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Singing when you can't hear yourself

Susan-Marie 26 Feb 13 - 03:03 PM
GUEST,JHW(cookie on old computer)again 26 Feb 13 - 03:57 PM
Richard Bridge 26 Feb 13 - 04:06 PM
Leadfingers 26 Feb 13 - 05:47 PM
Jim Carroll 27 Feb 13 - 03:24 AM
Mr Happy 27 Feb 13 - 04:01 AM
Uncle Tone 27 Feb 13 - 05:56 AM
Ron Davies 27 Feb 13 - 12:05 PM
Uncle Tone 27 Feb 13 - 12:17 PM
Ron Davies 27 Feb 13 - 12:40 PM
Ron Davies 27 Feb 13 - 12:41 PM
Jim Carroll 27 Feb 13 - 01:17 PM
Susan-Marie 27 Feb 13 - 01:49 PM
Uncle Tone 27 Feb 13 - 02:18 PM
Bill D 27 Feb 13 - 02:27 PM
Ron Davies 27 Feb 13 - 02:57 PM
Tattie Bogle 28 Feb 13 - 05:53 AM
Mo the caller 28 Feb 13 - 06:03 AM
Mr Happy 28 Feb 13 - 06:53 AM
GUEST,JHW 28 Feb 13 - 03:10 PM
GUEST,Fantum 28 Feb 13 - 05:29 PM
Ron Davies 28 Feb 13 - 09:02 PM
Don Firth 02 Mar 13 - 01:40 AM
Mr Red 02 Mar 13 - 07:39 AM
Ron Davies 02 Mar 13 - 07:45 AM
Tattie Bogle 02 Mar 13 - 12:43 PM
Bernard 02 Mar 13 - 01:00 PM
Mr Red 04 Mar 13 - 10:27 AM
Ron Davies 05 Mar 13 - 05:39 AM
Mr Red 05 Mar 13 - 06:06 AM
Tattie Bogle 05 Mar 13 - 01:53 PM
Don Firth 05 Mar 13 - 03:45 PM
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Subject: Singing when you can't hear yourself
From: Susan-Marie
Date: 26 Feb 13 - 03:03 PM

When I sing at a formal gig we bring a sound system and I can hear myself through the monitors. Recently I've sung at a couple of house parties where it's just me and a guitarist, maybe a fiddle, but no sound system. I'm having a hard figuring out how to sing well when I can't hear myself because of the acoustics of the room. I feel like I'm forcing my voice and trying to sing as loud as I can just to hear myself, and I suspect it sounds strained. I know I'm not enjoying it.

Putting a finger in one ear helps me hear myself, but it would look silly doing it in public. Maybe wearing an unobtrusive earplug in one ear would help? Any tips or sucessful approaches out there?


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Subject: RE: Singing when you can't hear yourself
From: GUEST,JHW(cookie on old computer)again
Date: 26 Feb 13 - 03:57 PM

Only folk singers seem to put a hand to the ear. No help but most of us are at least as used to singing without a pa as with and the more you do it the more comfortable you should be. (For me folk should be straight from the singer)
It is sheer joy to sing in a room that gives good feedback but some are like singing into a pillow. Worse still when the organiser places the singer to sing against the natural acoustic.
In a dead room beware the risk of pitching too high as well as that one of shouting. Before you go on listen to other performers. If you can hear them ok then your audience are going to hear you. So when you get up it may be a real surprise that the room is utterly dead but you'll know you can be heard.
I tried but failed to devise a personal amplified feedback when I suddenly went largely deaf in the right ear, the one that best hears the guitar. Just by practice in silence at home I've got used to how quiet it sounds but know that when I'm out the audience can hear the voice and the guitar much louder than I do. I'm beat though by background noise and worse still by anyone joining in as then I really can't hear what I'm doing.
If you can, away from the audience, practice to a tame listener.


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Subject: RE: Singing when you can't hear yourself
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 26 Feb 13 - 04:06 PM

Do not put a finger IN the ear. Cup a hand round the ear. I've seen many rock musicians do it - in the days before ANYONE had foldback. And, what's more, pretty damned few folk and acoustic singers put a finger IN the ear - they cup a hand round the ear.

