Monday, November 04, 2019

10 WARNING Signs of Amateurish Singing

Some professionals suffer from sounding amateurish at times, so you are not alone!  Let’s get to it!

 1.  Too little or too much feeling.

 2. You over-breathe or under-breathe.

 3. You are yelling, instead of singing.

 4. You are not in tune.

 5. Your rhythm is faulty.

 6. Your singing style doesn’t match the song style.

 7. You sing to the microphone, instead of to the audience.

 8. You look disconnected from the song or you look uncomfortable.

 9. Your voice cracks when you don’t want it to.

 10. You’re monotone and/or boring.

If you haven’t noticed or solved these things, you can save yourself a lot of embarrassment or criticism by getting help to fix the 10 WARNING Signs of Amateurish Singing. 

10 WARNING Signs of A Vocal Cult (NOT a vocal coach)

Some vocal coaches believe or try to make you believe that they have the only answers and that everyone else is wrong.  How can we tell?  Let’s get to it!

1.       Their way is the only way, or the best way.
2.       They show off their knowledge.
3.       They use their students to prove their value or worth (some had only one lesson with them).
4.       They never reveal their sources.
5.       They use confusing or invented terminology.
6.       They are condescending and make you feel stupid or ignorant.
7.       They use clich├ęs and myths, which have long been proven to be false.
8.       They think they know better than everyone else but have no proof of this
9.       They want you to depend on them and to not check out anyone else.
10.   Their singing isn’t good and it makes their technique questionable at best.

I’ve learned and confirmed what I teach with 8 physicians and 2 speech therapists.  Some teachers think that mixing science with art will destroy the art.  Those same teachers blame something else when their bad advice injures a singer.  Those same teachers blame the singer when the singer doesn’t improve.  Sometimes it is the singer’s fault because the singer misunderstands or incorrectly applies exercises and instruction, or simply does not practice enough or at all.  I give credit to my vocal coaches and my mentors.

I’ve taken the best of the best of the best vocal coaches, who have proven success in helping their clients or students.  Knowing anatomy and structure and function of it as applies to singing, does enhance understanding and can even accelerate improvement and development.  

The most important and most neglected aspect of singing is one which many singers are intimidated by the most.  They don’t understand what it is and don’t do anything about it in too many cases.  The strangest thing is that they have it naturally in most cases but just don’t know the terms.  The little holes in the knowledge of it are what keeps them sounding amateurish or bad.   What is it?  Get ready to cringe or to run away.  It is musicianship.

Are you a voice student or a cult member?

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Diaphragmatic Support? Ha!

I just saw a video done by a top vocal coach. He sells lots of his courses online. He has over 300 videos of himself and his students on YouTube. Isn’t he wonderful? I think he thinks that he is. He even makes a statement about our checking the sources of people who teach singing. Let’s check his a little. 

Why? Well, he mixes truth with fiction. This doesn’t help anyone, but it makes him sound clever to the ignorant, people who just do not know science. How do I know it is fiction? I took the time and money and used the part of my mind, which professionally has done architecture and structural engineering. If you haven’t known such types of analytical thinking, you might not easily think in a strictly analytical way (if and when necessary). I cannot unhear what I hear, and I cannot unknow what I know. Why not mix fiction with facts? Do you put poop in your soup? There ya go. 

My sources for anatomy have been Gray’s Anatomy, The Structure of Singing, by Richard Miller, two speech therapists, and eight physicians from several disciplines, one of whom was an ENT. Since many singing professors spout the same old myths, why Richard Miller? He was the exception and actually studied anatomy and was even an adjunct of the Cleveland Clinic’s Department or Otolaryngology. 

 Gray’s Anatomy is an actual book that’s about three inches thick and in it you can discover what doctors all the way back to the 1700s have known about the diaphragm. Gray’s Anatomy isn’t that old but in the 1700s, the physicians knew that the diaphragm was the inhale muscle, not the muscle of forced expiration. Those are: the oblique and transverse abdominal muscles, the triangularis sterni, the rectus abdominus and the internal intercostals. These are facts. These are proven. These come from verifiable and reliable sources and are known by the top medical professionals. Never let a vocal coach perform surgery on you, unless he or she is licensed and certified to do that. Do you understand? 

