Musicianship for Singers

Musicianship for Singers

Singers, let’s face some ugly truths. Within the music industry, singers get a bad rap. Too many beautiful voices are running amok and not realizing the musical errors they’re making (and thereby how hard they are to work with). Singers that get ahead are often those who make their bandmates’ jobs easier by being easy to communicate– yes, in terms of how friendly and professional they are, but also that they’re on the same page musically. When you keep in mind that singers are often called on to be the band leader, this is doubly important! So, what do you need to know?

  • Basic Terminology: If someone says to you that you’re singing in 4 but they want a cut-time feel, you’ve got to adapt! And/or when you say things but switch similar terms like ‘beat’ or ‘rhythm’ that can call your meaning/intention into question. Or, if the band wants to change the key of your song, hopefully your ear can follow, but if you can’t find your starting note in the new key, it’s a waste of everyone’s time and makes you look bad, particularly when just knowing some basic tonal relationships could easily save you from this issue. Some of this will value from genre to genre, and it’s your job to know the lingo for whatever space you happen to be working in.
  • Rhythm: Singers, regrettably, are often stereotyped as not having a very strong sense of rhythm– forcing their accompanying musicians to follow their whim instead of being true to the rhythm of the song. Instead, when preparing your song, you should listen to the ensemble from the bottom up, starting with the rhythm section. If your vocals are always locked into the rhythm section, you’ll always be with everyone else. Musicians tend to listen to the complete fabric of the song, whereas singers are often lazy listeners who, again stereotypically, only clue in to the other instruments when listening for entrances, etc. Avoid this bad habit!
  • Musical Form: How many verses does your song have? Is there a bridge? Does the chorus repeat at the end for variations or will you sing it straight? Does anyone take a solo? Again, some of these elements are more prevalent in different genres than others, but understanding the form of your song will not only help you memorize it more effectively, but also communicate with others about it more efficiently!
  • Musical Keys and Your Range: While knowledge of another instrument isn’t necessary for your success, you do need to know the extents of Voice, including your vocal range and where your vocal register shifts happen. This basic info will help you to know whether a particular key will work with your voice. If someone suggests a new key that’s easier to play on guitar, for instance, you need to know if that change is going to throw off your voice within the song. And, rule of thumb, the singer should get the final say on questions like this– a guitarist will be inconvenienced by a bad key, but a singer can be completely derailed (or even more prone to vocal injury).

In the end, this question is really about showing up prepared for an audition or gig. Surface knowledge of your song is a good start, but working together with other musicians will require a more in-depth understanding. Do your homework! Help break the stereotype of the “unmusical” singer and elevate yourself in the process.

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