Everyone loves music. I certainly don't know anyone who doesn't. Whether you are a pursuing a career as a performer or you just want to play for fun, lessons can be a great investiment.
Learning instruments not only improves motor skills and your ability to quickly learn and retain information, but it also has a wonderful aesthetic value. Music makes us feel good in general; especially when we are the ones playing it. If you haven't ever played an instrument, give it a try. There is a great chance that it will relieve stress and simply make us feel good.
If you are a singer, I strongly suggest that you pick up an instrument. Reading music and playing can vastly improve your musicianship and gives you much more credibility and opportunities as you go out into the real world. Whether you are auditioning for Broadway, operas, t.v. shows, or even commercials, you never know when a producer is looking for 'a singer who can play guitar or piano'. Not only will earn a higher respect from your colleagues and employers, but you will simply boost your musicianship and create more opportunities for yourself.
Beginners, amateurs, and musicians, welcome. Reading music, ear training, and performance techniques are awaiting you. All you need is a desire to play, dedication, and a bit of time.
The most important component of learning an instrument is knowing how to practice. I repeat, "Learn how to practice!" I taught myself to play several instruments before I was trained. I did not realize the agony I was putting myself through. Playing phrases and chord changes over and over and never getting anywhere. I was practicing hard, with all of my heart; but not with my mind. I was practicing alright! Practicing my mistakes. I was practicing too fast and 80% of the time, I went to wrong notes. That means, 80% of the time, I was practicing my mistakes. We all know what happens when we practice folks. We get better! I was getting better at my mistakes. Unfortunatley, I'm not the only one. Every single student who walks into my studio for the first time does the very same thing. Everybody wants to become a great player- and FAST! Everyone is in a big fat hurry. So slow down, focus, and practice the right notes; not the wrong ones. Even if you play a phrase correctly 8/10 times, you practiced it wrong twice! One more time, and you have a habit.
With some concentration and positive mentality, we can all learn any instrument, no matter how old or young we are. But we have to be patient. Practice slow and you will get you to your destination much quicker in the end.
At what age can I begin vocal lessons?
Seven or eight is usually a good starting point, depending on the child. Sometimes in school chorus settings, children are exposed to a 'song approach', where they mainly focus on singing songs and have no guidance on how to sing or 'technique'. There is nothing wrong with this, but the children who don't have as much natural talent can sometimes feel embarrassed without guidance. They listen to other children and often attach feelings. If they don't feel good about their voices, the next year, they may not want to sing in chorus- and we won't really know why. The most talented children can also be at a disadvantage. Bad habits can be developed quickly, for example, shallow breathing or unhealthy belting. If they can have private lessons, these things are much easier to avoid and we can focus on sculpting their voices naturally; not fixing the habits they have learned. I don't really 'teach' them new ideas or how to breathe, etc. I am just there to make sure they are on the right track with technique. The most important concepts are communication (speech and diction), learning melodic patterns to train their ears, and of course, healthy tone production.
What are the most important components of singing?
To list just a few, I would say Confidence, Communication, and Support. Confidence gives singers a huge advantage, as it allows them to access their most natural tone without "worrying" about technique or perfection. Communication is also a big one. If you can get the audience to believe what you're saying, your job is done. Diction and phrasing are essential. Support is the most important "technical" component. It's so simple, it's complicated, so you can't over think it. I like to focus, not only on the breath, but on the intention of speech. When unnecessary muscles are freed and the proper muscles are engaged, voila! Breath support just magically appears. You have to trust your body, that it will do what it needs to do. For a deeper explanation of support, check out my article, "Down with the Diaphragm".
Consonants or Vowels?
Ah, I like to stick to the words of the late Chloe Owen. "Consonants are Shapes. Vowels are Contacts." Simple as that. Sometimes vowels need to be modified in order to get through your bridge or up to the high notes. Generally, we don't walk around slurring our speech up with vowels. When we speak, we speak with intention and consonants. We lengthen the consonants to express ourselves. I lllllove to sing. I love it sssso much. The consonants make up our expression. Not the vowels. Consonants not only help us to be understood. They also give the vowels a little more umph and it instantly makes your voice sound stronger and more connected.
