Floorsinging for Beginners

[ This document is archived here with David Harley's permission. Please do not address any correspondance regarding any aspect of it to Dick Gaughan or Gaelweb as we are merely providing a home for it and are unable to handle any enquiries. Enquiries regarding this tipsheet should be posted to the newsgroup uk.music.folk ]

5. Presentation and Posture

  1. Make sure you can start in the right key.
  2. TOO HIGH? TOO LOW?...use pitch pipes, recorder or whistle so that you're consistent in singing each song in the right key for your voice.
    • If you don't have access to an instrument you can get a note from, you might like to consider chromatic pitchpipes. The key to them is that it's easy to know which note you're blowing - the circular one has separate mini-mouthpieces, and the harmonica ones have a sliding frame to block out adjacent notes. Bear in mind, though, that nerves and unfamiliar acoustics will tend to modify your 'optimum' key. Nerves raise your pitch. A lot of people in a room tend to 'deaden' the acoustic, and you may need to sing higher to project better.
    • To do it without mechanical aids, hum quickly through the tune, very softly inside your head. You can feel in your throat whether the tune is all within your range, without needing to make any audible noise. If you've practised the song enough beforehand, you already know where the high and low spots are, and you can "fast forward" to them very quickly.
    • The audience will never notice. They'll think you're composing yourself... well, you are.
  3. Most people find it easier to stand up and sing - better for the voice and tone. Of course, if you play an instrument as well, the issue may not be so simple.
  4. Tell the organiser that it is your first time (so that he/she can place you in a suitable slot, IE not following the local 'superstar'). In fact, while practised club singers tend to hate the 'graveyard spot' as first floor singer, it does come in useful for minimizing the exposure of neophytes to more attention than they can cope with.... Of course, if the organizer opens the evening and -is- the local superstar, this may not apply. ;-)
  5. Smile - if you convey the fact that you are enjoying it, chances are that the audience will enjoy it also. On the other hand, a fixed grin suits some songs better than others.
  6. Please, none of those old jokes about "it's good enough for folk" or "if I ever get it in tune I'm going to weld it", or "this is a little Chinese number called tu-ning" (does this show my age, or just how many times I saw Diz Disley!?). Not to mention "It was in tune when I bought it" and "If you don't know the words, take your shoes off and hum". [Actually, there's plenty of mileage in even the oldest jokes, but unless you're a fully-fledged life-and-soul-of-the-party type, go easy on the humour. A joke that falls flatter than expected won't help your confidence, and a mildly humourous one-liner may be just as effective and a little safer than an obviously rehearsed shaggy dog story.]
  7. Don't choose to open with your most difficult number. Start with something so familiar it's like wearing an old slipper.
  8. Don't apologise for how bad it's going to be before you start.
  9. Even if you are scared, try to look confident. (Yes, a smile helps.) Relax or your breathing will tighten up and your voice will start to wobble.
  10. Keep your eyes open. Look towards the back of the room and your voice will project to the point you are looking at without you having to "shout".
  11. Singing can be enhanced by using some of the same rules as public speaking. If you concentrate better if you close your eyes, fair enough, but it engages the audience better if you look round them one person at a time, straight into the eyes.
  12. It doesn't matter what sort of singing you're into - you need to be able to communicate with the person right at the back, and the person right under your nose. (It's exactly the same if you're standing on stage with a choir of 199 others.) Chances are that you won't be able to see most of them further back than the first few rows anyway, if it's the sort of location where there are lights etc.
  13. I find it helpful to start with a minimum of introduction and often an unaccompanied song. That way I only have the song to concentrate on, and if it goes OK, I can loosen up on the next and spare some thought for general communication and the accompaniment. It's a good move to let a song speak for itself rather than give an unnecessarily long introduction, though. And don't tell the audience what they probably already know. If you tell them what they -don't- know, make sure it's interesting.
  14. Newbie songwriters have a habit of telling audiences much more than they want to know about the gestation of the song they're eventually going to sing.
