Saturday, September 28, 2019

Breathing - How Do Singers Breathe?


I have seen it all now.  Ignorance, arrogance, stupidity, ego mania, and conceit.  All in a matter of seconds, as he demonstrated his breathing exercises for singing.  He reminded me of a now deceased friend who had his face in a paper bag, maniacally and violently breathing in the fumes from the glue he had dumped into the bag.  Toluene, he said that it contained.  He said it wasn’t poison. Uh-huh.

Let’s get real about breathing for singing.  The two things a singer needs regarding breathing as used for singing are: 1) control and 2) lung capacity.   Let’s get more real.  Air pressure and the amount of air which can be expelled from the lungs are both measurable and there are instruments to measure such things, to be found by your friendly pulmonary physician.  It is a matter of physics and anatomy and modern science which will verify what I am about to say, should Mr. Windbag care to put it to a test.

You must control the speed of the exhalation in order to control the dynamics-how loud or quiet it is.  You also must have enough air to sing a phrase at a controlled volume level.  It is a good idea to have more air than you need and to have more control of the air than you need, to sing effortlessly and to not let any issue with breathing impede your artistic expression.  We could set up equipment to test the air pressure and the amount of air used for singing. 

I have never seen any singer at any time breathe like the breathing that was done on the “exercise” I saw in a video.  I also play trombone.  One of my teachers was Dr. Donald S. Reinhardt.  He had 2 simple and effective breathing exercises.  One was for lung capacity and the other for breath control.  Professional brass players from the 1940s forward used these successfully for playing.  Having been both a professional singer and trombonist since 1972, I can say that it takes much less air to sing than it does to play a trombone.  Two problems can exist for both activities: 1) over-breathing and 2) under-breathing. 

Taking in too little or too much air to comfortably execute a phrase will cause unwanted sounds or bad tone or being unable to finish a phrase while maintaining the control of the dynamics.  There are many tricks, gimmicks or other stupid things being done which have nothing to do with breath control for actual singing.  These are not based on any medical science or on physics.  They have no use.  One is to blow on a piece of paper, to keep it from falling down a wall.  You do not exhale that hard or use that much air when you sing, so it is a trick and it is of no use.  Maybe you could have some friends hold a filing cabinet off the floor and against the wall and you could try to hold it there by blowing on it.  Maybe you can exhale with a hissing sound, like a happy little snake, but wait a minute.  Do snakes sing?  A little science mixed with a little common sense could go a long way but if you are looking for tricks, you might take up learning what magicians really do, to distract you from reality.  Some teachers of singing may just distract you from your money.  Magic is a trick and Trix are for kids (or so they say).

Chuck Stewart, Vocal Coach

Monday, September 23, 2019

Living Out Loud - Cyber Security


Living out loud

Have we lost our minds?  Maybe.  Have we lost our privacy?  Yes, but we were complicit in the act.  Is there value in privacy?  More than you might guess.  Are the most private people the ones who have the most to hide?  Sometimes.  I knew of one in Las Vegas who spoke in whispers, wore ten-thousand-dollar suits and drove a brand-new Mercedes.  His very livelihood was dependent upon his anonymity, but he was known by a few, including me.  Privacy vs living out loud.  Are there benefits of privacy? There are.
I recently saw two articles for singers about how to handle criticism.  I’ve written about it myself.  It can be annoying, distracting, or even devastating to be criticized, especially if you are working hard to improve your singing.

Flashback

Growing up, for me, there was no internet and there were no computers or cell phones.  Therefore, there was no Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Reddit, Quora, or anything which has popped up in the parallel universe of the internet.  Socializing was done in person and in groups.  There were athletic teams, band. chorus, cheerleaders, Thespians, and cliques who had no names.  There were religious organizations, churches, synagogues, YMCA, boy and girl scouts, brownies and cub scouts, 4-H, and others.  They’re still around.  We did have telephones with wires going to the walls and without a long cord, you didn’t get too far, and you didn’t always have privacy, especially on the cheaper “party lines”, as they were called.  Eavesdroppers would sometimes pick up and listen.  You’d hear that click when they picked up the receiver. It was considered bad manners or rude.  There are things you just didn’t want others to know about.

