Tag Archives: practice singing

More About Practicing Vocal Improv

A great way to practice improvisational singing is to invite at least one other person to sing with you or “work out” with you. This is one of the most efficient ways to expand your abilities, think outside your own sound box, and experiment with vocal patterns and musical ideas in addition to your own.

Adding another voice to your improv session changes the game completely.  It’s an automatic challenge.  For starters, you have to include another person vocally speaking, and you must sing with them.  For it to work, responses to whatever you sing to each other are a resounding “yes.”

You go with it….

Whatever the other person sings, you find your way into it, around it, under it, or through it and you sing notes that match or accentuate or support the “incoming” sound in some way.  You accompany, you follow.  And pretty soon you’re “leading”, but who is to know, really….and who cares.  The two of you are creating an unfolding vocal experience, an ebb and flow, an ever-moving river of sound.

As you sing, you will likely find yourself trusting the improvisational process more and more, and still you may falter.  You may hesitate.  But if you listen and breathe, you will probably find a new sound, sound pattern or expression you didn’t know you had.  What a gift from your partner in song.

When your partner moves into a vocal tangent you don’t understand, just wait a moment until you can feel what is being sung, what is being communicated, or where she is headed.  Then add to the mix in some way.

Be patient.  Simple is good.  In fact, simple is often the most beautiful.

You will probably begin to understand the other person (not to mention yourself) in a deep and unspoken way.  You might feel the voice-being next to you as if you were dancing together, moving as one, all while going forward into the sound of the two of you.

And then there’s another matter.  Since there are two of you and you are looking out for each other in this vocal improv game, you sing not as a soloist, but as a duo.  This means making space in your singing for another person.  If you’re in the lead, you have to give the other singer room to join you.

Easier said than done.  Perhaps a new awareness…

It’s a bit like driving.  You know where you are going, you know your destination, but in order to arrive,  it is a good and useful thing to be in cooperation with the other drivers.  As you drive, you’re in a movin’, groovin’, lane-changing, speeding up and slowing down, there’s my exit, and maybe even “wow, I guess I missed my off-ramp” kind of  dance with other vehicles, intentions, driving styles, levels of awareness, emotional states, and destinations.

You’ve got to pay attention.  Adjust.  Step on the brake occasionally.  Re-evaluate. Speed up.  Slow down.

For another comparison, in a partnership or intimate relationship, freedom of expression is a good thing, a necessary thing, vital and life-enhancing even — but if one person in a couple only has “individual awareness” and doesn’t realize or know how to be a member of a team of two, things don’t work as smoothly.

So, as you vocalize, be free and self-expressive AND look to see if you are including the other person.

When I have an event coming up, I practice in every way I can — by myself and with others.  Aloud and to myself.  Just before sleep and when I wake up.  Here and there during the day.  I just sing for a little while. I tune in, try things in my head or out loud, and play a bit.  Then back to work as usual.

Kaleo Wheeler

And yesterday, I asked a new friend of mine, Kaleo Wheeler, to come sing with me.  I had never sung with her before, but it seemed like we could probably make a good go of it.

By the way, Kaleo has an album out, called Ulana, The Way of the Heart, a beautiful CD of her Hawaiian music.

Kaleo and I sang together for more than an hour, and I’m here to report that this process re-arranged our brain cells in such a good way.  Making room for another singer inside my own vocal abilities, patterns, habits and sounds is uplifting, a good exercise and just plain fun.  At the end of the session, we spontaneously expressed to each other the delight we both felt.

After singing, as we drove away a big-winged black and yellow butterfly lead us much of the way down the steep road.   In order to avoid crushing him, I had to keep stopping the car.  At one point, I got out of the car to shoo him off the road.  He didn’t fly away, but instead continued to fly down the road about twenty feet at a time.  We wondered if he was injured, but part way down the long and winding road, he flew off into the forest just as nimble and healthy as can be. Apparently, he had successfully delivered his message of transformation and support, which we interpreted as a “thumbs up” from the singing Gods.

A butterfly “leading” a big ol’ piece of moving metal is a striking visual, and inspired continued reflection about our experience together.  We so enjoyed the exploration, leading each other into unknown territory, following, mixing it up, cracking up, exploring dissonance, stopping to smell the roses, and enjoying the profound silence between sounds.

