Tag Archives: vocal

How Do You “Learn” Improvisational Singing?

Learning anything improvisational is almost a contradiction in terms, isn’t it?  If the singing isn’t planned, and there is no road map, then how do you practice improvisational singing?

There are a number of ways, and we’ll address a few options here, and more ways later.

You might begin by exploring your voice so that you get to know it — can you say you really know your voice?  I’ve been singing for years, and I’m still getting to know my voice.

Pretend you and your voice really don’t know each other.  Schedule a date to meet and greet. Ask questions, explore, and find out what you can about this “new” friend of yours.

Maybe, just for starters, ask yourself these questions and write out the answers.

  1. What my voice can do?  Include ideas about vocal range, strength or lack thereof that you feel or experience when you sing, clarity of your voice, vocal stamina, etc.  Write down what’s true right now about your voice.  Just ramble about it a bit.  What’s in your awareness about your voice?  Don’t bother editing.  It’s helpful to see where your attention goes when you think about your voice, ’cause you can tell what’s on the “top of the stack.”
  2. How comfortable am I with singing? Can I and/or do I sing just for myself or do I sing for others?
  3. How do I sound?  Describe it factually (without opinion or judgment).  Example:  I think of my voice as soft.  I don’t know how high or low I can sing.  My voice sounds breathy to me, like it has a lot of air in the sound.  It’s not clear like a bell, it’s more like the sound of a soft breeze.  OR — I have one of those boisterous voices.  Loud, kind of brash and bold and out there.  Not quiet or apologetic, really the opposite of that.  I have a confident voice. When I sing, it just sounds loud to me.  I don’t really know if I sing in tune.  I just sing when I sing, without thinking much about how it sounds.
  4. Do I enjoy singing?  Under what circumstances?
  5. What would I like my voice to do that I don’t think it can do at this moment in time?

During your day, when you get up from your desk, put your child down for a blessed nap, walk outside or down the hall for a lunch break or errand, try making a little sound.  I don’t mean a squeak or a tiny sound, I mean sing a little bit.  Hum a little. Sing a song out loud that you’ve been singing in your head.  Make up a song.   Make a wavy sound with your voice.  Sing tra-la-la a couple of different ways.  Sing a sentence instead of speaking it.

Pry open the “exploring your voice”  treasure box by being vocal in a new way — not speaking — but singing.  Widen your speaking range and turn it into a song-sound.

Yes!  Sing a little…

If you can find a place to sing and experiment that’s private, great.  If not, walking along a busy street or going to a park, or sitting in your car for a few minutes can work, too.

Start small and work from there.  Start with humming three notes, heck — one note.  This gets your brain, body, and your being acclimated to a wider range of sound expression.

Later, if you are so inclined, you can develop your voice, so it can do what you want it to do.  Your voice becomes your full partner, a well-prepared tool.  It becomes the paint brush that can splash any color right where you want it.  If you want to sing a low note, or a high note, and you can.  If you need to hold a note forever, or practically forever, you can.  Otherwise, it’s like being a painter with an incomplete palette  — you’re missing some important colors, or the paintbrush itself.

But for now, sing people!  Sing anything. Sing here.  Sing there. Get to know your sound, your vibration, your up notes and your down notes.

It’s where to start.

Oh, and have fun….

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What Does Your Freedom Sound Like?

There is a lot NOT to do when you sing, and a lot to forget about.

Very little TO  DO.

In fact, drop most of your rules about singing — heck drop all of them.  It will make things easier. You can have rules back any time you want them.  Herein lies the beauty of improvisational singing and the introduction to freedom that it offers.Path In Forest

First, get quiet.  Stand there for a while and do nothing.  Clear your mind for a minute.  Just stand there and be.  Imagine you know you are going somewhere beautiful, you just don’t know where.

Then take a deep breath, open your mouth and make a sound — a long, slow, easy-going note.  Your note is strong and it has substance,singleNote2 but no brothers and sisters yet.  No family of sounds.

It’s just one beautiful note standing all by itself.  Ok, it’s a little lonely, but that will change.

Repeat. Forget about melodies.  Feel a note coming and go there.

At first,  singing single notes gets your sound feet on the ground.  This is the point and it’s important.  This is a first step to singing in a way that will help you find your inner bell of freedom.  And what a beautiful sound that is!