It gets worse. The man talks about “diaphragmatic support”. The diaphragm lacks proprioceptive nerves and is essentially numb. You cannot feel it and you cannot know its precise location. That being true, how would that impact or assist a singer if some one tells you to have diaphragmatic support? It turns the singer into a believer of something which is simply not true. This is dangerous. It sets up a cult mentality. It strips the singer of critical thinking because the singer will not go out and research the structure and function of breathing. The singer is told to manipulate something that cannot be felt and, also to use that (the diaphragm) in a way which is literally impossible. Boxers throw jabs with the shoulder and the triceps. They throw hooks with the shoulder, pecs, and biceps. It is stupid and ignorant to expect a muscle to do what it cannot do. There is structure and function and it acts and reacts the same all the time. Sorry. Singing and teaching singing is not a religion; it is an art and a science. You don’t paint fine lines with truck tires and you don’t do brain surgery with chewing gum.

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Chest Voice, Head Voice and WHERE does your voice crack or break?


“If you wish to converse with me, define your terms.” – Voltaire

We have to get on the same page.  There are far too many pages.  There are far too many gimmicks, tricks, and tips spoken and written by people who do not share the same terminology.  This makes for problems, misunderstandings and debates.

Turning to science, we can find ways of describing things so explicitly that guesses and opinions collapse under the weight of provable truths.  From myths has come mayhem and may we make the distinction between reality and seek agreement as the truth sets us free from the past.

The Common Names of Vocal Registers:

Chest Voice
Low Middle Voice
High Middle Voice
Head Voice
Super Head Voice

These are good things to initially know because between registers, is where your voice might crack or break.  Part of learning how to not crack when you sing is knowing where the breaks or cracks will be, if you have any.

Chest Voice got its name as a result of singers feeling a sympathetic vibration in the chest as they sang in the lowest part of their voices.  Chest voice is not actually a sound, per se, but is a register.  The size of the sound waves is such, that in the lowest register, the chest vibrates.

Low Middle Voice is just above Chest Voice.  It should blend with chest voice and may sound exactly the same, except it is on higher pitches, above actual chest voice.

High Middle Voice is below Head Voice, but is above Low Middle Voice.  Some prominent vocal coaches don’t differentiate between low middle and high middle and call it all the same thing.  Some prominent vocal coaches call middle voice Mix or Mix Voice or Mixed Voice.  This is misleading in that it sounds like a singer could or would mix two singing registers and that is not what is happening, as is easily demonstrated when you observe the vocal folds as a singer slides from chest to low middle to high middle to head voice.  You do not have a magic blender or food processor in your neck which blends sounds in some imaginary way.  The middle voice registers, low and high, are not a combination of head voice and chest voice.  They are between those registers.

Head Voice got its name because singers noticed that they could feel vibrations in the head when they sang higher than where they typically speak.

Super Head Voice is above Head Voice.  It also is called whistle register, but it is not a whistle.  Some call super head voice flageolet, which is an actual “mechanical” whistle.  

To recapitulate, vocal registers are the ranges of the voice, but they are not qualities of sound or tone.  Some singers and vocal coaches do not know this and they speak of registers as if they are a specific tone quality or a timbre.  The top music schools, conservatories, and universities are precise and explicit and do not interchange or misuse terminology.  This is a great time to all get on the same page.  By doing this, we can gain a deeper understanding of the structure and function of singing.  We may even be able to get along.

Sound, tone, and timbre

Sound travels at about 750 miles per hour.  We do not have valves, as such, inside our heads, to enable us to direct the sound or to place the sound to any appreciable degree.  We also do not have muscles which expand the pharyngeal cavity and therefor cannot actually “open our throats” or “keep our throats open”.  Don’t blame me.  I did not design or build the human body. 

When the vocal folds are in close proximity, as air is expelled through them, we will have a sound which is called full voice. Full voice is the sound we make in which we can “project” or have power or loudness. Many singers and some vocal coaches refer to full voice as chest voice but these terms are precise and are not interchangeable.  Chest voice is a register and full voice is a sound.  A register will be exact notes in your own vocal production.  You may notice that they slightly vary up or down on any given day, but not much.  Don’t call full voice chest voice.  You can sing with full voice in every single register.  When you do this, you are not stretching chest voice higher.  That is a common fallacy.  You can yell or scream and do a thing some call “pulling chest voice”, but it is yelling, not singing, and is potentially harmful to the vocal folds.

You cannot loudly sing with a breathy sound and you may even feel pain if you try doing that.  Breathy tone production is achieved by the vocal folds not adducting enough to make the full voice sound.  As a result, air escapes and we can hear that in combination with the tone of the vibrating vocal folds.  A breathy tone could be called a sound characteristic, or timbre.
What are vocal chords?   Vocal chords only exist when there are three singers singing together on three different pitches.  Some vocal coaches have referred to vocal chords, but meaning to say vocal cords.  Doctors normally do not say vocal cords, since they are not cords and definitely are not “chords”.   

