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Learning to sing

pasher 04 Jan 10 - 07:46 AM
AllisonA(Animaterra) 04 Jan 10 - 08:20 AM
Nick 04 Jan 10 - 09:34 AM
pasher 04 Jan 10 - 09:49 AM
Marje 04 Jan 10 - 10:44 AM
Willa 04 Jan 10 - 11:26 AM
AllisonA(Animaterra) 04 Jan 10 - 01:56 PM
Acorn4 04 Jan 10 - 02:46 PM
JohnB 04 Jan 10 - 05:52 PM
Sandy Mc Lean 04 Jan 10 - 06:33 PM
BobKnight 04 Jan 10 - 08:12 PM
GUEST,Shimrod 05 Jan 10 - 03:50 AM
GUEST,Emily S 05 Jan 10 - 01:18 PM
Crowhugger 05 Jan 10 - 02:02 PM
GUEST 05 Jan 10 - 05:55 PM
pasher 06 Jan 10 - 03:39 AM
BobKnight 06 Jan 10 - 05:00 AM
AllisonA(Animaterra) 06 Jan 10 - 07:58 AM
Nick 06 Jan 10 - 11:52 AM
Suegorgeous 06 Jan 10 - 09:12 PM
Suegorgeous 06 Jan 10 - 09:17 PM
GUEST,Nick E 06 Jan 10 - 10:28 PM
Alice 06 Jan 10 - 10:42 PM
Tim Leaning 07 Jan 10 - 06:45 AM
Nick 07 Jan 10 - 08:30 AM
foggers 07 Jan 10 - 12:58 PM
VirginiaTam 07 Jan 10 - 01:33 PM
Nick 07 Jan 10 - 03:59 PM
Yvonne Hart 07 Jan 10 - 04:46 PM
Suegorgeous 07 Jan 10 - 07:59 PM
Suegorgeous 07 Jan 10 - 08:06 PM
VirginiaTam 08 Jan 10 - 01:49 AM
Yvonne Hart 08 Jan 10 - 04:59 AM
Jim Carroll 08 Jan 10 - 05:45 AM
Marje 08 Jan 10 - 06:17 AM
Jim Carroll 08 Jan 10 - 06:27 AM
GUEST,TJ in San Diego 08 Jan 10 - 12:11 PM
Don Firth 08 Jan 10 - 05:04 PM
GUEST,Alice without cookie 08 Jan 10 - 05:12 PM
AllisonA(Animaterra) 08 Jan 10 - 06:11 PM
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Subject: Learning to sing
From: pasher
Date: 04 Jan 10 - 07:46 AM

New Year's Res - I am going to learn to sing!!

I can play most folk instruments competently but whenever I open my mouth, there's just a croak and within seconds my throat is hurting. I'm 56 and never sung in my life, but hopefully its not too late.
I just want to be able to do a turn at sing-arounds and sessions.
Anything online?
Find a sympathetic teacher?

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Subject: RE: Learning to sing
From: AllisonA(Animaterra)
Date: 04 Jan 10 - 08:20 AM

Find a sympathetic teacher! S/he can listen and watch you and give the best, most direct feedback about what can help YOU!

Meanwhile, I tried searching for old "help my singing voice is dying" threads, but the search doesn't seem to be working.
So, here's some advice in the meantime:

1. Learn to breathe! Most of us have very shallow breathing, but singers must use all their breath. Our singing mechanism isn't limited to the throat- in fact, the "voice box" should be functioning without any conscious help from ourselves! Learn to breathe from the diaphragm!

2. Posture! You don't have to stand like an opera singer (or like the
von Trapp family in the Sound of Music. But
you do need to support the muscles that help you breathe! strikes again!

3. Smile! I mean, you don't want a goofy grin while singing "Anachie Gordon" but "lift" your facial muscles so the sound rings in your head, not your throat. That's where a good voice coach/teacher can help.

4. Relax! This is fun! It feels good! Don't push- if it hurts to sing (especially in your throat) STOP! Relax, breathe, drink some water, try again. If it's hurting, you're doing damage.

Where do you live? There's lots of folks who can recommend good voice coaches, depending on your location. If you're anywhere near southwestern NH, I humbly offer my services, but if not, let us know and we'll try to point you in a helpful direction!


