Wednesday, June 19, 2019

When Practice Does Not Make Perfect

What?  I thought that “practice makes perfect”.   No, it doesn’t.  The first problem is that you cannot even define what “perfect” is.  Everyone has a different opinion about a vague undefined concept that we call perfect.  Maybe you think that perfect is something that is flawless or without mistakes.  This is still a very superficial way of looking at something.  There is so much more to this.  When looking at things microscopically, so to speak, they are not as they appear to the naked eye.  When analyzing sound, it is not as you perceive it with your ears or your mind.  Now we enter an entire universe of gray area, where there are variables beyond your perception or knowledge.  So what do we do?

We have to start an analysis of where we are now as a singer and where we want to be as a singer.  There are routes that lead to where you might want to go, but there are many routes which will not take you there, regardless of how much or how long you practice.  Two things are required to start navigating.  1) Where are you? and 2) Where do you want to go?  This doesn’t just apply to singing.  This is a life lesson, too.  You don’t want to get lost along the way or go somewhere unplanned or you will waste time and maybe even money.

When I was in college, there was a teacher who had every trumpet player play on the exact same mouthpiece that he did.  It worked for him, so why not?  The ones who worked well with it, maybe  three out of 20 did fine.  The others quit, thinking that they were not good enough.  He had a PhD.  What did he not know?  Everyone has a unique mouth, lips, teeth, oral cavity and pharynx.  Some people’s teeth are such that the air stream projects up; for some, it goes down.  One is not right and the other wrong, but there are unique problems to be solved to make it work well.  There is much more to this.  The seventeen failed trumpet players could have put in six hours a day practicing or just a half hour and it still would have had the same outcome.   Wrong = wrong.   Practice does not make perfect when something is wrong.

Every singer is unique and also has a unique mouth, lips, teeth, oral cavity and pharynx.  Look around.  We all do not look the same!   Every singer is currently at a unique level of musicianship, which can be tested.  Musicianship is one of at least 18 factors to look at when deciding what needs to be worked on by a singer.  Those 18 factors also have subcategories of many more factors.  It is not that it is so complex.  It is, instead, necessary to work on the exact specific thing and practice the exact specific exercise or method to achieve the best result in the shortest amount of time.  Otherwise, your practice makes frustration, or your practice makes you worse, or you have no improvement at all.   If you are a singer and a super genius, maybe you can figure it all out on your own.  I had to have help.  Some of the “help” along the way was useless.  Some help was insufficient for what I wanted.  I was fortunate to have connected to truth and that truth has a “track record” of enormous success.

Dynamics, intonation, phrasing, style, vocal production, articulation, endurance, and power all play a part in singing.  If your teacher cannot tell whether you have problems perceiving pitch or melodic or harmonic interval perception and if your teacher doesn’t know if it is a register transition issue (or not), for which you have developed a bad habit to hide that, you can practice from now until the cows grow wings and fly and you will still sing out of tune.  This is but one instance of when your practice will not make perfect.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019


One of the single most neglected activities by amateur singers and some professionals is listening. It is a great idea to listen to singers you love. It is an even better idea to listen and try to analyze singers who may not even sing your favorite music.  I have a list of some fabulous singers to listen to and also what to listen for in their singing.  It's not a fluke that they have risen to fame.  It's not talent alone.  It's not learning healthy vocal technique alone.  It's not musicianship and knowing modern harmonic technique.  If you don't know how to listen to very specific aspects in a voice, the style, the interpretation and more, you may be missing 95% of the entire "picture".  One example is articulation which might also be called enunciation or diction.  There is a standard for performance and for recording in every single style of music.  What works for classical will sound ridiculous for R&B.  It is not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing.  It also can be under or over-done and fall short of professional.  Listening to great singers provides lessons for free and who doesn't like free?  I paid as much as $175 an hour, 25 years ago for lessons.  Was it worth it?  I sang in a show in Las Vegas and followed that with countless performances in Vegas and Orlando.  I gained endurance, range, control, and style as a result of lessons and discovering exactly how to practice, how much, when, when to rest and how much.  I got comfortable at being able to sing six nights a week, 6 hours a night and without vocal fatigue or any other vocal issues.  No hoarseness and no cracking and no need for vocal rest.  No ill effects whatsoever and it is not unique to me.  Correct and healthy vocal technique works that way.  Is your voice worth spending money on? Maybe it is. So, don't copy other singers as an impressionist might do a voice.  Listen, assimilate, emulate (NOT imitate) and when you have it down, innovate.  Make it new and make it yours.  It starts with listening!

