Thursday, December 17, 2009

WORRYING

"Worrying is the art of augmenting your problems, while diminishing yourself." - Chuck Stewart

Monday, December 07, 2009

How Important Is Musicianship?

How important is musicianship for a singer? In other words, if musicianship improves, how would singing improve? An extreme example makes this look very simple: When you take the aspects of music out of singing, you mostly have talking. Talking with rhythm and emotion could be rapping, but not all rhythmic talking is rapping.


This, however, is about singing. The two primary factors for singing in tune and in doing "riffs" or embellishments, of being able to sing harmony, of being able to write melodic lines, are having a solid ability in hearing and singing intervals, be they scales, modes, or "melodic intervals", such as in a song. If you cannot do pentatonic scales, then you cannot do "riffs". You won't hear them, you won't emulate them, and you won't be able to improvise them.

Melodic ear training and melodic exercises can quickly help to build the musicianship which modern music now demands. As a matter of fact, music has always made these demands, just the styles changed along the way.

Singing in tune requires excellent execution of melodic intervals, but wait, there's more. Singing in tune also means that you, the singer, also can "interface" with your accompaniment accurately. This means that if you have a weak "harmonic ear", you will hit notes sharp or flat, depending on your misperception of chords. Another factor of tending to sing flat, is having register transition issues which are ubiquitous among most singers who never took the time to get proper and effective vocal training.

Contrary to the misinformed, there are not several "methods" which "work". There is technique which allows a singer to negotiate all the passaggi, and there is technique which does not. it doesn't matter what the technique is called. It either works or it doesn't. If you go flat as you ascend from your normal speaking range, you do not have the coordination to do it any better than you are and your habits are in your way. Without proper training, they will remain and you have the choice of singing below your transition problem, limiting your artistry to that extent, or you should consider something other than singing as a career. Not many singers sing across the break (cracking) and have long careers. The percentage is very small. I could not personally sing above chest voice until I got help. I could not do it on my own. I didn't know how and no matter what I did at that point, the "break" was there and I could only yell out high notes and go hoarse afterwards. So, even if your musicianship is superb, you still may need to handle register transition issues to have the freedom that an artist deserves.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

MAKE UP YOUR MIND!

Make up your mind. It can only be one way or the other. The choice is yours. This is a decision that you cannot wait to make, if you want any hope for success. This does mean any hope. What is it that you have to choose? You can’t have it both ways. You might have some clever ideas floating around to justify or explain away how you can get by with this but they are never going to work. This is like a “house divided against itself”. It cannot and it will not stand. Mutually exclusive, diametrically opposed, dichotomous intentions, irreconcilable differences, So, if you think you can be an artist and a critic at the same time, you can’t. The more you criticize others, the less of an artist you will become.

Criticism of others will turn on you for many reasons. You may start to believe that others think the same way as you. You may think that people in your audience are waiting for your every mis-step, your every flaw, and hoping to notice every note sung out of tune, every little time that you disconnect from your audience and stand there introverted about your own inadequacy as a singer. If you are so unprofessional as to voice your criticism to others, the ramifications are many: 1) Professionals are offended by criticism of others and the best ones keep their opinions to themselves and focus on their own “craft” being the best it can be. 2) A person who criticizes others is directing attention away from him/herself and probably for a reason known or one undiscovered. 3) You win the label of being critical and most people do not desire to be submitting themselves to such hateful and harsh scrutiny and they will avoid you at all costs. 4) You will appear as if you are difficult or even impossible to work with in a productive manner. 5) You kill yourself off and stand in your own way to any progress or will certainly thwart all hopes of rapid progress because you cannot do anything good enough or right enough to your own critical (as opposed to artistic) standards.

Criticism is not a “skill” or an indication of brilliance or of having superior knowledge or superior talent. Yes, we all do have opinions and we all have some concept of standards or artistry. If we put more attention on working toward being the best we can be, we won’t have time to look around at the things that are so wrong and so horrible about others. Anyone can criticize. But everyone cannot sing as a professional. Yet, professional isn’t even the real standard as much as being able to sing with a high level of aesthetics, of sincere feeling, of knowing that singing is for the audience and it is a gift that is given without expecting something in return.