Now

Practice in private!  Musicians in Las Vegas would sometimes say they needed to woodshed, or simply “shed”, meaning go out to the woodshed and practice.  I found out that the origin of that was so that they could practice in private and get out all the bad stuff where no one could hear it.  The last thing you need is criticism.  You need help.  You need skill.  You need knowledge.  You don’t need criticism.  People who say you do are not artists.  An artist understands that you must have time and space and safety to grow and to improve. 

When I was growing up from the age of nine, I took my trombone and closed the door.  It is the loudest instrument in the orchestra and my first sounds on it were more noise than music.  That changed but the habit of closing that door afforded me the privacy that is vital. 

Don’t Share Too Soon

Don’t perform in front of others unless you have a sick need of criticism.  Most people don’t know enough about what you’re doing, to tell you anything useful as to how to improve.  You have enough negative stuff in your own mind, that you don’t need more added to it unless you are looking for the reason, the justification, or the rationalization to support your wanting to quit because you have no perseverance or you are not a true artist and have come to that realization.  OR, maybe you are lazy.  Maybe you have no patience or have underestimated the time and effort needed to be the artist you want to be.  Don’t add others’ negativity to your own.  It will slow you down and maybe destroy your dreams and goals.  You also can’t blame them.  They have plenty of their own failed goals and dreams.  Because of this, it is not safe to share with the fools club of failures. 

Do Not Live Out Loud (until you’re very good) !

Chuck Stewart, Vocal Coach

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Singers Should Set Goals


Questions for a singer: How good do you want to be? What will you have to do to achieve that? If you sounded like you want to, how would that make you feel? What would you do with your new amazing ability? Do you know what is standing in your way? I do. Do you know what to do about it? I do. 
I once had a friend, or so he said. Still, he was a trumpet player and he practiced for an entire year and then got in a band led by a famous drummer named Buddy Rich. Before I had a gig in a major showroom in Las Vegas, I had practiced for a year. It was about 3 hours a day, including recording myself, listening back, destroying the tapes with a hammer on the sidewalk outside, being frustrated, angry, sad, and at times almost satisfied. Then after about three months, things started shifting. I was NOT working on vocal technique. I was working on control and style and making my voice sound like what it sounded like in my head, so to speak. 
I took a tape to a show producer of the show that my wife was in. We sat down together and she listened to my tape. She said, "I want you in my show, but you'll have to audition in front of the cast on stage." I did. They went wild and I was in. How did I feel? I felt ready. I felt confident. I felt prepared. I felt nervous BUT it never shows in my voice. 
Practice may not make perfect. I don't know what perfect even is. There is a thing, though, which is good enough. I knew I was good enough to play in the major leagues. I know that I could work in New York, L.A., Paris, or anywhere in the world. It's not conceit. It's not arrogance. It comes from paying your dues which you do by preparing to be a high level professional. I left one thing out. When you do what it takes to participate, the enjoyment is unbelievable. It is easy. It is your new toy and people who sit and watch and listen are having almost as much fun as you are!

Chuck Stewart, Vocal Coach

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Singers' Motivation And Inspiration



I used to think about motivation and inspiration as things outside of myself. I also thought that inspiration and motivation had to come from high lofty wonderful and pure things. I visualized inspiration and motivation as things that would pull me through my problems.  Get that idea.  They pull you.  What if there were a thing that would double that pulling force? 

Before we look at that, let’s look at things that push you.  What might push you?  Pain.  Pain will push you to remove your hand from a hot stove or a hot pot.  We may view pain as a bad thing and it is.  What could be good about it?  It might protect you from further injury, but it also may stop you from trying something you have associated with pain.  What else could be good about pain?  It can be a motivation.  There is a phrase associated with the Holocaust.  Never again!  The people who lived through the inhumane torture of that time especially understand the meaning of “never again”.  To them it means “never again” for themselves, for relatives, for friends, and for people they will never meet.  Avoiding pain can definitely be an effective motivation.  Maybe there is something more positive to be found in pain.

Bad experiences can be a source of pain.  Bad people in your life can be a source of pain.  People who have betrayed you, people who have turned on you or attacked you, people who have tried to destroy you or your reputation can all be sources of pain.  You don’t need to dwell on the pain, though.  You don’t need to think about it every day.  You can use it by influencing your actions to improve things.  It can be an extra boost, to fuel your journey to making things better.  Two forces working together are more powerful than only one.  Pleasure pulls and pain pushes.  Pleasure is usually somewhere in the future and pain is hopefully from the past.  Either or both can exist in the present moment.  For motivation purposes and when formulating goals and plans, try using the power of two forces, the pull and the push.

