Saturday, November 16, 2013

Interview With Ronnie Fabre

Chuck Stewart: When did you start singing?

Ronnie Fabre: I started singing when I was 13, when my parents gave me a guitar. I started taking lessons,
and by the time I was 15 had my first paying gigs. My dad drove me to the Troubador in Hollywood every Monday night for Hoot Night, and I was hooked. no one ever asked me how old i was..!!! 

Chuck Stewart: I first heard you in Las Vegas in a production show we were both in.  Your singing sounded amazing EVERY night, yet quite effortless.  Do you or have you ever done breathing exercises and do they help?

Ronnie Fabre: Breathing for singing is a very relaxed process for me. I was a scuba diver for many years as a teen, and I think that, and trying to sing without a mic. helped a lot.  I think breathing for singing should be a personal choice, and i never had to practice breathing technique, as it came naturally for my needs as a singer.

Chuck Stewart: Who were some of your influences, as you were growing up?  Also, have you studied voice?

Ronnie Fabre: My first influences were mainly folk artists, like: Joan Beaz, Joni Mitchell, Linda Rondstadt, grahm nash, JD Souther, Glen Frey, Niel young, James Taylor. Most of them I saw all the time at the Troubador.  Richie Havens even talked to me when I asked his advice whether I should go on tour as a singer to Vietnam with the USO. He was a big influence on me and such a powerhouse talent. I met some greats when I was just a kid. Then it was Aretha, Patti Labelle,Chaka Kahn, et al. Then I went in Legends In Concert as Ethel Merman, then morphed into Judy Garland.  My first voice lesson was with Seth Riggs when I was 43. Wow! It changed my muscled up way of singing!  I felt I had found true vocal freedom. I was with Seth for 12 years.  It was difficult at first, but i was very glad I did it.  My mom made her debut singing at Carnagie Hall when she was 18 years old. Mom never gave me singing tips, I had to do it all on my own, but I am very happy to have done what I did, and would change nothing.

Chuck Stewart: Do you practice singing every day?  How much time do you put in?

Ronnie Fabre: I do practice every day, vocalise with students, learning new songs, etc. I teach beginning guitar, and ukelele, and learning new songs is a must. I am having so much fun on uke.  I just love it, and so do my students. a really fun, happy, beautiful instrument!!!  So yes, I practice every day, and it's very important to sing every day. Bob hopes' wife Delores, recorded a cd when she was 86, and it was wounderful.  You snooze, you lose...really true!!

Chuck Stewart: Do you play piano and if so, would you say that has contributed to your awesome musicianship?  

Ronnie Fabre: i  can play the vocalises, on piano, but the guitar and uke are my instruments.  And yes, it's great to accompany yourself. It makes your time better, and you can have it just the way you like it!!

Chuck Stewart: Where have you worked and with whom?

Ronnie Fabre: I started working in Orange County (California) at various clubs, and then married my first husband Ed "too tall" Grell . He  became Bill Medley's drummer, and I sang backup, among other gigs, from 1971, till about 1976. We worked in Vegas starting in around 71', and had many gigs here. I worked in many bands, including many big bands: Nelson Riddle, Guy Lombardo and the Royal Ranadians, many R&B  bands, including The Checkmates, the Lon Bronson all star band, the first 14 pc funk  horn band here in Vegas, and lots of others.  I started in "Legends in Concert", in 1989, as Ethel Merman, and also do Judy Garland.  I still work as a "legend",  occasionally, and have a jazz band, and a second line dixieland band, and in it, I play a tricked out washboard, and sing.  I've never had so much fun!  I just love music, no matter what the venue.  My husband, Steve Golden, is a very accomplished sax player, plays 10 instruments, and has 2 degrees in music from Berklee College of Music in Boston.  We have a great time making music together.

Chuck Stewart: Where are you performing now? 

Ronnie Fabre: I do casuals, still do "legends", occasionally, and have got to work with some of the great Vegas legends, like Joe Darro, a beyond belief piano player and singer, my husband Steve Golden, and if I went on this would never end...

Chuck Stewart: Aren't you also a painter?

Ronnie Fabre: I am a stone carver and bronze caster.  You never want to see me paint, besides my house...I  won first prize  and second, in the Las Vegas Native American Competition for the Las Vegas Art Museum.  My life size bronze, "Moon Shaman" is my favorite piece of artwork, as I had to travel to Saskatoon Canada to do it,then my teacher Bill Epp, the Prof. at the University of Saskatoon, drove it all the way down here for me! What an honor it was!

Chuck Stewart: Do you have an album out currently?   Where can people buy your music?

Ronnie Fabre: I have always given out my cd, to my students, and the people who have liked my music.  I will be on a new compilation cd, with a video, coming out in late December.  It's about many musicians who have been in Vegas for a long while. It should be interesting. I will be singing Billy Strayhorn's "Lush LIfe", my favorite song of all.

Chuck Stewart:  I have had several of my students learn that song.  It is truly a learning experience, mastering it.
Thank you so much for doing this interview. Is there anything you would like to add, regarding being a singer?

Ronnie Fabre: It has been a wonderful life, one I would not have traded for anything, although Marine Biology was at the top of my list in the beginning. Seeing the look on the faces of the GI's in Vietnam changed my life forever.  Today is Veterans Day, and a day near and dear to my heart.  When as a 17 year old kid, still in high school, I took a chance to go to a war zone, and that forever changed my life as a person.
Wow!!  I sang with the Safaris' of "Wipeout", and Surfer Joe fame, from my hometown in Glendora Calif.!  I have been so blessed to be so very lucky, in my chosen field, to be a real singer, to have known so many greats, to have been a part of "old Vegas", and a part of "new Vegas", as the song goes,"Everything Must Change". Goodnight for now, and thanks for asking....!!!!  Love, Ronnie.

 It is an honor and a privilege to have you share these things.   Thank you!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Interview With Kelly Conelly

I recently interviewed Kelly Conelly Eisenhour.  I knew her in Las Vegas and was so impressed, her being able to sing R&B and jazz unbelievably well.  She is a consummate professional, as you will discover as you read.

An Interview With Kelly Conelly Eisenhour

It's October 30th, 2013, almost Halloween.

Chuck Stewart:  Do you do anything special for Halloween?

Kelly Conelly Eisenhour: No, nothing more than the usual handing out candy and getting my daughter ready for trick or treating. She is 12 now and wanting to go with her big group of friends and not mom anymore. Haha so I'm relegated to pass out candy. But it's fun and it always reminds me of my own childhood and the great memories of the excitement of Halloween.

Chuck Stewart: When did you start singing?

Kelly Conelly Eisenhour: I started singing at a young age. I would say about 8 years old when I first started piano lessons (that I continued until age 18) I discovered that I could sing and had a little more control over my voice than my friends. I remember in 2nd grade doing a full play where we made a "road" out of a long piece from a spool of poster paper my teacher had, and we made little stops along the way where we sang specific songs (pop songs of the day). I sang a lot of the songs and I was hooked! I also had a father who was a jazz aficionado and listened to jazz in our home hours and hours a day, so I grew up listening to jazz. Quite an education.

Chuck Stewart: I first heard you in Las Vegas, where we met.  Where did you perform there?  Weren't you singing with a group prior to that?  Who was that?

