Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Wrong Key

I used to take banjo lessons with a very talented woman named Beezy. About the third lesson, she asked me if I sang. "Not in front of people." She asked why that was. "Because I've been asked not to." She sat down at the piano and told me to sing (la la la style) what she played. I did. She played a little more. I sang it. She got her guitar and played "Go Tell Aunt Rhody" and I sang with it. When the song was done, Beezy folded her arms on the guitar and said, "You've got a perfectly good singing voice. People have just been asking you to sing in the wrong key."

The wrong key, eh? What a shock to my system that was. Now, I'll never be able to command a paying audience, but I don't feel quite so nervous about joining in a group singalong.

Does this apply to writing? I have trouble with short fiction. Not reading it. Love reading good short fiction. But I struggle with writing it myself. I tend to generate ideas with lots of characters that involve more than a snapshot in time. So are short stories the wrong key for me? Could be.

So should I work hard at improving my short fiction to the point where I'll do okay in a singalong? Or should I put my effort into singing in the right key? To maybe getting that novel to the point where I can play Carnegie Hall? Is it an either/or proposition?

What's your key?


Ali said...

There's finding the right key, and stretching your abilities. Once you've got the first part, you can experiment with the second.

Yeah, you have a hard time with short fiction, but you've admitted yourself that trying it has taught you things you can then apply to your novel writing.

My key: short stories, but I like stretching, too. Poetry has had a big impact on my short story writing, and working on the novel has as well. Even if my strongest writing is always my short stories, they're stronger because of trying the others.

Now, when are you going to tell us about your poetry experiments?

Jenny said...

What Ali says is true, very true, in both singing and writing.

In singing we all have a register that we definitely sound on-pitch. However, you have to keep training your vocals to expand your range. Just because you start out in a lower register doesn't mean that you won't be able to hit that high C later on. That's why young singers are a lot of fun to watch. Especially people like Leanne Rimes and Amy Lee. They were relatively young starting off...amazing, amazing vocal control. If they keep their voices healthy (not straining too far too soon) their abilities right now are nothing to what they will be.

Same with writing. If you don't stretch, how do you know you won't be able to do it? And you'll never be ready for Carnegie if you don't practice--practicing everything you can.