Friday, April 11, 2014

Singing...In Front Of People

Singing for the first time in front of
 Family and friends
Image: Barbara Thistle
A big goal of mine has been to get to the point where I am comfortable enough to sing in front of others. I want to be able to take out the guitar and play tunes around the campfire (or fireplace) and lead the singing so others can sing along to what they know.

This is a long term goal. I wrote it down about 2 years ago, thought about it as a goal when I started guitar 7 years ago, and always wished I could be that guy when at a campfire.

A first step was to start playing guitar, that was easy. Next I had to come to terms with, am I any good at this? With the right start you can quickly be playing tunes (maybe not good but recognizable). I finally reached a stage where I figured, ok I can play a tune. Onto the next stage, singing.

Now, my first guitar instructor was maybe a little optimistic when he would tell our class, if you aren't singing while playing then what is the purpose of playing. I think his wisdom being that you must sing and play at the same time to be able to do just that. In other words, practice both to get good at both.

Practicing singing and playing at the same time is easier said than done. As a beginner guitarist you will have enough trouble just getting the chords to ring true, to time your chord changes correctly, keep time, and maintain a steady rhythm. This is a lot to get straight and trying to sing at the same time can be very hard.

For me, I have found the following helps me learn to sing a song.
  • If I know and love the song and can sing along with it, if it is in my bones, then the song is much easier to learn.
  • If I do not know the song well but want to learn it, then I download the version I am trying to learn and then listen to it on repeat 10 times or more. I listen for the words first, then the rhythm. 
  • I practice the song without singing repeatedly until I can play it without looking at the tabs/chords/etc.
  • While practicing the chords I sing the song in my head to get the timing of chord changes. Some tabs you get on the internet are very basic and the timing and interpretation of the song must come from a combination of singing and rhythm to get the little nuances that make the song feel like the original.
  • I then start singing it. Once I can play the song without thinking about the chord changes the singing starts to come naturally.
Once I have the song in my bones, my hands can replicate the feeling of the song much better. I work on getting a sense of the original in my acoustic playing. Being a solo guitarist (or dual guitarist for James and I) you have to add the feel of the entire song into your rhythm playing. With your voice and guitar you must get provide an ambiance of all the instruments from the original work to give the feeling of the song.

I am not to a point yet that I have a large repertoire and for many songs I still need my songbook to remember the lyrics but I am improving. I can also see a day when I'll have a larger repertoire of songs and be able to be the guy that can lead the singing around the campfire.

It's a long journey with a lot of practice but playing music and sharing it with others is a hugely satisfying experience. If you've ever thought you'd like to do it then I say pick up an instrument and get to it. It is hugely fulfilling. 

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