Harmonizing

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
I am being called on to do as much singing as possible in my rock band, meaning background harmonies. (An example is The Beatle's "Day Tripper and "I Saw Her Standing There" which we string together as a medley) I have a really hard time hearing my note in a harmony situation with me drumming. Singing lead is not an issue, because my songs don't have harmonies. My monitor mix is never adequate enough to hear myself good enough to sing harmony, which on a scale of 1 to 10, my harmonizing abilities averages between 1 and 2 anyway. My voice has about a 1.5 octave range (not much) that is unfortunately situated in the lower registers, so high harmonies are out for me, unless I do falsetto, which sounds pretty comical with my voice.
My monitor mix is good enough to play drums to, but not to sing harmony to. Harmony definitely does not come naturally to me, in fact it's a real struggle. I was never supposed to sing in the first place. It's more out of necessity. Like doing 4 things at once isn't enough, I have to add a 5th thing that is difficult enough for me to do alone, let alone while playing the drums. Oy.

But I try anyway, I have to, but I know my notes waver because I am trying to close in on them, I was never good at replicating pitch with my voice, I usually can't nail it the first try.

When I get out from behind the drums at a rehearsal and harmonize while not playing, I can do it barely passably, but when I'm playing, all that flys out the window. Nobody can give me my starting note during a song and I can't hear myself good enough to know if I am in the vicinity or not. I always forget the starting note anyway. I'm a rhythm guy not a pitch guy.
So...my question is, how do other drummers deal with this? I was thinking in ear monitors. If I could hear myself better....I need that before I can improve.
I'd like to hear any tips or suggetions if possible. Thanks.
 

Aeolian

Platinum Member
Larry, do you wear any sort of ear plugs? I find that they increase the level of the sound in your head and make it easier to hear yourself singing.

I wouldn't worry about your falsetto sounding comical. You don't have to be Robert Planet to do harmonies. Just hit the note. The timbre will blend in with the other sounds. In fact, having a somewhat thin or nasal sounding head voice will help the harmony sound clearer. It's the soft, breathy or rounded falsetto that needs to be put in the middle of the harmony chord as it lacks distinction in the mix.

If you can hear your voice clearly, you are too loud for the balance of the harmony. When folks get in ears and think they are going to hear themselves singing better, they are in trouble. If you have one mix for the singers, they are going to hear everyone else injected into their head and unless they either sing too loudly, or have their particular mic up louder in the mix (to the detriment of everyone else, volume wars in the monitor mix anyone?). If you have lots of money and get a separate monitor board, an elaborate digital board with lots of monitor mixes, or something like an Aviom system, and each person can turn themselves up, then there is no way for them to blend together and you need a FOH guy to constantly chase each person's level. With their own "more me" mix, they won't know how loud they are compared to anyone else. This is actually an issue with IEM bands on both the instruments and vocals anyway.

You need to get used to the sound of your voice blending with others. This just takes practice. You could join a local barbershop group, or just practice with your bandmates. What I have a hard time with is singing harmony parts below the melody note. And since an injury from a work softball team wrecked my head voice, that's all I can contribute anymore, and it's tough. Try and get some old Everly Brothers and practice both parts to where you can hear yourself adding the counter melody part in blend.

It's a bit harder to do while drumming, but try turning away from the mic and singing your starting note ahead of time. See if you can pick up on someone playing that note, or an obvious interval away from it a bar ahead or so. Maybe you can have someone "ghost" it to you half a bar before it comes up. I've done this for singers for years. Even lead singers who had trouble where the song changes up in some way. And of course I would do this for myself when playing guitar.
 

Kg_lee

Senior Member
I know where your coming from Larry. The only thing I run in my monitor is my vocal. Even on a big stage at loud volume I do not put anything else in my monitor. Harmonies come from years of practice. Do you play guitar? I play well enough to figure my harmony on the guitar and sing it. I also record it and play it in the car and sing to it so I drill that note in my head so I naturally go for it when I sing. I also just try to randomly harmonize anything that comes on the radio.
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
Aeolian, no I don't wear plugs, I do start my note early to myself, but it doesn't do much good, because I never practiced singing let alone harmonizing...I have a hard time hearing the note, and knowing if it's the rright one. Earplugs might help, good tip, the blending I have issues with, I don't have great control like that, because half the time I'm straining to hit the note. For example, the chorus of Mony Mony, that's the highest possible note I can hit full throated, and I'm straining to hit it, and my voice kinda booms, plus I'm drumming, so no I don't blend well. I feel like a madman actually. I hear you on the comical falsetto thing too. Thanks. Just do it, it's gonna be OK, right?

Kg_lee yes I do play the guitar a little and that's a great suggestion. I might need some help in getting the right notes.

OK get earplugs, sing falsetto, blend, practice it on the guitar....check. Thanks guys.
 

Pollyanna

Platinum Member
Totally relate, Larry. I will have the harmony in my head but the minute I hear Glenn singing the line I get sucked into his melody. So I'm always doubling, even though I know harmony would be better. There's one song where I harmonise on one note each chorus and I kind of get away with it.

Watching this space with interest.
 

Bo Eder

Platinum Member
Well, you definitely have to start out with being able to hear what's going on. But in cases like these I recommend against in-ears unless you have a sound guy mixing for you, then you can request what you need to hear and hopefully get it.

