Monday, January 25, 2016

Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Secrets of Singing Better

What are the secrets of singing better?

Why would there be secrets? Seriously.  There are no secrets but there are things which are worse.  There are myths about singing.  They have been around for over a century, some of them.  The bad thing about myths is that they are either worthless or possibly very harmful.  The other thing about myths is that they are assumed to be true but have never been examined by those who use them to mislead singers (usually unknowingly).

There was a time in medical history that doctors believed that "bleeding" or "bloodletting" a person would help the person to get well or to get better.  The practice could have caused infections or worse.  This went on for two thousand years, so it is not unreasonable to assume that myths have a long survival rate.

Science will usually reveal myths--eventually

The first secret to better singing is to see if you are holding on to any myths regarding singing.  The most common, if not the most ubiquitous is that a singer should "sing from the diaphragm".   This implies that your diaphragm is actively doing something as you sing.  This is where we first step out of the looking glass of wonderland.  Check the sources of authority and licensed practice, specifically a physician, rather than most singing or music teachers who never had to study basic anatomy.  Since the 1700s, doctors have known some specific facts about the diaphragm:

1) It contracts downward, causing the lungs to draw in air.
2) It cannot be felt because it has no proprioceptive nerves in it.  Your hand has proprioceptive nerves, meaning you can feel what position it is in and directly can control it.
3) The diaphragm is in a state of relaxation when you are singing a tone. 
4) If you push out the air, you are using muscles of the abdomen and the chest.

Remember that doctors have known this since the 1700s.  Somehow they do not laugh at people for spewing useless misinformation.  Most singing teachers who tell you to sing from the diaphragm do not know where it is, how it is shaped, or its actual function.  If you wish, ask the teacher to draw the diaphragm and to describe its function.

What other common myths are there?  That you can place your tone somewhere: your sinuses, your eyes, on the floor, in your face, your forehead, etc.  This is a myth.  You cannot make the sound go in a special place in your head.  There are no secret valves in your head to direct the air and you cannot will it to go somewhere anymore than you can teleport an object across a room by simply thinking it into action.

Myths do not solve anything or help you to sing better.

Some people say, "Do not sing from your throat." or "You are singing from your throat."  This is usually followed by their patting their stomachs and saying, "sing from here!"  WHAT?!  Let's get real.  Where are the vocal folds (used to be called vocal cords)?  They are in your throat.  We could say that the teacher doesn't literally mean to not sing from the throat.  If that is true, then why not say what you do mean?  What is the singing teacher looking for?  A freer tone?  A bigger sound?  Instructing to not sing from the throat yields no change, no results.  There are ways to get a bigger sound and a freer tone.

Some teachers pat the stomach and say," Fill up down here."  Once again this is a blatant revelation of ignorance of the human anatomy.  If a teacher truly cared about the students, wouldn't it make sense to crack open an anatomy  book, such as the old reliable, Gray's Anatomy?  It has some excellent drawings and clearly worded information about the lungs and about breathing, including the function of the diaphragm.  Your lungs do not extend into your abdomen.  They end around the bottom of your ribcage.  The only way to fill up the abdomen is to eat something and it won't be mostly air that you eat.

Muscles work the "voice" mechanism and they are controlled by your mind.

Does that seem true?  That is something which can be verified by any good ENT (ear, nose, and throat doctor).  The great news is that there are some singing teachers and vocal coaches who do know and understand the function of the singing voice and can give a singer exercises which work specific muscles for strength, control, and coordination.  The physical technique of singing is not the complete solution to being a great singer, though.  There is more.  You can read about it here.

Want a free voice lesson?  All you have to do is to ask for it.  Free voice lesson


Thursday, January 21, 2016

ARE THERE ANY FREE VOICE LESSONS?

Are there any free voice lessons?

For about 10 days (ending January 31, 2016) it is possible to get a free voice lesson.  It doesn't matter if you are a beginner, an intermediate singer, or even a professional singer.  If you want a good solid foundation or even an evaluation, you can get it.  For FREE.  What's the catch?  It is one singing lesson for free but only one for free.  The offer is only for 10 days, including today.  It is available on Skype or on FaceTime.  I may never do this again for free. 

