Have you ever tried to sing a round or a harmony to a song, only to find you’ve flip flopped to someone else’s vocal line? Do you get distracted by the presence of harmonies in karaoke songs? Do you find yourself scooping up to a note, because you’re not sure where it’s supposed to be? Singing amongst multiple vocal lines is tough, and it’s easy to find yourself listening to other parts and losing yours in the process. These practice tips should shed some light on getting your vocal line down.
Learn the part by yourself
The other day, I had some musician friends over, and we decided we’d sing the three-part harmony to ‘Because,’ by the Beatles. It was a blast, except for the fact that we were all stomping on each other’s lines, fudging hard parts, and losing our lyrics. How can you expect to sing a complicated harmony if you don’t know your own part in the first place? Spend thirty minutes singing your part by itself to get a grasp on its melody and contour. Next, spend some time fine-tuning your vocal quality, pitch, and delivery. Remember, once you’re singing with other people, you’ll be focusing on staying together, and you won’t be able to attend to your technique. This step alone can make you sound miles better.
Familiarize yourself with the other vocal lines
Once you know your own part like you know the back of your cereal box, learn the other vocal lines. You don’t really have to sing them—singing them helps, but I know most sopranos don’t sing bass and vice versa. Just be familiar with what the other vocal lines do, so you’re not confused and thrown off when the higher part suddenly veers away, or when the lower part drops an octave.
Practice active listening to a recording
If you have access to a professional recording of the song you’re singing, perfect. Spend another thirty minutes simply trying to follow the separate lines (particularly yours). See if you can visualize where your line is going to move as the song proceeds. Next, try gently humming your part along with the recording.
Practice your part against all the other parts individually
Next, it’s time to sing with real life people (who make mistakes, and need practice of their own). Practice singing your part against all other parts, one at a time. That means, if you’re singing four-part (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) harmony, and your part is alto, practice with the bass, then practice with the tenor, then practice with the soprano. It’s a lot easier to contextualize your part into the scheme of things when you sing with only one part at a time.
Put it all together
The last step is to put everything together. You may choose to hum or sing on ‘la’ the first few times through, but by now, you should be able to attend to your part within a sea of other voices. It’s important that you don’t use a crutch like plugging your ears, because that reduces your ability to tune up your voice with the rest of the group. Remember, it’s not just about you, it’s about the sound you and other people create as a whole.
Have other tips or an experience you’d like to share? By all means, leave a comment and tell us!