Joe Samuel
from: Joe Samuel
Category: Improv

Sing without singing


We have many people coming to our workshops who claim that they "Cannot sing". When asked to do scale warm ups, they claim that they have a very limited range and they find it hard to pitch a note. In my experience, people can find it hard to sing at the right pitch, but it is very rare to find someone who really does have a limited range. All you have to do is listen to them talking when they are animated, or hear them laugh. many people can laugh as high as a soprano's top note, up to two Gs above middle C.

So there is something else restricting the voice, which is usually self-consciousness. They way to free up the voice is to be able to sing in an environment where nobody is judging you. I clearly remember at University having to play the violin in front of my class, and before my tutor who was viscious in his criticism of pitch and tone. As a result, I would sweat, clam up and fulfil his own prophesy.

We need to perform in an atmosphere of joy and generousity. Criticism is of course vital to improve, but it can be given in a non-judgemental way. The cliche of criticism being given between praise might seem overused, but it still works.

So when singing an improvised song, it is crucial that the self-critic is turned all the way down. What would we rather see, someone singing a perfectly rhyming funny verse with no commitment, or someone singing with joyful abandonment? Musical improv does encourage people to just go for it. There is no substitute for opening up, connecting with the audience and just giving it your best shot.

There are often times in songs where it is hard to pitch the tune, or where the musician is going off to some daring key change and the singer feels left behind. It is at times like this that you need to summon the spirit of Rex Harrison. The leading role in Dr. Doolittle and My Fair Lady was renowned for "speak-singing". He could drift in and out of the melody effortlessly, and without compromising the integrity of the song. In fact, it adds to the pathos, the emotion, the Englishness of the piece. We often say that when a scene turns into a song, it is because you cannot contain your emotion any more. Well if you speak in the middle of a song it can be for the same reason...you cannot be constrained by the music any more, you musit just break out and say what you want to say.

Heather Urquhart and myself have just released our latest podcast which is about this very subject. You can listen to it here or subscribe here.


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