Friday, April 14, 2017

Cross Training

Cross training. Some of the best athletes use it. Football players in a ballet class has to be quite a sight! Flexibility and coordination may be gained from ballet class. Ballet can also train a person to have more kinesthetic awareness or even aesthetic awareness, or the lack of it. Some athletes engage in related or unrelated sports: golf, baseball, track, tennis, swimming, etc. All can enhance aspects of strength and coordination which can add up to control and endurance being improved.

What are we getting at? How can cross training apply to music and to writing music? I've met many musicians who play more than one instrument. Most have a favorite instrument and it will usually be the one that is their best. Still, there is much to be gained from learning other instruments, even if it is more like a hobby in the approach. In college, classes for music majors can include: percussion techniques, woodwind techniques, string techniques, brass techniques, and vocal techniques. In those classes you can learn a little about the instruments and gain some familiarity with how it feels and sounds to play them.

Cross training can apply to finding inspiration. Anything and anyone can be inspirational. If not participating in other arts, I can still be inspired by them. Maybe I'll take more dance classes. For now, maybe I can watch dance on YouTube or go to a live performance. Museums, galleries, and exhibitions of paintings, drawings, and sculpture will inspire me. A recent one I attended is gigantic. TEFAF was in Maastricht. You enter and see some shops with gorgeous paintings and sculpture and speak with people inside. Awesome! You are not even in the main area yet. Thousands of square feet of exhibits by names you should recognize, many you will not, and the art is from all over Europe. It is too much to explain. Several restaurants and bars make it possible to enjoy the day even more, not having to leave for a drink or a bite. It is also a social event and the interaction and reactions of and with others just add to the experience.

If you're not inspired by art or other arts, travel may be great cross training. Inspiration doesn't always show up at your doorstep. Sometimes you must step away and seek inspiration. Every continent has great places to explore and discover. I've only seen 2.5 so far and a few islands in the Caribbean. For me, Paris, Venice, Rome, Tuscany, Munich, Aachen, Amsterdam, Maastricht, and Barcelona were some high points for experiencing culture, architecture, art, music, and food. Food can be inspirational.

Monday, April 03, 2017

Was I A Great Singer Before Getting Lessons?

Before training as a singer, I was good enough to work professionally and did.  I worked in Las Vegas, Florida, and 12 other states on tour.  I got a job, singing in a show in Las Vegas and I had a “break” in my voice.  I sang below the break and that is what I had done for years.  I thought that it was just part of singing and that there was nothing I could do about it.  Then I started studying with a lady and in a few months, I had no break.  I had no strain.  I had power throughout my entire range, which had over an octave added to it.  I could finally sing R&B songs in the original keys without cracking.

The lady insisted that I learn to teach what she taught me.  We met daily for several weeks and she then told me that I had to get some students.  I did.  The results were miraculous, the singers told me.  My teacher told me that she had never seen anyone get the results with singers as fast as I did.  I mostly did what she had taught me but I also had experience with trombone professionally, so I had some added insight that no other vocal coach could possibly have.  I had studied with one of the best brass teachers in the world.

One of my students was a plumber.  He had been a singer, playing the lounges in Las Vegas, until he injured his voice from singing wrong, had surgery, and could not work professionally after that.  He had a great tone quality.  He had a bad break in his voice and couldn’t get to the high notes like before his surgery.  When he sang, I noticed that he would fill up with air and then as he sang, he flexed his abs very hard.  A light went off in my head so I asked him, ”Are you a brass player, too?” He said, “Yes.  Trombone.”  Some brass players are told to fill up with air.  It is a very unnatural way to play, especially on short musical phrases.  My brass teacher had taught me a different way to breathe, which was to not fill up with air, unless it was a long phrase at high volume.  I thought about how to get him to relax.  I had him sit backwards on a chair, facing the back of the chair while straddling it and to lean his body into the chair, to take all his weight and to relax his abs completely.  My teacher was there and she and the man’s wife came running into the studio when they heard the return of his voice in all of its brilliance and range.  The three of them were crying and praying and thanking me, too.  He went back to work as a singer, which was his love and his passion.

For me, training got me to go beyond what I could do before training.  I went from frustration to freedom.  It took a little time but it also did feel like a miracle when in a lesson my break was gone.  There was one specific exercise I did when it happened.  The others before that one had prepared me for this day.

I studied karate privately.  There were many days of stretching before the day came when I could kick straight up.  Progress is incremental as long as you are doing the right exercises, the right way, in the right sequence, and for the right amount of time.  That amount of time will vary with each individual.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Can A Bad Singer Become A Good Singer?

How bad is “bad”?  How good is “good”?  What is bad and what is good?

A study was done at Stanford University and it was discovered that the only people who are truly tone deaf have brain damage.  I worked with a brain-damaged karaoke singer and was able to get him to match pitch, carry a tune, and to sing in tune with accompaniment, so that may not be an absolute “unfixable” condition.  My having the curse of perfect pitch was quite helpful in resolving his issues with hearing and identifying how his voice fit in with music.