Video stroboscopy has revealed that the vibrating action of the vocal folds is quite complex.  Using a microphone which allows the measurement of the frequency vibration and combining that with a strobe light has enabled physicians and speech therapists to visually observe the actual function and structure of the voice as it is in action.  Videos of this may be found online.
You can think of full voice as a solid sound and a breathy voice as having air in it. 

Remember this: “If you wish to converse with me, define your terms.” – Voltaire

So, hopefully there has been some clarification in the defining of terms, based on modern science, not on myths.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Breathing - How Do Singers Breathe?

I have seen it all now.  Ignorance, arrogance, stupidity, ego mania, and conceit.  All in a matter of seconds, as he demonstrated his breathing exercises for singing.  He reminded me of a now deceased friend who had his face in a paper bag, maniacally and violently breathing in the fumes from the glue he had dumped into the bag.  Toluene, he said that it contained.  He said it wasn’t poison. Uh-huh.

Let’s get real about breathing for singing.  The two things a singer needs regarding breathing as used for singing are: 1) control and 2) lung capacity.   Let’s get more real.  Air pressure and the amount of air which can be expelled from the lungs are both measurable and there are instruments to measure such things, to be found by your friendly pulmonary physician.  It is a matter of physics and anatomy and modern science which will verify what I am about to say, should Mr. Windbag care to put it to a test.

You must control the speed of the exhalation in order to control the dynamics-how loud or quiet it is.  You also must have enough air to sing a phrase at a controlled volume level.  It is a good idea to have more air than you need and to have more control of the air than you need, to sing effortlessly and to not let any issue with breathing impede your artistic expression.  We could set up equipment to test the air pressure and the amount of air used for singing. 

I have never seen any singer at any time breathe like the breathing that was done on the “exercise” I saw in a video.  I also play trombone.  One of my teachers was Dr. Donald S. Reinhardt.  He had 2 simple and effective breathing exercises.  One was for lung capacity and the other for breath control.  Professional brass players from the 1940s forward used these successfully for playing.  Having been both a professional singer and trombonist since 1972, I can say that it takes much less air to sing than it does to play a trombone.  Two problems can exist for both activities: 1) over-breathing and 2) under-breathing. 

Taking in too little or too much air to comfortably execute a phrase will cause unwanted sounds or bad tone or being unable to finish a phrase while maintaining the control of the dynamics.  There are many tricks, gimmicks or other stupid things being done which have nothing to do with breath control for actual singing.  These are not based on any medical science or on physics.  They have no use.  One is to blow on a piece of paper, to keep it from falling down a wall.  You do not exhale that hard or use that much air when you sing, so it is a trick and it is of no use.  Maybe you could have some friends hold a filing cabinet off the floor and against the wall and you could try to hold it there by blowing on it.  Maybe you can exhale with a hissing sound, like a happy little snake, but wait a minute.  Do snakes sing?  A little science mixed with a little common sense could go a long way but if you are looking for tricks, you might take up learning what magicians really do, to distract you from reality.  Some teachers of singing may just distract you from your money.  Magic is a trick and Trix are for kids (or so they say).

Chuck Stewart, Vocal Coach

Monday, September 23, 2019

Living Out Loud - Cyber Security

Living out loud

Have we lost our minds?  Maybe.  Have we lost our privacy?  Yes, but we were complicit in the act.  Is there value in privacy?  More than you might guess.  Are the most private people the ones who have the most to hide?  Sometimes.  I knew of one in Las Vegas who spoke in whispers, wore ten-thousand-dollar suits and drove a brand-new Mercedes.  His very livelihood was dependent upon his anonymity, but he was known by a few, including me.  Privacy vs living out loud.  Are there benefits of privacy? There are.
I recently saw two articles for singers about how to handle criticism.  I’ve written about it myself.  It can be annoying, distracting, or even devastating to be criticized, especially if you are working hard to improve your singing.


