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Thread: Non-mando question - singing

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    Default Non-mando question - singing

    I have attempted to join some bluegrass jams, where its expected that I sing. I never sang before and I am not very good. I now that in bluegrass you want to sing nearer the upper part of your range but I just can't hit the notes when I do that. Instead I am usually an octave down from where one might expect. so I sound more like Barry White than Bill Monroe. I dont expect to become a great singer but looking for tips or exercises that will help me to get to just OK

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    Worlds ok-ist mando playr Zach Wilson's Avatar
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    Default Re: Non-mando question - singing

    Find three or four songs you like to play and sing and find the key that is most comfortable for your voice. Practice your songs a couple times a week. That way you'll be ready and at ease to "lead" it at the jam. It's best to play in G, D, C, A, and maybe B or E... but most the folks will know how to capo if your key is something else.

    Do worry about singing high and sounding "blue-grassy". It's better to sing in your natural, comfortable range. Your unique voice is what makes you, you!

    However, the more you practice, the stronger your singing will become and you maybe be able to hit those high notes.

    PS, drink a lot of water and warmup your voice too.

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    harvester of clams Bill McCall's Avatar
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    Default Re: Non-mando question - singing

    Sing in the key that fits your voice. A simple way to find your range is to sing your lowest note, find it on a mandolin/guitar/piano and repeat to find your highest note. From there, when you pick out melodies you will see what keys probably will work good for you.

    Lots of very good bluegrass singers don't sing in the stratosphere, and when you sing harmony it'll be easy to find the bass and baritone parts.

    Good luck. Singing harmony is the best part of bluegrass.
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    Default Re: Non-mando question - singing

    One of the most emotionally powerful singers I have played with does not have a huge range and is not technically super knowledgeable. She has a great sense of rhythm and hits the notes on pitch. She is at her best when she picks keys to suit her voice, often keys like C#, Bb or Ab that are not the first choice of the instrumentalists. She uses dynamics well and expressively. When she gets out of her range her voice is fairly ordinary but in the pocket gets a lot of "Wow!" responses from listeners. A lot of it is a natural gift.

    For those of us without that natural gift practice helps a lot. Sing every day. Learning to sing harmony was one of the best investments of time I made. It forces you to listen and sing on pitch. Most people sing a little flat. Play around with different keys and record yourself. Sometimes things sound better or worse when you listen to them on a recording. You can often hear if you are falling out of your range and going flat to know to try a different key. You may not hear that as you are singing. If a key is bad for you try moving it a fifth, from G go to D, from D to A, etc. This will often improve things a lot. Some songs will still be too wide for you and you have to set them aside. I have gained half an octave or so range with practice even though I am old enough most people will lose range. I can sing songs now that I could not reach ten years ago. Paying attention to rhythm and timing is your friend. A lot of pure singers, without instrumental training, don't and are difficult to back up. Good timing will make you sound better even if you are an average singer or less. Oh and control acid reflux and sinus drainage if you have any of that. Avoid caffeine and acid drinks before singing, Water is best, You do not have to be in the stratosphere. Doc Watson was a mid range baritone and lots of people complimented him on his pleasant voice. He always sounded comfortable and that made the listeners comfortable.

    And one final thing. Memorize your lyrics. I know a few good singers who sing out of a book but most people lose expression and timing as you look down at the lyrics. It will sound much better if you know them by heart. If you forget, make something up and fake it. I have heard top professionals, like Doc and Del McCoury, mess up lyrics live. They just muddle through and keep the song going and do not melt down.

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    Registered User Simon DS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Non-mando question - singing

    Take a semester-type course, two hours a week. Mainly women in the classes, they’re always looking for bass singers.
    You’ll be doing an hour a week of relaxation exercises sometimes more. Maybe 30 minutes of actual singing.
    Learning to sing isn’t so much about singing as learning how to relax. It’s a real meditation exercise, a lot of fun!

    Agree with CarlM and put alcohol and sugars onto the list, they tighten up the larynx - love Watson’s voice, he used some nasal tones and relaxed diphthong. Most of the time you’ll be learning how to centre the tone around the chest area and how to support the diaphragm.

