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Finger in Ear - what's all that about?

Paul Reade 16 Mar 10 - 08:01 PM
Leadfingers 16 Mar 10 - 08:05 PM
Folknacious 16 Mar 10 - 08:10 PM
MartinRyan 16 Mar 10 - 08:10 PM
Bounty Hound 16 Mar 10 - 08:17 PM
Bounty Hound 16 Mar 10 - 08:26 PM
Paul Reade 16 Mar 10 - 08:27 PM
Jim Carroll 16 Mar 10 - 08:32 PM
GUEST,leeneia 16 Mar 10 - 10:29 PM
Artful Codger 16 Mar 10 - 11:38 PM
Suffet 17 Mar 10 - 12:08 AM
Surreysinger 17 Mar 10 - 12:08 AM
Gurney 17 Mar 10 - 12:57 AM
Backwoodsman 17 Mar 10 - 04:27 AM
Jim Carroll 17 Mar 10 - 06:24 AM
The Fooles Troupe 17 Mar 10 - 07:04 AM
Paul Reade 17 Mar 10 - 07:12 AM
The Fooles Troupe 17 Mar 10 - 07:21 AM
Paul Reade 17 Mar 10 - 07:23 AM
MikeL2 17 Mar 10 - 07:58 AM
The Fooles Troupe 17 Mar 10 - 08:00 AM
Richard Bridge 17 Mar 10 - 08:00 AM
Backwoodsman 17 Mar 10 - 08:09 AM
Charmion 17 Mar 10 - 08:50 AM
Jack Campin 17 Mar 10 - 10:22 AM
The Sandman 17 Mar 10 - 11:06 AM
GUEST,HFA (at work) 17 Mar 10 - 11:20 AM
GUEST,leeneia 17 Mar 10 - 11:46 AM
Jim Carroll 17 Mar 10 - 12:08 PM
Paul Reade 17 Mar 10 - 12:21 PM
Sailor Ron 17 Mar 10 - 12:40 PM
Backwoodsman 17 Mar 10 - 12:40 PM
Backwoodsman 17 Mar 10 - 12:46 PM
GUEST,Songbob 17 Mar 10 - 12:54 PM
Jim Carroll 17 Mar 10 - 12:56 PM
Marje 17 Mar 10 - 01:03 PM
GUEST,SteveT 17 Mar 10 - 01:07 PM
doncatterall 17 Mar 10 - 01:09 PM
Lighter 17 Mar 10 - 01:31 PM
Jim Carroll 17 Mar 10 - 02:02 PM
The Sandman 17 Mar 10 - 02:34 PM
Backwoodsman 17 Mar 10 - 05:15 PM
Stower 18 Mar 10 - 05:07 AM
Paul Reade 18 Mar 10 - 05:46 AM
GUEST,leeneia 18 Mar 10 - 06:58 AM
Steve Shaw 18 Mar 10 - 07:23 AM
GUEST, Sminky 18 Mar 10 - 09:29 AM
Stu 18 Mar 10 - 10:17 AM
MikeL2 18 Mar 10 - 10:55 AM
Leadfingers 18 Mar 10 - 11:54 AM
Charmion 18 Mar 10 - 01:40 PM
Richard Bridge 18 Mar 10 - 03:40 PM
MikeL2 18 Mar 10 - 03:48 PM
Joe_F 18 Mar 10 - 05:49 PM
Stower 18 Mar 10 - 08:20 PM
Jim Dixon 07 Apr 10 - 04:35 PM
buddhuu 07 Apr 10 - 05:15 PM
The Fooles Troupe 07 Apr 10 - 05:25 PM
Stower 07 Apr 10 - 05:26 PM
buddhuu 08 Apr 10 - 06:12 AM
GUEST,Geoff (Youtube "bossalero") 24 Jun 10 - 06:32 AM
GUEST 24 Jun 10 - 06:43 AM
GUEST 24 Jun 10 - 06:48 AM
The Sandman 24 Jun 10 - 07:13 AM
buddhuu 24 Jun 10 - 07:40 AM
Brian May 24 Jun 10 - 07:43 AM
Joe_F 24 Jun 10 - 06:32 PM
Crowhugger 25 Jun 10 - 01:01 AM
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Subject: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: Paul Reade
Date: 16 Mar 10 - 08:01 PM

A recent thread Not The Finger In Ear Show got me thinking about why it was ever thought acceptable for singers to perform with the aforementioned "Finger in Ear".

In any other genre of music, you'd be laughed off the stage.

Basically, if your voice is good enough to hold a tune, you can do it with or without the finger in ear, so is it really just an affectation?


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: Leadfingers
Date: 16 Mar 10 - 08:05 PM

It only LOOKS as though the finger is in the ear ! In fact . the hand is cupped so that what the singer is singing can be heard better
which can be an advantage when singing harmony !
Often , the Ear Lobe is held to improve the audible reception .


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: Folknacious
Date: 16 Mar 10 - 08:10 PM

People do it (cup their hand over their ear, not put a finger in it) in many other genres of music. It's a perfectly acceptable way of hearing your own voice when singing with instruments or harmony parts, not restricted to folk.

