Great Singers

3 Traits ALL Great Singers Share | OHE TV E47

3 Traits ALL Great Singers Share

One of my favorite things about teaching a lot of singing students in Austin, Texas is recognizing the patterns that make great singers in my studio.

While it’s true that my voice studio is a judgement-free zone (and always will be), I learn so much from every student that walks through the door.

Something that I’ve been watching for a while are the traits of my students that experience the most success in their voice lessons with me.

I think it’s incredibly important that every singer have these traits and I would go so far as to say that ALL amazing vocalists share these 3 traits.

The good news? You can acquire every one of them.

This also means there are no natural born amazing singers out there, because every great singer has worked to achieve these 3 things.

1. Great Singers are Musicians

This may seem like a no-brainer, but let’s take a closer look.

Some vocalists find it easy to sing in a mix between their chest voice and head voice. Or it’s easy for them to imitate Adele’s flip or Freddie Mercury’s edge.

This doesn’t necessarily make them a good musician.

How long does it take them to memorize a simple pop song? If it takes several weeks, this could mean they don’t understand the genre as well as someone with songwriting experience would.

If I put a piece of sheet music in front of them, are they able to follow the notes, or do they give up and just depend on their ear to ride it out?

In either case, the singer could benefit from improving their musicianship.

So what are some things you can do to work on your musicianship?

First, a great singer is rarely only a singer. Often, they play an instrument or have some working music theory as well.

You can also listen to new music every day. Learn to sight-read music. Take some lessons in another instrument. Jam and perform with other musicians. Listen to great singers, but ALSO listen to their bands.

2. Great Singers are Self-Aware

People talk about self-awareness all the time, usually in terms of how well a person understands themselves.

But what does this mean when it comes to vocals?

Say I have an 11-year-old boy that wants to sing Tom Waits.

Tom Waits has an incredibly gruff and damaged bass voice. If Tom’s voice was a drum, it would be the rusty kick drum that got lost in the flood last year.

Is that an appropriate choice for an 11-year old boy who breaks into falsetto on every high note?

Probably not.

Not only will those low notes be a stretch for the young man, but even if we transpose the song to a better key for his voice, he still won’t be able to imitate the growl or drama necessary for a Waits song.

The same applies to the 7-year-old girl who wants to sing Adele.

Adele’s melodramatic mezzo soprano voice is so large and cavernous, she sounds like a woman much older than she is. A 7 year old’s voice won’t be able to take that amount of pressure; even Adele can’t sustain it.

So, how do you become more self-aware as a singer?

Take some voice lessons. Learn where your bridges are and what voice type you are. It will go a long way in helping you find repertoire that is suitable and healthy for your voice.

3. Great Singers are Hard Workers

Some may say that this is a given.

You might say “Of course all the successful great singers are hard workers. They have to be.”

But I guarantee those same singers (the Adeles and Sam Smiths and John Legends out there) were hard workers before they got famous, and now they work even harder.

So, why should it be any different for you?

If they are at the level where they are making tons of money and touring constantly to support their critically acclaimed album, it’s because they worked to get there. They didn’t just become hard workers because they started making money at it.

At the same time, there are people who think that you can’t become a hard worker. That you are born that way.

But I truly believe that work-ethic is acquired. If the motivation is right, then the priorities and work ethic will follow.

So how do you build work ethic with singing?

Make it a priority. Set goals and find teachers that will help you achieve them, no matter how lofty they seem at first.

Finally, remember that each one of these traits is acquired over time. So don’t feel like you have to be an amazing musician, become enlightened or a workaholic overnight. These things take time and the more you make them a priority to develop, the more successful you’ll be.

voice teacher austin

Will Performing Make Me a Better Singer? | OHE TV E46

One of the biggest myths I encounter as a voice teacher is the thought that getting out and performing will magically make you a better singer. And in a music town like Austin, Texas, there is no shortage of performance opportunities for ANY singer.

First, we need to distinguish between a great singer and a great performer. While there are many people who are both, the paths that people take to get to each are different.

And when it comes to singing, practice makes perfect; not performance.

Don’t get me wrong, there are tons of excellent skills that a musician can only acquire by getting up on stage and doing it. But great singing is not one of them. In fact, most of the time that you’re performing, you’re only reinforcing bad technique.