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    Default Re: Non-mando question - singing

    Quote Originally Posted by DaveGinNJ View Post
    I have attempted to join some bluegrass jams, where its expected that I sing. I never sang before and I am not very good. I now that in bluegrass you want to sing nearer the upper part of your range but I just can't hit the notes when I do that. Instead I am usually an octave down from where one might expect. so I sound more like Barry White than Bill Monroe. I dont expect to become a great singer but looking for tips or exercises that will help me to get to just OK
    Who cares about wether you sing in Bill Monroe´s vocal sphere. Tony Rice (read his biography) said that he had ruined his voice by singing too high.

    I rather like to hear someone sing like Barry White and sound okay than someone who tries to reach high and sounds like he gets his testicles squeezed by pliers.

    I was on a gathering this year where I proposed to sing some Monroe tune. Maybe it was "Rocky Road Blues". I called out the key and was met with scepticizm as it seemed to be too low and wouldn´t push serious air. When I was done tootin´ and everybody adjusted their new storm hairdo, the sceptic said "I take it back, you pushed some air".

    It is all relative. Just because Bobby Osborne sang really high, doesn´t mean you should. Listen to Chris Jones, Dan Crary, Doc Watson, Chris Stapleton, Mike Compton, Joe Newberry, and even Lester Flatt. They do not sing awfully high.

    This here "Another Town" is sung actually quite low:



    Dan Crary with "Big River":



    and you can go lower:


    Olaf

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    Default Re: Non-mando question - singing

    This may sound silly, but practice in the bathroom, or in a hallway, or facing the corner of a room. It will help you to hear yourself.

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    Default Re: Non-mando question - singing

    As is often the case, Hartford had a song about this exact topic




    My take-- it's a public jam not a performance. Your goal is to give people a structure that they can have fun playing in not awe people with your amazing vocal skills. Play a simple song in a key everyone can play in at a temp that everyone's comfortable and you're setting everyone up for a good time. Save the song that you sing in a weird key that has a key change for when you're working something up with a group that you play with regularly. Instead of trying to sing morning bugle at the local jam, I'm singing Long Journey Home in G because that's what works in that setting.

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    Default Re: Non-mando question - singing

    when you are singing, you are a wind instrument. you should always be singing with plenty of air in your lungs. amazing the difference this makes...

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    Default Re: Non-mando question - singing

    Man, I wish I had a lower singing voice!

    At most jams, I’ve always found if you’re singing, you pick the key to play the song in. Like recommended above, find a few that work for you that are still in keys that aren’t jambusters! Lol.

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    Default Re: Non-mando question - singing

    Quote Originally Posted by DaveGinNJ View Post
    I have attempted to join some bluegrass jams, where its expected that I sing. I never sang before and I am not very good. I now that in bluegrass you want to sing nearer the upper part of your range but I just can't hit the notes when I do that. Instead I am usually an octave down from where one might expect. so I sound more like Barry White than Bill Monroe. I dont expect to become a great singer but looking for tips or exercises that will help me to get to just OK
    Why are you expected to contribute on an instrument on which you have very little experience and no training? What kind of jam is that? In my BG days (more than 50 years ago) I took part in several jams (albeit no public ones) both in my home country and the US, and never was I expected to sing and I certainly did not insist on that. I stuck to the instruments I knew best, the guitar and the mandolin.

    If you are capable only of singing an octave below standard pitch, then your natural role could be the bass in a gospel quartet. But, of course, a voice of similar character as that of Barry White would not readily blend with anyone else's.

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    Default Re: Non-mando question - singing

    Quote Originally Posted by KEB View Post
    As is often the case, Hartford had a song about this exact topic




    My take-- it's a public jam not a performance. Your goal is to give people a structure that they can have fun playing in not awe people with your amazing vocal skills. Play a simple song in a key everyone can play in at a temp that everyone's comfortable and you're setting everyone up for a good time. Save the song that you sing in a weird key that has a key change for when you're working something up with a group that you play with regularly. Instead of trying to sing morning bugle at the local jam, I'm singing Long Journey Home in G because that's what works in that setting.
    And what exactly is a "weird" key? Is there a definition?

