7 Elegant Tips For Using Your Voice To Improve Your Improvisation
The human voice is the one sound that is most familiar to the human ear and throughout the centuries, instrument manufacturers tried to alter and adjust instruments to resemble the human voice as closely as possible. Listen to flutes and bassoons for examples.
In certain registers they sound pretty close to classical singers, as you might discover.
”How can you use this concept on the guitar?” you may ask. This question should be adjusted a little bit: How can we use this mentality to sound more human?
Singers have a totally different approach, when it comes to creative writing. Unlike guitar players, who tend to rush up and down every scale they know and by doing that rarely ever sound really musical, singers instead focus more on conveying compelling and interesting statements. Especially since they HAVE to take a breath every now and then.
I have listed and explained here a few ways to use your voice to improve not only your improvising but also to improve your analytical ear! I do not like to refer to it as hearing improvement, because really it just all takes place in the brain.
The best thing about all this is: You do not need to sound good while you are singing. You do not even need to be heard by others, while you are practicing in the ways that I suggest here!
Here is number 1:
Sing licks before you play them
What this will help you with, is, it forces you to avoid playing long strings of notes up and down the guitar and sounding boring because of that.
If you try to play something, that you yourself were singing, you are automatically playing music that comes straight out of your conscious mind instead of randomly hitting notes on the guitar.
Try first to focus on the number of syllables which equals the number of notes you play: ”Daaa da da daaa da” equals 5 syllables, so you hit a string 5 times with your guitar pick or with a hammer on or pull off. This all counts as ONE strike each.
And focus on the rhythm, in which you sang the notes. Do not focus on hitting the right notes and pitches right from the start. If you are new to this, it might take you a while to develop this skill.
Number of notes and rhythm is all you need for now.
The following ways to practice are not directly linked to improvisation, but what they do for you is developing a stronger relationship in your head from the notes you play with the background music (harmonies, chords, voice leadings). Number 2:
Singing scales while you play them
If you want to form a deeper relationship with the music in your head and transcribing songs of your favourite artists, this is absolutely critical to do.
You need to train your voice to identify pitches and scales while simply hearing them.
A solid way to practice this is to play a scale and try to sing along with it. Taking this a step further in number 3:
This can be done basically everywhere, anytime even simply in your own head. Although singing it out with actual sounds is more beneficial.
Sing a major scale or a minor scale or any scale that you know and try to say the note names not only for the C major or A minor scale, but for different keys.
Partially playing the scale while singing the whole scale
Sing the whole scale but only play every other note of the scale, or only the 1st and the 5th, or just the 1st and the Octave, depending on how challenging you want to have it.
With the following practice subjects we go deeper into training the analytical ear.
There are so many options you could do this, it might seem overwhelming at first, but the most important part is, to get started and work through this bit by bit. It has a very positive advantage: It will not get boring so quickly, because you can have a lot of variation in it.
First pick a key, let us say for simplicity: C Major.
Then sing different pitches of the C Major key over the C Major chord.
Now change the chord and sing a few pitches that are IN KEY!
Now change the chord again. Until you covered them all.
Then change the key.
Singing scales over chords
Proceed the same way as in number 5, but this time with a complete scale.
Now the overkill in number 7:
Singing chords and chord progressions
If you can do this, while playing solos over it, you are a true master of the analytical ear!
Remember to not do this all in one day. Pick a calendar and practice one week with number one, one week with number two, etc., - Repeat.
About the Author: Michael Korte is a professional musician and guitar instructor from Germany teaching in Tampere Finland at Kitaristi Tampere and is specialised in teaching improvisation on the guitar.