Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Another Singing Myth Debunked!

I have never heard the following phrase anywhere but here. It was not used by any teachers I had from 1967 on. It was not used by Seth Riggs, Debra Bonner, Greg Enriquez, Kelly Connelly, or any other teacher I had from W.Va, Las Vegas, Los Angeles nor in Philadelphia.

“Use your pee muscles to help support your sound”.

What?! This phrase is related to a couple of others that sound equally as insane and as Freudian which speak of other body parts in the same general region of our anatomy. I question this “pee muscle” theory because I have had several students who were taught this phrase and seemed to have accepted it as if it had some truth in it. It wreaks of “charlatan-ism” and “guru-ism”. From everything I can find regarding anatomy and several universities’ and hospitals’ websites dealing with voice disorders, this is the most bogus, ridiculous and disgusting phrase I have heard.

I have some books by Richard Miller, who is one of the first singing teachers in our country to seriously pay attention to anatomy and medical science. He doesn’t mention “pee muscles”. And by the way, they are not the same on males and females in case you might be interested; this brings up another point. Fortunately everyone does not know this phrase.

What would a physician (such as a laryngologist or pulmonary specialist) have to say about the connection between “pee muscles” and singing? Have any pee muscle proponents bothered to ask even a general practitioner about this?

Learn to evaluate the information you receive…in fact, question what you hear. Take the steps necessary to protect your “instrument”, which in a singer’s world is YOUR voice!

In my next blog, you will learn what kind of sources to trust and where to find accurate information, about your voice.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

IS IT A DREAM OR A GOAL?

The difference between a dream and a goal, is inaction versus action. A dream can be a whim, or a weak passing thought, without any evaluation as to the possibility of turning it into a measurable reality. A real goal is one of the most powerful concepts that there is. When a goal is formulated intelligently, almost nothing can stop it from happening. A goal includes an examination of the resources and abilities necessary for attainment. It involves an honest assessment and comparison between oneself and others who have attained that goal or one like it. A goal could easily include a hundred or more solid reasons why it must be attained and as many resources for reaching it in a timely manner. Can you imagine the power you could generate, if you had 100 reasons to do something that you love doing?

Achievers of goals on a grand scale, have had few doubts and little, if any, thoughts or considerations about doing anything other than attaining that goal. Thoughts alone may just be mere dreams. Goals include the action of the “goal-setter” and whatever team that person assembles to carry it to fruition. Do not think you can do it all on your own; so, keep or get your “people skills” well-developed.

Although many successful people have done things other than their chosen vocation (or avocation), most of the time these were solely survival driven (you have to eat) or were actually part of the plan to reach the goal. Serious singers and artists of other media do not have time for a “backup plan”. It is so time intensive to prepare for a national or international level career, that there are not enough hours left in the day to work on your backup plan.

If you choose to let go of your dream because you don’t have the courage to pursue it as a goal, then let it go completely. Just do your backup plan and be a good accountant, or engineer, or sales clerk, or garbage collector or however else you have decided to sell yourself short. Not that there is anything wrong with those careers, but how do they compare to a successful one in the arts? You would only be squandering the opportunity to be involved in a career that allows you to be creative and express yourself. If this doesn’t make sense, then maybe you are not really a high caliber artist in the first place.

The people you admire as you listen to their music, did not do or make a backup plan. In most cases, it has taken artists several years to cultivate their career. Success doesn’t happen with the snap of one’s fingers; you have to put in the hours. Maybe you are right, and you don’t have enough talent, and you don’t write well enough. But maybe you do, and you will only have yourself to answer to when you are older and you begin looking back on what could have been. It would be pretty pathetic and a waste, if you have to wonder what might have happened, had you not been lazy and had you not given up at the first sign or even several signs of adversity.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Etiquette for an Audition

Prepare your song(s) two ways: 1) work out the problem spots, and apply technique to those and 2) practice performing the songs with appropriate facial expressions and gestures which add to rather than detract from the performance. Seek others’ opinions, from those who have audition experience and who have your best interests at heart.

Some venues expect professional head shots and resumes. There are classes having to do with this at some local (Orlando, Florida) acting and modeling class establishments such as Lisa Maille.

