Vocal Tidbits

Articles and Questions from Readers Answered





Best Learning From Models, Mentors, and Coaches   

Models
Many a singer learns what he knows by "feeling his way along," listening to (and watching) other singers.  In fact, MOST of us learn how to sing just like that...listening to someone else sing.  This method of learning is called...MODELLING.  You simply watch and learn.  You try to duplicate what you're seeing and hearing.  The person you watch serves as your MODEL.  There are advantages and disadvantages to this type of learning.

Advantages
  • The model doesn't have to cooperate.  You just watch or listen to them.  No matter how famous they are, how inaccessible, you can "steal" their methods or their sounds or their style
  • You don't need to schedule an appointment. Unlike mentors and coaches, models are just there at your whim. You don't have to get on their calendar to model them.  Just crank up their CD or watch their music videos.
  • They're free or nearly free of charge. When you start modeling someone else, they don't send you a bill.  At most, you'll have to buy a copy of their CD or video  performance.

Disadvantages
  • You must provide ALL the discipline and drive.  Your "whim" can work for OR against you when it comes to making decent progress.  A model can inspire you, but they won't get  you out of bed and into the practice room
  • Your model can't provide correction. They usually don't even know you exist, so they  won't be able to direct you in any way
  • They can't tell you whether you've chosen a good model for your talent. For instance, you have a nice natural twang to your voice, perfect for country music.  But you decide to model the opera singer, Luciano Pavarotti. He might roll over in his grave, but he can't tell you to switch to Brad Paisley as your model.

Mentors
The word "mentor" has become such a buzzword that it has lost some of its impact.  But the concept behind the word is still very powerful.  A mentor is someone who is farther along on the path and agrees to give you some wisdom and advice to help you along.  I often hear people talk about having a "mentor" they've never contacted.  That is model, not a mentor.  It's easy to see what the advantages and disadvantages of the mentor/protégé arrangement are.

Advantages
  • Direct contact. Even if it's only occasional, it'll motivate you.  It allows you to "borrow" discipline from the mentor, since they'll be asking hard questions to see if you're doing what they suggest.
  • They can correct you if you give them an honest picture of your situation.
  • You can easily end the relationship if it isn't doing any good.  Mentors are usually busy people and therefore, they normally value their time.  They'll usually be glad to end the arrangement if it's a bad match.

Disadvantages
  • Mentors don't usually see you at work.  They must rely on your questions and feedback to be able to advise and guide you.
  • There are things a mentor can't teach...like singing or playing a guitar, for instance.  However, they can help you with business, people skills, or even HOW to find a good coach.
  • It takes determination just to find a good mentor. Think of how busy any worthy mentor is and you'll get the picture.  Most potential mentors have been approached by others to get help.  They learn to put up "tests" to run the lazy ones off without wasting too much of their valuable time.
  • If you find a good mentor, here are a couple of guidelines to keep you from blowing a good thing:  ONLY call on them with a "pressing question" if you have spent at least 2 hours looking online for the answer.  Don't call "just to chat."  Don't EVER make excuses or lament your lack of discipline.  Any mentor worth their salt will only want to give time to people who use their OWN time wisely.

Coaches
There is a reason Tiger Woods still has a swing coach.  Talented people are great mentors for younger talents...yet they STILL make sure to get coached on a regular basis themselves.  Why?  Because busy people need exterior measures to maintain their progress.  Otherwise, they'd tend to just do what they do as best they could, and they would soon lose their advantage.  In that way these "super-talents" are just like the rest of us...they have to live life, eat, put their pants on, keep a schedule, pay their bills, maintain friendships, and get some sleep.  If it weren't for a coach, "getting better" might fall through the cracks of their busy lives.  I'd argue that in most cases, the fact that they added a coach to their regular routine accounts for much of their high achievement.

Advantages
  • They hold the whip.  You can be the most disciplined person in the world and yet a coach can see places where you are not reaching your full potential.  They are paid to "press" those places and keep you going when you would have otherwise stopped short.
  • The right coach is also a good mentor. If your singing coach can also sing well him- or herself, you have a coach AND a mentor all in one.
  • Quick correction.  If you begin to veer off course in one aspect of your voice, it's no big deal...UNLESS...you keep doing it.  Seeing a coach regularly keeps you from persisting in the wrong direction.

