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Timbre Questions (between voice and guitar)

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(@huricane)
Eminent Member
Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 29
Topic starter  

I am interested in what other singers do to overcome, or adapt, their voices to the timbre of the instruments they are singing with (or do you make Jimmy Page's protege put down the Gibson and pickup the Strat?). I am just beginning to get serious about singing and learning to play an instrument to support it. But I no longer trust my inner ear to help with the timbre issue.

Background - I looked around at a lot of guitars, and finally settled on an Ibanez acoustic that has a beautiful clear, cool, bright sound to it, which I just love.

I then start singing the songs that I am learning to play on the guitar. My family starts squealing like stuck pigs.

Now, I have been told many times by people who I have had occasion to sing with in choir settings (and I sorta trust their judgment) that I have a good singing voice. In addition, I have seen my voice on an oscilloscope, and have an extremely clean G3 wave form (physics classes in college are really that much fun).

I know I am singing in the right key and in my head the guitar tune and my voice are dead on (that wonderfully pleasant feeling you get when all is in harmony). It should sound really good. But the family is squealing.

They say put the guitar down and sing. I do. They all agree the voice is good (not opera stuff, but good).

They say play the guitar, but don't sing. I do. They agree the guitar playing is passable (we are talking just strumming basic chords here).

So I try to do both again. The family squealing starts again. So I am thinking.... well I am just not able to play a song and sing it at the same time. Except in my head I am hearing a beautiful sound. What the hell is going on? Am I truly tone deaf?

So I go and get recording gear and I record my songs. Voice on one track, guitar on another. Play it back. I start squealing like a stuck pig. What the heck? Only listen to the guitar track - not bad (not great either, but not a cause for squealing). Only listen to the voice - it is not bad ( I had long ago gotten over the "uggh" my recorded voice thing, as I have done a fair amount of public speaking). Ummm maybe my voice, guitar is off key and I really am tone deaf.

I get a frequency spectrum analyzer (fre@kscope - VST plugin - a very neat little tool). I run the analyzer on both the voice and the guitar tracks. Ummm hitting the right pitch on both- and the harmonic series looks good for both. But man, my voice sounds awful. Turn off the guitar track, the voice sounds pretty good. Turn the guitar track back on - ouch it hurts. I then use the freakscope to see the wave forms for all notes I sing - see the physic class above. The G3 is still a pretty good wave form, and the other notes, while not all great wave forms, are not bad.

I am now left with it being a problem being the timbre of my voice and the guitar being that far out of whack. But I do not trust my judgment anymore in just listening to my singing and playing an instrument. Like I say, my inner ear is telling me that everything should sound pretty good.

Am I missing something else? Do you just learn how to know the timbre is good/bad from trial and error? Can you change the voice all that much regarding timbre through exercises?


   
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(@anonymous)
Illustrious Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 8184
 

sound clip? i'd like to hear this phenomenon for myself.

but yeah, you can change your vocal timbre. can you do voices, impressions, sing like someone famous?


   
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(@huricane)
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Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 29
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jason brann:
can you do voices, impressions, sing like someone famous?

I don't know for sure. When I sing along with Neil Young, the Eagles, Kansas, in my head it is dead on (especailly Neil). But not good enough to get paid to impressionate him.

I have posted a song (the original one that caused the squealing), Ok, maybe not squealing, but some strange faces and comments like *you are singing off key*.

http://www.soundclick.com/kevinomichael

There are 3 tracks:

*wac-exp- voice and guitar* - is the voice and Ibanez acoustic. I sing this using the chords D11, D, F#m Em. From the spectrum analyzer I discovered that the actual tunning of the guitar is one half semitone lower. However, the frequency analyzer shows my voice hiting the same notes as the guitar (for the most part there are a couple of cases where it is more than 2 Hz off). The voice is recorded dry, and I left it dry for the mixdown since this is the way everyone hears it *live*.

*wac-exp-voice-only* - is the voice track only. I did cut out as much of the gaps as possible, so you don't have to sit there listening to me breath, but otherwise it is the same.

*Would Anybody Care* - I had posted this about a month ago. This is sung with a capo on the second fret on an Epiphone Les Paul (and a chessy attempt to get a drum track). The significance about this recording was when I played it for my family, they all said *what you do to your voice*. I did nothing, just different guitar, and different key.

This last part is why I am wondering about voice and instrument timbre. Maybe the issue is the re-keying, but my understanding about re-keying is so the singer can hit the notes more naturally. But if they sound better in a different key, even though they are hitting the notes, isn't that an asn issue of timbre?