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Subject: RE: Learning to sing
From: Nick
Date: 04 Jan 10 - 09:34 AM

Never sang Happy Birthday? Or anything? I'm stunned.

This is not meant sarcastically - I just genuinely am stunned that anyone could go through life and never sung anything.

Most people I know who can't (or don't) sing actually do - they just can't (or think they can't) do it very well. Most of them can speak though and the two are pretty closely linked!

I started singing (in public) only when I was 50ish so no reason not to. It's only like another instrument. Practice makes better. If you can bear it then record yourself as you go and you'll see a difference. One of the things that cheered me up enormously was hearing one line I sang some years ago - and I thought that actually sounds ok, if only I could do all the other lines like that...

Pick 'easy' songs too. Nothing worse than trying to do something really hard when you are not ready. I tried to sing 'First Girl I Loved' by Incredible String Band a couple of years ago and god it was awful.

Coming Round the Mountain or something like that isn't a bad start. Straightforward strong well known tune and not a huge range.

Whether it is good or not I don't know but I personally found the following book that I found in the library very good for me with a useful CD with it - Set Your Voice Free - Roger Love. £6.85 on Amazon when I looked so not a huge amount! Good luck and hope you enjoy it.

I, like you, have always played instruments but was scared stiff of my voice. I knew it made a sound but had no confidence in it (I still don't hugely but know it's ok) but I have practiced a fair amount and have sung in front of a few hundred people in a band and solo to as many people as you can pack into a pub :) and actually quite enjoy it these days - I'd just like a larger repertoire ad more songs that I am happy with. Thats's just practice and laziness from my end.

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Subject: RE: Learning to sing
From: pasher
Date: 04 Jan 10 - 09:49 AM

Thanks for the replies and advice.
OK Nick, maybe I should have said never sung within anyone's earshot, and I always mime to Happy Birthday!!

I'll check out that book and see if I can find that sympathetic teacher. I'm in the Midlands, UK if anyone knows any?

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Subject: RE: Learning to sing
From: Marje
Date: 04 Jan 10 - 10:44 AM

If you get the chance to sing with others, perhaps in a workshop or one-off singing day, this might help your confidence. Festivals, for example, often have singers' workshops, and they're likely to begin with vocal warm-up exercises, which could be very useful to you. Singing along with a group is sometimes easier than bursting into solo song - you can sing quietly or mime a bit at first, and ease yourself in as you feel ready. I was at an event of this type recently, and noticed that a woman near me was hitting all the wrong notes at first, but later on she seemed to find her feet and was getting on just fine. We all had fun and nobody minded.

And as soon as you feel ready, do give it a go in private - in the bath, in the car, in the house when no one else is around. Just pick a simple song with a tune that you know and like, and try it out. If it sounds wrong, try pitching it a bit higher or lower. There's nothing to lose, as long as you stay relaxed and stop if it feels uncomfortable. If your throat feels froggy, don't cough to clear it, drink sips of water instead.

I'm sure a teacher would help you to start using your voice in the right way. Hope you find both (a teacher and a voice!)


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Subject: RE: Learning to sing
From: Willa
Date: 04 Jan 10 - 11:26 AM

Hi Pasher

Do you have a local community choir? Singing with others might be a help towards getting started.

Alternatively, look up the Natural Voice Practitioners' website and attend a workshop; you'll find it helpful and great fun!

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Subject: RE: Learning to sing
From: AllisonA(Animaterra)
Date: 04 Jan 10 - 01:56 PM

Willa, that's exactly where I was going to recommend that Pasher look- there are some amazing teachers who understand folk music.

And of course, silly me (I direct a community choir) singing with others is a great start, especially if the director gives tips and tricks and good warmups (and most of us do)!

Here are some of the teachers in the Natural Voice Practitioner's Network.

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Subject: RE: Learning to sing
From: Acorn4
Date: 04 Jan 10 - 02:46 PM

Just do it and you'll get better - join in with chorus songs to stretch the vocal cords - the first time you take a turn chose a song that everyone knows so they'll help you out and help to lose any self consciousness.

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Subject: RE: Learning to sing
From: JohnB
Date: 04 Jan 10 - 05:52 PM

Try this link for World Harmony
Then "NIKE" (Just Do It).
I too would suggest a chorus song, maybe a Sea Shanty if your voice is so inclined.

