Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Week Three: A Singing Space

(This post is part 3 of 10 in my series highlighting my new book, Ten Weeks to a Better Voice, available here .)

Week Three is all about gathering the materials you need to enhance your singing and also about establishing a space where you can "escape" to make music.

Never underestimate the importance of ambiance when you want to get some great practice in.  It's nice to have a place that you can call your own (even if it's just a couple of square feet) for being creative.  Once you've established your music space, fill it with items that motivate you to sing.  You could put a binder full of lyrics on a small table somewhere close and display a few of your favorite CDs or an MP3 player and headphones.  Some people even like to display inspirational sayings and quotes to help them get motivated.  Whatever makes you want to use your creative space-- put it in there!

I have three singing spaces that I visit each week.  Only one is located in my house.  My music room is where I teach lessons each week, learn songs for church, warm-up my voice, and write and produce music.  For a closer look at my music room, you can check out a previous post, the Making of a Music Room here.

My second space for creating and practicing music is my classroom at the elementary school where I teach music, which is really just a portable building.  When I first found out I would be teaching in a portable, I'll admit, I was a little disappointed, but I quickly grew attached to my little building which has affectionately become know as the "Music Castle" (you know, because I am the King and all!).

I like to keep the space open in the middle so students can easily move to the floor if we're doing an instrument activity.  Or they can stay seated in the chairs if we're singing, reading, or writing.  It may not look like much, but a lot of music is created and practiced between these four walls!

The third singing space I visit each week is the choir practice room at my church.  Sometimes we hold rehearsal in different rooms, depending on other events scheduled at the church on any given week, but as long as I have a keyboard, lyrics, an MP3 player with the songs, and chairs for all the choir members, I can practice anywhere.  During our choir rehearsal, we start out with warm-ups for about 5-10 minutes, then begin rehearsing the songs for the upcoming Sunday service and we work in any new music we need to learn as well.

Each of these spaces is different and each of them contributes to my life as a musician.  Of course, you really only need one great space to practice music in.  What's important is that you establish a place to practice and you visit there often, several times per week.  It needs to be a place, no matter how big or small that motivates you to S-I-N-G!

If you want more information on creating a singing space, be sure to pick up a copy of my book, Ten Weeks to a Better Voice on Amazon. Through August the 31st, you can get the eBook for a discounted price!

Happy Singing!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Ten Weeks eBook Sale!

Hey everyone!

I just wanted to take a minute and thank you for your overwhelming support of my new book, Ten Weeks to a Better Voice.  I am so excited that this product is finally available, both in eBook and paperback.  I have received so much positive feedback and support from all of you and I am so grateful!

That being said, I believe that there are many people out there who don't yet know about Ten Weeks and might be able to benefit from it.  So, for the last few days of August, my eBook will be on sale.  The sooner you purchase it, the deeper the discount!  Starting tomorrow, the 27th, you can get it as cheap as $1.99!  At this time, just the eBook is on sale.  Click here for the link to the eBook.

So, if you haven't had a chance to read Ten Weeks to a Better Voice yet, I hope you'll consider purchasing the eBook while it's on sale from Amazon.  If you have read it or know of someone who might enjoy reading it, please feel free to repost this or send them the link.

If you own the book, be sure to follow along with my week by week overview of the book right here on my blog.  Look for the next installment, Week Three, coming soon.

As always, thank you to my faithful readers!  Happy singing!


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Week Two: Why You Need to Warm-up First

(This post is part 2 of 10 in my series highlighting my new book, Ten Weeks to a Better Voice, available here .)

"Have you ever noticed that when you try to speak or sing loud first thing in the morning without warming up, it feels (and maybe sounds) like slogging through mud?  Pitches that would normally be easy to reach cause you strain and limit your range.  That's because your voice has been at rest for about eight hours and now you're suddenly attempting to use it to its full capacity.  Your vocal cords are saying, 'I don't think so!' because they are not created to go from no use to full use without some preparation.

