The basic premise is this: When you hit a snag in the music and you cannot figure out what is happening, remember singing has a lot involved. Melody (or pitch, if you're a harmony singer), rhythm, dynamic all come into play, to say nothing of mood, facial expression, and audience. It's a left brain and right brain, full-contact sport! By breaking things down and isolating one thing at a time you can slowly build precision, accuracy, facial expressions, and choreography.
To focus on pitch values and accuracy, remove the variable of lyric and sing a neutral syllable such as doo or la. This takes away lyrics, giving us one less thing to worry about (particularly useful in the learning stages of songs) and helps the singer focus on pitch values and accuracy. Think of the last time you learned choreography. You likely talked through the song on rhythm, removing the variable of pitch. Timing, then, would be the focus and point of the exercise. Directors often remove harmony parts and focus on the melody, or have the melody duet with another section, such as the bass section, to firm up tuning between the two parts.
Remove a variable works well in many settings, but here are a couple ways it works particularly well:
- Remove two variables in a song: words (sing on a "doo") and pitch lengths. By singing all notes on stacatto, you can firm up who is not accurate in their onsets, see what syncopations are out of alignment, spot check notes within sections (seeing who isn't hitting the correct note), and a host of other things.
- Performing on mute. Sometimes called audiation, Mute performance allows singers to concentrate on what they look like, how they perform the song, and, without making a sound, lets us focus on some of the finer points of the song, much like watching a choir from the audience's perspective. Athletes frequently use this technique. Playing the game in your mind, or seeing your event can have a remarkable effect. The first Olympic athlete to score a perfect score in shooting did not fire his weapon six weeks before his event. In a time that would seem crucial for extra training, he simply ran the event in his mind, concentrating on how it felt to hit the center of the target. Boom. Perfect score.