Disadvantages
  • They cost money.  Coaches make their living coaching, so unlike an occasional phone call to a mentor, they must be paid for their time.
  • If they are good, it can get difficult to schedule with them.  (This goes for great hair stylists too, but I digress.).
  • Choosing a good coach is a gamble at first.  Before you take your first lesson, unless they came highly recommended, you really don't know whether or not they are any good.  One coach is not the same as another.  But like choosing a mentor, you should at least have a good idea of their reputation to go on.

My Advice: Don't Choose Between Models, Mentors, or Coaches... Go for All Three.
  • Choose a model and study their abilities, sing a couple of their songs, watch live footage; just don't disappear into their  personality
  • Choose a coach based on the best information available. 
  • Contact the mentor.  Be determined, but not pushy.  Know ahead of time what you actually want to learn from them.
  • DON'T waste money on a second or third lesson if lesson #1 goes poorly.
  • Use references.




Question from a Reader

Miss Kaye,

Tell me how to strengthen the voice to make it more powerful etc? How to use good breath control to not lose your breath whilst singing etc? How to decorate the notes in singing to make it blend nicely? I've read the one when you were saying how to help assist vocal range- but what about how to increase the vocal range? What are the steps and techniques taken to do this?
Thx,
Michael T.


My Comments

Michael,

Whew! You've obviously been thinking about this for a while and saving up your questions. I like this set of questions because, believe it or not, if you answer one, you have fixed nearly all the others. OK, I'll pick one or two for now so this doesn't turn into "War and Peace" by Sharon Kaye.

It's interesting that one of your questions is the MOST often asked question we get ALWAYS. AND it's a question that people will read the ANSWER to and immediately ask the same question AGAIN. You said..."I've read the one when you were saying how to help assist vocal range- but what about how to increase the vocal range?"...

I get some version of this question so much that I've concluded that this is what you might call a very "illusive" issue. Mind you, it's NOT difficult...just illusive. Once it "clicks" in your brain and you understand it, it just seems so simple. The bad news is...it's somewhat like riding a bike You can't learn to ride a bike by reading a newsletter or even 25 newsletters.

Except that SOME people have done just that. Same with increasing your voice range...you could POSSIBLY learn it from a newsletter, but it would be unlikely...because it involves muscles moving (tiny ones that you can't even see) and precise coordination, taught mainly by listening and repeating what you hear...first in exercises, then in actual singing.  Someone would consider you out of your mind if you went around asking "I need some helpful hints on becoming a proficient Medical Doctor in time for an operation next month."

But nobody flinches before asking "Give me some hints on increasing my range." Maybe I AM THE ONE that's out of MY mind because I keep giving these people tips on how to increase their range. So here are some more of my "out of my mind" tips on increasing your voice range...but I'm warning you...if you want to actually experience a "breakthrough" you need a SYSTEM.

Voice Range Tip #1:  You must learn to get the wrong muscles out of the way.  I  have a system of exercises that do just that. They are "listen, then do" exercises. I don't know of a way other than to "trick" the wrong muscles into dis-engaging (by my strange-sounding exercises). WHAT wrong muscles?  Under chin...gently place your entire hand over your entire throat so your chin is cradled between your thumb and pointing finger. Pretend you're trying to hide your throat from sight but just barely touch it so you can feel movement. Now SWALLOW. Do you feel things moving? Of course you do. Over 3 dozen muscle groups go to work just to make sure you swallow correctly.

They all make sure food goes down this pipe and NOT THAT pipe. They are also designed to work for about as long as a swallow lasts (maybe 2 seconds), then rest otherwise. Unfortunately, they like to help out when you sing too, especially when you go to higher and higher notes.  I say unfortunately, because they can do NOTHING to help. They just use up energy and increase the tension around the muscles that ARE needed to sing. Remember, they are designed to work for a second then rest. But when you start singing, you have likely felt them engage and stay engaged until they literally wear you out. WHY do they do this stupid thing? Because they think you need help. That brings me to…


Voice Range Tip #2:  You must teach the actual singing muscles NOT to over-exert themselves by staying in "first gear" as you sing higher. Your most natural sounding voice is the one you use to speak. When you sing in a "normal" tone, you will start in that voice. It is likely your "chest" voice. It's called that because most of the resonating happens in your chest. (Resonating is a word that roughly means "multiplying the intensity and color of sound vibrations by directing them into some sort of chamber.")

