most of us are drawn to a performer because they make us feel something. feeling what you sing always makes it more meaningful and interesting. #mondaymusings #jdvsRead More
Ever wonder why “Happy Birthday” seems difficult to sing? #mondaymusings on #happybirthday on this #earthday and my #birthdayRead More
World Voice Day is April 16th. your voice is unique, precious, important, valuable, and the world needs it. sing, shout, whisper or cry, tell someone what you need; don’t silence it. #mondaymusings #jdvsRead More
Voice exercises may not mean what you think they mean. At least not the way I use them. Curious how to become an athletic singer? #mondaymusingsRead More
#mondaymusings - there isn’t one magical thing you do right in order to sing well. what myths have you heard are the musts in singing?Read More
#mondaymusings - the size and space of venues can make a difference for performance anxieties. Rollicking good time at the Jazz & Irish tune spring song gathering.Read More
many of my clients want to be more confident when the sing. Learning how their voice works and getting some control over what’s happening gives them more confidence, freeing up the muscles to sound the way they want, which gives them more confidence in their sound, making them feel better about it. #wonderfullyviciouscircle #confidence #mondaymusings #jdvsRead More
#mondaymusings on loving your voice. We aren’t used to the sound of our own voice, the way it sounds to others. We are the harshest critic. Get to know it, get to know sounds you’d like to make. There is a journey to loving your voices. Come with me #mondaymusings #loveyourvoice #voicematters #jdvsRead More
#mondaymusings resolution setbacks amidst professional and creative successes… I’ll take it! #startagainRead More
big new things at JDVS this new year! Only a few session times left to book for the semester! #mondaymusingsRead More
For us here on the US southern east coast, it’s often cold and dark. Seasonal holidays and festivities ascend. Christmas carols are heard everywhere. Houses and trees are strewn with lights and decorations. The song says, “It’s the most wonderful time of year!”
And yet, it’s not the most wonderful time of year for some.
I grew up in a musical family, spent most Christmases in Shelby, NC where my family gathered at my mother’s parents house. We attended Christmas Eve services where my grandfather was the music minister; my grandmother prepared a feast and we rushed home to put it all together on the table. After dinner, we gathered in their living room to sing endless carols - all 3 versions of Away in a Manger! - and hear granddaddy read “Twas the night before Christmas”. We did some variation of this until I was 33. That’s when my grandmother died at age 96. We celebrated with Christmas gifts from Santa on Christmas morning, even though I’m the youngest (none of us grandchildren had kids). It was magical. It was sweet to see family from across the country that once a year. And, I miss it. I miss them. I miss the traditions.
Now, I’m a little melancholy this time of year. And there are many who are lonely, grieving, working through or living with dark painful memories from the holidays. I think the darkness makes that harder. So… I love the lights! They brighten up the darkness; they bring much needed light and cheer! I hope everyone finds some joy as the season changes this week. More light is coming!
This is my song “December”. Have a listen
Twelve of my singers performed songs from the 90s on Sunday afternoon and one of our favorite spots in town, The Evening Muse.
Why 90s? A few years ago I saw that wonderful documentary about studio musicians in LA during the 60s, The Wrecking Crew. It was the beginning of the summer, and I left the viewing all a flutter with the spirit of 60s music. I encouraged all my singers studying that summer to work on a 60s song. They were all so eager; all ages! By summer’s end, everyone was excited to sing their songs. After one singer picked a song we realized was written in 1970 it was decided we would have to put on a 70s concert the next year. And, so it began. This year it was the 90s.
This was the start of some of my themed concerts. A couple of times a year we have a showcase of songs, anyone’s pick. And, now we have a decades theme and sometimes a genre theme. In March we will sing Jazz Standards and Irish Ballads. Many of my singers enjoy the challenge of learning music and discovering new genres outside their usual listening. Sometimes folks just appreciate narrowing down the choices… there are a billion songs to sing; sometimes it’s hard to pick one!
The biggest challenge for this performance was not getting to run the songs with the full band until the day of the performance. I simulate the best I can on keys or guitar (singing guitar licks) in the studio for practice, but it’s never all clear until we’re all together doing our parts. Those specific guitar licks and patterns and drums are crucial to getting that feel for the song, especially in contemporary music. My singers were ready! Once through with the band, worked out a few kinks on intros and transitional places and away we went. It was a super fun hour of songs!