Growing up, for me, there was no internet and there were no computers or cell phones.  Therefore, there was no Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Reddit, Quora, or anything which has popped up in the parallel universe of the internet.  Socializing was done in person and in groups.  There were athletic teams, band. chorus, cheerleaders, Thespians, and cliques who had no names.  There were religious organizations, churches, synagogues, YMCA, boy and girl scouts, brownies and cub scouts, 4-H, and others.  They’re still around.  We did have telephones with wires going to the walls and without a long cord, you didn’t get too far, and you didn’t always have privacy, especially on the cheaper “party lines”, as they were called.  Eavesdroppers would sometimes pick up and listen.  You’d hear that click when they picked up the receiver. It was considered bad manners or rude.  There are things you just didn’t want others to know about.


Practice in private!  Musicians in Las Vegas would sometimes say they needed to woodshed, or simply “shed”, meaning go out to the woodshed and practice.  I found out that the origin of that was so that they could practice in private and get out all the bad stuff where no one could hear it.  The last thing you need is criticism.  You need help.  You need skill.  You need knowledge.  You don’t need criticism.  People who say you do are not artists.  An artist understands that you must have time and space and safety to grow and to improve. 

When I was growing up from the age of nine, I took my trombone and closed the door.  It is the loudest instrument in the orchestra and my first sounds on it were more noise than music.  That changed but the habit of closing that door afforded me the privacy that is vital. 

Don’t Share Too Soon

Don’t perform in front of others unless you have a sick need of criticism.  Most people don’t know enough about what you’re doing, to tell you anything useful as to how to improve.  You have enough negative stuff in your own mind, that you don’t need more added to it unless you are looking for the reason, the justification, or the rationalization to support your wanting to quit because you have no perseverance or you are not a true artist and have come to that realization.  OR, maybe you are lazy.  Maybe you have no patience or have underestimated the time and effort needed to be the artist you want to be.  Don’t add others’ negativity to your own.  It will slow you down and maybe destroy your dreams and goals.  You also can’t blame them.  They have plenty of their own failed goals and dreams.  Because of this, it is not safe to share with the fools club of failures. 

Do Not Live Out Loud (until you’re very good) !

Chuck Stewart, Vocal Coach

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Singers Should Set Goals

Questions for a singer: How good do you want to be? What will you have to do to achieve that? If you sounded like you want to, how would that make you feel? What would you do with your new amazing ability? Do you know what is standing in your way? I do. Do you know what to do about it? I do. 
I once had a friend, or so he said. Still, he was a trumpet player and he practiced for an entire year and then got in a band led by a famous drummer named Buddy Rich. Before I had a gig in a major showroom in Las Vegas, I had practiced for a year. It was about 3 hours a day, including recording myself, listening back, destroying the tapes with a hammer on the sidewalk outside, being frustrated, angry, sad, and at times almost satisfied. Then after about three months, things started shifting. I was NOT working on vocal technique. I was working on control and style and making my voice sound like what it sounded like in my head, so to speak. 
I took a tape to a show producer of the show that my wife was in. We sat down together and she listened to my tape. She said, "I want you in my show, but you'll have to audition in front of the cast on stage." I did. They went wild and I was in. How did I feel? I felt ready. I felt confident. I felt prepared. I felt nervous BUT it never shows in my voice. 
Practice may not make perfect. I don't know what perfect even is. There is a thing, though, which is good enough. I knew I was good enough to play in the major leagues. I know that I could work in New York, L.A., Paris, or anywhere in the world. It's not conceit. It's not arrogance. It comes from paying your dues which you do by preparing to be a high level professional. I left one thing out. When you do what it takes to participate, the enjoyment is unbelievable. It is easy. It is your new toy and people who sit and watch and listen are having almost as much fun as you are!

Chuck Stewart, Vocal Coach

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Singers' Motivation And Inspiration

I used to think about motivation and inspiration as things outside of myself. I also thought that inspiration and motivation had to come from high lofty wonderful and pure things. I visualized inspiration and motivation as things that would pull me through my problems.  Get that idea.  They pull you.  What if there were a thing that would double that pulling force? 

Before we look at that, let’s look at things that push you.  What might push you?  Pain.  Pain will push you to remove your hand from a hot stove or a hot pot.  We may view pain as a bad thing and it is.  What could be good about it?  It might protect you from further injury, but it also may stop you from trying something you have associated with pain.  What else could be good about pain?  It can be a motivation.  There is a phrase associated with the Holocaust.  Never again!  The people who lived through the inhumane torture of that time especially understand the meaning of “never again”.  To them it means “never again” for themselves, for relatives, for friends, and for people they will never meet.  Avoiding pain can definitely be an effective motivation.  Maybe there is something more positive to be found in pain.

