Stop Singing.

Your next step into vocal excellence may be to do nothing. Joey Elkins explains why.

“It’s taken me all my life to learn what not to play.” (Dizzy Gillespie)

Those words always stop me in my tracks; our vocal art lies as much between the notes we sing as it does in our singing themselves.

Having a sense of “space” in your singing – no matter what your vocal genre – requires just as much artistry as singing itself.

In fact, experimenting with vocal silence in one of your pieces could be the next step for you to catch the interest of your audience and take you and your band to the next level.

As you’ll soon see, you can apply the power of silence at your next rehearsal.

The Sound of Silence

You’ve been listening to the first track of a new CD you’ve bought when suddenly your ears feel exhausted.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the song itself, nor the vocalist, nor the backing instrumentals… you can’t quite put your finger on it…

Could it be that it’s lacking this vital element of slience?

Perhaps your ears feel tired, unable to grab one musical idea, because there’s so much going on – the music is playing “at” you rather than drawing you in.

Why is this? Just think of any conversation you have throughout the day; there are natural points where you need to breathe in a sentence.

There are also natural points where you can feel it’s time to let the other person speak.

There even times when both of you are completely quiet –perhaps someone has asked you a hard question and although you are both silent for a minute… is that silence really silence? I would say, no!

That silence is in fact filled with both people thinking, processing the question, wondering how to answer and wondering what the answer could be…

This kind of silence is hugely important and, more times than not, has more going on in it than any other point of the conversation.

The silences in our vocal performances are exactly the same.

One singer I really respect was asked why she’d recorded a CD using only vocals and guitar. Her answer: “Because your ears naturally fill in the spaces”.

Getting Quiet

Single out one song in your line-up that you feel could be revitalized—keep that song in your mind’s ear…

Now, apply one or more of the following ideas:

* Wait. Where you’d normally sing your first note, see if you can wait a little longer and then “catch the lyric up”. This is a great way to play with the space available to you and to realize that you don’t always have to sing where it’s expected. You can take this idea and develop it as an exercise throughout the song. This will give you a great sense of where the boundaries lie and just how far you may be able to stretch a phrase.

* Enter Early, Exit Early. See if you can come in earlier than you usually would with a phrase and then just leave the silence afterwards until it’s time to sing your next phrase.

* Midpoint Silence. Leave a pause in the middle of a phrase and note what effect that has on the lyrical meaning. At the same time, consider what new opportunities that pause opens up; perhaps it creates a place for one of your musicians to respond to you or the lyric you’ve just begun – or, it might be interesting to just let it be remain as a fragment of silence.

*Simplicity. Try singing as simply as you can with as few embellishments as possible. Next, try and sing a phrase leaving no space for silence (make it “busy”), but follow it up with another one of those completely simple phrases.

*Mix. Try mixing all 4 steps above in a single song. Take note of which you are doing and when – this will help you to “own” these new tools!

How does this work in rock, pop, jazz and heavy metal? Next week we’re going to examine the “look” of silence in the work of prominent vocalists….

London based vocalist, Joey Elkins, is gaining attention as a jazz, funk, soul and contemporary singer. As a child in Adelaide, Australia, she delighted her jazz musician parents and friends with her high register, a range close to six octaves and a commanding style. Joey’s first jazz recording attracted the interest of some of Australia’s finest jazz musicians and before leaving for London, Joey was already a respected and regular performer in some of Australia’s top jazz venues. Being a natural improviser and composer enables Joey to own a variety of styles. Joey is currently recording and composing original music which will be released as a CD within the coming year. Joey’s Music and Website

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  • stanmorephoenix

    This is good advice. I don't really have anything profound to add…

  • Brett Lee

    I use this all the time
    people often comment that they like my version (I wasn't aware I was doing ” my Version” until I recorded a set and got to hear what I was doing.)

    I like it because the performance is me, not me emulating the original artists
    Really helps to think about the lines and feel them as your story

    After all we may be singers, but first of all we are story tellers

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  • Jamie Synergy

    Very trye Brett, very well put!