Without some analysis of the singer, it is a bit of a guessing game.  I would assess several factors, but first would determine the goals the singer has: To sing to perform and is the goal to be an amateur or a pro?  Once that is established, I would have the singer warm up and then sing a song.  Then the analysis would be done.  Within the many components of musicianship, on a scale of 1 to 10, how do those rank?  Without analysis, there is no way to know where to start.  How is: pitch, rhythm, tonality, accuracy of intervals, perception and performance of melodic lines, etc.?  It is a long list.

Then, I would evaluate if there were any issues with the 21 most common problems of singers which include: articulation, breath control, use of the voice (as opposed to abuse of the voice) and many more.  I will usually know which ones are problems, after having heard a song sung.

There are 18 components of singing and performance mastery.  Artistic imagination and objectivity are but two of the 18.

I do not do a “one size fits all” kind of instruction.  I do not have singers work on things they have already mastered.  I don’t have a mental image of how a singer should sound.  Everyone is different from everyone else.  No two singers sound exactly alike and imitating singers can be dangerous to the health of the voice.  You do not fit into an imaginary mold.  I do not waste singers’ time with useless or outdated vocal exercises.  Any vocal exercises I use are proven, since there have been over 200 Grammys won by people who use them.  Each one has a purpose.  Some are used to build the voice, while others are used to maintain it or, in a state of advancing in quality and agility.  This includes range, which will eventually be extended to its fullest, but without causing strain or other problems.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Want To Sing High In Chest Voice?

Chest voice is not a “sound”, it is a register of the voice.  The term came from singers noticing a sympathetic vibration taking place in the chest on lower pitches.  There is a term called 
full voice, though.  It means that the vocal folds are adducting properly and that it is a full tone, not breathy, not raspy, not harsh, and not yelling or screaming. 

For many years, there has been a thing between chest voice and head voice but untrained singers cannot always use it or find it.  It is called middle voice.  Some people call it mix or mixed voice or blend or other terms.  I have used the term middle voice in training singers but I think it is good to only temporarily think about registers in the voice, especially when performing.  When your voice is properly trained, you can connect, so to speak, the registers: chest, middle, head, and flageolet (as classical singer might say). 

Whistle tones or superhead voice are upper register tones above head voice and can be heard as done by Mariah Carey, Rachelle Ferrell, but not many others. 

If you only have chest voice and falsetto, you are missing a usable register in between.  It has also been called the passaggio .  The term has been mis-defined as “passage area”.  It is an Italian word, as are most musical terms, and it simply means passage or transition.  Singing in it can feel precarious and uncontrollable, if not impossible to use unless and until you are properly trained to use it.  A very few people naturally can use it.  In my experience, those who naturally or very quickly use it have been Italian or descendants of Italians.  Why they are gifted this way, I have no idea but I do have a few theories.

If you ascend in pitch, chromatically from chest voice, and you suddenly flip or crack or break or disconnect in tone quality, there is an issue causing that and it takes training to overcome the habits which cause that issue to be perpetuated.  Inside your larynx, if we were to examine the vocal folds with a scope, we would see that adduction is lost in the passaggio, if you are not able to maintain your sound as you go through the range of middle voice. 

Most people have the problem of the larynx rising (some severely and/or suddenly so) and then try to force the notes out by screaming.  You have discovered and would agree that screaming is not the answer for you.  There are several vocal exercises which can help with your situation.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

What Materials Are Close To Sound Proof?

I have been called “A Renaissance Man”, which is a bit embarrassing to me. However, 22 years ago for a period of 18 years, I had multiple careers, doing music at night (singing in a show or playing lead trombone in a big band) but I also had a “day gig”. I got licensed by the Board of Architecture and by the Contractors Board. Part of my tests included acoustics. It was a must to understand sound transmission control. It also was a must to understand acoustics because it was on the test.

I had the pleasure of drawing the plans for the mixing room which was built at NBC Burbank, CA, where the Tonight Show was filmed (back when Johnny Carson was on it). Sound behaves similarly to light with absorption, reflection, dispersion and in other ways. Sound is a vibration and a floor slab can be affected by ambient sound.

Some studios isolate the slab from adjoining areas by literally cutting it away (if remodeling for a studio) or by isolating it during the pouring of concrete if it is new construction. Many things can be done for sound transmission control. Sometimes there is a space between a double wall. Sometimes resilient channels are used to mostly isolate gypsum wallboard from studs or furring strips against a concrete or CMU wall. Sometimes insulation is used within the walls. There are several types of assemblies which have been tested and are designated by STC ratings.

At NBC, there were 2 layers of a foam-type material between the bottom plate of the wall and the floor slab. In this instance, there was concrete, a foam rubber material, and then the wood bottom plate. The wall was built with a space between it and the concrete wall that it paralleled. The side walls additionally were covered with Auralex. There site is here: Acoustical Materials and Acoustical Panels - Soundproofing Solutions, Doors, Windows, Walls

The front of the room was glass and a “normal wall” , creating an LEDE design (live end-dead end. The interior walls were set with a laser transit to tolerances in the thousandths of an inch and none were parallel, nor was the ceiling parallel to the floor.