Most people do not sing freely, not even close.  This is not exactly a stunning surprise, because we sing the way we live and the way we give speeches (and how we make love — but that’s another story!!!).  We’d have to.  Who we are in one place shows up all over the place — how efficient!

So, if we are a planner, a worrier, a strategist, or an agonizer,  do you think this will show up during singing?  Yep, it will, and this is a very good thing.  And if you don’t KNOW that you’re a “I won’t take a step unless I know where I’m going” person (or whatever), and it shows up in spades during singing, can you embrace that?  Absolutely. And can you embrace how amazing and skilled and beautiful you are?  Absolutely….. well, I don’t know…..sometimes that’s even harder.  (More on that subject another time.)

And yes, there are “natural” speakers who can tell a great story, but they know the story.  They know how it starts, they know the middle and they know the end. They know exactly how to get to the punchline and they know the audience will laugh.  This is a beautiful thing, and a great skill.  However, this is not what I’m talking about here.  Quite the opposite.

LittleGirlPeekingGentle Warning: the strangest sides of us can come up during singing!  This is one of the beauties of singing in this way.  So, my singing friend, prepare to meet your other selves that have been hiding in dark and comfortable places.  Invite them all out into the daylight.  Come  one, come all.  All the uncomfortable, afraid and very in control sides of you are welcome here in the land of free singing.

It’s the open road, baby!  You’ve got powerful transportation.  Step on the gas and see where this voice of yours takes you.

Getting Started with Improvisational Singing — Location, Location

the-cave-with-terri-sepia

Improvisational singing is one of the most delightful activities in the entire Universe!  Nothing like it.  If I have my underwear all in a bundle when I walk in, by the time I’m done singing, I’m a Zen girl.  Not bad.  It’s totally free therapy, and I didn’t even have to tell anyone a dreadful story!

Free singing, improvisational singing or making it up as you go, has only one requirement:  Leave your mind at the door.  It just gets in the way.  Pack it in a bag and drop it in a safe place. You can retrieve anything needed when you leave.  Or let it go and travel lighter…

Location matters.  Find a location to sing that makes YOU happy, and makes it easy to experiment with sound.  Here I am in the wine cave at the Newport Beach Vineyards and Winery in Newport Beach CA, owned by friends of mine, Richard Moriarity and Loren Blackwood.

Loren gives me the key and I go sing.  There are no people around, so I feel free to experiment to my heart’s content.   It feels easy and natural to make any kind of sound I want — loud, soft, “ugly”, or beautiful — I can play with an unlimited range.    Also,  there are no interruptions and no time limits.  I can sing as long as I want to.  Love that!

It’s to your advantage to choose a singing environment that can actually help you acoustically — meaning that the environment is encouraging, beautiful and supportive.   Let’s be real — we are more likely to do something we enjoy if it feels easy and effortless.  Find a place that allows you to fully appreciate the  sounds you are making and how the vibration of your singing registers throughout your body.  This is nurturing and calming.

If the walls are reflecting your sound back to you, it is easy to produce sound.  If you’ve had an arduous day, or if you are feeling emotional and eeking out a small sound is all you can muster in that moment — fear not! Even the softest sound is amplified,  and this “microphone effect” from the reflective walls is like having a supportive friend by your side.

Also, as you sing in an environment that echoes a bit, the sounds you’re making mix together, causing it to feel almost like there is someone else singing with you.  This is a beautiful thing; the stone is your singing partner.

My preference is to sing in stone or cement environments.  One of my favorite locations (so far) in the US is the St. Joseph Chapel in the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, DC.

Cathedrals or old stone churches are outstanding.   However, in a pinch,  a stairway or hallway of an office building, a resonant parking garage, an empty church, or your very own tile bathroom will do just fine.

More next time on what to sing, how to sing, vocal experiments to try, and so on! Here’s to your Tra-la-la!

My thanks to Stevie Strang for the beautiful wine cave photo.  Stevie creates the most beautiful words and pictures!  Read more about her and see her photos at http://journaltolife.blogspot.com/.

And my thanks to Loren and Richard for their generosity in allowing me to sing in the cave on their little chunk of southern California paradise! http://nbwine.com/sys-tmpl/oclifestyles/.