatever problems you are having.

The thing is, going under the knife is the last option. Björk, Adele and many others had vocal fold surgery, but maybe this is not the time to do what celebrities do. Surgery always involves a risk. Julie Andrews had an operation that went wrong.

Only once you have tried everything, from voice therapy to changing your teacher to I don’t know what, you should consider surgery. The thing is, to my knowledge surgery alone wont help you. Why? Because if you keep doing what you’ve done before surgery, you will be soon in the same position and your vocal folds might not be able to take it.  You will need to change your singing and speaking technique or you might end up loosing your voice. Some things might not be repairable.

I don’t know how it would feel to lose your voice, I hope I never have to face it. I know how it feels to have a voice. I saw a lady last summer that sang Good enough from Evanescence at the final concert of the summer course. She started to cry at the end of it by the sheer joy of the fact that she could sing after a two year period of sever vocal problems. I don’t know the details, but I was there and felt everything she felt at that moment. I am happy for her, that she pulled through without the need of surgery.

What I am saying, again and again is take care of yourself. You sing and speak with the same vocal folds and there is a limit to how much abuse they can take. I am not saying that you should only whisper. Actually whispering(http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/08/health/08really.html?_r=0) is as bad to your vocal cord as screaming. (With proper technique, you can scream without damaging your voice) What I am saying is, learn to speak properly and get a healthy voice technique.

Here is a video about what kind of problems you might experience. Not for the faint hearted:

Now, don’t go searching the internet for what’s wrong with your voice, most likely nothing is wrong. But, if whatever you feel is wrong continues, go and find a proper specialist in the line of phoniatrics, ENT doctors, speech therapist, vocal coaches.

All you need is love

Valentine’s day is approaching and even the small Seicomart, the local grocery shop is stuffed with chocolate. But I have no intentions of writing about romantic love. Instead I want to write about another kind of love.

I had a revelation the other day, that I think I need to share with you all. See I never really bought the idea that people are lazy. You know, she is so lazy, she does nothing but watch TV all day. The question is why? I mean if you seem lazy, that’s a result of what? Why aren’t you doing what you are supposed to? I got all these questions in my head.

It didn’t help that along with the questions I, just like everybody else have a reoccurring self doubt if all this makes any sense. Even with my optimism, it just takes a lot from you when it seems that nothing really happens and your bank account is diminishing rapidly. So you start to think of giving up and get a desk job. Yes, that’s what I do at least twice a year, I have an existential crisis or you can name it whatever.

On top of that I know that there are things that I need to do if I ever want to succeed. I need to learn to play the guitar. No, actually I need to play the guitar. But what I do instead? I knit and watch Miss Marple episodes from youtube. All the while I keep asking myself why do I do this and fall into a downward spiral of depression that is fed by the thought that it doesn’t matter to anyone if I do this or not.

Then, when it’s unbearable I usually burst out in talk and ask for help. The only problem is, no one can really help me. Why? Cause I don’t understand the reason of my problems. Or didn’t understand until now.

Responsibility, that’s a great word. But what does that really mean? So I thought about that too and came to the conclusion that I’m really not responsible to anyone. Seriously, you can leave my family and my friends and everybody else in this world out of this. Then it hit me. I saw this figure that looked like me but a lot smaller and I knew. I knew what was wrong. Up until now all that talk about take responsibility for your actions was just meaningless words. I seriously didn’t understand it.

The funny thing is, that I thought all these years that I take good care of myself. The fact is, when it came to things that really mattered I didn’t. I saw that the world will still continue spinning if I don’t play the guitar, but I saw that I’m not sure that I will thrive if I don’t do all that is in my power for myself.

What I really am saying is I realised that I don’t love and respect myself as I should. I am too indifferent to really do what is best for me, yet too scared to end it all. Don’t worry, I’m not suicidal. And that realisation was tough. Even the more so, when like I said I thought I take good care of myself. Talking about a lifetime of self deception! Jeez.

Now what? I don’t know. I know people change slowly. But at least now when I pick up the knitting needles instead of the guitar I know why. All I can do is hope that it will be less frequent in the future. So the question is, and I hope you can be honest with yourself, although it will be hard, do you really love and and take good care of yourself? I hope so!

Finally the Beatles song hit home:

“There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done
Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung
Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game
It’s easy

Nothing you can make that can’t be made
No one you can save that can’t be saved
Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time
It’s easy

All you need is love
All you need is love
All you need is love, love
Love is all you need”