Nera

On Singing – my journey

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A universe in one song

Finally I got the chance to see Mariza live last night. I was blown away by how effortlessly great she is. Effortlessly great?! Yes, well, I’m pretty sure she puts a lot of effort into it to make it look and sound so effortless.

I don’t know much about Fado, I know it comes from Portugal and I know that the queen of Fado is Amália Rodriguez, that’s about it. If you want to know more, you can start here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fado.

Unfortunately I don’t speak portuguese,  I can only understand a few words from here and there. As a side note, I find portuguese to be a very poetic language to sing in. I have no ida why, maybe I was Portuguese in my previous life. 😉 I just love how it sounds.

I had no idea what she sang. You know what, it didn’t matter. I understood what she was saying without understanding every word. She sang with her whole being, from head to toe. I loved that she controlled so easily her pianos and fortes. It was honey to my ears, especially the part she sang completely acoustic. I could hear her just fine up on the balcony. I loved her stage presence and the fact that she actually came down from the stage and sang a song in the middle of the audience. This song:

This is a song Mariza wrote to an Amália Rodriguez’s poem. This is also a song that I can’t listen to too often because I start to cry. I have no idea why, like I said I barely understand the words. Thanks to my Spanish studies, I gather it’s about the people of my land or something similar. The song and the way she sings it seem to awake a profound feeling of I don’t even know what. Remorse, hope, sorrow, pleasure, everything in the same song.

I realised something while I was listening to her. In order to be a truly great artist, you have to be able to corporate all those feelings into one song. Might sound strange, but it seemed that the whole universe was in that one song for that particular moment. You, as a singer, need to forget about yourself, stop thinking about how do you look, is your hair in the right place are your whatevers showing and so on. It’s not about you, it’s about the music and the lyrics and you being the vessel, a channel from which the song flows.

Easier said than done, right? We are way too concerned about what the others are thinking about us, than about the fact that what is this song trying to say or am I making the audience feel what I feel, and no, I’m not talking about making them feel that I am nervous and would rather be somewhere else.

Can you practise it? Yes, definitely! Next time you go on stage, focus on the audience, go closer, draw them in by small gestures for example. If it’s a known song, ask them to sing the chorus. If it’s not, teach them something. Just a simple melody is enough. Let them have fun, don’t take yourself too seriously. Make some jokes, laugh at yourself. I guarantee you’ll enjoy it 100 times more if you focus on them, not on you.

And if you get a chance to go see Mariza live, do so! She is worth every penny!

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There is no tomorrow

Isn’t it funny how we work? We think we are experts in what’s good for us, right? Yet, I’d say that we do everything in our power to do the exact opposite. Instead of maximising our happiness we come up with various excuses and weird behaviours. And we do this most of the time without realising it. We are indeed slaves to our habits. Pablo Neruda wrote:

“He who becomes the slave of habit,
who follows the same routes every day,
who never changes pace,
who does not risk and change the color of his clothes,
who does not speak and does not experience,
dies slowly.”

If we are indeed slaves to our habits, is there anything we can we do about it?

I wanted to learn to play the guitar for years. I started a few times, then stopped. Why? I just didn’t understand it, didn’t understand how the guitar functions. It’s so different from a piano or an oboe or anything else that I’ve played before and I just didn’t get it right away. I stopped before I started. Yet the idea, this image of myself playing solo didn’t go away. I though my life would be easier if I learned to play guitar. No need to bother anyone to play with me if they have no time. Just do a gig all by myself.

So I started again a few years ago, I even got myself a teacher while I was in Hungary. All was fine until he wanted me to learn Sweet Home Alabama. I can’t stand that song. I stopped again. Now you can say that I am a terrible student. Agreed.

For some reason I decided to take my guitar with me to Japan. I figured I’ll have plenty time to do something with it once I’m off the slopes. As I mentioned in another post, I signed up for a free online course and started there. It was a basic course that got me into picking up the guitar once a day and playing a bit. Once I got back, I immediately found myself a teacher and started taking lessons.