  15. If you've written the song yourself it isn't generally a good advert to have the words and music in front of you.
  16. Learn the song, wherever it originates, don't read it from a scrap of paper. However, it's not a bad idea to have a crib sheet handy so that you can recover quickly rather than stand there with sweat trickling down your back wondering which verse you were supposed to be singing. Rather than having a crib sheet, another suggestion is to have a friend in the front row who can prompt you.
  17. No-one will worry about a bit of a false start. But don't -ever- get halfway through a song, panic, and start right from the beginning!
  18. Try to be sensitive to the mood of the evening and what has gone before.
  19. MAKE YOUR FIRST SONG AN EASY ONE. Take a deep breathe and inflate your stomach too.
  20. BREAKING THE ICE. Introduce your song, it doesn't have to be a lecture... eg "Here's a song called Newlyn Town which I learned from recordings of Harry Cox, who was a farm labourer from the village of Catfield in Norfolk". Audiences will be impressed because you know something about the song and the singer and might ask you where they can get hold of more of Harry Cox's songs and recordings. OR..."I pinched this song off a tape, I don't know who the singer was or anything about the song.. if anyone can tell me about it after, I'd be grateful". Best of all.."Here's a song I learned off my grandma" ......Ten out of ten for that one!
  21. Try to avoid the temptation to explain the entire story of a ballad before you sing it - especially if the explanation takes as long as singing the thing. If the song has a good "plot" then the audience will appreciate it better if they haven't had it thoroughly explained to them in advance.
  22. LEARN YOUR INTRODUCTIONS, TOO. NEVER SAY.... "Here's a song I wrote this afternoon", "I hope I can remember the words" (so do we!), "I need to look at the words for this one". You won't be the first or last person to forget your words. If you do forget them... go through them again as soon as you sit down.
  23. START BY TEACHING THE AUDIENCE THE CHORUS.... play the first 3 or 4 notes of the tune on the whistle, hum them to make sure you've got them... deep breath.... GO!...sing to the far wall just as you practised.
  24. String your guitar with reasonably new (though not brand new) strings. They not only sound better but are easier to tune and keep in tune.
  25. If you play an instrument, have spares of everything you actually need: picks, capos, strings, etc. If you don't have those, make sure you know an accapella song you can switch to if something's missing or breaks. Often you can borrow replacements, but if you're unsure of yourself these may throw you off.
  26. If the club uses P.A. then try to resist the temptation to tap the microphone/ask "is it on?" before singing. If you've just seen someone using a microphone, the chances are that it is still working. If you want to check, just start talking into the mic to introduce the song and let your ears confirm the P.A. is still working. Do not shout into microphones - or whisper. Sing and speak normally, from about a foot from the mic.
  27. How far from a mic you should be depends on a lot of things. If you've a well developed shanty voice a foot might be about right. The trick is to use your ears. You have to learn to estimate what the audience can hear from what you can hear. This is not usually a problem in FCs but if you're going to do gigs, you really *must* learn microphone technique. If there's somebody else controlling the sound (and you haven't had a chance to liaise with them beforehand), choose your position, stay still and let them get on with it.
  28. Microphones vary enormously. One trick that might work is to get close in but don't sing straight into the mike. This may help with some of the breathiness, sibilance etc. which can nuke an inexperienced PA-user's sound quality. In the end, though, you have to rely on your own ears.
  29. Don't use a mike/P.A. just because it's there. Some performers use a PA in a small venue not for volume, but just for better balance, or because they use electric instruments (an electric instrument and an unamplified voice may sound 'wrong', even though the instrument doesn't necessarily overwhelm the voice (partly depending on the natural echo in the room). You may not need to use it. In fact, there's a psychological element here. An audience may feel that using the PA is a licence to talk over a performance, and may actually listen more attentively if you don't use it. I've seen this work many times at folk and poetry venues. If the PA belongs to the main guest, -please- don't use it without asking.

Tips 4Tips 6

Top of Page