My Blog


Breathing for Singing Part I

Most vocalists focus an enormous amount of energy on breathing, which is a concept that is somewhat over-emphasized. Breathing correctly, is certainly important, but the reality is that breathing for singing is just an extension of breathing for life. We all know how to breathe, but in life, we can breathe whenever we wish, while in singing, the music dictates when and where we can breathe. It's also not as important to sustain a certain tone in speech, while it's necessary to be in control of tone and muscle movement during singing. Proper breathing allows for that.

The first step to correct breathing for singing is to master posture. Stand with weight evenly distributed on both feet. Take a deep breath in without worrying how the breath is taken. Notice how the chest rises. Now exhale while keeping the chest at the previous, forward, height. The position in which you are left is the correct posture for singing. The head is now aligned over the neck, neck aligned over the shoulders, and shoulders aligned over the hips. The sternum is forward, the head and shoulders aren't too far forward or back, and the rib cage is lifted.

In the next post, I will explain how to inhale correctly and the importance of correct inhalation.


Practicing Tips Part II

In this post I will aim to correct some of the common mistakes I see in students when they practice.

Mistake #1: Always playing the piece from the beginning to the end.
It certainly seems logical to begin playing a musical piece or song from the beginning to the very end. The issue with this is that we run through mistakes and by the time we get to the end of the piece, we can't figure out how we fixed the mistake, or we may not have ever figured out how to fix the mistake. Then if we begin the piece again, the same mistake will happen again without because we never fixed the mistake.

I suggest beginning a practice by playing the song or piece all the way through, noting problem areas, then working out problem areas alone. Slowly add a few measures before and after the problem area, adding more and more after mastering each section until you have the complete piece again. For example, I have a problem with measure 7. After working out measure 7, I add measure 8. Then after mastering measure 7 and 8, I add measure 5 and 6.

Mistake #2: Rushing through a song or piece quickly, out of time to figure out the notes.
I see this often with children. They try to play through the notes without considering timing to master the notes and fingering. In theory this seems logical, but often the student gets incorrect timing stuck in their head. Eventually they make up their own rhythm for the notes they are simply playing through and breaking the incorrect rhythm is challenging.

Mistake #3: Not establishing a tempo before starting.
I can't stress the importance of establishing a beat before beginning. If you are unaware of your tempo before you begin, you won't establish one while playing. For beginners, it may be necessary to count off a full measure out loud before beginning. This helps create an inner sense of beat that is imperative for any good musician.


Practicing Tips Part I

Practicing will be the subject of my next few posts. Good practicing can be the difference between a successful musical experience or an unsuccessful one.

In order to see improvement, regular, at-home, practice is needed for all instruments- piano, guitar, and voice all included. Studies show that with daily practice, an instrument can be learned proficiently in 2 years. Most of us don't have the time, inclination, or for little ones, attention span for daily practice, but we can commit to practicing regularly.

The times and amount of weekly practice listed below is for the recreational musician. If you have serious musical aspirations, daily practice will be necessary.

4-6 years old: 3 times per week, 15 minutes each session 7-9 years old: 4-5 times per week, 20 minutes each session 10-13 years old: 4-5 times per week, 30 minutes each session Teens and adults: 5 times per week 30 minutes each session


Musical Origins

Typically, there is confusion with some of the basics of music notation. Sometimes learning the origins of the notation is helpful in eliminating the confusion. Here are a few explanations that I use commonly for beginners to understand the ideas of the staff and dynamics.

Piano: The piano was the first keyboard instruments that could be played at varying volumes- it was predated by such instruments as the harpsichord and clavichord, both of which could not be played at different volumes. The piano's proper name is pianoforte, which literally means "soft loud" in Italian because it could played either soft or loud, depending on how hard one plays the keys. Children normally are confused that the dynamic sign of "piano" means soft because it is the same name as the instrument. It is important to understand that the sign was not named after the instrument, but that the instrument was named after the sign.

The Grand Staff: The grand staff consists of the bass and treble clef staffs connected with a line and bracket. The original staff had no clefs. It had enough lines and spaces to notate the notes that could be played on the instruments that had been invented at that time. As new instruments were invented with wider ranges, it was necessary to add more lines to the staff to notate to new pitches. Eventually the staff consisted of 11 lines. This was very difficult to read, so the grand staff was invented. Each of the two staffs consists of 5 lines. They are connected by the one ledger line that represents middle C.


Proper Age For Singing Lessons

The most common request I get is to give voice lessons to young children. Young children often first express interest in music by singing, so parents feel like voice lessons would be a good introduction to music. Here is my answer to that request.

I don't give true "voice lessons" until the child has gone through puberty. For girls, I'll start around age 11 or 12 depending on the child and for boys I try to wait until 14 years old or so.

True "voice lessons" require a lot of experimentation. Learning to sing is different than learning to play another instrument because it's internal, not external. It can take a while to understand a technique because one must feel it internally. During the process of trying to understand, a student will try many different things in hopes of feeling the correct technique. That type of experimentation can be taxing on a young voice. During puberty the larynx grows and becomes less fragile than the vocal mechanism of a child. When this growth occurs, this is what we hear as the "voice changing", or deepening- a process that noticeably happens to boys, but even subtly to girls.

At a young age, this is what I will do. I will do one lesson time slot (a half hour per week or an hour every other week) where we can learn an instrument (either piano or guitar) and at the end of each class, we can sing a little for fun. As they get older and have more general musical understanding, I will slowly introduce more concrete vocal concepts that are gentler on the voice.

By the time they are old enough for true vocal training, they have a great musical foundation.