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Making a Song Sound Right

GUEST,Alley 09 Nov 05 - 08:28 AM
GUEST,leeneia 09 Nov 05 - 09:09 AM
GUEST,DB 09 Nov 05 - 11:46 AM
Peace 09 Nov 05 - 11:51 AM
MMario 09 Nov 05 - 12:00 PM
BTMP 09 Nov 05 - 12:27 PM
Nick 09 Nov 05 - 12:39 PM
GUEST 09 Nov 05 - 01:28 PM
Crane Driver 09 Nov 05 - 01:52 PM
George Papavgeris 09 Nov 05 - 02:15 PM
Don Firth 09 Nov 05 - 02:20 PM
McGrath of Harlow 09 Nov 05 - 02:32 PM
Scotus 09 Nov 05 - 02:35 PM
JohnB 09 Nov 05 - 02:56 PM
Ebbie 09 Nov 05 - 03:22 PM
Janie 09 Nov 05 - 04:07 PM
GUEST,DB 09 Nov 05 - 05:13 PM
Scotus 09 Nov 05 - 05:21 PM
Grab 09 Nov 05 - 08:08 PM
McGrath of Harlow 09 Nov 05 - 08:33 PM
Mooh 09 Nov 05 - 08:55 PM
Bert 10 Nov 05 - 12:21 AM
Peace 10 Nov 05 - 01:13 AM
Nick 10 Nov 05 - 04:43 AM
Janie 10 Nov 05 - 09:43 AM
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Subject: Making a Song Sound Right
From: GUEST,Alley
Date: 09 Nov 05 - 08:28 AM

I could sit for hours and listen to someone play guitar and sing. The songs sound great. Why is it, then, when I play a song it doesn't sound that good? Yes, I know the chords, and yes, I use a flatpick and can strum. Is it using a particular "strum" that makes a song sound good, and if so, how do you know the correct "strum." This probably seems like a foolish question, and I'm leaving myself wide open for receiving "smart" responses, but I really do want to know. I'm ready for your comments!


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Subject: RE: Making a Song Sound Right
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 09 Nov 05 - 09:09 AM

Some quick answers here.

1. Do you have an electronic tuner? Having your instrument accurately in tune makes a big difference. It't not enough that it just be in tune with itself. It was designed to play certain notes beautifully, and when it's tuned to those notes, it will sound better.

2. The first thing I do when figuring out a new song is decide what time it's in. Is it in 4/4, 3/4 or 6/8? Your strumming pattern needs to reflect that.

If you don't understand this yet, then get back to us.

3. I never use a flatpick. When I hold one, I feel that I've lost a lot of freedom in my hand and arm. I do use a thumbpick to bring out my bass notes.

It may be that you are just not the flat-pick type.

4. Are you comparing your own playing to recordings? Keep in mind that the recordings were probably made with the finest instruments available (borrowed, perhaps) and may have been enhanced by a sound engineer to the point where no mere human could duplicate that sound.

5. What songs have you been trying to play? Give some examples.


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Subject: RE: Making a Song Sound Right
From: GUEST,DB
Date: 09 Nov 05 - 11:46 AM

Please remember that the quality of your singing is important - not just the accompaniment. In fact most good singers would probably agree that 'the song's the thing' and the accompaniment is there just for support. Can you sing the song unaccompanied? If you've not tried - try it and see what happens.


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Subject: RE: Making a Song Sound Right
From: Peace
Date: 09 Nov 05 - 11:51 AM

Alley, I don't know if you are a member here or not. Listening to a soundclip of you--for thirty seconds--would make this process infinitely easier. Is that possible? That is, is there some way to link to you singing something? If so, please let me know.


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Subject: RE: Making a Song Sound Right
From: MMario
Date: 09 Nov 05 - 12:00 PM

It could just be the different perspective you are hearing the song from -


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Subject: RE: Making a Song Sound Right
From: BTMP
Date: 09 Nov 05 - 12:27 PM

To the point made by Peace, if you were to record what you are playing and singing, then play it back, you may be surprised by what you hear. You may not be fully aware of what you are doing until you listen back to your music. Good luck .... -btmp


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Subject: RE: Making a Song Sound Right
From: Nick
Date: 09 Nov 05 - 12:39 PM

Taste and touch are what, to me, mark out great guitar accompanists.

I have a friend who flatpicks all the time but he has such diversity in his touch that he can either drive hard with a song or play just so sensitively (and most places in between).

It's in the interplay of what he does with both his hands - whilst being totally aware of the song that he is singing and the accompaniment that will enhance that song - that makes it such a joy to listen to. His accompaniment doesn't jar it enhances and is in harmony with the whole of what he is trying to perform (how pretensious does that sound - sorry!)

