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So What are Song-Writing Lessons Anyway?

Let’s say you have a great idea for a song. You record yourself singing or playing it, and you enjoy listening to your creation. So then what happens to it? Does it just stay on your Smart Phone until it dies? Do you avoid playing it for anyone else but yourself because you’re not sure if it’s any good? Maybe you have been writing some songs for a while and feel like you’re running out of ideas because you need some new material?

These are the reasons to take song-writing lessons (also known as composition lessons). Just like singing lessons, composition lessons help you learn and refine skills that help you create music that not only sounds good to you but that others can play and enjoy too. When I begin teaching a new student, they learn the basics of writing music notation and gradually apply these basics to the songs they write. In addition, we discuss how to create music which tells a performer how to express the meaning of the song more effectively.

Maybe you’re thinking…but I already take lessons with someone, couldn’t I study with my teacher?

While most music teachers have some basic composing skills (and either fondly or not-so-fondly remember the assignments they used to do in their music theory classes) not everyone is a skilled composer. Composition teachers have an intimate knowledge of how music is put together. They also know the subtle nuances of how music theory concepts can be applied to produce a beautiful and memorable piece of music. This is why many music students take composition lessons along with their normal instrument.

Studying with a teacher specialized in composition helps students to build a palette of tools to bring their music to the next level, much like an art teacher can help those who are skilled in visual mediums to expand their own abilities and produce pieces that draw out the emotion they see in what they create.

Have you ever thought about studying composition? If so, I encourage you to look around for a good instructor or mentor. While it’s encouraged, but not always necessary to find someone with a degree in composition; it is important is to find someone who has a thorough knowledge of the composition process, and has composed music which is or has been performed. You should also take an introductory music theory class as many composers do not start working with students until they know at least the basics of music notation. There are some excellent courses online and at local colleges and music schools.

And of course, my shameless plug! If you’d like to start composing music and are in the Rhode Island area, you might be interested in the Songwriting 101 class I am putting together this June. It’s a six-week course designed for beginners who want to start getting their music out of their head, and onto a page! For more information, check out my upcoming classes page.

Until next time!

In Song,

Tim

The Importance of Good Posture

When I teach my voice classes and lessons, many students comment on how surprised they are to notice a difference in their sound simply from changing the position in which they are standing. Voice, as it is a physical instrument is strongly influenced by our posture. With the amount of time that we spend at computer screens, it is not surprising that many of us are developing negative posture habits. These are things we need to fix when we begin singing.

There are three great benefits to maintaining a strong singing posture:

  1. You create more space in your torso, which allows for better, lower breathing. This establishes better control over your sound. This is why it is important to keep your chest high and your shoulders down. Breath should fill the body from the belly up and it is harder to do this when your shoulders are hunched forward.
  2. You are more balanced, which helps the body focus on breathing rather than keeping yourself upright. This is why keeping one foot slightly in front of the other, and your spine lengthened. When you have a stronger balance, you are more likely to keep less tension in your body. Lack of tension = better sound.
  3. You present a more powerful image and message to your audience. Think of it this way, if you saw someone come out on stage with their shoulders hunched forward and their head down (and they weren’t performing a song by a character depicted as an old crone) what would your first impression be?

So the next time you are getting ready to sing, check your posture. Are you getting the most out of your position?

And for more information on this, stay tuned. I have been working on a free video course that will be available for people to access to get started on their singing journey. The series will be geared toward beginners who are thinking about lessons, but not quite ready yet. So keep a look out!

In Song,

Tim

The Vocal Virtue of Patience

So let’s say you’ve been taking voice lessons for a few months and you’re wondering “why am I not singing ___insert the name of your favorite song here___ yet.”  I’ve heard this before (and even felt it before) and in my opinion is that this  type of question really is a variation of “why am I not where I think I should be yet?”

Before students take lessons, they are often singing their favorite songs along with a recording. Sometimes this is even what prompts them to take lessons. What is crucial to remember is this: when you are singing something by yourself, you do not really know whether or not you are singing the notes properly or using correct technique because you are too focused on “how awesome it would be to be ____insert name of favorite singer___.” This can lead to prolonged improper singing which can lead to serious problems with your voice if you are not careful.

When you hire a singing teacher, our role is to help you:

  • Identify your best vocal range
  • Fix singing habits you have which are impeding your ability to sing
  • Establish new habits which promote healthy and efficient singing
  • Apply these habits to songs that fit your range and sound great in your voice
  • Create powerful performing skills so that you can “wow” an audience

These things can take time depending on how much you practice, how ingrained the habits which are impeding you are, how motivated you are with making those changes, and most importantly…how patient you are with yourself!

Learning and mastering the art of singing takes a lot of time and dedication. This is one of the reasons many vocal teachers only take students who are mature enough to handle the discipline of lessons.  While it is true that after two or three lessons you might notice a difference in your voice, there may be a period of time where you might progress a little slower, as different techniques take different lengths of time to learn for every student.

