Brommers – Buzzing: A serious case of non-musicality?

Renée Harp © Conservatorium van Amsterdam DOK 2011

Buzzing: a serious case of non-musicality??
In every class room we will find children (or adults) who don’t sing (the right) pitch. They join the chorus but produce an undefined sound. Because the sound they make resembles ‘buzzing’ we call them ‘buzzers’, or ‘brommers’. Many vocal or music teachers have been puzzled: is buzzing a proof for being not musical?
I have had quite some ‘buzzers’ in my singing school, and have always been able to solve the problem. Buzzing is absolutely not a proof for non-musicality, but of a complex of deficiencies, due to inexperience or education.

Singers – instrumentalists
There is a difference in the way singers learn to develop their ‘instrument’, and the way instrumentalists develop their ability to play their instrument. Also musicality takes another place in the lessons. This is due to some differences:The singer IS his/her instrument
The singer HEARS his/her soundproduction differently: from inside and from outside at the same time.

‘Listening’ and ‘hearing’
‘Listening’ and ‘hearing’, therefore play another role. In general you can say that musicians listen on 4 different levels at the same time:
1. You read music and translate that to ‘sound’: a melody or harmony in your mind.
2. You hear that sound in your mind, and translate it to coordinate actions = play your instrument.
3. You check the sound you create on your instrument with the sound in your mind.You check the sound you create on your instrument and the sound in your mind with the sound other instrumentalists make.
All these imaginations of the sound are external, except for the sound you hear in your mind.
4. For singers there is an extra check needed: You must learn to listen to the sound you make and that you perceive from within and from outside at the same time. (Compare listening to your answeringmachine.) That sound should be associated with the mental image of the song, and checked with the the outside sound of piano or guitar.
Especially this last check seems to be difficult for some singers, mostly children. They either lack the technical skill to produce the right pitch, or they don’t listen to the sound they make, because their attention is outside their bodies, and therefore they sing OUT OF TUNE.

This is the basic problem with the so called buzzers (brommers), who don’t seem to be able to intonate properly. Training: train the way they should listen to themselves, and provide them with the technical skills, basically to do with registers (headvoice/chestvoice).
Out of this follows, that singers train their muscles and quality of sound more than the connection of reading and playing. Reading music is not necessary for good singing with musicality.

Problems for children:
Identification with another timbre; with another octave/register; with unfamiliar motives
They need to feel the vibration of another voice to identify.

Tips for extra intonation hear-training:
Start to sing a familiar song. Sing only the first two words, and continue silently singing inside yourself. Sing outloud the last few words. (Check for the teacher)
Same – different ‘game’: recognize the differences
Same vibration – different vibration: if you sing together, does it flow together or does it wring (prime or second f.e.)
Train songs whole – part – whole

For the very little ones I use examples of songs out of:
‘Ik wil alles horen’. Meulenhoff educatief, 56 liedjes uit ‘muziek voor de basisschool’.
‘Over de stroom’., liedjes voor kinderen van 7-14 jaar.