My terrible singing
If you’ve watched any of my videos, you’ll notice that I sing very badly, but I sing a lot. I’m not even sure you can call what I do singing – but I do make a lot of sounds. And the truth is, I just don’t care that I have a terrible voice, and I’m not going to stop singing. And I also really encourage you to sing – especially since your singing voice is probably better than mine (though it doesn’t matter if it’s even worse)!
Voice as a tool
One of the most important things I learned in music school was to think of my voice as a tool, rather than as any kind of reflection of me as a musician (or as a human). Once you learn to connect your voice to your ears, and to not be shy about it, you have an incredibly powerful tool to help you learn music.
Sing to learn
One of the first ways I recommend to use your voice – and you can do it when no one’s around until you become as shameless as I am – is when learning new material. These days most people refer at some point to a recording, audio or video, when learning flamenco. As you’re listening to the new material, learn to sing it before you try to play it – before you even pick up your guitar. Singing will force you to really know the material in a whole new way. And if you’ve sung the material and then you play a wrong note or chord, you’ll know right away. This will keep you from learning it wrong in the first place.
Sing to slow down or transpose
The brain is kind of amazing, and it will do a better job of slowing music down or speeding it up than any app out there. Or of transposing to another key. Once you can sing a melody, the brain will automatically slow it down for you so you can wrap your head around what’s happening. And if you want to play something that you’ve been playing without a capo on a capo’d guitar, you’ll be amazed at how easily your brain transposes to the new key, too.
Connect your voice to your foot
As you get better at singing you’ll also begin to connect melody to pulse – your tapping foot or your snapping finger or just your internal pulse. And this is where things start to really fall into place. Once you can connect these two you’ll be able to slow things down or speed them up in a way that vastly improves your understanding of rhythm and its connection to melody. This is really where things start to get next-level and you can feel compás and its relationship to falsetas and the compás that you play.
Sing to learn Cante
Learning Cante can be very daunting, especially if you’re not a native Spanish speaker. But if you strip away the actual language and all of the expression (which is, of course, what makes Cante so awesome), you can connect it to flamenco singing in a purely musical way. Don’t try to be a singer, but learn to sing or hum the melodies the way you might any other melody. This way you’ll be able to take your time as you experience what it feels like to connect the harmony (the chords you’re playing) to the melody that the singer is singing. There’s a lot of power in slowing things down, and singing lets you harness that power in a way that not much else does.
The bottom line
In the end, it’s being able to sing music that makes the difference between kind of knowing and really knowing the music you want to play. And if you’re not a professional singer, then who cares if you have a good voice or not? So start singing – even if it’s very quietly and to yourself. You’ll be surprised how quickly you can become shameless about singing out loud and access the power of this amazing tool.