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Thread: The "I can't sing" people!

  1. #11
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    To me singing is much like any other instrument. Yes it starts with breath support, not unlike picking technique on guitar, but you learn your vocal range like a guitarist learns a fret board. What pitch do you change into falsetto, using your chest and head voice, blending full voice and falsetto. You practice scales so your muscles get used to voicing correct pitches just like you practice scales for muscle memory on guitar or piano.

    As a music teacher of children I will say this, not everyone can hear musically. Not everyone can match pitch. Not everyone can hear a tune and pick it out on the piano or xylophone. Can they get better at it with lots of practice? Sure somewhat, but I can tell you almost from the moment I have a student echo simple two note phrases back to me if they have a musical ear. I truly believe like some kids can just run faster or throw harder from the get go, that some kids have better ears. Why do you think siblings who harmonize vocally sound so tight? I believe it's because their ears and vocal chords have physical similarities they are born with. Now I have zero scientific evidence to back this up, except for the fact that I have been tasked with making young humans better at music for 15 years. So these are just my informed opinions.

    I do think people record themselves and really cannot hear if they are in tune or not sometimes.
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    Quote Originally Posted by musicturtle View Post
    As a music teacher of children I will say this, not everyone can hear musically. Not everyone can match pitch. Not everyone can hear a tune and pick it out on the piano or xylophone. Can they get better at it with lots of practice? Sure somewhat, but I can tell you almost from the moment I have a student echo simple two note phrases back to me if they have a musical ear.
    I know I would struggle, but I don't think that I lack a musical ear, particularly. Two isolated notes could be a challenge for me. Ten notes of a melody probably would not, even if they contained those two notes Somehow, once I feel the context and melody, the notes slip into place.

    Sometimes, I can also confuse wildly different notes, say, C and F. I figure that it happens when I'm hearing a strong third harmonic on the C. But I wouldn't get confused if I were singing a melody. It would only happen if you were to ask me to sing just the one or two notes. I don't think it is necessary to be able to isolate the fundamental frequency, and it doesn't seem to be the way I naturally hear notes???

    Another thing I have noticed is that when a run of notes are all the same pitch but are on different vowels I think I am hearing different "pitches". This is again something to do with effect of harmonics and not isolating the fundamental. I am actually quite surprised when I see the music written down. But, when I check what I am actually singing, I find that I do hold the note even though I am not aware of it. All that I am changing is the harmonics to get the different vowels.

    If you had been my teacher, you would probably have written me off.

    (Except that I have a really thick skin. I advise anybody who wishes to affect me to practise a few months with a triceratops.)

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    Lots of my money making work comes from having a decent ear. I work with some excellently talented people. If you hear the same pitch but because of the harmonic content you determine them to be different notes then I guess you've come to terms with it like being colour blind. One of the things we do here is produce customise backing tracks for bands and singers. We've become pretty good at listening to the originals maybe 2 bars at a time, and identifying everything that is going on. Last year we did a series of Carpenters tracks - layers and layers of harmonies and picking out exactly what is there so we can re-record it took a lot of work. Two of us would sit together and I'd say, I think it's going la-la-la-la, and my colleague would say "are you sure? - I hear la-la-la??" and eventually wed get consensus. Sometimes, we'd hear one thing, then listen very, very carefully and pull out something else. We got better and better - but I firmly believe you can train yourself, IF, you have that acuity in you. I don't think some people would ever be able to do it. We had real problems with the singer reproducing these backing. We'd sit with her, and say ok - you have to sing la-la-la-la with some very strange jumps and slides into new notes, and doing it one line at a time really made me appreciate how Karen and Richard Carpenter did this in the studio. I heard a youtube clip where they said "Take 38...." and I wondered how somebody so talented could get to take 38 - but now I really understand.

    In another life as a senior music examiner, where students needed to reproduce a popular piece of music, I stopped being amazed by people who could not sing.I've found one old example. The back story is that the guy liked this style of music, but could not get anyone to help him record it - and the grades were for the recording NOT the musical ability. So he recorded the entire thing himself. The real problem is he's not a singer, but he also chose a tempo that he could not keep up with. he managed the guitars and other instruments, but not the voice. The key is also wrong for him and simply not the right song for his voice. People tried to counsel him out of doing it. He insisted. He actually made a decent enough job of recording it - but it's difficult to listen to.http://www.limelight.org.uk/samplesinging.mp3

  4. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by rob aylestone View Post
    If you hear the same pitch but because of the harmonic content you determine them to be different notes then I guess you've come to terms with it like being colour blind.
    On the contrary. They ARE different notes.

    They ARE different notes which happen to have the same fundamental frequency. The fundamental frequency does not DEFINE the sound, the feel, or anything musical about the sound (I mean it is not a musical DEFINITION of a note). It is only one aspect of it, an analytical detail.

