Muscle Memory

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Muscle Memory

Have you ever wondered why some people seem to sing (or play golf, or write novels, or anything difficult) so effortlessly?

It turns out that while everyone has different talents, there are also distinct ways in which every person’s brain works to master a skill.

Many call it “muscle memory.”

But Paula Starche asks: “What is muscle memory? And is it true that it takes 20 times of doing something before it is ingrained?”

This week we take a look at so-called muscle memory and learn how it works to make some people do incredible things so darn easily.

Sound Like

What Do I Actually Sound Like? | OHE TV E14

Part II of our series, “The Curse of Imitation”

If you haven’t had a chance, check out my last blog The Curse of Imitation first. Today we’ll talk about how to find your own voice and become self aware of what you actually sound like.

Last week, we learned that imitation is, at best, a crutch for a developing singer. But it is totally natural because by imitating our vocal heroes, we are deciding what we appreciate musically and what good singing sounds like.

But what are we really working towards? What does your voice actually sound like?

What Do I Actually Sound Like?

One of the most important aspects of my job as a voice teacher is to help students understand their voice so they know what to expect.

My hope is that by understanding their voice better, my students can make better decisions about the kinds of songs they pick, parts to audition for and maybe understand a bit about their unique vocal style.

Self awareness is hugely important in a beginning singer and I’m always asking my students for feedback about how a certain exercise feels or how a note sounds in order to grow their ear.

But let’s say that you haven’t taken lessons yet, here are a few ways that you can begin to understand your voice and what it can sound like to other people.

1. Analyze the Music You’re Drawn To

Take a look at the music that you love to listen to and sing. Are there any commonalities between the singers?

If you listen (like I did) to Elliott Smith, Jeff Buckley and David Bowie for example, you could note that all three of these singers are tenors who can hit high notes without falsetto and sing in a clean tone.

This is really important to know and understand about these singers. Even though they sing different genres and styles of music, their voices are all capable of accessing the higher registers and they spend a lot of time up there. If I enjoy singing this music, it could be possible that I would want to work on keeping a smooth, clean tone from the bottom to the top of my voice.

The opposite would be true if your favorite singers are Janis Joplin, Aretha Franklin and Adele. These amazing singers would fit more of a mezzo-soprano category and are characterized by huge belty voices. For these voices, you want to feel the power and fiery emotion of the song, so while a smooth transition is beneficial, we would work on developing strength and stamina in the voice.

2. Record Yourself

A great activity for any singer is to record themselves singing. Ideally, you want to do this in an environment where you feel safe to make some noise and you’re not going to disturb anyone.

Recording yourself can be a very humbling exercise but it can also be a great marker to measure your progress by. If for instance, you sound exactly the same a year into taking voice lessons, you might consider finding another teacher. You should be noticing progress!

In terms of listening to your voice, train your ear to hear what your voice’s strengths and weaknesses are. Do you always sing flat on a high note? Or are you singing in a whisper even on low notes? Compare this with your favorite singers and see how you measure up. This can be very helpful in setting goals for your vocal progress.

3. Ask a Few Friends to Critique Your Voice

This is for the brave ones out there.

Either play a recording or sing in front of a few trusted friends and ask for their feedback on your voice. Obviously, your friends will be able to give you appropriate feedback that isn’t going to crush your soul but also won’t sugar-coat the issues that they hear.

Just be careful that for every piece of feedback they give, make sure they are giving you something you can work on, rather than systematic flaws you can’t fix.

For instance, “I just don’t like the sound of your voice” is a blanket term that won’t help you change anything about your voice, whereas “The low parts of your voice are very strong, can you make those high notes stronger also?”.

4. Take Singing Lessons

As always, it’s best to have a trained professional listen to your voice to give an unbiased assessment. Make sure this professional is able to give you a lesson plan to achieve your desired goals so that you always know what you’re working on.

Most voice teachers have heard hundreds of voices in their career, so the odds of them helping you understand your voice and what you can sound like are much higher than a “backseat” vocal coach who just knows what they like and dislike.

In the end, finding what you sound like is one of the most rewarding experiences that a developing singer can have. It’s something that goes far beyond your 60-minute lesson and once you have a good feel for your voice, you’ll never lose it. If you’d like to learn more, consider booking a trial free voice lesson so we can develop your voice.


The Curse of Imitation | Octave Higher TV E13

The Curse of Imitation

Many students deal with the curse of imitation. There is no time for a fresh start and perspective on your voice than when taking singing lessons.

Trying to imitate another singer’s voice and style is a common goal among new students.

They ask: “Can you teach me to sing like Adele“, or “My friends say I sound like Sam Smith. Can you help me sound more like him?”

There is no time for a fresh start and perspective on your voice than when taking singing lessons.

A huge part of what we do in voice lessons is get to your “real” voice; that beautiful you-ness underneath the garbage of imitation.

Think that sounds harsh? I’ve been there.

Today, I wanted talk about how I spent years trying to imitate my favorite singer/songwriter and how that just held me back. Then I discuss some tools to help you find your voice so you don’t make the same mistake.

Why We Imitate Singers

Back in 2011, I would get up every morning at 6AM to be at the BART train station before the morning rush. I would haul my heavy guitar case down the alley ways for blocks to get there in time to be the first one in a popular spot. Then, if no one else had grabbed it, I would set my guitar case down next to the escalators and sing for two hours or more.

At this time, I hadn’t started taking voice lessons and I didn’t know much about my own voice so I just did my best to imitate others. My favorite singer/songwriter was Elliott Smith (caution: some adult language). He had this haunting, yet beautiful approach to singing and songwriting that just fit me perfectly.

Unfortunately, Elliott wasn’t a big hit in the train station. This wasn’t due to the quality of his songs, but rather, it had to do with my singing. Because I wasn’t self aware of my own voice, I consciously imitated Elliott’s breathy and lofty voice. It simply didn’t project through the massive station (even though the acoustics were really great).

Everything changed when I began taking singing lessons with Gene Raymond in Austin, TX. He told me “I feel like you’re trying to sound like a 14-year-old boy. Sing like the man you are now.”

It hurt. It felt like he was trashing me AND my favorite singer/songwriter. But he was right. Once I began to look at his feedback from a critical viewpoint, I realized my voice and Elliott’s are completely different. They’re not even in the same world. About the only thing we have in common is the fact we’re both tenors.

Thanks to Gene, I was able to take an approach to these songs that was more authentic to my own voice. It was an important first step to defining and refining my own style. If you’re curious to learn more, consider booking a trial free voice lesson to find your own style.


Kev Bev and the Woodland Creatures

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An Interview with Kev Bev and the Woodland Creatures

This week, I am truly honored to interview Kevin and Candace Collins of the local Austin funk/soul/blues band Kev Bev and the Woodland Creatures.

In addition to being great students, Kevin and Candace are also the lead singers of this very popular (and busy) 8-piece funk band. You can find them nearly every night of the weekend playing hour-plus gigs at any one of Austin’s venues.

Using their voices so often, I wondered if professional musicians treat voice lessons differently from other people?

I talked to Kevin and Candace to find out.