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Lars68

My brain is playing tricks on me

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Those of you who have been around the forum for a while know of my ongoing struggle with singing on pitch. My main goal with this hobby is to one day be good enough to play and sing my own original songs, straight up, from start to finish, and doing so without making mistakes. Right now I can't do that, at least not to my own satisfaction. So instead, I make multi-track recordings of the songs, enabling me to piece the best vocal bits together into a complete take. This way, I can make versions of my songs that, in all honesty, sound much better than I'm able to do “live”. 

While working in this manner, I have discovered that I have even more trouble finding the correct pitch for my vocals, compared to playing “live” with the guitar. Something goes wrong in my brain when I hear the music and my vocals through headphones while tracking. I have tried at various playback volumes, both for the music and the vocals, but nothing seem to work. I have also tried combinations when I take take the headphones off of one ear. 

When playing “live”, although I make lots of vocal mistakes, I tend to be more in the ballpark of where I need to be. Also, I tend to self-correct on the fly much more easily. I have made recordings of myself playing guitar and singing at the same time, so I can confirm that my singing is actually better this way, compared to tracking with headphones.

I think I have a good (relatively speaking) sense of melody and rhythm. I tend to be able to “hear” the melodies for the songs I write in my head, before I can sing them out loud. So I don't think “hearing” music, or musicality is my issue. Has anyone of you experienced the same thing, or has any ideas about what goes wrong and what I can do about it?

Lars

By the way, here is the latest multi-tracked song I wrote and recorded, in case you want to get an idea of where I'm at. These vocals now sound okey to me, but it took LOTS of takes edited together to get there... 

https://soundcloud.com/lars1968/grow-wings-fly

 

Edited by Lars68
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I am with you  on this subject but I admire your honesty and courage to post them here anyway, that is more than I will do..JUst keep plugging  away at it and you will get there.

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I liked it a lot. All of it, your playing and writing and voice. You sound a bit reserved or maybe worried about messing up. I have trouble singing in front of anyone,  and at times mess up a song for sure. The best ones for me are when i just don’t worry about it and just enjoy the moment. 

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I've been thinking about this all day long. I've done my best singing ever just playing and singing. What's that tell me? Modified Yoda time. "Do or no do, think not. Do or do not. Mmmmmm. "

Singing on pitch is a natural thing to do until we think about it too much. We trained out whole life for this moment. Yet here we are.

We've all sang in the car, we've hummed songs all our lives. If you didn't belt out your best Frank Sinatra when it was time to sing ("these little towwwwnnnnnn bluesssssss, are......") then you did it to something else. It's easy to perform to your grill with a beer in your hand. No pressure. Just perform. They you walk back inside with a platter of grub and you family is at least being polite enough to pretend they didn't hear you. Come on, I can't be the only one.

Some of us(not me) can do this on command, just hearing one note in the key and belt out the song they need to belt out. I wonder if they are thinking "B........C........F#...G,...D.......B"  as they're going along? I bet not. I'd be willing to bet they are thinking of "louder, softer, empassioned, questioning, mad....." or whatever emotion they are trying to achieve as part of the acting job that is singing. You and I, we think of hitting the right note. Technical and Mechanical.

If I lost my place and my ability to sing somewhere that I'm not hitting, I will play that note when the time comes on a keyboard through the DAW and into an ear. A few times of that and I'm golden. Well, as much as a bullhorn can be golden. If I'm serenading the Battle Axe(her spelling) and lose my pitch, I find the primary note on the guitar, do my stupid little vocal oo, ahs and eee's and get centered again. If I play the note an octave high, I get there quicker. That's just me.

If I've got a vocal style in mind, fine. If I try to imitate a vocal, it's either comedy or awful or both. I can't sing Bruce Springsteen's "The River" with his voice in my head. It sounds like a cross between Andre the Giant(RIP) and that neatly trimmed bearded guy at the but who thought he could sing like Lou Rawls, but could not. (you know the one - wears cardigans because chicks dig it?) . Point is, we ain't Bruce or Lou Rawls. We are Lars and PB and we ain't going to sing well until we accept that and get that imitation out of our head. Well, at least that's part of my singing issues.

