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.
Posted by Chuck Stewart, Vocal Coach at 12:26 PM
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.
Posted by Chuck Stewart, Vocal Coach at 12:00 AM
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.
Posted by Chuck Stewart, Vocal Coach at 3:14 PM
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.
Posted by Chuck Stewart, Vocal Coach at 1:05 PM
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.
Posted by Chuck Stewart, Vocal Coach at 2:53 PM
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.
Posted by Chuck Stewart, Vocal Coach at 3:02 PM