My singers inspired me. I go to a lot of open mics around town and play my originals and covers, but it’s just me. If I’m not rehearsed with other people, I hesitate to jump in. But, the performances on Sunday exercised my impromptu muscle and I asked my friend Kathy to sing a couple of songs with me at the Smoky Joe’s open mic this Tuesday. This open mic has a house band that will jump in with you. Just tell them the key, and anything you think they should know, and they’ll follow along. That’s the thing that makes me nervous; and we did it! And, it was great! It wasn’t perfect - remember last week when I said not to strive for perfect? It’s still my default (rolls eyes at self!) - but it was great! And, it was fun! I’ll look for more ways to jump into musical situations to practice just going with it!
How might you challenge yourself this week? Musically or otherwise?
I’ve always been fascinated with lessons around overcoming performance anxiety. For those of us that love to be on stage, or want to be there to share something we need to express, the body’s reaction to fear can be a betrayal, and can lead us to disaster. Of course, rarely is it truly disastrous. If we forget a word, or miss an entrance, or our voice ‘cracks’ it can mentally ruin an otherwise wonderful performance. For us anyway.
Amazing how much we can do at once - berate ourselves for a blip while continuing to sing the song. Wonder how the rest of it is going?! We usually don’t notice. If prepared, much of our performance could be on autopilot. We lose being present and communicating to our audience for those seconds/minutes we are worrying about what happened.
And, most of the time, the audience is OBLIVIOUS to the “mistake” we made. They are usually so excited to see and hear their loved ones perform, or in awe of each of us that is brave enough to get up in front of everyone and share a piece of ourselves through song. And, if there are performers in the audience that notice that “mistake”, they are just cheering you on, because they know that feeling, and they want us to recover and keep going. No one is hoping that we will fail up there! Time and time again I have been surprised that people didn’t notice my very noticeable mistake… I’ve stopped pointing it out! I heard somewhere that people often remember the last thing they see/hear of a performance.
Singing in front of others is different than speaking in front of others. I hear that fear of public speaking is people’s biggest fear after the fear of death! Admittedly, I would rather sing in front of people than speak, but I’ve gotten accustomed to that too now. Those of us that sing in front of others, despite being scared, are a different breed. We need to; we are compelled. The need to share something, or be up on that stage expressing, is greater than the fear.
I think my singers have been getting less nervous recently. I’m thinking there are some reasons for that - maybe the way we do a variety of concerts: themed, different venues, making it informal and in company of same folks over the years. I’m also thinking that the way we constantly observe how the nervous system and psyche works as we sing in the studio is giving me and my singers practice. Working through fearful moments minute by minute, even through vocal exercises, may be helping dissipate some of the nerves, so come performance time, it seems easier.
I offer occasional Performance classes. Common lessons and practices we use:
Giving Positive Affirmations - to ourselves, to each other
Confidence stance - Superman, Wonder Woman - hands on hips
Dance! Shaking out nerves; practicing being silly
Practice giving compliments and Practicing “thank you” (only)
Slow deep breathing (works for some)
Shouting, “I’m so excited!” (works for others)
Practice messing up and not stopping
Sing for each other and allowing a “do-over”
Practice being intentional in the message of the song - what do we mean? What emotions are we conveying?
Allowing for the possibility of a mistake, not striving for perfection, has helped me dissipate some performance anxiety. Of course, it’s helped to be working on getting over perfectionistic tendencies everywhere else in my life too. I suggest being prepared - do the work, practice, memorize, know it all! Then, do your best! Maybe don’t strive to be perfect, but just to do your best. If that’s an authentic intentional goal, your best will be enough! Our best is going to be different on different days; just like our voices. By the way, I love seeing professional musicians miss something; reminds me that we’re all human and not perfect. I do not like the critical feedback they often get because of it; I rejoice in it!! I’m grateful for it! As a performer and a teacher of performers, I’m grateful for the example of messing up!