Kelly Conelly Eisenhour: Yes, I started singing professionally in jazz clubs at 19 in my hometown of Tucson. I remember learning a couple of jazz standards and then going to an audition for a piano bar gig. The pianist used different singers each night of the weekend. It was a Tuesday, and I did the audition singing the two standards I knew. He said great! You start on Friday. Have about 30 songs ready to go with a list of your keys. I was panicked! I ended up learning about 25 songs in 3 days (you can only do that when you are young) and made it through the first gig okay! I continued to sing Friday nights for about a year. I was also going to school and in the jazz choir at the University of Arizona. The director of that group was a well respected pianist, and I worked with him on occasion. He allowed me to be featured quite often in jazz choir and gave me fake books so I was able to learn lots of jazz standards. I was very much a jazz "snob" at the time, and was immersed in jazz, not wanting to listen to or sing anything else. I opened up a little more to other music later on, but am glad that I did this "immersion" of jazz in the beginning. It was great for my creativity and musicality in all music genres I would sing later.

Chuck Stewart: You sing R&B as well as anyone I've heard.  How did you get so good at that?

Kelly Conelly Eisenhour: I can only attribute it to my jazz background. When I started singing pop or top 40 music at about 22 (mostly because I could make more money!) I was able to sing that style immediately but also made it my own. I loved many singers who were iconic, such as Aretha and Chaka Khan, and listened to them. They interested me because they also had a jazz background. Later, when I sang back up with Gladys Knight and had to "prove" myself with the all African-American band in those first rehearsals, they later told me that what was different about me is that I didn't sound like I was white TRYING to sound black, that I had a very authentic sound that came from the heart. That was a great compliment. I just had that soulful style in me, and I'm not sure how it got there. I grew up in a very middle class mostly white area in Tucson, Arizona. But again, I had an extensive jazz "education" so I can only attribute it to that (or something more mystical was going on!)

Chuck Stewart: Do you practice singing every day?  How much time do you put in?

Kelly Conelly Eisenhour: Currently I'm doing much more teaching than singing, and so I'm not as active in my practice either. I tended to practice over the years more out of necessity (learning tunes, working songs to "fit" in my voice meaning getting comfortable with a song, practice for shows or concerts) and didn't really have a more structured daily practice. Knowing what I know now, I wish I had a really good vocal teacher when I was young to guide me in that. I never had a solid voice teacher who really knew what they were doing (particularly with contemporary music) and it wasn't until I was in my 30's that I took a couple lessons from a teacher that turned my head around. As I have gained more knowledge in this area over the years since, I am determined to help young singers understand what I didn't. That it is so important to have knowledge of how the voice works and to be training to keep your voice from taking a left and creating limitations at the least and real damage at the most.

Chuck Stewart: I have heard you sing several styles of music and they are all quite phenomenal.  How did you learn to do that or was it from listening to many singers and being able to capture a style, so to speak?

Kelly Conelly Eisenhour: Again, I would say that it is from my jazz background that I'm able to do that. Jazz music requires you to be your own singer and not an imitation of others, so you have to really think outside of the box. It also gives you more control and musicality. Singing as a studio session singer for many years also helped me to have more control and be a vocal "technician," doing what was required for that session quickly. I would say the hardest style I had to master was country. That was so out of my norm. It was a great experience to learn how to do it because I've been able to use the experience to help others learn styles that they may be unfamiliar with. What I discovered is that if you get the "feel" of the music, or the overall style begins to seep into your bones (through much listening), you begin to be able to imitate it without having to think of every nuance and ornament. Those just come out naturally because you have the overall "feel" right. So, to answer your question, I really try to understand the music first. What is that style trying to "say?" What is it's authenticity? And then really studying or listening until I "get" it.

Chuck Stewart: What have you been doing with music in the last few years?

Kelly Conelly Eisenhour: As you know, I moved to the Seattle area after I finished my masters degree in jazz studies, performance and composition, and took a job at Green River Community College in Auburn, Wa. I began my position in 2008 and so am in my 6th year as Choral Director and Music Instructor. I have received tenure and absolutely love my job. I direct two choirs, Concert Choir and Jazz Voices, and teach music theory, music appreciation, piano class, and others, depending on the quarter. Jazz Voices is my "baby." I hire a professional rhythm section to play for them and they do some pretty difficult music and grow immensely musically. I also like to write for them. I get a lot of satisfaction out of my work with the students. In my personal career, my last album came out in 2007 and went to number 14 on the national jazz charts. It was very well received by the jazz community and that gave me a lot of satisfaction as well. We all want to feel like we are contributing and what we do is valid. I was able to get that through this album. I have been singing periodically in Seattle jazz clubs, with a highlight of winning the Seattle-Kobe Vocal Jazz Competition and getting a trip to Kobe, Japan to sing there in 2010. I also sang with the award winning vocal group Groove For Thought for a year (you may have seen them on the second season of NBC's "The Sing Off" before I joined the group). Though the pace of that group was a little more than I was ready to do on a permanent basis, I learned a lot about group singing that I apply to my teaching. It's great to be on the other side as the singer in a group rather than the director, and I learned a lot about what my student singers need as I direct my groups. I am interested in recording another album soon, but I admit that I am a little less involved with my personal singing and am more involved with my students. I also am very active in my daughter's life, and there is only so much time! So for now I am content to do more teaching and parenting, and will do things with my singing as they come along. I've had a long career of singing already and am content with that.

Chuck Stewart: You went to Berklee School of Music?  Did I get that right?  What was that like?

Kelly Conelly Eisenhour: Yes, I got my undergrad degree from Berklee back in 1986. Berklee was an amazing experience that I treasure. I went there after being disillusioned with the music program at the University of Arizona. Back then there was not much for a jazz singer to be able to study! Berklee was the right place for me and I really appreciated all that it had to offer and took advantage of it in a big way. It is so expensive today though, that I wouldn't necessarily recommend it to others. If you want to go there, really weigh out what it will cost particularly if you have to take out student loans, and what you will get in return for that investment. But it is a fantastic school and experience if you can afford to go (it was much more affordable back then!).

Chuck Stewart: Do you have an album out currently?   Where can people buy your music?

Kelly Conelly Eisenhour: I have two albums, Kelly Eisenhour, Now You Know, and Kelly Eisenhour Seek and Find, featuring Bob Mintzer. Both are available on iTunes, Amazon, CDBaby, and other similar sites. There are also other albums that I'm featured on that are not my own. Albums by the group Q'd Up, the BYU faculty jazz band. Also, Steve Lindeman's Day After Yesterday. This one just won the first round of the Grammy award voting for best large ensemble album and best vocal arrangement and performance of the song I sang and co-wrote "Maravillas, Take Me To Wonderland Right Away." Not sure if it will go much farther but that was exciting.

Chuck Stewart:  Thank you so much for doing this interview. Is there anything you would like to add, regarding being a singer?