We found the “new” in ourselves and we didn’t even quite know what to call it, we just felt happy.

…which reminds me of a quote I love about improv by Miles Davis.  He said ” I’ll play it first and tell you what it’s called later.”

Alone in the Rain with No Transportation

This is actually a favorite kind of day for me….

… And NO, I’m not stranded outdoors with a broken down car.

I’m home alone, no meals to fix, and nobody to tend to except already contented animals. Nothing I’m up to requires a car and I’m all cozy and warm, slippers on, with plenty of time to write, create and brainstorm. The golden beeswax candles are lit right next to me, soft lights brighten up the cloudy day and surround-sound music bathes me in my favorite rainy day albums.beeswaxcandles

The longer I’m here on this beautiful earth, the more I appreciate this kind of time. Being busy is highly over-rated. Being home writing, with a hot cup of French Roast and great music on the Bose Music System to keep me company is, well, pretty much my idea of heaven.

Sure, there is a rather hefty stack of paper staring at me that needs sorting and filing. But am I doing that?

Nope.

Today is for me and my whims. When I am alone, my creative muses talk to me the most about music and making joyful sounds.

Want to know what they said today?

One of the best ways to get started with improvisational singing is to “practice it” when no one is around. You can experiment in ANY way. Go ahead. Have a wild and woolly practice session.

And here’s the thing. It doesn’t mean you necessarily practice improvisational singing. Case in point — today I chose an Opera piece that is (let’s be honest) a musical train wreck for me.
OperaCartoon
Il mio bel foco (My Joyful Ardor) by Benedetto Marcello.

It’s not an easy piece and on top of that the version of the accompaniment that came with my music book moves like lightning. Nobody who sings it well has this speed-demon accompaniment. Oh, and for strike three, it’s in Italian of course.

To listen to it, go to Youtube. Here’s a link. Spare yourself and don’t listen to the folks who sing it in their garage or for their recital. Trust me, it’s not that helpful. Listen to a singer who can actually give it a go.

If you want to get better at improvisational singing, practice something difficult for you — anything. I chose Opera today, but you could opt for a mountain bike, a skateboard, roller blades or a trampoline!! Pad yourself properly and then play like a kid. You could go play basketball, play catch with your grand daughter or find a game of beach volleyball. Why not have a dance lesson, or get up the courage to build a do-it-yourself website (argh), or make soup broth from scratch. Get in the car and drive somewhere without planning where you’re going.

Do something you’ve never done before or something that is predictably difficult for you — AND, this is important — you actually have an attraction to doing it. You want to do it.

If you practice something you’re not adept at doing, and go at it with a big dose of joy and reckless abandon, you learn about who you are — very important in improvisational singing!

You need to know YOU if you’re going to sing without a map. (More on that in a future post.)

During this “reckless abandon” project, pay attention to improvements only. Forget the “mistakes.” They mean nothing. Look for what you’re doing well and concentrate on that. Notice everything you do well and let yourself smile about it.

This is fabulous training for improvisational singing. And for life, too, for that matter.

To do anything well, it helps to be comfortable with everything about it, including mistakes and screw-ups. Make mistakes. Relax about them. Welcome them with open arms.

Long ago, I knew a Utah ski instructor who taught beginners. We’re talking newbies who somehow got railroaded into that ski vacation with friends or family. And here they were with their skis and poles and their brand new ski outfit all dressed up and scared to death.

And do you know what he taught them first and foremost on that bunny slope where we all begin?

He taught them how to fall.

I've Fallen And I Can't Get Up!

I've Fallen And I Can't Get Up!

After the falling lesson, where everybody ended up covered with snow and laughing, his students had great fun learning to ski because the worst part — the part that everyone was trying NOT to do — was over! Now they could get on with the standing up part of skiing.

Simple, yet brilliant.

This is what we’re talking about: Doing something “really wrong” or sloppily and getting it over with is liberating.

So strap on your whatevers and go attempt something ridiculously new and a tiny bit dangerous for you — and then write me and tell me all about it. I’ll be waiting with great anticipation for your report.