Sorry To Bother You

Are you holding yourself back from contacting people because you’re worried about being judged, and possibly rejected?.  This can happen in your personal life of course, and If you provide a service it’s easy to feel you need to try and sell to everyone.  However – you just cannot please everyone.  You need to think about who you really want to connect with and why.

Why do you want to connect with the people you are contacting (or thinking about contacting)?  Most likely it’s because you want to share information that you believe will resonate with them, especially if they have a) been a client of yours in the past, b) are currently a client or c) have reached out to you with an enquiry about your field of expertise.  So you are contacting people who have some interest in the subject matter that you cover.

 I create and send out my newsletter to share thoughts with past, present and potential clients and hope that you will find some worth in it. Even if you never come back as a client or become a new client, I want you to feel that receiving my newsletter has added value to your life in some way – helped you with a vocal issue or made you rethink a more general issue.

Don’t underestimate the value of the information you have to offer. We often feel that because we know it, everyone else will as well. That we are stating the obvious.  Not necessarily – many times I’ve had people tell me that the content of my newsletters has made them think, brought something to their attention, made them see things in a different light.

So take the chance – if you believe you have something valuable to say, and that it will help the recipients in some way, go for it.  And I’ll continue to do the same.

PS on that note – if there are any issues that you think would help singers in any way, either from a technical point of view or from a broader angles, and you would like me to address them in this blog, please put them in the comments below.

Get Out (and sing)!

I came to solo performing quite late in life. I did not do the whole teenage band thing. I was in the school choir but didn’t sing at all outside of that – my mum says I didn’t even sing around the house! For various reasons I avoided being too visible when I was younger – I was paranoid about attracting the ‘wrong’ kind of attention; and having moved to the Caribbean from the UK at 12, I often felt like the odd one out which I didn’t enjoy. 

After returning to the UK in my 20s, I started accompanying singers on keyboard at open mics, then I was encouraged to sing as well. Insecurity about my voice led me to take singing lessons, and I gradually gained more confidence about being more visible (and audible!).

So at this point I have been a member of a harmony group (Camden Soul – happy days!), and have also led my own band (which was a wonderful learning experience), and I can say that gigging is now one of my favourite things to do! There’s nothing like the buzz of performing music you love, and seeing other people enjoying the music along with you.

It may vary depending on where you live, but in general there are several options for singing live, and you can choose the level you’re comfortable with, for example:

Private karaoke – where you and some friends can hire a room and sing your heart out with only each other as the audience

Singing workshops – a good way to get used to singing in front of others before taking it out into the big wide world

Choirs – also good for getting used to performing in a more private setting. Some choirs also go out gigging.

Public karaoke – run by restaurants, pubs and bars. You would normally put your name on a list, and they often have a song list for you to peruse before you sing.  Most use backing tracks but there are some with live musicians

Open mics – if you have never sung in public before it’s a good idea to check a few out before committing to sing. There are various levels, from the beginner-friendly to those for more experienced singers –some allow backing tracks, some you have to provide your own accompaniment, some have live musicians

Showcases – these are often invitation-only, and claim to have music industry managers in the audience, who are waiting to sign up their next star.  I would advise you to do some research about these, depending on your musical goals

Jams – I would say these are for more experienced singers and musicians as they are not as structured as open mics, and tend to involve solos and improvisation. You would need to know how to communicate with the musicians during the performance, which takes some getting used to

Competitions – these are for serious singers and would normally offer prizes like a recording package, or an opening slot for a well-known singer

I have not listed any particular open mics etc here as they may change;  however you can find these opportunities by searching online for ‘karaoke nights’ or ‘live music nights’, checking for flyers or posters in restaurants, bars and pubs, or asking friends!

No matter what level you are at, I would encourage you to seek out these opportunities to get out!  And if you have any other suggestions or advice please post it here or contact me directly.

Groundhog Day

In the film Groundhog Day, the main character played by Bill Murray, wakes up every morning to the same scenario. At first he takes the opportunity to behave badly as there appear to be no consequences for his actions. Then he gets smart – he realises he can learn from the situation and change the outcome. So with the girl he likes, he learns more and more about her tastes and what she likes in a man, and adapts himself to suit – with amazing results.

