Monday, September 20, 2010

What Are You Preparing For?

What are you preparing for?

An audition?

A part in a musical?

A career in music?

American Idol?

America’s Got Talent?

A lifetime of working in the performing arts?

Are they all the same? Ask the ones who received national attention on TV talent contests, only to discover they were not ready for a sustainable career. A sustainable career requires having simple things: like, vocal endurance, to be able to spend hours in a studio, recording, and having the fortitude to persevere despite everything. Excuses, being vocally tired, being unable to keep the artistic and technical and musical aspects of your singing for hours at a time mean nothing to industry professionals. A recording company invests millions of dollars into an artist. If you have not prepared to deliver, how can you then have the idea that you, in any way, deserve that investment?

Mental preparedness is where it all begins or where it eventually falls apart. I have seen many, many singers who have had the talent but lacked the mental toughness to ever get beyond the level and accolades of karaoke lounges. They thrive on praise but choke on real work. Getting one song together to a level of acceptability is light years away from getting 15 songs together for recording and concert tours. When the voice fails in a performance, the mind is quick to follow.

This is not to say that a person cannot recover from failure, because true failure is quitting after the problem occurs. This further substantiates that preparing is the only real hope of ever succeeding. Part of this is being ultra clear on your goals.

Michelangelo, a true and proven artist, said, “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.” With that in mind, goals and dreams are not the same thing. Wishes and hopes are good things but pursuing a goal requires studying the things which have invariably worked for others who have succeeded. It requires “follow up” and “follow through”. Michelangelo was an artist, not a contestant. Artists make an entire lifetime of making art. This has everything to do with setting our aim high. You have to see beyond the short term goals and be ready for the long term goals, as they show up.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

One Lesson

There are people who, in the past, have shown up for singing lessons, took one lesson, never to return. The good news is that this is rare. The bad news is that those same people would not go to an airstrip for flying lessons, attend one class and then expect to fly a plane without getting killed. Singing looks easy and so does flying, when the person “in charge” is very, very good at it. It is silly to think that a highly developed skill is gained through just a little bit of knowledge. You wouldn’t go to a doctor, who spent one day in medical school, to get your broken bone treated.

Anything you have learned in school was learned by consistent attendance, and repetition of studying and (hopefully) applying what you studied. The process is: you get information, you do something intelligent with it, and you repeat this until you have a profound understanding and the ability to utilize your newfound knowledge and skill. Or! You study and memorize, make your “A” and know little or nothing about the subject a month or a year later. What was the purpose of putting in the time, if you gain nothing in the long run?

So, above, we have three scenarios: 1) A person expects to learn a vast subject in a day. 2) A person consistently learns and applies and gets good at something. 3) A person treats life like “school” and goes for the grade but never is fully involved with the subject. The results of each approach should be obvious but evidently are either not obvious or are not important to the student. One of the three approaches results in success. The other two are a waste of everyone’s time.

Practice is where the magic lives. Practice is the time and place where you do the things to cause improvement to take place. If you have the proper tools to get the job done, you exponentially increase your chances of success. Conversely, if you have the wrong tools, you will make no progress, or worse still, you will get worse. I had a student a few years ago who went to a major university in Massachusetts and in a month lost an entire octave of her singing range. Her teacher, (who had a doctorate degree in voice) through tears, told her that she did not know how to fix her and that she was so sorry for having messed her up. At this point she started studying with me over the phone and in a month had all of her range back. You can truly get worse by practicing incorrectly or by practicing the wrong things.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

To Be At The Top Of Your Game...

To be at "the top of your game" as a professional singer or musician takes more time than most people would ever guess. You do hit some plateaus along the way. They can feel like stagnation, like you are stuck. Like everything else, how you look at things is vital. When you hit a plateau, it is very likely than you will never get worse than you are on that day. You have reached a level that can be maintained without nearly as much effort as the effort it took to get to that level.


Spending a total of 3 hours a day is common, yet you have to build up to that, if you are not at that level of practicing. Between 3 and 6 hours a day is not uncommon among people who are professional or are heading in that direction. If that sounds outrageous, you can learn to bake a cake in an hour or so and make an edible cake. However, learning to bake a cake is not like learning to be a great singer or musician, because "knowing" and "doing" are not the same thing. You can know how to do something but you have to work on it for many many hours over a period of months and years to achieve greatness in the arts. It is true that in the culinary arts that hours are involved and many great chefs have spent more time in the kitchen than you would in several lifetimes. Practice (or the "doing" of it) is usually done alone and the audience doesn't ever see it, nor would they find it as interesting as the performance.

I have heard that some of the great singers spent 20 hours in the studio on just one song. Multiply that by 12 or 14 for a CD. How much time was spent in individual practice outside of the studio? How much was spent prior to ever arriving at that stage? Most professionals focus on the results of their practice rather than thinking how awful it was to use up all that time. Hell, they could have been watching TV instead, right?

