Singing at a Jazz Vocal Open Mic evening

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Jazz/ Pop Singing By: Please log in to see tutor details
Subject: Singing » Jazz/ Pop Singing
Last updated: 06/05/2016
Tags: jazz singing, networking, open mics, vocal jazz

Singing at an open mic night is one of the best ways for singers to build their performance and vocal skills as well as socialising and networking. They come in various shapes and sizes!

I’ve come across jazz vocal open mic evenings where the accompanist/band don’t expect you to bring in music as long as they know the song, but would expect you to know what key you sing the song in. The great majority will expect a few things from you.

Please don’t be put off by this because if you are new to jazz vocal open mics and have a willing attitude the musicians will generally help you. You just need to let the pianist know that you are new to jazz open mics. Sometimes the host for the evening will announce that you are new which can take the pressure off you. In time it is a good idea to get some of the basics together.

You will need clear charts/lead sheets in your key (written information with melody and chords). It is best to bring a copy for each member of band. Piano, bass and drums, although not always necessary for the drummer unless the song is not a standard.

Very often singers, inexperienced to these events, will bring loose music sheets that go over several pages, which doesn't usually go down too well with the accompanist or band. If you must bring music sheets up to say four pages it is best to sellotape the pages together then arrange in a concertina style, so it’s easy to turn the page over (the less turns the better).  This is more specifically important if you are working with a bass player as well, but I have to say in my experience they would prefer no more than two pages.

If you have several pages it is best to go to a musician who creates charts to condense your song sheets onto a couple of pages. Getting a musician to do this for you also has the benefit of having an intro and outro or ending written in as well other information. If the song is a bit obscure you really do need to make sure you have a clear chart with melody and ideally lyrics written in, to make it easier for the accompanist. There will obviously be a charge for this, and this varies from musician to musician, and depending on how much work is involved. If you really cannot find the song you want in music sheet form, have searched the net, and asked other singers, a good musician can transcribe it from a cd.

As well as the above it would be good idea to invest in an iReal Pro app for your phone or iPad (cost around £4.99 and lots of the singers and musicians have it). These are just chord charts, meaning they have no melody line. The beauty of this app is that you can transpose any song you choose into your key and print out to give to the musicians. You can also try your songs out in different styles and practice with piano, bass and drum backing tracks included with the app. iReal has 1,900 jazz standards as well as 500 latins and 1,600 pop/rock and blues songs. If you decide to get this app you will have to download the songs from the forum (very easy). You will find the forum at the bottom of the app next to the playlist. Again if you don’t know how to do this, ask a musician or another singer or google it.

Be able to count the band in or at least be willing to try.

The pianist or band may look to you to count the band in for the tempo/pulse (speed/feel). If you haven’t yet learnt how to do this, speak to the pianist and let them know you are new to open mics. Sing a bit of the song the way you want to sing it, the pianist will pick this up from you and relay it to the band. It is a good idea to eventually learn how to do this. If you don’t the accompanist may assume a tempo and it may not be how you want to do it – it may be too slow or fast for you.

It is really important to make sure you have practised the song and learnt the melody to the best of your ability. Getting up with a song that you just picked up that day without little or no practice can result in embarrassment. Remember it doesn’t have to be perfect. Mistakes are perfectly acceptable as long as you show you have tried.

It’s good to bring a choice of ballad or swing/latin for variety for the evening. You may be asked to do an up number rather than a ballad as the person before you may be doing a ballad or vice versa.

If you have to use lyrics on stage (a fairly new song) make sure you have worked well with the song beforehand as glueing yourself to the lyrics can make you sound hesitant and look unconfident and the spirit of the performance will be lost. Also it makes it hard work for the accompanist as there is little energy for him/her to work with.

Giving long solos is a definite no no (i.e. to all band members, if you are fortunate enough to have a band). 
Likewise don't sing songs with lots of verses. Many of the open mic events have so many singers attending nowadays and there are only a couple hours to get through everyone (sometimes as many 30 singers). The other singers may not be best pleased.

There are many of these events all over London and surrounding areas now; here are a few that I have come across.


Singers’ Night – Vocal Jazz Open mic

@ Nelson 48, Stanhope Street, NW1 3EX

Second Tuesday of the month


Ram Vocal Jam – Open mic event

@ Ram Jam Club behind Grey Horse, Richmond Road, Kingston

Third Monday of the month


The Swan, Hampton Wick

First and third Tuesdays


Hare and Hounds, East Sheen

Second Sundays


Smile, show confidence, and above all enjoy!

Shireen Francis Jazz/ Pop Singing Teacher (South East London)

About The Author

I’m a professional singer and intuitive teacher who can help to build your confidence and guide and nurture what you have naturally. Whether you want to sing jazz, blues, pop or cabaret, we’ll work together to bring out the very best in you!

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