One of my favorite things about being a private voice teacher is developing relationships with my students and watching them grow from week to week. Not only do they grow as singers, but they also just become really cool people. The first lessons are usually the same. I’ll say, “Alright! Tell me what you love about your voice and tell me something about your voice that you hope to improve in our sessions.” 90% of the time they’ll say, “I’m really good at singing on pitch, but I wish I could sing louder.” I always follow that up with explaining that being a great singer is not about being the loudest person in the room (no one wants to stand next to that girl in choir), but it’s about singing both loudly and quietly with power and energy.
Music teachers are always advocating the importance of music lessons for a person’s overall development, but I specifically want to go to bat for voice lessons in this blog. Why should you take voice lessons? Why should you learn how to sing “properly?” Aside from the fact that performing is so much fun, we learn to sing because we want to be better at something. We want to be better at our very first instrument. Today we are going to discuss what we learn about ourselves when we take voice lessons.
We are capable of more than we think.
More often than I would like, when I explain that I teach people how to sing for a living, I get this response. “Oh, you would hate teaching me! I can’t carry a tune in a basket!” I really do believe that singing well is a skill that has to be developed through knowing the right tools. Yes, even tone deaf people! There is no greater feeling than seeing a student’s face light up after discovering their first “real” sound. Their first burst of self-confidence! That sound is the result of having to think about singing in a way that they hadn’t before and just going for it. The most common occurence is finally hitting that note that they didn’t think they could reach. I love being able to look at them and say, “Remember when you couldn’t do that a month ago?! You just sang it like it was nothing!” Through practice, the skill that seemed impossible and then was difficult, eventually became second nature. Singing stretches our physical limits and helps us become more aware that we can learn how to do anything if we just go through the steps!
We become more outgoing.
In voice lessons, we learn that singing is a multi-step process that requires more physical strength than one would think. We learn that we sound our best when we throw caution to the wind and try something new. Also, most voice teachers try to get you feel where your voice resonates by making really loud, silly sounds. I’ll never forget the first time my voice teacher made me sound like a siren. I looked at her and said, “You want me to do what now?!” I realize now that she was trying to get me to make an uninhibited sound powered by maximum breath flow. Voice lessons give us an excuse to be the loudest, most artistic versions of ourselves without fear of embarrassment. In fact, as I type this, I’m thinking of the “Barbaric Yawp” scene from Dead Poets Society when Robin Williams helps Ethan Hawke find his voice. Love that movie! That mindset can help us out when we’re in situations where we have to talk to people we don’t know or talk in front of a large group. When we stop worrying about making a bad sound and put our energy into how to make a great sound, the result is beautiful singing and an awesome performance!
We become more thoughtful artists.
I love that singers get an extra element to their music. Lyrics. Two art forms in one. When we take voice lessons, we get to break away from technique and figure out how to tell a story. Through that we have to have an understanding of the text that passes the need to just memorize words. An audience is going to love a song that’s memorized, but you’ll captivate an audience if you show that you understand a song on a deeper, more personal level. Taking your lyrics, breaking them down, taking that line that makes absolutely no sense and making sense out of it helps to make it your own. Soon you realize that you have a deeper understanding of this song than when you started. Perfecting the performance of a song on so many different levels will help set you apart from what other performers are doing because there is never an interpretation quite like yours!
“4 Tips for Parents of New Voice Lessons Students”
by Freeway Music Voice instructor Mari Hazel
“5 Tips to Ensure a Great Practice Session for Singers”
by Freeway Music Voice Instructor Mari Hazel
Here is an article from WikiHow about warming up your voice:
Say you’re a singer and you have a big performance coming up. You may also have an audition for a singing position, school play, or solo in chorus. You really want to show that you are the best one for the part. You are a mix of emotions: nervous, excited, hopeful, fearful. How do singers do it? How do they get up there in front of complete strangers and deliver a performance that seems seamless, heartfelt, and draws the audience in? 75% of the performance lies in the preparation. The way that we practice, eat, and sleep all effect the voice. The remaining 25% of the performance is effected by what we do on stage, but preparing for your performance in well planned practice time will help the final product! While important to the development of our style, practice can be a frustrating part of our routine. It does not have to be. Here are 5 tips to ensure a great practice session for singers. All of these tips are easy, but must become habit to notice results. Your body is your instrument! You carry your instrument around with you all day everyday, so it’s important to take care of yourself.