To set up a free singing lesson, you do need to be 18 years old or get your parents' consent, if you're not 18.

You can email me at chuckstewartmusic@gmail.com

I'll send you my contact information for Skype or for FaceTime.  If you've been struggling with your singing of if you just want to learn some great technique, now is your chance to make it fun.

It's first come, first served.  I only have 12 slots left. 

Friday, January 08, 2016

Opening Night In Las Vegas

Before going into the show, I had practiced for a solid year, a minimum of 3 hours a day.  I also recorded myself a huge amount in those sessions.  I eventually had a tape that didn't make me throw up when I heard myself, went to the producer/choreographer of a show my wife, Sheree, was in, and she hired me on the spot when she heard the tape. 

She did make me audition in front of the cast and crew.  I sang "Night And Day" by Cole Porter and they went totally wild.  They said I was better than the Sinatra impersonator who was in the early show (there were three shows running there then...it's now called the Stratosphere Hotel and Casino).  Much of the cast were dancers.  If you haven't been in a show, the dancers think that they are the show and everyone else is not.  That made the compliments and applause mean even more.

The owner at the time, Bob Stupak, was a sort of tough guy, who hated entertainers, I was told.  The first night of the show, the stage manager came backstage to where I was.  I did the announcing and also assisted with other acts, paging the curtain for them.  So, the stage manager said, "Do you see that booth in front at center stage?" I looked through the curtain and said, "Yes."  She said, "That is Mr. Stupak's booth.  No one else sits there.  He's going to be there tonight and if he doesn't like you, it will be your last night."  I thanked her for the heads up. 

I thought to myself that if he didn't like me then he's stupid.  I knew I was ready.  Still you don't want to hear that before opening night.  People don't say good luck or even break a leg anymore.   They say "Merde!" which is French for shit.  So, I got more than a fair share of merde before walking onto that huge stage the first night.  Oh yes.  He did like me and every time after that I saw him in his casino he spoke to me or waved if we were far apart.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

MYTHS and FACTS

It's hard to believe. But it's true. I have gone online, searching to see what people are teaching singers. I was shocked. In this new century and in this new millennium, there are vocal coaches and singing teachers saying things that are over a century old and it's not that they are just outdated. They are saying things which are completely false or misleading.

Some things have to do with breathing, where there is a huge lack of understanding.

Some things have to do with sound, but to the exclusion of the science of acoustics.

Other things are said which show either complete ignorance of physical anatomy or the “anatomy” of physics. Modern medicine, stretching back to the 1700s includes the understanding of the function of the diaphragm, but has been ignored my many teachers which they reveal when they try to explain the un-explainable. Things which are false cannot be explained and to then become true. There has been a disconnection between the art and science of singing for far too long.

$500 an hour, $450 an hour, and $300 an hour vocal coaches do not and cannot say anything to professional singers that could jeopardize their careers, so most of the high end vocal coaches pretty well know the differences between fact and myth.

Here is a free voice lesson, using two common myths, which do not stand up to science at all:
“Sing from your diaphragm.” “Place the sound in the mask.” If you think you know how to do either thing, you are participating in or believing the same lie or deception.

Since as early as the 1700s, physicians have known that the diaphragm:
  • Is a muscle.
  • Is slightly dome shaped with a slight dip in the middle.
  • Descends, causing a partial vacuum in the lungs, causing air to be drawn in.
  • Cannot be felt because, it has no propreoceptive nerves in it.
  • Separates the chest (where your lungs are) from the abdomen.
  • Cannot be seen from outside your body.
  • Does NOT push out your air (does not force expiration).
  • Is relaxed, not flexed or contracted, when you exhale.
  • Contracts spasmodically when you hiccup and air gets sucked in.

This begs the question, how do you sing from your diaphragm? How can you fill up your abdomen with air, when in fact, your lungs do not extend into your diaphragm? How can you sing from your abdomen or your diaphragm?