Look at things in terms of a “what if”.  What if I try and fail?  What if I succeed beyond even my own vision of possibility?  When I was in high school, onstage and shaking (but not my voice) in front of 800 people, singing in public for the first time, even though the applause, after I sang, was loud, did I think I would ever be on the stage of a showroom in Las Vegas?  No. It didn’t seem possible and I didn’t even consider anything beyond my stretching, just to do that first performance.  You don’t know what you’re capable of but I would bet it is far beyond what you might imagine.  What if I were rich or what if I made or had more money?  It might be waiting in your future but it all starts with belief; not belief that it will happen but belief in possibility.

A goal is your destination or your new lifestyle.  You are the vehicle and your fuel is inspiration and motivation.  You can study people who have done what you haven’t yet, but you’ll discover that you will get there on a unique route.  Keep your eyes on the road.

Chuck Stewart, Vocal Coach

Learning From My Singing Students #1


I had a singing student, who taught me a lot.  She had around 60 clients per week in her counselling practice.  She had a doctorate in psychology.  Psychology comes from the word psyche, which means spirit.  Yet, many psychologists are atheists or agnostics.  This lady, Lisa, believed there is more to the world than what’s seen by the naked eye.  She shared this with everyone she knew.  Her clientele raved about her. Dr.  Lisa was a living example of what she believed about life.  A true alignment of thought, word, and deed, she was.

Lisa wrote songs, expressing her views about things, the same things she spoke about in her sessions with her clients.  I might say “her patients”, but she was the one with patience and a deep understanding.  One of the best compliments she gave me was when she said, “You’re the most normal person I know.”  Some might debate that because people are hyper-argumentative these days.  I would go on to say that those people are also hyper-unhappy.  The stuff in their minds cannot make residing there very pleasant.

One time she called me and I didn’t know who it was on the phone.  She had lost her voice.  With 60 clients per week, she used her voice extensively and without it would lose her practice.  She had gone to an E.N.T., who scoped her but found nothing wrong.  

I gave her a little project to do.  It was my turn to council.  She did the assignment.  It wasn’t vocal exercises.  The next day she called me, she had discovered the source of her problem and her voice sounded perfect.  I had a way of discovering that she had a block.  She had made it herself and when she realized what it was, as if by miracle her voice returned. 

Chuck Stewart, Vocal Coach

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Singers - Talent Musicianship Musicality


What is talent?  I think it is an interest in something and finding out more about it and taking that knowledge and doing something with it.  The more intense the interest or fascination or obsession, the more talent appears.  What?  Are we just born with it and we have it or we don’t have it?  I think that we are born with a body that has a brain in it and that the brain is trainable.  What you’re exposed to definitely will affect where your attention will go. 

What is input via your senses will affect what comes from you.  The old computer acronym GIGO – garbage in=garbage out.  If you were raised in an artless home, you may have become an artless person.  You can change that, though.  You can get yourself culture-fied.  It probably won’t even kill you.  You’re not an old dog and you can learn new tricks and sayings are never absolute truths.  Many are garbage stuck in your head.  You can take out the trash and you can change your mind, if you want.
Before I was known as a singer, I was a musician.  60 years of playing with a piano.  58 years of playing a trombone.  62 years of singing for fun.  2 piano lessons at age 8.  2 singing lessons at age 15, opera style.  By age 15, I had performed in front of a crowd of about 600 and although scared out of my mind, the performance was acknowledged with a long and thunderous applause.  It was a popular hit song and I had imitated it well enough.  I started imitating the Kennedy voices in the 5th grade, so imitation was a practiced skill.  Songs which followed, in other many other performances weren’t imitations; just me.

Early on, much of music is parroting things back.  Summer music camps at the age of 15 and 16 helped to advance my musicianship.  My high school band director taught me much about orchestration and arranging.  I soaked it up like a sponge.  In a short conversation with him, I left knowing how to transpose for every instrument.  This paid off, as I wrote an arrangement of a song that we performed several times in our high school big band.