Singing that way solo unaccompanied in a quiet room with good acoustics (e.g. Ewan MacColl, with the added affectation of the backward chair) is a reasonable invitation to being called a prat though.


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: MartinRyan
Date: 16 Mar 10 - 08:10 PM

Click here for an earlier thread on the topic which you may or may not find enlightening!

Regards


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: Bounty Hound
Date: 16 Mar 10 - 08:17 PM

"I've sung the folk tradition with my finger in my ear,
'cause half the tripe I'm singing, I just can't stand to hear"

The late Fred Wedlock.


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: Bounty Hound
Date: 16 Mar 10 - 08:26 PM

Oh and of course, the real reason is to hear one's own voice better, particularly when singing a harmony. If you close one ear with a finger, you hear your voice 'inside' your head. Cupping your hand over an ear just creates a swirling sound (Bit like a seashell)

It is not just folkies that use this technique, but any serious harmony singer.


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: Paul Reade
Date: 16 Mar 10 - 08:27 PM

I agree it can help when singing in a group to work out your harmony - but only in reharsal, not live performance. I used to sing in a choir, and the choirmaster pulled me up for it.


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 16 Mar 10 - 08:32 PM

The so called 'finger in the ear' is as others here have said, a method of staying in tune, especially when unaccompanied; it is a millenia old technique used by singers all over the world for exactly that purpose. There are 18th and 19th century woodcuts of London street singers and broadside sellers using it, also of Bengali temple singers and Eastern European peasants - some of the most skillful singers in the world.
Either MacColl or Lloyd introduced it to the revival - not sure which, they both used it.
The Watersons sang regularly with BOTH hands cupped over their ears.
Saw Dylan (sorry - Zimmerman) use it once but it didn't work for him - he could never sing in tune anyway.
MacColl's habit of singing with his chair back to front was a method of relaxation which allows a free, unrestricted flow of air, particularly useful for long-line songs. Have seen West of Ireland sean nós singers use similar techniques, usually side on with an elbow resting on the chair back - wonder if you think they were prats too - or is it just another case of corpse-kicking (he's been dead twenty years now - so you're perfectly safe; he won't come back and bite your bum)?
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 16 Mar 10 - 10:29 PM

I used to sing in a church choir where anybody was welcome to join the group, including a French horn and a violin. There were a few times when I had to put a hand behind my ear in order to hear my own voice and see if I was in tune.


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: Artful Codger
Date: 16 Mar 10 - 11:38 PM

Sometimes we have to tickle our brains to stimulate our recall.


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: Suffet
Date: 17 Mar 10 - 12:08 AM

This song will explain.

SHE'S A PROPER FOLKIE NOW
Tune: The Devil's Nine Questions (traditional)
New words: Steve Suffet © 2005, 2010

Come and listen to my tale,
Oh, she's a proper folkie now!
And pour a tankard of warm ale.
Oh, she's a proper folkie now!

Laura was a maiden gay,
Oh, she's a proper folkie now!
Until a folkie led her astray.
Oh, she's a proper folkie now!

He plucked her flower from the stem,
Oh, she's a proper folkie now!
And turned her into one of them.
Oh, she's a proper folkie now!

Now she drinks dark porter beer,
Oh, she's a proper folkie now!
And sticks her finger in her ear.
Oh, she's a proper folkie now!

Before she utters just one note,
Oh, she's a proper folkie now!
Seven times she clears her throat.
Oh, she's a proper folkie now!

She sings no jazz, nor pop, nor soul,
Oh, she's a proper folkie now!
And never any rock and roll.
Oh, she's a proper folkie now!

But only ballads, ancient rhymes,
Oh, she's a proper folkie now!
Handed down from distant times.
Oh, she's a proper folkie now!

Like the story of Lord Arnold's wife,
Oh, she's a proper folkie now!
And the bloody way she lost her life.
Oh, she's a proper folkie now!

Matty Groves she took to bed,
Oh, she's a proper folkie now!
By morning's light both were dead.
Oh, she's a proper folkie now!

Yes, those are the songs that Laura sings,
Oh, she's a proper folkie now!
No hardcore rap, no nasty things,
Oh, she's a proper folkie now!

Like all the young kids sing today,
Oh, she's a proper folkie now!
Just gory songs from a bygone day.
Oh, she's a proper folkie now!

So maidens all take warning from me,
Oh, she's a proper folkie now!
And shun the folkie's comapny,
Oh, she's a proper folkie now!

Or just like our Laura dear,
Oh, she's a proper folkie now!
You'll stick your finger in your ear!
Oh, she's a proper folkie now!


--- Steve


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: Surreysinger
Date: 17 Mar 10 - 12:08 AM

As has already been said, it's a recognised technique for being able to isolate the sound of your own voice from the mix around you, and being able to better judge your tuning. I have seen Robert Tear, the well known tenor use the method in rehearsal while singing against a loud orchestra (although obviously not in public performance); the choir I sang in advocated it occasionally when rehearsing as a means of getting people to think about what they were up to .... and so on.

