Are you a one-dimensional singer? Here’s how to break free

I’m about to state the obvious here, but I don’t say everything the same way when I’m speaking. The tone, volume, emotion, even pitch of my speaking voice changes depending on what I’m talking about. My voice doesn’t sound the same when I’m talking to my boys as it does when I’m talking to my girlfriend. I speak much differently when I’m angry than I do when I’m sad. We all do.

And yet isn’t it amazing that many of us do exactly the opposite when we’re singing? I think most would agree that our singing voice is really just an extension of our speaking voice. Yet many singers;-especially in Gospel- approach every song the same way. “POWERFULLY.” Singing with power and strength and conviction is important in Gospel style singing. But it has become so important for many singers that it’s the only way they approach a song, no matter what it is. Ever heard a singer do a fast, energetic foot-stomping Old 100 Gospel song, then come back and sing a worship song the same way?

A singer does both himself and the song a disservice when he allows himself to be one-dimensional in his approach to singing. Every song deserves all of the different degrees of emotion that we use in our own speaking. Years ago I sang a song at our church called “I Believe”, by John P Kee. If you’re familiar with the song you know it’s one of those foot-stomping , hand-clapping churchy songs he’s known for. Every time we did the song the church would be rocking. Years later, just recently in fact, I was blessed to sing a song by Fred Hammond called “Take My Hand”. The members of the congregation, many of whom have been knowing me since I was a child, absolutely went nuts. People were coming up to me acting as if it was the first time they’d ever heard me sing. Several people told me they knew I could sing, just not like “THAT”, lol.

What they were reacting to of course was hearing my voice a totally different way, because I was singing a song that evokes a totally different emotion. Just like I do when I’m speaking, I changed my vocal style and delivery to match the emotion and the feel of the song. One person that comes to mind right now who is a master at this very thing is Jill Scott. Listen to her sing “Hate On Me” and compare it to the beautiful balad “He Loves Me”, the way she purrs on the song “Not Like Crazy”. Ask Jill about that and she’ll tell you that’s no accident. It’s something she does very deliberately. And something we all should do.

Start spending some time with songs you sing, just listening to the words. Try to tap into the emotion of that song and then start experimenting with your voice. Try different degrees of softness, edginess, and volume to make your voice express the emotion in that song. And don’t be afraid to allow your voice to sound completely different if that’s what the song needs. When Jill sings the song “Golden” you can hear the happiness in her voice, can’t you? Work on making that happen in your own vocal interpretations. The more you do so the more you’ll discover about your own voice that you never even knew you had.

 

Take care!

Ron

5 tell-tale signs you need vocal lessons

The great majority of people who have the gift of singing were born with it to some degree. It is a special gift, to be sure. But that special privilege tends to make most naturally talented signers take their gift for granted. Most are under the impression that because they are naturally gifted to sing, there is simply no need to do anything beyond just that. In fact, many singers are down-right offended by the suggestion they take vocal training.

I suspect though, that has a lot to do with singing lessons being mentioned in conjunction with bad singing. It’s often the first thing people say when they hear someone singing poorly; “oh man, she needs some singing lessons!” So in the minds of many accomplished singers, vocal training is for people who can’t sing. Naturally gifted singers often feel so strongly about this that they accept even the most obvious signs they need some training as “normal”.
Here then, is a short list of things that are strong clues you need a vocal coach.

1. I get hoarse after performances regularly.

Contrary to popular belief in the Gospel community, getting hoarse is not normal and it’s not ok. It’s not some badge of honor you wear proudly as proof you gave it your all. Hoarseness is really an injury. There are other causes that can bring on hoarseness, but if you’re getting hoarse after singing, then the way you’re singing is causing the hoarseness. It’s mostly caused by common bad vocal techniques that are easily corrected with vocal lessons.

2. High notes are tough for me.. I really have to push hard to reach them. I feel like I’m screaming to get them.

Well, you feel that way because you are. But that’s the only way most of us know how to reach them. This yelling we do to reach high notes has a lot to do with the hoarseness. Vocal training teaches you how to access higher notes in your range in a safe way that eliminates all of the strain and pushing.

3. I’m always pretty comfortable. I seldom have to strain for high notes. I know they keys I’m comfortable in so I just stay in those keys.

Then that means you have limited range and you’re simply compensating for it by always playing it safe. It may sound great but you’re severely limited. Chances are you either pass on a lot of songs because the key is too high, or you’re lowering the song key until it fits in the limited area you’re comfortable in. Vocal training increases your range and allows you much more freedom of expression. Many singer/songwriters unwittingly write around their own vocal limitations. After a while their songs take on similarities and start to sound alike because there are only 2 or 3 keys they feel comfortable in.

