Finding Your Fiercely Out of Tune Voice

We interrupt the regularly scheduled kitten photos to celebrate the fact that it rained yesterday! Such a blessing on our parched and tinder-dry land. We’re fractionally less flammable now and the birds are going crazy this morning. It’s like everything sprang to life overnight.

Quite a few years ago, an acquaintance of mine who sang and played guitar on the side, said that he just hated Norah Jones. “She sings flat,” he said, and went on about how bizarre it was that someone who sings flat could be successful. I went home and listened to her again. (And I just put her on now.) I love the sound of her voice. It’s distinctive, unique and moving.

I thought of this because Amanda Palmer responded to a tweet yesterday on the topic. A fan tweeted:

@sevocean I think the only person who can make off key sound good is @amandapalmer.

She retweeted and replied:

@amandapalmer patti smith. bob dylan. tom waits. polly styrene

I saw this and suggested Leonard Cohen.

She retweeted me (cuz I’m a speshul snowflake) with the hash tag #fiercelyoutoftune.

This led to a great discussion of all these singers who do sing out of tune. And, among the musicians, about how autotune has changed things, because pitch can be electronically defined now, instead of the performer tuning her instrument to her own ear. Then someone asked and she answered:

@amandapalmer actually, yes. there really is…. RT @TinaH37 is there a secret to singing out of tune perfectly?

@amandapalmer ability to embrace, bend and feel around (or call attention to) roughness in your own voice is a SKILL (see Jeff magnum, Kurt Cobain, et al)

I just love that.

What does this have to do with writing? Well, there’s been an ongoing discussion on the RWA PAN loop about the “Rules” of writing. A gal started the thread saying that her critique partner (unpublished, but an aspiring editor and writer) insisted on certain conventions. Things like never using adverbs. Never use the word “suddenly.” Never use filter phrases like “I realized” or “I wondered.” The consensus has arrived at the idea that when people are learning a craft, they cling to rules. They want to do everything exactly right, so they’ll succeed.

However, as evidenced by the #fiercelyoutoftune discussion, artistry is often found in transcending the rules. That’s where you find the unique take, that special touch that sends a shiver down your spine. This is something my acquaintance couldn’t understand about Norah Jones – she is successful because of the way she sings flat, in her own special, sultry way.

This is voice. For both the singer and the writer