Musically Literate

What does musicianship have to do with singing? Everything. Almost.

There is, of course, the category of technique, both musical and vocal.

There are several other factors which will be addressed in upcoming posts but musicianship itself can be either the killer or the savior of a singer (not in a religious sense).

Most often watching American Idol or The Voice, the single biggest thing separating the great ones from the others is the level of musicianship. It’s one thing to be “musically literate” but it is another to have a profound working knowledge of music, whether you know the correct terms or not.

The great singers have a solid sense of tonality.

They know how to carry a tune, with or without accompaniment.

They understand and can execute any and all intervals.

They hear things and can identify things that the lesser singers miss.

They can innately know without having to analyze whether their melody is being sung against a major, minor, diminished or augmented chord and whether it has an altered 5th, a 7th or minor 7th or even 9ths, 11ths, and 13ths.

A singer who doesn’t hear these things will not be able to go as far as one who does. they WILL hit a wall at some point in time.

The worst thing is not knowing 1) WHAT is wrong, or 2) HOW to remedy it.

The greatest of the greats have superior levels of musicianship, but without having to think or analyze and yet they do even more. They do it with ease, with style, with flare.

They transcend technique and even style because they do it artistically. It has been said that music is a painting done on a canvass of silence, which is a good way of illustrating where it all starts. We break a plane of silence and emerge either creating art or creating something less than art.

Artistry is very hard to define.

If we take the time to get to know profoundly the inner workings of music itself, then we have a much better chance of synergistically blending and melding with the accompaniment to become a whole greater than its parts.

WAIT A MINUTE! How do we know this…any of this, is valid? Well, have you heard of a pentatonic scale? What is a pentatonic scale? It has five notes just like a pentagon has five sides. But what is it? Most rock guitar players know it or “know of it”. But I don’t play rock guitar. So?

So, do you sing R&B, pop, country, even some Broadway music? Singing embellishments, which some call “runs” and others call “riffs”, require much control, flexibility and some melodic ear acumen just to copy what you hear a favorite singer do.

To create these, however, takes knowing them (pentatonic) to where you don’t suffer the “paralysis of analysis” resulting in moving like molasses in Maine in the dead of winter.

So, if you’re not at that level of facility, learning the building blocks of music will greatly accelerate your momentum in being a professional level singer.