    It is a useful detail, if you wish to transcribe the music, pull it apart, apply some technical standard (as oppose to playing by ear) etc. But it is not necessary in order to be able to sing a melody. It is something that we can do automatically without the analytical skills.

    I did highlight the word "necessary" in my previous post. Of course there are many applications of such a skill where it is necessary. Singing is not one of them. You could look at a painting or even your computer screen and the same colour against a different background or in different contexts could look like six different colours. Your artistic appreciation of the painting would not be affected. But if you had to use an external instrument to reproduce or work with the painting, you would need that skill.

    I didn't say it was a bad thing to have at all. That would make no sense to me. It is something I intend to familiarize myself with. But I will do it cautiously, because I do not want to lose the holistic feel of a note, and make too strong an association between fundamental frequency and feel.

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    Quote Originally Posted by kickingtone View Post
    I know I would struggle, but I don't think that I lack a musical ear, particularly. Two isolated notes could be a challenge for me. Ten notes of a melody probably would not, even if they contained those two notes Somehow, once I feel the context and melody, the notes slip into place.

    Sometimes, I can also confuse wildly different notes, say, C and F. I figure that it happens when I'm hearing a strong third harmonic on the C. But I wouldn't get confused if I were singing a melody. It would only happen if you were to ask me to sing just the one or two notes. I don't think it is necessary to be able to isolate the fundamental frequency, and it doesn't seem to be the way I naturally hear notes???

    Another thing I have noticed is that when a run of notes are all the same pitch but are on different vowels I think I am hearing different "pitches". This is again something to do with effect of harmonics and not isolating the fundamental. I am actually quite surprised when I see the music written down. But, when I check what I am actually singing, I find that I do hold the note even though I am not aware of it. All that I am changing is the harmonics to get the different vowels.

    If you had been my teacher, you would probably have written me off.

    (Except that I have a really thick skin. I advise anybody who wishes to affect me to practise a few months with a triceratops.)
    I guess I should have said, I can tell who has a "better" musical ear. But in my practice, most of the time, the students who can match the simple "sol-mi" or "g-e" early on are also the ones that can sing back a melody, say of 10 notes like you mentioned. And just so you know, I give everyone who wants the chance to sing a solo an audition. It is interesting though, because even the students that struggle singing on pitch and in time can usually tell who sounds the best, which is weird because they have trouble making themselves sound better. Which brings me back to the point that some singing/musical ability is just given.
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  6. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by musicturtle View Post
    I guess I should have said, I can tell who has a "better" musical ear. But in my practice, most of the time, the students who can match the simple "sol-mi" or "g-e" early on are also the ones that can sing back a melody, say of 10 notes like you mentioned. And just so you know, I give everyone who wants the chance to sing a solo an audition. It is interesting though, because even the students that struggle singing on pitch and in time can usually tell who sounds the best, which is weird because they have trouble making themselves sound better. Which brings me back to the point that some singing/musical ability is just given.
    What you may have observed is a trend, rather than a fact. I am not sure the value of the observation, given that a song is never two notes. If they can sing the ten notes back, that is what matters. There are reasons why 10 may be easier than 2 that are not to do with "better musical ear". For example, breaking down a note into its fundamental plus harmonic content is actually artificial. It is a result of theoretical Fourier Analysis, and it is questionable whether we hear using such analysis. There is nothing to say that the most important thing about a note is its fundamental frequency. In fact, most of the power may be in the second, third or fourth harmonic. The fundamental may be very weak, or even absent ('missing fundamental'), so it is only an "implied" frequency. So somebody singing back to you what they hear as the most prominent feature of the note, needn't be singing a note of the same "pitch". The more notes you have, the more of a pattern emerges, the more music emerges, and the more objectively the ear can match. In that sense, what you are calling the less musical ear may actually be the more musical ear. Of course, there are also those who will repeat back to you something that appears to bear no relation to your notes. They could have a problem.

    It's horses for courses. And breaking things down doesn't work best for everyone. For example...

    My mum taught me to read in the following way. She simply took a children's book and read it to me while I watched her point out each word as she read. That was that. I was nearly 5 when I started school, by which time I could read fluently. I could repeat the "bits" -- the alphabet -- really quickly, too, but quite frankly, that "skill" was useless. And at school I was bemused to hear the teacher teaching us "KER - A - TUH, CAT,.....DUH - O - GUH, DOG". Some of the class were still doing that, aged 9.

    Another example is the drummer I mentioned earlier, who taught me and a friend. He was a very accomplished professional drummer from Ghana on an international circuit. But he didn't know what a quarter beat was. (He knew what it meant theoretically, but he couldn't tell if he was drumming quarter beats). If you asked him if something was a quarter beat, he would just play it and say, "it's like that."

