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    How to Be a Jedi Bard

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    Join date : 2011-05-30

    How to Be a Jedi Bard

    Post  Admin on Wed Jun 01, 2011 10:13 pm

    by Sir Cedric Einarrson

    Bardcraft is a demanding yet rewarding and dynamic pursuit. As a form of entertainment, it is remarkably diverse and includes song, instrumental music, storytelling, play-acting, and more. But the most common form found in the HFS and many similar organizations is the art of song, so that's what this article will focus on.

    To be effective, a bard must achieve power over his audience. He must grab their attention and hold it, steering their emotions as he requires. A good bard may perform pieces that the audience enjoys, but a Great bard compels the audience to enjoy it. For example, I've lost track of how many times I've seen die-hard feminists tapping their feet to the tune of "Mambo Number Five" and say afterward, "I know I shouldn't like that song . . . but its just so much fun!"

    Now that's Bard Power!

    Bard Power demands a careful balance of three factors: Comfort, Control, and Confidence. Each of these will be worked on constantly and at the same time.

    Comfort is really a matter of practice. To start out, find a couple of pieces you really like. Not a big fancy complicated one, but something simple and straightforward that you could almost sing in your sleep. See if you can find the lyrics somewhere (a big help) and even a recording of it (a VERY big help). Listen to it and read along a few times. Then start singing along. In a day or two, you'll be very comfortable with the song. Set aside the lyrics and turn off the recording and "fly solo" for awhile.

    Ah, but you're not done yet. After a week or so of happily singing the diddy, go back and sing along with the recording again. Is it the same? Did you unconsciously change any words, or maybe change the tune a bit, or alter the timing or emphasis? GOOD! A good bard takes a piece and "makes it his own." He changes what needs to be changed to suit his own tastes and style, and this is usually the first step toward developing that style.

    Don't limit yourself to just one song or one type of music, either. Every form of music exists for a reason, and each have their own special quirks and demands. Each type will bring something else to your skills.

    Raise the difficulty a bit. Find a few more songs, a little more complicated or challenging, and work them up the same way. Don't force it! Develop at your own pace. Soon you'll be rattling off songs that you'd never dreamt were possible only a month before.

    Control is a bit harder to learn. It's mostly about technique. You need to start mastering your own body, and taking steps to get the best performance you can out of it. Nobody becomes a race car driver as soon as he gets behind the wheel, and professional racers never drive something in the big race they picked off a used car lot earlier in the day. Learn to use your body to it's fullest potential, and at the same time learn to get greater potential out of it.

    Here's a few simple tips that will help this along.

    1.) Before a performance, stay away from carbonated drinks. They dry out the vocal chords and you'll get crappy results. So will alcohol to a lesser extent. High-sugar drinks will also leave a residue on the chords that will really degrade your performance. You don't have to stop completely, just be ready to wash down your throat with something less sticky before performing. As a rule, if a honeybee would fight for it, don't drink it before singing.

    2.) Warm up is vital. The vocal chords are just strings of muscle. Like any muscle, they should be warmed up and stretched before giving them a good workout. Hum a few bars of something simple or sing one of those low-intensity songs you learned in the beginning. Not loud or forcefully, either. This is warm-up, not the Paris Opera. Build up slowly until you can do the piece you plan on without strain or discomfort of any kind.

    3.) DO NOT sing while you have a cold or flu. Illness will have your whole body under stress, and your body's build-it sensors will be giving you twisted signals. You will not be able to tell just how far you can push your voice before you push too far. Trying to sing while sick can do serious and sometimes PERMANENT DAMAGE to your chords.

    4.) There is too much of a good thing. Even a good strong well-trained voice can go out if it's overworked. A rock-and-roll concert may look like a non-stop hard-driving chaos, but don't kid yourself. Those guys know exactly how far and how long they can push before it's time to back off. When starting to train your voice, take your time and only push as far as you can before it gets uncomfortable. Once you reach this limit a few times, stop for the day. You will soon be able to reach ranges and intensities that are brand new, but it takes time so let your chords learn at their own pace.