Find some drones online and practice matching them with headphones on. You won't even have to hear yourself to know when you're on pitch. You will feel more comfortable when you hit it because of the phasey sensation in your head will diminish. All's you've got to do is practice those for a little while and remember the feeling. Just like that tennis backhand motion that comes naturally after trying it all year.

Anyhow, Mr Lars, ain't nobody here improved as much in 1-2 years at singing as you have. You blew clear past me, laughing and throwing spark plugs at my windshield as you passed. You can do it and it's not even your first language. Perform away. Practice, fix when needed and I think you'll be a lot better sooner than some of us ever will be.

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You are really a good song writer!

Regarding your vocals, at times they are just fine, your’re using phrasing, using dynamics of raising lowering your voice. Other times getting a bit derailed..  Singing has a lot to do with phrasing, breathing, pausing, and dynamics.  Just keep strengthening those things and I think the off-pitch stuff will disappear, the more you keep refining the mentioned elements.  And, keep in mind, those who work at their singing usually end up being more magnetic singers than those who don’t put any work into it.   It’s a skill to develop, not just something that happens, except those few who it just happens for (who fall behind if they too don’t work at it.)


QM aka “Jazzman” Jeff

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You are still on the road to somewhere better and we have talked a bit about this journey via messenger. Won't repeat myself, but just add that you must stay away from auto-tuning. Using such device on this stage would be a shot in the foot. It would probably keep you from ever reaching an acceptable pitch - and definitely prevent you from giving a number at smaller or larger private parties without blopping into the swamp of farce & disaster.

Haven't heard the track yet - but look forward to it.  As you know I like your universe'n'expression. 

 

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I find these days I don't have the range and power I once had playing rock tunes in bars on Friday and Saturday nights and practicing a couple more nights in the week too.
Just remember your voice is a muscle and if you don't flex it it gets saggy. (Oh, how I used to hit those Axle Rose notes back in the day) As time started catching up to this old
rocker I found that a little restraint, concentrating on adding a little vibrato and not pushing myself to hard trying for the high notes I sounded a whole lot better. And no matter what
That Biker Feller says a quart of jack daniels and a carton of Marlboros  you too can sound just like Bruce! (Did anybody catch the Western Star TV doc? Awsome!)

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Thanks for the encouraging words, guys! 

Em7, not to worry, no autotune in my house!

PB, I'm completely with you on the difference between ”just playing” and a recording situation, trying to desperately to hit a note. The analogy with a tennis shot is perfect. Any shot you execute while thinking about how to technically perform it is bound to hit the fence. Instead, we have to trust muscle memory, which in reality is our brain working unconsciously. 

However, the experience I'm referring to feels different to me. My ability to hear pitch is worse when tracking vocals with headphones on, compared to recording the same vocals live with the guitar without headphones. I'm trying to figure out why, and if there is something I can do about it, since I'm not yet able to record a full song live without messing up somewhere.  In both cases I'm equally focused on the vocals. So it should not be a question about relaxed vs focused. 

Lars

Edit: HH, big fan of Springsteen here. I've yet to see the new film, but the music from it is great. I like the live recordings from the film more than the studio versions of the same songs. 

 

 

Edited by Lars68

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First of all, you are a REALLY good songwriter. That was extremely enjoyable. I loved the lyrics, and the tune, and your playing.

Secondly, I also really like your voice! I dig the tone and what you sang was shot through with honesty and feeling.

My main advice would be not to dismiss the value of that. There are three-octave, pitch perfect singers who completely fail to move me. Meanwhile, you and I both admire Townes Van Zandt, who could be somewhat pitchy but was nevertheless a wonderful singer.

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My own experience is that practice is vital. When  I started singing more regularly years ago I found it hard at first. Singing every day has improved my breathing and ability to hit notes.

