If you are like most people, you feel some desire or pressure to take care of yourself, mentally and physically. You might try to incorporate more vegetables and fruit into your diet, or practice mindfulness or go to therapy for your mental health. You might get out and exercise or learn new skills to keep your brain challenged. But what if I told you that singing with other people could have a positive impact on your heath?
Research shows it does! Learning how to sing and singing with others can boost your mood and confidence, give you a sense of shared community working toward a common goal. Singing can reduce feelings of anxiety, depression or isolation and improve self-esteem. Vocal lessons and group singing can promote tolerance and a sense that solving problems involves working together. Some links to research can be found here and here.
Group singing can have great benefits for you, so can anyone learn to sing? And how can you get started?
If you grew up singing in a school or church choir, then start by finding a community choir. Most urban communities have many community choirs to choose from. Many religious denominations will also have choirs that perform either as part of their services or in a community-gathering way. If you love classical music, the symphony in major cities will sponsor a choir to participate in choral works.
Most community choirs will have an audition. Don’t be intimidated by this process; usually it means that the director want to meet with you, have you sing some warm-ups and hear the quality of your voice. While a top-level group might be exclusive, most community choirs are very welcoming and don’t require you to have experience reading music. Many choir directors can provide rehearsal tracks to learn music if you are not a music reader. Think of the audition process more as an informational process for you and the director rather than a chance to turn people away. Most groups are looking for a big robust group and therefore are excited to have new members.
While singing has been proven to help older singers both physically and socially, it is not just for older people. There are several models of “young’ professionals choirs that may involve more social gatherings and a less-structured atmosphere than your typical choir. Two examples include Choir League in Denver and Young Professionals Choral Collective in Cincinnati. The model is to appeal to people in their 20s-40s and sometimes happy hours or supporting your local breweries are built in to the rehearsal.
If the choral or religious setting are not your style, there are still more options. Use social media and networking group (Meetup, Facebook groups, etc.) to find a group that is working on the kind of music you want to sing. There might be an a cappella group looking for an alto, a rock band looking for a back-up singer, or even your favorite band’s cover group. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, you can always solicit like-minded folks among your friends. Trying forming an a cappella group with your college buddies or sing covers of some harmony-driven bands like Mumford and Sons, HAIM or the Staves with your friends or families (sister or brother groups, anyone?).
The uniqueness of your singing voice is something truly special. There are a million different singing voices out there but only one sounds just like you. However, when you are doing group singing, you have to work toward a blended, unified sound. It’s not the time for runs, belting, or showing off your best pop singer impression. Here are some tips for blending your voice with others.
When you are singing in a group setting, you have to pay attention to your dynamic with your fellow singers. Yes, all good songs have some dynamic variety, but your voice shouldn’t stick out as louder than the rest.
2. Match tone quality
Voices are all unique; the human voice can have so many nuances! When you are singing a solo, you want to exploit that uniqueness. When you sing in group, you want the voices to blend into a harmonious sound. That means you are going to try to “tame” your uniqueness and try to fit your sound into the sound of the others. Let’s think of it in terms of flavors of ice-cream. When you sing a solo, you can be as “chocolate-cinnamon-fudge with almonds” as you like. But when you are harmonizing with either a lead singer or as a member of a choir, your tone needs to be more “vanilla.” The variables in your voice (gruffness of tone, breathiness, vocal fry, ornaments, etc.) need to be toned down to find a happy medium with your fellow singers.
3. Breathe together
This is one of the greatest hints for feeling unified and making clean entrances and cut offs. If you are harmonizing in a small group or backing up a soloist, physically look at that person for when they are breathing to begin a note and when they are cutting off a note (there is usually a physical cue like dipping of the head). When you sing with the same people for a long time, this becomes second nature. When you sing in choir, look to your conductor for cues of when to breathe and when to cut off a note.
4. Practice different harmonies
If you are singing someone else’s song, you can listen to the recording and copy the harmonies that you hear. If you are arranging your own music or a new version of a song, you’ll want to practice adding your own vocal harmonies. Harmony is build on the triad (or stack of three notes). Most vocal harmonies are either a 3rd above or below the melody or a 6th above or below the melody (with variations, often not an exact copy of what the lead is doing).
One way to do this is to play a song you like that doesn’t have background vocals and try adding your own. Another way is to play a melody (even a simple scale) on an instrument and try harmonizing with yourself as you play. Singing harmony is its own unique skill and not every singer is good at it at first. Thankfully, like all things musical, the more you practice it, the better you’ll get!
Shawn Leonhardt composes jingles and creates web content on the topic of music. He specializes in teaching songwriting, lyrics, and music theory. He is also an audiophile that collects reel to reel tapes, vinyl, and cassette. As a creative music nut, Shawn can bring an eccentric and unique perspective to any project. Shawn Leonhardt is a writer for 30 Day Singer and Guitar Tricks.
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