Saturday, November 9, 2013

Is Belting for You?

Over the past couple of weeks, I've been working with the 4th and 5th grade students at my school on songs for our upcoming Christmas production.  I have been blown away by the talent I've heard from these young singers!  It reminds me of my own budding enthusiasm for performing when I was their age.

Last Friday, I worked with two girls who each had her own solo.  Both had absolutely terrific voices and beautiful tone and pitch to match.  But I also thought later about how each had unique qualities that made up the timbre of their one-of-a-kind sound.  One girl could project very well and seemed to have no trouble belting her higher notes loud and clear.  The other girl had a lovely tone, but a much softer voice.  She did not belt, but instead used a very warm, soothing tone.  Both of these girls have talent; both have very different voices.

In describing my own singing voice, I would probably favor the second girl described above more than the first.  I did not grow up comfortable with belting and therefore grew far more comfortable singing in my head voice with the aid of a microphone.  Other people that I studied with in college had been using their belting voices all their lives and were more than comfortable letting the notes ring out deeply.

From what I've observed, it appears that it's easier to be a belter if you've been used to singing that way from childhood.  If you haven't, belting is certainly a technique that can be learned, but must be done so in the presence of a skilled vocal coach who knows how to train you properly.  Fair warning: using a belt voice with an improper technique will curtail your singing career quickly because it can put extreme strain on your vocal cords.

But what if you aren't a belter and don't think you can master the technique, or rather don't want to risk putting your voice through unnecessary strain by belting incorrectly? You can still seek to fine tune the beautiful, unique parts of your voice that are your strength.  There is nothing wrong with not belting.  Look at Dia Frampton, the runner-up of The Voice several years ago.  She is not a belter, and yet her voice obviously had the chops to beat out a boatload of belters.

Every singer has something unique to offer with his or her voice.  Whether it's belting or singing with a gorgeous head voice you like to use, don't be afraid to be an original!  This world has enough copycats as it is!

Happy Singing!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Back in Action

It's been almost two months since my beautiful son was born.  What a wild ride it's been!  I have been on the steepest learning curve of my life these past few weeks, but as a result, I have learned so much about being a mom.  It truly is the best job in the world and also probably the hardest!

Next week, I am returning to my job as an elementary music teacher.  I feel like I'm starting from scratch because I literally only had one week with the kids at the beginning of the school year before my doctor politely ordered me to go on maternity leave.  Now I can't believe it's over!

The feeling of returning to my profession is bittersweet.  I am lucky in that I only have to work part time or four hours daily.  So I'll only be missing the morning hours with my son.  I'll be with him by lunch.  But I'm also excited to embark on this new journey and get really creative with my music lesson plans. After all, it's elementary music.  It has to be fun or the kids will be bored after about five minutes!

As I navigate the juggling act of motherhood and music, I wonder where I fit in the music biz.  I've been really missing Nashville lately and am prayerful that my future may include it once again.  I am  feeling the push to get my vocal book on the market because I think people could benefit from the information inside.  So I'd like to have that available on Amazon by the end of this year.  I'm also feeling the push to get back to writing music.  The last song I wrote was a lullaby for my son.  It would be exciting to have two or three new songs by the end of the year.

All in all, I'm excited to be getting back into music.  In a way, you could say I'm returning to my roots.  I may take a break at times in my life, but music is in my blood.  I have a feeling I'll be returning to it all my life!

(This is my gorgeous son, Landon, showing off his long "piano fingers".  My hope is that he becomes a fourth generation pianist in our family some day: my grandma, my father, me and my son!)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Be a Tree!

Well, it's back to school week for me and many of my fellow teachers in Florida.  And because this year I am teaching elementary music and also about to have my own bambino, I seem to have rediscovered my inner child.  I am having a blast getting very creative with my teaching.  If anything, I want my students to understand good singing by explaining it in simple terms that they can easily recall.

So in honor of back to school, I invite you to take a trip with me to the elementary music classroom today where we will learn about the importance of full-body singing.

This lesson is called "Be a Tree".  It is one that I have been using to help 2nd-5th graders understand stretching and singing, but I think it will be equally effective to an adult singer with any hint of an imagination.

Imagine you are a tree.  Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and one slightly in front of the other.