There is another interesting technique, which again I came across in training sessions with my choir. If you cup your ears (both of them) so that the palms of your hands are rearwards facing you will find that it isolates most of your own sound, forcing you to listen to the sound behind you. Useful for getting choir members to get to grips with listening to what others were up to!!

And, as has already been said sticking your finger actually IN the ear achieves nothing of any particular use, apart from engendering a deal of discomfort!


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: Gurney
Date: 17 Mar 10 - 12:57 AM

I do it because I am descended from a long line of petrol pumps.

Seriously, as everyone said, it is using bone conduction to help sing a harmony when singing in a small group.

Different when singing in a choir. No-one can tell in the larger number of singers if you momentarily wander off key. Choirs have their own idiosyncrasies, like dressing in uniforms, but having soloists in a slightly different strip. Thwarted militarism, I call it.


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: Backwoodsman
Date: 17 Mar 10 - 04:27 AM

When singing with instruments or other singers, it's a good way of hearing your own voice in order to keep in tune.

When singing solo and unaccompanied it's an affectation of the poseur-type, and completely unnecessary.

IMHO of course.


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 17 Mar 10 - 06:24 AM

"When singing solo and unaccompanied it's an affectation of the poseur-type, and completely unnecessary."
IMO Utter rubbish; most singers I have met find difficulty in maintaining pitch while singing unaccompanied - they tend to rise.
Tension is probably the main cause of loss of pitch control.
I assume you consider that the street singers, the Bengali temple singers, the Rumanian virtuosos, the callers to prayer on the minarets.... all of whom used (and in some cases still use) the technique "poseurs"?
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 17 Mar 10 - 07:04 AM

One when doing a theatre workshop where we put on 12th Night after a week of rehearsal, the cupped hand was a trick I used in the first run thru to differentiate me from the other characters, and the director liked it so much he insisted I keep it.

It's very useful - it helped someone who had been told by the school 'music teacher' - or that was his pay slip title, that 'she would NEVER sing' - she tried it to listen to herself and improved massively, being able to hold pitch etc after a few weeks using it.

Not much of a 'teacher' I suppose.... :-)


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: Paul Reade
Date: 17 Mar 10 - 07:12 AM

I agree that when singing unaccompanied, the pitch tends to change over the course of a song. I don't think that cupping the ear makes much difference though - it's a very gradual proces, and the change is no more obvious with the "finger in ear".

As for sitting on a chair backwards and cupping your ear, if you are Ewan MacColl you can do it - after all it was his style and he invented it. Anyone else doing it in a folk club looks like a prat.


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 17 Mar 10 - 07:21 AM

If I sat on a chair backwards - no - you mean with ME facing the audience, I suppose - well, the accordion would be on top of the chair back and they wouldn't see my face... oh well....


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: Paul Reade
Date: 17 Mar 10 - 07:23 AM

I'm not sure either that sitting backwards on a chair helps a good flow of air. I think that sitting positions generally are not good for breathing as the diaphragm is constricted, particularly if you're a bit "broad in the beam" like myself. It's much better to sing standing up whenever possible.


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: MikeL2
Date: 17 Mar 10 - 07:58 AM

hi paul

I agree that when singing it is generally better for breathing to stand.
But some people prefer to sit and I suppose they get used to it.

I play guitar so when singing and playing I prefer to stand anyway.

I sometimes sing unaccompanied - never finger or hand in or on ear. When singing this way I never have any problems with pitch during the song except when I sometimes stop to encourage the audience and when I start again I can change key unconsciously.

I suppose there is some link with "the finger in the ear" and modern musicians and singers being wired up with devices in one ear and sometimes in two??

cheers

MikeL2


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 17 Mar 10 - 08:00 AM

"not sure either that sitting backwards on a chair helps a good flow of air"

Depends on how many beans you've eaten lately....


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 17 Mar 10 - 08:00 AM

If anyone can actually understand the reasons for this helpful trick, and still call it "finger in the ear" (which it isn't) and users "poseurs" I think it tells us more about the critic than the users.


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: Backwoodsman
Date: 17 Mar 10 - 08:09 AM

"When singing solo and unaccompanied it's an affectation of the poseur-type, and completely unnecessary."
IMO Utter rubbish; most singers I have met find difficulty in maintaining pitch while singing unaccompanied - they tend to rise."

Jim - it's my opinion, to which I'm perfectly entitled. Please don't be aggressive just because we disagree, it's an unfortunate habit of yours and I don't appreciate it.

I believe that any singer worth the name should be able to sing in tune (which is what I said - no mention of pitch) without deluding themselves that they need to cup their ear. It's something that McColl did, for whatever reason, and it became fashionable as sure as sheep follow the leader of the flock.

Cupping the ear is a measure for overcoming ambient noise (be it other singers, instruments, echoes in a temple, street-noise rising to the prayer-callers in teir minarets, whatever. It's not necessary in the (hopefully) quiet confines of a folk-club.

My opinion is based on the experience gained in fifty years of singing in choirs, bands and solo, both amateur and semi-professional. And I've never - ever - had to cup my ear.