    With those things in mind, you probably won't explode the first time you try singing. Probably.

    Now that you know what not to do, time to start working on what TO do. First of all, RELAX!!! Calm down, take a deep breath, count to ten backwards, whatever it takes. You know that feeling when you're first staring to get sleepy? That's how your throat and chest should feel.

    No, stop yawning. That's too much.

    Actually, a couple of good yawns does a lot to relax the singing apparatus. It stretches the throat and increases the blood flow. Then try singing "Do-Re-Me-Fa-So-La-Te-Do" a few times, first going up and then down the scale of notes. Perfection isn't needed, this is just a test. If you can feel the center of your chest vibrating at least as much as your throat, you're ready to go.

    The first few times you try singing a full piece, try not to move your head around. It's habit to raise your chin as you hit higher notes and lower it as you hit lower notes, but your throat is designed to give best performance looking straight ahead or just slightly raised. Sit somewhere comfortable and upright, or stand and lean back against a wall. You're supposed to be focusing on your voice, not your balance. Lean the shoulders back slightly. This will maximize your airflow while still keeping comfortable.

    Most people talk with the front of the mouth. At least, that's how they see it. For shooting the breeze that might be good enough, but not for songs. Singers shoot from the back of the back of the mouth, just above the throat.

    Take a somewhat deep breath, and imagine the song is a physical thing sitting in your chest. That's the pressure you feel. It wants to come out and fly into the world, so let it out. Don't push it. Let it flow out on it's own. When it climbs up to the top of the throat, let it loose like an arrow from the bow.

    That first note will set the mood for the rest of the song, so it has to be decisive and firm. In a deeply psychological sense, it is a transformation between possibility and reality. It stops being "what should I do", or "what do I want to do," and starts being "This Is Happening Right Now." It is a sense of commitment that is vital, a big accomplishment in bardcraft since most people have an innate fear of public speaking or performance. That first note is like drawing a line in your head, a imaginary point of no return, and then throwing yourself across it with as much vigor as you can manage. Very soon you'll be dancing across that line without even realizing it's there.

    From there, it's all a matter of your own personal style. Where do you lay emphasis? How fast or how slow to you sing? How loud or soft, and when do you change it? Do you keep to a straight beat or maybe change speeds for a bit of flair? Rolling and flowing, or choppy and brisk? Each of these will be different for every song you do and, to a lesser extent, for every situation you perform in. Answering them comes with experience.

    And this gets back that "Comfort" business. The more you perform a piece, the better you will get at judging when and how to change it up. That's one more step in making the song "your personal music" and adds greatly to your comfort level.

    Practice, practice, practice. In the car, in the shower, in the kitchen... anywhere and everywhere. For example, there are a few songs I sing while mowing the yard. If I've timed it right, I'll be finishing up the Bonny Banks of the Virgio when I'm done mowing the right half of the yard, Paddy's Song is an exact fit for the left half, and Karelia's Song followed immediately by Song of the Shield Wall gets through enough of the back yard that I can take a break without feeling guilty for not having finished. Not only do I get to go at full volume without the neighbors staring (gotta love that small-engine roar), but I get to practice my timing too. And best of all, I get to practice overcoming the occasional distraction like running over a stick (clank clang) or hitting a hidden hole or root (clank WHUMP bang). Oddly enough, these same sorts of sounds often happen during an actual performance, so its good to practice ignoring them.

    One of the biggest problems some people have is being able to keep the tongue coordinated with the rest of the mouth. They get focused on one part of the process and loose track of another. You have to be able to speak clearly and distinctly, especially in faster-moving songs. Here's a little exercise that helps a lot:
    Turn on the radio. Find a song you know the tune to. The words are only vaguely important. Its the tune and the timing that matter. Sing along with it, but instead of saying the lyrics, say "one two three four five" over and over. Say one number each time the lyrics have a new syllable, and repeat that sequence throughout the song with the same tune, inflections, and style as it plays.

