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OK I’ve been triggered to write this by the recent posts regarding problematic singers… On the back of that I said I’d write about my background and experience, and I hope that some of it will help others who might be thinking about singing…

My experience of singing as a youngster was minimal and limited to the odd sea shanty in music lessons at school and the inevitable hymns in church. I had the frequent bad experience that many have of being told not to sing in the school choir…

To avoid this being a very long story, I was exposed to hearing a lot of very good choral music from a cathedral choir. That led me to want to sing.

In my 30s I found a good singing teacher and after a trial session he suggested that my voice was probably light baritone (upper bass). I had weekly lessons with him for 8 or 9 years. Within a few months I was singing with his choir and going to choral workshops, singing weekends, summer school… I really enjoyed it and found out I was OK. I’ve sung a huge repertoire of material over the years, mostly classical, performed with small chamber choirs and very large choral groups everywhere from local village hall to cathedrals and concert halls (including the Royal Albert Hall). I’ve been accompanied by everything from a church organ, piano, small amateur ensembles, professional groups to full professional symphony orchestras.

At 33 I couldn’t sing a note. We can all sing, but certainly British culture doesn’t encourage communal or group singing the way some cultures do. There is technique to singing, to how you breath, how you vocalise and phonate… 

My range as a baritone was roughly the two octaves from low F# to the one above middle C. 

I had a lot of power in the upper register, but very little low down, and I couldn’t sing anything below F, unlike second (low) basses who usually sing down to C. Going to workshops as a baritone, I’d often get asked to cover the second (low) tenor line, but my voice would tire very quickly doing that. 

A couple of years ago a friend who is a highly respected vocal coach suggested I have an assessment from an expert vocal coach who was attending a workshop she was running. I had a session with him, and it was a revelation. Men’s voices don’t fully settle until mid-30s and his assessment had me singing top Cs (octave above middle C) which means I’m a 1st tenor… He thinks that when I was assessed at 33 my voice hadn't fully settled.

So why was my voice tiring trying to sing the lower 2nd tenor part in workshops etc which was mostly within my range? Because I have a whole pile of learnt behaviours to sing baritone and basically putting too much effort into ‘pushing’ to reach the high notes.

So, after a 20 year break, I looked for a teacher and eventually found an opera singer whose experience is very similar – he trained at RNCM as a baritone but struggled until he found the right teacher and retrained as a tenor.

So, I have been having lessons with him and ‘unlearning’ stuff which is mostly about relaxing and not letting ‘automatic’ things get hold and 'grab' the voice.

There are different styles of singing and some of the techniques / methods are different for those different genres. Singing say baroque oratorio, or Romantic era art songs/lieder, is different to musical theatre, which is different to American Song Book etc. 

Like learning any instrument, it is worthwhile having a suitable teacher to get you into good habits. It is extremely easy with singing to mess up breathing for example. With lessons things like tone and vocal range will develop.

One of the common issues that untrained singers have is that their voice tires after 20 or 30 minutes. This is due to tension and leads to too much effort, in essence 'tuned shouting' rather than singing. Over a protracted period, this can do damage to the voice.

There’s a lot more I could say, but that’s enough for one post!

I hope the information is of use/interest to people. Happy to discuss in more detail if people wish me to.     

 

 

 

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Posted (edited)

Having encouraged you to start this thread in the first place, you'll be glad to know I've had the decency to read it (and reply😀)!

 

One thing I've picked up from what you said above  - sounds like it's pretty important to know what you vocal range actually is.

And it's encouraging to hear you say that you started from nothing at 33!

Edited by Nail Soup
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8 minutes ago, Nail Soup said:

Having encouraged you to start this thread in the first place, you'll be glad to know I've had the decency to read it (and reply😀)!

 

One thing I've picked up from what you said above  - sounds like it's pretty important to know what you vocal range actually is.

And it's encouraging to hear you say that you started from nothing at 33!

Yes, vocal range is very important. A low bass will be able to sing the C below the bass clef. A top tenor should be able to hit the C an octave above middle C. If you try to sing outside of your range, you can do damage to your voice. Range can be increased to some extent with suitable training.   

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yep I have read this, as I also sing. I've had no real training in the 30+ years of trying to sing. I relax where I can and don't strain myself. Staying well hydrated during the day also helps when singing down the pub.

When I started singing the Police stuff, I learnt another level of control and pitch and jumping into and out of falsetto.

Now I sing a lot of 80s stuff, including Wham!. George's voice has a great range and is tough to cover well. I always have a monitor now, it has made such a difference. Just before we went back into lockdown I was singing almost 2 hour 2nd sets (on top of 1 hour for the first)

I would be interested in some lessons, just to see if I can improve on what I already do.

I used to sing because it meant I didn't need a singer but now I love singing. I think I would rather sing than play bass these days (of course I do both plus guitar)

I have no idea what my range is either but if you listen to 'Take on me' by A-Ha the lowest note in the chorus 'Take' I can just about hit and the highest note is only just about hitable.

This could be a great thread

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Within reason, range can be extended up or down with some suitable vocal exercises, but there are limits... A good teacher can help to free up the voice.

Most people should be able to cover 2 octaves. What causes problems is that some well-known singers, and therefore well-known tunes that they performed,  have an exceptional range. For example, Bing Crosby had a range of about 3 octaves. 