4. I’m always out of breath. I can’t finish phrases without having to breathe in the middle. I can’t hold notes very long at all either.

Improper breathing is the problem there. Most people just breathe incorrectly for singing. This is totally reversible and easily corrected with vocal lessons.

5. My voice gets tired quickly. I can’t sing very long before it starts to give out on me.

Lack of vocal stamina is a very common issue and, a very important one if you plan on taking your ministry to the next level. Yet many people would have a hard time lasting through even 3 or 4 songs. Increased vocal stamina is another benefit of taking vocal lessons.

 

This is not an exhaustive list by far. These 5 are simply some of the most common challenges many very talented, gifted signers have going on a regular basis. The truth is, I could double it to 10 easily right now, and still not come close to listing all the benefits of taking vocal lessons for an accomplished singer who has never had them.

The bottom line though, is that even the most gifted of singers should invest in vocal training. And certainly every professional that is serious about doing this for a living. Find a vocal coach you like and click with well, then take 2 to 3 months of weekly lessons. After that maintain your new skills by going back for a tune up about once a month or whenever you’re preparing for a new engagement or performance.

Most people don’t know it but pretty-much every signed artist takes lessons and has a certain vocal coach they go to on a regular basis. You should too! You can take professional lessons in the comfort of your home, on your own schedule and for a fraction of what it would cost to take lessons with a live vocal coach. But many people won’t do that either because they feel they can’t really learn that way. Well here’s your opportunity to prove it to yourself free.

Subscribe to my mailing list below and get a free 5 day vocal training course. What can possibly happen in just 5 lessons at home on your own? Take the course and find out!

 

 

Singing with a cold

No273 13 Oct 2009 SneezeI’ve tackled this subject briefly in a video blog a few years ago, but it’s a subject we singers need to talk about often; especially this time of year. I went looking for some additional information to share this time around, simply because I thought my video blog years ago was informative but pretty generic in it’s detail.

One of the most informative articles I found on the subject was written by a vocal coach I’ve known about for some time. His name is Mark Baxter. Rather than copy and paste his great article here, I’d like you to do me a favor and check it out on his site. While you’re there check out what else he has to offer and book-mark his site.
Continue reading

Are celebrity Vocal Coaches really that much better?

Today’s post is a video blog where I’ll discuss vocal coaches who list celebrities among their list of clients. Often these vocal coaches are quite a bit more expensive to study with than many others. In this video I’ll tell you about a student of mine who went to see one and the conversation we had afterward.

[youtube KdOyA13kSgQ]

“Singing a lie?” A different perspective on an old belief

“Singing a lie?” A different perspective on an old belief

No doubt, if you grew up in the Black church, you’ve heard the saying “You can sing a lie just as well as you can tell a lie”. It’s a saying that’s been around probably as long as the church has been around. And while it comes from a place of good intent and well meaning, I think it bears taking a look at in a less literal way.

As Gospel and Christian singers, we sing music that goes far beyond entertainment. Inspirational music has the power to up-lift, encourage, heal and restore. In order to have effective ministry, Gospel singers must be able to reach people through the ministry of music whose story may not be their own. Imagine for a moment if you could only sing songs with lyrics that describe something you’ve been through personally. Only songs that are your personal experience.
It would be nearly impossible, wouldn’t it? Even in a song that does describe some personal experience of yours there is bound to be some parts that in fact don’t speak to a personal experience of yours. Jesus used parables almost exclusively in His ministry. Yet none of them were actual stories based on His own life or personal experience. They were simply stories He used to illustrate a point. In much the same way, Gospel singers often need to sing a song about something that may not be their own personal experience in order to bless someone in the audience that God has placed there to hear it.

Though I haven’t spoken to her personally, I think it’s safe to say that there’s no such person as “shouting John” in Shirly Ceasar’s famous “Hold My Mule”. I could give several such examples, but the point is that often the message in a song isn’t for us, but for people in the audience. To tell a story about, for example, over-coming something that we ourselves may not have been through, is not “singing a lie”. It’s singing a message about something someone else has been through. The fact that I personally may not have gone through it doesn’t make it any less true for someone.

So how do you handle singing a song that isn’t your personal testimony? Simple. You have to first understand that as Gospel singers God uses us to bless others. The song we sing is seldom for us, but for someone else. You must find your own truth in every song. Your own personal spiritual connection. The beauty of Gospel music is that there is truth for every believer in every Gospel song that has it’s focus centered in Christ. So even when it’s not your personal story, you can connect with it spiritually and sing it with the conviction of truth, knowing that even if it’s not your story, to tell that story in song for someone else that they may be blessed, is not “singing a lie” any more than the parables told by Jesus was a lie for Him.

Take care!

Ron