Friday, December 23, 2011

These Dixieland Jazz musicians show up in a cow pasture and serenade a herd of cows. The cows' ears go up and they all turn towards the band and slowly advance forward in a line. The cows are curious and even seem to like it. Now if cows can learn to love jazz, will a cow try to learn bass?  Well, probably not.  Hoofs aren't made for plucking bass strings.

Hat tip:  Stan and Loa Levin


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Blues Singer Etta James Has Terminal Cancer

The great blues singer Etta James, who is 73, has been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Read about it here.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

I Am Officially Looking For a Band

Due to a lack of scheduled practices and what seems to me to be a large difference in commitment and philosophy, I have formally severed my ties with the Shiloh Band here in Hollister.

I am now available and looking for a band to practice and play with.   Right now, I am content to practice on my own through the end of this year and to become part of a new band by Spring.

Here are the attributes I am looking for in a band:

1.  Band (the entire band, not just a part of it) practices at least once a week but preferably twice, for at least three hours each practice.
2.  Band members are committed to regular practicing and making every practice, within reason.  (One can be absent for wedding anniversaries, illness, etc, in which case the practice may be rescheduled for another time.)
3.  Band members are committed to mastering their instrument and expanding their talent and repertoire.
4.  Band members are committed to playing regular gigs for pay.
5.  Band members are committed to strong vocals and learning and improving their singing.
6.  Band members are committed to learning cover songs in their original keys wherever possible; no strange keys please.  (At best, keys should be changed by only a step or half step.)
7.  Band seeks a repertoire or play list that is largely commercially marketable, including jazz swing, jazz standards, dance tunes, some classic rock or blues.  No strange niches please.

Gigs will probably be weddings, parties and corporate events, and maybe clubs.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

What Factors Determine Successful Singing?

It's difficult to determine why one singer sounds really great and another just so-so.  However, if I were to list the factors that make for successful singing, I would include these:

1. Did you sing on key?  (If not, the rest of the items don't matter, you blew it.)

2. Is your voice even, i.e. not choppy or of uneven quality, throughout?  (You should be able to move from chest voice to middle voice to head voice smoothly and seamlessly, and your voice should not break.)

3. Does your voice have warmth, timbre, resonance?  (Are you learning to use the natural resonators in your throat, nose and chest?)

4. Does your voice have strength and stamina?  Does your voice sound strained, or do you hit those high notes with ease?

5. Do you sing with feeling, i.e. do you express the message of the song convincingly, as if you really feel the emotions the song tries to impart?

6.  Do you have "the IT factor," some attribute to your voice that sets it apart from everyone else, probably from a combination of tone, technique and all of the above.  (If not, then you probably aren't going to be a rock star, but you can still sing successfully with your band.)  You know when someone has this factor; when you hear them sing for the first time, you will exclaim "Man, that guy (or gal) has a terrific voice!"

I think "the IT factor" may not emerge until the first five items in this list have been fully mastered.  

Saturday, December 3, 2011

To Learn To Sing, You Must Expose Yourself to Ridicule

Learning to sing is a lot like learning public speaking.  Most people are terrified of doing either before an audience.  However, practice and experience are the only route to your goal, and so you must be willing to expose yourself to criticism.  The ridicule you fear is largely imaginary.

I received this note from a friend who actually has a nice singing voice, but doesn't realize it.  He writes:
You see, I am very self conscious and really hate hearing the sound of my own voice.  To me everybody else (you included) sound better to me. I am happy to do BV [backing vocals] and stay in my comfort zone.
Here's my reply to him:
It’s good to know that I am not the only self-doubting, self-conscious beginning singer!! They say everyone is their own worst critic; we tend to be harder on ourselves than we are on other people.

You have a good voice, far better than most who sing with bands.

When I listen to myself, I hear a hillbilly from the Ozarks wearing overalls, smoking a corn-cob pipe and carrying a jug of moonshine. Even when people say that they like it, I suspect they are secretly retching into the nearest potted plant. However, I won’t quit until I get it right. (I won’t quit even then.)

One thing I have learned is this: if you want to be a singer, you have to drop your drawers and moon the world, and do it without embarrassment. You have to be willing to screw up, to blow it, to make a fool of yourself, to expose your precious ego to ridicule, and let the chips fall where they may. For years I resisted any attempt to sing with bands, because I was protecting my ego. Now my attitude is, hey, throw tomatoes if you must, but I am trying to get better, and you can only do that by effort. Learning to sing well requires practice, time and effort, and a lot of experimentation to learn what works and what doesn’t. Feedback from trusted friends is very important. You have to know if you are on the right track, and it is almost impossible to be objective yourself, concerning your own voice. Some people will be too self-critical, and others will be too self-delusional.

Trust your voice, trust your talent. Put it out there!! You are better than you think.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A White Sport Coat

I love this old tune by Marty Robbins.  He recorded it in 1957 and it became a big hit.  It reminds me of when I took Jacky Palmer to the Senior Ball, on March 31, 1962.  Next March will make 50 years since that night.  I don't know where Jacky is today, but I hope she is well and happy.

I continue to experiment with singing in order to learn what works and what does not.  Lately I am trying to sing in a more natural, relaxed style and not try to force it.  It seems to have improved my singing.  I recorded this song several times and always hated the result, but tonight I finally got a recording that I am happy with.  Here it is.