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: Charmion
Date: 17 Mar 10 - 08:50 AM

Your mileage may vary -- good advice to anyone wishing to criticize another's singing technique.

The ability to identify and maintain within a specific pitch range ("stay on pitch") while singing unaccompanied is highly influenced by muscle tension in the throat, mouth and torso, and people who have been coached effectively do it much better than those who have not.

In my opinion, singers focus far too much on repertoire -- learning the words and how to present the song -- and not nearly enough on vocal production, i.e., learning how to control their bodies to produce both excellent and exciting sound and clearly articulated words. The physical skills required for good vocal production are difficult to learn because you have to do so many things at once: what to sing now, what comes next, and managing the muscle tension and air supply to complete the line, the stanza, and the song.

Oh, yes -- and you have to do it all without letting the audience see any stress; it has to look perfectly effortless so your performance doesn't distract the listeners from the song. Because it's all about the song.

I am always angry when I hear folkies distinguish between singers and musicians. The singer's instrument is his or her voice, and singing well is not "natural"; it's a learned skill that requires every bit as much effort and practice as, say, the fiddle or the harp.


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 17 Mar 10 - 10:22 AM

Muslim reciters sometimes do something different:

call to prayer in Hawaii

That isn't round the ear, and it isn't exactly cupped hands acting like a loudhailer either. This guy is doing the same:

Kamal Uddin

Surely in something like this it has more to do with emotion than sound?

Qari Abdul Basit


Whereas this singer (probably needing to throw his voice over an immense distance, to the far side of the market area) has one hand on his ear and the other acting as a reflector for projection:

singer from Sarajevo


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: The Sandman
Date: 17 Mar 10 - 11:06 AM

Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: Jim Carroll - PM
Date: 16 Mar 10 - 08:32 PM

The so called 'finger in the ear' is as others here have said, a method of staying in tune, especially when unaccompanied; it is a millenia old technique used by singers all over the world for exactly that purpose. There are 18th and 19th century woodcuts of London street singers and broadside sellers using it, also of Bengali temple singers and Eastern European peasants - some of the most skillful singers in the world.
Either MacColl or Lloyd introduced it to the revival - not sure which, they both used it.
The Watersons sang regularly with BOTH hands cupped over their ears.
Saw Dylan (sorry - Zimmerman) use it once but it didn't work for him - he could never sing in tune anyway.
MacColl's habit of singing with his chair back to front was a method of relaxation which allows a free, unrestricted flow of air, particularly useful for long-line songs. Have seen West of Ireland sean nós singers use similar techniques, usually side on with an elbow resting on the chair back - wonder if you think they were prats too - or is it just another case of corpse-kicking (he's been dead twenty years now - so you're perfectly safe; he won't come back and bite your bum)?
Jim Carroll
thankyou Jim,I agree.
there is one person on this a forum who is a prat and that is the insignificant little Pooter,who inferred that MacColl was a prat because he cupped his hand over his ear,and sat on a reversed chair,this person is clearly an ignoramus.


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: GUEST,HFA (at work)
Date: 17 Mar 10 - 11:20 AM

'Finger in the ear' technique - unsure if it helped my singing,
but it certainly played havoc with my guitar accompaniment! ;0)

...er, my coat, please.


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 17 Mar 10 - 11:46 AM

Jack, thanks for the links you just posted. Interesting!

As for the 83-year-old with one hand over an ear, you will sometimes see me doing that. For some reason, my right ear is supersensitive, and when there's a loud noise, my right hand flies up to cover it.
By the age of 83, that man may have the same kind of problem.   

By the way, there are too many times when both my hands fly up to cover both ears.


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 17 Mar 10 - 12:08 PM

"Jim - it's my opinion, to which I'm perfectly entitled."
Sorry Backwooodsman - it's a technique I occasionally use myself; being refrred to as a poseur always brings me out in a rash (do I get an apology in return)?
"after all it was his style and he invented it.
No he didn't - have explained how it is used in Connemara occasionally, and have often seen poetry readers using the technque.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: Paul Reade
Date: 17 Mar 10 - 12:21 PM

I've never thought MacColl was a prat because he sang on a reverse chair with a cupped hand - what I said was "... if you are Ewan MacColl you can do it - after all it was his style and he invented it". I still maintain though that someone copying his, or anyone else's, style to that extent could be described as "a prat".

Of course it could be that the folk scene is ripe for an influx of MacColl impersonators, in the same way as the "Elvis impersonators" ... the mind boggles.


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: Sailor Ron
Date: 17 Mar 10 - 12:40 PM

I remember,as a child in the 1950s seeing a programme about Paul Robson, singing "with his finger in his ear", was he a poseur?


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: Backwoodsman
Date: 17 Mar 10 - 12:40 PM

OK Jim, I can understand that! I'm sure you aren't a poseur and I apologise unreservedly if I gave the impression that you are. Pax! :-)

I don't question the validity of the cupped ear per se, and I fully understand its value when used in the noisy situations we've both described, but I do have to question the need for it in unaccompanied singing in a quiet environment where the singer can hear his own voice perfectly clearly without cupping. In those circumstances, it seems to me to be, at best, a delusion on the part of the performer that it's helping to sing in tune or, at worst, simply an affectation.