Kelly Conelly Eisenhour: I think that what students of singing should know is that it is important to study your instrument and study music just as instrumentalists do. There are many singers out there who give singers a bad name among instrumentalists because they don't take their craft seriously. Yes, we have the advantage of being able to get up and running and sing by ear in the way instrumentalists can't do. But to really be a professional and be respected amongst your peers, put time into developing your craft, including how to read music. All singers should be able to at least play the piano, not necessarily to perform as a pianist, but to have musical knowledge.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

My Interview With Linda Eder

There is a famous singer, Linda Eder, who has allowed me to interview her.  She is a star of Broadway (Jekyl and Hyde and Camille Claudel).  She has several CDs out.  Enjoy!!!!

An Interview With LInda Eder

It's October 29th, 2013, almost Halloween.

Chuck Stewart:  Do you do anything special for Halloween?

Linda Eder:  I have on different years done big Halloween parties but not too often.  I tend to go all out with the decorations and it takes me weeks to put up and take down.  It’s a lot of work…   But I have always like Halloween because I love costumes.

Chuck Stewart: When did you start singing?

Linda Eder:  From the time I could open my mouth, but I was very shy about singing in front of anyone.

Chuck Stewart: Before continuing, I have to say that I don't know of any other singer, anywhere, or from any era, who has the command of technique, style and artistry, which you possess.  Your rendition of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" is pure unmitigated aesthetics.  Your tone quality is unmatched, in my opinion. Your breath control and lung capacity are both amazing.  Do you or have you ever done breathing exercises?

Linda Eder: Not actually breathing exercises, but I was a long distance runner from the age of 7.  I think it helped me build my lungs and breath control.

Chuck Stewart: You perhaps wouldn't believe how many young singers have attempted your songs from Jekyll and Hyde.  Could you talk about your background in acting and if you had classes or teachers along the way?

Linda Eder:  I had no acting lessons before J&H.  My critics will tell you that that fact is obvious.  My fans will tell you that I am a natural born actor.  After Jekyll I did a musical called Camille Claudel and I studied with a private acting coach for about a year prior to the show.

Chuck Stewart: Do you practice singing every day?  How much time do you put in?

Linda Eder:  No, and I should.   All singers can take a tip from Tony Bennett.  The older you get the more important it is to keep singing regularily.  Fortunately I have always worked steadily all year long so I don’t usually go too long without singing.

Chuck Stewart: I have heard you sing several styles of music and they are all quite phenomenal.  How did you learn to do that or was it from listening to many singers and being able to capture a style, so to speak?

Linda Eder:  I listened to records and the radio just l like everyone else, but you have to be innately a musician to be able to understand music and musical styles.  The best tip is to try to stay true to yourself.

Chuck Stewart: "Man of La Mancha" is very powerful, indeed, the way you sing it.  Your upper register is both controlled and gorgeous.  I heard you (in person) in Boston, with the Boston Pops and Arturo Sandoval on a 4th of July a while back.  You sounded as phenomenal in person as you do on recordings.  You don't show any stage fright.  Did you have to overcome any stage fright, and if so, how?

Linda Eder: Terrible stage fright.   As I mentioned I could not sing in front of anyone for a very long time.   It was only because I wanted it so badly that I pushed myself threw the “horror” of possibly embarrassing myself in front of an audience.

Chuck Stewart: Have you ever had to deal with any struggles or challenges in the music business and if so, could you mention one or two?

Linda Eder: No matter what you choose to do in life there will be struggles.   That’s a given.   It’s how you handle both the ups and the downs that makes all the difference.  I’ve had my share of disappointment, but it is what makes the successes that much sweeter.

Chuck Stewart: Do you have an album out currently?  Could you tell us about it?  Where can people buy your music?

Linda Eder:  Yes, I just released my 2nd Christmas CD called CHRISTMAS WHERE YOU ARE.   I did my first Christmas Cd 13 years ago and always thought I wouldn’t do another but the fans have been asking for one for several years so I held a contest on my social sites for people to help pick half of the material.  I’ve recorded many CDs over the years for several different Record Labels.  I finally took the plunge and became my own record company.   I funded this CD myself and for this first season the only way to buy the CD is through my website or at my concerts from now to the end of the year where I am doing CD signings after every show.
I was nervous for the fans reaction to the new Cd but am happy and relieved to report that the reviews have been great!  There is a lot more pressure when you act as your own label.

Chuck Stewart:  Thank you so much for doing this interview.  It is an honor and a privilege to have you share these things.  I look forward to hearing you for years to come.


Thursday, October 31, 2013


An Interview With Karen Nelson Bell

It's October 30th, 2013, almost Halloween.

Chuck Stewart:  Do you do anything special for Halloween?

Karen Nelson Bell:
Nada!  I live in a condo where no one goes trick or treating, but when I'm at home in Vegas, I stand on my second-floor balcony in a black cape and tall witch's hat, and I make the kids perform something to persuade me to throw down their treats for them to catch.  It's quite fun to see them become extroverted in the process.  If they don't sing or dance, they'll usually tell me a joke!

Chuck Stewart: When did you start singing?

Karen Nelson Bell 
When I was a very, very young child, my parents and I would sing 3-part harmonies while driving in the car.

Chuck Stewart: I first heard you in Las Vegas in a fabulous group, which played on The Barge at Caesar's Palace.  Your singing sounded stylistically amazing, yet quite effortless.  Do you or have you ever done breathing exercises and do they help?

Karen Nelson Bell:
At that point in time, I hadn't studied speech level singing yet.  I did exercises I learned from an old Hollywood studio voice coach, Irene Blades. I would see how long I could blow out a tiny stream of breath as I drove over the Hollywood Hills to her studio.  I think it helped.  These days, I don't think about it... it just happens... I always have enough breath.

Chuck Stewart: I heard you do a fabulous rendition of "Lush Life" on several occasions.    How were you introduced to jazz originally?

Karen Nelson Bell:
I was a classical pianist and cellist until I met a fellow at the university with whom I fell madly in love.  He liked jazz, so I pretended to like it too.  The first thing he ever played for me was some Coltrane, whichI thought it was quite mad!  But I'm from Kansas City, so when we started talking blues, it all fell into place.  My tastes developed after that!

Chuck Stewart: Do you practice singing every day?  How much time do you put in?

Karen Nelson Bell:
Yes, I play and sing every day... the time spent depends on business commitments.

Chuck Stewart: I have heard you sing several styles of music and they are all quite phenomenal.  How did you learn to do that or was it from listening to many singers and being able to capture a style, so to speak?

Karen Nelson Bell:
My chameleon approach to styles was based on economic necessity.  I had to learn different genres to stay employed!  I've sung classical, theater, oldies rock, pop, disco, country, yodeling, and jazz!

Chuck Stewart: You were the producer of a show called "Country Tonite".  Was it in several locations?  Do you still enjoy country music? 

Karen Nelson Bell
I completely fell in love with country music while I was researching for the show. Classical musicians look down upon jazzers for the most part, and jazzers look down on most everything, so I was told I was selling out.  Thing is, country music has a rich history of extremely gifted musicians that you might not notice at first brush. Yes, I still enjoy it to the maximum!

Chuck Stewart: You also are a gifted pianist.  Did that come easy for you and did you have to practice much?  You played piano for Paul Anka, didn't you?

