Tag Archives: vocal jazz

4 Vocal Warms-Ups to Introduce Singers to Jazz Harmony

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By Dr. Art Lapierre

Throughout the years, I have enjoyed working with singers who have a more traditional awareness of music. Oftentimes these singers have experience singing in classical choirs or pop/rock bands, and have little experience singing in four-part harmonies with upper extensions. Other than passing tones, most of these singers have sung in four-part triads and a few seventh chords with approach notes. Because of the more diatonic nature of their musical experience, I have developed a few vocal warm-up exercises to help them transition into hearing and singing in the more chromatic nature of jazz. These warm-ups will also help lead to the tone, enunciation (voiced and unvoiced consonants for legato ballad singing), and ear training appropriate for vocal jazz singing.

On the first day of rehearsal, I observe whether or not they can arpeggiate simple seventh chords: 1-3-5-7 (do-mi-sol-ti); 1-3-5-♭7 (do-mi-sol-te), as well as minor, half-, and whole-diminished chords, and design exercises to help them do so. The idea that they will need to sing an unprepared “non-chord” tone is oftentimes foreign to them. And, of course, few have yet to explore the extended notes of the 9, 11, and 13.

Here are a few exercises you can try in an effort to familiarize your singers with non-chord tones.

  1. Have them sing an ascending/descending major 9th arpeggio (1-3-5-7-9-7-5), using various vowel and word combinations. I use the words “name-the-tune-and-I-will-sing” for its combination of vowels and voiced consonants. Accompany the singers on the piano with a tonic major seventh chord.
  2. Repeat exercise 1, except this time move to a subdominant major seventh chord in the accompaniment, as they sing the 7th and 9th scale tones in the exercise. You may choose to put a fermata on these notes so that the singers may become more familiar with the sound and sensation of the resulting #11 and “add 6” harmonies created.
  3. Have the singers sing an ascending/descending dominant 9th arpeggio (1-3-5-♭7-9-♭7-5) with the same lyrics, and in the piano accompaniment play a tonic dominant chord.
  4. Try the same exercises, but over a tonic minor chord (1-♭3-5-♭7-9-♭7-5). In the accompaniment, similar to exercise 2, try the same arpeggio over a subdominant minor chord. Again, you may want to put a fermata over each note in the arpeggio to familiarize your singers with these newfound harmonies.

When the singers get comfortable with the sensation of extended chords, alter the arpeggio for more chromatically altered chords that include the ♭9, #9, and ♭13.

I have found that in very little time the singers start hearing and enjoying the extended notes of a newfound harmony—the harmony they will encounter in much vocal jazz repertoire!

Art_LapierreDr. Arthur Lapierre is the director of the DownBeat Award-winning American River College Vocal Jazz Ensemble, and teaches voice in Sacramento, CA. Lapierre also conducts vocal jazz workshops and clinics in the United States and Europe. He has taught at Berklee College of Music in Boston, and Polytechnic High School in Long Beach, CA. Learn more here.

                                                                              

Our Favorite Music Moments

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Our mission here at Alfred Music is to help the world experience the joy of making music. We’ve certainly experienced this joy ourselves, and it has helped guide and shape our lives in one major way or another. In honor of Music In Our Schools Month, we reflected upon some of our own music classroom moments that brought to us the very joy we hope to share.

Brooke-Greenberg-Headshot

“My middle school band director was extremely understanding when I told her I had trouble breathing and couldn’t play the clarinet anymore. She saw potential in me, and handed me some drumsticks. Switching to the percussion section was a blessing in disguise. I was the only female percussionist among 4 rowdy boys, so I quickly learned how to speak up. It also helped me make a lot of new friends. I continued playing drums in my high school jazz band, and in the pit orchestra for our senior year school musical. Drumming gave me confidence, introduced me to new types of music, and became an important piece of my identity. I can’t believe what a crazy turn my life took, and it’s all because my middle school band director gave me a chance.”
—Brooke Greenberg, Graphic Designer

Toni
“Some of my best memories span across all of high school. Every Tuesday and Thursday, we had show choir rehearsal. This was where the magic happened. Everyone left their troubles at the door to make amazing music. The energy was electric. It was as if we all came together with one goal in mind, to sing and dance without fear. Best memory was when our choreographer roped our director into warming up with us! He happily joined in, even though he had no dance experience. Made the rehearsal so much more fun!”
—Toni Hosman, Product Marketing Manager, Instrumental Solo & School Performance 

