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Play And Produce The Music You Sing

This article is inspired by the old Jazz adage “play what you sing.” Singing along with what you play helps build a stronger connection between you and your instrument, particularly while improvising. Although producing music in a DAW may not be as intimate as improvising on an instrument, there are still great improvements to be made when you begin to produce the music you sing.

This article will discuss some reasons why you should produce the music you sing. Both from a musical education perspective and from a musical product perspective. Let's get into it!

It's Still Ear Training

I'd argue that the biggest advantage of playing what you sing on your instrument is the ear training that happens.

Think of all our musical ideas coming from our “mind's ear:” our musical source. We tap into that source most easily by singing since the voice is innate and always with us.

When linking our instrument to this musical source, a great exercise is to sing what we hear in our mind's ear and try to play it out on our instrument. This helps enormously when it comes time to express ourselves freely with our instrument. And therefore, when producing music and recording our instrument.

So What About The Digital Audio Workstation?

If a musical instrument is an instrument created to make musical sounds (Wikipedia definition), then the digital audio workstation is definitely an instrument.

Even if we are programming most of our MIDI, we can apply this technique. When programming, we see a piano roll with the notes sounded and therefore the intervals between them.

Learning to produce what you sing will make programming MIDI faster since we won't have to “hunt and peck” the notes we want to program.

When writing music in a DAW, if we're not programming, we're either sampling or recording an instrument/MIDI controller (unless we consider effects and mixing part of writing). But any of these ways of writing music can be linked to singing or other noises we can with our vocal cords or mouth (shout out to beatboxing).

It's All About Phrasing

With the Digital Audio Workstation, we can make endlessly complicated melodies, harmonies, rhythms, and anything else really (Shout out to Black MIDI).

This is a blessing and a curse. Current technology makes it possible to create mind-blowingly complex music, but that doesn't necessarily make it good.

Singing is inherently very musical (art imitates life, right?) And our voices have natural rhythms, melodies, cadences, and phrases. This phrasing is apparent in woodwind and brass instruments where the musician must breathe at some point. So it's important when producing music with woodwind and brass virtual instruments to take into account the need for breathing.

Phrasing is also important to think about when playing percussion and string instruments since we can play them without needing to take a breath. Deliberately playing and writing with “breathes” helps our phrasing sound more “human.”

The Human Effect

Although computerized music has a cool aesthetic, sometimes we need to “humanize” it a bit. And the natural phrasing on our voice provides us with a great tool to help us do just that.

This is true for phrasing and for the melodies themselves!

Think of the most memorable melodic lines you know. Chances are you can sing them!

With infinite possibilities in Digital Audio Workstations, it's sometimes the most effective to use the restrictions of our voices as a guide to keep things human. Of course, this is not a rule, just food for thought!

A Step Further: Filtering

The shape of our mouth as we speak effectively filters our voice. It's responsible for the sound of vowels as we speak. I'm certain that this a big part of the reason why we like the use of filters in music.

We can filter instruments with wah-wah pedals, talk-boxes, vocoders, and other processors. And inside our DAW, we can filter any audio with EQ and other effects!

So filtering is yet another way of thinking about how you can produce what you sing! Try creating a “wobble synth” to the wobble you hear in your mind's ear and can “sing” out loud.


In Closing

The human voice is arguably the closest we get to the musical source in our minds. It's an interesting exercise to recreate what we sing with other instruments and inside our DAW. This exercise can help humanize our “computer music,” and make our melodies more memorable.

Produce the music you sing is advice for those of us who make music in the digital age and want to get more intimate with our craft.

If you have any more tips or tricks having to do with the connection between voice and music, please leave it in the comments section below!

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