Monday, April 01, 2019

Breathing For Singers PART 1

For years, and even today, there have been singers who thought that breathing is everything when you're singing.  No, it's not.  BUT, you have to breathe.  It's essential to living.  When it isn't easy, it can be scary or terrifying.  I had asthma in the Springtime in Las Vegas.  It was SEVERE!  The first spring there I felt like I couldn't breathe in or out for about a month with almost no relief.  In the next spring, I found odd remedies with various vitamins and things I found at a health food store.  It wasn't too many more springs until I sought out an allergist who had been writing articles in the local paper about the pollen from plants which was wrecking peoples lives.  At that time there were over 250,000 people in Las Vegas who shared my ailment.  Olive trees, flowerless mulberry trees, Bermuda grass and Desert Sage were my worst sources of pollen.  Life in Las Vegas, for me, was a constant fight with having to get Albuterol breathing treatments every other day, getting desensitization injections every other day, getting Kenalog injections (corticosteroid) every three or four months and constantly taking Claritin.  You gotta breathe to sing, though.  The first two years I was not doing much singing in Las Vegas.  What else?  I played trombone since I was nine years old.  I ran a lot.  I had lung capacity well beyond what a singer would ever need.  I also had studied trombone in Philly with the late great Dr. Donald S. Reinhardt.  HE KNEW BREATHING and also how to do things with it which were logical, practical, and very applicable not only to brass playing but also to singing, as it has turned out. I've shared these with singers and have seen the joy they experience when their breathing is working for them, instead of against them.  An aside is that I can hold out a note for almost a minute.  Air does not act as an impediment.  Eight doctors, who were my students, confirmed that the diaphragm is the INHALE muscle and doesn't PUSH out your air... your abs do, IF it needs to be pushed.  One of my students cried when I exposed the myth of "singing from the diaphragm".  I replaced it with truth and medical facts.  Her illusion was gone but her singing improved and was easier, since she was not fighting something that turned out to be a myth.  Since the 1700s, physicians have understood the actual function of the diaphragm.  It has been proven over and over.  It is not something we have to believe or guess at.  Hanging on to useless myths works AGAINST singing better or even being able to sing well.  If you cannot find the source of "truth", it probably is not truth.  There are many myths about singing.  Some don't help at all and others can cause injury.  Do you know the common myths about singing?  Do you want to?

Friday, March 29, 2019

STOP raising your head for high notes!

Do you raise your head (tilt it back) for high notes?  Is this wrong?  Many times I have seen in studios, a singer sing with the head tilted back, the microphone set high, at eye level or higher.  Does this help you reach your high notes?  REACH is the operative word.  Notes are not "high".  They may FEEL high to you but it is simply a more rapid vibration and this increases the "higher" you go.  If you raise your head, you WILL cause strain.  It may not be today or tomorrow or it might be.  If you raise your head, you are trying to compensate for bad technique.  It won't help to tilt your head back but there are things which will help.  It is almost a 100% certainty that if you tilt your head back, your larynx has risen way too high and you are also hyper-adducting your vocal folds (cords).  When they crash together too hard and the lubricative mucus on them dries up, the vocal folds will become irritated from the friction.  What happens next?  You can become hoarse from the swelling you have caused, you can lose your voice temporarily (laryngitis from vocal abuse) and you can even get calluses (vocal nodules) which come after the blisters and the blood blisters.  What to do?  What to do?  Get training to achieve laryngeal stability so that your larynx doesn't fly up to the moon every time you fly up to your high notes.  I COULD NOT CONQUER THIS ON MY OWN !!!  I did it for years, straining to get the high notes.  I paid over $175 per hour  in the 90s to get this bad habit gone.  It was worth twice the price. I gained the freedom of LOSING the break in my voice and GAINING a lot more usable and COMFORTABLE range.  A caveat (a not so good thing): MANY vocal teachers have no idea how to fix this, much less know about the cause of it, and still, will gladly waste your time and your money. 