So, if you’re gearing up for your first or 101st performance soon, thank you for living through the fear and sharing a piece of yourself, and your voice, with us. We are rooting for you, supporting you, perfect or not. My singers have a performance this Sunday. Singing a bunch of 90s songs at The Evening Muse. If your start is shaky, start it over. We’ve got time! Take a do-over. Make it your best!
"I can't sing" -
from my count, about half of the people I meet say this to me when finding out that I’m a voice trainer/singing teacher.
It’s not true. If you can speak, you can sing. How well you do it is relative.
I’ll set forth that there are two main reasons why people believe they can’t sing:
1 - Some folks are not singing “in tune” - they are singing along with a song, but maybe they’re not “matching the pitches”. Some might consider themselves tone deaf (amusia).
2 - Some folks don’t like their voices for a variety of reasons.
TONE DEAF/MATCHING PITCH
Concerning tone deafness, Vocal Instructor Karyn O’Connor writes:
“The term 'tone deaf' tends to be applied indiscriminately to a constellation of music processing, perceptual and production deficits, which leads to a lot of misdiagnoses (many of them being 'self diagnoses'). In reality, though, there are few truly tone deaf people - it is estimated that only between two and five percent of the population is medically tone deaf - and there are varying degrees and types of tone deafness.”
She’s got a great in depth article here on overcoming Pitch Problems. Other than the rare small percent of people who may be diagnosed with amusia, matching pitch can be a learned skill.
After many years of working with clients who think they may not be able to sing in tune, I have not found one of them to be truly tone deaf. It is often the lack of musical exposure and/or the lack of trying to sing that causes it to be difficult when trying to match pitch. I put most of my beginning clients who have ventured into learning to match pitch in one of two camps:
There is the traumatized singer.
Someone (parent/teacher) told them when they were little that they couldn’t sing, so they believed it and stopped. Oh, it makes my heart hurt to hear these stories.
Parents/Teachers/People around Children: Please don’t say this to a child, or anyone. Pitch matching is not an automatic knowing for everyone. To tell someone they can’t sing is crushing. I witness the crushed-ness alive and well in my adult clients (many 50 and 60 year olds) who have timidly and bravely sought out my assistance hoping to find out they really can sing. Oh, and the joy on their faces when they make sounds they like? What a happy day!
Self-Confidence can go a long way in pitch matching! Just believing you can goes a long way!
There is the inexperienced singer.
Pitch matching may be a struggle because you didn’t listen much to music growing up, or lacked musical variety in listening. And/or you may have had little to no exposure to singing in a choir or singing with your family or community (note: if someone told you that you couldn’t, you likely stopped).
Both the traumatized and inexperienced singer are beginners. Their muscles are often stiff, because of not being used, and being nervous. Often we need to train their ear to identify what it’s hearing. That communication with the brain and then the vocal folds can take time. As the body (muscles) frees up, all of the sound making parts can have a better chance of relating what it hears into action.
JUST ‘DON’T LIKE’ IT
For those folks that can match pitch ok, but don’t like the quality of their voice…
This may just be about preference.
Some people want to sound like Dolly Parton, some like Renee Fleming, some like Adele, and when they sing their songs, it doesn’t sound the same. This is the more common situation when people tell me they can’t sing. Their voices don’t match the stars they want to emulate. Rarely will people be able to mimic their favorite artists exactly. Accepting that your voice is your voice, that we are all different, and that is awesome! My world needs more than Dolly and Adele impersonators! I’ll come back and explore the idea of learning to love your voice in a few weeks.
Sometimes getting to know all of the different weights and colors of how to make sound can change a person’s perspective of their voice. Sometimes the right weight, or brightness or dark quality can also correct in pitch accuracy too. Learning how to use your voice (and your mouth, and tongue, and ab muscles, etc) can drastically change the sound you’ve been trying to make instinctively. Singing is not necessarily instinctive for many! Learning to coordinate and strengthen the musculature can go along way for pitch accuracy and a pleasant sound (if that’s what you’re going for!).
Cari Nierenberg confirms reporting on a study that labeled poor singers as such because of a lack of music training or muscle weakness:
The study found that anywhere from 40 to 62 percent of non-musicians were poor singers.... It also found that roughly 20 percent of people can't sing accurately because they don't have good control of their vocal muscles.
