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3 Questions Interview: Victoria Vox (Songwriting)

Posted on: September 14th, 2009 by dville
ContentImage-516-231759-08KeyCoverUkulele chanteuse Victoria Vox writes great songs. She graduated with honors from Berklee School of Music with a degree in songwriting, and since that time has criss-crossed the country playing 150-200 dates a year and proving that serious musicians do play the ukulele.
1. What does the phrase “playing by ear” mean to you?
I started to take violin lessons when I was nine and my instructor taught the Suzuki method, which is playing by ear. Although having a teacher tell you where to put your fingers definitely helps, I was also told to listen to the music I was learning so I would know how the song goes and start recognizing the intervals from note to note. Then, when I played out of tune or the wrong note entirely, I could sing the note I should have played, and then fix my mistake.
Now, when I play by ear with the ukulele, I might not play a song in the key it’s recorded, but I know how the song goes. If I want to pluck the melody, I outline the chords and find the starting note (melody) and fiddle my way around the neck (hopefully while playing the chords – it’s amazing what notes are already there for you!) to play the rest of the melody.
2. When you are composing a new song, are you writing lyrics to fit a melody that comes into your head, or do you write the lyrics first then compose the music?

When it comes to writing songs, I have both written the words OR the music first. However, I feel I get the best results when I write the two together.Here’s how this works for me: Start strumming a few chords… work out a riff or cool rhythm thing… start singing lalalala or doodoodoo to random melodies…. once one of the melodies I’ve created starts to stick… I’ll repeat it until those lalala’s and doodoo’s turn in to words. It’s important here to turn OFF the critical thinking brain. I never tell my self immediately that it’s not good enough. You can always change it later. Just because you sing it or write it down on (oooooh) paper, doesn’t mean you can’t ever change it again. 😉 I do try to find little catchy choruses or riffing verses and search for musical hooks, though.Once I have a Verse and a Chorus ,the fun (and hard work) begins. This is where the riddle solving comes in: I have a melody with X number of syllables / stresses, and I need to find a new set of lyrics that feels natural to that melody and keeps the story moving. Depending on the structure, I may write one or two more lyrics sets to the verse and then I might feel like writing a bridge. If I don’t go to the bridge, I’ll most likely take a solo. Solo writing is different than songwriting, but just as fun, I think! The bridge is then a new set of lyrics with an entirely new section of music. I love writing bridges 🙂 I think the thing I strive for most when I’m writing lyrics is to remain conversational. If I wouldn’t say it a certain way (using certain words or phrasing) I wouldn’t sing it…

3. What’s a good ukulele exercise to learn to sing on pitch?

Alright… so you want to sing in tune, eh? Well, I do think that the more you sing, the better you will get. As for singing in tune with the ukulele, a great place to start is to make sure your ukulele is in tune. No joke. Also, if you can pluck the starting note or melody on the ukulele, you could pluck the note you need to sing and then sing it…. then repeat. and repeat. Practicing the intervals between notes is great too. Try breaking the song into sections and work on small sections instead of tackling the whole song right away. Most importantly, listen to yourself. You shouldn’t have to ask someone “how do I sound?” Use your own ears. How do you sound to yourself? If it sounds out of tune, it most likely is. Sing with confidence, but keep your ears open to really listen to what you are singing.

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3 Responses

  1. h.vandecauter says:

    that's to the point and useful!herman

  2. Jim's Bio says:

    Thanks for the compliment, Herman.Jim

  3. howtoplaytheukulele says:

    Agreed — concise and useful. Learning to play by ear is, unfortunately, becoming a lost art in music education as teachers focus so much on reading music. They're both important, but ideally you want to be able to play your instrument whether or not you have sheet music on hand, especially a fun instrument like the ukulele. If you can't play by ear, you're so restricted. Thanks for posting this important article!Happy Plucking!

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