In your most normal sounding voice, you've learned to make a nice, strong sound by letting the tone vibrate mostly in your chest. You didn't think about it. It's just how most people learned to speak, cry, and sing. It's a very open, rich, full sound. It sounds "firm," not "mushy." Your little tiny noise-making muscles, sometimes called vocal cords, are generally vibrating along their entire length when you are in your chest voice. They are also maintaining their full "thickness" .   Vocal cords are amazing muscles. They can do tricks. Three of those tricks are used to take you easily over a good wide range of notes (3 or more octaves).

Trick #1  They change notes along the bottom of your range by contracting like any other muscle in your body...the tighter they contract, the higher the rate of vibration as air passes between them from your lungs. But, like any muscle, they reach a limit to how tight they'll go without injuring themselves. At that point of crisis, they do one of two things...

Least satisfying...They protect themselves while maintaining their ability to sing higher than that crisis point by suddenly dumping their tension, swinging apart slightly, and producing an airy "false voice" called falsetto. We call it "false" because it sounds so unlike that rich chest voice you were producing just a few notes lower.

When you go into falsetto, you experience great physical relief. You go from high tension to nearly no tension. You go from struggling for the next note to easily reaching the next note. The trouble is...You seldom like the fact that your sound changed so drastically and lost the "power" you had down low. Emotionally, it's a let-down.  It makes you write emails to people saying "How can I increase my voice range?" On the other hand, you might learn to do this...


Trick #2 Most satisfying...If you've trained them, your vocal cords will do their next 2 tricks and will just as easily shift into the next gear rather than flip into falsetto. Your cords will begin to thin out, Trick #2, changing their mass so that they vibrate at a higher rate WITHOUT having to tighten more. Imagine switching to a thinner violin string but keeping the tension exactly the same...it would produce a higher note.

Unlike falsetto, they DON'T pull apart, so the tone they produce still has a "firm" sound rather than that airy, false sound. You eventually enter what is called "head voice" because the resonance moves from your chest cavity to your head cavities. I’ll say it again…this is not the same as falsetto because the cords remain together, producing a pure rather than airy tone. I'LL SAY IT AGAIN...THIS IS NOT THE SAME.

If you are training with the right system, your body will learn to FADE, mix, more resonance into the head cavities and out of the chest cavity. This produces what we call "mixed voice" and it is NOT the same as either chest or head. It's a mixture of the two. It will produce a gradual change as you go higher and sounds like just more notes from the same big voice. 

Trick #3  Once they have taken you as high as they will go by thinning out, they will actually close a portion of their length off (like fretting a guitar string). This will result in even higher notes, like whistle tones...Mariah Carey's calling card, because the LENGTH of the vibrating surface has been shortened.

Question #2 ~ Same Reader... Different Question

You said..."how to use good breath control to not lose your breath whilst singing etc?"

My Comments

When you hear someone who has a wide, strong voice range, this is what they are doing, even if they don't know it. You probably didn't think "Wow, they know how to mix their registers!"...instead you just thought "Lucky dog! He can sing higher than I can and still sound great!"  The assumption is usually that you have all you're going to get, range-wise. This is not true. You can develop the range of your voice. The timbre or color determines where you like to sing or fach. If you want to increase your range, like the questioner asked, come for a lesson. 

Again, a wonderful question...not because no one else thought to ask it...but because LOTS of people ask it. I would say that when a singer has the thought..."I need to get some help with my voice." Their next thought is VERY often..."I need someone to help me learn to breathe."

This is because it is what we have always heard from anyone "in the know" about voice instruction...breath control...breathe from your diaphragm...etc.  I've dealt with this in many times before, but let me say again...you know how to breathe or you'd be dead right now!  But we forget how we breathed and screamed at birth.  Seriously, let me look closer at this man's question...