Maybe some people are “born with it”, but I’ve met some of those (subjective), and they are still insecure about their voices. We want to sound good. What is good? Is it better than….? How are you measuring a good voice? What sounds bad (if pitch matching is okay), and what sounds good? I’m always curious, like above, what they might mean by “poor singers”. Is it more than the ability or skill to match pitch?
Oh, and what I have been noticing lately is that some of the challenge for newly pitch matching folks is the next step to memorize pitch patterns. The pitch and rhythmic patterns are what make a melody identifiable. This could be a subject for another day too!
Are you curious about singing again? Or, for the first time? Come and play with me! I’ve yet to meet one of the 2-5% who are actually tone deaf.
… Or, How fast will I progress?
This is a common question I get with voice lesson inquiries. Sometimes it’s “how long until I sound good.” Well, that’s relative. More on sounding “good” or “better” another day. I’ve had to hone in on an answer since I’m asked so often. This was my most recent inquiry:
“based on your experience about how many lessons does it generally take someone to be decent from not knowing at all. I know it’s different for every person but just... so I know how much to budget”
My best estimate is a year of almost weekly lessons for significant progress; and that’s for the most devoted/practiced singer with a history of singing or musical experience. Maybe 2 years or more for those also devoted/practiced and at a beginner level. The less practiced, the longer. The training exists of coordinating many different muscle groups in your body (some of which is not instinctive or natural), and then to strengthen those muscles, and train for flexibility and endurance/stamina. If you've ever played a sport, run a race or tried to alter your body in some way to become stronger, faster, or more agile, you know it takes time.
Then, there is the ear training for non-experienced singers. Singers that come in with a background in singing with choirs tend to have a more developed ear and good sense for how pitch (melodic) and rhythmic patterns work, so can pick up on musical queues more readily than a singer without that history. And, then there is the singer with no formal musical background in choir or band/orchestra, but is just a naturally good mimic. They tend to pick up on the music side of things quicker.
My experience with singers of all levels is that people take lessons when/if they can afford it for as long as their interest holds, sometimes take a break, some just pass through for a few weeks or months, some stay years (I have 2 clients who have been with me for 10 years!).
One thing I have noticed in gaining strength and progress (academically/physically/musically) is that consistency helps immensely - the accountability on top of the individual focus of training. If you can afford a semester of sessions (19 in 25 weeks), let's start there! Noticeable progress should take place in that time, and then can decide what's next.
Folks will often come for a concentrated time, then back up, go to every other week, join a group class (cheaper/less focused) or take a break until they can come back.
If time is where the budget is tight, come as often as you can. Working with me is like working with a personal trainer. I will always work you out harder and more efficiently than you can work on your own, and you will get some benefit in that hour no matter how often you come.
Are you ready to start training? Book an hour to see how we fit!
Voice Teacher v. Coach v. Trainer
As someone who has been in and out of voice lessons since the age of 16, I forget that singing and/or voice training may not be a common experience for everyone, and get surprised when someone is confused about what I do for a living. I’ve had lots of practice defining what a voice teacher is - talking to bank tellers, at networking events, parties, etc. It’s not an easy quick answer.
By the way, the most common responses I get from folks upon hearing what I do: “Oh, I’ve always wanted to sing.” or “I cannot sing!” (stay tuned for my post to those responses next month!)
Over the years my definition has morphed, from voice teacher to voice trainer. My teaching style has changed too, from how I approach the craft to changing clientele. And, as science gives us new data from the Vocology field, I try to make adjustments to my understanding and teaching. First, let’s address a very frequent question:
“What is the difference between a Voice Teacher and a Vocal Coach?”
In general, a voice teacher tends to be more technical in how to make the act of singing easier, educating on anatomy while working through repertoire. Voice teachers also teach/coach on musicality, artistic expression and interpretation too. A vocal coach tends to be an accompanist who is coaching someone preparing for performance/audition. Coaches in the classical/theatre world may be giving interpretive/artistic direction, while referring the client to a voice teacher when technical issues arise - like tuning, breath management, etc. Usually, voice teachers are like coaches, whereas coaches in general don’t often have the technical background.
Why Voice Trainer?