The pleasure derived from being a professional singer is almost infinitely more rewarding than watching even the best that television has to offer, but no one knows this better than a professional singer. The same goes for writing and arranging music; it is hard to put into words the amount of fulfillment and gratification one gets from making music. Is the price paid worth the effort made? Ask anyone who has "made it".

Do you want the reward without paying the dues, so to speak? If so, don't expect anymore back than what you have given. That's the reality of it.

But wait, there's more. Great performers have also spent time in dance class, acting class, and/or working with a mentor or mentors, who can help with these things. To see what happens with those people who did not pay their dues, go out and see your local band who looks like one or all of them is a mannequin, or worse yet, spastic moving things trying to create charisma or stage presence but in actuality are hiding from the audience, disconnected, as if the crowd does not deserve any better. If you insult your audience, don't expect anything better than what you are giving them.

If this sounds harsh, there is nothing more harsh than the sting of failure. Plenty of "has-beens" or "never-weres" can attest to this as they blame everything and everyone, other than the fact of never having put in the time to learn and practice like the real professionals do.

The Pursuit Of Excellence

Whatever happened to the pursuit of excellence? Is excellence someone else's "job"? Many of us have become excellent fans of sports, music, art, dance, but what happened to our own goals?

What if you found out that to be a great singer or a great dancer, that it took as many hours in the day as a great olympic gymnast or skater puts in? Where would all the TV and YouTube time come from? Can you imagine working on every facet of your art and spending six to eight hours a day? Can you imagine 3 hours and 40 minutes on exercise alone, just to be the best as a dancer? Imagine it. It happens.

You get out of things what you put into them. If you want mediocrity as your result, then be mediocre with your practice. Sacrifice a big 15 to 20 minutes a day and, if you're lucky, you can maintain a healthy level of mediocrity. When you practice every other day, which is an "inconsistent approach", you will get inconsistent results. Sometimes things will work and sometimes they will not work.

It is fantasy and self-deception to expect greatness if you do less work than those who have achieved the results you love watching on TV, in concert, in sports, and other areas of life. Make a choice, if you have a passion, and decide to learn the fine art of practice and preparation. The sacrifice will be great but so will the reward.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Excuses

What happens when you find an excuse as big as your goal?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Case For Private Study

Years ago, people learned things from other people who were masters of their crafts. If you wanted to be a blacksmith, you would find a blacksmith who was willing to teach you to do his work. In exchange for your education, you would also be his helper in the shop and do whatever he needed. At some point, you would be as good or better than the man who trained you.

Before colleges were established, people learned from others as apprentices, even in fine arts and in music. George Frederic Handel studied with various individuals, such as Zachau, the Halle Cathedral organist. He befriended other musicians and composers and studied with them. Handel also had his own music students.

Pablo Picasso, who created over 20,000 works of art, also studied with individuals. In 1897 he studied art for a short time in Madrid, then in Barcelona in 1899, where he became good friends with a group of modernist writers, poets, and artists who met at a cafĂ© for several years (1880–1901.) Spending time with others of an artistic ilk apparently does have a positive influence.

Ludwig Von Beethoven studied composition with pianist and composer Christian Neefe. He later studied extensively with Joseph Haydn. He studied counterpoint with Albrecthsberger and Schenk. He learned violin from Franz Ries. Singer and teacher Johann van Beethoven, his father, taught Ludwig piano. In 1787, Beethoven's teacher Christian Neefe recommended that he take lessons from Mozart in Vienna, who was greatly impressed by Beethoven's ability and talent, and Mozarts rival, Antonio Salieri.

When Bach was 9, his parents had both died. He had to live with his older brother, J.C. Bach. It is no wonder that Johann Bach was a musician, coming from a musical family. His father was a trumpet player and a violinist. His brother, J.C. taught Johann organ, as well as the maintenance and design of organs. Bach studied privately with Dietrich Buxtehude, walking 400 kilometers (248.5 miles) to get to his teacher. Bach was renowned for his improvisational skill, which ability served him well as a composer. “I was obliged to work hard. Whoever is equally industrious will succeed just as well.” – Johann Sebastian Bach.”

Composers of yesteryear studied the works of other composers extensively. These days many amateur “writers” of music spend little or no time studying others’ works, in effort to be unique. They miss the boat. In being insular, they cut themselves off from the wealth of knowledge and skill of music theory, chord studies, part writing, composition and the result is either low-level mediocrity or hollow empty music, lacking in the various components, which were ignored. Then they blame their failings on everything except the true cause. They did not care enough to learn enough to know the difference between great music and bad music.