If I told you to sing from your diaphragm and patted myself on the abdomen, what might you think? How would you know how or if you were doing it? When exposed to the actuality of medical science, the myths are exposed and fall apart. Do your own research with one who knows, a licensed physician. That which is said and what may be meant also are out of alignment.

What muscles push out air?
  • The rectus abdominis
  • The transverse abdominal muscles
  • The oblique abdominal muscles
  • The triangularis sterni
  • The internal intercostals (between the ribs)

The muscles used to cough or sneeze are listed above and the diaphragm is not on that list.
Maybe you do not have the occasion to ask a doctor the questions about such things as breathing, the diaphragm or other bodily functions associated with singing. You should have access to anatomy information, either in a book at a library or online. Look for the authorities on the body (physicians), rather than asking some poor misinformed and mis-trained singing teacher who was victim to the ignorance of his or her own teacher of singing. Some teachers have escaped the grips of the myths but the physicians must know what they are doing or lives can be lost for lack of a proper education.

My sources have included seven licensed physicians who either studied singing with me or had a family member who did. Two were ENTs. Two were GPs. One was a pediatrician. One was an orthopedic surgeon. One was a fertility physician who also now performs singing professionally.

Perhaps the ultimate “guru” of all pedagogues, the late Richard Miller, cited several examples of articles from the medical field and of other scientific sources in a marvelous book titled The Structure of Singing. Seth Riggs, wrote that Richard Miller was “the most inspirational pedagogue I ever met.” Richard Miller's research and writings led me to confirm or do my own research because I was shocked to find out that I had been lied to (perhaps inadvertently) about singing from the diaphragm. How many times has that catch phrase been said to a poor unsuspecting singing student? No one knows how much that has hurt singers or at least distracted them from focusing on the task at hand: to create art in a song.

What does “place the sound” mean?
Place means to put something somewhere. You can use your hand to place a book on a table, providing you have a table, book, and a functioning hand properly attached to your body. This we can understand, hopefully. How do you “place” sound? What is sound? It is a compression wave emanating from something vibrating and it can travel through a medium, such as air, water, steel, concrete, wood, or some other physical substance. I didn't read that anywhere but I am not only a singer but also a trombonist. Singers and brass players use air to cause living tissue to vibrate and make musical sounds. I cannot place the sound at some given point in my trombone. I can place my embouchure against a mouthpiece and blow air but it is impossible to make the sound go anywhere but out through the bell of the horn. If you look at an anatomy chart of the larynx and pharynx, you'll see that there are not “sound placing baffles or valves” anywhere to be found that would result in your being able to place the sound in one location of your head or face. You do have a movable soft palate, however. With it you can lower it and make a nasal sound or you can open it (like when the doctor nearly gags you with his happy stick known as a tongue depressor) the result of which is elongating the resonating area of the pharynx which causes the sound to be more resonant or sound “bigger”, such as what you may hear in opera or on Broadway, perhaps. Not all Broadway singers have the “legitimate” sound of opera singers. You may have not heard that classical or opera are legitimate, which means all other styles are illegitimate, by default. This may be an elitist or egotistical point, rather than actual, depending upon which side of the fence you choose to stand.

Why would I know something about sound? I didn't study it in music school. I did draw the plans of the mixing booth at NBC Burbank, where the Tonight Show is filmed. Chips Davis provided me with the details used for sound control and sound separation. I also had 35 years in architectural and engineering design and on becoming licensed by the Nevada State Board of Architecture, included was acoustics and acoustical control, which does include the control of sound transmission and the way in which sound “acts”: reflection, reverberation, dispersion, absorption, decay, etc. I have designed a few recording studios and a radio station studio, auditoriums and churches, all of which do have acoustical conditions to be taken into consideration.

Mechanical and structural design are not normally taken into consideration by most singing teachers, if any. The experience with those fields has been greatly advantageous in my understanding the structure and functions of the singing voice and the amazing apparatus of muscles, ligaments and cartilages which make up that marvelous instrument. From memory I can now draw freehand the parts involved and therefor can understand which specific muscles are used for singing. I know what can cause hyper-adduction or hypo-adduction of the vocal folds. Both can potentially cause strain, swelling, pain, or worse.