There is a lot more to consider than materials, when controlling sound transmission. Some people say that lower frequencies, such as a bass will pass through concrete more easily than higher notes. Yet, as I sit and type this, in a concrete “flat plate designed” building, I can hear the lovely young Italian harpist playing over my head. Understand that there is a concrete floor between us, the underside is covered with gypsum material and her floor is covered with a carpet and padding. I can hear all frequencies of the notes she plays. They are not loud, but are audible.

I have designed condos, recording studios, churches, hospitals, stores, many houses (approx. 2,500), and radio stations. This also took place in West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, and Florida. Being a musician and a singer, I always thought about sound and was eager to learn more about it.

A good question might be which materials conduct, transmit, reflect, and/or absorb sound. Each has its own quality. It is possible to soundproof a room but it is also cost prohibitive. If you are building a studio or music production work space, you’ll have a budget to consider. Fiberglass insulation does not conduct sound well. Styrofoam insulation may conduct sound slightly more than fiberglass insulation.

Sound will travel through air and water, so molecular density is a factor and so is the frequency of the vibrations involved. There are people with much more theory behind this, acoustical engineers, and they can always be consulted for in depth ideas, too.

Monday, March 20, 2017

A Question I Was Asked

I’ve been a vocal coach officially since 1994 but I worked with vocalists all the way back to 1975.  Chest voice is called chest voice because someone at some time noticed that the chest vibrated, when he/she sang in the lower part of the range.  The same is true for high notes and the vibration felt in the head.  Some people call middle voice “mixed voice”. 

First, I would point out that it is not necessarily an accurate description and can be misleading to think that you are mixing head voice and chest voice. 

Secondly, middle voice is in the passaggio, which has been mis-translated as “passage area” when in fact, it means passage way. 

Thirdly, many people are confused about the ranges of a voice and mistakenly believe that chest voice is a specific sound and that head voice is a specific sound and middle voice is a blend or mixture of the two.  When your voice is working at its optimum, there is not a radical difference in your sound from one register to another.  In fact, you should be able to do a glissando, seamlessly, from chest voice up to head voice and also in the opposite direction and at any volume level.  If you cannot do that, something is not working correctly. 

You should have the freedom of your entire range, without breaks or “shifting gears” and also with whatever quality you wish for expressing yourself artistically.  One other thing to consider is that you should be able to sing as if you have one voice, not two or three.  As a singer progresses in training with me, he or she may find that there will be variables with an overlap of ranges as far as how it feels to the singer.

  It ALL blends after being properly trained and with no strain or hoarseness involved.  We are working toward a consistent sound with effortless control, ultimately.  Make sense? My site is

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Recipe For Singing

"There Are Many Methods For Singing"

Yes, there are many methods for singing.  Many are outdated.  Many are useless.  Many have no basis in science or in practice.  Many have harmed voices of singers who used them.  There is only one way, or method, which works for everyone.

Can You Cook or Bake?

If you have made cookies, a cake, chicken piccata or eggs benedict, you know that you must have all the recipe's ingredients, and also that the ingredients must be combined, prepared and heated in a specified way.  The better the ingredients, the better the outcome.  Cookies without sugar or honey or something sweet added will not taste sweet.  Bake them too hot or for too long, also, and they won't be so great.  Omitting an ingredient will guarantee inferiority.  Doing the right thing at the wrong time or simply doing the wrong thing will guarantee failure.  Is there an actual recipe for singing and singing great?  There is.  People will charge you as much as $500 for an hour to start learning the so-called secrets, methods, or principles.  Yet, some of those people know little or nothing about style and also may be sorely lacking in musicianship.  What if you need help with those things. too?

The Recipe For Singing:

  • Does not ignore music, science, physics, or medical science.
  • Uses the muscles in a coordinated way to safely produce vocal sound.
  • Has been proven over and over among the top professionals.
  • Does not impose limits.
  • Gives a singer the freedom to express.
  • Does not alter your natural sound.
  • Involves more than vocal technique. 17 more things than vocal technique.  You may already have some of those but you may need to develop others.

Vocal Technique

  • Vocal technique should not harm your voice or cause strain.
  • It should give you freedom of your entire range with no breaks.
  • It should help you have endurance for concerts and/or recording.
  • It should give you the flexibility and accuracy of pitch needed for modern singing.
  • It does not deal in myths or lies, such as telling you to "sing from your diaphragm". Doctors know that this is a myth and why.
  • It does not tell you to "place your sound".  That is physically impossible and science reveals why.
  • It deals in fact, not in fantasy. You do not have to visualize anything.
  • It does not inhibit you with expressing yourself.

There Are 18 Ingredients In The Recipe For Singing

Vocal technique is only one of the 18 ingredients and it is a vast subject within itself!  18 Ingredients?!  What are they?  Adele has them.  Amy Winehouse had many of them.  Bruno Mars has them.  Adam Levine has them.  Lady Gaga has them. Christina Aguilera has them. Do you have them?  Would you like to have them?

Basic Music Terms for Singers