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Subject: RE: Learning to sing
From: Sandy Mc Lean
Date: 04 Jan 10 - 06:33 PM

Since you can play to accompany yourself you can practice alone until you are satisfied with the result. Use a recording device; sing a song that you know well, and find the key that best suits your voice. A voice coach may be of help with things like breathing but make sure that it is your song, not theirs that you are practicing. Since you play your ear and instrument will soon keep you on key.
The only problem starting with a group rather than solo is that someone else will be choosing the song and the key that it will be sung in. Expect to make mistakes (as we all do) but never take yourself too serious. When singing in public your knees will probably shake for some time but that will pass. The adrenalin rush will soon have you addicted. Most of all have fun with it!

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Subject: RE: Learning to sing
From: BobKnight
Date: 04 Jan 10 - 08:12 PM

Singing is like running. You wouldn't try to run a marathon without doing a lot of training - so sing as much as you can. 20 minutes everyday should help build the strength in your voice.

Don't settle on the first key that sounds reasonable - try other keys. Fix on the highest one you can manage without straining your voice. For every song you sing there is an optimum key for you to sing it in - find it. Most singers in folk clubs etc, are to my mind singing in the wrong key for their voice. Sure it sounds OK in the house, but you need to PROJECT when you're performing.

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Subject: RE: Learning to sing
From: GUEST,Shimrod
Date: 05 Jan 10 - 03:50 AM

The most important advice that I can give is to explore the limits of your singing voice. You probably think that you have a limited vocal range - but your potential range is undoubtedly much greater than you think. Start off with songs with a limited range but try singing them in different keys. Practice, practice, practice - but if you feel any strain stop. I agree with all of Bob Knight's comments above.

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Subject: RE: Learning to sing
From: GUEST,Emily S
Date: 05 Jan 10 - 01:18 PM

What a wonderful goal for 2010! One thing to remember is that you want to sound like YOU! Don't try to imitate someone else. This will cause you to sing unnaturally. Do try to find a voice teacher at least to start. A good teacher will help you with vocal placement and getting the tension out of your throat, neck, shoulders, etc. Just as someone teaching you fiddle would. Also, they'll be able to give you vocal exercises and help you determine your range - as it is now and how it could be developed. Singing is a physical activity so getting those muscles (small though they are) in shape is a must. Learning to support your sound from your abdomen will help with stamina. Also, some people manufacture a sound that's pleasing to their own ears but of course, it really needs to be a sound pleasing to the audience. The sound INSIDE a guitar is probably quite different than what we hear from OUTSIDE the guitar. I believe, unless someone is truly tone deaf, they can learn to sing reasonably well. Remember too though that your voice type may not be what you are hoping for but you need to work with the instrument you've been given. A light voice may not be appropriate for barking out sea shanteys. You may need to find the type of music that your voice fits well with.

Joining a choir is a good idea too because it'll teach you to listen to the others to improve your intonation. Have a great time with it.

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Subject: RE: Learning to sing
From: Crowhugger
Date: 05 Jan 10 - 02:02 PM

What they've all said! Lots of good advice is posted already--you won't go wrong following it. Also...

Listen to any infants and toddlers you may have in your life. Have some fun with them by copying pre-verbal sounds they make, using your regular speaking range as well as going higher and lower. Make a copy-game out of it. Yes, including crying sounds. It's all part of developing lung capacity and the voice.

Singing rounds is a great tool especially when you can do it with someone who someone who doesn't take it all too seriously. Row Row Row Your Boat, Frere Jacques/Are You Sleeping, Fire's Burning...lots to choose from. As a beginner, the concentration needed to keep track of your own words and notes can help to distract you from nerves and self-judgement. Best of all, sooner or later the song breaks down into roars of laughter as concentration fizzles and you both get notes and words mixed up. Laughter is good for your breathing!

Meanwhile you won't even notice how it helps you get a feel for intonation and for staying on your note while there are other notes being sung around you.

Most of all, just sing. Many times my voice sounds scratchy and feels rough to start with, until I've been singing for at least a few minutes, sometimes many minutes. After the phlegm gets flung off my vocal folds the sound is much clearer.