What I've done in the past is to get my hands on a small keyboard amp, like a Roland KC60, and use it as a monitor amp for myself. I'll take either the headphone mix from the console, or take one of the auxes and send the instruments and voices I need to hear. Once that's set, it's just a matter of me handling the volume knob on the amp.

But even after that, the trick is to be able to hear across the band. One of the reasons I got so good at singing and playing was my ability to get my relative pitch from everything else. I've never had anyone play me a pitch and I start from there. Because if everyone starts to go out of tune or modulates into a different key, I need to hear that and go with it.

I know you said you're more of a rhythm guy, but now it's time to become more of a music guy. It'll come in time (hell, it did for me) but it's not so much a monitor problem, but more of a listening challenge. Sorry, that doesn't help at all, does it?
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
It all helps Bo, and you're right, it's a listening thing. I need to listen in the context of being a singer, and forget being a drummer, which is all new to me. It's the execution part that I struggle with. Being able to sing a perfect pitch without wavering is a tall order for me alone, then with all the instruments, and like Grea said, I get sucked into the melody, plus I can't hear myself in the monitor (earplugs might help me there) and I'm drumming on top of that...Ay yi yi....

Another thing is that this band tunes a half step down....so my vocal practice with the guitar would have to reflect that. It really is too much for this simple mind.
 

Bo Eder

Platinum Member
You can do it Larry. You might need some self-hypnosis, but you can do it. Like I said, I learned how to do it, so it can't be that hard!
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
But Bo your awesomeness is beyond little ole me...

Yes I can do it. It's doing it good that trips me up.

Singing lead is so much easier to me. I have to trick my brain into thinking I'm singing lead, and block out the other voices in the monitor, (and my head) and maybe just have my voice in the monitor.
 

jim_gregory

Senior Member
Thats the hardest thing for me as well. I went to in ears and hear everything fine. Just dont know which voice is me! Very wierd feeling. Lead is much easier.
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
Don't you start talking like that! If I was so great at it it'd be a full-time job ;)
Talent does not go hand in hand with employment, you're a prime example of that my friend. You make it look too easy and everybody thinks you're slacking lol.
 

Bo Eder

Platinum Member
OK just got back from the lesson, and now everything is great! Thanks!

Isn't David Gimour the guitar player? You're thinking of Nick Mason? Did he even sing?
Bless Nick Mason and all the films and such. If it wasn't for him there'd be nothing to WATCH!
 

keep it simple

Platinum Member
Larry, just pretend Monique's in the audience, & she's aching to hear you sing, but she needs to hear your beautiful harmony. If you sing the lead line, she'll drop to her knees in front of the lead singer. then all is lost, lol!

Seriously, you're talking about a skill that needs practice hours, just like any other musical skill. If the band is asking you to bark BV's, they need to devote the time to practice this as a group. Have a band vocal only practice with acoustic guitar. Choose someone's house, open a nice wine to remove some inhibition, & let yourself fly. As already said, getting used to placing your voice, & hearing it in the vocal mix, is a key comfort zone target.
 

PQleyR

Platinum Member
I think this is more of a hearing thing than a singing thing. If you practise hearing the sounds of different intervals, you'll find it much easier to pick out your note in a chord. There are some really good websites where you can do exercises on this this for free, I highly recommend having a look at some of them.
 

drumhammerer

Silver Member
if you're straining to hit notes, and don't have much of a range, then you're probably not the best candidate for harmony vocals.. There's really not much you can do if you're not already a passable singer, since singing, and pitch is just something you're born being able to do well, or not. It's even tougher while playing drums, and sitting down, which somewhat restricts your diaphragm. I do think with a lot of practice, you can probably become decent, but it is a lot of work just like practicing an instrument, and you may never be bad ass at it without an already good singing voice. The best thing you can do is sing along with the songs you want to sing the harmonies for to the point that you can hear the pitch in your head. This will take a lot of repetition, and time to make it instinctual. Harmonies are tough because you have to sing notes that aren't obvious, and they're hard to pick out in recordings behind the louder lead vocal, so it's difficult to learn how to do them on your own. So, if you're not willing to put the time in, it's not gonna be pretty, especially live.
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
It's funny I have been repeatedly asked to come and attend a barbershop quartet type gathering, where different groups of people sing unaccompanied. I thought it sounded a little too hokey for me, but actually it would really help.
Drumhammerer, you are right on all counts. believe me, I don't want to sing harmony. I don't have the precise pitch control and I'm hundreds of hours away from that at least. Now lead vocals I really enjoy, if they are in my range (A and E) but harmony? Not my cup of tea. But, it is a necessity, so I will do what I can.
 

drumhammerer

Silver Member
I hear ya Larry. If you listen to some harmonies they sound like little girl voices! Bust out that helium! There's some serious high harmonies on the Eagle's "one of these nights" that sounds like Mariah Carey had to do them, but it's the bass player. Even really good singers can have trouble with some harmonies when they're like that, and if you don't have a big range it's even tougher. Singing harmonies can be kind of fun, though. It really sounds cool when you hit that note just right with the other vocals, and you get that real full sound. I only started 6 months ago, but I have improved quite a bit in that time, and it does get easier the more you do it.
 
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