I think I learned more about music in the music camps than by being a student at the same university in which the camps were held.  The most important things actually used as a professional, I learned there.  HOW to listen, for instance.  I did play first chair in two bands there, as a university student.  My favorite was stage band.  

At the age of 20 I was coerced into joining a band and in it I sang a little but played trombone, mostly.  Playing an instrument definitely enhances musicianship and, therefore, makes one a better singer, potentially.  At age 21, I formed my first professional band and we played in West Virginia, mostly.  At 22 I formed a band which went on tour and another at age 24.  We toured 14 states in the Midwest and Southeast.  I mostly played trombone, but also sang.   I wanted to do more and went to Las Vegas where I spent 18 years playing trombone and singing. 

My musicianship had carried me through.  I had good enough vocal technique to sing in a production show in Las Vegas in the 2nd biggest showroom in town at that time.  I had a break in my voice which nobody heard, because I sang below where that break was.  Only in country music could someone get away with a break in their voice and it’s even used for effect at times in that genre.  What I sang in the show was easy for me.  What I loved singing, however, was nearly impossible for me.  I loved singing songs that Al Jarreau sang.  I had the level of musicianship to sing jazz, too.  But the crack was a killer.  Musicianship is what got me hired, though.   Musicianship isn’t all-important but it is vital.

Musicianship is vital for accurate intervals, for being in tune, for making musical sense when you ad lib or improvise, for having a recognition and sense of style.  Improving musicianship definitely improves singing.  Singers lacking in musicianship are quickly betrayed by what comes out of their mouths.  Some singers are terrified or repulsed by the mere word musicianship.  My advice to that is to learn more about what it is that you think you are doing.  You don’t have to know all the terminology, but you do have to master all the things having to do with musicianship or you won’t be a great singer.  If you aspire to less than greatness, you will get what you tolerate as your reward.
What is musicality?  It’s the style, the flair, the self-expression, the aesthetic qualities of music itself.  Music is a hearing art.  Listen.  Explore many styles, as if you are in a music appreciation class or in music history.  Dive into the width, breadth, and depth of music.  Listen to voices and instruments.  If you’re so inclined, you might try making up a melody, discovering all there is to know about chords and also exploring several genres.  You can focus on one or on a favorite later on.  Give yourself some time to see what is in the world with music.  It might be a fun trip.

So, back to Vegas.  I was singing in a show and even though I did a perfect enough performance every single night, six nights a week, I wanted to do more and was introduced to a real vocal coach.  I paid her (in the 1990s) $175 per hour.  I have never regretted a cent of that.  Why?  Working on what she told me to do, I permanently eliminated the break in my voice and my endurance and range grew beyond what I ever had thought was possible.  After our show closed, I sang in lounges and nightclubs.  One was 6 hours per night, six nights a week.  I passed that test with flying colors and had no vocal fatigue, no hoarseness, and I was a testament to what she had taught me that I practiced, to achieve that state.

Knowing my professional background as a trombonist and in architecture,  (Architecture?  Yes.) my vocal coach felt that I had something to offer as a potential teacher and coach of what she taught.  She proceeded to train me in that way and had me to apprentice under her guidance and quality control.  My students were professional singers in Las Vegas.  I had some spectacular results to which she said to me. “I’ve never seen anyone achieve the results so quickly as what you have.”  This eventually lead to a new career when our family moved to Orlando, Florida, where I had 80 students per week and a large waiting list. 

I do draw from all my knowledge and experience and I do teach the singer in front of me, not some imagined or desired voice.  People sing in their own voices, to sound their best, not imitations of other singers.  Each singer is unique and has unique experience, knowledge, and talent.  Each singer has a unique vocal apparatus and unique resonating spaces in the head.  Identical twins will be nearly identical, but not entirely.  Some teachers teach what they think sounds good or is the only right way or right sound but with disastrous results.  Some people sound very trained, but not very musical.  Some people sound like a caricature or a parody of someone or something.  Some sound fine and some don’t sound fine at all.  One size does not fit all.  Voices are not socks.  One size does not fit all.

The lies and myths I have heard from other singers are both useless and dangerous, potentially.  Sometimes education includes getting the garbage out.  Take out the trash.  It might look like it is something useful until you examine it and you discover it is rotten or broken ore useless.  If you don’t know what you are looking at and have the knowledge to discern it, you will not know why you don’t sound great.  The truth can set you free as long as you learn it and use it.