(At this point, I would ask the students what their feet and legs represent as part of a tree.  The response varies, but as you can probably guess, the answers I'm looking for are "roots" and "trunk".)

By imagining that your feet are the roots of a tree, you can firmly plant them in the ground and anchor yourself for proper singing.  Then, as I would remind my students, you can remember that singing starts at the very tip of your big toe and goes all the way up through the top of your head.  Hence, singing is a full-body experience.  It should not originate from your throat.

(Now I would ask my students what their hands might represent as part of the tree.  They usually answer the "branches".)

Imagine your hands are the branches.  They are an extension of the tree and cannot move in and of themselves.  They need wind (energy) to cause them to move.  Standing in tree pose, take a deep inhale and lift your hands high above your head as if the wind is pushing them up.  Bring them gently back down as you exhale.  Repeat this breathing sequence three more times.

Even though the students don't know this, what they are doing is practicing a yoga stretch that is extremely helpful in connecting the breath to full-body singing.  All they know is that they are "being a tree", and they know exactly how to relate this to good posture and stance when singing.

Now obviously, I don't want you to wave your "branches" up and down as you perform a song.  But, remembering to "be a tree" with your hands relaxed at your sides and your feet shoulder-width apart, one slightly in front of the other will give you a great start to mastering a perfect and comfortable singing posture.

I hope you enjoyed our little trip back in time to elementary school!  See how fun it is?  I give you an "A" today for effort and for rediscovering your imagination!

Happy Singing!  Remember to be a tree!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Q & A: Warming Up Every Day?

Last week, one of my voice students asked me if it was ok or advisable to warm-up her voice on a daily basis.  She also asked me about my personal warm-up schedule since I do a lot of performing throughout the week.

Here is my answer:  Yes, it is ok to warm-up daily.  As long as your vocal warm-ups are not too strenuous and don't last too long (15-30 minutes is ideal).  In the same way that it's ok to do some type of physical exercise each day, it's ok to warm the voice up.  However, you might benefit from a day or two off as well.

As for my personal schedule, since I am on summer break from teaching, I currently warm-up on the days that I teach lessons, lead choir rehearsal, and on Sundays before singing in church.  That adds up to 4-5 days per week.  The other days I'm usually not singing, so I choose to rest my voice on those days.  When school starts up again in a few weeks, I will warm-up Monday-Friday along with my students (efficiently killing two birds with one stone!) and perform a more strenuous warm-up on Sundays before church.

The purpose of a warm-up is two fold: it should ease and prepare your voice for heavier singing and it should help you practice good vocal technique.  Use these guidelines when deciding which warm-ups to practice.  You don't want something that is so difficult to perform that it causes any strain whatsoever to your voice.  That, in my opinion is not a true warm-up.  My students always comment that their voices feel and sound freer after performing warm-ups.  That is what your voice should feel like after a gentle warm-up session.

Three to five warm-ups per day is usually a good number to perform before diving into heavy singing or practicing your repertoire.
Proper warm-ups will keep you from sounding like a frog!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Update: Hello World!

Hello again, Choir Singer blog!  I can't believe that a year and three months has flown by since I've written a blog post!  Fortunately, I haven't dropped off the face of the earth.  A lot has been going on in my musical world, with many changes to come in the very near future.

First of all, I will be giving birth to my first child at the end of August or beginning of September!  I have had a wonderful pregnancy and have spent much of my third trimester on summer vacation since I am a school teacher.  I can't wait to meet my little man and get to take care of him every day!  I'm trying not to be impatient with this process!

Sadly, I will not be returning to my job as a high school choral director next month.  I have had the opportunity to take a music job down the street from my house at an elementary school.  This year, I will be working part-time as a music teacher so I can also spend time raising my son.  It is a bittersweet time of change for me.  I have absolutely enjoyed every minute of teaching high school choir, but I am excited about working with the little ones this time around!  Plus, I still get to do what I love and raise a family at the same time.

Before the summer ends, I am frantically working on completely editing my book on vocal technique entitled: Ten Weeks to a Better Voice.  I want to make this book available as an eBook by the year's end.  It has been a fun project and I'm getting close to releasing it to the world!

My hope is that despite the busy season coming up, I will continue to make updates to this blog so my faithful readers have new tips and techniques to  help you better your own singing voices.

In the meantime, happy summer to everyone!  I hope you get to enjoy some sunshine today!