I echo the advice about singing with abandon. Sing in the shower. Sing when you go for a walk. Definitely do use that analogy with a tennis swing - you have to be free and smooth, not self-conscious and jerky. Sing without thinking too much.

You're obviously highly musical. It might partly be a nervous thing. I actually mess up the guitar parts of songs sometimes when I simply IMAGINE someone is watching me! Paradoxically, forcing myself to sing in front of other people has made it progressively easier.

It's not immediately apparent that any pitch issues are down to breathing, but I'm sure working on that helps. 

The most obvious advice would be to have the odd singing lesson. A good teacher will have all kinds of insights about technique and consistency. They may also get to the bottom of what happens when you're using headphones etc.

Final point: warming up the voice may feel mannered and stupid, but actually it can help.

For God's sake don't think of your voice as an impediment though. I really like it and I am eager to hear more of it.

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Oh, and being comfortable on stage comes with practice. I'm a stand-up comedian. I was terrified the first time. I still get nervous, but I welcome that now and feed off it.

I've only done one gig as a guitarist, but all that stage time as a stand-up helped. You start to feel relaxed and at home.

You're very talented and you're going to be just fine. A few technical tweaks are eminently achievable. The stuff you've got (writing ability, playing ability, a  really nice vocal tone, believability, and heart) are much harder to acquire.

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hey Lars,  have you ever considered finding a vocal coach or some you can see a few times a month who gives voice lessons?  

With the right teacher, I've found it's pretty amazing the difference that can make.  It's baby steps at first, but it all adds up really fast.  I think it would work for you.  You are very motivated, you would be an excellent student.

It doesn't matter the level either.  A good teacher can make even an already good singer a great one.   We all have a voice, we just need to learn how to use it.   

Edited by kidblast
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Lars, I liked the lyrics and tend to agree with kidblast, just try a vocal teachers for a while...but keep at it you help encourage me and others.

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2 hours ago, Lars68 said:

However, the experience I'm referring to feels different to me. My ability to hear pitch is worse when tracking vocals with headphones on, compared to recording the same vocals live with the guitar without headphones. I'm trying to figure out why, and if there is something I can do about it, since I'm not yet able to record a full song live without messing up somewhere.  In both cases I'm equally focused on the vocals. So it should not be a question about relaxed vs focused. 

OK, I see. You're absolutely right. These vocals are not the same as singing to the world. You're hearing your vocals the way I would hear your vocals if I was listening to them through cans in the next room. You're listening to the vocals as if it was me singing and you were singing silently singing to yourself due to volume of the headphones blocking yourself out.

It as as foreign to you as learning how to play guitar left-handed. There is no way that one could realistically expect you to apply every bit of a lifetime of singing experience to that situation. So you need to learn how to analyze and adjust real time to make that foreign voice in the headphones behave.

So now, you're not equally focused on the vocals. You're hyper-focused on the vocals. Being hyper-focused is hardly a natural act. What comes to us without thought now gets real-itime analysis? Mind you; we've made round trips and are already 10ms behind the pace. We're playing catch-up while trying to apply natural techniques we're spent 50 years honing to a situation that is foreign to us to a great degree. Not working for me, I tell you. Not at all. You've heard my singing.

So then, the question is, how do I make it more natural? Here are some things I've tried.

  • #1: Only partially cover my ears with the headphones, turn off the mic feed into the headphone mix and sing as if I'm singing to the radio. Almost natural, even with my studio space not being natural.
  • #2: Headphone on one ear thing  - you lose the sense of stereo/depth on both the backing track and the vocals. (leave vocal out of headphones, too)
  • #3: I've not tried yet, but maybe a one-eared in-ear monitor playing lowly and singing normally. Might let some of the stereo and depth back in as opposed to a one-eared headphone. 
  • #4: I don't know how to do this in GB, but I am doing this on my next song with my UAD Apollo based system. I'm making a headphone cue mix that will have the vocals laced with whatever amount of natural room sounding reverb I need to make what I'm hearing sound like I am singing out into the room. This will be done in a manner that allows for very low latency. This is reverb that will never hit the recording. It's only purpose is to trick me into thinking I am singing naturally so that I do not have to think about it.