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    Default Re: Non-mando question - singing

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill McCall View Post
    Sing in the key that fits your voice. A simple way to find your range is to sing your lowest note, find it on a mandolin/guitar/piano and repeat to find your highest note. From there, when you pick out melodies you will see what keys probably will work good for you.

    Lots of very good bluegrass singers don't sing in the stratosphere, and when you sing harmony it'll be easy to find the bass and baritone parts.

    Good luck. Singing harmony is the best part of bluegrass.
    Oh yes, "the key that fits your voice", the most "comfortable and natural key" , etc. etc. etc. My impesstion ia that the OP has very little training and experience as a singer. What's comfortable and "natural" of course depends on the singer's technical skill. Inexperienced singers often have very limitied range and uncure intonation, which may improve by training. So, a more sensible piece of advide would be to guide the OP to various resources, e.g., on the internet, or even a teacher.

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    Registered User Simon DS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Non-mando question - singing

    Yes to improve your singing you have to learn with other people, they can give you advice and exercises.
    It’s like learning all the different nuances on fiddle and the early stages of mandolin; you need feed back of many different aspects.

    The great thing about voice is that you don’t have to be that good, just be there at the session.
    People will like your voice because they like people.

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    Default Re: Non-mando question - singing

    Quote Originally Posted by ralph johansson View Post
    Oh yes, "the key that fits your voice", the most "comfortable and natural key" , etc. etc. etc. My impesstion ia that the OP has very little training and experience as a singer. What's comfortable and "natural" of course depends on the singer's technical skill. Inexperienced singers often have very limitied range and uncure intonation, which may improve by training. So, a more sensible piece of advide would be to guide the OP to various resources, e.g., on the internet, or even a teacher.
    OP here. Yes, that’s a good assessment. I am 61 and never sang before. My goals are just to be able to sing at a jam and not suck. By that I mean hitting the notes and maybe some level of nuance

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    Default Re: Non-mando question - singing

    There are different expectations, needs, and emphases in jams and bands. In a bluegrass band, it's important to have full harmonies, so someone with a lower-pitched voice would be quite welcome, and not expected to sing lead, for the most part. In a jam, in which everyone is taking turns leading songs, it's probably expected for you to sing lead - that is, fairly high - in a song you'll be leading. Try this: When it comes to your turn to lead a song, name the tune and key, and then say you want to sing a lower part, and if someone else knows the song they should sing the lead part. That might work for the time being, while you're working on some of the suggestions by others here.

    And yes - if you want to sing lead, pick a few songs, try them out at home in different keys, and find the key that works best for your voice. At the jam, when it's your turn, call the tune and key. If anyone complains about the key, say that's what works for you. People should be understanding. And if not, they can always sit out for a song.
    But that's just my opinion. I could be wrong. - Dennis Miller

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    Default Re: Non-mando question - singing

    Quote Originally Posted by journeybear View Post

    And yes - if you want to sing lead, pick a few songs, try them out at home in different keys, and find the key that works best for your voice. At the jam, when it's your turn, call the tune and key. If anyone complains about the key, say that's what works for you. People should be understanding. And if not, they can always sit out for a song.
    Again -- "The key that works best" is totally meaningless to someone with very little training. In many cases a few elementary technical adjustmensts may really open up one¨s voice and expand one's range, effortlessly. You should start there, and decide on the most expressive keys only later. One of the best known vocal solo numbers in Bluegrass is Kentucky Waltz, with a range of one octave and a sixth. Monroe's Columbia recording is in D, he later did it in E and even F (on the electrtic session, utilizing falsetto). When trying it I found that the high g# in E was a bit squeaky, and the low A in D lacking in depth, so I settled on Eb. Even that took some training and I never really became good at singing. I started ouy on the guitar at 13 and the mandolin at 22 (I will be 80 next August) and even then I had no experience in singing, to speak of.