As I progressed, I found myself thinking about what took me this long? I mean for crying out loud, the toughest part is getting my hands working correctly, all the rest is a piece of cake. I don’t need to learn to read music. I managed to learn to read the tabs in 5 minutes, I get the rhythms, the harmonies, the melodies, I can transpose. Yet, in my head I built this huge barrier of why I just can’t learn to play. The inner monologue was something like, oh but I can’t really see what I am doing and my fingers hurt and it’s just such a pain that I don’t know what note is where and blaah,blaah, blaah, why can you get the same C from 6(?!) different places, where are they…And so on. All that is irrelevant. I came up with invisible obstacles, all in my head.

I finally realised that the only thing I need to do is make it a habit, a good habit. Sounds easy right? Haven’t read this yet, but if you are interested, here is a book about habit:

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

So I set myself a target, a daily target. Nothing that special, just pick up the guitar and play for 20 minutes. The only thing is, before I start playing I have to decide what I focus on, finger picking, scales or what not. That’s all. And yes, I stop after 20 minutes and do something else. Can pick it up later for another 20 minutes, but just shouldn’t do too much at once. Just so much that I actually get into playing and stop when it’s still fun and not painful.

My friend told me about the Pomodoro technique, basically that’s what I was doing without realising it. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomodoro_Technique)

Now you might say, good for you, but I just have no self discipline. Guess what? I don’t have any either. I am terrible with that. I’d rather be drinking coffee and knitting. But I finally realised that the key to do anything is in the small stuff. It’s good to have a goal, even a huge one, but start with breaking it down into small pieces. Instead of thinkin gof I need to write the greatest novel in human history, start with one sentence, like Hemingway said. Then write another and so on, you get the idea.

By now my fingers are just fine.  20 minutes a day got me used to playing. (It also helped that I took my guitar to a place called Kitara factory and they fixed it. The strings were to high. ) I am still a crappy guitar player, but it’s fun!

Why wait till tomorrow to start something? Today is just as good. Small pieces. And since soon I’ll be a real guitar hero, here is a song from the greatest guitar legend of all times:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y79kRPYafAM

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How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

You remember the joke, right? A pedestrian asks someone on the streets of New York How do you get to Carnegie Hall, the reply is Practice! (Or just walk from Central Park, it’s two blocks away.)

Okay, you need to practice to become a great musician or excel at anything, understood. But what exactly is it that you need to practice? The same scales all over again? What is it really? It is important to realise what are the things that advance your musicianship and what are not. Have you ever heard of the term deliberate practice? The idea is to know what to practice and how.

If you want to learn more about deliberate practice, read this book: Talent is Overrated by Geoff ColvinOr this study from Psychologist K. Anders Ericsson.

Or just get started without reading anything. I haven’t read neither of them yet.

Here is a glimpse of what I do when I learn a new song. Right now I have a few weeks to learn a new song for a recording session. Plenty of time, right? Sometimes you have a time limit, so maybe deliberate practice is the answer.

How do I start? Well, for one thing, I listen to the song. Since in this case it’s a gonna be a cover, I check out all the available versions on YouTube and compare them. I decide which one I like best and start listening to that one mostly. The version I choose might or might not help me establish the key. That’s not that important yet, I’ll get back to that later.

Next I google the lyrics. Then I check out the harmony on the piano or guitar or whatever I can find. Usually I can’t help myself, I check the range of the melody. I want to know what might or might not be challenging right from the start. Plus I want to know where the song lies, I mean which notes are used in the verse and where does it go in the chorus and bridge. Does it even have a bridge? I don’t really spend much time on the song form, by now it takes one or two listening times to know what is the song form.

So once I have a fair idea of the melody, I get back to listening to the song again. This time I have the lyrics in front of me. Next I listen to the timing of the lyrics. Then I start saying them, just saying them aloud, not singing and not even in time, just really blandly saying them. Once I’ve done that I listen to the song again, this time I pay extra attention to the rhythm. I continue saying the lyrics out loud and I clap my hands simultaneously. Meaning the way I say the words, I clap my hands in the same rhythm. Hopefully it is in the same rhythm as the original. If not I continue doing this until I get it right. Until I haven’t I don’t sing the melody. It might take a while, depending on how complex the song is rhythmically.

Finally I get to the melody. I do try and sing the song with the words a few times, but there are occasions when it just doesn’t fit. So I sing the song with lip rolls. It actually is a great way to start practicing the melody. The lip rolls help in regulating the air, you will have just enough for the phrases and it also prevents you from for example pulling chest. (read yelling) And I actually don’t sing all over again the song. Not even with lip rolls. I take the tricky parts under scrutiny.  If there are problems,I come up with exercises that will help me get past them.  In my case, I usually am too heavy, try to pull my chest voice to the sky or just have a too high larynx and it makes me stuck in chest. Or too light, I let go. Whatever the problem, I try to recognise it and come up with exercises accordingly. I mean I sing with ge,ge, ge or mi, mi, mi or whatever that helps me feel at ease.

