A MARVELOUS CONCEPT
Reflections on Jay Giallombardo’s
Proposal for Learning a New Song
FOLLOWING A RECENT chorus rehearsal, the men on the risers were asked to share what went particularly well for them that night.
Here’s a sample of their responses:
- The new learning process fundamentally focuses on the things I need to work on most: tuning especially as it relates to hearing other parts.
- Despite the director’s enthusiasm for our new teaching model … IT WORKED!!!
- The absolutely willing progress made tonight.
- The formula for learning a new song.
- I heard more chords and could hear all of the parts in the chords.
IF YOU are willing to take a chance that these may be the kinds of reactions that you get from the guys or gals on the risers … read on.
I RECENTLY came across a proposal called “Learning a Song” written by Jay Giallombardo (copyright 2005). Intrigued with Jay’s ideas, I shared these learning strategies with Niagara Gateway Harmony, the chorus I direct, and a~cappella~fellas, the quartet in which I sing the lead line.
I am amazed with the quality of singing that is immediately obvious using this method of learning a new song.
JAY’S PROPOSAL contains three main ideas. Some of these concepts have been used in other learning strategies such as the ‘Quartet Teaching Method”.
The beauty of this presentation is that the three simple steps, when followed as outlined, produce truly recognizable chords in such a short period of time.
STEP ONE: PITCHES
Learn the pitches on a ‘loo’ or a ‘doo’. Of course you need to be prepared for the comedians to jump at the chance of learning the pitches on a loo.
As an extension of this idea, I also introduced the concept of learning the pitches while singing the harmonic or melodic pattern on an “ng” (with the tongue rolled forward). I like the use of “ng” as it induces the placement of a “buzz resonance” in the tone quite readily.
Note the phrase “harmonic or melodic pattern”. The concept here is that the brain will hardwire the musical “pattern” in a relatively few number of repetitions. The use of the term “pattern”, sets the groundwork for singing lyrical phrases later on … now I wonder if singing musical phrases is anything that we would want our choruses to be able to do.
We have known for some time that our best opportunities for ringing chords occurs at times when we are all singing the same vowel sound. So … learning a musical pattern while singing a ‘loo’ takes advantage of that.
Singing on a neutral syllable gives us an opportunity to hear and encourage cleaner intonation, meter and rhythms. Imagine fixing intonation issues so early in the learning process.
This is a particularly good time to encourage attention to breathing: the locations of dedicated breaths and the development of staggered breathing where appropriate.
With as few as three iterations of a musical passage with each of the vocal sections … we were soon able to combine the four parts together. And immediately the singing was more in tune, the meter was cleaner, the rhythms were more in sync. And the joy expressed on the men’s faces at hearing wonderful chords flowing out of their mouths so soon in the process provided sufficient reason to proceed on to the next step.
STEP TWO: WORD SOUNDS
This is a ground-breaking concept for me. At this stage each of the members of the chorus begin a process to layer the flow of word sounds (there’s that concept of phrases again) on top of the harmonic or melodic musical pattern already in the brain.
Be attentive to the nuances of this part of the strategy. The singers are to “silently audiate” the word sounds. That is, they are to sing their own vocal line silently, to themselves, while at the same time mouthing all of the word sounds. This part of the process builds muscle memory of the formation of the word sounds while aligning them with the musical pattern.
Take this perfect opportunity to raise the active involvement of the singers beyond the stage of merely saying the words to themselves while listening to the musical pattern produced either internally or externally.
Promote the use of the tongue, lips and teeth as principal articulators and allow the reduction of the use of the jaw as an articulator.
Encourage the singers to reinforce concepts appropriate to good vocal production including open throat, soft pallet lift and buzz in the resonance, all while they are silently singing.
It is of great assistance to have the men listen to the voice part predominant learning track, or to a vocal model singing the voice part on a loo of course, where else, oops I mean, what else.
Let me reiterate here a line that Jay feels is important enough that he repeats it twice in his article.
By doing this (silent audiation) silently, it gives your brain a chance to associate the subconscious pitch with the muscle movement.
After several, three or so iterations of silent audiation, the group is now ready for step three.
STEP THREE: INTEGRATION
This part is simple: SING THE SONG OR SECTION OF THE SONG YOU HAVE BEEN DEVELOPING. Notice that we have been “developing”, not “working on” this section of the song … as this process is no longer work … it is Fun with a capital F.
After a number of repetitions of singing these elements of the song together, it is time to encourage the singers to use the voice-part-removed portion of the learning track to develop the skill of fitting (tuning) their part with the other parrts.
I was overwhelmed with the quality of singing that came from the chorus the first time they melded the lyrics and music together using this method. I am sold on the concept. And so are the guys in the chorus and the quartet.
Some choruses may on occasion sing in a note by note “barberchoppy” manner. Process to the rescue! It was easy to refer to the silent audiation portion of this process whereby the singers immediately recognized that while silently audiating the word sounds, the musical sound in their head was always present. Connect this admirable quality with the desire to have continuous sound while actually singing all of the word sounds. The nods of understanding were immediate and sincere. Barberchoppy immediately started to melt away.
As a CDWI trainer, we explore what the chorus director considers as the ‘biggest need’ for a fix in the chorus. That is, if you could fix any one thing in the chorus immediately, what would that be. Almost to a man, every chorus director will offer some version of “I wish the men would learn their music at home”.
To which I usually respond … is it true that the men come to the rehearsal as prepared as they are going to be? Of course the answer is yes! Then, let us take them where they are, and be creative in finding ways to make the learning process so enriching that the guys will have a learning strategy and a skill set to take home with them in order to actually accomplish some of the learning that we all desire.
I believe that this process will work, and will go a long way to increasing the efficiency of the singers learning their music both on the risers and at home.
Lest you think that Niagara Gateway Harmony and a~cappella~fellas are examples of such outstanding musicianship that could use any method and make it work, let me say this: “We are a chorus and quartet like most in the barbershop society. We are every-day singers who gather for the love of singing so that we can make a difference in our lives and in the lives of others with our gift of music”.
This method works for us.
Do yourself a favour. Give it a go!
To obtain a copy of the original article, contact Jay Giallombardo at email@example.com .
Yours in song …
Director of Niagara Gateway Harmony
Ontario District, BHS.