Being critical causes artistic blindness and artistic deafness. If you find yourself uncomfortable or reacting to the people who praise other artists and you are filled with resentment or jealousy or worse, you might want to take some time and look at “the man in the mirror”. Focus on your art. What is so good about you or so right about you that you can speak badly of others? There is a reason that “the golden rule” has been called “golden”.

Being critical is a symptom of love, right? It is hard to use the words critical and love in the same sentence. Would you expect that a critical person would also be a great artist? Would you expect a critical person to be grateful? Critical people are negative. Negativity and artistry do not mix well. There are many many more career failures of people who are critical of others than there are critical people who are successes. Happiness does follow success but it also precedes success. Look for the good and you will find that there is more good than you ever noticed. But, if you want to be miserable, be very, very critical and you will soon find out where that road leads. Make up your mind. It can only be one way or the other. The choice is yours.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

DECISIONS, DECISIONS

You are disarming a bomb. There are two wires and you have to choose which one to cut. The bomb is ticking. It is so old, it isn’t even digital and the incessant ticking is annoying you, as a bead of sweat drips off your nose and onto the convoluted mess of wires. You have figured out that the two wires you have separated from the mess are the two possibilities. Still, you have to make a decision before the time runs out. You have a blue wire and a green wire. If you cut one, the ticking stops and everything is all right. If you cut the wrong one, the ticking also stops but the bomb explodes, vaporizing your head and sending your soul to who knows where. It is a tough decision, to say the least. It is actually the decision of your life. Your training did not prepare you to make this decision. Wait a minute! Green is usually a ground wire, but this bomb may have been built by a madman. Maybe he used a green wire to throw me, you think.

Have you ever been in this situation? This is the old “fork in the road but no road sign” problem. Which way do you go? Sometimes you don’t have enough information to make a good decision. Sometimes you don’t have the right tools, such as a compass, in the fork in the road problem. In most situations, you can gather information and make an informed decision. If you want to make an intelligent decision, you should not only gather information, but also check out the track record and the statistics of success that lie along that direction you will take.

When you make a firm decision, you cut off all other possibilities. A “cut” made in surgery is called an incision and the word incision is related to decision. So, you had better be certain, informed, and intelligent with your decision or you will suffer the consequences. With the right decision, you will reap the reward.

In the 70s, I had three touring bands. In one of these was a trumpet player. A nice guy but he was barely adequate, bordering on inadequate. He was a decent amateur more than he was a pro. Yet, every day he practiced diligently and consistently. He wasn’t on a plateau. A plateau may be temporary. He was hitting a ceiling and never did break through. Why? Whatever he was practicing was either the wrong thing to practice or he was practicing it the wrong way. My lead trumpet player offered to help him but he refused his help. I had to let him go and replace him with someone who could handle the demands of the position. My standards were very high and I could not compromise them because doing so would weaken the band musically and would demoralize those of us who were at the standard that we knew would lead to success.

As a singer, for many years, I practiced the wrong things and the results were: I had a limited range, I strained, I sometimes lost my voice, I had to “sing below my break”, and I couldn’t get rid of the break in my voice. During the eighteen years I lived in Las Vegas, I had friends who were singers. While I was singing in a show, one of my singer friends introduced me to a singing teacher and she taught me the right things, the right way and I handled my issues. The success of handling this and the freedom I gained were a million times better than the frustration that I had all the years prior. My musicianship was more than sufficient to keep me working professionally but I wanted to do more and my head was up against a ceiling until I learned to demolish the old habits which held me back for too many years.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

JEWEL

I went with Sheree to see Jewel in concert in Melbourne, Florida last night. The warmup act was an awesome lady dressed in a bumblebee outfit (Halloween) named Meiko. I don't even know if I spelled her name correctly, but she was excellent.

Jewel was onstage with three guitars, an electric and two acoustics. Having binoculars, I saw that she likes Taylor guitars. Understand that it was just her onstage and that she had three guitars, all with very different sounds. Her guitar playing is that of a consummate professional musician now. I couldn't say that about her first CD, where there was some uneven sounding rhythm and time on a song. Now her playing is beyond reproach. Mind you I was in Las Vegas for 18 years and played with and heard some of the best musicians who have ever lived and she is at that high level of professionalism and artistry.