Once I got the coordination right, I try the words. Not working? Back to the other syllables. It might sound tedious, but it’s actually simple and yet, so helpful. And it actually doesn’t require that much time. I usually do it more slowly then the actual song, until I get the melody and the rhythm right. No hurry. Eventually I get it right, rhythm, melody and coordination. (which doesn’t mean that I wont fall of the wagon occasionally, but I do have a reference now of how it should feel and sound like)

A few words about the key. I’ve notices that not all songs work in all the keys. Which might seem strange, why not? After all changing the key will still keep the same chord relations, it just changes the starting point. So why doesn’t it work? I have absolutely no idea. Is it just me who thinks this way? If you know the answer, let me know. But back to the key from a singers point of view. You want a key where you can showcase your vocal abilities at their best, that is not too high, not too low. But, you have to know what you are doing, what is your purpose. For years I put song in a key that I thought was showcasing my best vocal abilities, kind of they were. What I actually did was I put everything so low that I sang in chest all the time. I am still a soprano just as I was back then too. So be careful. If you don’t know how to hit your high notes, go to a good vocal coach that can help you with them. Transposing everything too low it not the answer.

When choosing a  key I’d say you have to consider that even thought the verse doesn’t go really high, the chorus might and if you transpose the song a fifth higher, you might get into serious trouble. Not just technically, I mean it might not sound right and it wont do justice for the song. This of course depends on many things, for example is the original song sang by a guy or a lady.

Don’t know about you, but for me it takes a few days to get into the song. I guess the more you do it, the better and faster you get. I’m not saying that I can’t learn a song in a day, but to really get into the feeling and essence of it, that takes longer.

Everything I described here is deliberate. I listen to the song actively, it’s not just background noise. I try to dissect everything in it, the harmony, the melody, the rhythm, lyrics. And if I have time, I’ll leave it be for a few days and get back to it later. It usually helps to see the song from a new angle.

I’ve found that there is no point in listening to a song a zillion times, unless you really break it down. Yes, it’s okay to familiarise yourself with the song and just sit back and listen to it without doing much a few times, but in the long run, you have to start paying attention. And practice it deliberately. I’m sure there are other better ways to learn a song. This is just my version. Let me know yours!

 

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Once upon a time

You all know the stories, about princesses that are struggling because of evil stepmothers, witches, wizards, curses, you name it. It always goes the same way, then a prince in a shining armour arrives and saves the princess from all evil and they live happily ever after. Is there something wrong with these stories? Maybe… I am no expert, but from Cinderella to Sleeping Beauty, what they try to tell you is to wait for your prince to arrive and save you. Got that? Okay, now just sit patiently and wait.

I read an article the other day. You can find it here:

http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2014/01/29/carol-dweck-mindset/

Basically the idea in it is that you have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. In the fixed mindset, you believe that either you have “it” or you don’t. By it meaning you are smart and talented and “it” is fixed at birth. You are born with what you can have. In the growth mindset, you can learn what you need: “A “growth mindset,” thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of unintelligence but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities.”

What does this have to do with Cinderella? The story tells you to accept what you have, be nice and daydream about the day that might or might not arrive in the form of Prince charming. But what if there is no prince? Just accept your “faith”?

I was brought up in an environment where they enforced the fixed mindset and I am pretty sure they did this without realising it. By they I mean parents, school systems, friends, almost everybody. Either you have it or you don’t. If you are born with a Stradivari in your hands great, if not, sorry!

I am not saying that the growth mindset is better, I am saying that I finally realised why all this confusion in my head. I do not have a fixed mindset. Trying to force me into it makes me dizzy and I start to question my sanity. Why?

In the fixed model you seek validation all the time from others, just doing the things you want and getting satisfaction from that is not enough. I learned that too, to seek validation from others. I learned to valuate my success by how much money I make. Hence I feel that my head is exploding. The hunger for approval is there. That is what has been encouraged in me. I am either smart or stupid and what I am learning has nothing to do with anything, it has no value. Plus I’d better stop, since I am not making enough money. Cause there is just no point in doing the things you love and learning new stuff. When do I get a decent job? How long am I continuing wandering around aimlessly?   These are monologues I’ve heard zillion times. They make me come apart.