Do you have a situation in your life which has been ongoing, and you want to change it but it seems impossible? Do you keep waking up to a scenario that you want to let go of?  

If nothing seems to be changing in spite of all your efforts consider this quote: if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got. It’s a harsh truth that I had to learn – I had a tendency to keep going round in circles in my own mind about problems, and obviously not moving forward. When I learned to listen to other people’s suggestions – really listen- and actually try them out then things started to change.  I say ‘started’ – old habits die hard 😊 and I still sometimes mull over things for way too long before seeking advice. But hey – no one is perfect, so it’s also important not to beat yourself up. But that’s another article I think!

It would be great to hear of situations which had you going round in circles and how you broke out of them. Comment below!

The Air/Muscle Equation

One of the issues related to singing comfortably throughout your range is the balance between air and muscle. 

In order to make sound, the air from your lungs hits your vocal cords, and then muscles in your throat work to make that air vibrate.  If you have too much air coming through your vocal cords, the sound will be breathy (or in the extreme you will literally just hear air being exhaled) – if this happens too much, the vocal cords can dry out and strain can occur. If there is too much muscular work going on this can also cause strain.   So you need to have a balance between the amount of air flow and the amount of muscular activity.

In the image below, the air flow is too much for the muscles to cope with and your voice will sound breathy.

This sound can be used a style aid (think Marilyn Monroe singing Happy Birthday), but you want to be able to control it so that you’re not damaging your voice. 

If your voice tends to sound a bit Marilyn Monroe, try this:

First of all say ‘nah nah nah’ the way children say it when teasing each other – this sound reduces the amount of air flow.  Then sing Happy Birthday using the same sound, really make it nasty!

Your voice should no longer sound breathy.

The next image shows that the amount of muscle activity is too much compared to the air flow:

In this case your throat may feel constricted, especially when singing higher notes, and you may feel you need to shout to reach the desired pitches.  In this case try:

First, say ‘woo, woo, woo’ while punching the air as if in celebration.

Then sing Happy Birthday using the same woo sound – more air will be coming through and it should feel easier and more relaxed than normal.

The next image shows a perfect balance between air and muscle – the optimum position.  Hopefully if you normally experience either one of the imbalances above, and you tried the exercises, you felt your voice moving more toward this position.

Please add comments to this blog and let me know how your voice feels in relation to this– I’d like to be able to help you get closer to the right balance for a healthy voice.

Why I Don’t Watch Talent Shows

I recently attended a seminar called The Piano Teachers Survival Guide. I had just started teaching basic piano, and I thought that this talk would be about general teaching technique and possibly some marketing ideas.

Instead the speaker, concert pianist and educator Anthony Williams, talked a bit about piano technique but mostly about playing notes vs expressing feelings.

Anthony said that he sometimes puts a painting in front of a pianist and ask them to play what they see, which I think is a fantastic idea. He reinforced what I have been thinking for years – that technique without feeling is worth nothing. What is the point to being able to sing or play an instrument ‘perfectly’ if neither you nor your audience is moved in any way?

Unfortunately, this is why, although I am a vocal coach, I don’t watch talent shows.  I did at one time, but felt that I was just witnessing a parade of impersonators. At that time the template was Beyonce and then it became Adele and it’s probably now Ed Sheeran.  I have nothing against those singers but we don’t need more than one of them! All I could see and hear on those shows were gestures and vocal gymnastics, so I stopped watching them.. 

I will freely admit that when I first started singing ‘seriously’ and teaching, I was all about the technique.  There was so much to learn that I temporarily forgot about what lies beneath.  I was concentrating so much on the breathing and the vocal cord closure etc, that if you asked me what the song was about, I’d have to go back and read the lyrics!  However, one day in a masterclass, a teacher advised me to Tell The Story, and I never looked back.  I believe this is the key to singing or playing in a way that connects with yourself and your audience.

