It is extremely difficult to get the tempo right every time when the audience is sitting there and the pressure is on -says Daniel Borch.
Daniel Zangger Borch is a masterful vocalist, producer and coach and is currently working on Europe’s biggest TV singing competition, The Eurovision Song Contest. VoiceCouncil asked him how a singer can nail a count-in every time.
Establishing the groove and tempo at the beginning of a song can be an exhilarating experience for both audience and performer.
Just listen to the audience go wild in this video of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition:”
The anticipation is palpable as the drums start off. When the unmistakable keyboard lick begins, it’s like a celebration because everyone suddenly recognizes the song.
As a singer, you can infuse your count-ins with the same kind of energy and anticipation.
A count-in tells everyone when to start, but it is much more than that. A good count-in should exemplify the whole groove of the song.
Singers are required to count in when they perform as the lead vocalist with a band, especially when there has been little or no rehearsal. They are required to count in any time they work with a piano accompanist and in the case of auditions – being able to count in is crucial.
In these situations, the band or piano player is watching you, looking for as much information and interpretation as possible so they know how to play.
Here is how to develop your count-in skills on your next song:
- Find the groove yourself. Listen to the recording of your song alone and focus on the rhythmic aspects – usually the bass and drums. Try to notice which sounds contribute most to the overall feel. The feel might be different for the verses than the chorus. It doesn’t matter how much you know about music notation – just make sure you hear and understand the groove in your own way.
- Figure out the tempo. Keep the recording playing and get out your metronome app. Use the ‘tap tempo’ feature or adjust the bpm (beats per minute) setting up and down. You want your metronome, the recording and whatever part of your body that you are tapping (foot, hand, finger) to be completely together. This can take some time. Once you get it right, look at the number on your app. It might be 84 bpm or 100bpm – you have found your tempo.
- Sing your groove with just the click. To sing your groove, you might sing a part of the melody, make some noises like “duh uh duh uh” or you might do a little amateur beat boxing. It doesn’t matter how you do it – there is no “right” way, as long as you can vocalize the feel of your song at the right tempo. Now turn off the recording and continue to sing/beat box with only the click of your metronome. Avoid being still. Feeling the groove is a little bit like dancing – your body (or at least some part of it) should be moving in time as you vocalize to the click.
- Groove and Count. Once your groove and tempo feel good, try counting. Many songs are in 4 (often written as 4/4), but some are in 3 (or 3/4). In 4/4 time, count in with equal volume on each beat – like a 4/4 bass drum. If you count in a song in ¾, you emphasize beat 1. Ballads are often in 6 (or 6/8) and you should accentuate the 1 and 4 clearly. As you add your counting, try to keep some of your groove sounds going. Sing your numbers, or you may keep the “uh” sound going in between the numbers. When it feels good to you, you know you have it right.
- Put it all together. Clear your head and quiet your mind. Enter the correct tempo marking into your app. Start your metronome, vocalize and feel your groove, then bring in your counting. Now sing your song. While you are learning, you can stay on one step for many bars – take time to get it right. Eventually you should be able to do all the steps in the space of just a few bars then start your song.
Take your metronome app with you to rehearsal and on stage. Especially when you are growing as a musician, it is extremely difficult to get the tempo right every time when the audience is sitting there and the pressure is on.
In a performance, don’t worry about what the audience is thinking while you get in the groove and prepare your count-ins. Their anticipation will build as they watch you. If you are being clear and you are obviously getting into the groove, the audience will find it interesting, not awkward.
If, however, you don’t want this count-in process to be obvious on every song, you have a few options.
You can do the count-in process while the audience is still clapping for the last song.
Also, it is very common for someone other than the singer to count in a song, especially if the group has had a chance to rehearse together.
Using someone else to count in your song shouldn’t be because the singer can’t do it – it should be because it is helpful for the overall flow.
Commit to Development
If you feel weak in this skill, of course you can ask a bandmate to count in (as long as they know the tempos!) but challenge yourself by counting in certain songs in rehearsal and performance – doing it is the only way to improve.
With practice and experience, it becomes easier to count in a song effectively. I started as a drummer, so I have always put my focus on the groove and tempo.
I hope you will find a way to enjoy working on groove and tempo – all musicians should take an interest in this.
In time, it will become natural. You will be able to recall a tempo, feel a groove, and communicate it to your fellow musicians.
My Reaction to This Week's Singing Competition Entry
Marcus Kietsch - Don't
It´s really cool that you are using looping. I would like to see you work a bit on your timing. When creating a loop, timing is crucial, as your loops will end up being the total groove you sing to for the whole song. Take the time to really “feel” the beat before pushing that record/loop button.
Your vocals are good, but it feels to me like you may be stressing the phrasing. Just be cool and take your time to breathe between phrases; even though there are a lot of fast syllables, you have time. Also, don’t forget to support your sound – it sounds like your throat is doing too much of the work right now.
Daniel Zangger Borch is one of Sweden’s most recognised vocal coaches. He has been a regular on adjudicating panels for popular TV shows such as ‘Idol’, ‘True Talent’ and ‘X-Factor’. He is also a professional singer, recording artist (with seven albums) and songwriter. Daniel holds a PhD in Music performance and is Head of the Voice Centre, Stockholm and Zangger Vocal Art. His new book, book “The Ultimate Vocal Voyage” has been released internationally.