Feb 4, 2015

Remove a Variable

For a while now I've been using a rehearsal strategy called "Remove a Variable."  While I'm certain I'm not the first to think if up, it does work for me as a director, ensemble singer, and clinician.

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.
So the next time something goes awry in your rehearsal, don't shrug and say, "Hmm.  That was weird.  Let's do it again."  Take a step back and think "What do I want to make better?"  If it's word sounds, drone the tonic pitch of the song, and sing through the phrase on a single note, or chord.  If it's notes, try a few staccato passages.  If it's tone quality, focus only on melodic singing and movement ti free the voice.

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Moving forward,
Adam
Adam works both as Music Educator and Editor of Music Publications for the Barbershop Harmony Society. On the road he serves as clinician for Youth in Harmony Workshops, Harmony Explosion Camps, Honor and All State Choirs. He is a regular clinician at various leadership training seminars, teaching voice, arranging, conducting, leadership and other courses. Adam taught music in the St. George, Utah public schools for two years before moving to Nashville. His choirs received superior ratings at festivals, often performing his own arrangements.
As a composer and arranger, Adam has written and arranged hundreds of pieces of music spanning all types of ensembles and difficulty levels. His works are regularly performed by schools, colleges, churches, and barbershop choruses. In his role as editor of the Barbershop Harmony Society library he has added hundreds of pieces of music in every genre from Country to Jazz. He has collaborated with composers and arrangers both inside and outside the barbershop arena including Dr. Kirby Shaw and Deke Sharon.
He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Music Composition from Utah State University, where he studied with Dr. Dean Madsen. At USU Adam was awarded Outstanding Student Composer. Adam lives in Nashville, TN with his wife and two boys. Adam and his wife are also expecting twins in March.