Wednesday, March 18, 2009

File Under "Fools, Rushing In"

Today's advise: Do something that you are afraid will make you look foolish.

You'll feel better because you made a fool of yourself and the world didn't end.

The first singing lesson was a low-key but liberating experience. My teacher (who is at least 10 years younger than I am but sports a beard I couldn't grow in this lifetime) lives in a dilapidated green house in Rochester's "Neighborhood of the Arts." I knew I had the right house because I could hear the saxophone from the street. When I peeked through the screen (yes, it was that warm today), he just nodded at me and kept playing. I followed him into his music room, where he set the sax on a pedestal between two electric guitars. Further along the wall was an acoustic guitar and a gorgeous vermilion mandolin. No banjo in sight, which was odd, as that's his specialty.

I guess I should clarify that I'm not taking vocal lessons, exactly. I'm taking music lessons, but my instrument is going to be my voice. It's more portable than a piano, you see, and thus easier to practice while I'm driving. We began the lesson with some low-level musical aptitude testing to see what I already knew. The conclusion is that I can tell the difference between double and triple time, I can tell the difference between major and minor keys, and I can repeat a melody that I hear. I cannot, however, maintain that melody in the presence of a harmony. We then sang together to check my technique, and from this we learned that I breathe correctly (yeah, yoga!), but I don't vocalize well. What followed then was a lot of singing scales while performing strange visualization exercises involving "pointing" my vocal chords and then "projecting" the notes equally outward onto a level plane. By the end of the lesson I could hear an improvement in how I was singing (particularly notes at the upper end of my range), but I'm fascinated that abstract imagery can affect the way I shape and hold notes.

I recorded myself singing along with a recording of "Latter Days" by Over the Rhine. I was going to embed it here as a digital archive of where I'm starting from. Unfortunately (or fortunately, as the case may be), Blogger only supports embedded video. I suppose I could make a blank video with just a sound-track, but... eh. Why bother? Let's just say that it's not bad (or at least not opening-round-of-American-Idol bad), but it's a long way from good.


Ben Collins-Sussman said...

I went through the same discovery learning to do improv banjo solos in the weekly bluegrass jam. 50% of the work is learning *not* to be afraid of producing a horrible, sucky solo. Once you've lost the fear of failure, then it's just a matter of learning licks and praticing.

"Failure is ALWAYS an option." That's how you iterate and improve.

Bittersweet Sage said...

Hi Ben,

From your formula, if 50% of the work is learning *not* to be afraid of suckiness, is the other 50% learning to *not* BE sucky, or are there some other percentages in there as well?

My two practice songs are "Mole in the Ground" and "Shady Grove". Are either of those in your banjo pickin' repertoire?