Choose the Teacher Who Still Takes Voice Lessons

Dear Students,

You may have heard at one time or another in your education to take risks with your art. To keep pushing yourself. That to unlock that beauty inside you, you must put yourself out on a limb.

But how often do your teachers do that?

Teaching voice lessons can all too easily be correlated with being out of touch. Or not making it pro. Or a good fallback plan.

Bullhockey.

In my case, it’s true that I have to take voice lessons to stay certified. But more important, I have to take lessons to reinforce a very simple idea: I have more to learn.

All too often, teachers who have retired professionally go on to teach what they themselves learned and stop there. You will find these teachers are very good at working with voices like theirs but maybe not so good at helping someone with a different set of problems.

The teacher who still takes lessons on the other hand, realizes that there is ALWAYS more to learn. Always another way to communicate a concept. Always an exception to the rule.

3 months ago, I completed the final requirements to become certified to teach voice lessons in Austin, TX with the Institute for Vocal Advancement.

It was a great achievement. Followed by 3 whole months of solid back patting.

Now that it’s a new year, I have begun taking lessons again in earnest and I am coming to realize one thing as a teacher: I cannot just teach without taking lessons.

They are the same mechanism.

Teaching is an irreplaceable ingredient in learning.

But many of us forget learning is also the irreplaceable ingredient in teaching.

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My Life in the Walk-In Closet; Or Why I left San Francisco to Live in Austin, Texas

People who find out that I moved to Austin from San Francisco are always asking me the same question: Why would I ever move from one of the greatest cities in the world?

Inherent in the question is the assumption that San Francisco is automatically a greater city than Austin, a reputation San Francisco faithfully upholds. Forget about all the hype you’ve heard about Austin being the coolest city and the thing you’re left with is the creeping suspicion that Austin has snuck up on you and you’ve fallen madly in love.

I first visited Austin when I was still living in San Francisco 3 years ago. It was the weekend after the South by Southwest music festival and Austin was its best self.

My friend, Brett Randell, took me around to all the greatest spots. Barton Springs, Whole Foods, the East Side. He even got me into ACL Live’s Moody Theatre to see Grupo Fantasma play.

I was hooked. But I couldn’t get over this simple idea: I was going to be living in Texas. Even worse, I was leaving California, to go live in Texas.

Perhaps the transition would have been harder if Brett hadn’t introduced me to his amazing group of friends, had me taste the best BBQ I’d ever had and let on to the simplest of dreams: you could live off of your music in Austin.

Live off music in San Francisco? Forget it!

Sure, you could land a great waiting job and minimum wage was $9.78 an hour, but you were always hustling to pay your rent.

In Austin, the same rent buys me the luxury of a two-bedroom apartment to myself. I teach voice lessons in the spare room and host bacchanal Friday night jam parties where I cook and we sing all night.

Sure, I hustle just as hard here to make my business work and I’m still waiting tables. Sure, I have to drive anywhere more than 3 miles away because public transit is so bad. Sure, I have to travel 3 hours to see anything resembling the natural beauty of California.

Sure.

And I’m willing to keep doing those things because when I look back at my time in San Francisco, I think only of the bad weather (and the bad weather in my head), the parking tickets, cars getting stolen, and homeless people.

When I think harder, I am blessed to remember some of the best friends a person trying to make their way in the world could ask for. But now, I can visit them and have a vacation at the same time. I don’t have to live in the walk-in closet anymore. And I’m glad to be here.

I hope this serves as a better answer to why I moved and stayed in Austin and not San Francisco because every time I explain myself, I feel I leave something out.

Perhaps that something is this: San Francisco has my heart, but my head just couldn’t take it anymore. Thanks for a great 3 years but I’m too tired now.

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How to Hit High Notes (Without Falsetto)

Dear Students,

As a voice teacher in Austin, TX, I have students come in all the time with one thing on their minds. High notes.

I am so happy that in modern music we are seeing a resurgence of singers (especially males) who sing high notes.

Whether you’re trying to hit notes like Sam Smith or Jeff Buckley, the name of the game is understanding and getting comfortable in head voice.

So what’s that? First, a little science, then we’ll get into how to use it.

The body has different resonance chambers that vibrate according to the notes you’re singing. The most well known of these resonance locations are chest and head. Hence the names: chest voice and head voice.

For example, if you’re singing lower notes, you are more likely to feel vibrations in the thoracic or chest area. If you then sing a much higher note, you will notice that the vibrations that you used to feel in your chest moved somewhere.

But where?

To your head voice.

There are many great tips to get into head voice if you’re not familiar with it. The easiest and most familiar way is by going into an airy, light, falsetto on the higher note.

But the problem with falsetto is that it’s not a balanced sound. There’s no flexibility and there’s no power.

So back to square one. How do you hit those high notes without the falsetto?

One great tip is adding in what I call a “crying” sound. Like you’re really sad. That’s right. Blubber like a baby. Get it all out!

Now, try to add a little bit of that crying sound to the high notes that you’re trying to hit. For example, if you’re trying to hit a high C with power, it might be a great idea to add your now familiar crying sound to a word like “Gee”. Repeat the high C a few times while repeating the crying “Gee, Gee” and you should hear an immediate difference. All of a sudden, the note is there and it’s not light and airy.

Soon, you can accomplish the same note without the aid of the crying sound and you’re on your way. Obviously, there is no substitute for one-on-one lessons in-studio or online, but hopefully you find this small tip helpful.

In fact, here’s a short video to show a great exercise to hit high notes without falsetto:

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How to fix your Break/Flip/Disconnect

As a voice teacher in Austin, Texas, students ask me all the time how to fix the flip or break in their voice. The ugly truth is that this phenomenon happens to a lot of people. Some are just better at hiding it than others.

The good news is, like any skill, with consistent voice lessons, you can improve your flip or break to the point that it is almost unnoticeable.

First a little bit of science, and then we’ll get practical.

A flip or its uglier cousin, a disconnection into falsetto, sounds a bit like a pubescent boy giving a speech. The tones are shaky and inconsistent.

Chances are good that this phenomenon happens to most people in their bridge or passagio. The bridge is a sequence of tones in the voice where the central nervous system is sending out distress signals that the notes are too high or unfamiliar.

A flip or disconnection to falsetto usually occurs when males and females are leaving their chest voice. As a reaction to the distress, the voice says “something has to give” and you flip or lose connection and break.

The first bridge is usually the battleground for any singers first few voice lessons. Since they’ not accustomed to leaving chest voice, it becomes my job to get them as comfortable as possible on higher notes.

This can be accomplished in a lot of different ways. The most successful way is using the Institute for Vocal Advancement technique. This technique teaches us to take the quality of chest voice up into the head voice in a balanced healthy way.

How does one do this? One way is by using a hard consonant sound with a narrow vowel sound. For example, a “Nay, Nay” or “Gee, Gee”. Repeating the note that gives you trouble on a “Nay” or “Gee” will allow the student more access to head voice while the hard consonant allows the vocal folds to resist more air. The student may find a more whole sound in this way. Then you’re just a hop, skip and a jump from applying that feeling to the words.

Obviously there is no cure-all when it comes to your break and there is no replacement for consistent lessons, but I hope you find some success with this useful trick.

Open-Mouth-Sing-Better