* Member Info

Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.
Did you miss your activation email?
They'll bite the hand that feeds them, spend all the money you can save. From your heartstrings weave silk garters, build a doghouse on your grave - Dock Boggs, False Hearted Lover's Blues

Author Topic: Vocal Phrasing: Pulse-Driven or Floating  (Read 1882 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Offline a2tom

  • Member
  • Posts: 347
  • stickman's got 'em
Vocal Phrasing: Pulse-Driven or Floating
« on: September 03, 2006, 03:25:36 PM »
that's sense of "floating" lyrics over vocals - I wonder if it is even valid to call that phrasing per se.  Do you suppose it ever happened the same way twice?  In any case, if someone can ever teach me how to float, I'll be amazed - now matter how I approach it, the singing ends up mechanically linked to accompaniment. Thtat doesn't necessarily mean always the same, but it does mean "tied to the meter" in a way that the great singers didn't do. 


Offline uncle bud

  • Member
  • Posts: 8306
  • Rank amateur
Vocal Phrasing: Pulse-Driven or Floating
« Reply #1 on: September 03, 2006, 03:44:27 PM »
Well, that's part of vocal phrasing to me. Some of it is like the things we're discussing in this thread: long and short lines and verses, extra beats etc. But part of effective vocal phrasing is being able to sing without tying the melody slavishly to the beat.

I think the question of whether it happens the same way twice is relative. Would Billie Holiday sing the same song exactly the same way all the time. Doubt it. But the framework could be there, some lines would be the same etc. I think Charley Patton has astonishing phrasing myself and it's definitely linked to an ability to separate his singing from the rhythmic pulse of the song so the result sounds amazingly natural. The beat is always there behind it, keeping him on track but he just flows... 

One interesting way of looking at this is when a singer is talking over the accompaniment, as Patton does often. It's a neat effect and usually pretty free, from a rhythmic perspective. And can be hard to do.

« Last Edit: September 03, 2006, 07:53:32 PM by uncle bud »

Offline waxwing

  • Member
  • Posts: 2804
    • Wax's YouTube Channel
Vocal Phrasing: Pulse-Driven or Floating
« Reply #2 on: September 04, 2006, 12:48:39 AM »
[Edit to add] - Some of this post was in response to an earlier post by Temple in the Vocal Phrasing--The Long And The Short of It thread that we split this away from.

I think I approach every song differently now. Some I learn the accompaniment first and then add the vocal, altho' usually well before I can play it in my sleep. Others, especially where the accompaniment may hold for vocal phrasing, I find come together much more quickly when I start working in the vocal when the accompaniment is just starting to gel a little and still has rough spots.

I guess I worry about the accompaniment sounding too mechanical if it is something I play without thinking while adding the vocal. But maybe this is all an over simplification. I think it still takes me about 6 months or so of working on a piece to get to the point where it all flows and blends and I can just sing the song and the guitar works with my voice. Some verses may be softer or louder, or I may have a little rubato in one verse, and, of course, often the accompaniment is different from verse to verse as well.

In the end, every thing just comes out as it comes out. Is it the same? Is it different? Boy, I don't think that is something I worry too much about. I definitely think that worrying about making it different every time so you don't sound mechanical or so you don't sound like the original is a waste of time. Don't get hung up on philosophical "shoulds". I think that if you "sell" the song, really tell the story and let yourself feel what is going on, you can't possibly sound mechanical, whether it happens to come out exactly the same (as if that were even possible) or not. Do you think Billy Holiday worried about trying to make it different every time? I don't think so. I think she just sang the song. (Oh, I know she was quoted as saying she couldn't stand to sing a song the same way twice, but I'm not all that sure she could have remembered how she sang it the last time to have been able to sing it exactly the same, really.) Hey, and she didn't play an instrument at the same time, neither.-G-

But as I said, it really takes me a long time to get a song to the point where it is free. I may start at a very mechanical place, in order to get the structure Uncle Bud is talking about, or to get a particularly hard bit of phrasing between the guitar and vocal, but the ultimate goal is to let the feeling flow, in both the vocal and the guitar. I think that comes mostly from just doggedly practicing a song until you own it. That would include performing it, too. I think a song really changes the first time you actually perform it for an audience and I actually try to do that pretty early on in the process.

You know, UB, I think Patton and other blues singers really have to practice those "casual" spoken asides. Boy, are they hard to do. But in Down The Dirt Road he has an aside after the line "Every day seems like murder here" where I think he says "My God, I'm (g)onna see her". Sorta makes sense. But he puts almost the identical phrase in the previous verse, I think, perhaps, accidentally prematurely, and the timing and inflection are exactly the same. I think he practiced these little bits of showmanship. Another good example of this is in some of the alternate takes of Robert Johnson where the very casual sounding asides are virtually identical.

All for now.
John C.
« Last Edit: September 04, 2006, 10:47:14 PM by waxwing »
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
George Bernard Shaw

“Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you.”
Joseph Heller, Catch-22
CD on YT

Offline a2tom

  • Member
  • Posts: 347
  • stickman's got 'em
Vocal Phrasing: Pulse-Driven or Floating
« Reply #3 on: September 04, 2006, 04:23:00 AM »
Indeed Billie Holliday is a long time favorite - haven't listened to her in ages, but maybe I will today.

