Musical Composition, Theory and Songwriting/singing and playing a melody


Today I played a melody from a certain song on my piano. It sounded like I actually played the melody from the song but when I played it together with the recording it didn't sound too right. It's like the singer did something that can't be played on the piano. This is not the first time this has happened. One thing is true: he did not use any special vocal techniques.
What does a proffesion vocalist say about this?

ANSWER: Hi Andrew:

Did you play the melody on your piano from written music? If so, keep in mind that written music is just a guideline, not a rule.  Singers improvise when they sing.

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QUESTION: how can you improvise when you have a melody that you're supposed to sing? If I we're to sing I walk the line by Johnny Cash I would try to sing the melody as Cash did it. Maybe I am just missunderstanding what you mean by improvisation.

An artist doesn't do "exact copies" of work.  If you are trying to do Johnny Cash in a cover band, where you have set yourself the task of sounding just like Johnny Cash, (no one sounds just like Johnny Cash except Johnny Cash) then yes, you would want to mimic exactly what Johnny Cash did.  But if you consider yourself an artist, then you are contributing your own creativity to the work, and improvising is one of the ways you can do that.  I can't show you how to improvise in this All Experts format.  My suggestion to you is to take singing lessons with a teacher near you.

Musical Composition, Theory and Songwriting

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Penny Nichols


I can answer all kinds of questions regarding singing techniques, practice, performance, vocal recording technique and harmony vocal arranging.


I have been a professional singer/songwriter and vocal arranger and teacher in the music business since 1965.

BMI, Folk Alliance, SummerSongs, Inc. (I am the founding director)

Singer Magazine

I have a doctorate in Music Education from Harvard.

Awards and Honors
Platinum record for my vocals on Jimmy Buffett's Son of a Son of a Sailor, 3 times nominated for a Grammy in the background singing category, MVP in the motivational singing category of the Assoc. of Multi-image Assoc. Annual awards two years in a row.

Past/Present Clients
I have sung with, recorded with or opened shows for Mort Sahl, The Byrds, The Dillards, Dillard and Clark Expedition, John Kay (Steppenwolf), The Association and Big Brother and the Holding Co. (Janis Joplin), Steve Miller, Quicksilver Messenger Service, 13th Floor Elevator, Chocolate Watchband, Jefferson Airplane, Dan Hicks & his Hot Licks, Cream (the Santa Monica Civic auditorium 1968), Little Feat in concert.  I wrote and performed commercials for Toyota's campaign to plant a tree for every car bought, Carnation Dairies, and produced a public service announcement for the Navajo Nation called "Black Mesa" to protest the misuse of the land around the Four Corners power stations in Arizona. In 1977, while working with Emitt Rhodes on a record for Elektra, I joined Jimmy Buffett & the Coral Reefers.  I appeared in the movie FM with the band, toured the U.S. and earned a Platinum Record for my singing on Son of a Son of a Sailor. Also, I've recorded with Art Garfunkle (Fate for Breakfast) Suzi Quatro, Danny O'Keefe, Yvonne Elliman, Jennifer Warnes, Albert Brooks, The Credibility Gap, Steve Gillette and earned a Grammy nomination for my work on Arlo Guthrie's album The Power of Love.  In addition, I have recorded a series of singing lessons which have been sold world-wide by Homespun Tapes since 1985.

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