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Subject: RE: Learning to sing
Date: 05 Jan 10 - 05:55 PM

The first thing any decent singing teacher will show you is how to find your diaphragm: lay down on the floor (not a soft surface) and hold your hands spread so that the tips of your middle fingers touch. As you breathe in, your fingers should be pushed apart, and vice versa, and your chest should NOT move at all.

Learning to sing 'properly' is a matter of learning to use your diaphragm and vocal chords to make the note, not your chest muscles to force air through your throat. Your chest should never be tense when singing, and the air should come from as low down as possible. Warming up with scales and breathing for twenty minutes is ideal, but if you can practise singing scales while driving, that helps.

It's like riding a bike; it takes a bit of practise to get the knack.

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Subject: RE: Learning to sing
From: pasher
Date: 06 Jan 10 - 03:39 AM

Hey - Thanks for all the the advice, I'm very encouraged, and will take it further. Need to read all these posts again and make notes!!
Interesting what someone said about 'find your own voice', I had the same advice from a friend yesterday and its significance has sunk in - yes, I do want to sing the songs of people I love to listen to, but don't try to emulate - do them my way (tricky when my favourite artist is Tom Waits lol).

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Subject: RE: Learning to sing
From: BobKnight
Date: 06 Jan 10 - 05:00 AM

Finding your own voice is easy enough - sing as you speak. Along the way you'll add litle bits and pieces, ornamentations, etc.

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Subject: RE: Learning to sing
From: AllisonA(Animaterra)
Date: 06 Jan 10 - 07:58 AM

Great advice, everyone!

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Subject: RE: Learning to sing
From: Nick
Date: 06 Jan 10 - 11:52 AM

I sing a lot of Tom Waits songs (Ol 55, Please Call Me Baby, San Diego Serenade, Heart of Saturday Night, etc) but don't sound like Tom Waits. Mind you neither does Shawn Colvin.

The book I mentioned was interesting in as much as it got you to explore your range (without straining), addressed various things (from no noise coming out to brassy voices or nasal etc etc) and encouraged you to sing as an extension of your speaking voice (and conversely to use your singing voice to improve your speaking voice).

His belief is that most people can develop a 2 - 3 octave range with practice and without strain. I used to sing at the bassy, chesty end of my range but it has widened quite a bit from when I started singing. I haven't tried this for a while but here is an example from the last time I tried - range - it's not great singing but I didn't sing at all a few years ago.

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Subject: RE: Learning to sing
From: Suegorgeous
Date: 06 Jan 10 - 09:12 PM

I've just posted a list of recommended courses/teachers on another thread, some (but not all) of them trad/folk-oriented. I have taken part in all of them, so if you have any queries, just ask. (I've never really used websites or books for actual tuition purposes, so I feel I can't recommend any.) Hope this is helpful.

Here's the link to that other thread:

Link to thread with list of courses/teachers

Nearly all use the master-class format. I strongly recommend this format for learning to sing. It's intense, challenging, but satisfying and successful. And it's the epitome of learning-by-doing, always the best way to learn anything.

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Subject: RE: Learning to sing
From: Suegorgeous
Date: 06 Jan 10 - 09:17 PM

Forgot - a website that lists courses:

Folk and Roots list of courses

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Subject: RE: Learning to sing
From: GUEST,Nick E
Date: 06 Jan 10 - 10:28 PM

I also wish I could sing well, but I think that will never be. I do find that i feel I sing slightly less annoyingly when I sing in a forced lower tone/octave compared to my speaking voice. I got a standing ovation from the shampoo and toilet and plumber's helper for yesterday morning's rendition of "I'm Just A Girl Who Can't Say No."

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Subject: RE: Learning to sing
From: Alice
Date: 06 Jan 10 - 10:42 PM

Pasher, there is a lot of good advice in this thread already, and you can go back and read threads from the past on Mudcat as well:

Threads on The Singing Voice

I started voice lessons in my mid 40's, well over ten years ago.
It's one of the best things I've ever done. Finding a good teacher is a treasure - there are ways to protect and improve your voice that you will learn from a good teacher. Bad vocal habits can actually ruin your voice, so find someone good in your area to learn how to train the muscles, breathing, etc.

Have fun singing!