Although her playing was impeccable, her singing was truly phenomenal. There is no one I can compare her to. She is truly unique and before I get into that, I have to say this: If you have not heard Jewel in person, she is light years beyond the CDs of her I have heard. There are sounds in her voice that I don't believe are recordable. Her tone is multi-dimensional. Let me clarify that. It is as if she is maybe 10 or more people at once. The overtones coming through the most pure tones are ultra-rich. She not only can do controlled fry tones, but also can do a thing where I could hear two pitches coming out at once and it was not "throat singing". For the distinction, you might want to check that term out on the internet.

As if her pyrotechnics were not enough, Jewel gets an enormous amount of unbridled uninhibited emotion out of herself. Somehow she can do this without caving in on herself. If you have ever sung and truly felt the emotion, you know that it is possible to become totally overwhelmed and overcome to where you simply cannot go on. She has made it past that point and with an intensity that seems to transcend time and space. I was drawn in and felt her emotion, almost as if it were my own.

Her musicality in singing her songs was far beyond her CDs. The essence was very much there but the new twists and turns were such that you could tell that her improvisational prowess is more developed than any jazz singer I have ever heard. Remember I was in Las Vegas for 18 years and did hear the best of the best. This is something that has to be experienced because mere words pale by comparison to the actuality of her artistic genius.

If you haven't heard Jewel live, you have only heard 1% of what is there.

Between songs she told fascinating stories about her life: Growing up in Alaska, her mother left the family, singing in bars with her father, worked her way across the U.S. and down into Mexico, singing for money the whole way and the whole way back. At one time she was homeless, living out of her car and then no longer had the car. This lady has more than paid her dues.

She ended her concert with two encores and the last including yodeling, which was the absolute best I have ever heard. She first did this at a "normal" speed and was impressive with her accuracy and speed, then she sped it up at a ridiculous speed and ended with yodeling that was at light speed. Obviously, not literally, but you would swear that what she did is humanly impossible.

I have never been so much in the present moment and totally fascinated as I was in this two hour performance that is hard to describe other than as a religious experience. That was the feeling I had, not worshipping her by any means, just lifted up and elevated to places I hadn't known before (and for a full two solid hours of Jewel).

Monday, September 14, 2009

Gotta Have A Break!

"If you want to make it in the recording business, you have to have a break."

"You have to de discovered by someone or you will never make it."

"The odds are so high that you won't make it, you might as well not even try."

"Keep your day job."

Have you heard these things? I have. I've also heard that success happens when preparation meets opportunity. Many people are not prepared for success. They are not ready. If there was ever a holistic thing, that thing would be about a singer who has "made it." A singer has to have preparedness as an artist, a technician, a business person, and also have the emotional maturity and control beyond almost everyone else to be able to not only persevere long enough to get some place, but also to sustain and grow and go from there.

It takes work and dedication consistently to arrive at the point of opportunity in a prepared state. It is more "mental" than you might imagine. Confidence doesn't come from rotely going through exercises or singing songs nonchalantly. There has to be mental preparation prior to practice, during practice, and after practice. It takes a big goal and it takes sufficient faith that it is possible and attainable.

Can you imagine the preparation and the work Michelangelo did to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? I have been there and stood there and looked up at it, marveling at the work. To see it in person is to appreciate it to its fullest. Seeing it in person also makes this quote from Michelangelo hit with more impact: "The greater danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it."

When it comes to the business side of music, the first thing to know is that it is business. Business has its own set of rules. Many singers may not have had experience in business or finance. This is evidenced by some of the horror stories of personal bankruptcies of singers who (oddly enough) have highly successful CDs. How can this happen? Easily, unfortunately. It is very easy to misunderstand contracts, if you haven't read any before. Attorneys outside of the entertainment field often do not understand the ins and outs of the music business.

It takes a team and great leadership to launch a career in music but it first takes a singer who is mentally prepared and musically prepared. Oddly enough without such preparation, the opportunities seem to either run away or never even show up.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Singers' Musicianship

What is the difference between a good singer and a great singer?

If you are a good singer but not a great singer (name your favorites), it is because great singers are hearing things that you do not hear. I’ll say that again: GREAT singers hear things that you don’t!