The last item is similar to what is done in every professional studio in the world that tracks singers. Most experienced singers have their comfort zone. They know what they want to hear in the headphones, how much reverb if any, any instruments that are in the mix and throw them off, etc, etc. This is going to be my newest attempt to get to that point. 

I would also think that easing myself into my own headphone mix might be something that helps me get used to it. Anything to help me get from it being a foreign thing to a natural thing. Like that tennis backhand, it really is a new thing.

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Lars-if I’m reading your second post right, it’s only when you are recording have your headphones on that you can’t hear how your voice is sounding to stay in pitch when you’re adding a vocal track.  If so, I suggest trying to use only one headphone or have the sound feed into a monitor, which let you hear it all, although it won’t give you an isolated vocal track, which may not be needed.   Or, try singing the initial track live with your guitar, and then adding additional tracks if needed.   Or, keeping it simple and just doing one live track while singing w/your guitar without using headphones.  I hope I’m reading your second post correctly.

QM aka “ Jazzman” Jeff

 

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Thanks so much everyone for your replies! 

A couple of short comments:

Tom, thanks a bunch for the compliments regarding the song. Glad you liked it. I also think you are right about the need for me to focus on what I've got going for me, instead of the things I'm not so good at. Easier said than done, though...

Kidblast/Kelly, trying to meet up with a vocal coach is at the top of my list, as soon as this crazy virus situation is over.

PB, your post is probably right on the money. The circumstances with headphones is just something I've got to work through. I'm going to try your tip about not hearing my voice through the headphones, but instead having them sit only partially over the ears. That sounds like a reasonable workaround. As of right now, it's like I don't even recognize the voice I hear as mine. It doesn't sound like it is coming from me, if that makes any sense?

QM, yes my singing issues get worse when using headphones. Had my singing been better, I would have gone with a setup using two mics, one voice and one guitar, and recorded my songs live from start to finish. I'm not at a level that lets me do that, and pasting bits from various takes together becomes a problem when there is guitar bleeding into the vocal mic. So that's why I keep coming back to the headphone approach, because even though the singing gets worse, I can do as many attempts as I want and only save the best bits. It's annoying, though...

 

 

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2 hours ago, Lars68 said:

Thanks so much everyone for your replies! 

Kidblast/Kelly, trying to meet up with a vocal coach is at the top of my list, as soon as this crazy virus situation is over.

 

it's amazing how much "theory" is involved for a person who is a "Trained" singer.  Some people are born with the pipes.  The rest of us have to work for it.

Posture, and breathing is almost everything.  Practicing voice is more involved than anything I've ever done.  it's one of the hardest instruments to master IMHO...

it's all there to unlock, finding the key is everything.

 

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I’ve never recorded with headphones.  I just wear them when I listen to what I recorded.  I sound different to me if I wear them while i’m recording.  I’m pretty basic in what I play or record, so take my advice for what it’s worth, but I wouldn’t wear the headphones while singing.

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10 hours ago, MissouriPicker said:

I’ve never recorded with headphones.  I just wear them when I listen to what I recorded.  I sound different to me if I wear them while i’m recording.  I’m pretty basic in what I play or record, so take my advice for what it’s worth, but I wouldn’t wear the headphones while singing.

Just curious as I am trying to learn as well. Was this exclusive to singing and playing at the same time, or was it a separately tracked vocal? If the latter, then how did you hear the music and not let it ruin the vocal take?

(To anyone )- On a side note, but very related:

There is a Pop song by Christina Aguilera called "Beautiful". I guess it would be her signature ballad.  If you listen with very good cans, you can hear a whole different set of instruments being piped in during the sparse, less dense intro and outro sections. Heavy snare spring rattling is what it sounds like. I always hear folks talking about pristine vocal tracks. This obvious defect administered by Lynda Perry(4-Non blondes fame) in her Living Room studio does nothing to diminish the song. (that oughta get me shoved into a virtual middle-school locker)

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1 hour ago, PatriotsBiker said:

Just curious as I am trying to learn as well. Was this exclusive to singing and playing at the same time, or was it a separately tracked vocal? If the latter, then how did you hear the music and not let it ruin the vocal take?