Practice and more practice has a lot to do with it but a lot has to do with your feel for music. Leonard Cohen (for example) was not a great guitarist (most of the backing on Songs of Leonard Cohen are straight out of book 1 of how to fingerpick and strum a folk guitar) but his accompaniment is just *right* for what he was doing.

Have you got some examples of some (well known) recorded things that illustrate what you like?

Mighty interesting thread subject.


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Subject: RE: Making a Song Sound Right
From: GUEST
Date: 09 Nov 05 - 01:28 PM

I moan about the same thing myself! While everyone else's songs (whether complex or very simple) sound fantastic and lovely, I never think songs I sing, of my own or traditional, have the 'right' sound. I sing around and about and receive a positive response, but I am hugely lacking confidence as I always think I don't sound quite as good as the next person!

(And I play piano, so it's nothing to do with strumming technicalities that I don't really understand!!)


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Subject: RE: Making a Song Sound Right
From: Crane Driver
Date: 09 Nov 05 - 01:52 PM

It is so very hard to form an objective view of your own performance, especially from within your own head. We all know people who think they are absolutely marvelous when everyone else thinks they're awful, and the opposite is even more common. Just remember, false modesty isn't a virtue - it's just false. Listen to recordings of yourself, but also listen to what others tell you - especially if you know someone you can trust to be honest. If you really aren't that good at present, that doesn't mean you can't get better. The only was to be a good musician is to be a bad musician, because if you're not playing, you're not getting better. Whoever is your absolute favourite musician, just remember that s/he was just another beginner once. Keep at it.

Andrew


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Subject: RE: Making a Song Sound Right
From: George Papavgeris
Date: 09 Nov 05 - 02:15 PM

Lots of good advice and ideas above. Let me add something else - not as important as the points already made, but nevrtheless sonething I believe in and "live by":

Strumming (as in "hitting all strings with equal force in rapid succession or all together") at its best can only give adequate accompaniment - not great. It's fine for rhythm guitar, assuming there are other instruments to accentuate different points in the melody. And it's fine for a simple rendition of the song. But ideally, the guitar can do much more to enhance a song. Individual strings plucked at the right time, individual notes to support the vocal melody, little bridges leading from one line to the next etc.

Most performers - including Leonard Cohen, whose technique though simple is indeed perfect for his songs - don't simply "strum". Listen to the way the guitar interplays with the vocal, and try to replicate that; or even better, make the song your own and devise your own way of accompanying it, your own little riffs and "accents".

I all comes with hundreds of hours of practice, coupled with a critical ear, listening to the details of the recorded sound, not just the overall effect.


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Subject: RE: Making a Song Sound Right
From: Don Firth
Date: 09 Nov 05 - 02:20 PM

First of all, ask yourself "Am I a singer, or am I a guitarist?"

Sometimes people labor mightily over learning to play some chords and strums on the guitar and just assume that once they can get around on the guitar and have bunch of neat strums worked out, all they have to do to start accompanying songs is to pick a song, figure out what chords to play, chose a sort of pre-digested strum, then add the song on top of that. Like sort of an after-thought. That method does not produce very good results. It's bass-ackwards.

Leave the guitar in its case. Learn the words to the song. Think about it. What is it all about? What story does it tell? Or what story does it imply? What words and phrases are particularly important? Learn to sing it without accompaniment. This has the added advantage of being able to sing, even if you don't have your guitar with you. Some folks are so dependent on their guitars that they can;t sing without it.

Once you can do that, then pick up the guitar. Figure out what chords to play. And forget all the fancy strums, at least for now. Start by strumming or playing just one chord per measure (I use my fingers. I never have used a flat-pick). Go through the song playing a very simple accompaniment, sort of what we used to call "Burl Ives basic":    Bass-chord, bass-chord for a 2/4 or 4/4 song, or bass-chord-chord, bass-chord-chord for a song in 3/4. Sing the song that way for awhile. Keep the accompaniment simple and concentrate on singing the song well—watching your phrasing and telling the story that the song tells. Try adding a few bass runs. With some songs, maybe that's as far as you want to go. With other songs, you might to try varying the strum or picking pattern a bit, or engineering the bass runs so that you're actually playing a harmony line with your voice.

I play some classic guitar, so I can go hog-wild if I want to, but I usually try to keep it fairly simple. On some songs, like, say, an older English ballad, I might do a full-blown lute-style accompaniment, as long as it doesn't detract from the song.

One summer many years ago, I worked as a grunt for a picture framer (sanding frames, washing glass, and after a while, under his gentle guidance, he let me matte and frame some drawings and paintings). Important artists and art galleries in the area brought their stuff to this guy. His principles of what makes a good frame for a painting also work well for guitar accompaniments. Borrow shapes and colors from the painting and keep it fairly neutral. For a song accompaniment, borrow themes or phrases from the song's melody to use as a touch of counterpoint to your voice or as between-verses "licks." The most important thing my picture framer boss said was "If people look at a painting and say, 'Wow, what a beautiful frame!' then you've blown it! The frame should set the art work off in space, but it should never draw attention to itself."

