Monday, June 24, 2019

Don't Copy Other Singers

"Don’t copy other singers."

This has been espoused and preached, as if it were an absolute and immutable truth.  Is it?

Only with a caveat. 

The problem with “Don’t copy other singers” is it is non-specific as to what, of a thousand or more aspects of a voice.   Unless you are an actor or a voice actor or a comedian, it might not be the best idea to imitate, as closely as possible, another’s voice.  The main reason for this is that you might do something that causes you to strain your voice.  The closest identical voices would be found in identical twins, maybe.  They may have the same vocal folds, pharynx, nasal cavity and other similar or identical physical vocal and resonating apparatus.  To copy another singer, you would have to manipulate your mouth and tongue and vocal folds to try to duplicate or approximate another’s sound.  I can do some voices and started this in the 5th grade of elementary school, discovering I was quite good at it.  I don’t do it as a regular thing, but it is fun to try.  I personally never strained my voice doing this because I do have an aversion to pain and to hoarseness.  I just cannot recommend doing this, yourself.  I can recommend something else.  I got this from the late great Clark Terry, a jazz trumpet player and singer.  It's a process and it works quite well.   Here we go:


What could or should be “copied” are other things than the exact and precise sound of another person’s voice.  You can greatly shorten the time of the learning curve by copying some very specific things in a voice of a singer, as long as your usable range matches that of the singer (or can be done an octave away, comfortably).  Some things you can emulate are:

·         Phrasing

·         Style

·         Pitch

·         Note duration

·         Dynamic variation

·         Rhythm

·         Timing

·         Breathing

That is a lot, isn’t it?  What you might gain from doing this with recordings of singers is some of the qualities of professional singers.  If your ability to duplicate and to analyze objectively is strong, you can speed up your progress.  You do not want to become a “copycat”, unless you are doing and act or making a living at being an impressionist or impersonator.  There are people who make a good living doing this, such as impersonators of: Sinatra, Cher, Elvis, or others.  I know some who do this in Las Vegas, they enjoy it and are paid well for it.  I can do few singing voices, also but usually as a joke or to have fun.


What if you can and do take advantage of being able to emulate other singers’ professional aspects?  Does it end there?  No.  Some people vehemently are so against being a unique individual that they completely miss the skill involved in professional singing.  They do sound unique.  They are individuals but to the extent that they sound horrible and no one wants to hear them sing.  I know of some graduates of universities who try to sing with an operatic sound and it is more abrasive than a cat fight, to listen to.  It is amazing that a person can have a degree in music IN VOICE and sound disgusting or insane or horrible or sing out of tune but it can and does happen.  The step after emulate is to assimilate.  Own it.  Own it as if it was yours from the beginning, but it doesn’t end there!


The final step in the journey of being a great singer is to innovate.  What new thing or things can you do?  You don’t want to change every single note or the melody gets lost.  The exception is if you’re improvising jazz.  You may not need or want to change a lot but there are things you can experiment with.  You can change some notes, you can add some notes, , you can omit some notes, you can change the timing, the phrasing, the dynamics, the rhythm, you can add silence, you can speed up or slow down time and/or try many other things.  You can change the emotion or emotions of a song.  This is a huge range of possibility.  From your emulating step, you may have picked up on stylistic tendencies which are typical or standard.  It is even better to emulate a few or many singers and to learn even more in so doing.  You’ll discover some parameters of what audiences can find beautiful or acceptable or tolerable or offensive or disgusting or unacceptable or intolerable.  You don’t want an audience walking out on you.  It can happen even to the best.  Between songs, a man was walking, leaving one of Sinatra’s performances.  Frank said, “Five will get you ten he doesn’t make it to the bathroom in time.”  Frank could get away with saying that and it is funny but it isn’t funny to a performer when a person walks out.

Objectivity is an ability that every singer must have in order to analyze and to improve.  You must hear yourself (use a recording) to know if you are doing what you intend to do and without being hypercritical.   I tell people to be analytical, not critical.  There is a difference! Too big or too small of an ego can also be a problem.  If you think you’re great but you’re not, that is a problem.   If you think you are terrible but you’re not, that’s also a problem.  If you can be objective, you’ll know where you really stand.  If you cannot be objective, yet, get with someone who is a kind but honest professional and ask for help.  Some will charge for this and it may be well worth the money spent.