I once had a booking agent who told me that the fastest way to get somewhere is to look like you have already been there. Part of image is looking and acting like a professional. Seek out and observe role models such as Tom Hanks currently or Gloria Estefan or groups or individuals with manners, morals, and ethics.

AT THE AUDITION, conduct yourself with manners and respect for others. Stay positive. Don’t think about any problems and don’t let others’ problems become yours. Pay attention, stay focused and do the best you can. Thank the appropriate people for letting you audition.

We can go over more about auditioning at voice lessons. Just ask.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

How to Have a Successful Audition!

This isn’t all there is to auditioning; it is only a primer.
PREPARING for an audition is probably 80% of the game. The other 20% will be what happens at the audition. These percentages do not equate to percentages of time. The percentage could easily change to 99.9% to 0.1% or even more. As a personal note, I spent around three hours a day practicing and recording my singing, for an entire year before auditioning for a production show in Las Vegas. I did not have to work that hard but I had my standards, and I was not about to compromise with them.

HOMEWORK is the first step to a successful audition. You first need to discover as precisely as possible what exactly is needed for the part for which you are auditioning. You may not be able to discover this, but try to find others who have worked for the same organization. If it is a play, find out all you can about the play, the director, the producer, the musical director and so on.

Once you have completed all you can with your research and discovery, you will then know what you should wear or what your image should be for the part you are pursuing. Take a realistic look at yourself and perhaps seek advice from others whom you trust as to your attire and your image.

You need to select your music and practice it well in advance of your audition. Six to eight weeks of practice is by no means too much. You want to feel in control of yourself and your voice as much as possible.

Read my next blog, to find out what steps to take to prepare your auditioning song, and how to conduct yourself while auditioning!

Sunday, May 06, 2007

What is YOUR level of commitment?

“Commitment” is not a popular word these days. Perhaps the word is okay, but the concept is unacceptable to many. Commitment is the key to staying on track to success though. There are certainly other factors, but it is the commitment from which an operating policy can be formulated. Your policy as a singer is the thing that keeps you moving toward your goal instead of straying or otherwise being distracted. Positive thinking is a good thing, but it is having an operating policy to help turn thoughts into action.

An amateur singer might have the policy to practice an hour a day. If that singer is practicing a half hour a day, the policy might be made to increase that time, by 5 or 10 minutes more per day until the practice time would be an hour. Policy might include what time of day to practice and even having a schedule.

Professional singers might have policy covering practice, rehearsals, recording sessions, health issues, business issues and issues of their own integrity as artists as to what and what is not acceptable.

If you think of your singing goal as a destination, yourself as the train, then policy would be the track.

Commitment is the fuel that keeps you going, keeps you working toward your goals and not giving up or taking too much time to smell way too many roses along the way. Smell a few, though.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Learn to Use Your OWN Voice, Rather Than Someone Else’s

Whenever a teacher talks in terms of “placing” the tone, that teacher is talking about a result that is sought. The result the teacher is seeking may be what that teacher perceives to be the sound you should make. It may be based on another singer (whom the teacher has heard) who has an entirely different voice from yours. Your natural singing voice is closely related to your speaking voice. When you stray very far from that, you risk strain or even injury to your voice.

If you want a different sound, that sound should be your own best sound, not the sound of someone else. This will be achieved by conscientiously doing exercises to help with the coordination and strength of your voice and with getting vowel sounds to work for you instead of against you.

You cannot “open your throat,” by the way. You can open your mouth, you can open your vocal cords, you can raise your soft palate, and you can move your tongue. Too much of any of these manipulations will result in some sounds that you may not want to share with others. Take a look at an anatomy drawing of the pharynx and larynx and you will see what moves and what does not.

The phrase “everybody knows that” can be a dangerous one because it implies an absolute and universal “truth”. It is advisable to discover the source of our information.

This brings me to the next point, which is, how committed are you, to the improvement of your voice?

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Placement of One’s Voice is a Misnomer!