The song is the thing.

One thing that bores the starch out of me is the singer-guitarist who has about three strums that they use all the time for damned near everything. Flat-pickers are often the worst. They'll sweep the pick across all six strings in a sort of "whack—whack-a-whack-a-whack-a, whack—whack-a-whack-a-whack-a" rhythm that never varies. B-o-o-o-o-ring!!!

I remember a little old lady who had played guitar (mostly classical) all her life. She urged people to learn to use a guitar as a musical instrument, not just to play rhythm with. She'd look at you fiercely and ask, "Do you want to play a guitar, or do you want to play a drum?"

Just a few thoughts.

Don Firth

P. S. I don't mean to dump on flat-pickers. Some flat-pickers can wreak marvels with the bloody thing—Doc Watson, various jazz guitarists. I started by playing with my fingers (a bit of nail) and every time I've tried to use a flat-pick, I always felt there was too much junk between me and the strings. I feel that same way about finger-picks. Like trying to tap-dance with big, floppy galoshes on. But then, I play a nylon-string classic.


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Subject: RE: Making a Song Sound Right
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 09 Nov 05 - 02:32 PM

As DB said there. Singing comes first. When you've got the song right it's time to think about putting in an accompaniment, if it needs one, making sure it doesn't get in the way of the song.


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Subject: RE: Making a Song Sound Right
From: Scotus
Date: 09 Nov 05 - 02:35 PM

You may also find that, having sung the song unaccompanied, you should continue to do just that! I sing many more songs that way now than I used to. It's partly because you aren't imposing a harmony on your audience (no chords for them to 'force-fit' with if singing along)and partly because you can vary the rhythm to add dynamic to the song. If it's an older traditional song it might also be in a mode that doesn't 'sit well' with guitar chords anyway.

Jack Beck


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Subject: RE: Making a Song Sound Right
From: JohnB
Date: 09 Nov 05 - 02:56 PM

I (read WE, I need the help) only ever perform a cappella, I don;t consider myself a good enough guitarist to consider letting anyone pay me to make them listen. When people hear me play the guitar they always say things about how good I play though. So do your own thing.
Singing with two ladies in a trio, our thing is to find the right start note to put us into the right key for the right sound. I wish I could express this better but I can't, not having much musical theory.
What we do is sing a new song three or four times, starting from different notes until we get the sound of the harmonies which we are looking for. We have taken extensive cracks at some songs stretched over several rehearsals to get it right at times. We also invent new keys in the process as one song after many attempts ended up as our "Db" song. We had tried it I'm sure in C# and it did not work.
Playing with other musicians can also be exremely constrictive with regards to Key (I can only play it in D) and more so with timing and phrasing.
Good Luck and whatever you do Keep Trying, JohnB


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Subject: RE: Making a Song Sound Right
From: Ebbie
Date: 09 Nov 05 - 03:22 PM

There's another thing that I've only recently come to understand. Sing in a key just slightly higher than your comfort level.

I have a low voice and I've always thought of myself as having an extremely limited range. Only in the last year or so have I discovered that my range is greater than I had thought and that my voice is not as 'muddy' if I pick the proper pitch.

I don't mean that one should strain, in any sense, but that if you are comfortable in A, try C. If that IS too high, try Bb. Or B. At a certain point, your voice will demonstrate much greater clarity, lending an edge to the song that wasn't there before.


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Subject: RE: Making a Song Sound Right
From: Janie
Date: 09 Nov 05 - 04:07 PM

Hi Alley,

Welcome to Mudcat.

Lots of good advice here for you and me both!

I have been singing for many years, mostly to myself, or with a small group of friends. Only recently have I begun recording myself and listening to it. What an eye-opener. In some ways my voice is better than I thought it was. However, I can now hear the results of breathing, ennunciation, pronounciation, mouth and tongue shaping, head vs. chest voice, key, etc. I see have a lot to work on AND a lot to work with! It is also true that there are many songs that I enjoy, but they are not songs that I should sing unless, once I learn them, I am going to adapt them to fit my own quality of voice, expression and life experience. If you are trying to sound "just like so-and-so" when you do a song, stop. Sound like yourself. If you are not recording yourself, start. I've know for a long time I needed to do that, but thought I had to have an expensive recorder to really get an idea of how I sound. (25-30 years ago that was probably true.) I use a little Sony digital voice recorder with a built-in stereo mic that my sister got for me, and listen to the playback through headphones. For my purposes it works great.


Take care and come back in.