I guess we'll have to agree to differ on that one. As Charmion said, YMMV.


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: Backwoodsman
Date: 17 Mar 10 - 12:46 PM

And I don't think MacColl was a prat either. But I do think the chair and the cupped ear were carefully thought-out and quite deliberate affectations which he made his 'signature', as it were.

But those who, like Jim, knew him might know different.


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: GUEST,Songbob
Date: 17 Mar 10 - 12:54 PM

My father used to suggest putting a finger in your ear when listening to orchestral or band music (not just to hear yourself sing), as it actually helps isolate instruments instead of hearing the "blend" of the orchestra as a whole. Try it sometime (it works better with live music, by the way) and see if you can't pick out individual instruments better.

At least it sounds that way.

Bob


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 17 Mar 10 - 12:56 PM

Pax indeed Backwoodsman - be in Friel's bar tonight if you feel like a pint and a wonderful night of music (turn left when you come out of Shannon)! St Pat's night here.
Ewan's chair was well established by the time I knew him - so much so that when he recommended it to us 'Critics' as a method of relaxing we agreed among ourselves that it was such a recognisable trait that we daren't use it for fear of being taken as - well - poseurs (think it's the first time I came across the word).
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: Marje
Date: 17 Mar 10 - 01:03 PM

I've probably said this before, in another thread, but anyway: one problem with the cupped-hand pose is that although it may enhance the sound for the singer, it can reduce the quality of sound and the clarity of the words for the listener. Some members of the audience may have the protruding elbow blocking the path of the sound from the mouth, and also blocking the view of the singer's face, both of which make it harder to hear clearly and understand the song. Basically, the arm and hand muffle the sound in one direction, and what the singer gets is a false idea of how he/she sounds to the listeners.

I really don't understand why harmony singers do it either. I've sung lots of harmonies in choirs, duos, and small groups. I don't want to hear the balance distorted by funnelling my own voice back to me - for me it's just as important to hear what the others are singing, so that my singing will tune in and blend with theirs.

Marje


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: GUEST,SteveT
Date: 17 Mar 10 - 01:07 PM

I tend to sing with my hand cupped over my ear – even in a quiet singaround. By doing that I can hear what I'm singing better and, more importantly for me, lose myself in the song. I don't sing to give performances and I certainly don't expect anyone to gain anything valuable by looking at me while I'm singing, whether with my hand over my ear or not. If it helps me to do more justice to the song, then I'll keep on.

I usually also sing with my eyes closed for the same reason and would suggest that my audience adopt at least one of these "affectations" of mine the better to survive me!


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: doncatterall
Date: 17 Mar 10 - 01:09 PM

A friend of mine often says of me "when Don sings with his finger in his ear, everyone else has to stick their fingers in both ears"


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: Lighter
Date: 17 Mar 10 - 01:31 PM

Didn't MacColl also sing with his eyes closed?

This is a serious question. The combination of cupped hand and closed eyes would absolutely distinguish his kind of unaccompanied song from pop music. It would help reorient the audience's expectations to something "new," more subtle and requiring greater concentration. Fromn the performer's point of view, closed eyes also aid recall. Most kinds of show-biz singing, however, demand eyes open and eye contact with the audience (intermittent in some cases).


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 17 Mar 10 - 02:02 PM

"Didn't MacColl also sing with his eyes closed?"
No hard and fast rule - he sang with eyes closed on some of his quieter songs, but on is humourous or more outging songs, not always.
He stressed the importance of eye contact with the audience as a regular part of the performance as a method of 'including them' in his songs, but as he also argued for varying your type of song in order to keep 'the listeners ear working' (big thing with him) you always got a bit of both in his performances
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: The Sandman
Date: 17 Mar 10 - 02:34 PM

PaulReade,I was not refrring to you neither was I refrring to backwoodsman,it was someone else, Someone who seems to have a downer onMacColl.


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: Backwoodsman
Date: 17 Mar 10 - 05:15 PM

I knew it wasn't me, GSS. No problem - none of us are immune from occasional acts of prattishness, even someone as perfect as me! :-) :-)


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: Stower
Date: 18 Mar 10 - 05:07 AM

Paul Reade: "In any other genre of music, you'd be laughed off the stage."

Really?

The Bee Gees

Like so many other derogatory short-hand terms, "finger in the ear" to describe folk music describes nothing but the attitude of the person saying it. It says nothing about folk music or about the skill of singing.

If it helps, do it. If it doesn't, don't.


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: Paul Reade
Date: 18 Mar 10 - 05:46 AM

I remember a few years ago reading a review of a live concert in the New Musical Express, which stuck in my mind as a folkie. I can't remember the name of the band, but the reviewer said "... the singer was so bad that he had to put his finger in his ear to stay in tune ...".