I still believe that a good technique is a necessary foundation for you to be able to have a wide range of tools at your disposal from an artistic point of view; and from a practical point of view it’s difficult for a gigging and/or recording singer to maintain vocal health without having any technique at all.  However this is just the foundation.  If you can’t bring yourself into the material somehow, believe it’s true for you in some way, then the technique is worthless.

I’d like to know how you feel about this, whether you agree or disagree. Please comment below!

I Hate Exercise!

I’m not a sports fan but I do take notice when events like the Olympics and Paralympics come around, as I love to hear stories of how the athletes got to that point. Gymnast Amy Tinkler prepared for, and did very well in, her GCSE exams while working her way to a bronze medal in Rio. Runner Mo Farah cried after winning one race, as he recalled the weeks of being away from his family during the lead up to the games. I am truly impressed by their discipline, and their ability to keep the vision alive under trying circumstances.

Many successful people swear that their exercise routine feeds into their daily work, and helps them to maintain their stamina when the going gets tough.  The CEOs of Virgin, Apple, Disney and many others start their day with a workout (they all seem to get up at about 4am as well, but that’s another blog!) Business coach Shanda Sumpter runs a business course which includes training for long distance races, as she strongly believes that endurance training gives you the grit you need for success in the business world.

I believe this can also have great implications for singers. It is generally agreed that as your vocal cords reside in your body, whatever you do with your body will affect your voice. Apart from gaining mental benefits from exercise, you are building up physical strength, muscle control and improving your breathing – all of which help with singing.

So although I don’t plan to put myself forward for the Tokyo Olympics, I have re-started my yoga workouts, and I’ve put them in my calendar to keep myself on track. 

Do you have an exercise routine, and do you think it makes a difference to how successful a person is in the rest of their life?  Comments below!

I Can’t Fit It All In!

I saw an interesting quote on Facebook the other day: ‘Beyoncé has the same 24 hours as the rest of us’. At first I laughed, then I thought about it.  OK, so I’m guessing that Mrs Carter doesn’t have to make time to sort out the washing at home, but you get the point.

If you have been struggling to ‘keep all the plates spinning’, I hope that the list I am sharing below will be of some help:

Decide your priorities – what do you really want and how do you want your life to look? This is crucial in working out what has to be done – it kind of follows on from my last blog: ‘what’s your why?’

Decide which things you really have to do yourself, i.e. actions that fall into the list of priorities, and that no one else can do

If possible, arrange for other people to do the things you don’t really have to do – at home this could be delegating chores or paying a cleaner, at work this could be making sure you are not unnecessarily doing someone else’s job (this can happen if you actually feel it will ‘save time’) or asking for/hiring an assistant. People who like to do everything themselves (myself included) will struggle with this one – it is really important, though, to find a way to reduce the time you spend on unnecessary tasks

Live the calendar – I am still mastering this one.This means that instead of just making a list of things to do (one of my favourite things to do!), you allocate time in your calendar to those things. This can give you the reassurance that you actually do have the time to do everything you want, or it could force you to prioritise by doing some things later or not doing them at all.

What would happen if…?A good way to choose between two or more ‘urgent’ tasks is to ask yourself ‘what would happen if I didn’t do this now?’ If the sky will not fall on your head, it’s probably OK to do something else first.

Do you really want to do what you say you want to do? You may have to read that again! Sometimes we keep putting off things on our list of things to do.It may be a good idea to look at why you are not doing it. It may be something that can’t be avoided and you will need to just make a start and/or break it down into manageable chunks.If it’s a burden you have laid on yourself, maybe it’s based on an out of date need or want, and can be abandoned without guilt.Or you may feel intimidated by it, in which case making a start or breaking it down could make it easier to get through. Or (gasp!) ask for help!

Allow time for planning. You need to be able to review what you have done and think about the next steps

Allow time for reflection. The temptation is to feel you have to be doing something ‘useful’ all the time, which can lead to stress and burnout. This seemingly passive activity can yield a lot of productive ideas. At the very least it will allow your brain to cool down!

Allow time for relaxation. This should need no explanation.

Watch out for time-wasting activity. Planning, reflection and relaxation are necessary but make sure you are not just procrastinating in disguise!

Please comment below if this blog rings a bell with you, or if you have found useful ways to get organised.