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Thread: Teaching a beginner singer to sing in rhythm

  1. #1
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    Teaching a beginner singer to sing in rhythm

    LOL, just when you thought I had gone as low as possible with that thread about singers who don't announce their keys, and now this... anyway here goes:

    There's this beginner singer that I like, she has a good vibe, but she often messes up the rhythm in songs, and I have to compensate all the time, one more beat here, one less there, you know what I mean.

    Of course this is totally unacceptable and I have called her on this every single time. Now I want to help her by giving her useful advice.

    This lady like many singers doesn't read much music and learns her stuff off records. Ok, why not.

    Problem is, if you take singers like Ella F. or Billie H, they will often sing offbeat- of course they always know where they are, but they'll lag a bit at some places, and then make it right by speeding up in other places. (I call this "floating the melody", for lack of a better term). You barely notice it, it sounds good, but if you're a beginner singer learning a song I can see why this would be a problem, because the beginner can't get a clear idea of the song rhythm.

    So my usual response to this is that she should learn the melody straight, without the floating, and then do her own floating.

    Learning the melody straight has its problems though:
    1. it's difficult to find a record where the melody is sung straight
    2. it's counter intuitive to sing straight when she's really trying to emulate some other recording that she likes

    Despite that, my sentiment is that if she wants to "float" (which she should), she'll only be able to achieve that if she can first sing straight, so that she has a good knowledge of where the notes *should* go, and then she can mess that up with her "floating".

    So I keep forcing her to sing hyper-straight even if it doesn't sound good, and I allow her to "float" only when she's mastered the straight stuff.

    .....and.... I'm wondering if this is actually good advice ?
    Any opinions on this ?

    Thanks

    (Please keep in mind that this a beginner singer that I'm trying to help, so please no remarks about how unprofessional it is to miss a beat!!! I know that already. Thanks).

  2. #2
    balladeer page's Avatar
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    Hi Mutat,
    well I for one am happy with your thread since singing is discussed and there are not so many threads about it.

    I think you are right in telling her to first learn the melody with rhythm the way it is. It is difficult when you don't read notes. I write the melodies in sibelius to learn exactly. I'm not at my best singing the exact written rhythm right away, but I have a natural feel where the measures are, so I use my own timing but stay within the measure pulse. My coach has another term for the floating but I can't recall now how she calls it. When I'll remember I'll get back to you on that.
    I think you could advise her to clap the measures while practising so she can hear how and where they are. What also helps is to move/dance with a specific body part on the 1.2.3.4, maybe shake hips or tap a foot so that way you can feel the measure in your body.
    I also use band in a box to practise with and that way you can practise the floating too. If she doesn't hear that she goes wrong, I'm not sure if this will help and think you have giving the best advice you could give.

  3. #3
    Piano/Compose/Arrange engelbach's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mutat Tra View Post
    There's this beginner singer that I like, she has a good vibe, but she often messes up the rhythm in songs, and I have to compensate all the time, one more beat here, one less there, you know what I mean.

    Of course this is totally unacceptable and I have called her on this every single time. Now I want to help her by giving her useful advice.

    This lady like many singers doesn't read much music and learns her stuff off records. Ok, why not.

    Problem is, if you take singers like Ella F. or Billie H, they will often sing offbeat- of course they always know where they are, but they'll lag a bit at some places, and then make it right by speeding up in other places. (I call this "floating the melody", for lack of a better term). You barely notice it, it sounds good, but if you're a beginner singer learning a song I can see why this would be a problem, because the beginner can't get a clear idea of the song rhythm.

    So my usual response to this is that she should learn the melody straight, without the floating, and then do her own floating.

    Learning the melody straight has its problems though:
    1. it's difficult to find a record where the melody is sung straight
    2. it's counter intuitive to sing straight when she's really trying to emulate some other recording that she likes.

    Despite that, my sentiment is that if she wants to "float" (which she should), she'll only be able to achieve that if she can first sing straight, so that she has a good knowledge of where the notes *should* go, and then she can mess that up with her "floating".

    So I keep forcing her to sing hyper-straight even if it doesn't sound good, and I allow her to "float" only when she's mastered the straight stuff.

    .....and.... I'm wondering if this is actually good advice ?
    Any opinions on this ?

    Thanks

    (Please keep in mind that this a beginner singer that I'm trying to help, so please no remarks about how unprofessional it is to miss a beat!!! I know that already. Thanks).
    I think if she can't hear where the harmony and rhythm are behind her she's got a long way to go. She has to learn to listen. Even amateurs with no talent are able to do this, singing off key but staying right with the tune. This happens in every karaoke bar.

    Of course she should learn the melody straight, and almost every standard has an older recording that is sung that way that she could listen to. And why doesn't she "sound so good" sung straight? That should sound better, in my opinion.

    I don't think of Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald as singers who sing off the beat much.
    Jerry Engelbach, piano/arrange/compose
    Engelbach Music
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  4. #4
    Registered User jazzman1945's Avatar
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    I will try to answer based on my experience teaching jazz vocalist (that's one of them - http://www.inbalwind.com/MP3/Hazard% 20Zone_website.wma)
    When we as children began to play jazz on the piano, begins with a boogie-woogie, that is, rhythm and blues. Thus killing two birds with one stone. For the singer - that means start with the gospel, ie, exactly most famous jazz vocalists in the States started . It also gives the groove and rhythm, and correct intonation and color to voice, which is required for jazz.
    Therefore I would like to know, Mutat, how rhythmically your student can perform gospel songs with using clapping hands as a metronome.