My Experience Is Unique (so, is yours)

I wrote a test for vocal coaches a few years ago. Most could not pass it. It is on one of my websites. What is it based upon? My experience is unique. No one has lived my life in diverse fields, as a professional; not the same ones as mine. My perspectives are based on my experience as a professional musician, professional singer, professional arranger, professional music producer, having studied with the best teachers and mentors to be found, having studied the most factual and scientifically accurate sources having to do with the voice, and having done an internship under one of the greats of vocal pedagogy. This includes having had eight physicians as vocal students, who shared their knowledge, expertise and wisdom with me, and I asked a lot of questions along the way. 
Then there is my other side. It does have something to do with music, but it is 4 decades of a being professional in architecture, structural design, and other related fields, giving a very broad understanding of the structure and function of the vocal apparatus, seen as a musical instrument and art unto itself. 
I have never been into this "for the money", but instead approached it as a journey of factual and workable discovery and sharing those findings along the way. But wait, there's more. I once knew a man who owned a few houses. I asked him how a person could "learn to be an investor". He answered that he thought it was best to "learn by doing". I put that concept to use and have written over 2,500 musical pieces. I also studied with some fantastic professionals, to expand my knowledge of music. All this was after being a college music major, leading an 8 piece band on the road, playing six nights a week, working in Las Vegas for 18 years, working in Orlando for another 18 years and having had a few thousand students. I write music almost every day. Staying objective and non-judgmental of oneself affords the freedom to grow and to learn.   
Along the way, there have been some side effects. I can write music that I hear, meaning all of it: the melody, the chords, the percussion, the piano, bass, drums, guitar, etc. and can do it without using a keyboard or any other instrument. I can also do this very quickly. Whether it is innate or learned from experience, I'm not sure. Just as cross-training can be helpful to an athlete in a given sport, doing other arts may well enhance your main art. There is an art of duplication, assimilation, replication, and extemporization and it can be found in all art, potentially. Improving this in one area will often enhance another which is apparently not related at all. These are some things to think about. I am not looking for any new students. The ones who are looking for some help do find me and I give them my all.



Friday, March 15, 2019

What Should I Practice?

What should you practice?

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it!" - Thomas Bertram may have been the one to whom this phrase is attributed but there is truth in the idea of it.  Why waste time on things you are already doing well? Focus on the issues.  Don't just sing songs over and over again.  You'll get nowhere in a hurry.  A great professor I had said, "Practice with a purpose."  If you're not working toward something, you're working toward nothing.  What must be better?  What can be done about it?  Which exercises should you use to improve the issue the quickest?  If you don't know, ask, but ask someone who does actually know.

Assess your singing.

  1. How is your intonation; are you in tune?   
  2. How is your endurance; does your voice get tired?
  3. Do you have a problem with register transitioning, cracking or breaking?
  4. Do you enunciate clearly, too clearly, or not clearly enough?  Style will dictate this, usually.
  5. Can you sing softly, medium, loudly while maintaining control?
  6. Do you have a vibrato?
  7. Can you sing every style you wish to?
  8. Is your musicianship strong or weak?  Rhythm, pitch, duration of tones, timing, etc.
Fast help for singers is here: practasing

Click on practasing.

