Voice Lesson

How do singers who have never taken a voice lesson get so good?

How Does Someone Who’s Never Had a Voice Lesson Get So Good?

Does it make you mad when you see someone who is insanely talented and they never even took a voice lesson?

Man, they make it look so easy, don’t they?

They waltz on stage puffing on a cigarette and proceed to rock your socks off.

You’ve been working harder. You’ve been practicing every day. You even rinsed your sinuses for that one gig!

The world loves an underdog story. Where the scrappy underprivileged punk challenges the odds and finds fame, wealth and success.

It’s a good story, maybe. But it’s full of holes.

But what about amazing singers like Freddie Mercury, who never took a lesson?

Singers have fawned over Queen’s lead vocalist Freddie Mercury for decades. If not for his shape-shifting and eccentric voice, rock and roll would have missed a huge step in music evolution.

But talent like this is reserved for the 1% who have naturally figured out how to avoid the 3 most common vocal mistakes.

I’d like to go so far as to say that there are the only 3 reasons why a singer who has never taken a voice lesson could ever be so good.

3 Reasons Why a Singer Who Has Never Taken A Voice Lesson is Good

1) Genetics.

voice lesson

Yes, this is an old-cop out, but it is a true cop-out.

Unfortunately, there are huge advantages to having good genes. Things like the size, flexibility and stamina of the vocal folds can be huge factors in singing.

But there are plenty of singers who make their living without some or any of these advantages. Never discount your ability just because of genetics.

2) Involvement in music from a young age.

voice lesson
Two schoolboys (5-10) and schoolgirl (5-10) singing in class, close-up

You would be hard pressed to find any super talented people who were not involved in music in a big way from a young age.

Music ignites virtually every center of the brain, not just the language centers.

People who start music education early are more likely to have their neurons primed and ready for showtime anytime.

But the marvelous thing about music is that it doesn’t care how old you are. You are never too old to start singing or learning an instrument.

3) Finally, they’re probably singing wrong.

voice lesson

The truth is, there are way more ways to sing wrong that to sing right. If you pick up everything you know about singing by imitating others, chances are you are singing incorrectly.

That’s because the vast majority of professional singers are singing incorrectly a lot of the time.

For a second, let’s dissect correct singing. Singing correctly means being able to sing throughout your range without any strain, sudden breaks or inconsistencies in the sound.

Do you know how rare that is?

For my students, if you’ve sung a “Mum” or a “Nuh” on the octave and a half scale (aka long scale), then you probably did so after a good amount of time in lessons.

If you manage to sing from the bottom to the top of your voice without breaking anywhere, that alone is amazing.

If the stars aligned and pigs flew, maybe we got the larynx to rest also.

Finally, could you apply that correct singing to the barrage of vowels and consonants you encounter in even the simplest lyrics?

Probably not.

Correct, healthy singing is not easy to do.

So most pro singers don’t even try. They try to sing like Adele (polyps and vocal hemorrhage surgery 2012), or Sam Smith (vocal hemorrhage surgery 2015) or like Freddie Mercury (had vocal nodes but refused surgery).

So you see where that gets you.

Perhaps instead of feeling envious of the uber talented, often wrong 1%, we can be glad that we’re part of the hard working, healthy and wise 99% of singers who are just trying to do the best with what we have. A huge part of that process is having a good voice teacher who can help you reach goals that are good for you.





Sing In Your Own Voice


Do you struggle with imitation?

Do you find yourself trying to sing like your favorite artist?

Do you wonder what your own true voice sounds like?

There are so many amazing benefits to the Institute for Vocal Advancement technique that I teach. From bringing vocal balance to the voice, to reducing strain, it’s a truly amazing vocal practice.

But one of my favorite things about teaching the IVA technique is that in our voice lessons, we will get to work with your voice exactly as it is, without any imitation or cover up.

Here’s how:

By working with unfinished sounds first (these are the funny sounds that are good for balancing the voice; like the bratty or dopey sounds) and then working on more finished sounds (more like spoken words; like “Mum” or “Gee”) we are kind of bringing the voice back to a neutral gear.

After all, how can you sing a “Mum” like Ed Sheeran? How would you know what his “Mum” sounds like?

You can only produce a “Mum” in your own voice. Whether or not the “Mum” is pure and without strain is another matter. That’s why you take voice lessons from me. I act as the unbiased listener.

But seriously, how cool is it that you have to sing some of these sounds in your own voice first?

Then what happens?

We apply those sounds to your favorite song of course!

So instead of singing the lyrics to your favorite Jessie J song, we have you sing “Mum” on the melody. This “Mum” is still your natural voice. Because again, how can you sing “Mum” just like Jessie J?