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Subject: RE: Learning to sing
From: Tim Leaning
Date: 07 Jan 10 - 06:45 AM

"I started singing (in public) only when I was 50ish "
Its been a good year for you then.

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Subject: RE: Learning to sing
From: Nick
Date: 07 Jan 10 - 08:30 AM

Ho ho, Tim. (I've sent you a PM on another matter by the way)

Alice - sorry I didn't reply earlier to your PM but life has been a bit hectic. I'll send something later

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Subject: RE: Learning to sing
From: foggers
Date: 07 Jan 10 - 12:58 PM

What a great collection of advice!
I was lucky to have a music teacher at school who gave proper voice training to choir members. It is only now, 30+ years later that I realise what a valuable foundation that was, and all for free!

My OH started with singing lessons about 2 years ago at the age of 43. His first teacher was great at the technical aspects (breath, vocal production) but was rather tied into musical stage show type singing and also did not really work with the psychological aspects of singing. He then swapped teachers and finds his current teacher is both versatile and responsive - he is finding his own unique voice, is safely developing his vocal range, and picking up the techniques too whilst overcoming some personal barriers about performing. In turn he has felt able to sing in front of others (initially at singalong sessions where he could opt in or out of choruses discreetly).

Now we are singing together with a friend as an oly timey trio and have done a few gigs since autumn. So you never know where your NY resolution may lead, especially if you are already an instrument player.

There has been lots of fantastic suggestions given and I can only emphasise the need to start with good relaxation, diaphragm breathing and vocal warm ups and to aim for speech-level singing, in order to avoid the sense of strain that you described in your first post.

Good luck and have fun finding your voice!

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Subject: RE: Learning to sing
From: VirginiaTam
Date: 07 Jan 10 - 01:33 PM

I learned to sing when I was about 14 by imitating notes I played on piano. Before I did this, I couldn't carry a tune in a bucket.

Then by imitating vocalists I really liked. Then I joined church choirs. My daughter taught me how to harmonize when she was in my thirties. Still not very good at it.

I don't think I have found my voice yet and I am 51. I still tend to imitate other singers.

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Subject: RE: Learning to sing
From: Nick
Date: 07 Jan 10 - 03:59 PM

VT - if I remember other threads other people think you sing well. That may not be enough for you but if it's good for them that's not a bad place to be.

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Subject: RE: Learning to sing
From: Yvonne Hart
Date: 07 Jan 10 - 04:46 PM

Pasher, I hope you don't mind me mentioning our new Rural Study Centre in Shropshire where we are running relaxed courses in folk singing and music and I just thought that one of our courses may be of interest -
Cloudstreet (from Australia) are running a course called "Singing and Performing". We also have John Kirkpatrick's course for 'singers who play and players who sing', but as you already play many instruments perhaps Pete Coe's course may be of interest. Look at:
Hope this may be of help.

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Subject: RE: Learning to sing
From: Suegorgeous
Date: 07 Jan 10 - 07:59 PM

Yvonne - your centre and courses look very interesting! have they been going long? just wondering why I haven't heard of you before...

Don't forget to advertise your courses on Folk & Roots (courses section).

What kind of course will the Waterson/Carthy one be?


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Subject: RE: Learning to sing
From: Suegorgeous
Date: 07 Jan 10 - 08:06 PM

Thought I'd repeat the list I put on the other thread (you'll need to go to the other thread here though, if you want one of the links to the websites of course providers).

Folk Southwest Easter School
Folk South West
Not yet on FSW website, but dates according to John Kirkpatrick's site are 8-11 April this year. This offers probably the best, most trad/folk-focused singing masterclass workshop. Fantastic tutors (eg Chris Coe, Tim van Eyken, Eddie Upton, Shirley Collins).

Folkworks Summer School
(then click on Adult Enrolment for 2009 programme)
Used to have a Solo Singer masterclass, but I think their voice class is now more group/harmony singing. Check when the 2010 programme is put out.

Maddy Prior's voice courses
Maddy Prior
Run by Maddy, usually with Abbie Lathe, and sometimes her daughter Rose Kemp teaches too. All singing/voice classes, with at least one masterclass workshop.

