Coffee & Scales - Comp & Sing
It's coming up on 10 years since I started singing, or as some of my friends would say.....crossed over to the dark side. Ha! It has been and continues to be a wonderful experience. At the time I was living in Mtl and had written lyrics to a few of my songs. I would sing them by myself in St. Henri (Mtl) or for a few select friends.
I was thinking of getting the tunes to singers I knew and went into the studio to demo the songs with that in mind. As I listened back, I thought, gee, I don't suck as much as I thought I would..... so I started working on improving my voice. I took a few months of lessons with Madeleine Palmer, who is a great teacher, and we worked on badly needed voice technique. So with heart pounding and sweat dripping down my face, I started singing one tune a set on my club gigs. It slowly got easier and less frightening.
Since recording my original vocal music was my goal, I put a trio together with two great young players, RJ Leblanc and Sam Joly. We did a few gigs over about a year and then went into the studio to record One Existence. I tried singing and playing in the studio but I didn't have the experience to pull it off at that time, I was in over my head. I decided to do all the singing at Paul Johnston's studio, Paul produced the recording and was fantastic to work with. It worked out really well and I'm still proud of that recording. Unfortunately we didn't play many gigs after the CD came out, things were slow for me and I was starting thinking about leaving Montréal.
I was singing more and started looking for work outside of the country. I landed a solo gig at the Grand Hyatt in Fukuoka, Japan. It was a nice gig, 6 nights a week for 5 months! So I sang and sang and then, sang some more. I wrote this tune in my hotel room while on that gig. Japanese Lullaby Click for PDF. I got more experience playing and singing in the first month than I had gotten since beginning. Being able to sing started paying off, and led to lots more solo gigs.
A few months ago I released my first solo CD, Hold On, Let Go. I recorded here in Toronto at Inception, http://inceptionsound.com great studio, Mike and Chad are excellent. I recorded tunes that I felt worked well with my style and ones that I was able to add a little something something to. I recorded the singing and playing at the same time, and we did very little editing because of bleeding between the vocal and piano mics. One, two, three....GO!
Young musicians ask me for tips on how to play and sing at the same time. I have the advantage of having been a career pianist before starting to sing, so I imagine learning both at the same time can be tricky. If you're a singer, go get piano lessons now! You've GOT to have a strong piano foundation.
If you're a pianist, go get vocal lessons now!
Print it! Play it! Comp & Sing
Start simple. Take any standard that you know well. Play a solid voicing (not broken chords) on beat 1 and 3 (half notes) and sing the song straight. If you can't do this or don't know enough about voicings and it takes you a 5 minutes find the b9 on a dominant chord, go get piano lessons right now!
Repeditive Rhythms: play the whole tune with one rhythm. I do some of that on All of Me on my last CD. It's great for your groove and consistency and will develop your voice/pno independence. Write a pno chart and play it the same exact way until it's too easy for you. THEN start adding to it (other voicings/rhythms) If you only play octaves in the LH and root position chords in the RH, go get piano lessons right now!
Bass lines w/ passing dim. There's lots of different ways to do this and it's very useful especially for solo playing. Don't know about passing diminished? go get.....well, you know.....
These basics have to be second nature if you're going to play for yourself. You don't have to be Herbie, but you want to sound your best.
I put in an advanced exercise in for fun, cuz it's so much fun! Play the chords and bass line and sing the top line. (any pitch you want) Then count ( out load, always out loud) the different rhythmic layers.
Shirley Horn, Nat Cole, Nina Simone were all pianists before they started singing. So get busy!
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