To my ear, there is an enormous amount of work left to be done on my singing. It’s often frustrating work, because there aren’t many instructional resources available, far different from the mountains of materials you’ll find for learning and refining your skills on an instrument. And when I hear something wrong with my singing, it takes a lot of reflection, speculation, and experimentation to figure out exactly what is wrong, much less what I might do about it.
Still, I have managed to identify quite a few specific problems, and even figure out the source of most of them. Some were amenable to quick fixes, some took extended practice to fix, and some (like unconsciously adding vibrato) I’m still working on.
The project of the moment is to eliminate all “churchiness” from my enunciation. Not because churchiness is bad, just because it’s out of place in bluegrass singing. My biggest clue came at jam camp this year, when someone with no special training told me that they liked my singing, but that it sounded too “proper.” I didn’t understand at the time what that meant, but after some time spent comparing myself to good bluegrass singers I’ve decided that much of it is due to the fact that my singing is not “conversational” at all–it doesn’t sound like someone talking to you, as most bluegrass singing does. And I blame that on churchiness.
It’s no suprise that my singing is churchy–until recently it’s the only place I ever sang, and what I knew about singing I learned there. Most of it I didn’t learn explicitly, but rather from listening and imitating, and so it’s taken awhile to figure out just what I do that makes my singing sound churchy. It’s complex enough that I’m not able to make small fixes here and there, but I’m having to learn a whole new approach, namely to take spoken lyrics and somehow lay a melody on top of them. Initially it was uncomfortable, but I’m slowly coming to appreciate it.
This is one of those long-term efforts, and since I don’t need any additional burdens I’ve decided to take the same approach to singing in church. Which has led me to pipe down, since I don’t want to throw anybody if it sounds too weird. One nice benefit: I can now hear my fellow parishioners better, and am encouraged to work at blending my voice with theirs, so worship feels a bit more corporate.