How to Kill It During a Performance (or even your voice lessons)

Dear Students,

Since we have an exciting upcoming recital scheduled for students of voice lessons on Sunday, April 19th at 4PM at Dominican Joe Coffee Shop on South Congress, I thought it would be great to discuss the elements of a great performance (or “Kill it” as my drum instructor would say).

As I see it, the success of your performance has everything to do with connecting with your audience.

I know that may sound like a big and scary idea, but let’s break it down.

How do people connect with each other? They send messages. They have something to say; either verbal and non verbal. They speak so they are heard. They maintain eye contact.

Pretend a performance is a conversation with your audience. You’re are in front of them because you have the right to speak (or in this case, sing) your mind. This is your chance to show them something cool. To make a point. Maybe something you’ve learned in voice lessons.

When I was 21 I lived in San Francisco, CA and was playing in the BART train stations every day for at least 2 hours.

I noticed several things that I did impacted how people responded to my music. It got to be so ingrained in my performance DNA that I made very consistent earnings every time I went to play.

These are some of the things that I learned increased the connection with my audience.

  1. Repertoire—Without something to say, there is no performance.

You must have a conversation piece, an energy, a point to make. Your conversation piece is your song. And just like a conversation, some people will see your point, and others will always disagree.

You know you can’t please everybody, right? So try to please just one person. Even if it’s just your mom.

  1. Movement—Non verbal communication is a huge factor in a conversation.

What you are saying is exactly as important as what you say. So, what is the song saying? What can the occasional gesture or body movement add to the experience?

Even just shifting your weight along to the music can have a huge impact on how much people notice you.

  1. Smile—show that you are glad to be there in front of people. That you appreciate their attention for however long they are there.

Smiling shows people that you appreciate and enjoy what you are doing. This shows people why you’re doing what you’re doing. Nobody wants to see somebody who doesn’t like being there.

  1. Mindfulness—every time you get up to sing, you have the right to the stage. Make it yours in that moment. Leave any self-conscious thoughts of technique or melody on ice.

Performing is like a moving train, it happens so fast. So be present with your performance and people will notice.

  1. Attitude—All the performance tips in the world won’t help if you don’t have the confidence that what you’re saying matters.

Just like a conversation, you are there for a reason, to make a point, to engage with other people.

For some reason, though, when people get on stage, they forget why they’re there. They forget that a performance is a conversation.

The best way that I’ve found to muster this confidence is to convince yourself that you’re killing it. Believe yourself to be a great performer and people will flock to you.

audience

Why You Should Learn Another Instrument (While Taking Voice Lessons)

Dear students,

Everything I do is intended to make myself and my students more valuable musicians.

For me, being a more valuable musician means always being open to new songs/instruments/genres/artists and sharing the things that I learn from that experience with my students.

The way that I share that experience most often is in the form of voice lessons.

But why is it that most students feel they have to choose an instrument and practice only that one?

I think a lot of students feel that in order to get good at one instrument, you must focus on that one and forsake all others.

But the principals of music apply to all instruments, so is it crazy to think that you could learn more about your voice by playing the drums, picking up your old flute, or trying the harmonica?

While some may think learning another instrument would detract from your vocal education, I think that learning another instrument speeds up the learning you do when you sit down to practice.

Back in the “olden days”, it wasn’t enough to be an amazing singer. In actuality, it was more important that you be an amazing instrumentalist. Singing just happened to be something that you did also.

Nina Simone was a phenomenal classical pianist. Jimi Hendrix was Little Richard’s touring guitarist. Jeff Buckley was a session guitarist before he wrote his first album.

The list goes on.

The thing that made those musicians stand out was not just their voice, but how their voice interacted with the music they made.

Think this doesn’t apply to your voice lessons?

In my case, it happened backwards. I learned about an instrument from teaching voice!

I’ve been telling students for years to trust the feeling of vocal balance, rather than “muscling up” or “powering through”. Basically, that in order to build power, you must first work with properly closed vocal folds.

Only recently, while practicing snare technique on my drum set, did I realize that this same principal applies to snare rolls.

Many rock drummers hammer away at their set to get more speed. They think power = speed.

Then, I took my own advice and used a more traditional grip and kept my hands from getting sloppy with power. This allowed me to focus on doing the rolls with ease rather than force.

The results were amazing. My rolls got quicker and the sound was cleaner. Most surprising was that the power grew as the technique improved.

The same rules apply to your voice.

What lessons could you be learning from picking up other instruments?

Drumming and Singing

Why Song Choice is the Most Important Part of Voice Lessons

Dear Students,

During our voice lessons, everything depends on the clear communication between the student and the teacher.

This communication is not only verbal and it is not only sung. More often, the communication has to do with physical feelings.

What does it feel like to hit that high-C in a perfect mixed voice?

Does it feel like hammering a piece of tin? Does it feel like you’re pressing your thumb down on the end of a hose to increase the pressure? Does it feel like nothing?

Sometimes the answer is not so obvious to either the student or the teacher.

Little by little though, the exercises start to make more sense and the positive feedback you get teaches you you’re doing it right.

Then comes the most important part: The Song.

Now why is the song the most important part?

Obviously, you’re not taking voice lessons to do “Nay Nay Nays” really well at parties. You’re learning these tools to feel what it is to sing.

So when you are demonstrating a song during the lesson, it is truly where the rubber hits the road. Where practice becomes deeper practice.

So, instead of asking, what does it feel like to hit that high-C, I might ask you what does it feel like to hit that high-C in “Somebody that I Used to Know”?

Now that the desired note is on a song, the result of all your hard work is clear. And the motivation to find that feeling isn’t just to please your teacher, it’s in making the song shine by singing it for yourself.

 

Some basic tips for songs to demonstrate in your lessons:

-Have a song to demo every lesson (I know this sounds obvious, but let’s just get it out of the way)

-Stick to the same sex of the singer (i.e. Don’t bring in a female pop song if you’re a male, at least in the beginning)

-Know the melody

-Know the words

-Make sure the music is readily available (whether on Spotify, your guitar or your phone)

-Choose a song that is a little bit challenging (but not a nightmare)

 

Put these tips into play during your lessons and see your progress really take off!

 

Setlist

Having a tough time?

Part of being a musician means never being satisfied, always perfecting your art, striving for that next rung on the ladder to success.

But sometimes, too much self-critique, obsessing over small things, and general uncertainty can get the best of you and put you in the downward spiral of creativity.

Sometimes, it’s the songwriter who hasn’t written a good thing in months (I certainly know this one). Or the singer who feels they have plateaued. Or the recording engineer who has remixed a song into oblivion.

We’ve all been there, but to get out, I think that it’s important to remember the physiological side of the musician.

Everything comes from the brain. Your brain’s job is to come up with thoughts. Like an oxygenating tube in a fish tank, your brain bubbles up with millions of thoughts a day. Good, bad and ugly.

The best-case scenario is feeling good, aligned and centered with where you are in life.

But we all know, this isn’t a permanent reality.

Sooner or later, we have to experience some down time too.

But here’s where you can use your brain for you, rather than against you.

First, embrace the down swing then try to imagine yourself in the future and how the low feelings made you the person you are. How, without the hard times, you wouldn’t have grown so much.

What does this really look like for the musician? If you haven’t written something good in months, chances are you’ve found another creative outlet. Like cooking.

If you plateaued as a singer, maybe you used that time to pick up guitar or piano and learning that instrument unlocked something in your voice.

If you’re stuck mixing a song, maybe you’ve learned some new tricks along the way that apply to your next song.

How can a small change, like deciding to take voice lessons, impact you in a year’s time?

The Brain

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