I agree that "If it helps, do it. If it doesn't, don't", but I still maintain that if your voice is good enough to hold a tune, you can do it with or without the "finger in ear", so perhaps it's more about a feeling of insecurity.

I think it looks better and more professional though if you can avoid it in a live performance.


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 18 Mar 10 - 06:58 AM

Stower, thanks for the BeeGees link. That's interesting.


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 18 Mar 10 - 07:23 AM

I occasionally cup one ear whilst playing the harmonica in a noisy setting. It's more practical with longer tremolo harps. You hold one end in the hand as usual whilst the other end is supported on the wrist of the cupping hand. The sound seems to be transmitted up the arm to the ear so that you can hear what you're playing. It's only useful in extreme cases, and then you have to question the point of playing the harmonica in such settings at all. If my wife sees me doing this she calls me a prat or similar. She fails to realise that I never do anything merely for effect. ;-)


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: GUEST, Sminky
Date: 18 Mar 10 - 09:29 AM

When I sing, everybody puts their fingers in their ears.


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: Stu
Date: 18 Mar 10 - 10:17 AM

Earwax.


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: MikeL2
Date: 18 Mar 10 - 10:55 AM

hi Jim

Many singers from almost all styles close their eyes a certain times when the sing.

McColl as you say used to sometimes. I never got to see him enough to work out if he closed his eyes at the same point(s) in the same songs where he did it.

I know I used to close my eyes at times. It wasn't deliberate it just happened. It wasn't for complete songs but only the odd line or two.

Interestingly when singing McColl's First Time Ever I saw Your Face Roberta Flack closes her eyes continually.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Go9aks4aujM&feature=related

regards

MikeL2


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: Leadfingers
Date: 18 Mar 10 - 11:54 AM

The main reason for singing with your eyes closed is so that you can see the next line written on the back of your Eyelid !


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: Charmion
Date: 18 Mar 10 - 01:40 PM

I sing with my eyes closed when I'm listening very, very hard to the people I'm singing with, the idea being to blend tone as seamlessly as possible. I do it to avoid distractions, such as the conductor.


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 18 Mar 10 - 03:40 PM

THe Bee Gees?

Laughed off stage?

Never! Not even when they were called "Les toseurs"


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: MikeL2
Date: 18 Mar 10 - 03:48 PM

hi Richard

No no no !!

They lived ooooop here in't north.

They were called The F.....g Posers.

Cheers

MikeL2


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: Joe_F
Date: 18 Mar 10 - 05:49 PM

I have two mysterious muscles, one in each ear, that I can contract at will. When I tense them, I hear a click. If I take a sharp sniff while they are tensed, my ears go into a state much like having my fingers in them (or being under water): My voice sounds as if it were inside my skull, and is much easier to check for intonation when singing in a group.

I have only met one or two other people who have this peculiar equipment, and its existence seems to be little known. One of them is an expert on the physics of hearing, and he told me that he had raised the question in an audiology class & been laughed at. Perhaps the ability is a genetic trait, like being able to wiggle one's ears (an independent one; for I cannot do that). But perhaps it can be learned, thru some sort of yogic discipline. Being invisible, it would also be untauntable.


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: Stower
Date: 18 Mar 10 - 08:20 PM

Paul ...

"I remember a few years ago reading a review of a live concert in the New Musical Express, which stuck in my mind as a folkie. I can't remember the name of the band, but the reviewer said "... the singer was so bad that he had to put his finger in his ear to stay in tune ..."."

In that case we have a music reviewer who's not a musician, or not much of one, if s/he can display such ignorance.

"I still maintain that if your voice is good enough to hold a tune, you can do it with or without the "finger in ear", so perhaps it's more about a feeling of insecurity."

It's about what works best for you. Some musicians stand up to play, some sit down. One is not 'better' or 'more professional', it's whatever you feel comfortable with. In onstage monitors, some musicians like a mix with their sound to the fore, some to the back, some want the mix the audience hears. One is not objectively 'better' or 'worse', it's purely the preference of the individual, what they're most comfortable with, what they find most helpful. A cupped ear is very similar: it changes 'the mix' so that one's own sound is more to the fore - or not if your hand isn't on your ear.

"I think it looks better and more professional though if you can avoid it in a live performance." That's your view. I think ear covered or not looks fine and that it's not a matter of 'being professional' in the sense you mean. Being professional is putting on a good performance. If someone cupping or covering their ear helps them do that, then covering the ear is the most professional thing to do.

Do you really think my Bee Gees link above looks 'unprofessional'? I don't think the audience thought so (I didn't ask them), and neither do I.

It's about the *music*, surely?


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: Jim Dixon
Date: 07 Apr 10 - 04:35 PM

I first encountered the expression "a finger in the ear" at Mudcat, and it really puzzled me. (I was taking it too literally—but then, I had no other way to take it.) I posed the question back in January, 2002, here: Help: Why a finger in the ear?

British folkies are also fond of working the expression into parodies:

"The traditional singer's wife,
Was sighin', "Dear, oh dear!
He never performed a' his life,
Wi'out his finger in his ear."
--from THE FOLKSINGERS' BALL (parody of CHARLADIES' BALL), in the DT.