Look for the surfaces off which you can hear yourself. There may be a wall - or you may be able to bounce off your guitarist (he has a reflective flat surface in front of him - the guitar top).

ALWAYS pitch to a defined note.

BTW - do not assume that I do it right. I merely know how it ought to be done right even if I can't do it. I have also asked rock musicians how they can pitch without foldback and they tell me "you sort of hear it in your head".


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Subject: RE: Singing when you can't hear yourself
From: Leadfingers
Date: 26 Feb 13 - 05:47 PM

Pitching is something that comes with practice , though you SHOULD be able to hear the guitar or fiddle ! The 'Ear'ole'trick is to pull the ear slightly forward with the fingertips , so that the sound is transmitted along the hand and straight to the ear .
There is NO doubt but that the prevalance of PA is not doing some of our less experienced singers any favours ! It's a LOT easier to develop voice projection if you do it without PA .


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Subject: RE: Singing when you can't hear yourself
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 27 Feb 13 - 03:24 AM

"Do not put a finger IN the ear...."
What Richard said - around rather than in your ear.
It's an extremely old and widespread technique and has been practiced by singers throughout the world for many centuries, probably millenia.
There are woodcuts and illustrations of all types of singers using it, including muezzins calling the faithful to prayer from the top of minarets.
It was still being used by Travellers selling 'the ballads' (song sheets) up to the 1950s, who sang the songs they were selling at noisy fairs and markets in the first half of the twentieth century
It's a great device for keeping in tune and maintaining your pitch while singing unaccompanied.
Bert Lloyd said it was popular with Eastern European singers when he was collecting there; he and MacColl probably introduced it to the British folk song revival.
The problem with using it today is that finger-in-ear is often used as a term of abuse to denigrate those who take folk song seriously - usually by tone-deaf morons who would probably describe Wagner as a 'folk composer'
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Singing when you can't hear yourself
From: Mr Happy
Date: 27 Feb 13 - 04:01 AM

I'd suggest a hearing test


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Subject: RE: Singing when you can't hear yourself
From: Uncle Tone
Date: 27 Feb 13 - 05:56 AM

You can't cup your ear if you play an instrument to accompany yourself.

As a singer who rarely uses PA, when I do I find the fold-back quite off-putting, and prefer it turned quite low. If I can I won't use fold-back at all. I'll have the speakers set in a position so that I can hear them too, without causing feed-back. Keep it simple, even in a folk-rock band.

But I do agree with a previous suggestion. If going acoustic, listen to other singers from the back of the room. Judge how much effort they are putting in. If they can be heard alright, then you will be too, no matter how 'dead' the room seems to be from the front.

Tone (not tone deaf, yet)


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Subject: RE: Singing when you can't hear yourself
From: Ron Davies
Date: 27 Feb 13 - 12:05 PM

If you are singing with no sound system, try to get as close physically to your accompanying instruments as possible.    This will help for sure in keeping in rhythm and should also help intonation if that's a question.   If the other members of your group are too loud for you, surely you can ask them to cut back a bit?

As to the decibels you need to put out, if the audience is actually listening to you, that really shouldn't be a problem. Perhaps I don't know what a house party is in the UK. In the US it meeans the attendees are there to listen to the performers--or possibly to take their own turns later. If they are talking etc., is there a chance you can ask them to be a bit quieter?   

Of course if you are just background music, you have no say.    That's really frustrating--so don't even worry about how loud you have to be.   Just sing no louder than you want to. In my opinion it's not worth it to blow your voice out if they are not listening.


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Subject: RE: Singing when you can't hear yourself
From: Uncle Tone
Date: 27 Feb 13 - 12:17 PM

Folk as background music? No thanks. I don't know about anybody else but I don't do wallpaper music.

They might as well have a jukebox or carry O'Kay.

Tone


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Subject: RE: Singing when you can't hear yourself
From: Ron Davies
Date: 27 Feb 13 - 12:40 PM

Amen.


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Subject: RE: Singing when you can't hear yourself
From: Ron Davies
Date: 27 Feb 13 - 12:41 PM

And what's O'Kay?