Karen Nelson Bell
I think the reason piano came easy is that my mom and dad both played, and it seemed to me as a 2-year-old that everyone in the universe played piano.  My mom was my first teacher.  I still have the piano she taught me on.  When I finally got a "real" teacher, Mrs. Wilson told my mom and dad that I'd never be any good.  Fortunately for me, my parents immediately switched me to Mr. Canterbury, who taught me music theory, sight reading, transposing, everything good, plus all about life, through my several decades of study with him. Did I have to practice much?  I don't know any artist who gets anything good done who didn't practice, practice, practice!  And yes, I played for Paul Anka for 2 years... I was one of the very few first females to perform with a superstar. What an education!

Chuck Stewart: Do you have an album out currently?   Where can people buy your music?

Karen Nelson Bell:
I'll let you know! 

Chuck Stewart:  Thank you so much for doing this interview. Is there anything you would like to add, regarding being a singer?

Karen Nelson Bell:
I believe everyone can sing!  Singing is a joyful expression of the spirit, and there is simply nothing like it to lift you up!

And Chuck, I think your wisdom and guidance as you dispense it today is the only true source for a person looking to understand and improve their voice.  Congrats and big thanks to you on the impressive work you do!

Chuck Stewart: It is an honor and a privilege to have you share these things.  I look forward to hearing you for years to come,  Thank you!


Sunday, October 06, 2013

Singing Out Of Tune

I sometimes watch The X Factor, The Voice, American Idol, and America's Got Talent. I've seen way too many "singers", who sing out of tune. You can call it "pitchy", if you want. Why don't we call it what it is? It is having a condition called "amusical". Without music. Without musicianship. There is a mathematical relationship between intervals. If you sing it too wide or too narrow, within a very small margin of error, then you need to WORK on your interval accuracy. You have to use your hearing in conjunction with your voice and it takes PRACTICE to be good at it and LOTS OF PRACTICE to be professional at it. Some of the best musical ears will be those of trombonists, fretless stringed instrumentalists, and some singers. There is no getting around the practice to develop accurate interval singing. There is not a trick or a formula or a meter to accomplish this. Look at it this way: do you want to be a good singer or do you want to be a bad joke? Most people (including friends and family) either cannot hear your badness or they are just being polite or loving and not wanting to hurt you.

What does a professional hear, when someone sings out of tune? They hear laziness or incompetency or a person who was not born with it and has refused to do the work. You cannot fool a pro. So, if you haven't done the work, you may just be fooling yourself, or you don't have the pride or integrity or artistry to improve.

Two things you HAVE to hear and do: 1) Sing intervals accurately and 2) HEAR the accompaniment and yourself in relationship to the accompaniment and be in tune with it. These things are obvious to a professional.

I don't find bad singers to be funny. I think of them as sad or pitiful or in dire need of help. If they continue to sing poorly or severely out of tune, they have either done the work or they haven't. If a person has brain damage, singing in tune may not be possible. Most people who sing out of tune simply need training. I find the TV shows making fun of non-artists to be about as intellectually stimulating as bad slapstick comedy.

The more a person can hear in music, the better the singer, the person will be. If you can sing all major and minor intervals, up to 13ths and if you can hear all chords and identify and name them up through 13ths (including all altered tones, if any) you will have the musicianship to handle the melodic and harmonic interval issues, providing you can sing what you hear in intervals and in chords.

What if you don't have the time to do the work? You will be as good of a singer as you find the time to do the work.

What are you going to do about it?

Saturday, August 10, 2013


1. Where is the hyoid bone?
2. Which muscles, connected to the larynx, contract when you yawn? How can you exercise them?
3. Which muscles pull the larynx up, when you swallow?
4. What is the function of the oblique arytenoid muscles? How can you exercise them?
5. When the diaphragm contracts, does it ascend or descend?
6. Name the muscles of "forced expiration".
7. Why are the vocal folds no longer called vocal cords?
8. Is it possible to "place your sound" and what muscles would be involved in that?
9. Define "falsetto".
10. Is head voice a tone quality or vocal range?
11. Why is chest voice called "chest voice"?
12. What causes a break, or crack, in the voice?
13. What do you do to sing from the diaphragm?
14. How do you feel where your diaphragm is?
15. What muscles are used to open the throat?
16. Draw the anterior view of the larynx, showing the thyroid cartilage, the hyoglossus muscle, the cricoid cartilage, the sterno-thyroid and sterno-hyoid muscles, and the hyoid bone.
17. Draw the top view of the larynx, showing the arytenoid cartilages, the thyroid and cricoid cartilages, and the oblique arytenoid muscles.
18. Why does the lower abdomen expand slightly when you inhale? Does air go in there?
19. When does liquid, that you swallow, make contact with your vocal cords?
20. How can you prevent excessive muscle tension in the neck or the jaw when you sing?
21. How do you improve pitch problems in a singer?
22. What are the notes in a D major 9th chord?
23. Name the seven modes of a major scale. Sing them.
24. Sing a Phrygian tetrachord up and down.
25. Establish a starting note (Use A flat.) and, using a major scale, sing the scale steps 6-5-4-3-2-1. The 6 will be the A flat.
26. Sing a Dorian mode, starting on a C.
27. What is a bridge in a song?
28. What is a bridge in the voice?
29. How would you notate (as literally as possible) a swing rhythm for a musician or singer who is unfamiliar with a swing rhythm?
30. Sing a one octave chromatic scale.
31. Sing a pentatonic scale.
32. Sing a whole tone scale.
33. Sing an Aeolian mode.
34. Sing an ascending augmented 4th.
35. Sing an ascending minor 6th.
36. Sing an arpeggiated major seventh chord, ascending.
37. Sing a descending minor 6th.
38. Sing all the major scales in the circle of fifths.
39. Sing the notes of a sus4 chord.
40. Sing the notes of a sus2 chord.
41. What scales are used for embellishments in most R&B and pop music?
42. What is a fry tone?
43. What is the Bogart-Bacall Syndrome?
44. What are the ten most common problems of singers?
45. What is "middle voice"?
46. Should the jaw be opened the same on the "e" as in "bee" as on the "a", as in "bat"?
47. What is the difference between front vowels and back vowels?
48. Which back vowel has the highest tongue position?
49. Which front vowel has the lowest tongue position?
50. How do you determine the cause of intonation problems?

Thursday, August 01, 2013


I have found vocal coaches, online, who charge $450 an hour, $400 and hour, $200 an hour, and as low as $135 an hour. I have also noticed that they are using the same or nearly the same warm up and vocal exercises. Most, if not all of them, have studied with one particular vocal coach OR coaches who have studied with that very same vocal coach. 

Most of these vocal coaches also claim having taught various famous singers. It is interesting to note that the vast majority of the famous singers were famous prior to studying with the vocal coaches. That's not a bad thing because singers have issues. I had my own, which is why I studied so extensively. I paid $175 an hour in Las Vegas. I don't regret the time or the money spent. Could I sing before I studied? I was in a show and being paid for it. Athletes have coaches, singers have coaches, business people have coaches, Some people have personal trainers, and some people have life coaches. Remember that the vocal coaches did not necessarily "make" those singers famous.

The question is, will you get more from a $450 coach that you will from a $45 coach? It depends on the coach. Some people teach voice, not having a clue that everything they teach is completely false and scientifically inaccurate, as has been verified by many physicians. To think that a $450 dollar coach is better, wiser, smarter, or knows all the "secrets", may be quite naive. Most people cannot afford very many lessons at $400+ per hour. To think that in one hour with a $450 per hour coach, that you will learn SO much that you never need another lesson, may be delusional. You don't take one flying lesson and then think you're a pilot, unless you are delusional.