That's why it's so important to warm-up before heavy singing (or speaking).  Your voice needs a chance to wake up, just like the rest of your body.  Most people aren't able to pop right out of bed the first time the alarm goes off at 5:30 am.  If you are like me, you start to ease yourself out of bed with a full-body stretch.  If you ease into singing through some gentle vocal warm-ups, your range will reflect it, and you will keep unnecessary tension off the cords. Remember, the goal is to keep you singing healthy now and for the rest of your life.  Warm-ups will serve to prolong your voice, as long as you use them often!" -excerpt from Ten Weeks to a Better Voice

Before going to music school, I didn't think much about warm-ups.  I rarely used them.  Then as I started spending hours a day in a tiny practice room, I started hearing a difference in the quality of my  voice practice when I performed a couple of simple warm-ups.  In fact, I couldn't believe how my range increased and difficult passages in a song became easier after I warmed up.  And it was continued warm-ups that helped me discover the power of my chest voice range.

Warming up is the single most important thing you can do to prolong a healthy singing voice.  And honestly, warming up is fun!  I mean, come on, when else do you get the chance to sing silly, nonsense words in full voice, unless you're an elementary music teacher (guilty as charged!)?

I've worked with a couple of different church choirs in the past couple of years and one of the first things I teach a choir is the process of doing corporate warm-ups.  First of all, it's a great way to start a rehearsal because it breaks the ice and helps people get over their nerves.  And also, it helps everyone get through the next hour and a half of full singing in rehearsal.

And of course, all of my voice students know by now that we will always begin a lesson with warm-ups.  I try to vary the warm-ups we use and tailor them to the needs of my individual students.  If we will be working on a song that uses head voice primarily, I'll include several high warm-ups designed to gently open up the range.  Or if we will be focusing on a song filled with runs, I'll choose a warm-up or two that helps develop agility.

I hope you can see by now the importance of warm-ups.  Here's a little challenge: if you're someone who doesn't usually warm-up before you sing, try adding a few simple warm-ups into your practice beforehand.  If you don't know any warm-ups, search for them on YouTube and choose a few favorites.  OR, if you do warm-up on a regular basis, why not search for and try out a few new warm-ups, maybe some that challenge your voice in different ways.  I will take this challenge with you!  My goal is not only to practice some new warm-ups, but to write some new warm-ups for the upcoming school year.  I'll be sure to share them later on.

As usual, if you would like more information on warm-ups, consider purchasing my new book, Ten Weeks to a Better Voice available on Amazon in paperback and eBook formats.  Thanks for your support!

Happy Singing!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Week One: The Biology of Singing

(This post is part 1 of 10 in my series highlighting my new book, Ten Weeks to a Better Voice, available here .)

Biology was not my favorite subject in high school.  In fact, anything science or math-related was not my favorite.  Yet somehow, my tenth grade biology teacher was always able to make biology fun.  Anytime we were watching a video that had the potential to be gross, our teacher always passed out BlowPops.  I used to think he was trying to gain "cool points" by doing that, but later realized that a student was much less likely to throw-up if he or she was sucking on candy.  Clever, clever, Mr. Biology!

Anyway, fast-forward to now, and would you believe that my first chapter in Ten Weeks to a Better Voice is mostly focused on biology?  I didn't realized how important it was until I began the quest to understand how exactly a person forms a single sound.

"Every sound you make starts with a breath.  You must have adequate air to produce an adequate sound.  When you engage your diaphragm (a muscle below your chest that aids in breathing), the lungs pump air up to the vocal cords (also known as the vocal folds), which then vibrate and form an audible pitch.  Then the articulators (the tongue, soft and hard palates, cheeks, and lips) share the sound as it flows from the mouth.  This is how a single sound is produced every time.  Now you can see how inadequate breath support will fail to produce the desired tone in singing.  If you were to take a shallow breath, not engaging the diaphragm, your vocal cords would not have enough air to produce a quality sound.  Then you might try to 'help' yourself by tensing the neck or lifting the tongue.  This type of singing, occurring repeatedly, would eventually cause you to lose your voice, because your throat is not meant to take on the work of the diaphragm.