    Sometimes I encounter the strangest attitudes to singing. E.,g., in the past I've been asked to lower my lead part on a song in order to accomodate somebody's half-ass tenor above it!

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    Default Re: Non-mando question - singing

    Quote Originally Posted by ralph johansson View Post
    "The key that works best" is totally meaningless to someone with very little training
    When trying it I found that the high g# in E was a bit squeaky, and the low A in D lacking in depth, so I settled on Eb
    I don't understand why you were so dismissive of what Bill and I said, and then went and gave an example of yourself doing exactly what we were talking about. The OP wanted some tips; we gave him some. OK?
    But that's just my opinion. I could be wrong. - Dennis Miller

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    Default Re: Non-mando question - singing

    Quote Originally Posted by ralph johansson View Post
    Again -- "The key that works best" is totally meaningless to someone with very little training. ......

    Sometimes I encounter the strangest attitudes to singing. E.,g., in the past I've been asked to lower my lead part on a song in order to accomodate somebody's half-ass tenor above it!
    However the key that does not work at all should be fairly obvious. The first step is to find a key where you can actually hit all of the notes. That should be well withing the ability of a beginner. To some it may not be obvious that you are allowed to change keys away from where the recording is to hit all the notes so they just struggle. And they may have to face the fact that a few songs may require too wide a range for them.

    The most entrenched strange and wrong attitude is that it is all natural talent and you either have it or you don't. People expect to have to practice their stringed instrument, pay attention to rhythm, to actually find and hit the right notes and pay attention to tuning and intonation. But they expect the voice to either happen or not happen naturally, without practice then give up when it doesn't. The voice is an instrument like any other and needs a little work. To be sure some people's voices are 1923 Loar's or Gilchrists and some of us are more like midrange Kentuckys or maybe even a Rogue but almost all can be improved unless there is an actual physical problem.

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    Default Re: Non-mando question - singing

    This got posted on another thread in another context, but I noticed something about it that is relevant here. Cross-referencing can be so useful.

    The singer here sounds comfortable in the key of G - strong, not straining - and even though his voice is pitched lower than what many may feel is the "correct" range for bluegrass, it sounds fine to me. I don't know what key this is "supposed" to be in, though Billy seems to do it consistently in this key. But that truly ain't no part of nothing. There's no hard and set rule that a song has to be performed in the same key as the original recording. That key was very likely determined by the singer's range, and vocal ranges vary quite a bit. I vaguely recall it being asserted that Bill Monroe did a lot of songs in B. If this got raised two full steps, that would certainly get it into the high lonesome sound area.

    But that's just my opinion. I could be wrong. - Dennis Miller

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    Default Re: Non-mando question - singing

    Quote Originally Posted by journeybear View Post
    I don't understand why you were so dismissive of what Bill and I said, and then went and gave an example of yourself doing exactly what we were talking about. The OP wanted some tips; we gave him some. OK?
    The point I've been stressing all the time is singing is not natural -- it comes easy to some of us, and requires a fair amount of training to others. Without some training and experience I could never have found a practicable key for this particular song (Kentucky Waltz). When I started trying to sing about the highest note I could get was d, 3rd fret on the b string of the guitar. I had to add at least a major third to the top of my range. So what, then, is my, or anyone's, "natural range"?

    But I still wonder why this compulsion to sing? I never attended a jam where I was told to learn some other instrument besides the guitar or mandolin, say, dobro, hammered dulcimer, fiddle or harmonica. What's so special about singing?

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    Default Re: Non-mando question - singing

    Quote Originally Posted by journeybear View Post
    This got posted on another thread in another context, but I noticed something about it that is relevant here. Cross-referencing can be so useful.

    The singer here sounds comfortable in the key of G - strong, not straining - and even though his voice is pitched lower than what many may feel is the "correct" range for bluegrass, it sounds fine to me. I don't know what key this is "supposed" to be in, though Billy seems to do it consistently in this key. But that truly ain't no part of nothing. There's no hard and set rule that a song has to be performed in the same key as the original recording. That key was very likely determined by the singer's range, and vocal ranges vary quite a bit. I vaguely recall it being asserted that Bill Monroe did a lot of songs in B. If this got raised two full steps, that would certainly get it into the high lonesome sound area.