There is a saying that "you get what you pay for". It is not always true.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


This makes me know that I am doing something worthwhile and was unsolicited:

Success Story from
Chuck Stewart's Singer Training

A professional singer friend of mine noticed that I was unsuccessfully trying to sing without pain in my throat and she recommended that I work with her friend Chuck. She set it up for us to meet in Skype session. 

Chuck asked me what was going on. 18 years ago I lost my voice completely after speaking for 2 days to a steady stream of prospects at an art festival. I couldn't even whisper for the following 2 days and couldn't call anyone for another 2 days. Then 13 years ago I was in a choir singing soprano for 2 years but had to numb my throat by sucking on ginger to keep it from hurting. Then 7 years ago I needed to do a bit of public speaking but couldn't speak loudly enough and developed pain quickly so I went to an Ear Nose & Throat doctor who examined and told me I had 
Muscle Tension Dysphonia”  [dys < Gk bad + phone < Gk voice, sound ] which is “a voice disorder characterized by strained, effortful phonation (utterance) using a type of vocalizing or speaking in which the muscles in the neck are tense”.
He gave me a prescription to get Speech Therapy at the local hospital which I did for 9 months. There I learned exercises to project sound from the front of my mouth (which was explained to me is normal) instead of from my throat (which was explained as putting a strain on it that it was not intended for). By doing that I was able to do some public speaking on a limited basis. Then when I wanted to join a choir 2 years ago I found couldn't sing in my natural Soprano range so I switched to Alto which was easier on the throat and even then I had to do what I could to protect my throat by not singing strongly and by spacing out the days when I sang. Also, for years and years I have not been able to yell to a person a distance away and my dogs only know my call of "whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa."

Chuck explained to me that the voice box in the throat is the source point of sound, no matter what else you might try to do as far as projecting your voice. He told me: 

"If you are feeling pain that means that you are getting some friction and that the lubrication of your vocal cords, or vocal folds as the doctors are calling it these days, isn’t sufficient to keep you from having pain. It sounds also like what I call hyper-adduction: the vocal cords or folds are coming together too hard when they vibrate."
He said that we can't just tell these cords to relax, we have to change the way that we use them and also do some exercises to train them not to come together so hard.

He told me the way to change the way I use them and gave me 2 exercises to do  and I've been doing these for a few weeks now. During this time I have noticed that I can sing for longer periods without pain and I am gradually singing more and more strongly. 

Then 2 days ago I gave an audition to get into a showcase choir and shocked my socks off with the strength of my voice! I found myself belting out lyrics—something I haven't been able to do since I was a kid—and I didn't go home with a sore throat! And—I passed the audition—I could not have done that 2 months ago!

Thank you so much, Chuck—from the bottom of my heart!!! You have performed a miracle for me. I know that what you did is backed up by science—but who knew it? Not anyone that I have run into. My hat is definitely off to you, and I want more!

Jessica Rockwell.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

On Performing...

Make it sound easy, when you sing. Make it sound like it takes no effort and no thought. Make it sound like pure feeling and as if the words were written by you. Don't break character. Have most of your attention on the audience, not on how you sound or how you look or how you move.

 If you don't perform like that, the audience feels ignored, neglected, and even cheated. They feel as if they have been lied to. Are you there for them or for yourself? That sounds simple, but if you are not there for the audience, why are you there?

 Bare your soul. Drop your inhibitions and tear down your walls. You are just singing to people. You have nothing to hide. Your past doesn't matter. You can't change anything about the past. Future hasn't happened yet. The only thing that matters about the future is what you do in the present. That will directly affect your future. You should have learned from the past. Keep you attention on the audience and on the present moment.

 Do you know what the past is for? It is the place to make your mistakes, learn from them, and to get ready for the "now". The past is part of preparation. It is why you are who you are. You are not your mistakes. When would be a good time to let go of the past? Next week? Tomorrow? How about now?

If (while performing) you make a mistake, instantly let go of it and make the rest awesome. Make the next part better or prettier or more intense, if appropriate. Most people remember the awesome parts. The critics, who hang on to the mistakes, should just stay at home and keep out of our way, if and until they learn to be artists. So, if your attention is on what others are thinking, it is actually on yourself and your anxiety about that. Give all you have, as if everyone is NOT a critic. The truth is that very few people are critics. Most people go out to have fun and enjoy, instead of trying to destroy others. The critics can go out and fight the wars while we make our art.

 If you think everyone is critical, maybe you are critical. It takes no special talent or hard work to notice what is wrong. It takes very special talent to be great.

When the effort is put forth and added to the talent, the magic begins. Prepare to deliver. Deliver. There is joy in performing, unlike any other joy. Don't let others take that away from you. Others need to find their own. It is not about proving anything. It is not about showing off. It is not about being ignored when you were a little kid, so now you are making up for it. It is not about competition. It is about the best of you, unmitigated, unadulterated, and your bare soul is shining through while people bask in its light.

 There will never be an absolutely perfect performance, but there are performances which are absolutely artistic.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


MOMENTUM! P=mv The product of mass versus velocity. What does physics have to do with the motion toward a goal? Only mostly everything. Let's say you are not practicing very much. You can expect that the reaction to your action will roughly be equal. Not practicing very much=not advancing very much. Do you have any power? What is power? It is the rate at which work is performed. The slower you go, the longer it takes to get somewhere. POWER is also the rate at which energy is converted. Where are you putting your energy? Since there is RATE in both parts of the definition of POWER, speed must be involved. It is possible to move so slowly toward a goal that you are dead before you reach it. Harsh? Physics is harsh. Physics is the observed motions, masses, and tendencies, not politically correct or incorrect. The laws of physics are immutable, but if they are used as guidelines, instead of barriers, they can put you at an advantage. In so-called "billiard ball mechanics", there is the law of inertia, stating that an object at rest tends to stay at rest, unless acted upon by an outside force. As people, most of us resist or resent outside forces acting upon ourselves, much of the time. We could modify the word "outside" to "inside", thus arriving at a new equation. Picture yourself in a huge 10' diameter beach ball. You walk; it moves. Inside force. Your car has an engine or a motor and it is within the car and that is another example. An object in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force. OUTSIDE FORCES...hmmmmm Gravity? Friction? Time? Space? Resistance, such as air or water? How about your life? Gravity- Are you or somebody else holding you down, slowing you down, or stopping you? Friction- Are you getting along well with others? Time- Do you have enough time? Are you efficient with the time you do have? Space- Places to travel or too much distance involved? Is someone in your face, giving you no space in which to move? Resistance- that can come from you, friends, family, bosses, or anyone. You can find more examples of your own, if you wish. It takes more force to start moving than to keep moving. You may have to overcome your inertia and other forces. Once you are moving, it doesn't take much to keep moving as long as you keep moving. MOMENTUM is one of the keys to progress, perseverance, and accomplishment.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