It is also true that some singers are born with natural talent, but even though they might be able to match pitch better than most, they may struggle with other singing strategies. Our society places so much value on “fast” and “quick” results that we can often get discouraged when we aren’t able to “transform” at the rate we “think” we should. It’s another form of perfectionism and I’ve seen it create more challenges than success. We also compare ourselves to other people far to often in my opinion which is a completely different blog post.

So if you are worried that you aren’t where you want to be with your singing yet (and I emphasize “yet”), remind yourself that development takes time and don’t be afraid to ask your teacher about your progression. A great way to ask this is “I’m interested in singing __insert name of song here___, what are some things I should be aware of before I start?” Your teacher will be honest with you about what you need to do to progress.

You can apply singing techniques to any style of singing, but you have to be so comfortable with those techniques that you don’t have to think about them before you can start to apply them to songs. And this takes time. So give yourself a little freedom to experience the process. Be patient and keep trying!

In Song,

Tim

Reading Music is Essential!

I have often been asked if it is important for singers to be able to read music. Speaking from experience, I can certainly say that I have noticed a difference between singers who read music and singers who don’t.

Many singers start singing by listening to others, and the development of recording technology has made this much easier for those who have not yet learned the skill of reading music to access a multitude of songs. The drawback to this is that it limits the repertoire a singer can learn to only what they can hear. Learning to read creates flexibility and a larger volume of songs a student can master. It also creates independence as it means they do not need assistance from a pianist or other musician to learn their part.

This leads me to my second point. Singers who do not read music tend to take a longer time learning the music assigned to them. This results in a lot of time in the lesson focused on learning the song, rather than applying proper vocal technique to the selection, which is the real goal to vocal lessons.

This is one of the main reasons that I opted to offer longer lesson times to students with a portion of each lesson dedicated to the learning of music reading or what some term “musicianship.” The remainder of the lesson focuses on technique and vocal development while applying these techniques to musical selections. I encourage students to learn their notes outside of the lesson so that we can maintain an efficient education session. My studio also offers an 8-week summer class which teaches the foundations of music to musicians of all types.  There are also a great number of music theory lessons that aspiring singers and musicians can access online.

Ultimately, the choice to learn the skill of reading music is up to the student and the teacher they are studying with. From my experience the learning of musicianship skills help to create independent and well-versed singers with a large repertoire available to them that they can present to the world.

In Song,

Tim

The Underestimated Importance of Relaxation

I think that one of the most common concerns I notice with singers, especially those starting out is excess tension in the body. Tension can be present while singing for a number of reasons – probably the most common one being nervousness or lack of confidence.

So how does this affect the voice? Quite a bit actually. Because the voice is a physical instrument, it requires a relaxed body and relaxed vocal folds in order to work at its highest potential. Because many of us have extremely busy lives, we frequently hold a lot of tension particularly in our neck and shoulders (and I wouldn’t be surprised if because we are constantly looking at screens and smartphones if the tension in these areas are doubled now).

This is why one of the very first lessons I give new students is releasing tension in the body. We usually start off by turning the head from side to side, up and down and then rolling the head gently around. We then move onto some shoulder rolls and arm stretches and then some Qigong exercises to release tension in the joints, arms and legs. I have found that overall this really makes a difference once we start engaging in more involved vocal warm ups because it allows the student to let go of whatever stress they are carrying before their lesson.

So what do you do to release tension before you sing? Have you tried Yoga or Tai Chi before you sing? If so, what results have you had?

In Song,

Tim

Getting Started in Singing

With all of the great new technology out there it is so easy to access vocal lessons. An aspiring singer can find some great tutorials on YouTube, websites and even purchase complete courses on online shopping pages. Why then, is it important to take lessons from a teacher, one might start to ask?

The answer to this is simple, and it’s something that I learned when I first started teaching and read the book “The Complete Handbook of Voice Training.” I’d highly recommend this book to anyone who is considering teaching voice and singing as the author provides some wonderful insights and techniques. One thing in particular he says which has always stuck with me is this:

“The student ‘buys’ the ears of the teacher.”

This is probably the most important reason to study with an experienced teacher, whether you do this in person (which I personally prefer) or via skype or google chat. We do not hear our voices correctly…we hear our voice inside our own head, which is not the same sound that others hear around us (and if you want to check this, just listen to your voice mail message!). This means we may be trying out best to mimic the pre-recorded lesson we’ve purchased on a CD or video lesson but we don’t actually know whether or not we are doing what we are supposed to.

This can lead to dangerous situations, as the voice is an instrument which if not learned properly can result in long term damage to the vocal folds and our larynx. A vocal coach or instructor can listen for signs of straining and improper technique that you may not be able to hear if you’re a beginner. They can help you change singing habits to improve your sound that you may not even realize that you have been using.

So what are you waiting for? If you are interested in taking your singing to the next level and creating that beautiful, flowing, and confident sound get out there and find a teacher that can help you make the most of your unique voice. My studio offers lessons on Friday and Saturday of each week (as of this writing). Visit our “Registration page” above to start your journey.