The vocal cords are located in the larynx in your throat.  The size of the vocal cords determines the range of pitches that a person can sing.  The size also varies, depending if you're male or female, with men having deeper voices because of deeper, thicker folds.  Your genetics and gender determine which voice part you can comfortably sing." --An excerpt from Ten Weeks to a Better Voice

The first step to becoming a better singer is to gain knowledge on how your voice works.  In the paragraphs above, I refer to the diaphragm, the "singing muscle".  Even though you cannot physically feel the diaphragm,  you can imagine it as a horizontal band that lies just beneath your rib cage.  When you are practicing, imagine contracting and releasing that muscle as you inhale and then sing on the exhale.

In my study of the voice and in the years I've spent teaching lessons, failure to fully engage the diaphragm is the single most common problem I've observed from the singers I've worked with.  If you don't engage the diaphragm fully, you don't get adequate breath support, and then the sound of your singing comes out thin and weak.

This week, think about the different vocal problems that you deal with.  Can being aware of how your body produces sound help you with them?  Can you practice deep breathing and stretching before warm-ups to increase awareness of the diaphragm?  I hope this little biology lesson will help your singing this week!

Week Two will focus on stretches and warm-ups that will help you have more productive practice sessions!

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Traveling Saleswoman

Today is a day that ranks up there with my graduation from college, my wedding day, and the birth of my son. No kidding!

Today I received the most wonderful package in the world in the mail: fifteen pristine copies of my first ever self-published book, Ten Weeks to a Better Voice!  Now I know I wrote about the eBook a few blog posts ago, and while I'm definitely glad that the eBook is available for people who want it, there is just something about holding my dream in my hand.  Thumbing through the pages I spent so many hours researching, testing, and writing.  This book has been a labor of love for the past three years, and I'm glad to say that it can finally take on a life of its own.

Now, the name of the game is getting this book into the right hands.  It is available on Amazon, so it reaches a wide audience, but I want people to know that it's out there.  A short singing resource that will help the average Joe become a better singer.  Or the seasoned performer who needs some tips on caring for her vocal cords in the best ways.  This book includes those things.

So in honor of the new book, for the next ten blog posts, I will be writing brief summaries of the chapters, covering all ten weeks.  Then if you want more information, you'll be able to pick up a copy of the book or download the eBook on Amazon.

I once read about a woman who always kept a few copies of her own book in the trunk of her car.  That way, whenever she had the opportunity to sell one, she was prepared.  You can bet that I will be doing the same!  I called myself the "traveling saleswoman" on Facebook today, and I'm ok with that title because I truly believe in the product I'm peddling.

Those of you who have read my previous blog posts or know me can hopefully tell that I am passionate about singing and singing well.  The mission of Ten Weeks to a Better Voice is to help anyone learn to sing better, with or without a voice teacher.  So if you know of a singer who could benefit from the book, please share this post!  Or better yet, buy them copy of the book (shameless plug)!  The easiest way to find it is to go to Amazon's website and type in "Ten Week Voice" in the search engine.

On a sincere note, thank you to everyone who has already purchased the book, read it, or reviewed it on Amazon!  I could not live my dream without your help!

As always, Happy Singing!

(Here I am, cheesing it up with four copies of my book!  One of these could be yours! Thank you for your support.)

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Power of Purposeful Practice

How's that title for alliteration? The Power of Purposeful Practice.  What a magnificent sounding phrase!  Sorry, I couldn't help myself!

I really do mean to write about something important today.  Something that many people, myself included, don't often enjoy.  That's practice.

Yesterday, I taught a piano lesson to a young girl.  It was only our second lesson together, but she did something that absolutely astonished me.  She played all of her songs from the previous week with confidence and told me she had already prepared for this week's songs ahead of time.  Translation: she practiced!

All of you piano and voice teachers out there can now join me in a dance because you know how wonderful it makes you feel when a student does what you ask them to and more!

After the lesson, I bragged on the girl to her parents, telling them she is going to be great at the piano.  And I truly believe that because she has the drive to do the hard work.  She's going to practice and that is only going to make her better over time.