I have video recordings which were provided to me by the manufacturer of a scope, used for examination by ENTs. During consultations with ENTs, watching their videos, I was able to confirm the cause of hyperadduction as it happened. When I pointed it out to the ENT, he said he had never known that before and afterwards referred his patients to me because he felt confident that I would be able to help them. Some licensed voice therapists also studied singing with me and discovered that the exercises I taught them produced better and faster positive results in their patients than what they had been taught in school.

Pay attention to what is said if and when you study singing. If the myths appear, you are probably in the wrong place.

What else? Music. What does music have to do with singing? Pretty much everything. You need to know how to listen, where to listen, where things fit in, the causes of singing out of tune or out of time and how to rectify problems. If you hear a note, a chord, or a melodic line and you do not know what you heard, you will not be as good a singer as one who “gets it”. You don't necessarily have to know the name or label, but you have to hear it, recognize it an to make some sort of evaluation and/or duplication of it at a cognitive level and instantaneously.

I've written approximately 1500 songs and in 25 different styles. I produced radio jingles and other commercials which sold for more than one might imagine. Having transcribed music for bands, I developed acute musical hearing beyond what would be needed by a performer but would be useful, nevertheless.

At age 17, I discovered that when I heard a tone (a note) that I knew what it was by name. My music theory teacher, a famous composer, said this was very rare. I have no idea how to teach that but I do know how to teach melodic and harmonic intervals, chords, chord progressions, voicings, and devices forms and functions used in arranging, composition and songwriting.

I have written some books and some booklets which are available on Amazon. I also have screenplays, novels and other writings on various subjects. Why? Why all this? I bring to bear all my professional experience from several fields which may result in a broader and deeper understanding of the world and of people. I even was a licensed building contractor in Nevada. Now I am building music, singers, books, and finally am sharing it for anyone who wants to listen.

Two sites which have some of my music are: www.chuckstewartpresents.com   and www.soundcloud.com/chuck-stewart-music 

www.vocaleasy.de has some information for singers.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Writing A Song?

Are you writing a song?  Is it easy or is it hard?  If it's difficult, do you know why?  Have you ever tried to repair a computer or a car or a light fixture?  This has much to do about songwriting.  If you don't know enough about writing words and music, it can feel impossible.  The more you know, though, the easier it is.  Computers are more complex than cars or light fixtures.  A light fixture is easy to fix, by comparison.  Having a few tools around help immensely.  A voltage and ohm tester and tools for disassembly and assembly can help.  I fixed one a couple of weeks ago.  I found a burnt wire in it and rewired it. 

What about songs?  What's in a song?  Words and music.  They work together in a song.  There is some sort of form to it, unless you write it in such a way that it is confusing and disorganized, making it difficult to follow.  So, there's more to it than mere words and mere music.  If anyone is to like it, sing along, or remember it, it should make some sense.

The harmony in songs is more complex than the melody.  The way harmony is treated or used in a song could come down to chord selection, chord progression, chord voicing, and which instrument(s) play the chords.  Then there is rhythm.  There can be many variations to harmonic rhythm such as arpeggiated chords, chords in motion, "passing" chords and a myriad of other variations.  One thing that melody needs to do, is to rest briefly on a note within a chord, from time to time.  Otherwise, it might sound dissonant or even chaotic.

To write a song quickly, if it is to be a complete song (melody, words, and chords), a person might want to know what chords are available and what chords in a given key are available.  There are tendencies but no actual laws or rules governing this.  If you don't know chords, you won't know how they will sound or "work" in a song.  There is a fast way to learn this.  The first step is to familiarize yourself with tendencies in progressions.  The second is to hear what chords sound like, one after the other.  The third might be to hear them arranged with a bass line or with a bass line and some percussion as in a band.  What if you don't have a band or know a band?  Then what?  Want some advice on this?

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Are You Stuck?

If you think you are stuck, you are.  For how long will you remain stuck?  You can determine that factor.  If you have gone for ice cream and were set on chocolate, have you changed your mind and got something else?  It's not a trick question.  It's not a question to test your resolve or your ability to follow through with an intention.  The question is, have you changed your mind and/or can you change your mind?