    Quote Originally Posted by engelbach View Post

    I don't think of Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald as singers who sing off the beat much.
    The facts tell a different story:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ifAiE...eature=related
    http://www.jazzideas.com

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    We shouldn't wait for favors from the Theory, take them from it is our goal!

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    she should learn to read rhythm. It is both easy and essential.
    Guitarist

  6. #6
    Registered User jazzman1945's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tarquin1986 View Post
    she should learn to read rhythm. It is both easy and essential.
    Ability to read rhythm does not guarantee the accuracy of rhythmic performance - so the average violinist in a symphony orchestra is not playing strictly in rhythm as a drummer.
    http://www.jazzideas.com

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    Quote Originally Posted by jazzman1945 View Post
    Ability to read rhythm does not guarantee the accuracy of rhythmic performance - so the average violinist in a symphony orchestra is not playing strictly in rhythm as a drummer.
    It might not guarantee accuracy, but it certainly helps, and maybe this girl would then understand how exactly she is going wrong.

    Also, at OP: don't waste too much time on this girl unless she is actually paying you for lessons. Most amateurs are never going to get it together no matter how much you help them. I haven't thought about this in a while but I remember how, typically, in my early bands I'd join a bunch of people who were at my level, maybe even better, and then, over the course of a year or two, I improved and they didn't and finally we went our separate ways. This happened a few times. It was very dispiriting. With the people around me now I'm just struggling to keep up. That's much better.
    Guitarist

  8. #8
    Piano/Compose/Arrange engelbach's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jazzman1945 View Post
    I stand corrected.

    How about, They don't always sing off the beat ...
    Jerry Engelbach, piano/arrange/compose
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  9. #9
    Registered User jazzman1945's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by engelbach View Post

    How about, They don't always sing off the beat ...
    This is the whole charm.
    http://www.jazzideas.com

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    Yeah I kind of hinted at the karaoke thing but I didn't want to be too blunt...

    To Tarquin1986 : there might be other things at stake than money, LOL. But yes, she's paying me for the time I spend learning her songs and then going to her place for her to practice.

    She doesn't do gospel songs- but it might be a good idea, to make her sing something like "when the saints go marching in", something that everybody knows, see how she does there.

    My plan now is along the following lines :

    1) when she learns a song, she should of course learn the words, but she should understand that that's actually the least important, as she should -for now- concentrate on melody and rhythm.
    1.a) ... this means I have to find a way to write the song rhythm for her. She doesn't read music, she has books with the words. I have been doing things like underlining the syllables that fall on a 1st beat; not sure this is enough, we'll see- I might refine that over the next sessions.

    2) I need to teach her to listen to what's going on behind her when she's singing. I think she has a huge problem with that and I'm not sure how to solve it.

    To engelbach : even if the aforementioned singers are not much off the beat, I think even the slightest variation is enough to throw her off if she's learning a song; so I want her to learn how the melody is placed when straight, and only then deal with "floating". And no, the straight melody won't sound good, because I'm talking about singing a quarter note as a quarter note, exactly on the beat- no one ever does that, it sounds horrible!! But if someone has that kind of rhythm problem you have to start with basics. I have pretty good results when I do this for myself (yes, I sing sometimes; and no, I won't record it).

    To page : you're lucky if you have a natural feel for that. I know a few singers who can't read anything, but they can "float", a lot, and they always know where they are. I'm happy for them, but this lady is definitely not a natural, she needs to work on it.... I've seen quite a few singers have that kind of problem, so I actually find it interesting to see if I could come up with some kind of method that would help.

  11. #11
    balladeer page's Avatar
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    Hi Mutat,

    I don't agree with you that the words are not important because they can actually help you to learn the melody ánd the rhythm. Use them for it, I would say.
    You could let her record herself with a voice recorder or something to let her listen to herself. I have found it to be very useful to do that to learn from my mistakes. Maybe that she can learn to listen to what is going behind her more that way. Although she can't read music I would let her look at a chart and listen to the song at the same time so she can where the measures are on the chart while listening. She could write the lyrics underneath to let that help a bit if they aren't there.

  12. #12
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    Most people seem to have a fear of silence. Whenever I've had to back an amateur singer with bad time it invariably manifests itself when the singer comes back to a verse after a turnaround or a chorus. You can almost predict the place where they will drop a few beats or a whole measure or two, because to them it's a space that NEEDS to be filled.

    So yes, you need to get her to sing very straight and during her lessons, emphasize or actually over emphasize the measures that need to be "silent" to help her get the feeling and the phrasing.

    And don't get me started on Karaoke!

  13. #13
    Piano/Compose/Arrange engelbach's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mutat Tra View Post
    And no, the straight melody won't sound good, because I'm talking about singing a quarter note as a quarter note, exactly on the beat- no one ever does that, it sounds horrible!!
    The legato singers use may sometimes sound as if they aren't on the beat.

    In musicals, film and stage, the singers — Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Julie Andrews, Frank Sinatra, etc. — are usually right on the beat.
    Jerry Engelbach, piano/arrange/compose
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