I’ve been trying out “Voice Trainer” as a response the last couple of years. It seems to speak more to the reality of what I do in the studio. We now know that training singers is akin to training athletes, since the physicality of singing is mostly about the coordination and strengthening of different muscle groups in the body at a purely functional level. The artistry comes from shaping the sound for what kind of music (genre) is of interest. Wendy D. LeBorgne and Marci Rosenberg’s book, The Vocal Athlete, has been a guiding source for those of us teaching/training in the commercial music field today:
The Vocal Athlete and the companion book The Vocal Athlete: Application and Technique for the Hybrid Singer are written and designed to bridge the gap between the art of contemporary commercial music (CCM) singing and the science behind voice production in this ever-growing popular vocal style.
All of my clients are needing work on a muscular level. Whether it’s the rocker who has lost his voice, or the music theatre kid who is belting too loud, those two often have in common an overworking of a particular muscle or muscle group, and a weakness in another area. The beginning, or older singer may lack strength in one or more muscle groups and needs strengthening to be heard better, or to stabilize the sound to be less shaky or demure sounding.
Of course, anyone who teaches/trains singers, or who has had some voice lessons, knows that the job is complex and we can wear many hats. The elevator pitch for now:
I train singers how to make their best sound the most efficient way, and be happy with it!
The longer description for those with the interest and time:
I’m a personal trainer for the voice muscles, coordinating with respiratory muscles and facial muscles. There is strength training and there is muscle unwinding… training certain muscle groups to take a break (the eyebrows and neck muscles do not help make sound, but they often try!).
I’m a teacher of anatomy, explaining how the body works, how it is not instinctive to most people, and how singing is really not natural. I teach how the physiological act of singing gets interrupted by the psyche, or sometimes our own nervous system much of the time.
I’m a trickster… neurologically, the body will counter with muscle pulls while singing b/c it senses danger (i.e. if the larynx rises to high to fast, the body may think it’s choking). The fight/flight/freeze response often gets set off in trying to make high/loud sounds. It also can get triggered when the muscles switch gears suddenly (commonly known/experienced as a “voice break” “crack” “flip” - usually going from low to high pitches).
I’m a comforter and encourager… singing is a highly psychological activity. At a neurological level, the body fights us, and our psyche so badly wants to sound “good”. Of course, “good” is different for everyone. Renee Fleming and Dolly Parton are “good” and sound very different from one another. With different sounds, and likely different audiences, we recognize that both are extremely successful and popular singers.
I don’t know if you’ve ever had a work out session with a personal trainer. I’ve had a few. My experience is that they are training me how to notice my body, teaching me about what is happening and how to do it on my own, tricking me into doing one or five more reps, and encouraging/comforting me that I can do this. And, I always work out harder and more efficiently with better form with that direction and supervision.
Personal trainer : Voice trainer - fits, doesn’t it?
The big difference is that in my field we can actually HEAR your muscles working! All of the weird sounds that may come out are usually muscle hitches, or a show of too much/little muscle action. Often strength bases exercises for the voice are not pleasant sounding. I tell my clients to announce to the household that they are going to make sounds like a dying cat (e.g. practicing exercises). And, while people often don’t get real sweaty doing my exercises, it can happen! Singing is a physical activity. You’ll probably have to work a little more than you thought was necessary to make some changes.
If you want to sing and you’re curious how my training is different than what you imagine or have experienced, give me a shout!
Voice teachers: like me, does anyone out there feel the need to redefine what a ‘voice teacher’ is today based on your experience? What do you think about Voice Trainer?
I’m starting to get organized with my writing. I renamed my blog page “musings” because sometimes that’s all it is, and the marketing world says people like alliteration. I know I do! Today’s Monday Musings are a shared shout out to two of my friends and colleagues who do great work in educating singers and teachers of singers!
Matt Edwards sends us wisdom on life and singing through his “Mix it up Monday” blog. A voice pedagogue and teacher wise beyond his years, with a tender and true heart, Matt’s writings will inspire voice teachers in the studio, give singers ways to troubleshoot technique issues and make us all want to be better teachers, singers and humans! Click here for one of my favorite articles of the summer.
