Are singers more sensitive than other instrumentalists?

Have you worked with singers?

Have you worked with other musicians?

Have you found that singers – generally – are more sensitive than other musicians? Have you found that they respond differently to criticism? Perhaps they take it more personally?

If you’ve spent any serious time as a producer or engineer working with other musicians, this is probably the experience you’ve had.

And you might have assumed that it’s something unique to singers.

That’s kind of true, but not quite. It’s not because they’re singers. It’s because we usually see singers in the studio much earlier in their careers. It’s quite common to get a singer wanting to record some songs having only been seriously dedicated to their craft for a few years (oh, they may have been singing their ‘whole life’, but ask how long they’ve been taking lessons for…)

On the other hand, a session musician probably has about 5-10 years of playing in bands and gigging before they get anywhere near a studio. Even when recording bands (unless you’re working with teenagers).

Another difference, of course, is that singers are often singer their own songs. Song which represent their self-expression. And unfortunately many singers interpret criticism of their technique as criticism of their musical expression (which, by extension, is criticism of themselves as people). And again, experience is key. A singer/songwriter with ten years of experience is less likely to take criticism personally than one with two years of experience.

So what does this mean?

You probably need to be more sensitive with singers. But not because they’re singers. You need to be more sensitive with any inexperienced musician. And you need to be more sensitive with any musician that is expressing themselves in a very personal way.

-Kim.

 

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  1. It’s a good point, and it gave me two related thoughts.

    1) When a drummer misses a beat, they’ll probably see it as a failure of their skill. When a singer misses a note, they might see it as a failure of their body – for the obvious reason that singers make music with their own biology, while drummers don’t.

    As a (pretty bad) singer and a (pretty bad) keyboard player, I can say it feels more personal when my voice hits the wrong note.

    2) There’s a great deal of good, consistent theory about playing many instruments. But if you look at singing theory, it’s a complete mess. There are highly paid coaches who tell you to ‘feel the movement of your diaphram’ (while pointing at their bladder). Instead of saying ‘relax your phyloric sphincter and lower your epiglotis’ they say ‘sing into the mask’.

    Good advice is given in incomprehensible language, while bad, vague and meaningless advice is standard. I’ve met plenty of good singers, and about half had never had a singing lesson. Whether they had or they hadn’t, they couldn’t explain how they hit the right note, avoided sliding or wavering – their guide was a set of haptic rules of thumb, for which they had no vocabulary.

  2. @Kapitano
    Excellent points. Singing certainly is certainly more a bodily function than most other instruments.

    Regarding your second point, there’s a lot of voodoo being thrown about. Fortunately there are some newer methods being developed that are based in scientific research.

    Mind you, it’s not restricted to vocals. I remember an excellent piano teach I had that spoke of ‘leaning into’ the notes – as if acoustic pianos had some kind of aftertouch. It had an effect, but it was more about subtly shaping the interpretation and entire performance of the music – not any individual notes.

    -Kim.

  1. December 17th, 2011
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