    This is tough to do at first and it takes some getting used to, but it really helps in learning to sing clearly while also building you timing skills and the ability to work with inflections and style. Don't just go from one to four. Most songs are written in a four-beat rhythm so that would be way too easy. No cheating.

    And now for the great woolly-booger of them all: Confidence.

    Being able to sing a song all the way through without looking at the words builds confidence. Being able to do so with your own style and flair builds confidence. And doing it while the chaos of the world rolls around you without missing a beat builds confidence. But none of that is the same thing as a public performance. And if you're going to be doing bardcraft, sooner or later you're going to have to go public.

    Maybe your first time is around the campfire after everyone's drunk, or maybe joining in with a few other people doing a song you all know. Both have advantages and are valuable learning experiences. But in my opinion, it's best to start out around strangers.

    WHAAAA????? STRANGERS?!?!?!?!

    Yes, total strangers. Why? Because their opinions only vaguely matter. If they like it, great! If they don't, so what? It's not like you know those people anyway.

    Yeah yeah, I know, it's a shallow version of the "sour grapes" thing, but so what? It works. And it really doesn't take long before you get used to singing in public, and then you can start performing in front of people you do know and whose opinions do matter to you with far more confidence.

    But be warned: "Confidence" isn't just about how you feel. That's just a side-effect of Comfort and Control. The real Confidence is what you express to the audience. You might be a nervous wreck inside, but if they see you calmly and happily singing away, they'll feel calm and happy too. A calm and happy crowd makes it easier to perform, which makes it easier to perform with confidence, and around and around we go. Emotions are contagious, and it's the bard's job to take charge of those emotions and bend them to his will. Confidence makes that happen.

    Now we get to the great secret of bardcraft, for it is not only the power of voice that sways the mob, but your personal presence as well. You don't just sing with your voice. You use your whole body. A gesture of the hand, a nod of the head, the wiggle of eyebrows or a smile or frown in the right place can make a tremendous difference.

    Here's a related example. One of the first vampire movies was made in the very early days of the cinema. In one particular scene, the vampire had turned into a bat and was menacing a young man by flying around his head. When the film first came out, the audience laughed madly at this scene (much to the director's shame). He took the movie back to the studio, gave it a frantic, creepy soundtrack, then re-released it. When the movie got to that same scene, people were terrified. Some had to leave the theater. The music set the mood and the images gave it substance.

    Just as the soundtrack can make or break a movie, your physical presence can make or break a song. The actions you take depend greatly on the situation, of course. Around the campfire you might want to stay seated and just gesture a bit with your hands, or you may want to get up and walk around the circle a bit. In a more formal setting, you may want to be rather animated from the waist up, but keep you feet relatively still and facing the audience. Some pieces just beg to be turned into a classic song-and-dance routine, while others do very well with only an occasional and subtle change in position. In some cases, especially late at night when everybody has settled in for the evening, a gentle rolling tune drifting across the camp needs no physical action at all, and depends entirely on each individual's mind to let the song-fuelled imagination wander.

    And that's the real "Confidence", being able to display to the audience what you want them to see for the betterment of the performance.

    Comfort, Control, and Confidence. When the three are well-timed and well-tuned to each other, the bard can weave a spell over the audience just like a classic Jedi mind-trick, guiding their emotions and their imaginations wherever he wants them to go. A bard who has mastered these three point can master the crowd, sooth the heart or fill it with flame, lift them to heights of wonder and drive them into depths of despair. Trees will sing and stones will weep before the awesome might of your skills, for when you master these three points you will have become a thing of wonder, desire, admiration, and envy. You will have become a bard.

      Current date/time is Thu Sep 20, 2018 7:14 pm