Jess Baldwin, an extraordinary artist and teacher-coach in Columbus, OH, has created a resource for voice teachers and singers:
Commercial Voice Resources exists to empower people who teach and work with singers in popular and commercial styles such as pop, rock, country, R&B, soul, hip hop, indie, and more. Our readers and contributors include voice teachers, vocal coaches, choir directors, church musicians, and theater music directors. You'll find information about topics like contemporary voice pedagogy, song choices, audio tech, music and studio business, gear, and voice science and research.
Jess calls Commercial Voice Resources a labor of love. I know many share my extreme gratitude for her service to our field and appreciate her love of voice education! (If you agree, you can show your appreciation by making a donation!) Find her most recent contribution to the site here, where she explores singers’ Sound Affinities. It’s a brilliant and creative way to see/hear how our voices work! Check out the other resources on the site too!
I am super excited to be a guest blogger for Jess’ Commercial Voice Resources this week. Voice teachers who are new to teaching commercial singers may find my post helpful. Click here to read my article, “Song Choice in the Contemporary Studio”.
Funny how I was planning on writing a blog this weekend about staying well during the fall, and I get walloped by the flu. The FLU! In September! I just started seeing the signs about getting the shot. I’ve never had a flu shot, and I’ve never had the flu. What’s happening!
I guess I’m not magically immune anymore. As illnesses often ramp up in September and October, don’t know how I escaped this long. Hence the point of my writing to you today, in case you can prevent an illness!
Why is it that an uptick of illnesses begin in September? As the season changes, it brings:
weather changes, stirring up different allergens
all the kiddos back to school, which could also be called incubators (!) and
suddenly not as many people are resting and sleeping as much so immune systems take a hit.
I’m sure there are other factors as well. The simplest preventions are to:
Stay home if you’re sick (people really will appreciate it)
Wash your hands (big season for moisturizer!)
Cover your mouth when you cough/sneeze (hence the handwashing if tissues aren’t nearby)
Don’t touch your nose, mouth and eyes (I mess with my face all the time!!)
And, if it’s the flu prevention, then consider getting the vaccine too!
At first glance, these preventions look easy to do, except I touch my face all the time, and don’t think to wash my hands before I do! I think staying hydrated should be there too. Again, a seemingly easy thing to do, except I have clients tell me frequently that they have a hard time doing that. Indeed if the top two recommendations (after Tamiflu) for flu positive patients are to rest and drink plenty of fluids, I think REST and WATER are likely to be the top two ways to prevent sickness too.
Of course, I usually drink a lot of water and have been getting much better rest and sleep lately. Not sure how much of healing from the flu depends on the strain you get or how you treat it. I was fever free after my 3rd dose of Tamiflu and stayed on the couch for 2 days. Netflix and my kidneys are happy anyway!
Staying hydrated is important for staying well, and keeping our voices in good shape, regardless of illness. So, good luck with the hydration and hand washing! I’ll have hand sanitizer and tissue at the studio. If you’re sick, stay home! (Remember to give me plenty of notice please :)
September is my time for reflection and renewal… honestly, I reflect all the time! Seems like it’s easier to think about changes as the season’s change, it’s still warm outside, looking to what’s ahead.Read More
Singing in Harmony can be magical! Folks in my Harmony Class (meets 2nd/4th Wed of ea month) get chills, shout, tear up, "ooh-ah" when we get the frequencies just right. It is thrilling. To sing a pleasing harmony to someone's melody, you need to be familiar with the melody so you know what tones would fit and fill in a nice harmonic sound. This takes some ear-training: how to hear some complimentary pitches.
I've got some friends coming to town Oct 22 and 23 to teach us harmonies of old country tunes. Val Mindel and Joe Newberry have been giving Harmony workshops all over the world for years and I am so excited to be having them here in Charlotte teaching us songs and how to find/hear harmonies.
When: Oct 22 - 10am-4pm; Oct 23 - 12-4pm
Where: workshop will be held in South Charlotte (address given after registered)
Cost: $100 for both days (includes evening house concert at 7pm)
one-day only $65
How to register: Call or email Julie Dean 704 819-2018 or email@example.com
Saturday evening house concert hosted by Teagarden House Concerts is open to public; $15 for tickets for folks not attending workshop.
Click here to read more about lessons learned through the two day event.