Chuck Stewart, Vocal Coach

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Singers - “Try not. Do, or do not..."

“Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda, from the movie “Star Wars”

You cannot look at the quote (“Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try.”) on the surface and make much sense of it.  Beneath the surface and in the implication or inference is the true meaning.  The intention when beginning anything can and does control the outcome.  It is not always true, but it can be true and has been true that a weak intention may not produce any result at all.  It starts with leaving you an out.  Your escape hatch is built before the whole house is even started.  Beneath or behind the words lies the intention. 

This isn’t about rah-rah "cheerleading" motivation.  The football players out on the field, beating each other’s brains out, cannot even hear the cheerleaders.  They don’t always even hear the crowd in the stands.  They are focused on winning the game.  Intention is made up of desire, motivation, and maybe inspiration.  Intention has a goal.  Intention has within it the intention to persevere until there is fruition.  It is the process of visualization turning into a manifestation.  There is a period of gestation and growth, which take time and expansion and the force necessary to break through the surface and to emerge.  Much to learn from plants, there is.  These are things for you to know.  These are things for you to live, and also, to teach your children; maybe even your friends. 

The grass doesn’t think.  It’s a good thing.  It starts from a seed and cells divide and multiply over and over again.  The intelligence is contained within its DNA.  It doesn’t have negative thoughts or thoughts to wait, give up, or to stop.  Grass grows.  There is a life cycle.  Grass also dies.  It doesn’t decide to die or commit suicide.  It has a time frame of its life.  It may be invaded by alien things such as insects and poisons.  Some will take its life, but some will live alongside the grass.  Death is not where to focus.  Death of dreams and goals leads you nowhere. 

Life leads you to more life, if you get into the flow and the process of it, just like those friendly little aphids and your happy ladybugs, who eat them.  Delicious!  The aphids are little sapsuckers and are not so friendly to plants.  You need to learn to recognize and identify who are friends and who are enemies.  Some people help you and some suck the life out of you.  Stay away from those silly sapsuckers!  This is part of achieving a worthwhile goal.  Things are either advancing you toward the goal or away from it or stopping your motion and momentum.

When you make a goal, envision the outcome.  There will always be things to overcome: time, effort, a lack of energy, a lack of self-discipline, a lack of personal ethics, a lack of anything thwarting or impeding your goal.  What do you want?  What do you want to achieve?  What is first and how is less important, but essential.  What is want ?  What does it mean to want something?  It means, “I don’t have it, but I want to have it.”  The word, have, in the preceding sentence can be replaced with the words do or be, also!  If you can’t envision the outcome, you have not envisioned the goal completely enough to take it out of the category of dreams or wishes. 

You know you want cereal for breakfast.  You look in the refrigerator and there is no milk.  You could maybe have cereal with yogurt but there is no yogurt.  You look in the cupboard.  There is no cereal and you are out of eggs and bacon.  You have money and you have a car.  You have some free time and the store is a few blocks away.  You intend to have milk, cereal, yogurt, eggs and bacon in your home in their proper places.  The weather is good and the roads are good and the store is open.  You know what you will do and how you will do it.  You know that you are all you need to be to make this intention into a manifestation.  You’re healthy and have no pain or disability.  You are a good driver and there is a full tank of gas in the car.  The next day, you have cereal for breakfast.

Was that too simple?  No.  This is how life is.  This is how you have ever accomplished anything.  You had a desire, a motivation, and a wherewithal to make it happen.  This is as simple as getting a glass of water or as going to the bathroom.  In other goals, there may be other things needed:

·         more steps
·         more money
·         more knowledge  
·         more experience
·         more skill  
·         more logistics
·         more planning
·         more doing
·         more time
·         perseverance

Still, there is a simplicity, a process, or a procedure which will share similarities to getting things for breakfast at the local grocery store.  The little list above may point you in the right direction to knowing what you need to do what you want or to have what you want.  What you will have to be, is the person with the factors on the list that get you out of your mind.  Go from thoughts to physical reality, also called manifestation.  It’s not magic, because there is no trick.  Actions speak louder than thoughts.

Chuck Stewart, Vocal Coach