Voice cracks or voice breaks are curable. If your voice is not fully developed, you may feel like you have a high voice, a low voice, and a space between where the sound abruptly changes. You can sing above the break. You can sing below the break but you cannot sing at the break. The break is not actually a break, or even a crack. It is the passageway between chest voice and head voice (and vice versa) but maybe you haven't learned to navigate that treacherous passageway. In the passageway you feel you have no control and you have to flip up or flip down to get to a place of stability and control. It can be really frustrating! I used to have that problem. I know how I felt. Hated it!!! So, if you yell or scream out the notes you might have so much swelling that you have no voice the next day or even in the same day. I had that happen once. It was terrifying. I couldn't make a sound. The following day, it still wasn't right. If you're real unlucky, you'll blister your vocal cords (vocal folds) and blisters can turn into callouses and those are called nodules. Those bumps keep your vocal cords from closing properly and then you have NO high notes and you sound raspy until you do something to handle the nodules. Some people call them "nodes", but that is not the correct word. Nodes are glands, such as those in the body's lymphatic system. If you do not retrain your voice, even after a long vocal rest (or surgery), the nodes can come back, so to speak. You actually just make new ones. Surgery may leave scar tissue and it does not vibrate the same way as normal tissue. So, you've been forewarned. There are some singers who have just sung through their cracks. (Not their butt cracks!) Or, they have sung "across" the break and they make it work. It's not my preferred sound, but they did okay with it. One is Phoebe Snow and the other is Sarah McLachlan. You'll hear some country singers do this, but if you try this in most other styles, goodbye! Yodeling is singing across the crack, back and forth. When you have learned some coordination and control, you can control your voice so that it feels and sounds like you have one voice, not two or three! I paid $175 an hour to learn to stop the break in my voice, comfortably and effortlessly. How many hours? It was about 100 lessons. In the 70th or 80th, it was obvious it was going to work. Stability took a little more time. These were not weekly lessons. Many were every day. There is a man in Hollywood, who is said to be charging $400 an hour. Is it worth it? To go from a lame voice to one which can leap and dance about a song, it could be worth it. To have a professional career that lasts for a lifetime it could be worth it. One lesson won't get you there, unless you are an Italian man, but that is a whole different story. Maybe next time.

Monday, March 11, 2013


BREATHING! There has been a huge amount of emphasis put on breathing, as regards singing. Why? It's obvious that you MUST breathe in order to sing. It takes life to sing. It takes breathing to keep alive, having carbon-oxygen "machines" for bodies. Why might breathing be an issue? If a person has little or no effective lung capacity, singing will be difficult as far as doing long phrases or sustaining notes. If a person is hyper-adducting the vocal folds (smashing them together too tightly, in effort to not crack), that person will have to increase air pressure to even make a sound. Otherwise the vocal folds would pinch together so tightly that NO air can pass through. Your air, at a molecular level, is analogous to a violin bow. You vocal folds (vocal cords) are analogous to violin strings. The air molecules set the vocal folds into vibration. Air is important, there is no disputing that face; but, it is not ALL important. Some people over-breathe. They fill up completely and then, of necessity, do something unnatural to hold back the air pressure. This can cause unwanted tension in the body or can cause the person to hyper-adduct using the vocal folds as a valve, so to speak. Some people under-breathe and that results in being short of air or having to take many short breaths. Most of the time, you do not want to split a phrase. You almost NEVER want to split a word and grab a breath or you will sound like a rank amateur. Exceptions? If you choke on saliva in the middle of a word, you have to do what you have to do. I have breathing exercises I recommend that are good for two issues: 1) breath control and 2) lung capacity. If your air comes out jerky, your tone quality will be jerky. If you can't get through a phrase, you might consider improving your lung capacity. I cover these things in lessons.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013


I keep hearing singers on American Idol who are singing flat. For those who do not know what that means, they are singing under or below the note they are trying to sing OR SHOULD BE TRYING TO SING!!!!! For some reason it is even more irritating to hear a singer sing sharp (above the pitch) and this is, fortunately, more rare. Back to the flat-ness. Why are they singing flat? Can they not hear themselves? Can they not hear, in the musical sense, the relationship between the accompaniment and their own voices? Are they staying under the pitch to avoid the passaggio, where the untrained voice will crack? Some trained, or should I say mis-trained voices crack. I have been cursed with a condition called "perfect pitch" and knowing that a person will sing flat, to avoid cracking, doesn't help the fingernails-on-the-chalkboard affect that this has on me. I can sympathize, but the feeling of sympathy does not ameliorate the frustration of knowing how they could be better with just one little PHYSICAL adjustment. That adjustment is NOT using more air, or "pushing" or flexing the abdominal muscles. Then there are those with, shall we say, under-developed musicianship. In teaching a few thousand singers, I have discovered that there are those who can match pitch with a voice but NOT with an instrument, such as a piano. Some of them can match pitch with a saxophone, however. This gets into the ability, or lack thereof, of being able to differentiate one pitch from another. Some people would say such a person is tone deaf. I've discovered, through experience, that it "Ain't Necessarily So". (That is a song, for the uninitiated) There is a condition called atonality. It ranges from absolute inability to match pitch at all to being able to get very close, but not on the pitch. Some people have called atonal singers "tone deaf". Although the term tone deaf is descriptive as to the singer's response to a pitch generated outside of him/herself, being atonal is not the same as being truly tone deaf. A study from Harvard gets into this. There have been several studies at other universities regarding atonality and tone deafness. One done at Stanford University suggested that the truly tone deaf are those who have had brain damage. This may be further substantiated by the conclusion of the Harvard study on the subject. In the meantime, American Idol is on my TV, I hear the intonation, the judges praise the singers (most of them) and I get exhausted from cringing and running out of the room to regurgitate. Neural pathway missing in tone-deaf people | e! Science News Nerve fibers that link perception and motor regions of the brain are disconnected in tone-deaf people, according to new research in the August 19 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience. Experts estimate that at least 10 percent of the population may be tone deaf – unable to sing in tune. The… Neural pathway missing in tone-deaf people | e! Science News Nerve fibers that link perception and motor regions of the brain are disconnected in tone-deaf people, according to new research in the August 19 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience. Experts estimate that at least 10 percent of the population may be tone deaf – unable to sing in tune. The…

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


What are the ten most common problems of singers? There are ten, but when some subcategories are added, there are actually 21 PHYSICAL common problems of singers. In addition to those, there are mental, spiritual, and emotional problems to deal with. The easiest problem to handle will usually be the one of posture. If you haven't been to or if you haven't observed a ballet class, then you haven't been exposed to ballet posture. A teacher will tell the dance student to "pull up", meaning as if there is a string attached to the top of your head and that is being pulled up. What does this effectively do? This part makes your rib cage rise slightly. This is great for singing because with your ribcage slightly raised, your lungs have more space to inflate and expand. The secondary effect of ballet posture is that your abdominal muscles are slightly flexed. Too much flexing of the abs is as deleterious to a good tone as too little flexing. When we breathe, we do not fill up air into the abdomen. Your lungs terminate at approximately bottom of your ribs. If you had air in your abdomen, you would possibly be in extreme pain. You also need space for your inhale muscle to contract into. Your inhale muscle is the diaphragm and you CANNOT feel it. You can watch your abdomen bulge as it contracts downward and presses on the organs below it: the stomach, the intestines, the liver, and a few others. The significance of this is nil EXCEPT if you have eaten a large meal and have to sing with a full stomach. That can be a minor problem and can also be uncomfortable. Does good posture "fix" your singing problems? No. It is one of 21 factors, some of which are related to each other, which is why we can call these the 10 most common problems of singers. Look for problem number 2 coming soon :-) Bad posture can interfere with singing or with the ease of singing. It is a good idea to make good posture a habit, so that you can have your attention on the art, rather than on your own body.