Vicki

 

“Throughout school, I bounced back and forth between band and choir, but mostly focused on band in high school. But every time I was in band rehearsal and heard the choir, I wished I was in choir. The sound of the voices, the emotion and meaning that could be communicated through words and vocal inflection. And every time I was in choir and heard the band, I wished I was in band. To be surrounded by beautiful brass and woodwind instruments, a different kind of choir. My band director was great, but I was more inspired by my choir director. He was unique in that he also coached football, wrestling, and track. In fact, he knew me by ‘Rees’ (my last name at the time) because he knew my brothers from track and football. His recruiting campaign to get more guys in choir was hanging ‘Real Men Sing’ posters everywhere, and it was brilliant! Choir went from three guys to an entire section within one semester of campaigning. Honestly, I don’t think it was just the posters that did the trick. It was his true joy while teaching choir—it was contagious. He created an atmosphere where we could ask questions, struggle with parts, and try out for solos without fear of ridicule or judgement from him or other students. It was ultimately that teacher that made me choose voice for my instrument in college.”
—Victoria Meador, Product Marketing Manager, School Methods & Suzuki

Heidi Smith

 

“As a pianist, the majority of my music education was solitary until college. A whole new world opened up to me when I started college! A classroom full of other musicians, long choir rehearsals and weeks on tour buses, accompanying soloists, spending hours ‘together’ in the practice rooms, struggling through theory and music history homework . . . these experiences helped me bond with my classmates quickly and foster friendships that will last a lifetime. A community of musicians is special, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. One of my favorite memories is from my 8 a.m. theory class, discussing the form of pieces. Our professor told us to sit on the floor in a circle and passed out plastic cups to each of us. She demonstrated a couple different rhythm patterns to tap on the cups, passing our cup to our neighbor every so often. We listened to ‘Yellow Submarine’ by The Beatles—clapping out rhythms, changing the pattern when a new section of the song started (verse, chorus, bridge). We felt a little silly at first, but I think we all secretly had a blast and loved it! The story was told throughout the music department and in subsequent years, everyone knew what it meant when a theory student said it was ‘Yellow Submarine Day.'”
—Heidi Smith, Product Marketing Manager, Piano

Billy Lawler

 

“My favorite moments from studying music in school happened in between classes. Singing in my school’s vocal jazz ensemble, playing piano in combos, or serving as an accompanist provided so many opportunities to practice alongside others and grow with others as musicians. We shared the common goals of improving both together and as individuals, and that was a major factor in establishing lifelong friendships with my classmates. Our teachers felt more like mentors, coaches, and comrades compared to instructors I’d had in other subjects, and growth as a musician translated into growth as a person. The process of studying music taught me so much more than just how to play an instrument.”
—Billy Lawler, Social & Digital Marketing Specialist


The Nature of Jazz Singing

Michele Weirby Michele Weir, author The Jazz Singer’s Handbook

Jazz is a creative, interactive art form that requires finely-tuned listening skills and a spirit of spontaneity. The ultimate goal: to communicate (specifically, to communicate emotion through the text). Great jazz performances are those where the artist has imprinted their own personal “stamp” on a song, making their rendition unique. The only singer that made their career from sounding like Ella Fitzgerald was Ella Fitzgerald. Ultimately, after listening to and studying the great jazz vocal masters, you should sound like you.

The focus of a jazz singer’s performance is more on the singer than on the song itself. While the integrity of the song is certainly an important factor, it’s the artist’s interpretation of the song that is the true essence of jazz.

Great jazz singers communicate with a sense of soulful honesty when they sing. Rather than acting like they feel the story of the song, they seem to really feel the story of the song; you believe them. Even if the setting or storyline of a given song is not true for them personally, they are still able to give an honest portrayal of the emotion behind the scenario.

Thus, the primary mode of communication for a jazz singer is the meaningful delivery of the text. This is number one on the list of artistic priorities! The lyrics to a song are like a story. We want the audience to listen to our story and really hear its message.

(Excerpted from The Jazz Singer’s Handbook by Michele Weir, 00-22020 Book & CD, $19.95)