Drink all the water!
Stay hydrated. Our body is 60% water. In order to prevent dehydration, you should consume around 8 cups of water per day. This will ensure that your vocal chords stay lubricated and vibrate easily. Some people say to stay away from dehydrating beverages like coffee, tea, and soda; however, if you replace that beverage with an extra cup of water, that should do the trick.
This may seem like a silly way to start of your practice session, but I promise it makes a world of difference. You stretch before a big race, why not singing? The muscular system is connected all throughout your body and, therefore, affects the muscles that make up your vocal chords. Tension in the neck, shoulders, back, and hips can add tension to vocal production. Begin your practice session with stretches that target each of these areas for a more relaxed start. I even include a few minutes of lying on my back and breathing deeply, to feel the rise and fall of my belly, for dual efforts of relaxation and working proper breathing technique.
Be kind to your voice.
Of course there is the advice of refraining from any excessive screaming or shouting, but for singing practice, there is a tip that is just as helpful. The best advice I ever got from one of my voice teachers was to treat a practice session like every day is a fresh start. He would start off each lesson by sitting at the piano and saying, “Let’s see how the voice is doing today.” Your body never quite feels the same from day to day. It can be affected by weather, sickness, or maybe you’re out of sorts because you didn’t get enough sleep the night before. Start small in your practice sessions, maybe with some humming, sirens, or lip trills to explore how the voice is feeling that day. Gradually, increase intensity from there based on what you’re feeling. Over time, the good days will become more consistent.
Frustrated energy is wasted energy.
When our voice isn’t doing what we want it to, we tend to get frustrated! Belting that high D-flat was so easy yesterday! What is the deal?! When you feel this shift in your practice, this is a good time to stop and take a minute to breathe. We want to do it over and over again until it’s perfect, but singing with frustration is singing with muscular tension. The same teacher I mentioned above, when I would get frustrated in a lesson, would look at me and say, “And how’s that working for you?” He was so right. In the long run, it’s bad for your voice and doesn’t help you sing any better. Remember to stop, breathe, and go back to your basic fundamentals. You also have the option to stop, take a break, and come back to it.
End on a good note.
Pardon the terrible pun, but it’s good for your morale to finish a practice session with a song with which you are not only comfortable, but that you also love. Finish your practice with something that reminds you of why you sing in the first place, because, after all is said and done, THAT is what you want to give to your audience. Frankly, no one cares if your belted high D-flat is perfect if there isn’t any soul in it. Remember that singing is hard work, but it should also be fun! You should always leave your practice session with a little extra pep in your step because you worked hard! Because you had a productive practice, you are a better singer than you were an hour ago!
Recently, one of our Freeway Music rock band classes was opening up for a band from Nashville called Dedsa. They were great guys that watched and supported every student. They complimented what we were doing with our students. One thing really stood out though. The manager said, “I really love that you are teaching you students stage etiquette!” It never really occurred to me to focus on that. I just shared it with our music students as practical advice. So, here are a few things that could improve your performance etiquette.
1. Give Props
Always give props to the bands that have played before you and the ones that will play after you, even if the bands don’t return the favor. It’s important to have the reputation of being supportive. Sometimes people didn’t catch the name of the last band. It also encourages your friends who came to see your band to stick around and check out the next band. Almost always, the other band will return the favor and give you props to their fans. Also, give props to the venue and its workers.
Whether headlining or opening, get out there and listen to the other bands, even if just for one song. Don’t be the “diva” band that is too good to get out and listen to the opener. At the same time, don’t be the band who plays and rolls. A music community needs to support each other. The bar for the level of support should start at the top with the musicians who are actually playing. Don’t set it low; lead by example!
3. Never Assume
Don’t assume anything, but be clear and communicate in advance. This applies to sharing gear, set time, sound check, the money breakdown, etc. Always iron out all details before the gig happens.
4. Sound Check
I could probably write a whole blog on soundcheck alone. Follow these three P’s: be punctual, prepared, and polite. Come to the venue on time or early. Have all the gear you need there and ready to move on stage. Cooperate with the sound guy and let him run the show. Whatever you do, don’t noodle incessantly or try to showcase your skills to the bar. Testing your gear for tone and volume is one thing, but everyone hates a “noodler.”