Finally, we proceed to sing lyrics with the same feeling as we were getting with “Mum” on the melody.

And voila! You have successfully sung the lyrics to a song you love in your own voice!

Trust me, this process is much easier said than done which is another reason why you need a trained professional to teach voice lessons, but the facts are simple. Unfinished and finished sounds will balance your voice. Applying that balance to the melody will keep your voice sounding natural. Finally replacing the sounds with actual words allows you to stay balanced and sing in your own voice!

But perhaps you worry that your natural speaking or singing voice is not beautiful and that’s why you imitate your favorite artists.

I believe that while you can never sing in a voice that is not your own, there is a lot of work we can do to improve the natural voice you already have. You can always strengthen the voice (power), increase it’s flexibility (range), and add beauty with vibrato, sustain and pure vowels.

From an artistic perspective, I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to sing in your own voice.

In my experience, I know how important it is to have heroes. They will be there all the time.

Let them inspire you, but do not try to imitate them. Try instead to be grateful that you have your own beautiful voice waiting to be explored.

Works In Progress

SF Bar Playing

An episode from the starvation years:

I had just finished playing an hour set in the 24th & Mission Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station when two young crust punks came up to me as I was packing up.

“You’re real good man! Just like that Justin Bieber” one said in all seriousness.

“It’s just a matter of time” said the other one “till you’re playing on Letterman.”

“Yeah man, you’re gonna be walking down the street and a limo will pull up beside you and slow down. And that’s gonna be your ride!”

I looked from the tall skinny punk to the short stocky one with the faded Megadeth shirt and told them I appreciated what they said. But I told them I didn’t expect to be famous overnight.

The stocky one looked at me with the most intense set of eyes I’ve ever seen and said grimly: “You will though.” And nodding emphatically repeated, “You will.”

I thanked them for their encouragement and chugged a bottle of water before pulling out my guitar to start set two. It would be a long afternoon, but my voice was holding up well and I had made enough money in tips to buy my evening burrito ration.


I bring this story up for a couple reasons.

I feel there is an overwhelming culture of instant success surrounding music and musicians. It’s an either you have it or you don’t culture. One of “If I can just show these people how good I am, I’ll go straight to the top”.

Even if you are lucky enough for this kind of success to happen to you, you may find it difficult to maintain fame in a culture with memory as fleeting as ours.

The real, “successful” musicians, however, continue to produce great music throughout the years but do not publicize all the work that it takes to get there.

They don’t talk about the weeks in the studio singing one take to make it sound like they want it.

I think this leads many musicians to believe they need to be a perfect end product, rather than a work in progress.

Of course the truth is we’re all just works in progress, but you can certainly shortcut the path from good to great by taking voice lessons.

As a case in point, I accepted the truth that I could be a MUCH better singer, so a couple months after my conversation with my crust punk fans, I started taking voice lessons. A path that led me directly to working with you.

Learn to Speak the Language

San Marino and I
Next to the beautiful Castello di San Marino

I recently came back from a two-week trip to Italy. My only goal for the two weeks was to relax and to learn to speak Italian.

My trip helped me learn two essential ingredients in mastering anything. Goals and focused practice.

The funny thing was, learning to relax was much more difficult for me.

For some crazy reason, immersing myself in different cultures and languages has become really important to me, so given the chance, I try to make my vacations involve these things.

The first week, I was overwhelmed trying to learn about new food, sights and people. All with subtitles.

By the second week, I was able to hear only how similar Italian and Spanish (a language I learned at 21) were.

By the time I left, I was having full conversations in Italian.

I say this not to brag (though I am proud of it) but also to illustrate a really cool thing about voice lessons.

I think that anyone could have done what I did, but I had two really important things going for me.

First, I had a goal (to learn Italian in two weeks) and second, I had the experience learning Spanish to tell me that I had to find an expert teacher who would leave no room for the comforts of English.

Marco and I
A great Italian teacher and singer: Marco Zungri and I in Verona

How will you learn to speak the language of singing?

For many of you, 30 minutes a week is all the time you have to speak the language of singing with an admittedly quirky expert.

However, this makes it all the more important to practice well. That’s why every voice lesson I teach is recorded and given to my students to practice.

Second, and maybe a bit trickier is the goal. My goal (learn Italian in two weeks) was not overly specific but it certainly set high expectations for myself. I suggest you do the same.

Where do you want to be with your singing in two weeks? In 6 months? In a year?

No matter what your goal, you will help yourself greatly by immersing yourself in the language of singing as much as you can.