Friday, June 21, 2019


Call Someone A  Liar

What happens next?  You know you will get a reaction and it might not be pleasant.  Dishonesty is unacceptable and, worse still, it is a part of life.  Name one person who has told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  We like to think that we are honest and straight (not necessarily in the sexual sense) or maybe we want others to believe we are honest.  Why?  Honesty is essential to being trustworthy and dependable, but name one person who is 100% honest 100% of the time.  We like to think we are, but are we?

Let go of dichotomous thinking.  

Things do not really have opposites.  We could say that the opposite of black is white.  The blackest black absorbs the most light, but there are blacks which absorb less and less, until we call it gray.  There are many shades of gray, from dark gray to lighter and lighter, until we hit the range of whites.  If you’ve ever done any digital art, you have seen that the range is nearly infinite.  Your eye may not be able to differentiate the range of shades, one to the other, but it is mathematically measurable, which you can see as you slide on the scale of black, gray, and white.

What Can We Actually Observe?  

This opens up a whole new can of worms in the world of truths and lies.  Our eyes, our perceptions, our minds, our experiences, and even our intelligence come into play, but they are not scientifically or mathematically capable of perceiving and precisely defining all the concomitant nuances which exist.  To avoid our drowning in the oceans of microcosms and macrocosms of the universe, we might step back a bit and try to be more objective and less subjective, to discover the profundity lying underneath or beyond the superficial.

Contractions Are Contracts!

There are some words, some contractions, we use every day, which may be the outer layer of some lies.  These aren’t the lies we tell others, usually.  These are the lies which we tell ourselves.  They sound rational, plausible, and reasonable, but they aren’t.   They also may be your way of avoiding uncomfortable feelings, so you put these thoughts or statements in front of yourself.  What are they?  “Can’t” is the main one.  Some examples are:  “I can’t do public speaking.”   “I can’t sing.”  “I can’t dance.”  “I can’t draw.”    A closer truth might be along the line of “I won’t sing.”  It means more specifically, “I will not try to sing because I might not sound good and I would be embarrassed if someone heard me and they would think that I am a bad singer and that I am stupid for even trying and I will feel bad about myself and I don’t like feeling bad about myself and there have been many times in the past that I felt bad about myself and I now avoid feeling bad about myself.”  All of this may be under the surface of “I can’t sing.”

I'm Not A Singer

I won’t sing.  Wait.  Is that an absolute truth?  What if you said, “I haven’t sung”?  Are we getting closer?   What if you said, “I haven’t tried to sing”?  Maybe that is closer, but it still may not be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  How do we get to that?  There is your conscious thought about this singing thing.  You are aware of that, but you may not be thinking about the past and past experiences.  Some of those may not be readily available to your conscious mind.  Some thoughts, feelings, and ideas may be stored in a different compartment from the conscious mind, one you cannot access easily or maybe not at all.  We can only deal with what we can know or discover or uncover. 

The Whole Truth

How much of “the whole truth” must we know in order to act, to improve things, and to get into motion?  All we need to know is where the lock is and where the key is.  Is this true?  No.  We also have to know where the lock is, where the key is, and have that key in possession and how to put the key into the lock the right way and to turn the key the right way that unlocks the lock.  The lock is, “I can’t sing.”  The key is, “I can sing.”  “I can sing” may feel like a lie at first but remember the vast range of the shades between absolute black and absolute white.  If you think you cannot sing like a professional, you may be right.  If you think you never will be able to sing like a professional, you may be right.  But “right and wrong” also has many gradients, repercussions, and ramifications you might not have seen before.  There was a point in time that the professional singer whom you envision did not sing like a professional.   Believe it.  We have now entered the realms of faith and trust, when we can believe something we haven’t personally observed.   Is it possible that this is true?

Where Do You Fit In?