I feel that they are attacking what ever I think I am and I need time to recover. Meaning that I have to go through an inner monologue of reassuring myself, of picking up the pieces and need to get back to doing things as soon as possible, to remember what is really important. It isn’t money. Countless times I’ve asked, why is it that it’s not enough that I sing or do whatever, why is it that most people measures success by money? Why isn’t the doing enough proof of your success?

Until now I didn’t understand why I am feeling the way I do, why I care about what people are saying and why do I seem to come apart. Finally I realised, that it’s all because of a fixed mindset vs a growth mindset. I believe that it is enough that I thrive on the learning experience and on the doing part. You can say that I’m terribly naive, people need money to live, true, but that’s not my point. I’d say that the world mostly operates on a fixed mindset. But I feel and hope that it’s changing. I guess I have no other choice but to believe that nothing is certain and you can change. Yes, it’s part of my mindset, part of being an idealist and all that.

So what now? I’ll just wait for my Prince charming to arrive. Any minute now…

 

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What’s wrong with middle aged men?

Last week I was invited to a jam session by a friend of mine, here in Tampere, Finland. To my understanding the other guys knew that I was coming and that I’d sing a song or two with them. So I went, all exited and nervous to meet all these new people and to make some music. Yay!

What happened wasn’t really how I imagined it would be. I didn’t imagine the possibility to sit in the bar for about two hours waiting for my turn and walking away not singing.

What really happened? My friend introduced me to the guys at the break between the first two sets. They were all friendly and all that, no problem. Yet, nothing happened, I though that yes, okay, first set it first set, they don’t want an outsider, but surely by the second I’ll get the chance to get up there. Nope,  they didn’t invite me to sing. Yet my friend insisted that they’d need good singers. Really? That’s not how I saw it. Yeah, yeah, we all see what we want to see and all that. What I saw was that the guitar/saxophone player was just all fine and well doing the singing too and had no intention of changing that.

My friend said that they make you earn your way to the jam session, you have to prove yourself. I sort of understand that. Of course it is better to play with good musicians. The part that I still don’t understand is what am I exactly proving to anyone by sitting around for two hours? The fact that I have adequate butt muscles for sitting? I’d think that the thing to prove if anything, is can I actually sing. In my view, the sooner I’d get on stage and sing, the better. If I’d suck totally, they wouldn’t have to waste more of their time or mine. It takes only about three minutes of their life to find out, maybe five with the solos.

Anyhow, as the third set began, I still was hopeful. I figured, okay, now they play a song and then they ask me. Then the second song began and no I wasn’t invited. At that point, I  weighed the pros and cons. Do I still want to sit around for another half an hour or so for a chance to sing Sitting on the dock of the bay with people who clearly don’t want to play with me. The answer was no. I got up and told my friend that I’m going home. He said to wait, that they will call me soon. At that point I was already fed up and I didn’t see any benefits from waiting more.

You can call me naive or whatever. Who am I to demand that the people on stage would somehow acknowledged my existence? I am nobody to them, they don’t know me. That’s true. But, in my understanding a jam session is open to everybody, regardless of gender, skin colour, age and all that silly stuff. This one wasn’t. Here people played with their friends and that’s it. Sure, they did change the players, but no outsider was let in. That’s also fine, just stop calling it a jam session.

But there is light at the end of the tunnel. I know that it is possible to play with people you never met before and it is possible that they welcoming. While in Japan, I went to the local live music joint called Half note. There was a half Aussie, half Japanese band and before they started I just ask one of the lead singers if I could sing a song. He said yes of course. They started and in no time, after the fourth song or so, they invited me to sing with them. Once I finished they asked me to sing another. It was fun, they enjoyed it, the audience loved it and yes, I enjoyed it too. I was that easy.

The Finnish experience got me thinking. I do understand the cultural differences, Finns just aren’t that open and you need time to get to know them and so on. And I can be mad at the guys for not letting me play, but that’s just a waste of time. The answer to the question in the title is, it depends on the middle aged men!