Comments about voice, playing quality, recording quality are all welcome. Do not hestitate to say " your voice really does suck". My answer to that is so does Mick Jagger's, but with rest of the band, he makes it sound good. I am trying to figure out why, how.


   
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(@anonymous)
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Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 8184
 

mick jagger doesn't suck. he's good, or at least he was back in the 60s and 70s. i haven't heard his new stuff, but he was talented enough. you're bad, but you're not hopeless. i know a guy who sounds like you tonewise but he makes it work. in any case, trying to bring other people down a peg to justify your own lack of skill is a waste of time and totally transparent.

first of all, what a sine wave readout says doesn't matter. many great singers have a lot of dirt in their voices, and a lot have very pure tones. singing is in all of our dna, and you learn to be good by using your voice and learning to trust your ears. that's what's going to tell you when you're doing something well. but keep recording yourself. as you know, what you hear inside isn't the same as what you hear outside. your jaw and skull and ear bones all absorb and transfer a lot of sound, so it's good to keep recording yourself from time to time to get a more neutral assessment and to let your ears know what they're dealing with.

ok. here we go:

you have trouble staying exactly on the note. your voice tends to shift around about a quarter tone above or below the note you hit. practice singing and holding a note. listen carefully, make sure it doesn't wobble. do this up and down your vocal range. you should start to find out what range is more comfortable for you. now go from one note to another. make sure the transition is from one discrete note to another, and that you can make the transition cleanly without having to slide around into the second note. what you're doing with your voice, the little shifts and stuff, can work for you, but only if you have it under control and it happens intentionally.

you have a LOT of trouble with timing, both singing and playing. the guitar playing is awkward, inconsistent, and weak, and your voice does not come in or leave on the beat. it sounds like you just started at both. luckily, that all improves with practice, but you really do have to practice, or you won't get better. don't worry about the squealing, everyone sucks at first, but you need to put in some dedicated time. the guitar playing is "passable" in that you're hitting the notes, but you change chords with almost completely arbitrary timing. you need to play with a metronome or with some internal groove and soul, or tap your foot, or along with records. your rhythm guitar needs to be a solid foundation on which your voice can play and dance. and your voice needs the same thing. you need to be conscious of coming in when you want to come in, and singing each note when you want to sing it, and stopping each note when you want to stop it. same with the second song. it sounds like a bunch of instruments all only playing vaguely similar songs. there's no timing at all. you can't just throw a bunch of noise in the air and hope it assembles itself into something good, any more than you can toss eggs and flour and sugar on your counter and expect a cake to show up.

you might want to work with simpler songs with more basic chords and more familiar melodies. they're generally easier to sing and your voice will get stronger and more comfortable before you attempt to work on these more subtle changers. but that's up to you entirely.

i'm not going to say much about your tone. that's not always something that you can do anything about, and besides, like i said, i know a guy who makes that sound work. it's sharp and nasal and drawn out, but he writes interesting songs that complement his voice and he can play well, and i've seen him absorb an entire crowd. but like i said in the first post, it is possible to change your tone by emulating someone or a sound you like, if that's your desire.

i'm sorry if that was harsh or oversimplistic. i know i come off pretty brutal sometimes. i hope it doesn't discourage you. and i'm not the greatest singer around, either, but to me what you need to work on is pretty plain. which is better than not knowing what to do, right? i can hear what you're trying to do, and it's pretty ambitious for someone just starting, and i think you have potential. keep practicing and keep us updated.


   
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(@huricane)
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Joined: 15 years ago
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Topic starter  

Jason - The comment about Mick Jagger was more opaque than intended. It was intended more as compliment to him and the others, not a one peg knock. To me he does have an unusual tonal quality to his voice, but obviously in and of itself, it has not been to his detriment. My intent with the comment was, when it comes to voice tones, people successfully utilize them when singing. I could have used many, many names instead. I apologize for it coming across like it did.

I do appreciate very much the critique and the time you put into it. Yes, I am new to all of it: playing a guitar, singing, throwing some Midi into the mix, and recording it. So the things you point out are key fundemental elements for me to work on. Practice is the order of the day.

As originally queried: do singers make allowance/enhance their tonal qualities by avoiding specific things, or utilizing other things (tonal training) to enhance it and know a priori to do so? To which you answered directly with yes (impersonation) and more so indirectly, with the example of your friend. Since my voice sounds like his, is there any where to hear what he does?