AHA! He added something very helpful to his question about breath...he wants to know how to "not lose breath while singing..."  Now we're getting somewhere. The good news is that the answer to this question is not so complicated. Let me simplify how you think of breathing. You are just filling 2 balloons with air and then squeezing them out over your vocal cords.  If you're having trouble, there are just a few things to check, barring some medical problem. 


WHEN THE BALLOONS(YOUR LUNGS) GET FILLED
Are you letting your stomach move out of the way of the bottom of the sacks? If not, you won't start with enough air to get you through a number of notes without having to breathe in again. You can check this very simply. Just breathe in a nice, deep breath and picture yourself breathing that breath into your stomach. If you do that, your stomach will move outward, out of the way. Congratulations, you just breathed the exact way you need to for singing. There are teachers who think my approach is a bit flippant. But I assure you, it's not. There are dozens of philosophies on breathing...Do you "let" the air out, do you "hold" the air back, do you "push" the air out, etc.

WHEN THE BALLOONS GET EMPTIED

The most common problem with running out of breath has little to do with breathing! That problem has to do with allowing too much, or too little, air to escape while you're EMPTYING the lungs. If your cords are coming together with a nice seal, it takes VERY little air to make a strong, firm tone!




The First Thing You Should Lose

Over the years, I've heard LOTS of singers.  One of the first and most striking differences between singers is something you can pick out by the first note they sing.  Between the pros I've sung with, the contest singers I've had the privilege of evaluating, and the singers that auditioned for Mission City Opera I've probably heard 5000+ singers.

Of course, I listen for some things all singers must have:  like pitch, basic talent, a good tone, etc.  But oddly enough one of the things that turns out to be a most important item is SOMETHING THAT SHOULD BE MISSING.  All singers should strive to go through something I call "Timidity Loss."  There is an "attack" that some singers seem to bring to the mic that means they've been able to banish the temptation to "hide themselves" emotionally.

Those of you who watch the early-season episodes of Idol or Can You Duet may be nodding your heads right now.  You've seen the poor souls who look like they've been caught doing something wrong when they sing.  Those of you who have actually walked onto a stage will recognize this battle from inside your own skin. It may take years of auditions or it may just take some well-chosen words from a wiser performer to get you to LOSE YOUR TIMIDITY.  But either way, you must suffer "Timidity Loss" if you are going to grow as a performer.


EVERYONE has to deal with this.  (Even Miss Kaye, has been told by Opera Mavens "What are you doing sitting around teaching when you have a voice like this?  Get out there again.")  Don't say where you heard it, but I think we'll hear something from Sharon very soon. She's been sneaking out of the teaching studio and into the recording studio lately.  You see it's not just about "having the chops.”  It's about a "can do" attitude that gets you outside yourself.  You could be sitting on a goldmine of talent, and still be too timid to bring it fully to bear. 

CONGRUENCE

I know I've said this before, but one of the most important factors in losing your timidity is KNOWING in your CORE that you are committing AN UNSELFISH ACT WHEN YOU SING.  Making the "thousand mile jump" from SEEKING something you crave (money, applause, affirmation) to GIVING something to your listeners that they value, is the ESSENCE of losing your timidity.

I’ve heard people say, "I wish I could sing" or “I wish I could sing like you”.  It would be tragic if at your funeral, instead of the preacher saying, "Old Joe sure LOVED to sing," he could only say, "Old Joe always WISHED he could sing." "Just tell 'em, 'Don't wait!  Just go ahead and sing!'"   If you work as hard…who knows?

So, we want to say "Don't wait!  Don't be timid.  Make the 'thousand mile jump' and lose your timidity.  JUST SING!"  Bless others with the voice you have and get outside yourself and your own selfishness.

TECHNICAL ABILITY

Doubtless, some timidity comes from plain old inexperience and lack of technical knowledge.  If you open your mouth and hear bad sounds coming out, you'll tend to want to close your mouth.  If you STILL have a strong desire to sing, you'll probably develop a very strong desire to IMPROVE your singing as you sense the need.  Hey, it's what drives us all...the deep desire to be able to do this well.  Part of your confidence will come with the confident knowledge that you can sing easily and with great command of your own voice.  Our vocal system is designed to let you build that confident knowledge that your own "equipment" is finally at your command.