It may seem counter intuitive that performing a lot could make you a worse singer but let’s look at an example:

A 17-year-old boy is going through his voice change. He hasn’t taken voice lessons before, his vocal break is rough and every time he sings high, he disconnects into a heady falsetto.

But his family and friends know that he has a dream of being a great singer so they encourage him to “just get out there and do it”.

After a few performances, he feels embarrassed on stage because of the falsetto and break in his voice and he says to himself that he “doesn’t have it”.

If you take this same young man and encourage him to take voice lessons, all of a sudden you’re actually addressing the problem of the flip in his voice. Now he can take a tool like a Gee Gee or a bratty “Nay Nay” and apply it to his favorite songs.

As a result, he starts to feel more confident and his high notes and range become more clear.

We’ve reversed the process from putting him in a position to fail to a position where he can succeed. And because the voice lessons are private, he can continue to hone his craft over time so that when he gets up on stage, he knows what to expect when he opens his mouth.

And by the way, this temptation to “perform your issues away” is not just for the teenage boy. I experience this with singers of all ages, especially singer/songwriters who don’t think vocal technique is any use to them.

They get out there and when the audience isn’t loving it, they blame themselves for being born with a bad voice and they think it has to stay that way. Whereas, if they’d had the opportunity to take a break from performance and could address some of these issues, they would know that EVERYONE has vocal issues and we all just learn to overcome them. Then, after a while they’d be able to forget about the vocal technique and just get up on stage and love the audience.

In short, performance will make you a better performer, not a better singer. And while you MUST be a great performer to make a career in music, great performance is totally different from what it takes to be a great singer. So get into the studio, take some lessons and start reversing some of those bad vocal habits so they don’t show up when the pressure’s on.

Voice Teacher

How to Find the Right Voice Teacher | OHE TV E45

Many singers out there are looking for the right vocal coach. But how do you find the right voice teacher for your specific needs?

Are you looking for a voice coach that will help your performance, or just looking for exercises?

Does the singing teacher need to be in an amazing band, or is it more important to you they have a music degree?

There are a ton of ways to go about finding the right voice teacher, but in the end the most important aspect of finding a good singing instructor has nothing to do with music.

Can you guess what it is?

It’s the teacher/student connection. Let’s call it chemistry.

Bottom line, do you trust your teacher to take your voice where it needs to go? Can you put your faith in a music teacher that you just met to take responsibility for you and your voice? Or, to look at it another way, do you get along?

This may the most helpful and overlooked concept in finding the right voice teacher for you.

But why is the teacher more important than the technique?

Let me tell you a quick story (some of the names have been omitted to protect the innocent):

When I was busking in the San Francisco train stations (busking is performing in a public place for tips), I sought out the help of a voice teacher because I kept hitting a wall vocally. For me, that meant that every time I tried to hit a high note, it would come out either falsetto or a strained yell. It wasn’t healthy and it didn’t sound good.

So I began taking lessons with a very nice singing instructor in the area. His rates were reasonable and according to everything I’d read, he taught a very successful vocal technique.

In those first few lessons, we worked on my chest voice, head voice and mix. In some time, my break into falsetto was getting less pronounced and I was starting to hit high notes in my bridge with power.

In the end, however, I felt there was more that I was missing. Sure, this voice teacher was very nice, but he had a very muted personality and I had (and have) a ton of energy.

One year later, I fly to Austin, Texas and I take a one-off voice lesson with a singer-songwriter friend’s teacher, Gene Raymond.

Same technique, same price, similar experience levels. But within the course of one half hour, Gene completely transformed my voice. Concepts and notes that had been totally uncomfortable before were now crystal clear.

I was really hitting high notes without straining. Finally!

I’m not embarrassed to say it: in addition to the beautiful weather and people, Gene Raymond and that magnificent lesson were a huge reason I moved to Austin, Texas.

I studied with Gene for several years before he told me to go away and become a voice teacher. This in and of itself is a huge tribute to the man. He saw in me what I hadn’t yet seen in myself: my power to share my knowledge with others. This is the proof of a good teacher.