"I have sung them a capella with my finger in my ear
Finger in my ear
Just the way a real folk singer should…"
--from MUST I THEN (a parody of MUSS I DENN) posted by Alan of Oz, 1997

"I've been a folk singer, for many's the year,
I sang unaccompanied, with my finger in my ear,
But now I get bookings, and I want to get more,
So I never shall wear wooly jumpers no more."
--from WOOLY JUMPERS NO MORE (parody of WILD ROVER) posted by GUEST,JMCC, 2000.

"At a folk club in a toon, I heard a a young man singin',
Like a constipated donkey in distress.
An' wi' a finger in one ear, the noise he made was weird,
And he went from bad to worse wi' every verse."
--from THE MURDERED SONG (parody of FIELDS OF ATHENRY) by Andy McKean

"And when I sing traditional, I stick my finger in my ear
Because half the songs I sing, I just can't stand to hear—but I'm an artist!"
--from THE FOLKSINGER (parody of Paul Simon's THE BOXER) by Fred Wedlock


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: buddhuu
Date: 07 Apr 10 - 05:15 PM

Barney McKenna sometimes cups his ear when he sings. Anyone who wants to call Barney a prat has to go through me first - one of my few heroes and even fewer surviving heroes.

At 50, my long-dodgy hearing is deteriorating even more. If I were to sing at our session I would have to cup my ear unless it was dead quiet. It DOES work. I cannot filter background noise. Even in conversation in a pub my side of the exchange is equal parts lip-reading, guesswork, nodding and pretending I heard, and going "eh?" or "pardon?"

I am pretty shy of the metaphorical spotlight. I'm a joiner-in, not so much a star turn. I'd love to sing a song or two, even with my crap voice, but I am too self-conscious of doing the cupped ear thing... And without it I simply cannot hear myself. So, I don't sing.

"I still maintain that if your voice is good enough to hold a tune, you can do it with or without the "finger in ear", so perhaps it's more about a feeling of insecurity."

Perhaps in some cases that is true. According to your theory, my voice is clearly not "good enough". But you know what? I'd like to have a go anyway, if that's ok with you. Even with a "not good enough" voice I'd like to sing a couple of songs, and to do that I'd have to do the ear cupping thing.

I'm going to build up my nerve until I have the bottle to have a go.

Seems to me that the prat aspect in folk music is displayed by those who rip the piss out of a technique used by people trying to do the best job of singing with whatever voice and hearing they have.


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 07 Apr 10 - 05:25 PM

I've often wondered if the phrase came from people who had the phrase "stick your finger in your ear and go ting a ling a loo" stuck in their minds - especially as popularised by Benny Hill.


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: Stower
Date: 07 Apr 10 - 05:26 PM

Thank you, buddhuu, for your personal story. I wouldn't have put it quite as forcefully as you, but I'm glad *you* did! If you were in the pub with me, I'd be cheering you on.

Stower


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: buddhuu
Date: 08 Apr 10 - 06:12 AM

"...I wouldn't have put it quite as forcefully as you..."

Ooh, yeah... That did come across a bit more, er, robustly than I realised. Still, I stand by it.

Cheers, Stower.


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: GUEST,Geoff (Youtube "bossalero")
Date: 24 Jun 10 - 06:32 AM

great thread - some very game attempts to explain FIE - I can see, of course, if you have a guitar amp or an orchstra going in your ear, you might want to block that out, but that's not a 'tuning' issue, that's a noise issue. Perhaps for group singing, too; but, really, if you can't hold your line when somebody's singing next to you, a finger in the ear won't help - the fact is you have no business doing choral singing. And for the solo, unaccompanied folksinger (how many of those do you see anymore? who would listen to it?) it's ridiculous to suggest they do it to 'stay in tune' -- stay in tune with what?!? they are UNACCOMPANIED, for god's sake! they can sing in whatever key they like!

honestly, you old folkies. Time to let this one go.


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: GUEST
Date: 24 Jun 10 - 06:43 AM

and since I'm here, let me have a word to all the 'have a go' singers. Please reconsider. No one would deny you your right to sing - the good lord gave us all a voice. But why do you want to subject us to yours, if you know it's rubbish (and to the 'friends of crap singers' - if you're a real friend, find a way to gently discourage them - please don't encourage them to embarrrass themselves; it might be amusing for you, but it's kind of mean). We go to festivals and pubs to, hopefully, hear GOOD music. If you've got a crap voice, and you know it, why in heaven's name do you want to subject us to it? Isn't that the most transparent sort of self-indulgence? since your efforts are evidently only about pleasing yourself, perhaps you could confine yourself to singing to your mirror at home - this would also help you get ensure you get the appropriate 'eyes shut, head cocked, finger in ear' posture just right. Take some videos if you must, and post them on YouTube, but please don't take the mic at my local - I paid for my pint, and I'd love to enjoy it slowly, rather than slurp it down and make a dash for the door.