It is not the genre or the style which makes music good or bad. It is the lack of understanding of genre and style and the absence of profound knowledge of music that leads musicians and writers of music to failure.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Vocal Cord Surgery

Many times I have said that vocal cord surgery could be very risky, because scar tissue does not vibrate the same way as healthy normal tissue. This is also the case with the lips of brass players. My brass teacher said to never have used on you an electric needle, to close a cut on the lips, as it would cause scarring and scar tissue does not vibrate the same way as healthy tissue. Listen and watch the video all the way through. Here is the evidence from "voice doctor":

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cUmnqUT20I4

Friday, March 19, 2010

Online Singing Lessons

How good are online singing lessons?

The value and effectiveness of online singing lessons has everything to do with what is being taught. The reason for this is that there is very little standardization in the arts, in general. So, you might be getting a lesson that is fifty or a hundred years behind the times. All singing lessons are not the same. Shopping for singing lessons is like shopping for new and used cars. The differences are vast. You sometimes do not know what you are paying for until you run into the disappointment of having made a bad decision.

Some people say that the most important thing about singing is breathing. Some say that you “sing from your diaphragm”. Not only do they say that, they are adamant about this being the only correct way to sing, as if they are religious zealots. They sometimes get angry when you question this. They let you know that “everybody knows that.” This is simply untrue. You do not and cannot sing from your diaphragm. Physicians have known this for a long time. For over a hundred years, physicians have known the function of the diaphragm. I’ve asked several doctors about this and they all agree that the diaphragm is your “inhale muscle”, not your “exhale muscle.” Ask your own doctor next time you get a chance to visit with him or her. How much is a useless lie worth to you?

Here is a free online singing lesson: “Sing from your diaphragm!” Since this is an impossible thing to do, it is useless advice.

Did you know that your diaphragm does not have propreoceptive nerves in it? This means you cannot feel it, let alone manipulate it in magical ways to make it work upside down.

You could get a lesson on singing classical music. What if you want to do R&B, pop, jazz, or country music? Some classical teachers would say that what you are doing isn’t even music. Some would say there is only one way to sing and that is opera. Some classical singing teachers would tell you that R&B, pop, jazz, and country music is all junk and isn’t even music. There is even a term, which I have heard from some jazz musicians use, calling classical music “legit”, short for legitimate music. What is the rest? Illegitimate? Is that not at least a distasteful term? If you do want to sing classical music, what if your teacher only teaches country?

You could get a lesson on how to place your tone in the “masque” or how to place it forward. You might be able to get your sound all up in your nose but you will find it difficult to place your tone somewhere, unless you have had mechanical placement valves installed by your ENT, along with the remote control mechanism. Who wants wires coming out of their heads unnecessarily? What travels at 750 miles per hour? Sound. How long does it take sound to emerge from your vocal folds (vocal cords), until it exits your mouth? Assuming that is less than a 12 inch distance, try doing the math on that one. Also take a look at some anatomy charts and books and see if you can find placement valves.

Let’s say that you have a specific problem that you want help with. Your voice cracks or you might say that you have a break in your voice. If your online teacher doesn’t know a passaggio from a potato, then you might instead buy yourself some French fries instead of an online singing lesson. Your money might be better spent.

Your voice can be used as a musical instrument. It is a living mechanism with several functions. There are muscles, ligaments, cartilages and living tissue, which can be used, exercised, coordinated and controlled to make some amazing music. It is a great idea if a voice teacher truly understands the function of the larynx. The tongue, lips, the jaw, and teeth are also used for articulation. There are two main types of vowels and several subtypes. There is a safe and effective to warm up your voice before you use it and this can save you trouble and can enhance your performance and your endurance. There are other things you can do which might harm your voice. You do not want to discover these things by accident.

You can find information about singing on my website (www.vocalesy.com). It continues to grow and change as I continue to learn more about the voice from teachers and doctors. It was once thought that if you mix art with science that you will destroy the art. If you ignore the wonderful discoveries in the medical field, you may have a very short singing career.

Friday, January 01, 2010

S U C C E S S

How many times have you heard that lack of success stems from either fear of failure or fear of success?

This never made sense to me but I figured out why. It was stated in a generalized fashion. People feel fear and then go ahead and do things anyway. It might be a good idea to be more specific about the fear.

The fear of failure may actually be the fear of what others say or what is imagined that others may think. The fear may be something which never comes to pass, but instead is a nebulous anxious mess of negative ponderings. It might be a good idea to write everything you can think of regarding your own specific situation.

The fear of success is also non-specific. The fear of losing friends, should you pass them up in personal achievements, in a financial sense, or in some other way could be enough to shut down your efforts. There may be a deeper seated fear here. How about the fear of things which you do not like about yourself getting stronger. I have heard that an abundance of money can make us more of what we already are. Wealth can magnify our ability to do things or to do them more quickly, so it is a good idea to strengthen the great qualities in advance of your 2010 windfall.

What? You're not expecting a windfall? There is a good place to start. Expect it and then step out of your own road and start moving!