Janie


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Subject: RE: Making a Song Sound Right
From: GUEST,DB
Date: 09 Nov 05 - 05:13 PM

Janie,

"Sound like yourself" - what excellent advice! There are two types of singers that I dislike:

- Those that sound like clones of other well known singers.

- Those that contrive some sort of strange voice in order to sound 'original'.

In my opinion the most pleasing singers are those who sing in their own natural voices. Again, I agree that recording yourself and playing the recording back is a good way of finding your natural voice.


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Subject: RE: Making a Song Sound Right
From: Scotus
Date: 09 Nov 05 - 05:21 PM

I couldn't agree more about using your own natural voice. One thing I hated about Scottish folk clubs back in the 60s and 70s was the tendency many singers had of adopting a strange 'voice' that you never heard outside of a folk club. I suppose they thought they were being 'folky'!

Jack


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Subject: RE: Making a Song Sound Right
From: Grab
Date: 09 Nov 05 - 08:08 PM

As far as "sound like yourself" goes, what you'll find by recording yourself is that you don't sound to other people how it sounds to you. The bit of head between your voicebox and ears makes sure that you get much more resonance to the ears than you get to the room. What I found was that I have to consciously pitch my voice to sound (to me) too bass-heavy and "muddy", and then it'll just about stop being too weak and whiny to the rest of the world. ;-)

Also sound like yourself in guitar playing. If you've not been playing long enough to have developed a personal "style", then this could be it.

Graham.


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Subject: RE: Making a Song Sound Right
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 09 Nov 05 - 08:33 PM

One thing that can help is to fnd out what is the comfortable key in which to sing a song (which can vary from night to night and place), by singing a snatch of it into an electronic tuner. Then pitch the accompaniment to match your voice. It's a lot easier to put a capo on a guitar than on a larynx.


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Subject: RE: Making a Song Sound Right
From: Mooh
Date: 09 Nov 05 - 08:55 PM

Great advice here!

I think my solo playing benefits greatly from listening to and playing with others. The rocking blues bass gig is fabulous for "locking in" with the drummer, and so when playing solo I try to "lock in" with my mental drummer, even adding some bass lines along the way. The celtoid gig is helpful for playing without singing, working on alternate rhythms, mixing up the flatpicked/fingerpicked/hybrid styles and vocal accompaniment where I don't sing. The benefit is that when I play solo, some of the other "training" has been transferred. The duo with a fiddler helps me work on tempo extremes, syncopation, swing chords and the like.

My dear sister, who has a hearing impairment but is fabulously musical, was once very irritated by the constant (and to her very loud) drone of my high E string while playing open chords to a vocal melody. From that moment of enlightenment I've listened for that string to interfer with the melody instrument or voice. As a consequence, I often deliberately ease off the high E while chording. I won't do this with the 12 string as the 3rd course octave has its own way. This is also a good reason for owning a baritone guitar.

I might reiterate that the same strum rhythm pattern throughout a gig or throughout a song is too much. Songs deserve some dynamics, some variation, and some interpretation...even some silence (think rests) from the guitar.

Here's an example. The way I play Rights Of Man accompanying the fiddle (but it might just as well be a voice) starts with power chords (yup, 6 of them) in the first half, open chords in the second repeat, open chords with some walking/passing bass notes in the second half. We play it as a hornpipe, so it swings hard, even when I vary it by adding a half with a pedal note or drone like bagpipes. It almost seems like too much variety for one tune except that with repetition it seems to build, flow, and conclude. When I accompany myself singing, say, Move It On Over, I shuffle rhythm it with power chords, build to open chords and walking bass, then on to closed chords, not too much unlike what I do with Rights Of Man.

The singing part requires a kind of independence of voice which sounds like its own entity, yet "locks in" with the guitar beat, not being distracted by odd rhythmic things that can happen, like syncopation, triplets (by either), or dynamic "shots".

Practice, practice, practice. Listen to yourself as you play and played back on a recorder. Get a good vocal coach who's sensitive to accompaniment. Isolate difficult passages and work them over and over, but put it all together as a whole so you can get from beginning to end without glitches.

Good topic and interesting read.

Peace, Mooh


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Subject: RE: Making a Song Sound Right
From: Bert
Date: 10 Nov 05 - 12:21 AM

Be YOU as the others have said just now.

ENJOY yourself and have fun, YOU are the greatest.


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Subject: RE: Making a Song Sound Right
From: Peace
Date: 10 Nov 05 - 01:13 AM

"It's a lot easier to put a capo on a guitar than on a larynx."

That, sir, is brilliant.


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Subject: RE: Making a Song Sound Right
From: Nick
Date: 10 Nov 05 - 04:43 AM

Peace, I think if you apply the capo lower down the body you can get a similar effect


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Subject: RE: Making a Song Sound Right
From: Janie
Date: 10 Nov 05 - 09:43 AM

Is THAT how Bill Monroe hit those high notes?

Janie


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