What are these things? Do they hear voices in their heads? Probably not. But they are hearing things that other people do not recognize or understand. They are operating at a higher level of musicianship than those who do not sound great.

Vocal technique, more precisely, lack of vocal technique can certainly impede a singer’s artistic expression at times but the greatest single problem is musicianship. Musicianship is the ability to recognize, identify, create, and perform many of the smallest of details, or nuances, of singing. Some singers do not know what these things are even called, but they still can hear and execute these things. Other singers know exactly what they are, because they took the time and effort to learn them.

Artistic acumen and talent certainly do play a part in singing and are not to be discounted, but more often than not, the single biggest stumbling block is a deficiency in musicianship. Fortunately, this can be rectified through understanding music theory and through melodic and harmonic ear training. This has to be done at a profound level as opposed to the superficial approach too many of us (who have been infected by bad habits in school of “studying for the grade”, instead of studying for the knowledge) have. After gaining the knowledge, it has to be assimilated and practiced until it becomes a part of the singer and transcends mere thought.

There is a reason that music theory and piano are required and are taught in vocal performance programs at the top universities. Even though this is done at that level, principles are omitted, causing confusion or a lack of ability to harmonize melodic lines or to write or compose songs or pieces, which have significance. Musicianship can stretch to depths and breadths beyond what a singer actually needs but are needed by any singer/songwriter who desires a professional career. The difference between a good song and a great song comes back to…you guessed it: musicianship.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Multifactorial Approch

Singing is made up of several sets of skills.

The primary essential skill is that of musicianship. The strength of this or the weakness of it will always show up (often unbeknownst to the singer) and will be obvious to those educated in music. Education simply means, in this sense, that the singer hears music and his/herself knows what was heard, indentifies it, relates to it, understands it, could re-sing it or even write it down AND this has occurred from having somehow learned these skills. Inadequate musicianship always results in an inadequate singer. This is nor a fatal flaw, however. This is something which can be improved and doesn't necessarily have to take a long time.

There are several skills making up musicianship, some of which were mentioned above. Most music majors in college have a major instrument and a minor instrument. Most singing majors major in voice and minor in piano. Knowing piano is very useful in learning chords, harmony, and music theory. Voice majors take music theory. I teach music theory (I prefer the term harmonic technique because it is more precise and clear). Rather than a broad and general approach to the subject, I teach it from the perspective of a singer. This relationship from voice to musicianship builds more quickly due to the application of whatever musicianship initially exists being built to the expansion of knowledge and skill, as it directly relates to singing.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

On Being A GREAT Singer

When you have sung professionally for nearly forty years, have been a vocal coach for 35 years, you have been exposed to a veritable myriad of problems, all of which have begged or screamed for solutions.

Being a student of the voice, music, arranging, composing, songwriting, etc. has been and will be continuously studying the science and the art of the aforementioned. There have been debates through the years as to whether it is possible or even prudent to “mix art with science”. In actuality, one may well discover that the two are inseparable, in that one cannot exist without the other.

Acoustics, being the science of sound, has played an integral part in the development of better wind instruments. They are better in sound quality and in playability. Just ask a true professional musician about the difference between the trumpets of the 40s and the ones of today, such as the trumpets of Chris Botti, Wynton Marsalis, or Arturo Sandoval.

Acoustics as regards voice is alive and well on many levels. The interior of the singer’s pharo-maxo-naso-laryngeal cavities varies from one singer to another and all result in contributing to the unique sound of each singer. Inside are several variables including a unique shape and size in which will be the absorption, reflection, resonance, diffusion, and reverberation of sound. All of these affect the tone quality, timbre, sound level, projection, and the overtones of the sound that is emitted.

We could say that we can ignore all of this because we are “just singing” and that is true to an extent. Definitely we need to ignore specific things as we perform because the distraction will detract from our performance in various ways. When the problem arises of a singer attempting to sound or sing a certain way which is contrary to the natural “equipment” of the singer, a solution or solutions may be addressed and explored. Science may hold some keys to the solutions.