If you are singing "correctly", you won't get hoarse and you will have no problems with endurance. Your voice doesn't have to "get old", either. I heard the proof of this last night. A guy born June 16, 1952 did a concert at The House of Blues last night. He sounded the same as he did when he was in his 20s, except he may have been even better. He had fame in the 70s and 80s and the looks and the voice to go with it. He doesn't move like I had expected. He moved like a person who was 30 or 40 years younger. There was no hint of his age in his voice. His vibrato was still the perfect speed and depth, no change since he was in his 20s. He got his first recording contract at the age of 16 with RCA. He was NOT in a competition TV show!!!!!!! He drove to RCA and walked out with a recording contract. He was born in Montreal, Canada. It turns out that his father was a big band singer. His father told him that "it wasn't that easy" to get a recording contract. He proved his father wrong by getting one. My father told me, very bluntly, that I was going to fail, regarding putting my band on the road in the 70s. I proved him wrong. This doesn't mean that fathers do not know, they just don't want their children to go through the pain and disappointment of failure. There is no disputing competency. Careers that last a lifetime are built upon competency. Professional is professional. For me, there was never any reason to not be professional. Even if I would sing for charity, it HAD to be professional. Nothing else made any sense to me. My standards continue to rise. I have two viewpoints on my singing. One is that I know that I can sing anywhere and anytime and that it will be unquestioningly professional. I can say that because I have worked hard enough and long enough and have enough professional experience to have attained that. My other viewpoint is that I am NEVER 100% satisfied, thrilled, happy, or ego maniacal and I know there is always room for improvement. There are things with which I do not and will not compromise. I do not perform without monitors. What is wrong with things being their best? Oh, the man in concert last night was Gino Vannelli.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Amateurs will remain amateur until they learn to practice like a pro. A friend of mine (John Boice), who played trombone in Buddy Rich's band then later in Ray Charles' band, came to a little jam session in a small theater in Las Vegas one night. He was polite and friendly when he walked in. He and I had known each other a few years and had listened to each others compositions and had even played with some Jamey Aebersold 33 LPs. When I was in the stage band at Marshall University, playing both lead and solo trombone, we played a song written by John Boice called "Something For Willie". John had a friend named Willie, for whom he had written the song. John also arranged for Buddy and others. Back to the session. John sat down his case and opened it as if it contained something very valuable. When he reached in to take the bell of the horn out, he looked as if he was a great surgeon and deftly removed and held the bell section of the horn. Then he got the slide, swiftly put it together with the other section and tightened the "nut" which held them together. It looked as if he had done this a million times but he made it look as if some very serious work was about to happen. He had a professional "attitude". This was his life. This was also his most joyous activity, but it was professional. I was also a pro, having worked for 10 years in various bands, but I learned a lesson just from watching. T. Harv Eker said, "The way you do anything is the way you do everything." I met him a few years ago at an Enlightened Millionaire weekend. Even though he wasn't speaking to musicians at the time, the idea is valid, to a great extent. John Boice warmed up before he played. He and I both studied with Dr. Donald S. Reinhardt of Philadelphia. I seriously got much more from private study than from all of college combined. I wasn't taught how to warm up or how to practice when I was in college. I did learn a lot about it from Dr. Reinhardt, John Boice, J.D. Folsom, Art Sayers, Debra Bonner, Seth Riggs, Ralph Pollock, Dr. Paul Balshaw, Dr. Paul Whear, Charles M. Oshel, George Slicer, Bob Massie, Robin Romanek, Bill Davidson, John Novello, Dick Groves, Bobby Tate and my sister Barbara, who is a phenomenal pianist and was, in my opinion, a child prodigy. I learned quite a bit from my father, who was professional at practically everything. "Practice with a purpose" - J.D. Folsom This sounds simple, but it is an expansive thought. Tony Robbins said "Repetition is the mother of skill." The problem is that mistakes can be repeated and reinforced, so this needs to be carefully applied. I learned from John Novello that there is something you do BEFORE you practice. To practice with a purpose, shouldn't there be some planning and other preparation? How about the most efficient use of your time? How do you do that? In professional rehearsals in the showrooms of Las Vegas, entire songs would not be rehearsed for the headliner. If a musician made a mistake in rehearsal, the conductor did not go over the song again. Why not? A real pro will not repeat the mistake. You will not hear it again. Period. True. I got a call from local #369 for a New Years gig on trombone one year. It was at the Riviera Hotel. I played lead trombone. The other trombonist was a member of Henry Mancini's band. The sax section and the trumpet section had played for Woody Herman. The drummer had been the drummer for Stan Kenton. There was no rehearsal. We showed up. We read the charts. Nobody made a mistake. Nobody. It is just a higher standard. Get it right and play it with conviction and feeling. Simple enough. Everyone has their own personal challenges with music. There also are different learning styles from person to person. Singers and other musicians are not all the same. Some people are more visual or thinking or feeling or tactile or whatever else. The practice methods need to fit the individual to get the greatest and fastest gain in improvement. There is plenty of advice around for how to practice, but the methods need to be effective for the person. Perhaps they need to be customized. Dr.Reinhardt had analyzed and categorized specific types and sub-types of embouchures, tongue, jaw, teeth, and made a science of using the natural anatomical make-up of an individual to best use what they were born with and to their best advantage. The same thing applies to singers and it applies to practicing. Some advice is applicable to any and all, such as practice problem areas rather than the piece in its entirety over and over. So-called "garage bands" tend to run through songs over and over, start to finish. it might be fun for them, but there are more efficient methods than that. There should be pre-practice, practice, and post-practice. These are going to be showing up this year in a book which has been 16 years in the making, but based on a few hundred years of my and others professional experience.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013


How is your musicianship? Can you write down what you hear? Can you identify scales: major, natural minor, harmonic minor, melodic minor? Do you recognize modes? The ionian mode is a major scale. The aeolian mode is the natural minor scale. Here is an example of those two: the C major scale is an ionian mode. Starting on A and playing each white key in succession is the natural minor scale in A. C major has all white keys; A minor (natural minor) has all white keys. This is why we say that A minor is the relative minor of C major AND it is related for the above stated reason os sharing the same exact notes, but in a different order AND it is the Aeolian mode of C major (as an aside). Get to a piano and check this out, if you haven't already. What else can we deduce from this? If a major scale is 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8, the natural minor is 6-7-8-1-2-3-4-5-6 (relative minor), then this will work in all keys. What else? Are you a songwriter, looking for contrast in the chorus, following the verse? You might try shifting from major, if in a major key, to its relative minor going from the verse to the chorus OR if you are in a minor key, try the relative minor when you get to the chorus. There are also other modal relationships, which may be explored. Other devices, so to speak, are using common tones of chords as pivotal points to change keys. An example might be that if you are in the key of C major, you can go to an A flat chord, such as is in an Adele song. What else? You can use the V chord of the key a half step higher from your original key to make a smoother modulation, avoiding the possibility of parallel 5ths. The reason that it works so well is that the 1 of the original key is common to the 3 of the V chord, so we have the built in sense of familiarity as we ascend to our new key, a half step up from the original. I have used this in arranging and in writing and also can hear chords and even the voicings of them. Why? Playing, writing, transcribing, ear training, and arranging. Musicianship is extremely important for the highest levels of singing for many reasons. Singing is a hearing art. The less you can hear and identify, the less professional you will be. Guaranteed. You may not know the name of what you hear, BUT if you cannot identify, differentiate, and relate to the music you sing with, you will sound like many of the TV competition show singers who sound like they have an allergy to pitch and have trouble being in tune.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013