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Subject: RE: Singing when you can't hear yourself
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 27 Feb 13 - 01:17 PM

"You can't cup your ear if you play an instrument to accompany yourself."
You don't need to if you have an instrument; not to stay in tune anyway, yo take your pitch from that.
Instruments are curate's-eggish when it comes to singing - fine (but often unnecessary) if they accompany the singing - intrusive when the singer follows the accompaniment .
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Singing when you can't hear yourself
From: Susan-Marie
Date: 27 Feb 13 - 01:49 PM

Thanks for all the helpful suggestions, and the fascinating history of cupping the ear. No finger IN the ear - got it!

I'm not concerned about staying on pitch, it's more that when I can't hear myself sing I can't tell whether I'm getting the vocal quality I want. But given that a dead room with moderate background noise is far from ideal singing conditions, maybe I shouldn't be worrying about optimum vocal performance.

What I mean by "house party" is a party where the host has asked me to sing for his guests in his living room for about 30 minutes. For example, at the beginning of February I was asked to sing at a "Brigid's Day" party (I did "The Snows They Melt the Soonest" because it seemed very appropriate). Most people at the party stop talking to listen, and I try to do songs where the other guests can sing along on the chorus (like "Johnny Jump-Up"). SO the music is not the main reason for the party, but it's not background either.

As some have suggested, practice is the probably the best way to learn how to get the right vocal quality whether I can hear myself or not. But I will try the ear cupping thing to see how I like it!


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Subject: RE: Singing when you can't hear yourself
From: Uncle Tone
Date: 27 Feb 13 - 02:18 PM

Carry O'kay = Karaoke, Ron!

Tone


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Subject: RE: Singing when you can't hear yourself
From: Bill D
Date: 27 Feb 13 - 02:27 PM

Having a slight-to-moderate hearing loss, I sometimes cup one or both ears when just listening to some 'quiet' part on the TV. It is immediately noticeable.

It used to be common (well, many years ago) to see ear trumpets because they did help.

funny take on it


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Subject: RE: Singing when you can't hear yourself
From: Ron Davies
Date: 27 Feb 13 - 02:57 PM

You mean it's not a UK or Irish kind of Muzak?    I'm disappointed.


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Subject: RE: Singing when you can't hear yourself
From: Tattie Bogle
Date: 28 Feb 13 - 05:53 AM

I have no hearing at all in one ear, but think I do some of that "hearing in the head" stuff. If singing a wide-ranging song, I'll first "sing in my head" the highest and lowest notes so I can then pitch it right without needing whistles or pitch pipes to start me off. I also do the acid test of pitching at home by giving myself a start note, singing the song unaccompanied, then checking the last note to see if I've drifted up or down.
I have done quite a lot of am-dram musical stuff where you will be singing next to other people singing different parts, and often moving about too, plus a loud orchestral accompaniment, so you just learn to do it. ( in this situation having one deaf ear is a positive advantage!!)
This way you learn a sort of "vocal proprioception" so that your brain knows what your vocal cords are doing and you can pitch a note in the face of other noises, be that instruments, other voices or just background noise, even if you can't hear yourself. I'd liken it to being able to walk in the dark without seeing where you are going., which most of us with normal balance can do.
So my suggestion would be to practice singing, first in a quiet room to check your pitching, then do it again against something loud and noisy .


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Subject: RE: Singing when you can't hear yourself
From: Mo the caller
Date: 28 Feb 13 - 06:03 AM

Not what the thread is about, but when I saw the title I thought it would be about the audience, joining in the chorus when you can't hear yourself.
In some situations you are lifted by a wall of sound, and feel yourself part of it. At some festivals all you can hear is the PA, and your own singing feels like opening your mouth with nothing coming out - dead.


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Subject: RE: Singing when you can't hear yourself
From: Mr Happy
Date: 28 Feb 13 - 06:53 AM

At some festivals all you can hear is the PA, and your own singing feels like opening your mouth with nothing coming out - dead.

Agree.

