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Thread: a singer with rhythm problems

  1. #11
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    I agree that when a good singer attacks a song they can move their phrasing around the beat to create an interesting and exciting vocal track. Billie Holiday was a great exponent of singing behind the beat. But for a singer to do this, they need to know where the beat is in the first place. There is a big difference between artistic expression and rhythmic incompetence. The latter needs to be addressed first. Interpretation comes second. I've had to deal with singer-guitarists who drop or add bars and beats at random because their internal sense of rhythm has not been developed.

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    Quote Originally Posted by gecko zzed View Post
    I agree that when a good singer attacks a song they can move their phrasing around the beat to create an interesting and exciting vocal track. Billie Holiday was a great exponent of singing behind the beat. But for a singer to do this, they need to know where the beat is in the first place. There is a big difference between artistic expression and rhythmic incompetence. The latter needs to be addressed first. Interpretation comes second. I've had to deal with singer-guitarists who drop or add bars and beats at random because their internal sense of rhythm has not been developed.
    I've worked with a few people like that before.
    One guy in particular was a solid guitarist and a very good singer.
    When singing he'd always be exactly where he was meant to be but when playing the guitar he'd just drop/add beats left right and centre.
    Once I just let him run for 3:30 to see what would happen and he drop beats so many times that he ended up being right for about 1/4 of the song, purely by chance.

    I used to give him a placeholder simple drum beat instead of a click and sometimes I'd record myself playing a solid chord on beat one of each bar.
    You can argue that I shouldn't have to do that, or the guy isn't good enough to record, but for him that meant the difference between a perfect take and a useless take.
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    Quote Originally Posted by gecko zzed View Post
    I agree that when a good singer attacks a song they can move their phrasing around the beat to create an interesting and exciting vocal track. Billie Holiday was a great exponent of singing behind the beat. But for a singer to do this, they need to know where the beat is in the first place. There is a big difference between artistic expression and rhythmic incompetence. The latter needs to be addressed first. Interpretation comes second. I've had to deal with singer-guitarists who drop or add bars and beats at random because their internal sense of rhythm has not been developed.
    This is exactly what I am talking about. (Sometimes, I get the impression that the engineer has created the effect, rather than the singer, but hey! )

    My thinking is that there are really two parts to this: hearing what the vocals should sound like relative to the music, then being able to reproduce it. A metronome can be an aid to the first part, but, once the singer has heard how the vocals relate to the instruments, he should cut out the metronome, imo, because at that point it becomes about the feel. If he uses or imagines a metronome at that point, it is likely to sound dead. He should be feeding off the instruments, and he should have learned the general flow from the feel.

    In fact, I would say that not making the switch can lead to the the problems steenamaroo mentions. It would be like a motorist saying, hey, I've driven round that circuit so many times, give me a metronome and I can do it with my eyes shut. I know exactly when to steer and when to shift. Of course, the driver is going to end up upside down in a bush. The reality is that they have to learn to respond to the real mccoy, which is the road (or the instruments, in the case of the singer).

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    Quote Originally Posted by kickingtone View Post
    It would be like a motorist saying, hey, I've driven round that circuit so many times, give me a metronome and I can do it with my eyes shut. I know exactly when to steer and when to shift. Of course, the driver is going to end up upside down in a bush. The reality is that they have to learn to respond to the real mccoy, which is the road (or the instruments, in the case of the singer).
    To continue the motoring analogy . . . a skilled driver, when driving round a circuit, will have a sense of how the cars is behaving (e.g. whether it has a tendency to understeer or oversteer), and a sense of how it is reacting to the road surface. They will know to steer early on this corner, but go wide on that corner . . . and so on. That's a skill that you develop through experience. There is little to be gained by that driver telling a new driver to do those things if the new driver can't yet drive the car in a straight line.

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    Quote Originally Posted by gecko zzed View Post
    There is little to be gained by that driver telling a new driver to do those things if the new driver can't yet drive the car in a straight line.
    Sure. But what role does the "metronome" play in getting the new driver to drive in a straight line? The metronome is just the fixed element, the approximation -- the steering wheel should be "centered". But our new driver is still going to end up in a bush.