Now, confession time: I often struggle with practice myself.  As organized as I consider myself to be, I am still the Queen of Procrastination.  Often before a Thursday night choir rehearsal, I wait until Thursday afternoon to review my set list and prepare what I'm going to teach.  But on those rare occasions that I prepare a few days ahead of time, I find myself feeling much more confident and prepared when it's time for choir rehearsal.  This leads me to believe that practice brings confidence.

Ah, but not just any practice will do.  The title of this post is "The Power of Purposeful Practice".  Meaning, the practice has to achieve some sort of goal to be the most effective.

For instance, if I am working on learning a new Mozart song on the piano, I could sit down and try to run through the entire song at first practice.  Honestly, I would probably get frustrated and not look at the piece for a few months (true story!).  OR, I could sit down and commit to practicing fifteen minutes on the first eight measures of the song.  My outcome will probably sound a lot better, and I'm more likely to show up for practice the next day if I've achieved my mini goal.  One example demonstrates practice without any clear purpose; the other demonstrates a purposeful practice.

This technique of purposeful practice doesn't just work for playing the piano or singing.  It can translate into any area of your life where you'd like to see improvement.  Even little five minute purposeful practice sessions each day can add up very quickly.

To implement purposeful practice into your life, try these easy steps:

1. Set a purposeful practice goal. Example: "I want to learn to sing the first verse and chorus of my favorite song".

2. Set a time limit. Example: "I'm going to work on this for the next twenty minutes".

3. Set a timer and practice.  When the timer goes off, stop the practice and evaluate whether or not you've met your goal.

4. Repeat Steps 1-3 every day, setting new practice goals as you need to.

We've all heard the saying "practice makes perfect".  Although in some cases that might be true, I propose a new saying: "purposeful practice makes confidence".

What are you waiting for?  Go practice purposefully today!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Ten Weeks to a Better Voice

Once again, I sit down to write a blog post and realize it's been more than several months since I updated this blog.  Hopefully my procrastination with this blog is a thing of the past because I now have an exciting new product available and I want to highlight it and expand upon it using this platform.

Last week, I released my first eBook, Ten Weeks to a Better Voice to the Amazon marketplace.  If you have a Kindle reader or even the Kindle app on your smart device or computer, you can purchase this eBook from Amazon for $5.99.

Here is the description of the book straight from Amazon:

Ten Weeks to a Better Voice is the handbook for singers of all levels who desire to improve their singing. In just two and a half months, you can expect to learn more about your own unique sound, improve the weakest areas in your range, and gain more confidence to perform for audiences of all sizes. Ten Week Voice is designed to work even if you can’t afford to take voice lessons! This book covers the following topics: 

• Getting started with singing 
• Voice warm-ups and stretches before singing 
• Creating a space to practice music 
• Improving the head voice 
• Strengthening the chest voice 
• Developing the mixed voice 
• Emotions in singing 
• Dealing with performance anxiety 
• Solving common vocal problems 
• Finding your performing niche 

The author believes that anyone who desires to improve in singing can do so by employing the tips and techniques contained in this book. Each chapter includes Singer’s Next Steps which will help you incorporate your newly-acquired knowledge into your singing to see and hear results immediately! 

I can't tell you how excited I've been to release this vision into the world!  It was born as a result of so many people sharing their vocal concerns with me or asking me how they could increase their ranges.  I wanted to share this valuable information in one place that could serve as a resource singers can return to again and again.  I also wanted to make the tips and techniques accessible for a small price so even singers who can't afford voice lessons can benefit.  

I hope you'll consider purchasing this eBook if you are a singer and want to learn more about the craft.  In celebration of the release of this book, in the upcoming posts I will be highlighting and expanding upon different chapters of the Ten Week Voice and also providing incentives to purchase the eBook.

By the way, if you've purchased the eBook and read it, I want to hear from you!  Post a comment on this blog, on my facebook page, and/or write a review on Amazon.  I would love to know how it helped your singing. 

Thank you for your support!  I couldn't do what I do each day without you, my fellow singers and musicians!  You are truly my muse!

Ten Weeks to a Better Voice (Click here to view and purchase my new eBook)