I'm not fond of amped up music, sounds like a record, & is part of the reason I don't attend concerts


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Subject: RE: Singing when you can't hear yourself
From: GUEST,JHW
Date: 28 Feb 13 - 03:10 PM

and if someone on stage with a PA invites the audience to join in - not a chance


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Subject: RE: Singing when you can't hear yourself
From: GUEST,Fantum
Date: 28 Feb 13 - 05:29 PM

I saw Pavarotti put a hand over his ear and I'm pretty sure its a tried and tested technique for singers everywhere
Even I have done it when I needed to hear myself or block out unwanted noise. Go for it do the old hand over the ear thing look like a true folkie whats to lose.

Fantum


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Subject: RE: Singing when you can't hear yourself
From: Ron Davies
Date: 28 Feb 13 - 09:02 PM

Cupping your ear is one thing. It's not sticking a finger in your ear--and I don't even think anybody even suggested that idea in this thread. We've been warning against it.


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Subject: RE: Singing when you can't hear yourself
From: Don Firth
Date: 02 Mar 13 - 01:40 AM

The first places I ever sang were in people's living rooms, at what we called "hootenannies" or "hoots." Basically, this was a party where people sat around and sang for each other. Warm plunge, and it was populated by people like Walt Robertson, who had a weekly television show, to rank beginners, which, at first, included me.

When I first started singing in coffee houses some years later, they rarely had a PA system. It was just a bigger room with more people, who were sitting at tables instead of on sofas, chairs, and the floor. One coffee house did have a PA system, but it wasn't really necessary, and I sometimes found it distracting when I sang there.

I have sung in an old movie theater converted into a concert theater, where the acoustics were good enough so no amplification was needed, and I've sung in the Seattle Center Playhouse, 800 seat capacity. But there, too, the acoustics were so good that no PA system was necessary.

During the Seattle World's Fair in 1962, a bunch of us sang at the United Nations Pavilion every Sunday. They had a PA system, but the concerts were outdoors and the audiences were often quite large. Then, a year later at the weekly Seattle Center Hootenannies where we sang to HUGE audiences, up to 15,000 one evening, and we did have a PA system.   It was necessary so everyone could hear us. But I always thought that the system really distorted the sound.

But for a performance in someone's living room, or a house concert, I would never want to use a PA system. Totally unnecessary—unless the "house concert" is in the great hall of some nobleman's castle.

I practice my songs a lot before I "field" them, and do them in my own apartment when neighboring tenants are at work, often quite loudly. And I find the I almost unconsciously adjust my volume (projection) to the size and soumd of the room I find myself singing in.

Maybe I'm missing something here, but, honestly, I don't understand the problem.

Don Firth

P. S. Opera singers regularly sing in large concert halls (opera houses) without amplification--and often over an orchestra going full blast. They don't seem to need to hear themselves beyond the normal "feedback," they just know how they sound. I've seen a lot of live operas, and opera singers don't generally go around the stage with a hand cupped behind an ear. In addition to singing, the good ones are also acting.


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Subject: RE: Singing when you can't hear yourself
From: Mr Red
Date: 02 Mar 13 - 07:39 AM

anyone heard of Mortimer's Reflex?

When you can't hear yourself you tend to speak louder. That's all there is to it, but if you know it you can work within its constraints.
And in my experience singing goes up a tone or two as well.


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Subject: RE: Singing when you can't hear yourself
From: Ron Davies
Date: 02 Mar 13 - 07:45 AM

If the attendees are in fact listening, the only other source of sound should be your accompanying instruments, which you should be able to ask to play a bit softer if necessary.

So I'm with Don Firth.   I don't see why there should be a problem.


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Subject: RE: Singing when you can't hear yourself
From: Tattie Bogle
Date: 02 Mar 13 - 12:43 PM

More or less what I was saying too! (as per Don).


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Subject: RE: Singing when you can't hear yourself
From: Bernard
Date: 02 Mar 13 - 01:00 PM

As Don (and Ron, and TB) said, I don't understand the problem...

Needing to hear yourself seems strange - I can understand, to an extent, the need to hear others when performing in a band... but yourself?

