Rehearsal Tips for Singing in a Band

Playing in a band, small combo, or ensemble can provide valuable experience both on and offstage. You gain exposure during actual gigs and network with your bandmates to try to get more work outside of that musical experience, possibly even gaining more friends while doing this. On top of all of that, you can learn more about yourself as a musician, performer, and person. Having been a part of several small combos and ensembles over the years, I would like to offer some rehearsal tips on how to sing when in a band or large ensemble for anyone who wants to get their feet wet or for those who need a refresher.

1. Make sure to have your own copies of music for your band’s set. Whether it is on an iPad or printed out on regular sheets of paper. Personally, I prefer the latter so that I’m able to write notes down on the chart (changes in song form, corrections of notes or harmonies, addition of musical licks or lyrics, etc). This is also something to have for yourself during your own personal practice time and/or to go over with your vocal instructor.

2. Practice BEFORE rehearsal AND the gig. This one seems like a no-brainer and sometimes it’s hard to get in extra practice time between rehearsals and gigs. I’ve seen this happen time and time again with musicians in a group, singer or not. If you want the material that you’ve learned to stick, you need to practice. Rehearsal time should not be time for you to practice–this is time for everyone to run through the set list briefly and fix kinks that are happening collectively with the band.

3. Try not to sing full-out during a rehearsal. This is especially true of a rehearsal that happens right before a gig and when you have a large horn and/or percussion section in the group you are a part of. If other members in the group cannot hear you sing, turn up your mic slightly. You should not be yelling over a band. It is not worth the possibility of damaging your vocal chords just so that you can be heard for a rehearsal.

4. Practice good singing habits. Whether it is for a Rock group, chamber ensemble or Latin-Jazz combo, always practice things like proper breathing technique, posture, and vowel shaping. Just because you’re not singing full-out, doesn’t mean you start practicing bad singing habits. What you do in rehearsal will most likely be done in performance, so try to practice the proper way.

5. Have respect for the music and for the band. Try not to show up late or talk during times when other bandmates or the band director is trying to talk. Get to know your band members, how they work and what their limitations are so that everyone can plan accordingly and work towards improving together. Another aspect of this is knowing what the goal of the band or ensemble is: Does this band compete or is it just for fun? Is it an academic group or a professional band? Is the group serious about the music they are playing?

6. Try an idea out first before shooting it down. If you hear a melody that sounds weird to you or an unusual harmony that you’ve never sung before, try practicing singing it how it is written first before saying no. This will keep the band and band director (and possibly composer) in good spirits. However, if the song or melody is completely out of your vocal range, either hand it off to another singer or ask for the key to be changed. You don’t want to put strain on or damage your vocal chords for the sake of a band.

7. Bring a recording device. This is for your own practice time outside rehearsal so that you can remember what the band or ensemble specifically did for each song in the set. However, if you have a band director, make sure to ask them first before you start recording.

I hope that these tips help some of you to improve your experience rehearsing (and playing) in a band or ensemble. Having respect for yourself, the music, and other musicians are very important, but if you’re not enjoying yourself, all of these things will be very hard to keep in mind. Make sure to find music you enjoy and band members who are of a similar mindset to make it more fun for everyone.

If you have any additional tips or stories to share, feel free to leave a comment below!

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Finding Your Own Practice Space

“Practice makes perfect.” Practicing is the only way in which someone can improve their craft. Drummers, percussionists, and horn-players alike will tell you that shedding or practicing for hours at a time make them feel physically and mentally great. Though singers really shouldn’t be singing for 8 or 9 hours like a drummer does, the concept of practicing is still the same for a vocalist.

Where you practice is just as important as how you practice and the length of which you practice. Here is a list of things that you should be conscious of and have in your practice space when singing.

1. Make sure you have some type of mirror. You want to be able to check your posture, your body when you’re practicing breathing technique, mouth shape when you’re producing vowels shapes or singing in different languages, and practicing performance technique. The best way to check this is to see yourself doing this. A floor-length mirror would be a good size so you can see how your whole body reacts when you sing, including your feet and legs.

2. Try to practice with a piano or keyboard. If you’re anything like me, it is very hard to pull a pitch out of thin air. It is always best to practice with a piano so you can gauge your pitch with an actual instrument.