THE NOT-SO-SECRET TECHNIQUE

The one MOST effective, but least used exercise for losing your timidity is also the most difficult.   (Not difficult like lifting 400 lbs. difficult.  Not difficult like playing a Bach fugue difficult... More like telling your best friend he needs to shower-more-often difficult.)  Yes, and this time your best friend is YOU.  The not-so-secret technique is ... getting alone and watching your performance on video.  OUCH! 

It will require video footage of a recent performance.  OR...you can just go into your own bathroom, point the camera at the mirror and perform your song to that human in the mirror.  THEN make yourself watch.  You'll see the most painful things (like nervous ticks, unexpected facial expressions you didn't mean to make, like a "mean" stare, etc.)  But IF you push through the pain and keep making adjustments, you'll LOSE YOUR TIMIDITY.

You'll reach this magical place where you stop hating your looks and stop feeling like you're no good and get comfy with the awkward situation that performance can be.  As not-so-secret as this technique is...in my experience, out of the hundreds on this mailing list, about 10-12 of you will have the courage to do this exercise.  Not so surprisingly, those 10-12 will be the ones who actually see huge improvements in their ability to connect unselfishly with their audiences.

Please...be one of them.




I think I broke something!

QUESTION from professional singer:
Hi Sharon! Thanks for your message.  I am recording a lot this summer and I’m having difficulty with my high notes that were extremely weak and my break is noticeable.  "It doesn't matter how much air I use, the note didn't get any stronger..."  What do you think?
Kat P.

ANSWER

A full 75% of the questions I get are...THIS QUESTION!  That means that this is obviously an important and pressing question to many singers.  The wording is different every time..."transitional notes," "my break," "passaggio," "between voices," "I'm weak on the high end, once I reach a certain point,"...but the question is the same:  "How do I get rid of my 'break'?"

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW:  What is your "break?"  When singers talk about a break, they are referring to the notes where the voice reaches a "shifting point" in their range (high/low), where something must happen in order to go any higher without hurting their voices.  What most often happens is...the voice "breaks" into falsetto (hence the article's title: "I Think I Broke Something").  The vocal cords dump their tension and pull apart slightly so that only their very slight edge is vibrating.  Our voices learn this when we are young, just playing around and experimenting.  The cords are actually just vibrating along their thin mucous edge.  So we are able to produce the higher notes (and quite easily), but the tone changes so drastically between our "normal" lower voice and this "false voice" that it really does sound like you "BROKE SOMETHING."  Though falsetto has uses (emotional effect in certain songs), most singers HATE the fact that they HAVE to do it to reach higher notes.  They go from sounding strong to sounding weak in a single note; thus the common question about getting rid of "my break."

WHAT DO YOU REALLY NEED: Singers complain of needing "more strength" or "more power," when the problem is often the "weak" sound of falsetto.  Singers complain of needing "more range" or "more notes," when the problem is the need for more notes in a FULL VOICE.  Singers complain of needing to "learn to breathe" or "need to get more support" but even that is often an attempt to GUESS what might help them get more notes in a FULL VOICE.  (Kat, you said, "It doesn't matter how much air I use, the note didn't get any stronger..."  This is because if you don't get the cords to do the right thing, more air won't help at all.  Imagine someone saying "I can't get the car to start, so I'll sit here and push on the gas pedal a little harder."  Once the car is started, pushing on the gas will result in more speed, but not before.)

HOW TO GET WHAT YOU REALLY NEED:  Virtually ALL tenors reach their shifting point around the same 3 notes ... F, F#, G!  (Women, except for extremely low Altos, reach their first shifting point around the A, Bflat, B above the males.)  To be certain, SOME SINGERS simply FIND their way  by accident so that they can pass into a MIX voice without ever being TAUGHT to do so.  We all look at these kind of singers and use words like "He's a natural" and "Wow, she was born with an amazing range."  