How can I build my range?
Exercise. Just as a runner trains to become quicker, a singer trains to extend their range. The exercises should be carefully chosen so that they do the work for you. In as little as a few weeks, you can begin to see a difference.
How can I improve my confidence?
Meditate. Use creative visualization. Read the book, The Inner Game of Music by Barry Green http://www.innergameofmusic.com/. It will change your life, no matter what your age, or your craft. If you don't believe in yourself, start. Practice with a video camera and watch. If you don't like what you see, deal with the pain and do it again. And again. It isn't easy, but it's the best way to improve quickly. And if you can get past the pain of self criticism, you can begin to love your voice. I know it seems silly, repeat to yourself how much you love your voice. Even if it's a lie. Eventually, you will believe it. Why not give it a try?
I am having pitch problems. Does that mean I just don't have the talent?
Very few people are completely tone deaf. I've taught several people with pitch problems and most every one of them improved at some level. Sure, not everyone has the raw talent to become a "star"; but there's no doubt that everyone has the talent to sing.
How can I make my voice stronger?
Once again, exercise. This is something you can't "control" but it comes as you isolate the proper muscles and free the unnecessary ones. Then comes support. Support, volume, and pitch are all results of using the proper muscles. These things are all results, not causes. You can't think about something like pushing your belly out in order to get proper support or to find your natural tone. It's a result of something else. Something more straightforward.
My voice is always hoarse. What should I do?
One of your primary goals with singing should be your health. If you use your body and sing with support, your voice will last forever. You don't want to get to 50 and have a shaky and wobbly voice. Take care of it. Don't practice too long, especially when you are just getting into shape. 15 minutes a day is fine when you're just starting out. It's also best to spread your sessions out through the day. Also, don't scream. Don't talk if you are hoarse. Sometimes talking is more harmful than singing if you are speaking the wrong way, or in a loud environment. Try to avoid glottal attacks, especially on words that begin with vowels. "At", "Ever", "Are" etc. Make those beginning vowels a smooth glide instead of a harsh hit and your voice will thank you. It's difficult to become aware of, but if you focus on it for a day, you will be surprised. You will start to catch yourself and kick the habit. If you are hoarse for more than a few weeks and aren't seeing improvement, go get checked out.
Head Voice or Chest Voice?
Ah, I was waiting for that one. Try not to think about it so much. Sometimes singing on certain vowels can help you to find the correct position. But again, exercise is key. You have to let the exercises do the work. Trust yourself and sing with intension. If you do the exercises, and sing as you speak, you should have no problem finding the perfect mix. The most difficult part for everyone is getting through their passagios. It shouldn't get too technical. If you feel tension, try to feel and become aware of the muscles you're using. Feel where the resonance is happening and trust your instincts. Record yourself and listen back.
At what age can I begin vocal lessons?
Seven or eight is usually a good starting point, depending on the child. Sometimes in school chorus settings, children are exposed to a 'song approach', where they mainly focus on singing songs and have no guidance on how to sing or 'technique'. There is nothing wrong with this, but the children who don't have as much natural talent can sometimes feel embarrassed without guidance. They listen to other children and often attach feelings. If they don't feel good about their voices, the next year, they won't want to sing in chorus- and we won't really know why. The most talented children can also be at a disadvantage. Bad habits can be developed quickly, for example, shallow breathing or unhealthy belting. If they can have private lessons, these things are much easier to avoid and we can focus on sculpting their voices naturally; not fixing the habits they have learned. I don't really 'teach' them new ideas or how to breathe, etc. I am just there to make sure they are on the right track with technique. The most important concepts are communication (speech and diction), learning melodic patterns to train their ears, and healthy tone production.