    What I am trying to say is that the new driver is not learning to "hear the metronome" (feel when the steering wheel is centered), but is using it as a tool to learn how the road feels and the car responds. He soon needs to forget completely about the "position of the steering wheel" and respond to the road, even when driving in a straight line.

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    Oops, I forgot to mention...

    My advice would be to pick a suitable instrument and practise "singing" it alongside the vocals. Like so...

    "...on the walkways of the magazine...bam bam b-bam b-bam b-she don't know the words...."

    Sing through the pauses. If you are losing it during a phrase, drop some of the words and replace them by "singing" the part of your key instrument.

    This helps you to "sight" an instrument and really feel how it relates. You can even try different instruments.

    Once the groove is established you can mute the "additions" with ease.

    Heaven help you if you are thinking --

    "...on the walkways of the magazine...TICK........TICK.......HALF-TICK -she TICK don't know the words...."

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    The analogy isn't really working for me but I will say that my experience with people like this suggests that they just don't have a built in click or measure counter.
    Either that or they struggle to concentrate on it whilst doing something else.

    If you want a motoring analogy, take the trained driver and blindfold him and see how far he gets around a track he knows.
    In that scenario the visual cues are our backing track and/or click.

    In all seriousness, I'm pretty sure a lot of them could complete a familiar track, in the same way that I can play the bass part to whatever song you like on its own, observing whatever rests etc.
    Doesn't really work either but whatever...lol

    The idea of creative freedom may or may not work - I'm not big into any kind of racing but I'd assume that certain drivers have certain traits but also that there is a best/fastest way to complete any given course.
    Those two ideas fight each other but regardless, creative liberties and personal touches in music are a totally separate conversation from rhythmic capability.

    Willie Nelson never sang the right note at the right time once in his career, but I'm pretty sure he knows it too.
    ---------- Steenaudio Website ----------

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    Well there is more than one issue here. The OP wants the singer to sing on the beat which we all know is about as sterile as you can get and a good and or great singer is going to put swing or syncopation that fits with the emotion of the track, add to that the vocal is usually the feature meaning it is sung to music rather than the music to the singer. So training to sing to a metronome will only give the singer the opportunity to learn how to sing "in time". I say opportunity to learn as some people don't have a rhythmic sense and cant really learn it . Barring such a tragedy however, the newly on the beat singer will not necessarily now suddenly be able to perform a nuanced version where they are playing in, around , outside the pocket. My point is the OP can only guide the singer to learn more to become skilled at performing with whatever tools they can including many of the ideas mentioned by ya'll, but don't get your hopes up as the performer may not have the ability to achieve a good take even if they practice these measures.
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    From the OPs description, it sounds like a generic rigid on-the-beat performance would be just fine.
    I don't mean that disrespectfully but if your client or friend is literally losing track of which beat is '1', getting any usable take is a win.
    If you have a group of guys playing smoke on the water and one of them doesn't go "2-3-4", there's only so much you're going to get from him.

    It's like teaching someone an instrument. You're not looking for expression and individuality at the start. You're looking for the right notes in the right order, with the right timing.
    The rest may or may not develop in time, with that foundation in place.

    Your guy obviously has some of the foundations in place but one is missing, so I think the best you can do is heavily supplement it and hope it's enough.
    If it's worth anything, my guy was really easy going and invited me to literally conduct while he performed.
    I was doing road traffic gestures and all sorts of shit, but we got there.
    ---------- Steenaudio Website ----------

  10. #20
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    Man if it works I say go for it. get one of those flashing light things that you can adjust the speed of and point it where it will do the most good, some peeps will do best with visual clues. I like the idea of recording a track of just musical cues that wont be in the final mix, whether they are drum hits, synth stabs or the actual vocal performance played by an instrument to sing a copy of, if it helps get the performance , why not?
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