Here’s the “sequel” to a blog I posted recently called “The one thing every great singer does”. Another video blog for you today. Enjoy![youtube t0Wb-cvp1ns]
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]
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.
Like most vocal coaches, I get a lot of questions. And, understandably, when someone is considering booking vocal lessons with me they often ask questions about things they want to achieve as singers. But there’s one particular question that my answer to tends to lose me potential clients. Granted, I don’t get the question very often. But when I do the singer doesn’t tend to like my answer.
The question is “can you help me with my runs”, or “can you teach me how to do riffs?” While my answer to that question is seldom just a flat out “NO”, it’s definitely not usually a yes either. What gets me into trouble is when I start asking the person why they want to learn them and work on them. Why are they so important to you? Tough questions to answer when it’s put to you that way.
One of the most asked questions I get when people are first inquiring about vocal lessons is how many do they need, or how long do they need to take lessons. Naturally it’s one I can’t answer, because everyone is different. Every voice is different. People learn at different rates. People have different goals. I could go on here, but you get the idea. So in this article I’ll try to give you some things to consider when you’re trying to figure out how much of an investment of your time and money you need to make to achieve your goals.
To really understand what it takes to make significant and permanent changes to one’s voice- the kind we all want, like improved range, breathing, control and power- one has to look at vocal training like any other kind of physical training. If, for example, you wanted to change your body-type, you would expect to work out and eat right until you get where you want. You wouldn’t expect your trainer to be able to tell you the date you would achieve your goals. That’s because in almost every area of life, when we want change we expect it to take a while. Permanent changes come only by un-learning old habits and beliefs. Re-training muscles, thought process, beliefs, habits.
Even something as simple and as natural as which hand you write with would become a challenge if you were suddenly asked to switch hands and start writing with the other one. You could manage it at first, but it would be awkward and uncoordinated for a while. Eventually though, if you kept at it and worked on it every day, you would eventually get as good at writing with the other hand as you are with your current writing hand.
What causes this change to take place is something called “muscle memory”. It’s something musicians who play physical instruments like guitar and keyboard or organ know very well. It’s that constant repitition of the same thing over and over until your mind, body, fingers or whatever else is involved in performing the task at hand starts to do it automatically. It’s what makes a typist blaze along at 80 wpm without ever looking at the keyboard.
It’s no different with the human voice. But because as a singer your whole body-not just your voice- is your instrument, there are many physical and mental things that must be re-learned before permanent change takes place. Think about it. Almost everyone that can sing was born with that ability. We’ve done it the same way all of our lives. So when you get to the point where you realize you need some training to achieve your goals, you can’t expect to re-learn things you’ve been doing all your life in one lesson.
A serious vocalist who has a strong desire to make some real changes that will stay with him for a lifetime goes into vocal training with a “long as it takes” mentality. Someone who is simply trying to get past a certain song, or prepare for an upcoming audition, may approach lessons with a “how soon can I get this done” mentality. It’s not because one is better than the other though. Both have different goals, that’s all. I’ve trained both types. I’ve trained people who had an audition or special occasion coming up and only had a week or so to prepare, so they wanted a lesson or two and that’s it.
I’ve also had clients who were trying to take their music ministry to another level and knew that they needed serious, on-going training to get there. I’ve had students work with me 2 years and I’ve had people take 1 lesson. So a great deal depends on what you’re trying to achieve. Ask yourself the following question:
1. What is my reason for taking lessons? What is my goal?
If you’re just trying to get ready for an audition or trying to perfect a certain song, you may need just a couple of sessions. Not everyone is looking for everything I mentioned at the beginning of the article. Some people just need some style coaching for a certain song they’re having trouble figuring out what to do with at certain points. You may only need one session for cases like that.
If you’re trying to improve your vocal range, stamina, power, breath control, etc, you should plan on taking lessons over a period of time to achieve any permanent results. Again, every voice and every person is different. But it’s been my experience that people don’t start to achieve that “muscle memory” type of change before about 3-6 months taking lessons weekly. I was just contacted yesterday by someone who has been studying for 7 years. He only stopped because he relocated, and now he’s looking to reconnect with a new vocal coach so he can start again.
Even after they stop though, most people revert back to old habits because they stop doing the vocal exercises and working on their voice regularly. So even after you’ve taken weekly lessons for a while (as long as it takes) I recommend setting up at minimum a monthly session to keep your voice in shape.
Even though it seems overwhelming in the beginning, try not to think about taking vocal lessons as “drudgery”. It’s only natural to think about the time investment and the money investment at first. But most people who are serious about their singing absolutely love their vocal lesson time. Many of my students hate to miss their session, and when the time comes where they have to stop for whatever reason, it’s often a sad time for both of us. Taking vocal lessons can be one of the hardest things to start, but once you make the commitment to do so it will likely be the hardest thing to stop as well.
One of the easiest, most convenient and inexpensive ways to get on-going vocal training-the kind that promotes permanent change- is to take an online course. I designed my own home study course to give you that 3-6 month stretch of training while giving you the tools you need to continue training your voice regularly even after you’re done with the course. Get started here.
You’ve heard the singer who goes way up into the upper range for that high note, and you think “go head, SANG!!!” But then they spend the rest of the song up there and never really come back down (turn to yo neighbor and say ‘he right!’) Five minutes later all you want them to do is STOP singing.Why is that? Because like everything else in singing when it’s overdone, high notes become very tiring to the ears when given in massive doses for extended periods of time. After a while even the clearest highs will sound like not much more than yelling to the audience.
Highs, like riffs and runs, are most effective when they are used as exciting moments where you build your audience up into a frenzy. But you must also allow them to come back down. Otherwise high notes can very quickly become very monotonous for the listener if not tempered with lower register singing.
We’ve all had that instance where someone is talking to you, then their voice gradually starts to fade into the background noise. You don’t even realize you’re not listening anymore. The same thing happens in a way, when you stay in your upper register too long. For Gospel singers this tends to happen in the “vamp”, or “press” of the song. That’s when the singer goes to that high note and kinda sings everything on that note from that point on through to the end. Aside from getting monotonous to the listener, it’s also quite a strain on your voice.
Instead, try moving around a bit more in the press. Don’t go that high note and stay there. Use it more as an accent, making your delivery more like conversation.