(To anyone )- On a side note, but very related:

There is a Pop song by Christina Aguilera called "Beautiful". I guess it would be her signature ballad.  If you listen with very good cans, you can hear a whole different set of instruments being piped in during the sparse, less dense intro and outro sections. Heavy snare spring rattling is what it sounds like. I always hear folks talking about pristine vocal tracks. This obvious defect administered by Lynda Perry(4-Non blondes fame) in her Living Room studio does nothing to diminish the song. (that oughta get me shoved into a virtual middle-school locker)

It was singing and playing at the same time.

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Lars, its highly inconsistent. In that sometimes you nail the phrasing, pitch and melody, and other times its hopelessly off.  But what Im noticing is you seem to sound at your best when you attack the notes / phrases with some strength.  And i think alos think about the how you phrase the words, sometimes the melody, words and phrasing just dont get at all, other times its spot on. 

So i would suggest try to attack the vocals a bit, just a bit, let out the feeling, think about the phrasing so it comes out naturally rather than trying to make it fit. It might mean writing different words to fit the melody / phrase.

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Heard the tune - it's fine. As always your stuff is placed in a triangle between strong, fragile and sincere.  Well, we have to double up the fragility-aspect due to the vocal. As EA says, it's up and down, in and out. 

Overall thoughts :

One thing that makes me wonder is why some people try to sing'n'play so many levels over their natural or should we say currant stage. Not trying to keep anyone/you from writing and singing your songs - but if we talk learning-how-to-pitch, I seriously recommend to choose simpler material than one's favorit hit-list.  I'll go as far as suggesting children's songs. Many of them are of splendid quality and most of us still have favorites among them too. Like psalms and folk-tunes, children's songs typically are 'simple' verses and therefore provides an ideal platform for measuring  your capacity note by note.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             No harm done, no dignity lost - I still sing'n'play children's songs once in a while. 1 because I dig them, 2 because they offer 'room' to try out certain technical tricks - actually practising the exact same principle I advise you.

Think about it - and maybe do it when your wife and kid are out. Then fearlessly throw yourself into the task. Bein' afraid in one's own laboratory never brought anyone anywhere. 3-2-1. . 

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EA & Em7, you are right, the vocals are shakey and unfortunately that's the best I can do right now. I have to be honest with myself, my goal of one day being able to sing with solid pitch for a full song is not very likely to be realized. I know that, and have known it for quite some time. Most “normal” people with my deficiencies would probably have given up a long time ago, but there is something deep inside me that I can't explain, driving me to keep trying, even if the odds might be against me. I need to write songs, and fortunately, amidst the frustration, I'm enjoying the heck out of it 😀

Em7, your advice about singing children’s songs makes sense. It's something I used to do when the kids were younger and have no problems with trying again. My dignity can take it, no worries!

 

Edited by Lars68

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58 minutes ago, Lars68 said:

EA & Em7, you are right, the vocals are shakey and unfortunately that's the best I can do right now. I have to be honest with myself, my goal of one day being able to sing with solid pitch for a full song is not very likely to be realized. I know that, and have known it for quite some time. Most “normal” people with my deficiencies would probably have given up a long time ago, but there is something deep inside me that I can't explain, driving me to keep trying, even if the odds might be against me. I need to write songs, and fortunately, amidst the frustration, I'm enjoying the heck out of it 😀

Em7, your advice about singing children’s songs makes sense. It's something I used to do when the kids were younger and have no problems with trying again. My dignity can take it, no worries!

 

Hey man,

There are lots of avenues to pursue before you can conclude that it's an unrealistic goal to sing with solid pitch. The more I think about it, the more I think that breathing could be key (excuse the pun).

Plus you have a very nice tone, which is very hard to acquire. And the writing chops etc.

Do keep going. It would be a huge shame for you to stop. And a mistake.

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