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Catching The Songwriting Moment

Remembering your own or other’s songs is as easy as 1-2-3 –says Rachel Lebon

I can’t believe that I’ve arrived at my final posting as VoiceCouncil’s Vocal Coach in Residence!

It’s been my pleasure to hear talented singers and read informative articles from my colleagues.

I want to leave you with a system of notation that you can use to remember that song idea that has popped into your head – or to think through the new lines to a cover you are working on.

From Notes to Numbers

When I was doing studio work in Nashville, I was exposed to The Nashville Number System (NNS), a music shorthand that was useful in coming up with spontaneous solo melodies, back-up vocals and quick notation for instrumentalists.

I’ve found it useful to adapt the NNS to

• Notate vocal exercises
• Learn melodies or recall catchy tunes running around in my head
• Quickly notate backup harmony lines to avoid singers “stepping on” each other’s parts.

Knowing Where Home (“do”) Is

Essentially, in the NNS, the Major Scale is reduced to numbers; Alterations are notated with a # (up a 1/2tep) and b (down a ½ step)

The scale, Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol-La-Ti-Do becomes 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8

“Mary Had a Little Lamb” in numbers looks like this:
3212333 222 355 3212333 322321

The Natural Minor Scale becomes 1-2-b3-4-5-b6-b7 8
For example 1 b3 1 b3 1
Wade in the Wa-ter

You can even use this system for spontaneous background vocals or chord sequences.

Practical Uses

Presenting a new cover tune on short notice?

• Sketch the melody as numbers above the words on your Lyric Sheet to learn it quickly.
• Keep Lyric Sheets in your Songbook- easily retrieved and ready to perform even when time
elapses between performances.

Recording your original material?

• One sheet of paper outlining vocal lines is all you need so that even singers who can’t read can pick them up quickly.
• The same holds true for preparing background vocals to record as well as for a live performance

My Final Word

In the past, wonderfully talented singers went unheard by the public unless they caught the ears of influential people.

Now, artists can reach the ears of a worldwide audience via the internet, though fame is not the only barometer of “success.”

Remember: Taking that deep breath and singing aloud oxygenates the blood, excites the soul and enriches our lives beyond measure.

-Rachel L. Lebon

My Reactions to this Past Week’s Peer Review Vids…

Steve Poucher – Fulsom Prison Cover

Steve, this is a strong performance where solid guitar work is matched by a good voice. I want to encourage you to “stay in the moment” with your performance. Consider that you don’t always need to sustain the final word of a phrase. Present the words, at times, like speech… as if thoughts are occurring to you right then and there. Then, it’s less predictable for your listeners. That’s particularly important for such a famous cover, since the listeners will focus more on your presentation if they’re hearing something new. Also, avoid approaching your lowest notes by looking down, lowering your chin and trying to place the note. Instead, relax the throat and keep the tone forward. I see that you have quite a body of work and plan to check it out.

Louie Ongpauco – Fast Car Cover

Louie, you set a nice groove and feel on the intro with an assured sound on the guitar. Your vocal quality is pleasant and soothing. I did lose some words, particularly on the 2nd phrase of the bridge. Thus, you could be a bit crisper with the vocal delivery. You might consider “singing the commas” in phrases like “Be myself, I have nothing to prove.”, “See, my old man has a problem”, etc. Allowing a subtle stress on the word following the comma will bring each strong statement to the listener without breaking the “run -on” almost stream-of consciousness quality of the songwriting. Open your eyes occasionally and allow them to show your involvement. Even with your effective, understated approach, let us feel your connection with the words.

-Rachel L. Lebon, Phd

Rachel L. Lebon, Ph.D. has been a professional vocalist and studio singer in Dallas/Ft. Worth, Nashville and Miami. She was on the faculty at Belmont College and is currently at the University of Miami, has toured toured world-wide with “Tops in Blue” and on a State Department tour of the Soviet Union and Portugal. Rachel is the author of two published books and conducts lectures, symposia and adjudication worldwide on vocal pedagogy and voice disorders.

  • Louie Ongpauco

    Thank you Rachel. I really appreciate your words. I wish I have a vocal coach like you. I really do need a lot of work. I will do better and follow your advice. Thanks again. =)

  • Neil

    My understanding is that in Europe doe, ray, me  is moved around rather than static starting on C.  I thus learnt a similar system to yours, but find the key and then use doe, ray, me.  It has the advantage that so many people know doe, ray, me etc.  Great when written next to melodies when singing in a choir.  eg d, d,d,m,r,d,t,l.  Great for mentally checking jumps when you are a beginner and for quickly checking intervals singing, doe – so or doe- fa or doe-ray an octave above ray. I think they use di for sharps, maybe da for flats.  I’ll give you system a shot as it is very minimal and would be great combined with roman numerals for chords.

  • Jmill0773

    This is extremely helpful! thank you!!!

  • audrea lambert

    A great approach and final thought about singing your ass off!!!!! TY,:0)

  • Cherie Thomas

    I am a singer/songwriter.  I’ve written about 100 songs and use some of my songs in my gigs. I want to make a CD. Now, my partner tells me that I have to use tabs for my songs.  I have just written guitar chords and lyrics. Do I need to learn how to write tabs to all of my songs before they are produced. We are producing the CD in our home studio.

    I hope someone who is actually in the business can give me an answer. Thank You.