Singing & Playing (12th March 2015)

Start singing - get better, quicker. 

Having played live in various guises for many years I don't really get embarrassed about singing in public any longer. Admittedly, I still experience nerves on big occasions, where I need to get it right, but the nerves  seem to disappear as soon as I open my mouth to sing and play. 
From the last few months spent teaching groups big and small, I have noticed  interesting patterns relating to the progress of those who are prepared to sing during lessons and practise and those who aren't. 

As you'd guess, the progress has been so much quicker from those who have been able to get over those initial feelings of unease. I absolutely love to see the smiles on the faces of students both young and old at the point where they realise that they have put their dignity in a basket and actually made the massive step of singing and playing at the same time and not only did it not hurt, but it felt good. That " ooh, get me!! " feeling. It really doesn't matter whether you are a good singer or not. A dodgy vocal sung unpretentiously and with feeling can be much more effective than a Mariah Carey style advanced vocal technique laden warble which makes the words unimportant.

The actor Jack Nicholson "sang" la vie en rose at the end of one of his films and I don't think I've heard it done better. Angela Lansbury did something similar in Disney's Beauty and the Beast. I'm not for a minute saying that Mariah Carey can't convey feeling, she can and does in spades but the mood sometimes requires something altogether simpler. 

Singing songs while you are accompanying yourself certainly gives clues as to where certain chord changes should be. I also feel that it makes "comping " - accompaniment - techniques feel much more natural.Students who sing seem to be much less likely to get hung up on strumming patterns. Whether to go up or down at certain times. They do it automatically. Natural strumming  patterns while singing also provide a lovely percussive element to a song. Look at any solo Ed Sheeran or Newton Faulkner song for an example of this.

There are many teaching groups and organisations that talk about the "proven" health benefits of singing. In honesty, I can't say that I have seen any peer reviewed papers on this nor do I expect to find any if I look for them but I do know that I do feel better when I've been singing and I can certainly see that my students feel much better about their playing when they are singing alongside. It could all however just be the buzz and subsequent snowball effect that you get when you know you have overcome a difficult obstacle or had some positive affirmation from doing something.


My little lad recently played piano in a school concert. He had wobbles leading up to it and made mistakes in random places - rarely the same one twice- making it hard to rehearse the crease out. However, on the evening, he was faultless.  A zen like calm seemed to take over when he played and he smashed it. Sadly, I can't take any credit for this, nor do I have any answers or tips as to how to make this happen- I'd be minted if I could.All I can say is that his practise subsequently has been of a much higher standard as a result of the confidence gained. 

Finally - singing in groups...
A great way to get over those nerves is to get lots of people singing together.The ukelele group that I run in Tickhill has absolutely magical moments when everyone gets stuck in with the singing. There are still times, for example, when learning new songs,that people may still be a little bit self-conscious, but on the evenings when we have a few more extrovert people along, the result is fantastic.

No matter how bad you think your voice may sound, when you add it to a collective it always sounds so much better. 

Conclusions?

Be brave, put your dignity in a box. Laugh and feel better about yourself for having given things a go.