Category: Song Selection

Vocal Coach Mark David Williams

Singing Blue Notes

What style do you typically sing? Do you like to be precise when interpreting written music? Do you feel the need to put your own vocal signature on a song? This week, I discuss the inclusion of “blue notes” in certain styles of music.

Question

Hi! Gospel and blues is famous for blue notes and people singing notes which are between the piano keys. I understand that classical singing mostly sing the 12 notes of the octave but that blues and gospel singers have to learn blue notes as well. What can you say about this?

Answer

Thank you for your question! I appreciate this questions as I was trained in many styles as a Commercial Music Major at Belmont University. The first two years are foundationally classical and include a variety of languages and Art Songs. I loved it!

And then the final two years were studying and singing all different styles. My voice teacher was a Jazz singer rooted in Classical music. That being said, I was learning a lot about Jazz my final two years of school. I loved that too!

So to answer your question really makes me draw upon personal experience and you could possibly get a different answer from another coach or professional. Classical music really is about staying on the notes. They are written with purpose and intention and often are accompanied by a full orchestra. There is a precision needed in the pitch and execution of rhythm and basically what is written on the page.

A singer can learn a lot by trying out different musical styles

Jazz, gospel and blues leave much more room for interpretation of the notes and rhythms and for adding in ‘blue’ notes. There is freedom to scoop, to change a line rhythmically, to sing a different note and to just ‘feel’ the song with the band. In other words, blues and gospel singers will naturally learn blue notes as well, because it’s just a natural part of the style—and the more you sing within the style the more naturally the ear and voice will include some blue notes.

Perhaps a better way to look at it is not so much a ‘have to,’ but more of a ‘freedom to do so’. It can be very liberating for someone who has only ever sung what is written to sing what is ‘unwritten’. Being able to sing what’s written and what’s not is a really great vocal ‘tool’ to have. I hope this helps give some insight. I appreciate and respect all styles and I feel that a singer can learn a lot by trying different styles of music.

GOING FROM WANTING TO DOING

GOING FROM WANTING TO DOING

Here are some thoughts and tips to help you go from just wanting to express something when you sing, to actually doing it.  This can also apply to public speaking, classroom teaching, prepping your team for a game, preaching or leading a Bible study.  In every one of those cases your goal is to clearly communicate. As a bonus in this blog, I’ve created an animated segment to reinforce some of the principles. Check it out now, or after you’ve read the blog. Click here.

Start with these simple steps:

  1. Recognize that the rules change anytime you get up in front of people to share, with or without a microphone.  You become responsible to give them a clear message, not one that is only half-thought-out. Otherwise, you will lose them and they will mentally to elsewhere.  Second, be confident that with a bit of the right kind of preparation you will succeed in getting the message from your heart to the listener’s ear.
  2. Rejoice in the fact that if you make certain preparations you will succeed in getting the message from your heart to theirs.

Identify the challenges:

  1. Fear. Speaking or singing in front of others is the number one listed fear for the average person.  For some, it’s uncomfortable.  For some, it’s nearly impossible.
  2. Lack of preparation. Even if you are moderately comfortable or even thrive in public performance situation you have to do your homework.  If you don’t you risk being less clear or even embarrassing yourself.

Where to begin:

  1. Prepare your content. Know what your message is.  Be able to summarize it in a few sentences. If it’s a song, you should be able to put the essence of every verse and chorus in our own words. Restating the song personalizes it.  Then, and only then will you own the message.
  2. Prepare your mind. If you’re singing a serious song with a painful message you need to be able to feel that.  The same is true for happy, encouraging messages, or instructional or testimony songs, etc. If it’s a speech or teaching put yourself in the message. Be there.  Live there. Feel it.  Otherwise how will you be believable?
  3. Prepare your face and body. Unless you’re just doing an audio recording, your posture, facial expression and hand gestures will play a part in your communications, whether you like it or not.  That means you need to know your options, chose the right ones and practice them.  Why?  Because if you don’t they either won’t be there, or they will look stiff and unnatural.
    1. a. Your Posture is always showing something, be it confidence, or fear.  Determine to look secure and in authority.  The fastest way there is to lift your hands straight up over your head and memorize that aligned, upright posture.  Then, slowly bring the arms down to your sides, relax the shoulders and keep the rest of it the same. Look in the mirror and you will be pleased.
    2. b. Your face. Here’s a biggie and it will take some practice because there are dozens of options is facial expression.  I suggest using a mirror, or video camera connected to a TV monitor, to see what your various expressions look and physically feel like.  Ultimately, it’s the physical sensations that you will be reproducing.  Muscle memory is your friend. Bottom line: Your facial expressions need to agree with your message.
    3. c. Your arms and hands are another part of you that will either enhance or distract from your message. Don’t just stand there, and don’t worry about doing too much.  You probably won’t.  Do worry, however, about doing nothing, or being tentative or vague with what you do. Decide the options, practice the options then assign meaningful gestures to the words.

Worried that this will be too mechanical? Don’t be.  Actors, baseball players, guitarists, chefs and even computer programmers all practice the physical aspects of what they do until it is second nature.  That’s the only way you will ever own it.

Check out this Vocal Coach animated dramatization to help reinforce what you’ve just read.  Just click here.  And be sure to check out the special offer for the Vocal Coach Complete Performance CD at our store.