In essence, there is nothing more important to finding the right singing teacher than your connection to this person. You must enjoy spending time with them if you’re going to do all those silly Nay Nays and Gee Gees.

After all, it’s not the destination, it’s the journey. And the journey is enriched by who is with you.

So, how do you get started? There are lots of good websites that compile lists of good teachers, however there are many teachers that offer a discounted or free first lesson to get started. I think this is a magnificent way to see if you’re a good fit. So shop around, trust your gut and let your voice sing!

Voice Lessons

Do I Need to Read Music? | OHE TV E44

As a voice teacher in Austin, Texas, I love working with newer singers. And one of the best things you can do when you’re learning a new subject is to begin speaking the language. While music is heard by the ears, and played by the hands or sung by voice, music is also VERY visual.

In fact, students who are just beginning to learn to sing progress much more quickly when they’re able to actually SEE the notes they want to hit. This is because they are able to visualize the notes better when they are written on the page.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re trying to sing with a stronger chest voice, or hit high notes with power, one of the best skills that you can acquire as a singer is the ability to READ MUSIC.

One of the biggest things I wish I had done as a young person is learn to read and write music fluently. It’s just not as easy when you get older. Let me convince you to start now and you’ll never regret it!

While it may be tempting to just dedicate an entire voice lesson to fixing your break, singing through your bridge, or overcoming your falsetto, I try to incorporate some of the theory of music and singing into every voice lesson.

That’s because at a certain point, as a musician, you will find yourself in situations where you’re unable to speak the language like other musicians.

Sure, you may be able to explain the Fach system (the classical system of categorizing voices i.e. Bass, Alto, Tenor, Soprano and all the different shades), but if you’re not able to read the melody line or follow the rhythm of a written piece, there’s bound to be problems.

I’ve spent a large part of my adult life (starting at age 21) struggling to read music because I relied completely on my ear when I was younger. So if you can’t read music, I can’t tell you how important it is to start, no matter how old you are. There is simply too much beautiful music out there to just listen to. Let’s not forget, singing is also a visual art!

voice teacher austin

Help, my voice is changing! What do I do? | OHE TV E43

One of the best things about being a voice teacher in Austin, Texas is my ability to work with so many diverse groups of singers. As you can imagine, many different people take voice lessons.

Sometimes the most driven (and frustrated) groups of singers are middle and high-schoolers. I love working with young people because their desire to learn and improve themselves is so earnest.

But many young people find singing so frustrating because their voices are changing so rapidly. Things they were able to do last year are no longer an option to them.

Compared with a 30 year old man, a 13-year-old’s voice is changing almost daily. Their range, the places where they connect their chest voice and their head voice, and even their tone is in flux.

Due to the influence of hormones (specifically testosterone) the larynx (voice box) and vocal cords are undergoing a huge transformation. It’s almost like leaving your acoustic guitar in the rain, the instrument is swollen one moment, and cracking with thinness the next.

Nearly all young men and women go through this transition and most of us come out on the other side with a new understanding of our bodies and voices.

However, there is a large group of young people that give up singing entirely during this period. Actually, there was a myth for a long time that students of voice should stop singing completely during this transition. Luckily, this myth has been dis-proven and lots of young singers continue singing through their break.

For those that are going through this transition, there are a couple of very important concepts to continue practicing, no matter where your voice is on a particular day.

  1. Be aware the your range will change daily–Again, due to the influence of hormone, your voice will thicken or thin more on any specific day and there will be little you can do to change this. Go with the flow, allow the voice to rest where it does and sing the best you can.
  2. The place where your chest and head voice connect, called the bridge or passagio, will also change–We hear this all the time when the voice “flips” or disconnects to “falsetto“. In time, this place of transition will become more stable also, but only with the correct vocal instruction.
  3. The most important thing to maintain in a transitioning voice is a sense of bottom and top, which correlates to thickening and stretching of the vocal cords–Since young people’s voices are transitioning to a larger, thicker instrument, making sure that the student is stretching their voice into the head register (even if it’s falsetto) is better than avoiding that area altogether. This is something I see in lots of young people. “I don’t sing high notes well, so I don’t sing songs with high notes”. This is why it’s so important that the voice teacher helps the student sing through their entire range, or else this fear of high notes will become a real inability to sing them.