Love to sing the blues? There a few things to keep in mind as you sing in this genre — find out in this guest post by St. Augustine, FL teacher Heather L...
The history of blues music is rich and bittersweet. The genre was originally born as an expression of those suffering as American slaves, mostly in what’s called the “deep South,” That expression is heartbreaking by nature, but healing, too. The brilliance of the blues is that by singing about what’s making you sad, you feel better. But singing the blues is not that simple. It’s very easily overdone. Here are six things to remember when you’re singing the blues.
1. Simple is better.
Now, simple does not mean lazy, or not creative, or not energetic. Simple means acknowledging, and singing as such, the beauty of unornamented, unadorned notes. Sing simply, so that the beauty of the words comes through. Just because the blues is a 12-bar progression with no fancy form or room for virtuosity doesn’t mean that the singer should think in terms of showing off the voice. Allow your art to come through organically.
2. Imitation is inferior to originality.
We’d all love to sing like B.B. King or Etta James or Amy Winehouse. But those singers already exist. And while there are many successful tribute artists and cover bands, there’s something so inspiring about a singer deciding to sing with his or her own voice and committing to that decision. Imitating another singer is impressive to a certain point, but it’s not sharing much about yourself. And that’s what people really love to hear.
3. Only the basic phrasing is required.
The only words that you should start with are those of the basic phrases. For instance, take the first part of “The Thrill is Gone”, most famously sung by B.B. King.
The thrill is gone/the thrill is gone away/the thrill is gone/the thrill is gone away/You know you’ve done me wrong/And you’ll be sorry someday
Now, if you decide as the singer to insert “baby” after the word “wrong” or after “someday,” so be it, but be sure to start simply in order to explore the song for yourself.
4. Repetition may be the key to improvisation.
The blues is repetitive by nature. I often have my voice students repeat the basic phrasing with the chords playing underneath over and over until organic and spontaneous decisions are made: the word “baby” is sung, an important phrase is repeated at double tempo, or a run comes out of nowhere at the end of a phrase. Let it all come naturally.
5. Your raw, yet well-supported voice is perfect.
Sing with all of the raw, unrefined vibrato and tone that you have. This is no time for pretty, polished sounds. But never forget to support your sound with a solid and conscious breath flow no matter what genre that you’re singing.
6. Be authentic, but not sentimental.
Everyone knows that the blues is about “feelings.” But the idea of “singing with feeling” has become so vague and overused that it’s essentially become meaningless. If a singer sings with the intention of “feeling the music” or something similar, then the whole thing will come off as trite and inauthentic. The key to showing genuine feeling as you sing is listening. Listen to the instrumental parts and the chords a hundred times. Ask yourself how it all makes YOU feel. Don’t bother about how the song makes someone else feel.
When all is said and done, the essence of the blues is the willingness to share. As long as you focus on revealing your true self and committing to singing with your unique voice, then you’ll find yourself a successful blues singer.
Learn more in Heather’s Ultimate Guide to Singing Styles and Genres!
Photo by Dutch Simba