The voice is an instrument that every, single, individual musician should learn to use. I know what you're thinking: "But I'm a guitarist, a drummer, a pianist, a bassist, an instrumentalist ... My voice isn't my primary instrument so why would I need to learn to use it?"
The truth is that although you may not think of yourself as a singer, if you can speak a language or even make vocal noises then your voice was your first instrument. Period. You may not aspire to be the next Ronnie James Dio or Whitney Houston, but your voice has many other musical uses than performance.
As a child, you learned to speak by imitating sounds and noises made by those around you; your parents, relatives, and friends. You practiced the physical movements needed to make those sounds until you were able to make them at will. Eventually, you learned to string those noises together into words, then words into statements, statements into sentences, and finally, using sentences to engage in full conversation. This process is, by and large, the same one that you can use to learn to play your guitar, piano or any other instrument that you choose.
Unlike the guitar, your voice is the only melodic instrument you have that has a direct, physical connection to your mind; it is part of your body. If you look at any other instrument such as the guitar, the piano, the trumpet, or the drums, a boundary exists between your mind and the instrument that you must overcome in order to achieve mastery. Depending on the instrument, this boundary might be your hands, your feet, or your mouth in the case of wind instruments. Most musicians require many months or even years to minimize or completely remove this boundary. Your voice, on the other hand, is an instrument that you likely already have control of even if only at a basic level. If you can use your voice to talk than this boundary is already very small or might already be gone.
Not only is your voice integrated into your physical being, but it is also by far the instrument you use the most. On average, people say between 7,000 and 20,000 words every day. Imagine how skilled you would be with your guitar if you were required to play it every hour of everyday just so that you could communicate with other people? I'm not suggesting that you bring your guitar everywhere you go, I’m simply trying to illustrate how much we use our voices on a day-to-day basis.
As a musician, there are additional uses of your voice that you can take advantage of right now, today. One very important use is to assist you in learning to accurately hear the parts that you are learning to play; this concept is referred to as internalization. In order for you to fully master a lick, phrase, riff, song, or solo, it is necessary for you to internalize them. Simply put, if you have internalized your part, you should be able to clearly and accurately hear every aspect of it in your mind and be able to reproduce it. The voice is the easiest way to reproduce a part and verify that you have internalized it correctly. Being able to accurately reproduce an idea vocally will give you clear proof that you have effectively internalized it. You can even save yourselves a lot of time and frustration by internalizing your parts before attempting them on your instrument.
Try this exercise the next time you are learning a new part:
Step 1: Put your guitar down. Put it in its case or on a stand. If you are playing some other instrument, make sure you cannot reach it from where you are. By having your instrument out of arms reach, you will remove the temptation to try and use it to find the right notes.
Step 2: This step is the most often ignored or overlooked, so make sure that you give it your full attention. Listen very closely to the part you are attempting to play. Try to hear the part in your mind and for the moment, refrain from singing it. If you need to listen to the part 3, 4, 5 or more times in order to hear the part correctly, then do it. We aren't trying to learn things quickly, we are trying to learn them correctly. The more you practice this skill the less time it will take you to internalize new ideas.
Step 3: Now that you can hear the part clearly in your mind, sing, hum, or even whistle the part without the music playing. If you are unsure about a particular note, rhythm or motion, don't try and guess what it is. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until you can clearly hear the part in your mind and correctly reproduce it.
Step 4: Now that you can reproduce the part correctly, return to your guitar and work on connecting what you can hear in your mind and sing with your voice to what you are playing.
Once you have worked with this concept long enough, you will find that your mind will start to internalize melodies, chord progressions and even rhythms automatically. This dramatically speeds up the learning process and will improve your ability to recall ideas.
Advantages of Using Internalization With Your Voice
Decreases the time needed to learn a part
Decrease sthe time needed to memorize a part
Singnificantly increases confidence for performance
Helps to achieve higher levels of ability and skill