    Listen , repeat was the way he taught. He talked of beats being even, but "quarter, half, third"??? forget it!! If you auditioned him and asked him to play quarter beats, you'd write him off!

  7. #17
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    Well this guy would pass my audition because no where did I state that students had to identify what they were singing notation wise. And I also never said I would "write a kid off" if he didn't match pitch early on. I start with a pattern, a pattern that uses only two pitches(And yes two pitches can make music, the beginning to Beethoven's 5th is arguably the most recognizable melody on the planet). I sing the pattern, and they try to repeat it. Some are better than others. I sing songs that emphasize the pattern and we repeat this process. Some take more time to learn it, some never do, but some get it right away and are usually musically inclined in other ways as well.

    I get what you are saying and far as fundamentals and harmonics go. Some people wonder if Van Gogh actually saw the world the way he painted it. When I sing in falsetto some students try to emulate my "squeaky sound."

    We can go round and round on this, but think it is imperative for a singer to be able to hear and reproduce intervals as that is the relationship between two pitches. Whether they do this consciously or not really does not matter but the ability to hear something and repeat it correctly differentiates singing from just random sound production.
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    Quote Originally Posted by kickingtone View Post
    On the contrary. They ARE different notes.

    They ARE different notes which happen to have the same fundamental frequency.
    I think we have to agree to disagree here. The fundamental IS the note, because the note is the frequency and frequencies are determined by the fundamental, NOT overtones, or indeed the waveform shape - sine, square, sawtooth etc - C1 is ALWAYS C1. Nothing can be lower than the fundamental, so measurement starts with that one. The only example I can think of where there could be confusion would be a Hammond organ, where there's a Perfect 5th available as a distinct higher tone - but all this means is that if you hear a G, on the add 5th drawbar, without the fundamental, then you are hearing G, but seeing a C!

    In real sounds, while you may have lots of frequencies in the harmonic series, the fundamental is the basis of the sound. Same fundamental frequency - same pitch, same letter name - and when you sing it, the same note there too. I cannot accept any variation of say a C as anything other than C - even if mega rich in harmonics.

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    Quote Originally Posted by musicturtle View Post
    Well this guy would pass my audition because no where did I state that students had to identify what they were singing notation wise.
    You wouldn't get to audition him, either. But seriously, the point I was trying to make is that the drummer couldn't relate in the same way to "beats per bar" of whatever, regardless of whether it was written down. Three beats to the bar, four beats to the bar, twice as fast? Those questions were alien to him, and that was probably why cross rhythms were easy for him.

    Quote Originally Posted by musicturtle View Post
    And I also never said I would "write a kid off"...
    course not. I was joking.

    Quote Originally Posted by musicturtle View Post
    if he didn't match pitch early on. I start with a pattern, a pattern that uses only two pitches(And yes two pitches can make music, the beginning to Beethoven's 5th is arguably the most recognizable melody on the planet).
    It must be, since even I can guess what you are referring to.

    I didn't say 2 PITCHES, though, did I? I said 2 NOTES. I am sure you spotted that because of the way your carefully said pitches.

    It is a perfect example you have given. I can google the sheet music and see the "2 pitches". Yet my immediate reaction would have been 3, only the first two being the same. Perhaps somebody can explain why? Yet, I have no problem singing it back to you. "Something" about the 3rd note sounds higher than the first two, to my ears. Maybe it is only one of the harmonics being more pronounced or something, and, if that is the case, I would automatically replicate it, without necessarily realizing how it breaks down.

    Quote Originally Posted by musicturtle View Post
    I sing the pattern, and they try to repeat it. Some are better than others. I sing songs that emphasize the pattern and we repeat this process. Some take more time to learn it, some never do, but some get it right away and are usually musically inclined in other ways as well.
    Sure. Musical inclination is a real thing. I won't deny that.

    Quote Originally Posted by musicturtle View Post
    I get what you are saying and far as fundamentals and harmonics go. Some people wonder if Van Gogh actually saw the world the way he painted it. When I sing in falsetto some students try to emulate my "squeaky sound."
    I was actually thinking along those lines in my last post. Particularly a small child, may go for the loudness, emphasis or other quality of the sound, and may or may not relegate pitch as a matter of interest.

    Quote Originally Posted by musicturtle View Post
    We can go round and round on this, but think it is imperative for a singer to be able to hear and reproduce intervals as that is the relationship between two pitches. Whether they do this consciously or not really does not matter but the ability to hear something and repeat it correctly differentiates singing from just random sound production.
    I think we can agree on that!

  10. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by rob aylestone View Post
    I think we have to agree to disagree here.
    Absolutely.

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