5. Moving Gear
If you aren’t a rockstar touring with roadies, don’t act like it. When you are finished, get your gear off stage as quickly as possible, as to help the other band get on. I like to offer to help bands move their gear on and off, whether I am opening or headlining; however, never assume that someone wants help. Some people are weird about other people touching or moving their stuff. It also can come off as though you are pressuring or rushing a band to get on or off stage. So, always ask!
6. Don’t Abuse Perks
If a place gives you one guest member per band, don’t try to stretch it or sneak people in. It’s their policy and they have a business to run. Again, don’t act like a rockstar when you aren’t. This applies to anything such as beverages or food. Don’t try to use your tab for friends or abuse how many beverages your or your band are drinking, as to leave none for the other band or band members.
7. Market Your Show
Blast the event on social media. Email your contacts and let them know about the event. Text everyone that you think might want to come. Put out posters. In general, just get the word out. It WILL make a HUGE difference. The club/venue owners will notice.
8. Be Cool
This sounds simple, but it’s so easy to screw this one up. Simply, be cool to other bands, the venue employees, fans, etc. Develop relationships with them. You will be surprised how this helps the future of your career.
9. Be Positive on Stage
It’s a blessing to be able to play and a blessing to share that with others. If that’s not your attitude, you are in the wrong business…move on! Whether or not you enjoy a gig is entirely up to you! Your energy will bleed over into your bandmates and the crowd. I’m always more impressed with guys that play for two people who give it their all, than a guy who plays for thousands and is half-hearted.
10. Do NOT Overreact to Mistakes
Mistakes WILL happen…so how will you react? The best players are “professional mistake cover-uppers.” Learn to take your mistake and make it seem intentional. Use the moments as opportunities for genius. It’s like drawing a three when you wanted to draw a 9. Turn it into a 9! When it happens, let it roll and think forward. NEVER reflect on it and think backwards. Typically, people will react more to your reaction of a mistake, than the actual mistake itself.
I hope these principles sink into you and that you will apply them to your next performance. You have a large responsibility to set the standard and make performances a better experience for everyone.
Check out my blog on Sound Check Etiquette
There are so many dynamics that shape a musician such as: practice, playing, writing, etc. Perhaps the thing that was most critical to my personal development was my failures. I learned from and was motivated by failures more than anything I’ve ever done with music. So, I would like to share a few failures with you that made me a better musician. Hopefully, you too can learn a little something from my failures. Maybe you can embrace the failures that are certain to come in your musical journey and learn how to churn them into positive energy.
Getting Stomped by “Donna Lee”
If you have ever followed jazz, you are aware of Charlie Parker. You are also probably aware that his heads are very challenging melodies to play. I just started working on a tune called “Donna Lee.” It was the toughest head I learned up to that point in my playing. One night, I headed over to an open jazz jam here in Columbia, SC. I sat in to play and the band counted off the tune at a murderous tempo. I hung in there for the melody, as then it came time for the solo…and I got crazy lost. The bass player was annoyingly yelling out chord changes to me.
Finally, I stopped playing at what I thought was the end of the form, but quickly realized I wasn’t sure of anything. So, the bass player and drummer crushed their solos. Then, they looked at me to start the head again. Thank God the bass player clued me in on where to come in again. We finished the song, and I haven’t played with those players since…hopefully, they will let that one slide from their memories…HAHA. I threw myself into a fire and “Donna Lee” roasted me.
I learned a lot about my playing, however. I realized I didn’t know the form as well as I once thought. I needed to practice the tune at various tempos and I needed to understand the overall format of jazz improv. So, naturally I went home and shedded that tune like crazy. Had I not had my butt kicked, I never would have pushed myself so hard. So, throw yourself into the fire. It can inspire you to get better if you have the right attitude.
Check out Part 2: Comping…What’s That?
A student signs up for guitar lessons. They initially are fired up, they fizz out, and quit. How many times have you heard this story? I have witnessed it over the years, and we all have done this, or know someone who has. So the question remains: How do you maintain your enthusiasm for Music Lessons?