Bad experiences can be a source of pain.  Bad people in your life can be a source of pain.  People who have betrayed you, people who have turned on you or attacked you, people who have tried to destroy you or your reputation can all be sources of pain.  You don’t need to dwell on the pain, though.  You don’t need to think about it every day.  You can use it by influencing your actions to improve things.  It can be an extra boost, to fuel your journey to making things better.  Two forces working together are more powerful than only one.  Pleasure pulls and pain pushes.  Pleasure is usually somewhere in the future and pain is hopefully from the past.  Either or both can exist in the present moment.  For motivation purposes and when formulating goals and plans, try using the power of two forces, the pull and the push.

Look at things in terms of a “what if”.  What if I try and fail?  What if I succeed beyond even my own vision of possibility?  When I was in high school, onstage and shaking (but not my voice) in front of 800 people, singing in public for the first time, even though the applause, after I sang, was loud, did I think I would ever be on the stage of a showroom in Las Vegas?  No. It didn’t seem possible and I didn’t even consider anything beyond my stretching, just to do that first performance.  You don’t know what you’re capable of but I would bet it is far beyond what you might imagine.  What if I were rich or what if I made or had more money?  It might be waiting in your future but it all starts with belief; not belief that it will happen but belief in possibility.

A goal is your destination or your new lifestyle.  You are the vehicle and your fuel is inspiration and motivation.  You can study people who have done what you haven’t yet, but you’ll discover that you will get there on a unique route.  Keep your eyes on the road.

Chuck Stewart, Vocal Coach

Learning From My Singing Students #1

I had a singing student, who taught me a lot.  She had around 60 clients per week in her counselling practice.  She had a doctorate in psychology.  Psychology comes from the word psyche, which means spirit.  Yet, many psychologists are atheists or agnostics.  This lady, Lisa, believed there is more to the world than what’s seen by the naked eye.  She shared this with everyone she knew.  Her clientele raved about her. Dr.  Lisa was a living example of what she believed about life.  A true alignment of thought, word, and deed, she was.

Lisa wrote songs, expressing her views about things, the same things she spoke about in her sessions with her clients.  I might say “her patients”, but she was the one with patience and a deep understanding.  One of the best compliments she gave me was when she said, “You’re the most normal person I know.”  Some might debate that because people are hyper-argumentative these days.  I would go on to say that those people are also hyper-unhappy.  The stuff in their minds cannot make residing there very pleasant.

One time she called me and I didn’t know who it was on the phone.  She had lost her voice.  With 60 clients per week, she used her voice extensively and without it would lose her practice.  She had gone to an E.N.T., who scoped her but found nothing wrong.  

I gave her a little project to do.  It was my turn to council.  She did the assignment.  It wasn’t vocal exercises.  The next day she called me, she had discovered the source of her problem and her voice sounded perfect.  I had a way of discovering that she had a block.  She had made it herself and when she realized what it was, as if by miracle her voice returned. 

Chuck Stewart, Vocal Coach

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Singers - Talent Musicianship Musicality

What is talent?  I think it is an interest in something and finding out more about it and taking that knowledge and doing something with it.  The more intense the interest or fascination or obsession, the more talent appears.  What?  Are we just born with it and we have it or we don’t have it?  I think that we are born with a body that has a brain in it and that the brain is trainable.  What you’re exposed to definitely will affect where your attention will go. 

What is input via your senses will affect what comes from you.  The old computer acronym GIGO – garbage in=garbage out.  If you were raised in an artless home, you may have become an artless person.  You can change that, though.  You can get yourself culture-fied.  It probably won’t even kill you.  You’re not an old dog and you can learn new tricks and sayings are never absolute truths.  Many are garbage stuck in your head.  You can take out the trash and you can change your mind, if you want.
Before I was known as a singer, I was a musician.  60 years of playing with a piano.  58 years of playing a trombone.  62 years of singing for fun.  2 piano lessons at age 8.  2 singing lessons at age 15, opera style.  By age 15, I had performed in front of a crowd of about 600 and although scared out of my mind, the performance was acknowledged with a long and thunderous applause.  It was a popular hit song and I had imitated it well enough.  I started imitating the Kennedy voices in the 5th grade, so imitation was a practiced skill.  Songs which followed, in other many other performances weren’t imitations; just me.

Early on, much of music is parroting things back.  Summer music camps at the age of 15 and 16 helped to advance my musicianship.  My high school band director taught me much about orchestration and arranging.  I soaked it up like a sponge.  In a short conversation with him, I left knowing how to transpose for every instrument.  This paid off, as I wrote an arrangement of a song that we performed several times in our high school big band.