What I really want to say is, how many times do we discard opportunities? Instead of saying yes, we say no.  Probably a lot more times then we realise. Why? I think mainly because we are scared to disturb the status quo. What if things change, how can we handle it? Better just stick with what we know, so we have this illusion of control. I’m not saying be more open or say yes to everything, it’s fine to weight the pros and cons. All I am saying is that look at yourself from time to time and try to see when you are saying no to opportunities for no other reason then fear.  Hope in time that will change and you start to say yes.

Sitting on the dock of the bay from last summer, with Adrián on the guitar:

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Every breath you take

I think I wrote earlier that focusing on breathing exercises is not taking you anywhere. I still have the same opinion. There is just so much confusion about this topic that maybe this will help to clear a few things.

Breathing is an involuntary reflex. Tempering with it is usually not a good idea. What I’ve found that the moment I start to think about it, it goes wrong. I actually make my life more difficult. What happens is that I take in too much air, instead of letting my body know how much I need. I try to use logic in the sense that I’m trying to figure our how much air do I need for this phrase and lo and behold, it fails me, every time.

I had a strange experience a few years ago. In my first ever class with this teacher she told me to do the following exercise. Take a stopwatch, lie down on the floor or sofa and time my breathing, that is how many second can I let out a small hiss.  And to do this every day and keep track, write it down. I think I was looking at her with the question on my face are you mad?! Why fix it if it’s not broken? She gave me this exercise before she heard me sing anything. Why? Was she a bad teacher? Can’t say and that’s not the issue here anyway.

If I think that teaching breathing exercises is futile, why so many teachers do that? I don’t have any answers, my guess is they don’t know any better. Breathing is the easiest thing you can teach, said Dr. Hubert Noé, (Austrian ENT doctor, voice teacher) You can spend the whole hour teaching breathing exercises and continue doing that for the rest of your life. Why? See the quote above. Even THE vocal coach to the stars, Seth Riggs said, (think Michael Jackson) that some of the worst breather are really good singers and vice versa. So why so much emphasis on breathing? It really beats me.

Now I am not saying that everybody breaths properly and you should never speak about it or spend time on it. Sure, you can talk about breathing, you can do exercises too. But spending too much time on it is pointless, especially if breathing is not the root of your problems. If you want to breath better, do something else, go running, do yoga. I am serious, do some exercise to open up your body. Let it relax and the breathing will work on your own.

What I’ve found is that beginners have this idea that you should take a huge amount of air in before you start singing. That’s not true. The other thing they usually do is release all that air on the first syllable. So the “trick” is to release the air slowly. But again, this should happen automatically. Maybe this helps. Think about a burning candle in front of your mouth. The flame doesn’t move much when you sing. That’s the amount of air you usually need to release, believe it or not. Try it!

But what to do if your sound is breathy? First of all, realising that most likely it is not caused because you breath wrong. Most likely it is a result of insufficient cord closure. Or letting go, which is actually the same thing, not enough cord closure. Doing breathing exercises wont help you fix it.  Try singing the same passage, but substitute the words with an ä, yup, the Finnish ä. And let is be bratty and to sound nasty. Do this for a couple of times, then sing with the words. Does it sound different? If you did it right, it does.

Here is a good video from the American opera singer Joyce DiDonato about breathing. I pretty much feel the same way as she does about breathing. She says “The freer I am in my mind, in my body the freer the breath is.”

But if you really, really want to do breathing exercises(yes, you can do all of them, all the parts):

 

In the end, I encourage you to do your warm ups and forget about breathing.

 

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VocalizeU review

Here is a tool that you can use for your warm ups and my review on the app: http://www.vocalizeu.com/Mac_iOS.html

It is called VocalizeU and it’s free for the iPhone. Actually in the app store there are two versions, one for free, the other is 0.89 €. I downloaded the free one and played around with it. It’s a simple application, it is really easy to use. The main screen has two options, Tools and Vocal Warmups. Under Tools you’ll find a recorder, videos and a metronome. Yes, you can record yourself and listen back to your warm ups with this thing, if you haven’t already done so with your Voice memo app on your phone.

The videos take you to the YouTube page of the app, I haven’t really gone into that. The metronome is self explanatory. (use it!)

Now what interested me really was the Vocal Warmup part. The first time you open the application, it asks you if you are a male of a female. After that it generates the warm ups according to that selection. You can either chose a particular scale or generate a workout.