For years anatomy, medicine, and physics were largely ignored by singing teachers and vocal coaches. People’s tongues, teeth, lips and the interior resonating chambers are as individual as a fingerprint. How do you think you can identify the uniqueness of a speaking voice or a singing voice? These factors all play a part. Singers will tend to work for or against the natural equipment they are born with. As a vocal coach who has studied the variables listed above, I can assist in finding the natural road of least resistance to a person’s own unique sound. This is one area where it is not nice to try to fool mother nature. And this is not to say that things cannot be manipulated, such as doing character voices, but there is a right way and a wrong way to do this. The wrong way may lead to vocal injury.

Singing is a hearing art. The audience hears the art but the singer hears so much more. After years of singing, many things transcend mere thought and occur on an intuitive level. To arrive at this level, we may learn several things at a profound level along the way.

Singing is musical. The best singers I have heard know music. They may or may not know the nomenclature or the terminology of music, but they still know music. It is purported that the great drummer Buddy Rich did not read music. This hasn’t been verified but I recommend seeking out some clips on You Tube and listen to his playing. Musicianship can be achieved at a very high level without getting past musical illiteracy. I am not sure if Frank Sinatra could read or write music. If not, that didn’t get in the way of his long career.

Musicianship is a vast subject, when broken down into all the component parts, and therefore is a subject unto itself. It will be noticeable in the results of hearing all the components of music which include: rhythm, time, pitch, dynamics, tone, timbre, style, form, structure and much more. If we could all at once “download” this and the rest of what makes a great singer, I think your head would explode because there is much more to this than what meets the superficial ear and eye. Musicianship is huge. There is no getting around the importance of it as a singer.

Acting may lead to being able to more easily perform as a singer but if the singer doesn’t move past acting, the performance will look like the singer is a “fake”, or even worse, a liar. The emotions have to be freed up and express-able with appropriate levels of intensity. Great singers perform to their audiences and are not a “parody of a singer”. Still there is the factor of “communication”. A great singer will make each person in the audience feel as if he or she is in the conversation, not just observing it. I personally felt this from a distance of perhaps 200 feet. The singer was, in fact, Frank Sinatra. People do not go to concerts to simply listen to a singer. They can do that on an I-pod or with a radio. Something else happens at a live performance and although lip synching may sound about the same, an almost magical phenomenon happens at a concert and it has everything to do with the live performance. You cannot scientifically measure it but you can definitely feel it, unless there is something wrong with you at some level.

The state of mind of the singer can make or break the greatness of the singer. I saw two famous singers one New Year Eve in Las Vegas practically fall flat. You would think that their integrity as professional artists and singers would have been sufficient to not affect the performance but they obviously failed to do their best that evening. It was disappointing, annoying, sad and sometimes even funny to watch them make fools of themselves (in comparison to their usual levels of performance). The disappointment was that the audience paid and the performers were paid to perform. They did perform but they brought the effects of their argument to the stage with them. I felt cheated. I felt that they betrayed the audience. I had seen them many times before but not one time after that ridiculous and immature debacle of a show.

The overall physical health of a singer will affect the greatness of a singer. You can think of examples of this yourself. Tiredness, illness, or injury will all affect singing. I am of the belief that there are levels of health which are above what is considered normal or healthy. There are optimal levels of health which, since we use our bodies to sing, will make subtle or even great differences in our ability to “do our best”.

Talent and intelligence will affect the greatness of a singer because ability and intellect are the areas from which we draw for singing at a star quality professional echelon. We cannot pretend that these factors have nothing to do with greatness. We also cannot necessarily create these things of intelligence and talent if they do not appear to be present. We can work harder at developing other strengths and improving weaknesses, though. If a person has a passion and an ability for singing, many things can be overcome but there may need to be compromises made as to how and where singing is done.

Work which is done in a diligent and educated manner will produce improvement as long as all other factors of greatness are present in the singer. Work done in a slipshod manner will produce no or little improvement. Work done in the presence of misinformation or false information regarding and of the factors of greatness will produce no results or even bad results. Singers can, have, and will injure their voices or if not that, never ever reach their full potential.

Greatness doesn’t take forever but at the same time it doesn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t happen without preparation, correct knowledge, talent, ability, and the application of true, tried and tested techniques. It takes courage to be great and courage to persevere and near perfect discipline to consistently work toward a goal with high integrity to achieve greatness.