I think I learned more about music in the music camps than by being a student at the same university in which the camps were held.  The most important things actually used as a professional, I learned there.  HOW to listen, for instance.  I did play first chair in two bands there, as a university student.  My favorite was stage band.  

At the age of 20 I was coerced into joining a band and in it I sang a little but played trombone, mostly.  Playing an instrument definitely enhances musicianship and, therefore, makes one a better singer, potentially.  At age 21, I formed my first professional band and we played in West Virginia, mostly.  At 22 I formed a band which went on tour and another at age 24.  We toured 14 states in the Midwest and Southeast.  I mostly played trombone, but also sang.   I wanted to do more and went to Las Vegas where I spent 18 years playing trombone and singing. 

My musicianship had carried me through.  I had good enough vocal technique to sing in a production show in Las Vegas in the 2nd biggest showroom in town at that time.  I had a break in my voice which nobody heard, because I sang below where that break was.  Only in country music could someone get away with a break in their voice and it’s even used for effect at times in that genre.  What I sang in the show was easy for me.  What I loved singing, however, was nearly impossible for me.  I loved singing songs that Al Jarreau sang.  I had the level of musicianship to sing jazz, too.  But the crack was a killer.  Musicianship is what got me hired, though.   Musicianship isn’t all-important but it is vital.

Musicianship is vital for accurate intervals, for being in tune, for making musical sense when you ad lib or improvise, for having a recognition and sense of style.  Improving musicianship definitely improves singing.  Singers lacking in musicianship are quickly betrayed by what comes out of their mouths.  Some singers are terrified or repulsed by the mere word musicianship.  My advice to that is to learn more about what it is that you think you are doing.  You don’t have to know all the terminology, but you do have to master all the things having to do with musicianship or you won’t be a great singer.  If you aspire to less than greatness, you will get what you tolerate as your reward.
What is musicality?  It’s the style, the flair, the self-expression, the aesthetic qualities of music itself.  Music is a hearing art.  Listen.  Explore many styles, as if you are in a music appreciation class or in music history.  Dive into the width, breadth, and depth of music.  Listen to voices and instruments.  If you’re so inclined, you might try making up a melody, discovering all there is to know about chords and also exploring several genres.  You can focus on one or on a favorite later on.  Give yourself some time to see what is in the world with music.  It might be a fun trip.

So, back to Vegas.  I was singing in a show and even though I did a perfect enough performance every single night, six nights a week, I wanted to do more and was introduced to a real vocal coach.  I paid her (in the 1990s) $175 per hour.  I have never regretted a cent of that.  Why?  Working on what she told me to do, I permanently eliminated the break in my voice and my endurance and range grew beyond what I ever had thought was possible.  After our show closed, I sang in lounges and nightclubs.  One was 6 hours per night, six nights a week.  I passed that test with flying colors and had no vocal fatigue, no hoarseness, and I was a testament to what she had taught me that I practiced, to achieve that state.

Knowing my professional background as a trombonist and in architecture,  (Architecture?  Yes.) my vocal coach felt that I had something to offer as a potential teacher and coach of what she taught.  She proceeded to train me in that way and had me to apprentice under her guidance and quality control.  My students were professional singers in Las Vegas.  I had some spectacular results to which she said to me. “I’ve never seen anyone achieve the results so quickly as what you have.”  This eventually lead to a new career when our family moved to Orlando, Florida, where I had 80 students per week and a large waiting list. 

I do draw from all my knowledge and experience and I do teach the singer in front of me, not some imagined or desired voice.  People sing in their own voices, to sound their best, not imitations of other singers.  Each singer is unique and has unique experience, knowledge, and talent.  Each singer has a unique vocal apparatus and unique resonating spaces in the head.  Identical twins will be nearly identical, but not entirely.  Some teachers teach what they think sounds good or is the only right way or right sound but with disastrous results.  Some people sound very trained, but not very musical.  Some people sound like a caricature or a parody of someone or something.  Some sound fine and some don’t sound fine at all.  One size does not fit all.  Voices are not socks.  One size does not fit all.

The lies and myths I have heard from other singers are both useless and dangerous, potentially.  Sometimes education includes getting the garbage out.  Take out the trash.  It might look like it is something useful until you examine it and you discover it is rotten or broken ore useless.  If you don’t know what you are looking at and have the knowledge to discern it, you will not know why you don’t sound great.  The truth can set you free as long as you learn it and use it.