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: GUEST
Date: 24 Jun 10 - 06:48 AM

'singers' or 'musicians' -- there's another topic. There IS a difference between being a singer and a musician. Anyone can claim to be a singer; but to be a musician, you have to play an instrument and that takes some dedication. To equate the two diminishes the efforts of those who have learned to play an instrument.


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: The Sandman
Date: 24 Jun 10 - 07:13 AM

the voice is an instrument, and has to be worked on, as does breath control for good singing.


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: buddhuu
Date: 24 Jun 10 - 07:40 AM

I'm assuming that all of the last three "Guests" were Geoff. Apologies to him if I'm mistaken.

Well, as the term "have a go" is verbatim the wording I used above, I'll assume that your response was, at least in part, to my post.

You, sir, may kiss my bottom. You assume that you know the contexts in which we all participate/perform. We are not all denizens of anal, elitist folk clubs. Some of us provide informal, relaxed, INCLUSIVE pub sessions aimed at building and reinforcing community values through music and fun. Some of us welcome people at all levels of ability and encourage them to participate and to develop.

But just because it's primarily for the craic and the camaraderie doesn't mean that we don't do our best. If my best is assisted by sticking a finger in my ear then I will do just that - while raising a finger on the other hand in your direction.

What's more, how dare you insult good singers by implying that their performance is of less worth than that of an instrumentalist? I'm an instrumental musician more than a singer, but even I find that offensive. I have been moved to tears by singers (in a good way) on many occasions. Instrumentalists rarely, if ever, have managed the same. In what way is a singer in any way a lesser being than some jumped up Yngwie Malmsteen analogue with more chops than heart?

Nah, up yours, pal.

To innocent bystanders, I apologise for lapsing back into robust mode.


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: Brian May
Date: 24 Jun 10 - 07:43 AM

I THINK YOU'VE ALL MISSED THE POINT


When I lerned miself folk singin, 'twas in in deepest Wiltshyre and orl the zingas woz on the beer lyke.

Now the ztory 'bout stickin yor finga in yer ear was zimply zo ya didn't touch yur pint 'o zider/beer (we were flexible) under yor left armpit wilst yer wer zingin.

An' it didn't matter a toz if yer wuz owt o'tune coz evrybody elze wuz slurpin' in time with the muzic.

Tha winna woz the las' man standin' with or withowt iz finga in iz ear.

NOW doo yoo undastand?


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Subject: RE: Finger in Ear - what's all that about?
From: Joe_F
Date: 24 Jun 10 - 06:32 PM

Staying in tune with *oneself* is not a "ridiculous" idea; it a common & reasonable aspiration of individuals & choruses that sing unaccompanied. The director of my glee club in days gone by called it "intonation", and he policed it by repeating at the end of the song the piano chord he had played to start us off -- embarrassment enough. It is achievable even by those without perfect pitch.

If I may make a constructive suggestion to those who want bone conduction and do not have an internal finger like me (see my preceding post): one may always use an earplug. A few people may notice when you put it in & take it out, but it is far less conspicuous than keeping a finger there.


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Subject: Cupping the ear(s) while singing
From: Crowhugger
Date: 25 Jun 10 - 01:01 AM

This is a really interesting thread. I like the variety of views in it. I've been teaching tuning & intonation to an a cappella chorus of some 60 women, doing one on one, small groups and whole chorus sessions. It's a barbershop chorus where the goal is always to sing so accurately that the 4 parts create strong overtones, so strong that the audience will hear at least 5, maybe even 6-part harmony. (Side question: Do traditional, unaccompanied singing ensembles have that goal too?)

This chorus is where I've observed singers tuning differently depending if they mostly hear their inside-the-head voice or their outside-the-head voice. Basically, tuning to the inside (bone-conducted) sound caused them to sing a little flat. By which I mean anything between a hair and 2/3 of a semitone below the desired pitch. Usually the discrepancy has been larger in the lowest range and smaller in the highest range.

Cupping the ear is a wonderful tool that has helped a number of these singers learn to match their "outside" voice to the pitch pipe or the voices around them. I'm sure their inside voices are beautiful but since no one else can hear them, to focus on tuning them seems futile, even counterproductive.

In our case the ear-cupping is used only in rehearsal and personal practise, never in performance. The best way for us to use this method of tuning is to cup the ear constantly at first, then uncup for a few measures at a time, re-cupping to check if tuning is still accurate. The learner tries to go longer and longer uncupped without losing accuracy. Not surprisingly, the chorus was stuck in the competetive rankings until we got a critical mass of singers sufficiently aware of how to tune more accurately.

Because I've had this experience, I'm fascinated by the comment somewhere above (or was it in the linked thread...?) from one who found that unaccompanied singers usually go sharp. Even with the tension caused by performance nerves, I've almost never seen people go sharp except when over-compensating from fear of going flat.

A fascinating topic.

Oh yes, one other thing--in a chorus this size singers usually cannot hear their own voices (those in the back row or side margins excepted). Cupping is very useful to check what one's voice is doing, pitch-wise as well as vowel shaping & timbre, important because everyone matching these things is critical to get a chorus' chords to ring well with overtones.

~CH.


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