Monday, April 13, 2009

TAKE 100%

"Take 100% responsibility for your life." - Jack Canfield

This is enormous. It's not a joke. It's not a superficial cursory assessment. It may take a few days or weeks to get this into perspective, to back up far enough away to get objective. It may not even be possible to do but it puts you in the driver's seat with your hands on the wheel and your foot on the accelerator.

The first thing to let go of is "blame".

If that seems too hard, then start with this: "When you complain, your power goes down the drain." - Yours Truly (Chuck Stewart)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Free Advice

So, you're a singer. Singers sing. Right? Do you sing along with singers you love? Who doesn't? But, how far will that get you to sounding as good as your favorite or sounding even better than her/him?

Granted, you can make some progress by trying to duplicate style, pitch, and so forth, but that only takes you so far. As you know, singers sing with music and they don't have someone else to carry the tune for them. This kind of practice of singing with a singer can act like a crutch and actually put you on a plateau of no progress. The first step on up that mountain is to do a solo flight. First try it with silence. Sing it a capella (with no music).

Speaking of "a capella", did you know that is Italian, as is most music terminology? "Capella" is Italian for chapel. Chapels usually are so small that they don't have pianos or organs in them. So we don't mean to sing small, we just mean to sing without any instruments and we call that a capella. It is a great way to discover what you really know and what you are faking or are mistaking. I just had to make that rhyme!

Friday, March 06, 2009

Philosophy Of A Singer

What are we all after with the art of singing--our singing? In the final analysis, aren't we living as singers to share our art and in doing so to uplift the spirits of others or to take people on a journey through emotions, thoughts, feelings, and ideas which we want to share? We want to do this without it being impeded by our own musical or technical shortcomings. We want to be up to the task. We actually want to have more skill ability, endurance, range, artistic expression, and artistic imagination than what is required to make an impact, to change lives, to bring happiness, or to have others experience or know us to the core of our very souls.

We want to have overcome the impediments and barriers and just be able to thrive as artists and make the world a better place. Isn't that what art is about? Because of these issues, I have created a group on this very site. It is called "Singers Solutions". This group is what that is all about. What are our tools? Which ones are we missing? How do we use the ones we have and gain the others so that we can achieve our goals? Let us explore the possibilities and the potentialities which may lie beyond our present awareness. Let's find the things in ourselves to turn dreams into realities.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

How I Evaluate Singers

The number one vocal skill is actually a combination of several skills and is collectively known as "musicianship". If you are lucky enough to have gained it from osmosis, then God bless you! Most people have no idea why they cannot sing in tune, do great riffs, understand style, form, structure and hear and know melodic and harmonic intervals and more. The audience hears that something isn't quite right but may not know what to call it or how to analyze it. Musicianship goes far beyond merely singing in tune and merely having a great sense of tonality. There is so much more!

Sometimes vocal technique has not been fully developed and there are problems with register transitions, or breaks in tone production quality. Sometimes vocal technique is inadequate for endurance or range or even to sing a specific style competently.

Some singers have problems "finding their own voice" or developing a unique style.

Many singers are musically illiterate; unable to read or write music or to sight sing. Such things can be taught and may even be nonessential, if the levels of musicianship with hearing and executing are sufficiently developed. Knowing chords, scales, chord progressions and being able to write music (or at least to do sequencing) would place a singer in the position of more easily interfacing with musicians. Professional musicians may are usually so advanced as to know and perform such things as second nature. Some musicians think singers are not musicians at all and have little respect for them, treating them (in person OR behind their backs) as if they are severely deficient in musical knowledge.

Recording experience is invaluable and irreplaceable because without it, a singer never has complete objectivity. What do you sound like to others?

For the vast majority, the multitudinous skills of singing do not come naturally and do not come without some help and/or without countless hours of practice.


Take a peek at www.vocaleasy.com.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Economy

The thing to do in a bad economy is to promote and advertise more than is normal. Now is the time to make connections and to have promotional material going out to appropriate places and people. Networking is essential to these times, so be careful about burning bridges. There can be long term effects.

Things are slow but they have not stopped. We may have already hit bottom and the upswing will be gradual at first but our stopping at this point could prove disasterous. The strong will survive this. Be strong.