Vocal lessons with a master of voice
Are you afraid of scales?
This is something I found ages ago and for some reason forgot all about it. In this clip, improviser extraordinaire Bobby McFerrin teaches the audience – that’s right, on the spot – the pentatonic scale.
I’ll let you guys watch the video first, and explain it later. Here you go:
Isn’t that just amazing? He taught the pentatonic scale to an unsuspecting audience! And the audience got it right! When he moved to his extreme right, we hear the audience struggling with the very low notes, but the notes themselves are correct.
This was during the World Science Festival, and it just amazed me how little we know about the human brain and how our brains relate to music.
As much as I like to stress in my writings that we make music way too complicated, these kinds of things serve to remind me that the connection between the human brain and music is really something of a mystery that we have yet to understand.
What makes it tick? What is it about a sequence of sounds that can transport us into trance-like states and gives us access to emotions we’ve never felt before?
The fact that This was done in under 3 minutes in my opinion demolishes the belief about tone-deafness. A lot of people who want to sing have this idea in their heads that they’re somehow “tone deaf” – which means that they can’t tell the difference between two pitches and are therefore better off not trying at all.
Well in this nifty experiment, it was a totally random audience, it was totally spontaneous. Nobody had any time to prepare. Yet they nailed it! They got the pentatonic scale down to the lowest note.
Real tone-deafness would mean that you won’t be able to recognize language. Because guess what? Language uses tones. It’s not flat. There are inflections. A person who’s truly tone-deaf wouldn’t be able to understand anything that’s being said, because he couldn’t tell the difference between words anyway.
If anything, the average person is not trained to tell the difference between pitches used in music. Not pitches in general. But that’s what practising is for. Your brain understands it, or else you wouldn’t be able to appreciate music at all. It would be like trying to appreciate a movie when you can only see in black and white.
So every time I get bored practising my scales I’ll come back to this video and check out Mr McFerrin schooling some random strangers on the pentatonic scale. It always brings a smile to my face.
As singers we should keep up to date with these scientists and explores who operate in the fringes and pave the way for us to understand music and being human a bit more.
It puts things into perspective when we get bored of the sheer repetition needed to get good at this craft of ours that is singing.
I’m hoping Mr McFerrin comes out with more experiments (vocal lessons) for us to enjoy.