   
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(@anonymous)
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Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 8184
 

i really can't answer that, since there are so very very many singers and approaches, and you'll need to find your own path to self expression. there are some very general tips about vocal cord care, such as keeping hydrated, doing warm ups, supporting with your breath, and not overdoing it with extremes until you know what you're doing, that will keep your voice healthy. but like i said before, keep working on it. keep singing in your comfort zone and using your ears, keep practicing the guitar until your rhythm is strong, and soon everyone else will enjoy listening to you as much as you enjoy singing. i think you said you sing in a church choir. i'm pretty staunchly against religion, but this isn't the forum for that, so i won't go into it, but from a purely musical perspective, it's probably quite helpful. if you enjoy it, i'd suggest you continue with that. they'll probably give you good vocal tips.


   
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(@nathan080)
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Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 131
 

Huricane, it seems to me that you are very intelligent and indeed very scientific, your techniques for learning to sing seem very calculated. Its good to have a structured approach or you wont follow, but you really have to inject some soul into it. I remember seeing a guy at an open mike who had a terrible voice, but he absolutely loved the music and was a very good guitarist and he brought the house down. Of course we all aim to have an incredible voice... but really if we can't enjoy what we're doing then why are we doing it? And if you do enjoy it you will get better at it.

In terms of tone, I think if you really get to know your voice you will be surprised what you can do with your voice... Look up some Ryan Adams stuff and listen to how much his tone varies from song to song. He's not a technical singer at all, but you can tell music is his soul and he gives himself too it... I think it shows.

And as for the playing in front of you're family and then squealing... In my experience, non musicians really don't know what they are talking about in terms of giving you advice or criticism so try and talk to more musical people :).

FYI

From Your Influence...
http://www.overplay.com/BandProfile.aspx?BandId=e78b497f-4f31-4182-8659-e8b6fa91d582

http://www.youtube.com/user/FromYourInfluence


   
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(@general-savage)
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Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 31
 

H,

I would suggest that you shouldn't worry too much about the tone of your voice or about matching the timbre of it to a particular instrument.

Jason's analysis is quiet comprehensive, perhaps providing more feedback than it is possible to cope with in one go, but I think it is acurate, and following his advice is where you might find some quick wins that you probably need (I have been playing and singing 28 years).

I agree with Jason about timing and rhythm. I would suggest that you select songs with a very strong groove to them.

I also agree with him about picking tuneful songs. Pick some with a strong melody so that you can concentrate very hard (extremely hard - this will develop your ear beyond where it is now) on staying in tune and where any deviation will be obvious (amazing grace perhaps or streets of laredo). Stay away from durges completely.

No skill worth having is developed easily, but is important to practice the right things to make progress.

Frank.

General Savage


   
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(@stratslinger)
Active Member
Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 11
 

Hey bro. I listened to about a minute of the recording. You are definitely off key. Not always. Your voice kinda floats in and out, often on the same note you are singing. I have been playing in a band with a lead singer who has never been a lead singer before, but he sang in a choir and has a great voice. He doesn't play an instrument and he has problems staying in key. The problem is in the ears. When singing in a choir, you get used to HEARING a certain timbre and your ear/voice can track that. When you go to another instrument, i.e. guitar, you have to kinda retrain your ear to hear and identify the pitches with a different timbre. I think you will be fine if you just keep practicing singing while playing your guitar. Also, it sounded like maybe you were trying to sing in a higher key than you should. I have a deep voice and when I started singing, I hated it. I always tried to sing in a higher key because I liked the way it sounded. But that's not the voice God gave me. A lot of people like my bassy voice and as long as people want to hear it I'll keep singing. So I've embraced the bass and sing in a lot lower keys than I used to. Now, I'm actually starting to LIKE my deep voice. Go figure. Hope this helps.

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(@huricane)
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Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 29
Topic starter  

All - thanks.

General Savage:
Stay away from durges completely.

What is/are durges? Never heard the term before.

StratSlinger - I think you are right about the choir element. I do use the other voices to track. With the guitar I tend to go to a higher note in the chord being played, because that is what I am hearing most clearly. This tendency kind of contributed to my timbre question a little bit. The timbre of the higher strings on this guitar seem to be a powerful attractor to me, so my ear picks them up, and then I can get waffling on what note to sing.

Natan080 - That is why I posted the question here, and put up the sound clips. To see what other players, singers would be able to tell me. It has resulted in lots of fundamental advice, and is well taken.


   
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(@anonymous)
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Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 8184
 

dirges. sad songs.


   
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(@davidhodge)
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Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 4472
 

And usually played / sung at very slow tempos, usually with the singer holding individual notes for a long time, which means the odds are great to waver off the correct tone. Not the best way for a beginner to start.

Peace


   
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