But these singers don't produce tone with any different equipment than the rest of us.  Ms. Kaye's exercises teach your cords to do what these "naturals" have learned to do:  Gradually transition from chest voice to head voice and back again without strain or pain.  These exercises have never failed me.




The #1 Biggest Singer's Mistake

So there I am, sitting in the Judge's Seat and the next singer gets up. Amazingly, she makes the #1 Biggest All-Time Singer's Mistake! I say "amazingly" because I've heard 50 singers so far and nearly ALL of them have made this same Mistake!

(If you had to guess what the #1 Biggest Mistake was, what you would come up with?) Since you are a singer yourself, you've probably been around other singers a lot. You've watched countless singers live and on camera.

As a singer myself I've certainly made plenty myself, so I feel them in my bones and I'd probably be tempted to just blurt them out as a cleansing confession.
They say that when you criticize someone else, you should take it as a hint that you're probably guilty of that same thing yourself (and I believe it)…So what are the possible Biggest Mistakes…guesses?

I might be tempted to say the biggest mistake is singing out of tune, since that's what most NON-singers can detect easily. That's the one thing that can cause an audience to stop enjoying and start jeering.

I audition and judge many competitions so I seen a lot of "mistakes" and I had to pay close attention to exactly WHAT those mistakes were since, as a judge, I had to produce a written critique for every singer I heard. Believe me, there were several VERY common (oft repeated) mistakes. It seemed like the same few would show up on almost every critique I wrote. And singing out of tune was more common than I would have predicted. But that wasn't the Biggest.

Another common mistake was simply not smiling at the audience. It was amazing (yet perfectly understandable) that 95% (maybe more) of the singers would take the stage and either frown or deadpan their way through their entire song. Sometimes, I'd watch a singer come to the stage, look up at the audience and flash a big, AMAZING smile. It would beam out and capture our hearts!...

Then the song would begin and that smile would just disappear as they mentally "got down to serious business." "...It's like the sun goin' down on me..." As an audience member, I felt like I'd been ripped off when they took back that beautiful smile. But that was not the #1 Biggest Mistake.

There was another Mistake, about as common as the no-smile, "I'm nervous" expression on singers' faces, and it was just as simple...No eye contact. Probably as many as 90% of the singers would get in front of the audience and sing through the entire song with their eyes closed! As you read this, you instinctively know why they did this and you probably even sank down in your seat with a little shame because you know you've done it yourself...busted! (You're thinking, "How did he know I did that?"
Just think about it...I had a 90% chance of being right.)

There was another small percentage that wanted to make eye contact, but did the "sweeper" method, just looking in as many directions as they could. Unfortunately, this made them look like a caged animal. Any way you cut it, you cut OFF your audience from any personal connection with you if you don't make good eye contact. Still, eye contact wasn't the Biggest Mistake.

**By the way, I'll share a simple secret for establishing great eye connection with your audience near the bottom...so keep reading

Almost as common, but not quite, was the singers' plant their feet, lock down, and not move a muscle the entire time the song played. It may seem like the thing to do at the time (so you don't trip, faint, or throw up), but it makes the audience uptight when they watch you being uptight. A favorite saying: "Audiences are ignorant when it comes to music. But they are geniuses when it comes to human beings."

So what does that mean? Audiences may not know if you miss a note, or even forget a lyric line, but they INSTANTLY know if you're nervous. They know this because of something called "empathy." They see a nervous singer, and they instantly get nervous FOR that singer. Of course, then they sometimes resent the singer for MAKING them nervous.

Remaining motionless onstage is a sure sign of being nervous. The audience doesn't REQUIRE that you dance or follow any particular choreographed movement. But they DO know when they see someone standing stiffly that the person is usually uncomfortable. That's a big mistake, but it's not the BIGGEST.

Hey, we here at Kaye Vocal Studio teach singers how to sing with great technique so they get the most *voice* from their voice. Maybe the biggest mistake is using bad technique! No, that's not it either…Although that was very common from what I saw.

Singers would often sing songs that included notes beyond their usable range. It made the audience cringe! They'd get to that high note and just fizzle out into an airy falsetto. Or sometimes they'd muscle through by yelling, often causing them to sing flat. Still, wrong technique was not THE Biggest Mistake.

