So you think you can sing

If you are reading this now then the world didn’t end on the 21st of December 2012. It may be a disappointment for some but like the rest of the Earth’s population I’m more than happy to continue. It may sound cliché but New Year to me represents new hope, new adventure and a new ‘Me’.

Growing up, I watched great singers battle it out in a singing competition on stage and came home wishing I could do the same. I love music even from an early age and remember doing my best impersonation of Rico J Puno. It was fun at first but I guess the novelty fades after you reached the age of 7. You get teased or mocked with your singing skills, or lack of it, hence the beginning of my career as a bathroom singer.

Fast forward into the future, I landed myself a spot in a covers band as a lead guitarist. The dream of course to be a singer is still there even after all those years. With some encouragement I started singing backing vocals and eventually a bit of lead. As my confidence grew, my singing skills improved as well. It helped greatly in my song-writing as the melodies are not so limited anymore.

I never had formal singing lessons but I was a great observer.  I took mental notes of the different singing styles of different singers I jammed with; the riffs they used, the way they stand and how they sing the words. Knowing my own limitation I picked the ones that suited my style. This became a challenge when my band started playing at weddings. There are songs that are just ridiculously hard to sing or too left wing to your liking. But just like in catering you can’t only serve clients your favourite food. After all they’re the ones paying.

So how do you overcome this? I discovered that if I learn what the song is all about then I have a better chance of connecting with the song. I then practice saying the words out loud especially the ones that I’m not particularly familiar with. Lastly I learn the phrasing and the melody. If and only after you’ve done all these steps and still couldn’t connect with the song that I throw in the towel.

There is nothing worse than singing something that you can’t feel. Some people try to get away with it but still noticeable. I remember this particular song that I hated but had to sing at a wedding. It took me a couple of weeks just to get used to singing it and only after I put my own little twist to it that I was able to get comfortable with the song. This is when I started “mojonising” songs.

For those not familiar with the word yet, “mojonising” is when you alter, re-arrange, modify, revise, reconstruct, transform or re-style an original music and inject your own twist into the song. It could be converting a popular pop music into jazz, making it sound different. Another artist I know of who uses this method is KZ Tandingan, the 2012 X-Factor Philippines winner.

Don’t be afraid, try and mojonise your song. Remember the goal here is to connect with your audience and not to sound exactly as the original singer.

Every single one of us is unique. Some can sing really high and some really low. Some has a naturally deep voice and some a bit twangy. Know your physical limit but at the same time pushing yourself to the next level. Just like an athlete, singers do need to exercise. You need to build stamina so you can last for the duration of your gig. I really recommend getting some sort of singing lessons as you would definitely speed up your learning as opposed to trial and error.

Learn where your strengths are. A voice coach once told me that sounding good is just a matter of finding your “home” frequency. If you’re a guitarist, it’s the “sweet spot” on the EQ. But how do we know which one is the right one? It’s when you sound naturally good without trying too hard. Also it’s the tone where you stand out of the mix.

In December 2012, I had the pleasure of recording a Christmas album with the Filipino Press in Sydney. It’s a charity project for the Bankstown Catholic Care’s refuge program providing shelter and care for abandoned children and single mothers. Considering none of the Filpress have recorded before and it was done in seven days, all of them sounded great. The secret is that they sang it without any pretence. They sang it from the heart and sang it as if they were telling a story. The result was an honest and heartfelt rendition of various Christmas songs.

Have a listen to different singers either famous or local and learn from them. Analyse their phrasings, breathing, pronunciations and delivery. Mix and match these different styles to suit you. And lastly confidence is everything. If you are going to sing, sing and don’t hesitate. Remember you are the one on stage and with the microphone. Get some audience participation.

If you sing a dud note, don’t stress over it. Chances are no one noticed anyway.

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