Baring-Gould Song School
Baring-Gould Song School
Past tutors have included: Sandra Kerr, Martin Graebe, Sian Graebe. Participants create their own programme, but masterclass/solo singing is always included

Farncombe Community College
Sandra Kerr used to teach voice here, but doesn't seem to be on the programme this year - but Jo Sercombe's Solo Singing looks good, and Frankie Armstrong teaches here too.

Lewes Saturday Folk Club workshops
Class with Shirley Collins coming up! check with them about workshop content.

Counterparts (Helen Porter)
Not folk, more jazz/classical oriented - but Helen's actual voice technique tuition is first-class, in a master-class format.

The Tuscany Project
Tuscany Project
Again, not folk, but more musical theatre/cabaret/classical. This week-long workshop is pricey, and takes place in Italy, so more of a special summer holiday. Course is intensive, challenging, and with superb voice work tuition.

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Subject: RE: Learning to sing
From: VirginiaTam
Date: 08 Jan 10 - 01:49 AM

Nick - I just said, I sound like other singers. Not unique or anything but I am ok with that. At least I don't sound like the Southern Baptist off the rack soprano I once did. Defo an improvement, since my vocal range dropped.

I so want to do the Maddy Prior course. It would have to wait until we retire though. Gleanings looks great too. Oh why do all these courses gotta be in term time?

In Essex there is something getting started called The Sound Collective. There is a performance choir for which one auditions and a community choir for which one doesn't. I'd be interested in the community sort of but a bit worried about the repertoire. I like Gospel and Jazz but I think group arrangements maybe too .... arranged.

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Subject: RE: Learning to sing
From: Yvonne Hart
Date: 08 Jan 10 - 04:59 AM

Suegorgeous you haven't hear of us before because this is our first year. John (hubby) has had to give up his job as cattle foot-trimmer (what's that, I hear you cry)so we have decided to make our hobby our job - hence Gleanings. As you saw, we not only run folk music courses but art and rural crafts as well. As time goes on we will spread our wings more. Thank you for suggesting Folk and Roots, but it's strange that after posting my message last night I went on to Folk and Roots and filled in all the details. Took hours but they came straight back and said that details would be on this weekend, together with the concerts that either start or follow the course. Not sure what kind of course Norma Waterson and Martin Carthy will do yet - I just hope that they can fit it in as it is only provisionlly booked at the moment. I think that whatever they did would be fantastic though! Perhaps you could add Gleanings to your list of courses, that would be great.
A message for Viginia Tam - thank you for pointing out about term time, as my children are all grown up term time has sort of disappeared into my distant memory. What dates are they. I think Mary Humphreys & Anahata are at Easter holidays and Cloudstreet in Summer hols. What sort of course would interest you, or anyone reading this, as we want to run courses that everyone wants. Let us know.

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Subject: RE: Learning to sing
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 08 Jan 10 - 05:45 AM

I've been involved in singing workshops specifically related to folksongs for over forty years; I have long held the opinion that, while folk singing can be learned, it is extremely doubtful that it can be taught; not by individuals at least.
You can learn a certain amount by listening to others and attempting to imitate what they do (for practice only) in order to get used to using and exploring your voice, but this, I believe, is quite slow and can be hit and miss (along with running the risk of becoming a clone).
The most successful set-up I experienced was the group situation with a number of people, singers and non-singers, of mixed abilities and experience all rowing in to assist each other. This can work on various levels - as unplanned get-togethers of enthusiasts casually meeting to discuss each others singing with a view to solving specific problems, or the more organised regular sessions aimed at facilitating the abilities and understanding of the whole group. The former can, in my experience, be of some help, but the latter can have of long term value and can produce some very fine, long term work.
The more organised set-up needs to be planned and structured with at least one experienced singer willing to devote their time to the venture.
I believe that any folk club that is serious about promoting the music and developing new singers should think seriously about workshops as part of their work - in my experience there have always been plenty of people around more than willing to help.
I don't believe that general 'singing teachers' can be of much help unless you can find one who is specifically knowledgeable in folksong styles; I've yet to meet a classicist who hasn't described the open 'folk' voice as "ugly", and other types of song require other types of voice.
Here in Ireland an upturn in the in the interest in traditionional music has led to singing classes and teachers springing up everywhere like mushrooms. The few I have experienced have left me with the impression that the technique used is, at best, helpful only in introducing would-be singers to songs, but does little in encouraging them to find their own voice - essential, to my mind.
A controversial point - but one I'm absolutely unmoveable on - DON'T PRACTISE IN PUBLIC, don't stand in front of an audience before you have at least learned to hold a tune and are able to remember and become comfortable enough with the words to understand them and are able to communicate them to the listener. It's not fair on the audience or on the regular singers in the venue, and from your own point of view, should it go wrong and the song fall apart, it's just like the Sisyphus Beetle's dung-ball rolling right down to the bottom of the hill so it has to start again. There are other ways of getting experience of singing in front of people.
Singing is like every other artistic endevour (that's what it is) - the more you work at it the better you become.
It's a great feeling to stand in front of an audience and not make a hames of the song, hold the tune, remember all the words without having to read them of a ****** crib sheet.
But to make a GOOD job of a song, to know you've made a good job, and to know that the audience have enjoyed your song because you made a good job - that's the flag on the top of Everest.
Jim Carroll