Let’s face it…showing up to your lesson unprepared is a drag. You feel let down, it’s frustrating for the teacher, and you have to go over the same material again, making no progress. Simply getting into the routine of practice goes a long way towards maintaining your interest. You and others will see the improvement in your playing. This growth will inspire you to practice more. The more you put in, the more you will get out.
Find an outlet for your music. One of the things I love about Freeway Music is the performance opportunities that we offer. We have showcases, recitals, camps, rock band classes, and community outreach opportunities. These public performances give students specific goals to prepare for. Play for a school talent show, your church, with a group of friends, etc. Get plugged into your local music scene. Watch people play, join a songwriter’s guild, sit in at open mics, etc. If you aren’t plugged in and playing somewhere, it will be very hard to maintain interest.
A lot of who you become is directly related to those you associate with. One of the people that spurred me on as a kid was my friend Eric. He would come over and we would play guitar all night together. It was so great for my growth as a young musician. I have constantly challenged myself by putting myself in situations where I played with musicians that were better than me. These situations pushed me and inspired me to be a better guitar player. I have surrounded myself with people that have the same passion that I have for music…including my guitar teacher.
Find the Right Teacher
Finding the right instructor is key. An instructor should be passionate about teaching, inspiring students, presenting opportunities for students, the local music scene, and the community. Music instructors should be qualified, professional, and enthusiastic. It’s very important that you take the time to find a great instructor that fits you. A teacher can make or break a student’s learning experience. If your music teacher is not actively studying, or plugging in, you may want to consider a different teacher.
Metallica was the reason I started playing guitar…not a m7(b5). It’s different for everyone, but we all have music that inspires us. I once asked my good friend Jerry Sims for the best advice to grow as a player and he answered, “Learn a tune that you like each day.” It makes sense. If you wanted to lose weight, you should exercise. So, it makes sense that learning tunes is a great way to maintain your interest in an instrument. I have also learned over the years that each song presents a new challenge, forcing you to stretch in ways that you wouldn’t stretch ordinarily.
My friend Sue is an amazing singer/songwriter. I was feeling uninspired once, and I asked her what I should do. She gave me a harsh reality check. Sometimes you are trucking along and you hit a wall. Then, you pick yourself up and go again. She said that the passion never leaves and you will always go again. Even if you are doing everything possible to stay inspired, you will go through ups and downs. You will continue upward, though. Just make sure that you have realistic expectations, and don’t let a downswing keep you heading down!
If you aren’t maintaining that fire for studying music and continuing your pursuit of musical growth, look within. Are you practicing? Are you plugged into something that will make you grow? Have you surrounded yourself with people that will support, challenge, and inspire you? Have you gotten away from the spark that got you inspired in the first place? Be real with yourself, answer these questions, and weather the natural ups and downs. Then, you will have a much smoother musical journey. Good Luck!
We briefly touched on this benefit of music in a previous post 5 Benefits of Music Lessons and we will delve into that a little more here.
In doing some research on this subject, I found out something really cool.
Drum roll please….
Music is INSANELY good for your brain. (No pun intended.)
But seriously, the fact that something so fun/creative is as good for you as school is? WHAT? Not that it negates the need for a good education, but I was really happy to know that I’ve been doing my brain a huge favor by choosing to have music be such a vital part of my life.
Let’s start with some basic science…for those of you who like evidence to back things up. If you don’t care to hear the science, feel free to skip to the next paragraph for some incredible stats on the effects of music on the brain (we all love some good stats). 10 different parts of our brain process music, and I will spare the names as they are complicated. The point is, music stimulates our brain in multiple areas, the majority even, not just one small part.
A simple explanation would be this, about half of those areas of the brain have to do with the effects of LISTENING to music. Music can help shape our emotions, identify feelings, help predict our personalities, and even help us be better drivers (when not too loud, of course). The other half has to do with what PLAYING music does to our brain, which is the main focus of this post.
Playing, teaching, learning/listening to music does the following:
Improves motor and reasoning skills, i.e. better performance on tests, school work, analysis of visual information, etc.
Increases visual attention.
Makes exercise more efficient/even more frequent.