It's not a matter of worrying whether I am doing it the same way twice.  But I am "worried" (no, not worried, just aware) that I really can't do what I hear and want to do, and that is to divorce the sung lyric from the meter/rhythm (I love the word "slavishly" here...).  In much of this thread we hear about where in the progression and meter the lyrics are falling, etc.  That's great.  But writing it out as lyrics vs. beat deosn't really capture the slipperiness of the association.  I never feel slippery!

The reason I ask about repetition is to understand how its done.  That's why I find your comment about Patton interesting.  You see, if you "float" but are actually doing it the same way repeatedly, it makes me think - it was learned, yes rehearsed, that way.  In a sense then it IS tied to the meter, just more deftly, more skillfully.  On the other hand, I can imagine what is being done is more free from, au natural, raw, etc - just let it fly and let your other brain worry about the guitar and meter.  Seems a different skill, and maybe is approached differntly.

For me, personally, in the end all I can do is just keep playing and singing and get where the road takes me.  And given that I mostly play on my porch and in my bed at night, I don't sing nearly as much as I should, so it probably won't go too fast!


Offline uncle bud

  • Member
  • Posts: 8306
  • Rank amateur
Vocal Phrasing: Pulse-Driven or Floating
« Reply #4 on: September 04, 2006, 09:13:08 AM »
I think that slippery quality just comes with time, both from months and years of singing, and from months of playing the song, as Wax states.

I stupidly did not attend the vocal classes at Port Townsend this year but I heard many good things about them. One was I think from one of Suzy's classes, taking a recording, listening to the vocal one line at a time and duplicating it, to really get inside the phrasing. This sounds like a great exercise and I think a lot of us guitarists don't spend anywhere near enough time learning a vocal as we should.

Wax, I agree, the spoken asides are often "planned". In some tunes Patton even speaks a line or part of a line before he actually sings it ("She don't need no tellin' daddy" etc). Whether his spoken asides are practised or not I can't say. But what I meant by "free" wasn't so much improvised or spontaneous, but even more free from the rhythmic constraints of the accompaniment than the regular vocal. (Obviously there are always going to be some kind of constraints: you have to fit the line into a certain phrase length, there's often a rhythmic quality to the spoken bits as well, etc etc) They often float conversationally over the accompaniment. Yup, that's tricky to do. :P

All this being said, I also agree with Wax that in the end it's about playing the song, and there's a little of one approach, a little of another, and hopefully it all comes out sounding natural, musical and entertaining. And lest I get carried away with the example of Patton, there are lots of examples in his songs where the singing is totally tied to the accompaniment, is playing off it rhythmically, to great effect.

As an additional digression, some other folks who come to mind as far as speaking over the accompaniment is concerned. Blind Lemon (who trips himself up on occasion, if I recall) and Papa Charlie Jackson, who will often do spoken introductions to his tunes before launching into the song proper.  Again, it sounds so natural with these guys (even if Papa Charlie's intros are a bit hammy and archaically vaudevillian at times) until you try doing it and realize, "OK, that's going to take some work..."

Are we drifting too far off-topic and need to branch off into another thread?

Online Johnm

  • Global Moderator
  • Member
  • Posts: 13142
Re: Vocal Phrasing: Pulse-Driven or Floating
« Reply #5 on: September 04, 2006, 08:02:39 PM »
Hi all,
This thread started over in the "Vocal Phrasing:  The Long and the Short of It" thread, and since it focuses on execution, Country Blues Licks and Lessons seemed like a good spot for it.  In the last previous post, Uncle Bud remarked that the thread seemed to be going in a different direction.
I do think it is important to be able to phrase the same lyric in different places relative to the pulse.  It is one way to keep your music constantly in the here and now.  One way you can practice it is to sing a verse purposefully straight up and down, right on top of the beat.  Next, sing it pushing the beat, consistently phrasing in front of the beat, like Roosevelt Sykes.  Next, sing behind the beat, like Billie Holiday, or Frank Sinatra in the '50s.  Then sing the same verse singing a portion straight up and down, a portion ahead of the beat and a portion behind the beat.  You get the idea.  I think it is a good idea to have done this a lot without your instrument accompanying you and then bringing the instrument into the picture.
When you consciously practice varying your phrasing in this fashion, you may be surprised to find what a creature of habit you are with regard to phrasing.  I think most of us have some kind of innate preference for where we phrase relative to the pulse--it can be really difficult trying to break through that predilection, but I think it's worth it, because you're are going to end up with a more varied phrasing palette.  Basically, you want to be able to do anything you can think of, and sometimes it may take adopting a more systematic, conscious means of trying things out to get to a new place.
All best,


  • Guest
Re: Vocal Phrasing: Pulse-Driven or Floating
« Reply #6 on: September 04, 2006, 11:04:00 PM »
But I won't know myself if I don't honor my preferences!

Your advice goes way beyond musical wisdom John.
I'll try it.
When I learn to sing - I'll experiment there as well.

« Last Edit: September 08, 2006, 08:26:07 PM by Rosalyn »

Tags: Vocal phrasing 

SimplePortal 2.3.7 © 2008-2024, SimplePortal