Chuck Stewart, Vocal Coach

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Singers - “Try not. Do, or do not..."

“Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda, from the movie “Star Wars”

You cannot look at the quote (“Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try.”) on the surface and make much sense of it.  Beneath the surface and in the implication or inference is the true meaning.  The intention when beginning anything can and does control the outcome.  It is not always true, but it can be true and has been true that a weak intention may not produce any result at all.  It starts with leaving you an out.  Your escape hatch is built before the whole house is even started.  Beneath or behind the words lies the intention. 

This isn’t about rah-rah "cheerleading" motivation.  The football players out on the field, beating each other’s brains out, cannot even hear the cheerleaders.  They don’t always even hear the crowd in the stands.  They are focused on winning the game.  Intention is made up of desire, motivation, and maybe inspiration.  Intention has a goal.  Intention has within it the intention to persevere until there is fruition.  It is the process of visualization turning into a manifestation.  There is a period of gestation and growth, which take time and expansion and the force necessary to break through the surface and to emerge.  Much to learn from plants, there is.  These are things for you to know.  These are things for you to live, and also, to teach your children; maybe even your friends. 

The grass doesn’t think.  It’s a good thing.  It starts from a seed and cells divide and multiply over and over again.  The intelligence is contained within its DNA.  It doesn’t have negative thoughts or thoughts to wait, give up, or to stop.  Grass grows.  There is a life cycle.  Grass also dies.  It doesn’t decide to die or commit suicide.  It has a time frame of its life.  It may be invaded by alien things such as insects and poisons.  Some will take its life, but some will live alongside the grass.  Death is not where to focus.  Death of dreams and goals leads you nowhere. 

Life leads you to more life, if you get into the flow and the process of it, just like those friendly little aphids and your happy ladybugs, who eat them.  Delicious!  The aphids are little sapsuckers and are not so friendly to plants.  You need to learn to recognize and identify who are friends and who are enemies.  Some people help you and some suck the life out of you.  Stay away from those silly sapsuckers!  This is part of achieving a worthwhile goal.  Things are either advancing you toward the goal or away from it or stopping your motion and momentum.

When you make a goal, envision the outcome.  There will always be things to overcome: time, effort, a lack of energy, a lack of self-discipline, a lack of personal ethics, a lack of anything thwarting or impeding your goal.  What do you want?  What do you want to achieve?  What is first and how is less important, but essential.  What is want ?  What does it mean to want something?  It means, “I don’t have it, but I want to have it.”  The word, have, in the preceding sentence can be replaced with the words do or be, also!  If you can’t envision the outcome, you have not envisioned the goal completely enough to take it out of the category of dreams or wishes. 

You know you want cereal for breakfast.  You look in the refrigerator and there is no milk.  You could maybe have cereal with yogurt but there is no yogurt.  You look in the cupboard.  There is no cereal and you are out of eggs and bacon.  You have money and you have a car.  You have some free time and the store is a few blocks away.  You intend to have milk, cereal, yogurt, eggs and bacon in your home in their proper places.  The weather is good and the roads are good and the store is open.  You know what you will do and how you will do it.  You know that you are all you need to be to make this intention into a manifestation.  You’re healthy and have no pain or disability.  You are a good driver and there is a full tank of gas in the car.  The next day, you have cereal for breakfast.

Was that too simple?  No.  This is how life is.  This is how you have ever accomplished anything.  You had a desire, a motivation, and a wherewithal to make it happen.  This is as simple as getting a glass of water or as going to the bathroom.  In other goals, there may be other things needed:

·         more steps
·         more money
·         more knowledge  
·         more experience
·         more skill  
·         more logistics
·         more planning
·         more doing
·         more time
·         perseverance

Still, there is a simplicity, a process, or a procedure which will share similarities to getting things for breakfast at the local grocery store.  The little list above may point you in the right direction to knowing what you need to do what you want or to have what you want.  What you will have to be, is the person with the factors on the list that get you out of your mind.  Go from thoughts to physical reality, also called manifestation.  It’s not magic, because there is no trick.  Actions speak louder than thoughts.

Chuck Stewart, Vocal Coach

Monday, August 19, 2019

Singers - We Pretend Many Things... But...