"Ok, Ok, enough already! Tell us, what IS the #1 Biggest Mistake of The Singer?"

Alright, I'll tell you by starting with my favorite singer's joke to reveal the answer to this question.

Q. How many Soprano’s does it take to change a light bulb?

A. It only takes one...They simply hold the light bulb up and the world revolves around them. "Tada!"

The #1 Biggest Singer's Mistake is Attitude..

It's thinking That the Audience is There for YOUR Purposes! Self-Centeredness (also sometimes known by its milder name, "Self-Consciousness") is the biggest mistake a singer can make. Remember about audiences being geniuses when it comes to human beings? They know whether you’re focused on their enjoyment or if you are using them for your own selfish ends.

If you think back through all these other mistakes, you'll see that most of them actually stem from this one BIG mistake. Not making eye contact comes from the desire to protect yourself. You must open yourself up to the audience...entrusting YOUR fragile ego to THEIR fragile egos. You've probably learned to cut the conversation short to save yourself from wasted effort. Remember this when you think about singing.

The answer is to FIRST: get outside your skin and think like the audience. Then, make a point to train yourself...force yourself to make eye contact while onstage. But how? There's only ONE of you, and 50, or 200, or 2500 of them!

Here's how:

Break the audience into 6 (or sometimes 9) blocks...3 across the front (Left, Center, and Right), then 3 across the back, then 3 more across the balcony (if there is one). Then pick ONE person in each to represent that zone. Sing pieces of the song to JUST the individual representatives of each zone. Sing a couple lines to one, then move to the next, looking lovingly into each representative's eyes.

Strangely, everyone in their section will feel as though you are making intimate eye contact with JUST THEM, instead of the person you are really looking at. And by the way...Don't forget to SMILE at your representatives. They don't need a weird grin...they just need a smile that says "I'm enjoying this...I'm very glad I get to sing to you. I like you."

If you're self-conscious, you won't be able to do this. Instead, you'll be too busy in thought, carrying on some nervous inner dialogue with yourself..."Do they like me?...I don't know, I sure don't like me...Well, do I look OK?...I don't know, I sure never liked the way I look..." and your face will show it.

Don't ask the #1 Wrong Questions…

Instead, ask "Will I let myself love these people?" It's very important that you get past your own issues so you can answer with a great big "YES!" Standing as still as a stone comes from nervousness. Again, it is just more of the same...self-consciousness.

**There IS a normal kind of nervousness that comes from facing any challenge, so a bit of nervousness SHOULD be there. This shows that you care. But the Big Mistake is to pick the wrong thing to care about...namely "What's in this for me?", “Will I get my need for attention met?”, Will this audience meet my need for approval?”, “Will these people meet my need for positive feedback (applause)?”. It's human nature, but it's still a WRONG TURN.

As counter-intuitive as it is, you must get this right. If you don't replace those selfish priorities with a selfless aim to love and serve your audience, they will withhold what YOU want from THEM. Even the idea of bad vocal technique is connected to this "SELF" problem.

"Oh gosh, I didn't go to Med School. Are you kidding? It was so darn expensive and I figured 'hey, I'm a talented guy,' and besides, I didn't want them messing with my natural abilities...Now lie back and count backwards from 100 for me..." Don't you feel secure now, knowing you're in the hands of one of the truly talented ones?

I've heard this same speech from MANY singers. They didn't need anything but their own talent (and of course, my approval). Their technique is limiting their ability to serve an audience, but they are too into themselves to see it. Watch American Idol and you'll see the same thing..."I don't need your criticism or your blankety-blank help...I KNOW I have talent..." All the while, the audience is thinking "You MUST be on some serious medication if you think you don't think you need any help with your voice."

We get to teach some of the best singers in the world. But we still come across the stubborn. You can lead a singer to water and they may never see the need to drink. If you have wondered whether it's worth the effort and expense to improve YOUR vocal abilities, please...Think of your next audience.

Professionals have learned to "get on the other side of the footlights" and see the needs and wants of their audience. I urge you to do the same. If you decide to hone your skills for the sake of your listeners, I can help.