The best of the best of: athletes, artists, mathematicians, physicians, singers, composers would quite possibly agree that their activities are better than 90% mental.  I believe that they are 100% mental after having studied a thing called neuroplasticity, even though I studied it to a very small degree.  I am not putting forth that my hour spent on the subject makes me any kind of an expert but it has opened my eyes to possibilities, causes and effects, and ways of accelerating learning and training in multiple disciplines.

I always wondered why I had such diverse interests.  I was fascinated by: astronomy, music, architecture, art, mechanics, physics, chemistry, biology, electronics, sports, and multitudes of other subjects and activities.  The answer to 'why' has become inconsequential or unimportant to me.  The more important thing is that I have functioned at a professional level in the fields of architecture, music, electronics, mechanics, and also in technician-level activities of carpentry, electricity, plumbing and others.  From the aspect of this thing called neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to change, to be programmed, to be re-programmed makes me see a result of multi-field functionality.  In other words, I can now grasp not the 'why', but instead the results of such diverse cross training, as it were.  I draw on all of my experience and knowledge and can see where the intersections are among and between them.  I believe anyone can do this, if they take the time.

Two things must occur in order to master a skill.  One, there has to be sufficient knowledge to function at all and two, there has to be assimilation and utilization of the knowledge in a mental and physical way.  Mental alone may make a change but the physical aspect of training seems to deepen and broaden a skill to such an extent as to make it appear phenomenal to a person lacking the same skill.  You see this in sports and in the arts.  You hear it in professional singers. What you are observing is the after effect of training.

What is training?  It is gathering knowledge, attaching it to prior knowledge, and following through with practical application iteratively or repetitively over time.  It doesn't matter if it is a sport, an art, or even if it is writing.  All of these require mental engagement and acuity, coupled with activity, resulting in an amount or level of acumen. 

On the surface, the act of singing well sounds and looks easy.  For some people it is easy.  Others have issues or problems or empty spaces of knowledge of some of the many aspects of great singers' knowledge and ability.  There are now available to me mirroring techniques and new ways of locating and obliterating the obstacles between where a singer is and where the singer wants to be.  The mental beliefs dictate everything a singer can do.  They connect to knowledge and skill also.  The good news is that control is possible of the mind and of the voice.  The computer upon which I am typing right now is a very basic version of the human mind.  It illustrates that change is possible.  When you install a new program, you get functions which were not possible prior to the installation.  The potential was in the computer all along but it had to be "shown" how and what to do in a sequential procedure in order to carry out the task.

The experience I bring as a vocal coach is unique.  The same could be said for any vocal coach.  There are differences in that: I have perfect pitch,  I hear melody and harmony so completely, that I can write down or state what I hear, I can write it down and hand it to musicians and it will sound the same as what I originally heard, as long as the musicians are skilled in their reading and playing.  What else?  I have a very good working knowledge in acoustics, recording engineering, composition, arranging and more.  I have a broader perspective but can also bring my focus to a precise point when necessary.  My acoustics knowledge has included drawing plans for the mixing room at NBC Burbank for the Tonight Show, back when Johnny Carson was the host.  I understand sound transmission control and live end-dead end concepts.  I have taken the time to consult with ENTs and have read the writings of ENTs so as to learn how to help singers avoid injury.  I independently have studied nutrition and can offer some useful advice to singers who may have issues of vocal "dryness" or other seemingly minor problems but are major to the singer.  My musical background spans a few decades and includes working professionally in Las Vegas.  Some of, if not the best musicians in the world have worked there at one time.  The exposure to them and working with some of them brought about concepts of true state of the arts industry standards. 

What I have learned, I can share.  Several of my relatives are also teachers.  Your success is directly proportional to your involvement and participation.  You can change.  You can get more out of training that you put in to it, or so it will seem when you find yourself on stage, bright lights in your eyes, and you look out upon the audience as you comfortably and confidently share your gifts and the results of your training.  It is all in your mind.  You can make it a reality or keep it a secret for a while longer.  Your life.  Your passion.  Your choice.