3. Have a recording device. Either audio, visual, or both. This is another way to check your progress in warm-ups and run-throughs of songs. You can check any nervous ticks you might have in your hands or face, intonation issues, and even mispronunciation of words or lack of inflection in a phrase.

4. Get a music stand. This is for any papers with lyrics and/or sheet music so that you can have your hands free when singing. It is always better to practice how you will sing onstage in the practice room–without sheet music in your hands.

5. Make sure the space is somewhere where you can make a lot of noise. I know this one sounds weird, but you don’t want to be worried about neighbors when you’re trying to hit that high note or belt that long note in a song. You should be worry free so that you can be free to work out weird notes, difficult melodies, and figure out the dynamics of a song for your voice.

Most importantly, don’t worry about making mistakes. Your practice space is your space and your time to improve and learn more about your instrument: your voice. You can never improve unless you make mistakes at least once in awhile so why not make them while practicing?

Do you guys have any other tips for finding a good practice space or any other essentials for practicing? Let us know in the comments below!

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#OnRepeat: Concha Buika’s “Mi Niña Lola”

This week, I’ve had Concha Buika’s song, “Mi Niña Lola,” #OnRepeat. For those of you who aren’t hip to Concha Buika, she is a Flamenco-Jazz fusion singer from Spain. When you listen to her voice, you hear the low, powerful range mixed with a somewhat scratchy-like timbre that produces a memorable sound that you won’t be able to get out of your head. I, myself, was introduced to her music back during my undergrad career and instantly fell in love with her sound.

The song, “Mi Niña Lola,” is a beautiful song depicting just how much love a father has for his daughter. Below are the lyrics:

Dime porque tienes carita de pena
Que tiene mi niña siendo santa y buena
Cuéntale a tu padre lo que a ti te pasa
Dime lo que tienes reina de mi casa
Tu madre la pobre no se donde esta
Dime lo que tienes, dime lo que tienes
Dime lo que tienes, dime la verdad
Mi niña lola, mi niña lola
Ya no tiene la carita del color de la amapola
Mi niña lola, mi niña lola
Ya no tiene la carita del color de la amapola
Tu no me ocultes tu pena
Pena de tu corazón
Cuéntame tu amargura
Pa consolártela yo
Mi niña lola, mi niña lola
Se le ha puesto la carita del color de la amapola
Mi niña lola, mi niña lola
Se le ha puesto la carita del color de la amapola
Siempre que te miro mi niña bonita
Le rezo a la virgen que esta en la ermita
Cuéntale a tu padre lo que te ha pasado
Dime si algún hombre a ti te ha engañado
Niña de mi alma no me llores mas
Dime lo que tienes, dime lo que tienes
Dime lo que tienes, dime la verdad
Mi niña lola, mi niña lola
Mientras que viva tu padre no estas en el mundo sola
Her performance of the lyrics–where she chooses to pause, increase in intensity, decrease in volume, or even just speak the lyrics instead of sing–adds so much to the meaning of the song. Her raspy-like timbre adds desperation to the message of the father’s words to his daughter. I also appreciate the fact that she didn’t change the sex of the point of view of the narrator (father to mother). Sometimes singers do this and it makes the lyrics lose value. I might be slightly biased about this song specifically since I am a daddy’s girl, but even so, this song is beautiful.

 

If you guys have any new music, musicians or groups to check out, leave a comment below!

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Jaw Tension & Its Role in Singing

When working with a student awhile back, I noticed that not only his lips were getting in the way when running through vocal warmups, but his jaw was very tense. It caused his sound to be very strained, nasal-sounding, and it looked as if he was experiencing discomfort from the issue. I myself have had problems with tension, both in my jaw and other areas of the body, so I wanted to share some basic information on the jaw, its role in singing, and a few tips on troubleshooting jaw tension.

