I record most of my students' lessons and recitals on this beat-up, seven-year-old Edirol R-09 digital recorder. I love this thing so much, I wish they'd let me sell it across the country! I use it to record piano accompaniments and phonetic pronunciations. I record a lot of sirening and wailing and yawning that doesn't sound much like music, but is vitally important to making a relaxed, free sound. I record my own rehearsals and sometimes sneak the Edirol into my own performances, if someone else isn't going to record me (or even if they are). I know, I could get a mic adapter for my iPhone (Christmas is coming!), but I love this little guy.
I know that some of my students rarely bother to listen to the mp3s I send after each lesson. But, it's important to take a listen, even if it's painful -- especially if it's painful! The way you hear and see yourself is not how others hear and see you. In the studio, I use mirrors and iPhone selfies and "instant replay" recordings to help students recognize and analyze their own sound and how they produce it. If they just stand there and sing, they can miss a lot. If they just listen to me, they will miss a lot.
This is my talented student Morgan:
Morgan made some wonderfully rounded sounds in her recent lesson. I asked her to describe and demonstrate what she felt she was doing differently as she made the new sounds. "It helps when I point my fingers here near my ear, to remind myself to feel my jaw opening from this point," she said. So we took a photo of her doing just that, to help her remember.
I didn't use technology enough in my own early singing, but granted, technology wasn't as easy to use as it is now. I have a few of my teenage and college lessons and recitals, recorded in the Pre-Cambrian Cassette Era. I remember recording them, but not listening to them to actually improve my singing. I listened to them a couple of years back as I transferred a bunch of cassettes to digital, and that was painful enough. The hazy memory is a thousand times better than my senior recital actually was (make that ten thousand times better). My Master's recital, given while I was five months pregnant, was punctuated by pitch sharpness in several songs. My teacher had mentioned it to me more than once, but I was sure -- certain -- I was on pitch. (I have perfect pitch! I'm infallible!) The recording revealed otherwise. I should have known better and recorded myself earlier. And no, I ain't gonna share. Listening to that CD led me to retool my vocal technique, and to invest in a tuner. Now I have this tuner app on my phone and I urge all my students to get it, too.
My son loves to laugh at train wreck tryouts on American Idol and The X-Factor, but I can't watch them. It's just too painful to observe people with no clue about how they actually sound and look in performance, and I hate the trolls that inevitably comment. That being said, I do keep a file of good, bad and ugly videos that I use to show specific vocal problems and their consequences, kind of a vocal Struwwelpeter (and if you know what that is without looking it up, congratulations!).
I know you want to see one. Okay.
[video width="540" height="360" mp4="http://www.edencasteel.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/I-Dont-Want-To-Walk-Without-You-Marcie-OBrien-Musical-Performance.mp4"][/video]This is not an audition, but a performance in a benefit recital given several months ago. I don't know any of these folks personally. The singer is obviously focused and engaged and has taken time to prepare, even delivering a (totally unnecessary) monologue to set up the song. The costuming and choreography distract from the song and the singer. The main vocal issue here is a too-heavy chest range and too-muffled head range, with no connection between the two. In fact, it's a textbook example of a lack of register balance. Before we troll all over her in our black little hearts, consider: What was the voice teacher telling her in the lesson? More importantly, what did the student hear and heed? It's frustrating, as much of this is fixable and addressable. But for all we know, a lot was fixed already.
Other videos from this particular recital are getting thousands of hits, especially a sluggish, much-too-literal rendition of "Stars And The Moon" from Jason Robert Brown's The Last Five Years, complete with an unnecessary monologue. I'm not a rabid JRB fan, so delaying the conclusion of one of his songs would not be my choice. A simple YouTube surfing session would have given clues for appropriate tempo, style and staging.
Some people are beyond help. Here's a video of a loser trying outsing Elton John . . in the presence of Elton John. I can't believe she put that on YouTube.