Increases lifelong memory skills
…I could go on, but it seems that scientists who have dedicated their lives to these studies say it a tad bit better than I do. P.S. Read them all if you can, b/c we obviously picked the coolest ones. 😀
“Adults who receive formal music instruction as children have more robust brainstem
responses to sound than peers who never participate in music lessons and that the
magnitude of the response correlates with how recently training ceased. These results
suggest that neural changes accompanying musical training during childhood are
retained in adulthood.”
— Skoe, E. & Kraus, N. (2012). A Little Goes a Long Way: How the Adult Brain Is
Shaped by Musical Training in Childhood, Journal of Neuroscience, 32 (34)
11510. DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1949-12.2012
“Young Children who take music lessons show different brain development and
improved memory over the course of a year, compared to children who do not receive
musical training. Musically trained children performed better in a memory test that is
correlated with general intelligence skills such as literacy, verbal memory, visiospatial
processing, mathematics, and IQ.”
— Dr. Laurel Trainor, Prof. of Psychology, Neuroscience, and Behavior at
McMaster University, 2006
Stanford University research has found
“Stanford University research has found for the first time that musical training improves
how the brain processes the spoken word, a finding that researchers say could lead to
improving the reading ability of children who have dyslexia and other reading
problems… ‘Especially for children … who aren’t good at rapid auditory processing and
are high-risk for becoming poor readers, they may especially benefit from musical
— From “Playing music can be good for your brain,” SF Chronicle, November 17,
2005 (article on recent Stanford research study linking music and language)
“Learning and performing music actually exercise the brain – not merely by developing
specific music skills, but also by strengthening the synapses between brain cells…What
is important is not how well a student plays but rather the simultaneous engagement of
senses, muscles, and intellect. Brain scans taken during musical performances show
that virtually the entire cerebral cortex is active while musicians are playing. Can you
think of better exercise for the mind/brain? In short, making music actively engages the
brain synapses, and there is good reason to believe that it increases the brain’s capacity
by increasing the strengths of connections among neurons.”
— From “The Music in Our Minds,” Educational Leadership, Vol. 56, #3; Norman
Nearly 100% of past winners in the prestigious Siemens Westinghouse Competition in
Math, Science, and Technology (for high School students) play one or more musical
instruments. This led the Siemens Foundation to host a recital at Carnegie Hall in 2004,
featuring some of these young people. After which a panel of experts debated the
nature of the apparent science/music link.
— The Midland Chemist (American Chemical Society) Vol. 42, No.1, Feb. 2005
Dr. James Catterall of UCLA has analyzed the school records of 25,000 students as
they moved from grade 8 to grade 10. He found that students who studied music and
the arts had higher grades, scored better on standardized tests, had better attendance
records and were more active in community affairs than other students. He also found
that students from poorer families who studied the arts improved overall school
performance more rapidly than all other students.
— From Catterall, UCLA, Fall 1997
Though it’s crucial to invest in math, science and engineering, as the president outlined
in his recent State of the Union address, there are other fields that hold more
promise…Prefer a more artistic career? Our economy is poised to create new forms of
entertainment, from rock ‘n’ roll and hip-hop to film and video games. Indeed, over the
next 10 years, jobs in art, music, culture and entertainment will grow twice as many as
jobs in engineering will.
— From “A search for jobs in some of the wrong places,” USA Today, February
12, 2006; Richard Florida
The moral of the story is this, if you enjoy music, play it, listen to it, whatever. No matter how well you do, no matter how advanced you are, the sheer activity that it produces in the brain will make you smarter, improve your self confidence, and increase your memory among other great things. And that you won’t be the one that forgets anyone’s birthday, anniversary, etc.
Go get em’ you musical genius, you.
Coming To Your Lesson Prepared.
You wouldn’t show up to football practice without a helmet, right? And I assume you wouldn’t head to the mall without your wallet…
Not a chance.
In the same way, it is extremely important to come to your music lessons prepared. “But whyyy,” you ask, dreading the scolding that typically comes from teachers or bosses. Fear not! Below are some reasons/helpful suggestions that will make your lesson experience even MORE fun.
The importance of being prepared:
The biggest reason one should come to their music lessons prepared is to not waste time! Let’s face it, your piano, voice, guitar, drum, saxaphone, etc, etc, lessons aren’t free. The last thing you want to do is spend half of the time you pay for, repeating what you did last week, simply b/c you didn’t come prepared.