The Jaw & Its Effect On a Vocalist’s Sound

The jaw is an essential part of the mouth and can either help or hinder you when singing. The main jaw joint incorporated in the movements necessary for swallowing, eating, yawning, and talking is the temporomandibular joint (or TMJ). Although there are ligaments, muscles, and bones that make up this joint, singers should be primarily concerned with relieving tension in the muscles surrounding and supporting the hyoid bone and upper-neck region. For a more in-depth explanation and for images that show where these different ligaments, bones, and muscles are located, here is the link to a very informative site: physio-pedia.com The tongue, lips, and larynx work together to create different mouth shapes, postures, and sounds vocalists use for singing and can drastically effect how easy it is to manipulate your sound and the type of tone each individual singer can produce. Tension in the jaw or inexperience with moving your jaw when you sing can result in your tone, diction, and overall sound being unclear, unsupported, and can even lead to overcompensation in other parts of your body resulting in strain and discomfort. By making some minor adjustments and following some of the tips below, you can improve the quality of your tone.

Tips to Help Ease Jaw Tension

Make sure before you start applying these simple exercises to your vocal routine that there is no pain when you move your mouth open and closed. Pain could indicate a more serious issue with the joint. A good indicator of how much tension you have in your mouth and jaw is trying to fit three fingers into your mouth, between your teeth. Any less than this could indicate jaw tension or another issue.

1. While singing scales, incorporate a chewing motion. This could be as simple as opening your mouth (jaw movement up and down) or opening your mouth side to side (jaw movement side to side while moving up and down). Some of my vocal instructors have also told me to practice scales while moving the jaw in a circular motion (jutting out your jaw and then moving it back and forward in a circle).

2. While singing scales, try to make your ear touch your shoulder, first with your right and then your left. You can also practice this one with other simple vocal exercises too. This is a form of stretching for the sides of your neck and shoulders, which, when tense, can put more stress and tension on the jaw muscles. This exercise also helps to relieve tension in the tongue.

3. Massage your jaw and surrounding muscles. Using your fingers, gently massage the muscles surrounding your jaw to cause more blood to flow to this area, making everything more relaxed.

4. Try singing in front of a mirror. This not only helps you with performance technique, but aides in helping you become more aware of how much your jaw moves or doesn’t move when you sing.

5. Gently press downward on your chin to help lower your jaw more while singing. This exercise also helps you to become more aware of what it feels like to actually open your mouth (I have this issue as well) when you sing. As with all other tips and exercises, though, if you feel any pain or discomfort, stop. You don’t want to strain any muscles and this discomfort may be a clue to an issue with the jaw joint.

Just like different personalities, opening your mouth more is not an issue that every vocalist has to worry about. Every singer is different, bringing their own unique timbre and performance style to every musical situation. Articulation, forming vowel shapes, and even singing in different languages create room for many different techniques and approaches when utilizing the jaw in relation to singing. I hope that these basic tips help anyone out there who has issues with tension and/or jaw tension when performing.

If you have any other tips or techniques to try to relieve muscular tension for vocalists, please leave a comment below!

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#OnRepeat: Paula Lima “Água de Beber” (Acoustic Live)

This week’s #OnRepeat is actually a remake of a Bossa Nova standard: “Água de Beber,” music written by Antonio Carlos Jobim and words written by Vinicius de Moraes, but is covered by Paula Lima.  The Brazilian singer and composer, Paula Lima, is well-known for her music which blends influences of traditional Samba, Brazilian Soul and Funk, Rock, and MPB (Música Popular Brasileira) or Brazilian Pop Music; and this rendition of “Água de Beber” showcases these influences. During the 1990s, she was greatly involved in the Brazilian Soul and Funk scene of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, performing as back-up vocalist for Jorge Ben (please look him up; famous for “Mas Que Nada” among other numerous hits) and performing with Brazilian rap duo, Thaíde and DJ Hum, and collaborating with (another one of my favorites) Brazilian Funk singer, Ed Motta. 


“Água de Beber” is a beautifully written song surprisingly in both Portuguese and in English. I only say this because sometimes the English version of a song written in a different language either doesn’t make sense or the lyrics in English mean something completely different. Paula Lima sings the English version of the song, but I think because of the way she performs the melody and words, this version grooves way harder than Astrud Gilberto’s version of “Água de Beber”. Below I’ve included the Portuguese lyrics, the English lyrics and the English translation of the Portuguese version:

Portuguese Lyrics

Eu quis amar, mas tive medo
E quis salvar meu coração
Mas o amor sabe um segredo
O medo pode matar o seu coração

Água de beber
Água de beber, camará
Água de beber
Água de beber, camará!