Singers you love, admire, respect, or adore are people you may have placed on a pedestal, in your mind.  The problem is that you may have made the pedestal surface too small and you have left no room for anyone else, including yourself.  People prefer to be right instead of wrong.  That’s just how we are.  We like to win.  We like to succeed.  We also apparently like to think good things about ourselves.  Since admiration is such a precious thing, we like to avoid not admiring ourselves.   It hurts.  It is not comfortable.  It feels unstable.  We like stability.   There’s nothing wrong with admiring other singers but there is something wrong with using that to limit yourself and to lie about why you don’t sing as well as the other singers.   How awful will you feel when you know you have surpassed one of your singing idols? 

What Do You Know?

In life, we seek pleasure and we also seek to avoid pain.  PPF.  Pleasure, pain, and fear.  Truth and lies.  Some people will feel pain as they realize there were incomplete sentences prior to this one.  In a push button society, we don’t have to be little stimulus-response machines.  We can add ideas, thoughts, considerations, paradigms, value systems, all of which may also have a multitude of feelings attached to them.  Everyone has his or her own and unique concept of what truth is.  I would wager that scientists may have a much broader concept of truth, especially if their knowledge is vast and their experience is extensive.  When we get into trouble is when we mistakenly believe that we (or anyone) know all there is to know about anything.  This is self-deception or ignorance or utter delusion.  You may know all you need to know to function at the level at which you currently are.  You also may have all the skill necessary at this time.  You do your work, or you keep your job as long as you handle all that’s required of you, adequate to the demands of the boss and within the time frame allotted.  Stability in your job is more pleasurable than it is painful, or you would leave eventually.  Every singer you know or have seen also seek pleasure, seek to avoid pain, have a complex mind, and has a somewhat quantifiable amount of knowledge about singing and music.  

Nothing But The Truth...

Truth is not always easy to see or to find.  It may not be an absolute thing.  Intelligence, knowledge, skill, experience, beliefs, and the perceptions of all our senses will affect how each of us sees, finds, or seeks truth.  The meaning that we give things, which exists outside of the realms of truth and lies, is part of one or more values systems.  Those “if, then” things we heard or made up on our own.  The meanings and the value systems may serve us or they may inhibit us from being more than we are or more precisely, stepping into all if who we are and walking in that existence.   When you know the truth, the truth can set you free.  I didn’t say it will.  It can also stop you or squelch your action and thus your life.  Look carefully and completely as you can and maybe you’ll lie less often to yourself.

FEAR, Stage Fright and Other Fears

The premise upon which the title is derived is that fear is behind action, no action, and reaction. It is the force which keeps a person from jumping off a cliff, bridge, or building. It is the force which causes a person to go to work every day. No work, no pay. No pay, no food, no place to live, no material things such as: cars, TV, furniture, or the renewing of those things, when the time comes. 
When your friend is deep in conversation with you at the curb and without thinking or looking starts to walk in front of the oncoming car, you reach out and grab the arm closest to you and save a life. 
Fear has got a bad rap. It is primal. It doesn't go away. It can be altered and utilized for good but we mostly do not recognize or acknowledge that. When fear stops you from speaking publicly or singing publicly before an audience, it is a multifactorial and possibly rational thing. How you look at it will change the outcome. If you decide that stage fright is simply nothing more or less than inexperience threatening you, preparation may solve the fear as confidence overcomes the fear. The fear doesn't leave; it just becomes less significant and less in control. 
People who do public speaking frequently know this through personal experience, as do singers and musicians. Those who work all the time in music feel fear as a little motivating excitement, not as a formidable enemy. It can be the kind of thrill some people get, watching an action movie or a horror flick or the romantic film where it seems that they are never going to get together, then they finally do. The tension is palpable but the climax is.... well, like a climax. 
Fear may be the catalyst, it may be the force behind the journey that sustains it, but it is always there if you are just inquisitive, interested, or curious enough to look through profound introspection. It is for survival and that can be from barely making it to a phenomenal success. It is actually on your side and not your enemy. Use it but don't confuse it.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Are You Stuck? Are you on a plateau?

