Many singers become anxious about their timing – their ability to stay in time for the course of a song. In rehearsal it only takes a comment from the bassist to send you into your ‘shell’!
Most singers are better at timing than they think– this is because they are working with and listening to music, all the time. The challenge is simply to build your confidence at the same time as you work at your skills.
There are lots of fun exercises that improve your confidence and skill at the same time. You can do these by yourself or with other singer friends – or even with that bassist!
Timed Scales: Singing your scales can become just a bit more fun when you sing them to a metronome! When you get over the initial ‘time tumbles’, begin focussing on accuracy; you can purchase a decent metronome at most music stores (also on line) but you DO have one inside your smart phone on an app! Just download ‘metronome’ or pro metronome (one that gives you the actual BPM (beats per minute) clearly. Increase the speed every few days. The best backing singers I ever worked with could race through the most incredible scales and arpeggio sequences with impeccable timing – the secret was they practiced their timed scales regularly – never resting on their laurels! Here’s an example for you if you are beginning this process.
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Timed Arpeggios and Octaves: Once your confidence with the scales is increased, you can switch to those octave games and arpeggios you loved in singing class! You can time your held tones on the final note of your arpeggios – so sing one three five seven niiiiiiiiine and set it to a beat – maybe a repeated drum loop. You can simply create lots of different arpeggios and then elongate at the start, the middle or the end so creating patterns where you time the held tone to a count of say 4 or 6 or 8.
Some beginner patterns:
Timed Words: Make up a simple sound phrase and sing it in scales or simply repeat it in an interesting rhythm – like ‘DAH DOO DAH HEY HEY’ or “WOAH WOAH YEAH’ so creating different feels – maybe four to the floor rock or a slightly more soulful emphasis on the second and fourth beat of the bar (a two/four feel) – try these at different speeds.
Some simple ideas to start with:
Be a Drum Kit: By now you’re already a walking rhythm machine! Time for the drum kit! Use different short play words with open vowels – so your snare is TAK and your kick drum is DOM and your tom is BOH and then you can tap your thigh and make up different patterns – it may be a good idea to sing along to some favourite songs at first – so recognising where the tom and the snare work over the kick drum
And yes! You can do the same for bass lines!
Here are some straightforward times:
Work With Your Own Songs: Now it’s time to get sophisticated and be that singer with a great feel for time! … time to approach those lyrics! If you’re a solo pop or rock artist you could play instrumental backing tracks of your own songs or pop/rock standards and alter the way the lyric fits in the bar. To do this you could lengthen some vowels and squash some to the end of the bar or sing just on the square beat or slide to the back of the beat with a slightly lazy feel. At the next rehearsal you can demonstrate to the band!
Here’s an example of a pop classic opening line:
Choirs are Optimal. When singing harmony, timing is imperative! The ‘ring’ of those tones together only works when the different parts are in ‘tight’! If you are a part of a choir or ensemble you could make sure that you get involved with the counterpoint (parts) as they will increase your grasp of time. Have a listen to Sweet Honey in the Rock for a wonderful example of harmony and counterpoint:
Rachel Bennett is a London-based vocal coach and singer songwriter. She is the lead singer of her band RAIE and they have played at venues including London’s Hammersmith Apollo, The Roundhouse, The Albany Theatre, The Forge and Map Café. She has been a Musical Director for various theatre companies and has worked as both a singer and coach for record companies in studios across London. She currently teaches singing at Goldsmiths College on the Popular Music Degree and at Rose Bruford International Drama School. You can learn more about Rachel on www.raiemusic.com