Eu nunca fiz coisa tão certa
Entrei pra escola do perdão
A minha casa vive aberta
Abre todas as portas do coração!

Água de beber
Água de beber, camará
Água de beber
Água de beber, camará!


English Lyrics


Your love’s the rain
My heart’s the flower
I need your love 
or I will die
My very life is in your power
will I wither and fade or bloom to the sky

Água de beber
Água de beber, camará
Água de beber
Água de beber, camará!

Água de beber
Água de beber, camará
Água de beber
Água de beber, camará!

The rain may fall on distant desert
the rain may fall upon the sea
the rain may fall upon the flower
since the rain has to fall, let it fall on me

Água de beber
Água de beber, camará
Água de beber
Água de beber, camará!


English Translation of Portuguese Version


I wanted to love but was afraid
I wanted to protect my heart
but love knows a secret
fear can kill the heart

This is sweet water,
sweet water, my friend.
This is sweet water,
sweet water, my friend.

I never did a thing so certain
I learned of forgiveness (Literal: I entered the school of forgiveness)
My house is open
I opened all the doors of my heart

This is sweet water,
sweet water, my friend.
This is sweet water,
sweet water, my friend.


Also, below I’ve posted Astrud Gilberto’s version of “Água de Beber” and Paula Lima’s version so you can have something to compare Lima’s version to (and so that you know the origin of the covered version and how it has changed in Lima’s).

 

 

 

 

Lima’s rhythmic timing is on point and she shows this by the way she plays with the rhythm in the intro and the chorus section. Her melodic improvisation is simple, stylistic and impressive to listen to.  Her interpretation of the English lyrics is beautiful and reminiscent of the Bossa Nova style. Did I happen to mention that her stage presence is such that she gets everyone in the audience surrounding her dancing in their seats? Her performance is groovy, captivating, and something that any singer or performer should aspire to.

I know that this post in particular was a long one, but I wanted to provide both lyrical and musical context so that you guys can start to notice comparisons in the styles of music that you listen to and know how to listen and look for them so that you can appreciate not only your own music, but all music even more.

If anyone has any new musicians, bands or songs to listen to, please feel free to leave a comment below.

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#OnRepeat: Roberto Angleró “Si Dios Fuera Negro”

This week for #OnRepeat, I’d like to talk about Roberto Angleró and the song, “Si Dios Fuera Negro.”  While researching and listening to different types of Afro-Latin music this past week, I came across this song and was intrigued by the message conveyed in the lyrics.  The title, “Si Dios Fuera Negro,” means “If God Were Black” and is a song written by Angleró, giving a light-hearted, yet thought-provoking view on race relations.

This song is also interesting because it is a bomba sicá written in the salsa style. Bomba is an umbrella term used to label a family of Afro-Puerto Rican folkloric music styles; similar to the way Rumba is used in Cuban music or Samba is used in Brazilian music.  The three main styles of bomba are sicá, holandés, yubá. The sicá and the holandés are both in duple meter (meaning, subdivided into groupings of two pulses) and the yubá is in triple meter (subdivided into three pulses).  The sicá, which is the style used in Roberto Angleró’s song, is the most well-known and is used in other types of Latin music, like salsa.

Below are the opening lines for the song, “Si Dios Fuera Negro”:

Si dios fuera negro, mi compay, cómo cambiaría.
fuera nuestra raza, mi compay, la que mandaría.

If God was black, my friend, everything would change.

it would be our people, my friend, who would be calling the shots. 

The lines are simple, yet significant, conveying the sentiment of alienation, displacement and encounters with racism that people of African descent (Afro-Puerto Rican, Afro-Brazilian, Afro-Peruvian) have historically dealt with. The lines after tell of a black presidents, governors, lawyers and doctors, as if to challenge stereotypes and negative stigma institutionally perpetuated in society against people of African descent. This song conveys a serious message of race relations and positive sentiments of success that can even be applicable in present-day. 

I hope that this song inspires you to look into other types of music from countries of the African diaspora and find elements of these songs that are reflective of the culture that they are from. If you guys have any new musicians or artists to check out, let us know in the comments below!

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