The lesson itself will go much more smoothly if everything is in place. Consider it a cool puzzle, and your preparedness is the missing piece that you can’t find in the box, under the couch, etc. You also know how frustrating it is when you can’t find that piece, and we all love the feeling of completing a good puzzle. (Don’t lie, you know you do too).
Your attitude will be so much better when you are prepared/seeing your progress, and even better you won’t have the sinking feeling that comes when you’re about to tell your teacher you didn’t practice 😮
What does it mean to be prepared:
Have any materials that you use for your lesson with you…like notebooks, sheet music, blank paper, mp3 players, & let’s not forget your instrument. Yes, multiple students of mine have forgotten their guitar for their guitar lesson. I mean, that is basically the same as swinging at a baseball without a bat (ouch), or catering a party and forgetting THE FOOD (we all know the hangry feeling —> hungry + angry).
You don’t want to spend your lesson printing off sheets, digging up songs that should be ready to go, etc.
I realize this word carries a lot of meaning & that everyone dreads their ‘homework’. Let’s be real, though…practicing awesome songs by awesome artists (including yourself) has to be the best homework assignment ever. You’re welcome 🙂
Basically, this means, have your lesson from the previous week mastered before you walk in the door. Your lesson is either 30 minutes or an hour long, I imagine; having roughly 84 waking hours each week, you can squeeze in enough time to have that material down by your next lesson. (see our previous blogs on practicing & scheduling practice time by Matt & Tony)
It’s frustrating & a waste of time to spend your lesson relearning what you did the previous week. If you come to your instructor saying “Check THIS out,” you can build on what you’re learning and progress faster than you can imagine, which is much more fun. Again, we all like fun, right?
I’ve had a lot of students carry in things that detract from their learning experience. Granted, sometimes these things are unavoidable; however, most of the time it’s as simple as making the choice to let music be an escape from whatever annoyances or issues life can bring. Again, this will make your lesson more productive & more exciting for you & your instructor.
So, to put a nice bow on things, remember, to save time, money, and have FUN:
Bring your materials.
Have your (awesome) homework done.
Smile! …because your hobby is the coolest, & it also happens to be a great stress reliever, improves brain function, increases test scores, etc, etc.
Check, check, check, and check.
by: Matt Knox
How To Develop A Positive Practice Cycle
Five words that a music teacher never wants to hear: I didn’t practice this week.
Concession – “I swear I will practice twice as hard this week!”
Transference – “It’s my mom’s fault. She makes me go to bed too early!”
Overload – “I didn’t have time to practice. I had to do x, y, and z last week!”
The truth is that letting yourself off the hook when it comes to practicing can lead to serious problems. Not practicing one week leads to not practicing the next, and so on and so forth, until an entire month passes without any progress – or worse – perhaps even regression. Sometimes, the problem becomes so severe that you may give up entirely, believing that your schedule or a perceived lack of talent is too great to overcome.
Why do we do it?
While it is true that some weeks become too hectic to find time to sit down with your instrument, this circumstance is a rarity; the real problem is not time or skill, but attitude. Many students are hesitant to pick up an instrument because the small chunk of free time that presents itself (15 minutes here, 10 minutes there) seems inadequate to make any real progress. Discouraged, the student decides to hold off on practicing when the seemingly daunting task will be more manageable. What we fail to realize is that very few people will be handed a solid hour on a silver platter to sit down with his/her instrument. It just doesn’t happen.
What does happen, though, are those brief moments of freedom we experience throughout the day – the 15 minutes in the morning we spend waiting to leave for school or work, the 20 minutes we waste on the computer after school/work to give our minds a break, the 15 minutes before bed when we try to clear our thoughts for sleep. These are the moments we need to seize and use, the ones we can’t let slip away. They are short, but they add up. Though they may seem too brief to be productive, they aren’t – any time spent with the instrument in your hands will benefit you as a musician, and short burst of concentrated practice are arguably more effective than an hour spent half-practicing/half-noodling in one sitting. Keeping your mind engaged in your homework for the week will keep you focused and sharp, and will also build your confidence in what you are doing – this time, causing a positive cycle of practice that will draw you in instead of push you away.
Stay sharp, stay focused, and take advantage of those small moments. They may be the only thing standing in the way of your becoming the musician you want to be.