IMG_1415IMG_1416

The workout will give you 8 warmup exercise, using lip rolls, wee, gee, goo, boo, buh, mum and nay. The workout is about 20 minutes in total, with the individual exercises being 2 to 3 minutes. The video demonstrations you can find either from the link in the warmup exercise or under Tools ->Videos-> Phonetic sounds. It does generate different warmups every time based on those sounds. I tried twice this morning.

1st time workout:

  1. Lip trill, long scale
  2. Mum, octave repeat
  3. Gee, long scale
  4. Lip trill, broken arpeggio
  5. Same thing, wonder if it’s a bug
  6. Wee, descending arpeggio
  7. Boh, octave repeat
  8. Lip trill, long scale

Arpeggio: is a musical technique where notes in a chord are played or sung in sequence, one after the other, rather than ringing out simultaneously.

Every exercise has a small text box attached to it, where it is explained what is the purpose and what is the sound you should produce. They have short built in video links with people saying wee or boh or lip rolling, in case you don’t know how to.

Second time:

  1. Wee, descending arpeggio
  2. Lip trill, broken arpeggio
  3. Wee, descending arpeggio
  4. Lip trill, broken arpeggio
  5. Boh, long scale
  6. Boh, octave repeat
  7. Lip trill, long scale

Now you can do these either with the piano or have a female voice too. You can see from the second example that they have a few times the same exercises. Yes, sometimes repetition is the key, but I’m not totally convinced. I mean is it really planned or is it a bug?

I do like the other part better, where you can choose your warmup scales from the following:

  • One and a half octave aka long scale
  • Broken arpeggio
  • Descending arpeggio
  • Five tone
  • Octave repeat
  • Octave repeat sustain

With these you can select like before if you want only the piano or the voice to accompany you or both and you can choose the tempo and if it’s an ascending or descending scale.

I thought that the five note scale with the female voice is pretty useless. Just like it is said in the small info box, it is used as a diagnostic tool. It’s not that I have anything against a five note scale, but the examples are AA or staccato A. I suggest you use the scale at the beginning of your warm up with humm or lip trill instead and switch of the voice. For that, it’s a great exercise.

I think the lady who sings the exercises is awful. I’m sorry, maybe it’s just matter of taste. When she demonstrated the descending wee, she is too airy at the top. This brings me to my concerns regarding this app. If you are a beginning singer how do you know what to do? I mean, yes, it’s great that the example exercise go up to E6, but what if you can’t hit even the E5? It seems this app is designed for the more experienced ones and then it’s insufficient. Why? There is no way it can tell you what is wrong, if anything, with what you are doing. Too much to ask for maybe? I am guessing that the idea is to have this on your iPhone for quick warmups and then buy the actual software with more tailored tools to download for your mac.

All the exercises are the same that I’m used to, yes, they work( if you know what you are doing) no doubt about that. As for how good or bad it is? I think it’s worth checking out, especially in case you don’t have a piano at home or you can’t play the scales or just a portable thing where you have your warmups ready. I think the key to this app, is to know what each exercise is used for and how to do them correctly. Then you can tailor it to your own purposes. For example I’d do this:

  • Humm, 5 note scale
  • Lip trill, 5 note scale
  • Lip trill, octave repeat or Lip trill/long scale
  • Nay, long scale
  • Gee, long scale
  • Gee, octave repeat sustain
  • Wee, descending arpeggio
  • Lip trill, long scale (cool down)

There, have a nice workout!

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Lately

“Lately I have had the strangest feeling…” sang Stevie Wonder in his song called Lately. It’s a break up song. It is also a song that I performed some years ago in the town square of Joensuu, Finland after a summer class. Almost 15 years ago. If you don’t know the song:

Anyway, the result of that summer course was that I met Aija for the first time. The other thing that happened was that afterwards, while I was standing in cue in the local grocery shop a man came to talk to me and asked if I have a fan club. I said I don’t, he then replied that once you do he’ll join.

I still don’t have a fan club, you can like or not like my page on Fb or follow me here or there, it’s up to you. What I’m really trying to say is that I feel like I’m at a crossroad and I should decide whether to turn left, right or just go straight ahead whatever that means.

