Singing for the brass player
Brass playing can be considered one of the closest instruments to singing. All a brass instrument really does is act as an amplifier of the buzz that the player produces. Therefore the quality, production and sound of the sound the musician makes is directly responsible for the sound that comes out of the brass instrument at the end, which is incredibly like singing.
This isn’t true of woodwind instruments that require a reed to produce the sound, or any of the string, percussion or keyboard instruments. This means that the brass player really needs to focus on quality of air flow and the way in which the buzz is produced as this has a very significant impact on everything that comes out of the instrument.
Singing is a really immediate way of approaching music in a practical way and is something that can be developed through regular use. Lots of people often have a bit of a fear when it comes to using the voice as they feel that they sound inadequate or just a bit rubbish. But this is often just down to a little bit of confidence and self-belief. It could also be because they have been told they sound rubbish or that they simply can’t sing.
I would like to challenge that and firmly believe that everybody can learn to sing more in tune, with a better sound and can develop the correct techniques with a little bit of dedication. The majority of people will not go on to develop a world class operatic voice or become overnight pop sensations but surely this isn’t the point of singing anyway…
For the majority of people the main aim is to produce a good (reasonable and controlled) sound that is mostly in tune.
You may be thinking that this seems a little off track and surely this should be all about brass playing – and to be honest how is it about brass playing? I firmly believe that developing some singing technique will help so much with the following skills:
- understanding of intervals
- listening skills
- breathing technique
- control of air flow
and so on…
All of these skills are fundamental skills for any brass musician and form the basis of really good technique. It doesn’t really matter what you try to sing as the simplest of melodies can help to develop awareness of intervals, intonation and awareness of phrasing.
As an example, and to prove to you that you don’t need the best voice in the world, I have recorded a simple song as a round. It is a really lovely African song called Janie Mama. I have used a fairly cheap Behringer microphone and recorded myself singing into some recording software. I then played this back and recorded myself doing the second vocal line at the same time. I repeated this for the third and fourth vocal line.
You can hear the result here:
From this simple exercise I learned a number of things:
- I don’t like the sound of my own voice (but this really doesn’t matter that much in the grand scheme of things…)
- I can sing fairly well in tune
- My timing isn’t too bad
- I need to sort my breathing out and do some decent breathing exercises
- Even though I don’t like the sound of my voice, I quite enjoyed producing this.
This week try something a little different. On your computer, iPad, Tablet or phone have a go at recording yourself singing and then try to layer different parts over the top. You can do this for free by downloading recording software from the App or Play store and using the devices, microphone and a pair of headphones.
Do remember that the better the quality of the equipment you are using the better the overall quality of sound you get at the end of this!
Here are the words of the song:
Ja tu, suzika
I ya turmina
Ya tu havana
The different voice parts come in at four bar intervals.
If you don’t fancy the idea of recording yourself, get some fellow brass players (or any other people if you feel like it) and have a go at making this happen live. I promise you won’t regret it!
Share your experience of how you get on by adding a comment below or clicking here.
For those of you that are interested and like the recording aspect of things, here is a list of the equipment I used:
- Behringer C-1 microphone
- Popper stopper
- Behringer Mic Preamp
- Yamaha MW10
- Cubase 7.1