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I'm a bass player so I decided to start singing because I was sick of relying other guitar players that could sing but were difficult to work with. I fell in love with singing. This is how I'm teaching my self to sing: Find a song I love so I choose 'Daniel' by Elton John. Then I noticed Elton sings it in a key way too high for me. I bought an app that adjusts the key of the tune to whatever you want. So, I found the lowest note and highest note of the melody and adjusted my voice to the middle of that. Then I sing with Elton over and over until the song is felt in my bones. Then, I'll download a karaoke version of the song and sing with it. Once, I'm confident, I'll go to a Karaoke bar and sing in front of people and then I'll sing on the gig.

Do professionals first start out singing by imitating other singers?

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If having a particular sound image is helping you, and you don't aspire to greater things, what you're doing is fine. However, if you want to consider a different approach, I'll describe one:

In the beginning, you may listen to a recording of a piece or song you want to work on once, to form general impressions of the piece or song.

Now work with the printed page, your instrument (in your case, your voice) and your imagination.

When you are at the polishing stage, this is the time to put the headphones on again, but listen to a variety of interpretations. That will give you new ideas and help you make some decisions.

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It's one way to go, but then you'll end up as a clone to each singer of each song, because you'll be using their phrasing and intonation. Better to take a song as a song, and sing it your way. Imagine every cover version of a song being sung in exactly the same way. Pointless?

Probably every singer started out imitating, but most will find themselves sooner rather than later. Look at kids doing it - even the moves are copied !

You have already worked out that knowing your tessitura is important - I wish every vocalist would - and as a player, one will help the other. Good luck !

EDIT - since you are a bassist, you normally listen to what you play on that instrument. Probably 1s and 5s, and similar patterns through a song. Try to play the TUNE on your bass, rather like a guitarist would, probably an octave higher than normal on bass. This may help with your intonation in singing, especially when you sing along with it - George Benson style.

  • I agree. Most guitar players I work with usually sings the tunes in the original key and I can tell they struggle to hit certain notes. – rodbass63 Aug 17 '15 at 18:16
  • @rodbass63 - I work or have worked with so many who believe that a song has to be done in a particular key (usually the recorded key) or it won't sound right. And they won't be swayed. On the other hand in one band, I had to play 'Pretty Woman' (Orbison) in Ab, which wrecked the guitar intro very successfully. But the vocals were happy ! – Tim Aug 17 '15 at 18:46
  • for the first 10 times I learn the tune, I'll sing with the artist so I can hit the right note or else my intonation is off. I sing with the artist not for the phrasing but as an aid to hit the right notes. Also, I noticed that when I sing the tune aCapella, I have intonation issues on some notes -- any advice? – rodbass63 Aug 18 '15 at 11:20
  • Playing and singing a song in a different key from the original certainly sounds different to my ears, but not necessarily better or worse. It's not uncommon even for the original artist to transpose songs down as they age so they can still hit all the notes of the song. A YouTube search of Ozzy singing "Crazy Train" over the years will reveal a drop of something like a fifth from the original to the 2000 and later performances. – Todd Wilcox Aug 18 '15 at 14:57
  • @ToddWilcox - Elvis, and loads of others, did the dropping key trick. I often wonder whether in fact most people would notice if a song was in a different key, unless we're talking half an octave or so. – Tim Aug 18 '15 at 17:16
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Your approach to learning a song is as good as any. I use a similar approach.

Here's what I do a little different than what you described.

I usually start by just listening to the song over and over before trying to sing along. You may do the same thing as well, but I have found that if I start trying to sing along before I have heard it enough to begin to internalize the melody, I'm singing the wrong notes. And because I'm busy singing the wrong notes, I'm not hearing the correct notes as good as when I'm not singing the wrong notes on top of them. So I probably spend more time listening without singing along than I do singing along. I will even put the song on repeat play - and have it playing in the background while I do the laundry or the dishes or shave or shower etc. I will play it in the car while I drive. By the time I start singing along, I am only missing a few notes.

If I find that I am messing up on a particular section (the last line of the chorus for example), I will isolate that part using an "A - B" or repeat function on my mp3 player or on my computer and focus on just that one part until I have it down.

Another thing I usually do when learning a song I have never sung before, is download several versions of the song choosing those I like best. Sometimes the original artist will have alternate versions (although Elton John is not one to change things up so much). Many songs have been covered by other well known artists who always put their own take on it. Sometimes I can even find a really good amateur cover version on YouTube (search for "Song XYZ COVER"). So I will pick several that I like and download and listen to them all back to back. That allows me to choose the phrasing and embellishments that I like. I end up with my own version in the end. This is where singing along with one particular version would not work towards helping you craft your own unique version that still sounds authentic.

Many performers I know do their best to emulate the most popular version of the songs they cover and try their best to sound like the original artists. I know that no matter how hard I try to sound like Willie Nelson, or Elvis (Costello or Pressley) or Elton John, or Bob Dylan, or Johnny Cash etc. that I am never going to sound exactly like them. So I don't even try. I make it obvious that I have created my own unique interpretation of the song. This is easier to do when you accompany your singing with your own instrument as opposed to Karaoke.

Before I became proficient on guitar, I used to sing Karaoke. Like you, I found that many songs were originally recorded in a key that was too high. Most Karaoke players have the ability to change the key of the karaoke track. But I never thought about pitch shifting the song to listen to the lyrics as you suggest. That is a great idea.

Of course when performing the song with my guitar, I transpose to a different key. Another thing I do, is tune my guitar half step flat Then I can play the chords the original artists played (easier for certain signature riffs) but still sing in a lower key! Many artist such as the Steve Miller Band and Zac Brown have always played their music half step flat.

Now that I have learned to accompany my singing reasonably well on guitar, once I learn to sing the song by listening enough, I start practicing singing it with my guitar - and skip the karaoke altogether. One thing I do occasionally, is record my best take of a guitar vocal (me singing) and listen to that over and over. That lets me hear my interpretation from the audience perspective. When I do that, I usually end up changing something on the phrasing or change a melody note here or there. I use a multi track recorder so I can lay down the guitar part on a separate track. Then if I change the vocal, I can just overdub the new vocal on top of the guitar track that I saved.

That's the process that works for me. It sounds like your process works for you. If you like any of my ideas, feel free to incorporate them into your learning process. Otherwise, just keep doing what you are doing.

No matter how you get there, learning to cover a new song is very rewarding. And the learning process is part of the fun. I liken it to putting together a jigsaw puzzle. It gives you something to work towards and in the end you can sit back and admire the end result and say "look what I did" or in the case of learning to cover a new song "look what I can do".

Keep building your repertoire. And most of all - keep it fun!

  • I also download karaoke versions of the songs and I have an app that can change the key of karaoke -- it's called Amazing Slowdowner. – rodbass63 Aug 20 '15 at 0:19
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Feeling the song like you said in your post is very important. It brings out things that can make a performance. You will also have all the musical basics covered by just knowing how to play another instrument. Some very famous musicians who sing in a band, did it out of convenience and not preference.

Trying to imitate someone else with a different voice can help teach you to sing, mainly because you usually really like the song so you enjoy it, its motivating.

If you really want to bring out YOUR voice and tone, try looking for singers that have a similar tonal quality and range to yourself and sing their songs, they had to deal with the same things you do so you will hear how they use their voice to overcome difficult areas and make the full range of voice sound good. You will learn tricks and techniques by imitating the vowels, tones, and colours. Eventually the sounds you enjoy the most will make it into your permanent singing style.

Finally, you can then sing any song (possibly transposed into your preferred key) in your OWN style and it will probably sound good. Better than an imitation.

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