So, how do you place the tone? You get a spoon, and pick up some tone, and move it to where you want it to be. Does this sound ridiculous? If you take the time to look at an anatomy chart or drawing of the larynx and pharynx, you will see that there are things that move and things that do not move.
You can manipulate your lips, tongue, jaw and soft palate. When you do this incorrectly, you are not “placing” your tone; you are only distorting your sound. An inconsistent sound from the bottom of your range to the top is not pleasing. It is irritating. It is annoying. It is an aberration of tone, not an improvement. Many, many mis-trained and ill-informed singers who are the product of our degraded education system robotically sing, with distorted looking faces and mouths and sound very distorted. It is difficult at times to even understand the words being sung even though they are in “English”.

I have seen a tenth grade music appreciation textbook from Italy which had more music theory, music literature, and music history than what is being taught in this country as a college freshman music major in the same specific courses. This is, I repeat, a textbook for music appreciation. I took that course in high school, and it was mainly listening to music from all eras. It was fun, but it was an easy A. I also took it in college, attended 3 or 4 classes, skipped the rest, aced the final and got an A for the course. The point is, in the U.S., we are way behind by comparison.

In my next blog, you will find out how to achieve your OWN sound, and why “placement” is inaccurate depiction of voice theory.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Singer’s Folklore

Place the tone forward.

This is related to the phrase, “put it in the mask”. This phrase is worth looking at very closely. How do you “put” or “place” the tone in a specific spot in your body? I have heard that this singer or that singer sings from their throat or in their throat. But this does not even make sense. The sound is generated in the throat and travels up from there. So, how do we place it somewhere, and why would we want to?

Where does the sound go?

The sound travels up from the larynx, and on lower notes (chest voice) it travels out of the mouth primarily. On higher notes (the passaggio) it shifts direction going behind the soft palate (ideally), and on even higher notes it travels higher into the head.
It is possible for the sound to be forced out of the mouth nearly exclusively, when it becomes a yell or a scream. This is bad for the singing voice though. Most of us have experienced some hoarseness after an exciting athletic event at which we have done some “cheering”.
So, how do you place the tone? The truth is you don’t.
Educate yourself on how your vocal chords function, so that you can prevent vocal chord damage. Read my next blog, to learn more!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

HAVE BEEN PRODUCING A CD

I've been producing a CD which has taken a lot of time, so blogging went on the back burner for a LONG time. I'm back and I got an email from a guy having problems with LOW NOTES. Most people worry about their crack (if they have one) in their voices or about how to get higher notes easily and without straining but this guy had a low note issue. I wrote him the following letter which is in its entirety and is NOT edited, although I did remove his name, to protect the innocent:


zzzzzzzz,

Where are you located?

I am going to give you free advice now. Ready? This doesn't mean that my advice is worthless or ineffective or no good.

First of all I have not HEARD what your voice is doing and I haven't SEEN you sing, so this is going to be my best guess.

My best guess is that you somehow got into the habit of lowering your larynx on your low notes. That will make them sound throaty or muddy or swallowed. The habit isn't hard to break if you do two things: 1) use your fingers and/or a mirror to monitor where your larynx is. Find out if it is dropping when you do the low notes. If it is, there is your problem.

By the way, I am a tenor and I can sing down to the lowest A on the piano in a fry tone but that sucker is vibrating at 27.5 times a second. The A above isn't too bad, so I know a little about low notes. I also have a great bass singer that I taught who is in an a capella group.

Now back to you...2) you need to talk-sing or speak-sing some descending scales (major and chromatic) and keep them at that talking-like tone production until the larynx learns again not to drop. So, do short and choppy ah-ah-ah-ah as you go down and keep it at the talking sound and the larynx should not drop. Seems like you just picked up a bad habit somewhere along the way.

You ready for this? You CANNOT "place" your sound; so that is not the real problem. It is coming out at 750 miles per hour and you don't have secret valves to direct it this way or that way, so forget about that being the cause.

Do me a favor and write me back about whether this is helpful or specific enough, ok? If you live in US, UK, or a few European countries, I could call you or we could use Skype and I could help more. If you live near Orlando, FL or even not, you could refer singers to me and if I have any openings, I could maybe get a student referral from you if this advice helped. Sound fair? Ok. Do well and get better!!!!!

Chuck Stewart