We pretend many things.
We pretend to know things that we do not and rant and rave and fight and defend on social media and in person.  We pretend we are better off because of the existence of cell phones and the internet, which had the possibility of uniting people but has had the opposite effect.  We pretend to be closer but we are not.  We are more vocal and we are also more superficial.  We are careful (some of us) to not offend, disturb, or upset anyone.  Others don’t care.  That is just bad manners and manners existed for hundreds of years before the stupid term, political correctness.  We pretend that there is political correctness but it is a myth.  The term is used to shut others up or is used as a cult-like thought stopping technique.

Where are we left as learners?
We believe no one or we should not.  We should not accept anything at face value but instead should question the validity, the truth, the authenticity, and the track record of anything and everything.  If we are sold on something and it appears right and it appears true, we might try it out.  We might even try learning to sing by buying a new singing method, but we also might discover it is missing many things a singer should know and be able to do, unless the singer is a hobbyist and not an artist. 

The best thing about using an online course is that we are the farthest away from the “teacher” that we could possibly be.  It is also the worst thing.  Why?  When you practice, you seriously could use some correction to save you time and even injury.  If no on who knows what to listen for is present, you are on your own.  Common sense would dictate that this is stupidity in action.  Would you jump out of a plane with no parachute?  Some people have and lived, oddly enough; but most die.  You could go through the jungle without an experienced guide and it might feel like a brave thing to do, until you become a meal for an animal or animals.  You need a guide more than you need distance.  One way to have distance and a guide is to do lessons online, so that you can get help when you need it. 

What’s next?
What’s next?  That is just the point.  You can do exercises for your voice and can practice but how do you know which exercises you need in the present moment, if you are not a trained vocal coach?  Truth is, you don’t.  You can do the wrong exercises the wrong way.  What?  Yes!  They can be done the wrong way and if no one hears you, who knows how they are supposed to be, you could be wasting your time or even hurting yourself.  If you think you are saving money by buying video voice lessons, you are not.  You are spending money and you may be wasting it and your time, too.   Maybe you don’t care.  Maybe your voice sounds like you don’t care.  Maybe you wonder why you get no parts or work or why you get fired.  A live vocal coach knows in a few minutes what is wrong if the coach knows what he or she is doing.  I tried it on my own with a great method and I failed but when my vocal coach had me do the same exercises but in the proper order and in the correct amount of time for my voice, I gained over an octave of range, I lost the break in my voice, and my endurance was such that I could do six hours a night, six nights a week in Las Vegas.  No tiredness or hoarseness resulted.  Without her guidance, all I got out of exercises was tiredness and loss of range.  Once my break was gone, she insisted that I study six days a week with her and intern under her for three months.  All my students were working professional singers in Las Vegas.  She told me that she had never seen anyone get results as fast as I had with my students.  She didn’t have to say that.  I paid her $175 an hour in the 1990s and I don’t regret a penny of it.  I’ve helped singers prepare for music conservatories and even for Broadway, where they had excellent careers. 

Most vocal coaches don’t teach musicianship or how to sing in tune or how to be stylistically correct.  Most don’t have the professional performance experience that I’ve had.  Some vocal coaches don’t sing very well, but shouldn’t they be a product of their own teachings?  I had many obstacles to overcome including stage fright and feeling I had no stage presence or charisma.  I felt I wasn’t good looking enough to be on a Las Vegas stage.  My appearance didn’t get me fired, so I guess it was good enough.  I did know music and have written over 2500 songs, have sold radio jingles, and I’m an ASCAP member.  I hear pitch extremely well and that is partially attributed to playing a trombone since the age of nine and professionally since 1972, touring 14 states and then settling in Las Vegas and working with famous musicians.  I also played lead (1st Chair) since 1969 as a student and later as a professional.  I teach breathing techniques used successfully since the 1940s by professional and famous brass players but I don’t teach fallacies and myths, such as “sing from your diaphragm” because 8 of my students were licensed practicing physicians and two were speech therapists and we shared a lot of information and we all know that no one has or ever will “sing from their diaphragm” and also why that is so.  In five minutes time, I will know what is wrong with your singing in a very multi-factorial way.  I’ll know your strengths and your weaknesses and precisely what to do to get you from where you are to a world class singer, one who could be signed to a label (I’ve had a few of those) or perform on Broadway or on TV shows, such as The Voice (I’ve also had some of those).  So, what do you want?  Do you want to settle for mediocrity or worse?  Would you rather find out what is in you and learn to overcome the obstacles-yours and the ones from others?  Hiding from your talent might feel safe, but years down the road, it won’t feel so good, knowing what might have been, had you gone for it.

Chuck Stewart, Vocal Coach