Many professional creative people, whom I have known in music, have ignored, or had an aversion to business. I have seen some fabulous talents, who should have "made it big" but did not. I've seen headliners in Las Vegas shows, world class level musicians, and fabulously talented amateur singers who never made it past the little last step to achieve greatness in the music business. Bob Proctor calls this difference "the razor's edge". Now, what does that mean? He meant that the difference between success and failure can be as thin as the sharp blade of a razor. It has always been a huge disappointment to me to see people who had so much to offer fall short of their potential. There are multi-factorial reasons for the failures I have witnessed: Some did not want it. Some lacked in imagination regarding their art. Some avoided getting help from others with vocal or musical technique. Some had little or no work ethic. Some had no sense of personal ethics. Some had no balance in life, to the extent that they lost focus or couldn't maintain focus. Some had problems with personal relationships. Some had problems with communication with others. Some had bad business sense. Some refused to learn what was needed to succeed. The good news is that all of these things are rectifiable. Where are you lacking? It is easy to compromise and lie to yourself and say that you don't have what it takes. It is harder to do a little introspective look and use the list above to discover your strengths and weaknesses. Then you have to decide, do I strengthen my strengths or work on my weaknesses. You also may need to find people who love doing the things which you are not good at, and delegate that work to them. I have had CPAs for over 20 years. I have access to many professional musicians, who play instruments that I do not. I am talking about world class musicians. Can I play drums, guitar, piano, bass, violin, trombone, trumpet, banjo, and various percussion instruments, including a vibraphone? Sure I can, but I know my strengths and weaknesses in those and would hire others to do most of those jobs. The three main reasons for failure among talented musicians are: 1) Ignorance of which they are unaware 2) Bad work ethic and 3) Little or no business acumen. You cannot be great at everything. You can be great at many things. Make a list and maybe you will give yourself a better chance. If you think you have nothing unique to offer the world, you are probably lying to yourself. If "friends" and family are telling you that you are wasting your time, while at the same time professionals are telling you about your virtues and potential, wake up to reality and make a decision. Are you worthy of success in the music business? Are you living to please others to the exclusion of yourself? It is your job as a creative person to create. It is your job to hone your "craft". It is your job to realize your potential. Let business people handle business and let managers manage. Let the musicians, writers, arrangers do their jobs. Focus on your art and if you are so fortunate as to find someone who truly believes in you, you have a shot at it. Or you have the option to pretend you are not good enough or unique enough or that the world doesn't need your voice. You can always go teach your language in a third world country instead of doing music. However, you will never escape knowing that something else could have been BUT you, yes you, let it slip away.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013


Fresh start. Clean slate. New Beginning. These are the things that we pretend are true as we commence our new year. Nothing really changes. It is a demarcation in an eternal now and that is all that it is but we do not look at it that way. Somehow we forgive ourselves for the shortcomings of the past year. We reflect back on the things which were not what we planned. We look at the things, which are in our minds, the failings and the transgressions against ourselves and others and we repent and forgive ourselves. Then we move on. We make decisions about how it should be and about how it is going to be. We call those things resolutions. We resolve to do this or that or to be different in some way. The truth is that the same ruts we have been in lie before us but we want to try to get out of those ruts, those patterns, once and for all. There is a way to do this. You first have to see the ruts and recognize them as being undesirable habits which are not getting you to your desired destination. We don't want to give them omnipotent power and they don't have that because we, ourselves, made those ruts. Therefore, despite their width, depth and breadth, we have the strength to get out of them. It takes some time to stay out of them and to not slip back in. Picture an old dirt road, muddy from the rain in the hills of West Virginia. Cars before us have passed, leaving deep grooves in the road. It is hard to turn the steering wheel and get out of those ruts. But not impossible. If you're good, you can ride the ridges and stay out of the ruts, but you have to constantly watch as you steer clear of them. Here's the thing. They don't fill themselves in from the next rain. Somebody has to do something about them with some heavy equipment and maybe even some gravel. So, how do we get out of our self-reated ruts? You might try this plan: Make a decision. "To decide means to cut off from all other possibilities." Notice how decision looks similar to incision, a cut. (credit to Tony Robbins) If we can literally cut ourselves off from all other possibilities in thought, word and deed and maintain that, that will be enough to get the job done. It may be an uphill battle, though and we may backslide. What do we do about that? First we have to know that we went off course, like a ship or plane does while traveling. We need some instruments to measure if we are on or off course. We need to instantly realize we veered off and, as quickly as possible, make adjustments to get back on course. We also have to have made the decision to persist, or we won't notice or won't care about little minor diversions. Figure out your guidance system and keep your eyes on your road and your hands on your steering wheel. Hey! You do this when you drive so just do it with your life. Habits may get in the way and it will take a month or more to change those habits. They may try to come back later but your guidance system can help with that. Addictions are another story. These are not necessarily drug addictions. Games, both electronic and games we play, consciously or unconsciously, may pull us off course. Addictions are deeper and harder ruts. They may take more effort, attention, or tools to overcome. There are two things you need to pull you through the obstacles you will encounter. One is a goal that means more to you than anything. You'll have to make it such that you maintain or create a balance in your life and not only you, but also everyone who means something to you will benefit from the attainment of that goal. It is like getting to the destination of a fabulous vacation. But this is not a vacation. It is your new life, the one you have been starving for forever, it seems. The other thing is your purpose. Why are you dedicating your life to your goal? Some of the ideas stated here are attributable to having read or heard the lectures of Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, the partners who are behind the Chicken Soup For The Soul books. This is from Mark (I have met him and shook his hand. He IS real!): Write down 100 reasons WHY you must achieve your goal. 100 Reasons. Those will be your fuel, your guidance system, and your power to keep you on your "straight and narrow". WHY? Whose life are you living? Who are you making wealthy? Anybody? Maybe it is your turn to be wealthy, healthy, wise, and happy. You want to make a resolution, to resolve to do something OR do you want to do it? Decide, write down your 100 reasons, get into motion, and don't beat yourself up if you stumble or fall. Don't blame others and don't make excuses. This is how you can really give yourself a chance at success. Will it happen? Will you persist long enough to get there or will you turn around at the first red light and go back home to those familiar comfortable ruts? The wheel is in your hand. The ball is in your court. Run the race. Play the game and if you are real smart, you will enjoy the process. It's not luck. Build your strength and your skill. Learn what you don't already know. There are potholes in the road sometimes but you can steer clear. Your new life is waiting for you. Go get it.