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Subject: RE: Learning to sing
From: Marje
Date: 08 Jan 10 - 06:17 AM

Not all voice teachers are hostile to folk singing, Jim. I had some lessons at one time and found it very useful. The teacher taught me to use my diaphragm, which gave me better breath control when singing, and also how to use my mouth to round out the sound and make it sound open and warm.

Also, having lessons got me used to singing solo in front of someone else - someone who was actually listening critically, not just a family member. This (and the breathing) helped a lot with nerves. She didn't try to make me sing in a classical style, or encourage vibrato and other inappropriate mannerisms. But singing clear and true, with each note in tune, is something valued by all singing teachers.

However, I agree that a group "workshop" with other folk/traditional singers is also very useful, particularly for paying attention to the actual delivery of the song. There you can learn more about how to learn the words and then sing them clearly and with meaning (skills which are often lost in classical singing). A skilled teacher/facilitator can help singers to do this together, and someimes they'll appraise each other's performances, which is really useful.


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Subject: RE: Learning to sing
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 08 Jan 10 - 06:27 AM

"Not all voice teachers are hostile to folk singing, Jim."
All the ones I have met, including those I have disussed folk music with, have fought their corner on behalf of their own
particular tastes in music - not to say that there aren't other things to be learned from them, but not sure that they can't be got elsewhere, thus avoiding the risk of being pressurised into singing to somebody else's tune.
Don't really want to get into an argument on this - would rather discuss the nuts and bolts of learning to sing.
One thing I want to add to my original posting.
It has been my experience that, physical defects aside, anybody can sing as long as they are prepared to put in the work - the more work, the better singer.
Jim Carroll

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Subject: RE: Learning to sing
From: GUEST,TJ in San Diego
Date: 08 Jan 10 - 12:11 PM

This brings back very old memories. When I first began singing, tentatively at first, I had not learned to breath from the diaphagm. I was self-taught mostly, listening to and emulating those whose phrasing and vocal quality impressed me; not imitating so much as trying to see how they used their voices to such good effect.

I was fine until I started having to sing while playing an instrument at the same time. I found myself lapsing back into shallower breathing and losing my phrasing until I disciplined myself to focus on singing properly while seated and holding a guitar. Posture, I found, had a lot to do with it. Leaning over the instrument tends to make me a little lazy and take away some depth. The other handicap was that tentativeness, or shyness I felt - a reluctance to sing in full voice. Once I pushed through that fear, it helped a great deal.

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Subject: RE: Learning to sing
From: Don Firth
Date: 08 Jan 10 - 05:04 PM

"Not all voice teachers are hostile to folk singing. . . ."   True indeed.

Not arguing, Jim, but from my own personal experience, I've taken voice lessons from three different teachers. One was a retired operatic soprano who, in her younger days, had sung at the Metropolitan Opera. Another was a retired operatic bass-baritone who had recently been working as a choir director and was giving voice lessons on the side. And a young operatic tenor who was aspiring toward a career in opera.

