The Look of Silence

The Look of SilenceCatch the interest of your audience and take you and your band to the next level. Joey Elkins tells you how.

Last week, we noted how having a sense of “space” in your singing requires just as much artistry as singing itself.

Let’s make this idea come alive by watching some gifted vocalists working with silence.

What you will notice in some of the following YouTube clips is that we are talking about much more than simply shortening notes for dramatic purposes.

Silence is about reacting both to the pauses that suggest themselves within your lyrics as well as reacting to what is happening around you musically.

Leaving space is not so much about the length of a note; it’s realizing that sometimes the choice to not sing at all IS a choice—an important choice.

It’s about taste; it’s about being in tune with the natural ebb and flow of what’s happening. It’s about having a sense of where the musical “breaths” want to be.

Listen to how Rachelle Ferrell uses silence to her advantage in this soul/R&B ballad! Listen especially at 4:16, when the silence makes a huge impact…

But it doesn’t stop there – effective use of silence is even present in this well known heavy metal piece by KoЯn. This is immediately noticeable in the very first verse where they’ve used extreme silence in the arrangement allowing the vocals to be the definite focal point. Also, check out the use of silence before the bridge and at 3:05 when the band are completely silent as the vocalist yells “go!”.

Rock/Pop also can certainly benefit from vocalists paying attention to silence. Whitney Houston is a genius at this. In “I Will Always Love You” she begins with only her voice and no instrumentation at all, then slowly builds. Note how the pause at 3:08 really gives that key change the biggest possible impact…

Achieving Silence – 4 Ideas for Your Next Rehearsal

1) Imagining: At your next rehearsal, whether you’re with a band or a single accompanist, simply imagine that your singing is a conversation with the instrumentalists. You can even ask your musicians to imagine you are having a conversation with each other. You’ll then be able to identify the points where you feel that silence is most called for.Your singing is a conversation with the instrumentalists

2) Noticing: Record your band rehearsal and have everyone listen to it. Ask your band (or yourself) to imagine that they are in the audience, hearing this music for the first time. Here are some key questions to guide you: “Can I hear each individual part easily, or are certain elements fighting for the same space?”, “Is it a conversation or is everyone trying to be a soloist at the same time?” and “How does it make me feel as a listener?”.

3) Experimenting:What happens if you start the song with just the bass and voice? What happens if you treat the groove differently or change the feel entirely? What if you had no drums at all? Dare to try it all! Don’t just be happy with one way of doing a song – experiment.

4) Pushing boundaries: Get everyone to play a song with the understanding of “Ok, this time we’re going to see just how much space we can leave before it sounds wrong.” You’re testing the boundaries of space!

Leaving more space will sometimes mean singing less and playing less; playing less often makes one more choosey about which notes you will play or sing.

You will find that your arrangements will breathe, and even more than this: you will find yourself automatically editing out the less important parts of your performance … leaving the most important bits to shine through and be noticed by your listeners.

A Closing Silence…

Creating space in your singing is exciting and risky.

Embarking on the journey of where to add silence to your music will help you maintain your musical edge and help you to master the rhythm of your performance.Creating space in your singing is exciting

Not only that, but it will allow your band to be more creative and your listeners to have a heightened enjoyment of your musical ideas.

Tension and release…give and take…peaks and troughs…sound and silence
Your music will breathe.

I searched for a sound-byte on the importance of silence (like Dizzy’s from last week) from a noted vocalist – but couldn’t find one (please leave a comment below if you have one!)

So, for now, the last words come from a pianist:

The notes I handle no better than many pianists. But the pauses between the notes—ah, that is where the art resides ~ Arthur Schnabel


Elkins

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. Listen here.


  • Awesome article Joey! Just fabulous singers and bands to listen to. You give sage advice. We'll employ your 4 Ideas for achieving silence at Thursday's rehearsal. I forwarded the link to the boys and everyone's into it!

    We've been putting a lot of conversation into conceptualizing our material without the end result coming off cryptic…more simple really…all the way down to writing the words together and truly knowing what the song will be about before writing the first note.

    I spent the better part of last night rewiring the whole rig to try this out. I've got each instrument running into the sound card and then back out to the live mixer so I can multi-track record and we can really check out each player's work and how it's all fitting together and we'll be sure to capture any mistakes that turn out to be beautiful maneuvers in a different direction.

    A few weeks ago, we started adding a lot of space into our old material, and it's working out very well. By taking some additives away, we been able to create even more impact in our dynamics! Really cool :)

    I've been asking the band to start thinking in reverse of our myriad years of experience. For the longest time, being heavily electronic, we'll build a song bed and layer our live parts after the fact. Lately we've been writing live and adding the textural goo after the fact. The result is more cohesive and organic. The machine works with us instead of the other way around and the product is more spacious because of it :) Always inspiring to read from you :)

    Namaste,

    Brian

  • GeekyDaddy

    Joey ~ Thank-you…great teaching. It's hard to get a handle on what's “missing” sometimes. We're always so busy focusing on what we can add to a song to make it better, but really it may be what we omit that makes it the best it can be. 8-)

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  • Thanks for sharing:) Helps expand my considerations!

  • Joey Elkins

    Hiya Geeky,

    You're very welcome :).

    I hear you… Sometimes less is more – wink. Hope you found this helpful in your own singing situations.

    Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

    Best wishes,

    Joey :)

  • Joey Elkins

    Heya Brian,

    Ahhhh, I'm so glad you found this helpful! I wish I could hear your before and after's … give us an update… how's it all going?!

    You know what… all the things I talk about in this article are things I re-visit all the time. I might be thinking in other directions and the music just isn't coming together right and I'll remind myself to tap into these areas.

    Aint music grand – wink.

    Joey :)

    Best wishes,

    Joey :)

  • Joey Elkins

    You're very welcome Tisa.

    Come back sometime and let me know if it helped!

    Best wishes,

    Joey

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