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  • 2 months later...

Well,

You can procrastinate, just like  I did , until, just before lockdown, and after my 75th birthday, I finally plucked up the courage

and went to a vocal coach, and am so glad I did. Only want to do backing vocals, still can't play bass and sing, but

he-ho, I now know that when the pleasure overcomes the pain ( nerves ), things will get easier.

Just gotta keep at it !

Go for it !

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14 hours ago, sammybee said:

I'd love to be able to sing, even something really simple, just backing vocals.. But I am truly dreadful.... and at 50 years old think I'm too old to start.   

 

Why would you think that?

 

I have avoided singing for ages as I hate my voice, but doesn't everyone. As it is, from doing all the backing vocals I now do a few songs in ranges the singer can't do, and although I felt really self confident about them, that is just in my head. At the gig at the weekend, one of the ones I do is surfin' usa, and looking at the crowd, they were dancing, and doing stupid surfing impressions etc, and enjoying themselves. They weren't standing there looking at me thinking what terrible singing that was, and even if they did, it didn't seem to stop them enjoying it, so maybe its better to not overthink iit!

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20 minutes ago, Chimike said:

Well,

You can procrastinate, just like  I did , until, just before lockdown, and after my 75th birthday, I finally plucked up the courage

and went to a vocal coach, and am so glad I did. Only want to do backing vocals, still can't play bass and sing, but

he-ho, I now know that when the pleasure overcomes the pain ( nerves ), things will get easier.

Just gotta keep at it !

Go for it !

 

Maybe I should go and see a vocal coach? Just to see if there is anything that could be salvaged! Good to hear that you're going for it

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19 hours ago, sammybee said:

I'd love to be able to sing, even something really simple, just backing vocals.. But I am truly dreadful.... and at 50 years old think I'm too old to start.   

I hadn't sung a note until my mid-30s and I hadn't picked up a cello or sax until my 50s and bass until my 60s...

 

Do your best to find a vocal coach / singing teacher. Almost everyone is capable of singing, but there's more technique to it than most people realise. Just be aware that not all teachers will teach all styles/genres, so you if you have a very specific requirement, you'll need to ask to make sure that it's something they can get to to in due course 

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1 hour ago, zbd1960 said:

I hadn't sung a note until my mid-30s and I hadn't picked up a cello or sax until my 50s and bass until my 60s...

 

How was the singing journey for you? Was it enjoyable? I really enjoyed the journey of learning bass in my late 30's and learning guitar in my late 40's

 

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Having been the singer and bass player in our band for nigh on 35 years, I would love to find someone who could help me with technique. Trouble is my voice is probably not quite as good as it once was for range. Technique might on the other hand help in this matter. I used to find, quite wrongly I am sure, that a couple of pints would loosen up my voice. I tried singing totally sober a few times and always found my throat tightening after a while.

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13 minutes ago, ubit said:

 I used to find, quite wrongly I am sure, that a couple of pints would loosen up my voice. I tried singing totally sober a few times and always found my throat tightening after a while.

 

Our singer says that. He is completely wrong, he is much better when he is totally sober, but I guess he isn't as stressed when he has had a few drinks

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On 05/08/2021 at 16:26, Woodinblack said:

 

Our singer says that. He is completely wrong, he is much better when he is totally sober, but I guess he isn't as stressed when he has had a few drinks

I've had many people tell me that I sing much better when I have had a few. I do agree, most singing teachers would baulk at this. Maybe it's a confidence thing as I do after all these years still suffer from bad nerves when I perform in front of people.

Edited by ubit
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On 05/08/2021 at 16:30, ubit said:

I've had many people tell me that I sing much better when I have had a few. I do agree, most singing teachers would balk at this. Maybe it's a confidence thing as I do after all these years still suffer from bad nerves when I perform in front of people.

A lot of singing ability is about letting your inner singer out. I guess alcohol can help with that.

If your inner  singer  is already out the alcohol will make you worse.

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We did a gig a number of years ago that was a good bit out of town. It was my turn to be one of the drivers so I was totally sober. We played the whole first set with no problems. A couple of songs into the second set I could feel my throat tightening and singing became more of a struggle. I had no nerves by this point as we had gotten used to the crowd and they were enjoying the band. I know I was desperate to have two or three pints of lager which would have settled me down perfectly but I had to endure. I have spoken to people who say alcohol tightens your vocal chords and doesn't help you sing etc. I know this is probably true, it's just that in my case I, or at least my throat, relaxed when I had just a couple of beers. I am not an alcoholic and do not depend on alcohol to get by. In fact just recently myself and Mrs Ubit decided to stop drinking for a month. We did it no problem. We only drink at weekends anyway and in my job, I am required to go away for weeks at a time and can't drink during that time. I just cannot understand this dependancy on drinking in order to sing.

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On 05/08/2021 at 16:12, ubit said:

Having been the singer and bass player in our band for nigh on 35 years, I would love to find someone who could help me with technique. Trouble is my voice is probably not quite as good as it once was for range. Technique might on the other hand help in this matter. I used to find, quite wrongly I am sure, that a couple of pints would loosen up my voice. I tried singing totally sober a few times and always found my throat tightening after a while.

This is a technique issue. There are all sorts of muscles that can kick in and lock up and make singing harder than it needs to be. This also affects range. 

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