All three were not only sympathetic to my interest in folk music, but agreed with me that, for what I wanted to sing, sounding like an opera singer would not be appropriate. So we concentrated on techniques such as breath control, voice placement (eliminating any tension in the vocal mechanism and developing resonance—which would enable me to sing softly and still be heard clearly in a large space), and gently trying to increase my somewhat limited vocal range. Apart from the limited range (a comfortable range a note or two less than two octaves), I have a pretty big voice, the kind of voice that could sound operatic, but we didn't go there.

As to being sympathetic to my choice of repertoire, in addition to technical exercises, Mrs. Bianchi did work me on a couple of art songs, mostly for the technique they required, but most of the time we worked on the songs I wanted to learn—folk songs and ballads. Good breath support, avoiding any tension in the vocal mechanism. She also arranged for me to come backstage after a concert by Richard Dyer-Bennet and introduced me to him. He and I had a long conversation, not about vocal technique, but how to go about developing a career as a "modern day minstrel," which I found very helpful and encouraging.

Mr. Street (the bass-baritone) asked me to bring my guitar to the lessons, and after we worked on technical exercises, he would have me sing whatever song I happened to be working on at the time. Mostly he just listened, but often made suggestions about phrasing and breathing points. He would often stop me and ask, "What does that line mean?" He knew perfectly well what it meant, but he wanted to be sure that I knew, and wasn't just singing it by rote.

Among other good suggestions he made was to learn the words and recite the song as a poem before putting the melody to it. One can learn a lot about a folk song or ballad that way!

And the young tenor (who was both studying and teaching at the Cornish College of the Arts—a conservatory I attended) became sufficiently interested in what I was singing that he asked me to recommend some songbooks, because he wanted to include some folk songs into his recital repertoire (which, he sang in a classical style, but he never tried to change my style).

When I was going to University of Washington School of Music, I interviewed the four voice teachers they had there and discovered that they pretty much had their own agendas and were not particularly interested in what I wanted to do. So I decided I was better off taking voice lessons outside of the music school, and I stuck with Mr. Street.

Here's the difference:   I was hiring the voice teacher to teach me what I wanted to learn. They may have thought otherwise, but it was I who was interviewing them before deciding whether or not I wanted to take lessons from them.

Not all voice teachers are the same. Sometimes you have to shop around.

One of the major values of learning good vocal technique is that I am seventy-eight years old, and my singing voice is just as strong, healthy, and robust as it was fifty years ago. Perhaps even moreso.

But—I don't sound like an opera singer. Unless I want to.

Pete Seeger, who always sang with a tight throat (and decades ago, Richard Dyer-Bennet warned him about that), has pretty much lost his voice and is reduced to "talking" the songs. He can still hit the pitches, but he can't sustain them without a severe wobble.

Opera singers must have good vocal technique or they will blow their voices very early. They often have to sing over a full symphony orchestra playing at top volume and still be heard loud and clear in a large opera house. And oftentimes an opera singer will be on stage, singing, for two or three hours. They work as hard as some athletes, and it's all with the diaphragm and throat! Not everyone has the kind of voice that can do that, nor can everyone sound like an opera singer. You have to be born with the necessary vocal equipment, and that's pretty much genetic. But all singers, no matter what genre they sing, can benefit from good vocal technique.

This is operatic, but I find it pretty inspiring:    Russian basso Mark Reizen singing Prince Gremin's aria in Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegen at the age of ninety. Shows what good vocal technique can do.    CLICKY

Don Firth

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Subject: RE: Learning to sing
From: GUEST,Alice without cookie
Date: 08 Jan 10 - 05:12 PM

Well said, Don.

As we've been over this ground many times in the history of Mudcat and singing discussions, it can only help you to know how to use your voice in a way that will keep you singing all life long. My voice teacher was a world class coloratura and an excellent voice teacher. She not only encouraged me to bring folk music I was interested in to my lessons, along with the more challenging classical pieces she assigned me to help develop my voice, but she also sometimes would accompany me when I performed folk music.

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Subject: RE: Learning to sing
From: AllisonA(Animaterra)
Date: 08 Jan 10 - 06:11 PM

Not to be too repetitive, but the Natural Voice Practitioner's Network (linked above) is specifically teachers who are sympathetic to folk and a more "natural" style of singing than are some classical teachers. Having said that, Kate Howard, one of the NVP greats, coaches operatic and classical singers as well as folkies. It's still mostly about breathing, posture, etc., no matter what style of voice you aspire to.

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