Have you plateaued?  Are you stuck and not improving?  If you knew why, you’d be able to progress more.  This is an instance where there is not paralysis of analysis.  This unlocks the lock and opens the door to more progress.

Do you know if it is physical or mental?  The mental game of singing involves your commitment, self-discipline, attitude, inspiration, and motivation.  I have assigned some singers the task of writing 100 reasons why they sing.  This little exercise reveals your purpose and you may not have to get anywhere near the 100 mark before you are clear on your purpose.   If you’re feeling uninspired, listen to some of your idols or heroes or examples of singers you love to hear.

Broad Categories To Explore:

1.       Vocal Technique

2.       Musicianship

3.       Practice Technique

4.       State of Mind

5.       Confidence

6.       Artistry

7.       Objectivity

8.       Health

9.       Work Ethic

10.   Something else

A more complete vocal assessment may be required to help you isolate your specific problem.  This vocal assessment can be useful.  Vocal Assessment

When you know where the problem lies, it can be addressed with a strategic plan to get you moving in the direction you want.  You may need to learn something new or to apply something you already know.  You may need to practice more or to practice more effectively.  The singers you love may have had the same problem as you, but they learned how to overcome it. 

I am here to help, when you need it.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

When Practice Does Not Make Perfect

What?  I thought that “practice makes perfect”.   No, it doesn’t.  The first problem is that you cannot even define what “perfect” is.  Everyone has a different opinion about a vague undefined concept that we call perfect.  Maybe you think that perfect is something that is flawless or without mistakes.  This is still a very superficial way of looking at something.  There is so much more to this.  When looking at things microscopically, so to speak, they are not as they appear to the naked eye.  When analyzing sound, it is not as you perceive it with your ears or your mind.  Now we enter an entire universe of gray area, where there are variables beyond your perception or knowledge.  So what do we do?

We have to start an analysis of where we are now as a singer and where we want to be as a singer.  There are routes that lead to where you might want to go, but there are many routes which will not take you there, regardless of how much or how long you practice.  Two things are required to start navigating.  1) Where are you? and 2) Where do you want to go?  This doesn’t just apply to singing.  This is a life lesson, too.  You don’t want to get lost along the way or go somewhere unplanned or you will waste time and maybe even money.

When I was in college, there was a teacher who had every trumpet player play on the exact same mouthpiece that he did.  It worked for him, so why not?  The ones who worked well with it, maybe  three out of 20 did fine.  The others quit, thinking that they were not good enough.  He had a PhD.  What did he not know?  Everyone has a unique mouth, lips, teeth, oral cavity and pharynx.  Some people’s teeth are such that the air stream projects up; for some, it goes down.  One is not right and the other wrong, but there are unique problems to be solved to make it work well.  There is much more to this.  The seventeen failed trumpet players could have put in six hours a day practicing or just a half hour and it still would have had the same outcome.   Wrong = wrong.   Practice does not make perfect when something is wrong.

Every singer is unique and also has a unique mouth, lips, teeth, oral cavity and pharynx.  Look around.  We all do not look the same!   Every singer is currently at a unique level of musicianship, which can be tested.  Musicianship is one of at least 18 factors to look at when deciding what needs to be worked on by a singer.  Those 18 factors also have subcategories of many more factors.  It is not that it is so complex.  It is, instead, necessary to work on the exact specific thing and practice the exact specific exercise or method to achieve the best result in the shortest amount of time.  Otherwise, your practice makes frustration, or your practice makes you worse, or you have no improvement at all.   If you are a singer and a super genius, maybe you can figure it all out on your own.  I had to have help.  Some of the “help” along the way was useless.  Some help was insufficient for what I wanted.  I was fortunate to have connected to truth and that truth has a “track record” of enormous success.

Dynamics, intonation, phrasing, style, vocal production, articulation, endurance, and power all play a part in singing.  If your teacher cannot tell whether you have problems perceiving pitch or melodic or harmonic interval perception and if your teacher doesn’t know if it is a register transition issue (or not), for which you have developed a bad habit to hide that, you can practice from now until the cows grow wings and fly and you will still sing out of tune.  This is but one instance of when your practice will not make perfect.