Are you an "underdog singer?"

"Isn't it funny how you can hear a singer and think 'they’re ho-hum' (or even awful)?  But then time goes by and you hear them again and WOW!"  I have had a couple of students that showed little promise when first heard, gave them a few exercises and off they went.  Maybe months later I hear them again and they've "come into their own," and ONLY THEN would it show that they never gave up.

I guess the real surprise of the underdog is that it's just such a...well...a surprise.  I learned many years ago NOT to write people off when it comes to musical talent.  Some of the singers and writers I've known have just seemed hopeless.  But what I learned is that MY hope for them was just not that important.  It's only their OWN hope that will keep them chipping away at each new skill.  Not a soul other than themselves can either keep them going or stop them.


I'll ask my original question again...Are you an "underdog singer?"  Unless you've already demonstrated what everyone else would recognize as "success," then this is a question that ONLY you can possibly answer.  If you haven't been recognized for your achievements, then by definition no one knows what will become of you...except maybe you...and even you don't have any guarantees.

I've done some thinking about this and come up with a list of characteristics that lie hiding under the surface of the lives of underdogs...those "champions in hiding."  Maybe you'll recognize some of them lurking inside you:

You Don't Scare Easily
:  There's a basic human need for encouragement.  But guess what.  Not everyone gets it (at least not as much as they'd like).  So "Simon" (or some mini-Simon) tells you to "give it up...you're dreadful."  If you're an example of the "Underdog Phenomenon," you will probably not accept that as the FINAL conclusion to your story.   They say "give it up," but you may hear that as "You have a lot of work to do, so DON'T give up."  They say "This would be impossible for you," but it gets translated in your head, "This is possible, but you'll need more work and determination than the lazy, more talented ones."

You Have Few Outward Predictors of Promise (Maybe None!):  Not counting our mother, you may have received little or no good feedback.  Your friends may have offered some encouragement, but maybe they're bad liars!  They may be the only ones who've given you good marks.  All the unbiased feedback may have been negative!  

Slow and Steady Wins the Race:
  Your RATE of progress may often be frustrating to you and your teachers.  Thomas Edison was characterized by his grade school teacher as "addled."  He had in TOTAL about 3 months of official schooling during his entire life.  His mother chose to home school him after being labeled as stupid by the teacher.  Besides a lack of education and demonstrable intellect, he also lacked a willingness to sit idle.  Slowly, steadily, he made his own way and quite literally the ways of many of us (inventing things we still use today). He worked on one skill at a time...reading, experimentation, business, etc.  He was fired from jobs for absentminded mistakes.  But still, he never stopped moving forward.  You likely know this quote of his: "Success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration." If you're a slow starter, then you're in good company.

More To Gain, Less To Lose:  The guy at the top of the hill has nearly every advantage.  The guy at the bottom, who aims to take that hill, has almost NO advantages, except for one possible BIG one:  He likely has less to lose!  Mentally, this can work for him by driving him and making him a little less afraid of risk.  Think about it.  If he loses (as long as we're not talking about a real-bullet war), he just gets to stay where he started out.  If he wins, he gets a seating upgrade at the top of the hill.   As a singer, you are not running for office.  But you can learn from the insurgents.  If you have less talent than the present "rock stars" of the world, you can only move upward if you apply yourself.  You don't have to topple Britney Spears to build a fan base.  You don't have to reach #1 on iTunes to still sell enough to build some momentum.  You just keep working on your abilities and keep learning.  At present, you have less to lose, so be bold!

Are you an underdog or bulldog? In any case, day in and day out, underdogs prove the adage that you can't really fail until you quit.  What they miss out on in advantages, they compensate for in stubbornness or abandon.  Maybe they should change the name to "bulldog" after all.  If you are not where you'd like to be vocally (or in any other endeavor), I urge you not to die saying to yourself, "I wonder if I would have made my goal if I'd kept going."

That's why the Artist Development Package exists...We're here to help you be a little more stubborn...a little more defiant.  We've been around the block enough to know that when we pull for and train the "come-from-behinds" in our circle of influence, we are often pulling for a champion-in-the-rough.