    "Vaguely recall ... being asserted"? Monroe turned B natural into a signature key in Bluegrass.The first example I can think of is "Goodbye Old Pal" with the accordion band; others include Whitehouse Blues, Little Maggie, Little Georgia Rose. I once asked the reason for the popularity of that key on this forum, and the answer was a recommendation for FFCP! The original recording of Georgia Rose was in the key C, the rerecording, with three fiddles, was in B, and my impression was that Monroe sounded better in that key, maybe owing to resonances and breaks beween registers. The attraction of B today seems to lie in the opportunities offered by the open a and e strings.

    The original recording (1946) of Blue Moon of Kentucky was in Bb, which he raised to C on the rerecording in 1954. This change along with the switch from 3/4 to a brisk 2/2, drastically changed the character of the song, from dreamy to aggressive.

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    Default Re: Non-mando question - singing

    Quote Originally Posted by ralph johansson View Post
    The point I've been stressing all the time is singing is not natural -- it comes easy to some of us, and requires a fair amount of training to others. Without some training and experience I could never have found a practicable key for this particular song (Kentucky Waltz). When I started trying to sing about the highest note I could get was d, 3rd fret on the b string of the guitar. I had to add at least a major third to the top of my range. So what, then, is my, or anyone's, "natural range"?

    But I still wonder why this compulsion to sing? I never attended a jam where I was told to learn some other instrument besides the guitar or mandolin, say, dobro, hammered dulcimer, fiddle or harmonica. What's so special about singing?
    Its not a compulsion, more like an unrelenting obsession. Seriously though, I am just looking for tips and exercises to become a better singer. Leave it at that

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    Default Re: Non-mando question - singing

    Quote Originally Posted by ralph johansson View Post
    "Vaguely recall ... being asserted"? Monroe turned B natural into a signature key in Bluegrass.
    I was being a wee bit circumspect for the purpose of humor, but neglected to add the wink. It is funny though - maybe not - that it seems people in jam sessions spend a lot of time in G and A, but B? Not too often, that I've encountered. Seems those playing in a key that high get a bit lonesome.

    BTW, I'm not much on singing, either. And I've been in some bands in which I was politely - not always so - asked not to sing. My voice has more character than precision, and it dwells somewhere in the Dylan-Garcia-Nelson area; I can put a song across better than sing it. However, I worked up a song to sing for my first time at the monthly open jam in Darlington, 30 miles away, because I knew it would come up. I wanted to make a good first impression, with something I knew well. I chose "Sitting On Top Of The World" in A, and practiced it a bunch of times during the week leading up to the event. About twenty minutes in I got the call. It went fairly well, even with the VIm accent they kept throwing in in the refrain (news to me). Indeed, a little while later I started racking my brain for another song to do in case I got the call again. I hit on "Blue Moon Of Kentucky," which I used to do now and then in a band. Good thing I had the idea, because a couple minuted later I got the call. I went with it - again in A - complete with the slow waltz round into the fast 4/4 part. Everyone followed, and it was just fine. In my experience, bluegrassers are a pretty welcoming bunch and forgiving of less-than-perfect contributors. Sure, purists may plpe up, but that's true in every genre. So it goes.
    Last edited by journeybear; Dec-02-2023 at 11:25am. Reason: just one more thing ...
    But that's just my opinion. I could be wrong. - Dennis Miller

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    Default Re: Non-mando question - singing

    It’s the sound you make when you yawn first thing on a lazy sunday morning after a fair bit of exercise the day before.
    A deep chesty yawn while using only your stomach to exhale - your chest should remain enlarged and relaxed.

    Remember that there are different styles of singing, opera, folk, BlueGrass etc. and some techniques contradict each other.
    I think Folk is one of the more relaxed styles.

    The higher you sing, the more relaxed you have to be.

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