Archive for the 'Singing Lessons' Category

I Teach Voice

Posted by on Jun 10 2013 | Singing Lessons, Songtaneous

When I tell people that I teach voice, a surprising (well, surprising to me *smile*) number of them ask me what that means. That’s when I usually say “I teach singing lessons” or “I teach people how to sing.” But as I stand on the other side of another semester of teaching including the last middle school musical, I realize that it’s more than that.

See, I have discovered that teaching people to sing has a lot to do with allowing people to be themselves.

I especially see this with young students. They want to sound like all those singers they love. They contort their young voices into imitations of what their favorite singers are doing. And sometimes it is successful, but it rarely sounds natural. Because that is not how their voices sound.

So we have to spend time learning what our “real” voices sound like. The easiest and most natural way each student can sing the note or the song or the exercise. And we often have to let go of an idea of how we want to sound to accept the way that we actually sound.

Let me be clear, this is not about dashing hopes or setting limits, this is about exploring the instrument each of us is given and finding the fantastic sounds each singer can create with his/her voice. Easily and naturally. One student might have to work slowly and for a long time at something that seems to come easily to everyone else. Another might have a flair for interpretation or improvisation. Every singer has something she wishes she did better and something he takes for granted that everyone else can do.

But I have come to understand that we have to love our voices for what they are, not what we wish them to be. And in doing that we learn to love our selves a little bit more.

I am fascinated and gratified to discover (and rediscover) how much of our identities are attached to our voices. That’s why my favorite way to meet singers is by singing with them. (And, it is part of why I started Songtaneous all those year ago.) I have a number people who I see rarely but know very well because we have sung together.

Singing makes connections and communities. And teaching voice always, always, always teaches me something about myself.

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Finding the Click

Posted by on Aug 06 2012 | Singing Lessons, Songtaneous

Each time I go to teach improvisation (like at my workshop last month), I am struck by the challenge of explaining how to improvise.

I mean … What does it mean for an improv to be “good” or to be “good” at improvising?

How do you get good at something where the goal is invention, newness and spontaneity?

And, who decides if it’s good? The audience? The artist? (Me?)

And (again), since each of us has our own brain, preferences and collection of musical and life experiences, how do any of us even recognize “good” in the first place?

Furthermore, part of what makes improvisation “good” is its changeability and instant invention. So how do we examine something that has never existed before and (unless documented) will never exist again and decide whether or not it’s good?

In short, how do we know when we’ve “got it?”

(At this point, I usually consider cancelling my workshop and taking everyone out for pizza. *smile*)

How do we know?

The same way we know a painting is beautiful or a poem is good. (Or a blog post is finished. *grin*)

We know.

For me, there’s a click. The sensation of things falling into place.

With exposure and/or practice, we come to recognize “good” more easily. We learn to hear the click.

(It happens all of the time with these blog posts. I shuffle words, ideas and paragraphs around until … click.)

The click is something about ease and connection. And recognition. It’s about getting out of our own heads (or is that way? *smile*) and outside of our selves.

It’s also about letting go of what we planned to have happen so we can see and appreciate what’s actually happening. In other words, seeing — and telling — a truth.

Vibes player Gary Burton says:

There’s a grammar to music, a vocabulary and a grammar and it’s all stored in the brain. And that language ability functions for us as improvisers as well. Our melodic phrases are like sentences, they form in the unconscious, get put in the right order – the right notes to fit the chords and everything and, as they come into our conscious mind, we play them on our instrument. [O]ur goal as improvisers is to become fluent at this process.

I felt a click when I heard the quote above.

Of course, improvising is about communicating fluently! Click.

Yes, yes, there’s a musical grammar that we know and notice (regardless of our musical training!). Clickety-click.

The idea that improvising and communicating are alike makes a wonderful and logical sense to me.

The more I study, perform and teach, the more I am learning that, for me, singing and improvising are about communicating. An important part of singing, perhaps the most important part for me, is the telling of stories — in direct and indirect ways.

For me, singing is, has been and will always be about sharing. About having someone who is listening see what I see or feel what I feel in that moment of inventing, whether it’s an image, an emotion or a story.

It’s about singing — and sharing — the click.

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Creating and Critiquing

Posted by on Jun 13 2011 | Singing Lessons, Songtaneous

When we create we need to open all our doors and windows, look over fences and under rocks for our ideas and inspirations. We have to get our hands dirty. We have to be open and willing to look foolish or be wrong.

Creating, by its very definition is unusual and must occur “off the beaten path.”

We can’t be worried about stepping on the grass or looking silly in front of the neighbors.

In other words, you can’t create and critique at the same time.

Forgetting to separate critiquing from creating is where I often get into to trouble when I’m starting things.

I forget to tell my inner critic to “take five” and just develop my ideas. To create and then critique.

Take writing this (or any other) blog post for example.

First I get the seed of the idea and then I have to dump all my thoughts about it onto the page.

Yes, all of them. The dumb ones, the obvious ones, the muddled and unclear ones. Even the contradictory ones. All of them.

If I start evaluating the thoughts as I write them, I almost always wind up saying something other than what I really mean. I get tied up in the grammar or how to order my ideas and I fail to get to the heart of the matter.

And, I find it’s the truest thoughts that get axed first.


Because the truth can sound like a cliche or seem too obvious to mention.

Because saying our truth makes us vulnerable.

People might know what we really think. And they might disagree with it.

So to write a successful post, I have to write down everything I have to say on the subject (the good, the bad and the ugly), and then – and only then! – can I go back and start editing.

(Don’t be fooled, editing is just another name for critiquing.)

Now, in spontaneous singing (improvisation) it may appear that these processes of creating and critiquing happen simultaneously. I argue that they are still separate; you just switch (rapidly) back and forth between the two.

You have an idea and develop it (creating).

Then you check in to see if the idea is succeeding (critiquing).

Once you’ve evaluated what you’re doing, you must switch back to creating to come up with the next idea. When we try to critique as we create, we cripple ourselves.

I experience it as having a separate office (with a door that closes *grin*) for my inner critic. She must be on site — she serves an important function — but she can’t always be in my space. If she raises her hand to object every time I have an idea, we will get nowhere. But if I permit her to share her opinion when I ask her for it, she helps me decide if I am making music or just making noise.

(Then she gets to take a coffee break while I go back to the work of creating. *smile*)


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