As Mr Happy suggested, maybe a hearing test would be appropriate. If you cannot hear your own voice when there is no PA fuzzing the issue... maybe there's another problem?

I've been singing for over fifty years, often in large concert halls with no PA. Sometimes solo, sometimes in choirs or operetta groups. I have even been a member of the Hallé Choir... I've also sung solo in church whilst accompanying myself on a large pipe organ...

Maybe that's why I don't understand the problem - I've learned to cope without the need for a crutch to lean on.


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Subject: RE: Singing when you can't hear yourself
From: Mr Red
Date: 04 Mar 13 - 10:27 AM

Understand Mortimer's reflex!

How often have you heard someone talking loudly on the phone? Because they can't hear themselves or the other person. They talk loudly as an autonomous reflex.

When singing that can translate into loud, up a tone or two, or worse - no recognisable key.

Alcohol makes everyone sound better. (Humphrey Littleton) but in my experience as documented on tape, it sounds more like a drunken brawl next day.

Nerves certainly alters the presentation.

we are talking nature. You can buck it - only by acknowledging it and attending thereto.


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Subject: RE: Singing when you can't hear yourself
From: Ron Davies
Date: 05 Mar 13 - 05:39 AM

"attending thereto"--i.e. listening to what's going on around you.    Which you should be doing anyway.    So, as we've been saying, it's a mystery why there should be a problem in this case.


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Subject: RE: Singing when you can't hear yourself
From: Mr Red
Date: 05 Mar 13 - 06:06 AM

earplug were suggested.
what about earphones, the in-ear kind and an amplifier, say a recorder. Set the volume you are used to.

There is another problem and it shows how adaptable the human mind is. We habituate. The brain compensates for the current acoustics.

eg when loudspeakers are placed in the roof of a marquee with delay to compensate for the speed of sound it lowers the necessary volume at on end and enhances the clarity at the far end. However the sound engineer is habituated to loud with high frequencies absorbed by the room and the bodies in it. So he is used to a hi-end roll off and is compensating. When it doesn't roll off he thinks the sound is tinny because his brain is habituated. And I am talking of a BBC engineer with very strong (if misguided) opinions. Not unknown in this parish.

So "get used to it" is not that far off the truth. Give it time and if the ears are not damaged by long hours at high volume then the brain will "uncomensate" eventually.


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Subject: RE: Singing when you can't hear yourself
From: Tattie Bogle
Date: 05 Mar 13 - 01:53 PM

Well some of us can do it and some can't: years of doing it means it comes as second nature to the likes of Don, Bernard and me. Probably quite hard to learn how to do it (as with many things!) when you're a bit older, but that's why I suggested a couple of ideas further up the thread.


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Subject: RE: Singing when you can't hear yourself
From: Don Firth
Date: 05 Mar 13 - 03:45 PM

Adjusting my own volume to the size of the room simply came natural to me and I never had to "learn" to do much of anything as far as this was concerned. It's essentially the same unconscious mechanism that tells you that if you're in a regular size living room, you can speak (or sing) in a conversational tone and those in the room will be able to hear you. But if you're in a huge barn or a 2,000 seat auditorium and you want people in the back row to hear you, you're going to have to project.

"Project" as opposed to yelling.

I hesitate to suggest this because many folkies go wall-eyed at the idea, but this is where a good voice teacher can help a lot. They can teach you how to use your voice in such a way that you can bounce it off the back wall of a large concert hall without having to shout—which can distort the sound, and if done repeatedly, can eventually give you serious vocal problems.

And they can do this without making you sound like an opera singer. Believe me, I've known aspiring opera singers who wish it was that easy. I've taken a fair amount of singing lessons from a couple of different teachers and, believe me, I don't sound like an opera singer. Fairly smooth, and I can "belt" when I need to, but no one would mistake me for an operatic bass-baritone, even though I sing in the same range they do.

I have never found knowing how loud I need to sing to adapt to the size of a room to be a problem. More or less conversational tone in a relatively small room, somewhat louder in a coffee house or small auditorium, or if it's a big room or large concert hall, make sure I fill my lungs and—not shout—project.

Don Firth


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