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?