Contact me if you need help.  CONTACT

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Music and Math

Music is not mushy, not all the time.  Speaking of time, time is mostly very consistent and even.  You can slow it down – ritardando.   You can speed it up – accelerando.  Still, it is mostly very consistent and even.  Time is quantifiable and measurable.  Within time are rhythms which also are very mathematical and are stated as fractions.  Notes are given values as to how long they are sustained: whole, half, quarter, eighth, sixteenth, thirty-second, and so on.  Sometimes they are one and a half times their value or are tied to other notes and the two values are combined to create that specific endurance of tone.  
Even when a singer is singing rubato and is stretching or compressing note values or speeding them up or slowing them down, the time of the music usually is remaining constant.  The singer, if a great singer, will know that the time is consistent and will have a sense of that time while simultaneously singing ad lib instead of mechanically interfacing with the time of the music in a strictly mathematical way.  Time for the soloist can be alterable and malleable and is acceptable as long as the singer has a solid sense of where the time actually is.

Pitch is also mathematically measurable and is based upon a specific pitch, A, vibrating at 440 times per second.  Speaking of math, up an octave is another pitch vibrating at 880 times per second.  An octave is the eighth pitch, along the pattern of a scale, from the starting pitch.  Down an octave from A 440 is the pitch A 220.   Here we have the relationship of octaves, being half or double from any given note regarding the speed of vibration.  There is a center of pitch.  A faster vibration than the center is called sharp and a slower one is called flat.  A note is like a dollar or a euro, in that it has 100 cents.  The center is the “correct” pitch.  
Some musical instruments have fixed pitches, such as the pianoforte, which we simply call a piano.   A tuner can alter the pitches, but the player of the instrument usually does not, at least while playing.  An electronic keyboard may have a pitch bend wheel on it, affording the player options not available on a standard acoustic piano.  When a singer must interface well with music accompaniment, the singer must use hearing, the perception of pitch, of musical intervals, and instantly execute without resorting to analysis or other thought processes.  A singer can bend pitch, slide up to a note or down off a note but must always be fully aware of the pitches in the accompaniment or there will be intonation problems.

Music is mathematical and is mathematically measurable but that does not make it mechanical, necessarily.  There also are the possibilities of the loudness of tones being variable, from very very very soft -ppp to very very very loud -fff.  Pianississimo to fortississimo and potentially softer or louder than those, with all variables in between.

Music is mathematical, mushy, and malleable, so to speak.  There are many examples in many styles of the possibilities and there also appear to be infinite possibilities in the arrangements of pitch, durations, time, volume levels, instruments, and everything else.  It is the mathematical aspects which have brought about instruments of measurement of time and pitch, musical instrument digital interface (midi), and digital recording of music.  Math isn’t bad, but it is a point of stability, to be found in the morass of music.  For a singer, it is all something to be aware of, but most of the time a singer is quite organic, bringing life to the party of music.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Oil And Water

An Aquarian might be able to acquiesce at times, one would think.  The thing is, water has more than one state.  It can be liquid, solid, or gas.  It is not so easily penetrable or alterable when it’s ice.  You can chip away at it or break it apart but it takes more effort and force than a few words.  
His few words were something along the line of: “It’s just a dream.  You know you’re going to fail, don’t you?”  This was said by my father after my band had done about three solid months of rehearsal and writing arrangements.  No days off.  One thing was for certain.  The band sounded great and the agency in Atlanta had work lined up for months.  Six nights a week.  No weeks off.  Midwest through Southeast and in 13 states.  The agency was professional, successful, and established.  The producer had become a friend.  He still is.  
We barely had enough material for a four-hour gig and the call had come in.  Opening in Muncy, Indiana, tomorrow.  We covered tunes by Tower of Power, Earth, Wind and Fire, Blood, Sweat and Tears, Chicago, Wings, Boz Scaggs, Herbie Hancock, Stevie Wonder, Average White Band, Rufus, and others.  We had professional standards and one of the tightest horn sections—ever.  Our attacks and releases were both always sounding laser-synchronized.  
Sorry.  Not just a dream.  Hard work at a manic pace to achieve the level of music we were at.  Fail?  Sorry.  Every week, our money increased.  An eight-piece touring band.  The ninth equal pay increment (after agent’s fee) was the equipment payment.  In the 70s, a ten thousand dollar P.A. system was quite state-of-the-art.  Didn’t fail.  So, as with a few things, my father and I were oil and water.  Still, he was supportive in other ways.  One of the vans was financed by him.

Dreams Are Good But,