People say I don’t know what I want, maybe. Maybe, maybe not, I know what I want, the problem is I have no idea how to get there. Another thing is, talking about the subject with family, friends and just anyone, is not helping. Why? Because even people with their best intentions, the advise they give you is based on guessing and more likely on their own presumptions and what would they do in a given situation. I’m not saying that they are bad advises, I’m saying that they might not fit with you.

So I am still at the starting point of not knowing what to do, or where to go. I haven’t had any great revelations so far. The only thing I know is that Finland is not the place for me to live, even with all the positive things it offers. Yes, I can choose from all the countries in the world and that’s the problem. Yes, I know technically it’s impossible to move to the States for example, there are certainly some limitations, if you want to get really specific and of course there are other countries that are not on the list, basically because they are not secure.

According to studies having multiple choices doesn’t really help you. You would think that that’s freedom, that you could choose anything. Well, the fact is, we are unable to gasp all the available choices. I think(can’t remember) you’d have to narrow it down to 7, then it would be easier. You can read more about that in this book,  The Art of Choosing, that I found fascinating:

http://www.amazon.com/Art-Choosing-Sheena-Iyengar/dp/0446504114

Unfortunately the book doesn’t answer my questions either. What now, what next?! But after all this talking and thinking and moaning and questioning myself, I really found the solution. The secret is to stop thinking and start doing. And no, it will not matter where you live. And it will not matter if you fail, just keep doing things. And by doing things I don’t mean doing things that are huge, just small stuff. Yes, I am repeating myself, I know, but it takes a while to really realise “the secret”. Write some lyrics, knit a mitten, preferably two, go out and build a snowman, do some warm ups. Just do.

I’ve understood finally that nobody knows anything. Sounds funny? You don’t believe me? That’s okay. In the end people know(well, some do) what works for them. It means if you take the same path as they did, it might not have the same outcome. Find what is the path for you. And yes, it’s okay to waste hours and plenty of coffee in talk, but in the end, you got to remember that it’s you who decides what to do.

What does this have to do with singing? Probably not much. With being an artist? A lot. I think it’s essential for becoming a true artist to struggle, to have doubts, hopefully combined with self revelation once in a while.

My late new year resolution is this: Do more, think less. That means sharing stuff with you that isn’t perfect. I wrote this:

The embrace of the snow

If you’ve never been up on the mountain after a storm
You’ll never know how it feels, the embrace of a snow
Like ice custard hugging the trees,
It’s so beautiful, I can barely breath
Snowflake, snowflake falling down on me
What’s your name?
Snowflake on my nose tip
The embrace of the snow, it’s not icy cold
A warm soft pillow under your feet
You look at the snow and you know you’ve never been so free
You’ll always come back, back for more, until you meet your end in the embrace of the snow
You won’t feel cold, the soft pillow will burry you deep
Like ice custard, hugging the trees
She will hug you too, till you no longer breath
You go out thinking, it was all worth it

 

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Online

I took a guitar course on Coursera, an online learning platform or how you want to call it. It was a good course and well executed. Now I can play a two octave A chromatic scale and wow everybody. Kidding! Finally I learned what is what and where on the guitar and have a pretty clear idea about the instrument. It’s still a long road till I’ll play and sing the same time perfectly-ish, but it’s a solid start. And yes, like my friend said the last time I saw him on the train to Helsinki, the guitar is in the end a simple instrument and quite logical. Unfortunately the barre chords will be the death of me or at least of my left hand.

Anyhow, I noticed they have another course that I think might be good for upcoming musicians and good repetition for the rest of us, called Develop your musicianship:

https://www.coursera.org/course/musicianship

It will start on the 1st of April. Just like the guitar course, it is done by Berklee college of music, the prestigious music school in Boston that the likes of John Mayer, Aimee Mann and  a few others attended that have gone and won a few Grammy’s (http://www.berklee.edu/awards/alumni-grammy-winners) so I’d figure that it would be good. It is beyond basic triads, yay!

On a side note, I can’t believe how long I’ve waited to start learning to play the guitar and how simple in the end it is. I admit that knowing the theory stuff helps. I think I said before that I’d like to learn to play it well enough so I could go out and play. And yes, sing. Before I started, I wrote a list of songs that I want to learn. I’m doing that now. It is good for my brains, trying to memorise the chords, the forms of the songs as well as the melody and the lyrics.

P1080651

 

Maybe next time you’ll see me bosking in one of the big European capitals. 😉

 

 

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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” 😉

 

 

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