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.
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?
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.