Singing: an Act of Courage

I once had a client who was very enthusiastic about discovering her voice, but couldn’t help but be fidgety while she sang.  She suggested that the reason she is fidgety while singing is because it was a way of her coping with the ‘discomfort of it all’.  Walking into an audition room, walking out on stage, a voice lesson, a recording session…those are some of the instances in which singers are faced with the courageous decision to use their instrument and all in front of an audience.  The audience can be supportive, encouraging, or highly critical; a mixed bag of responses.  Singing requires us to give ourselves permission to use our voices no matter what the response will be.

Author Michael Hyatt says “courage is the willingness to act in spite of fear”.  As singers, no matter how hard it may be to share our voices with the audience, the love of our craft outweighs the fear of disapproval of others.  Singing is being ok with diving into the unknown.  Whether you are just discovering your voice for the first time, or if you are a seasoned singer, it takes tremendous courage to push forward and let your voice be heard.  Even if you are polished singer who has studied the craft for years or you have prepared a lot for this big audition.  It is understanding that no matter how much rehearsal time you have had, you simply can’t predict the outcome of your performance.  The singer must be in a state of ‘not knowing’ and that takes tremendous courage.

Courage doesn’t mean resisting fear, it’s allowing the fear (or nerves) to be there, working with the nerves and going ahead with the performance.  In addition, singing is an act of courage because it requires us to be ok with being vulnerable.  The voice is such a personal instrument to begin with.  Then add in an audience, a stage, a mic…etc.  As best selling author/researcher Brene Brown puts it, “you can’t get to courage without walking through vulnerability.”

Alida Headshot 2015Alida is a singer and pianist based in Vancouver, Canada.  A graduate of UBC Music, Alida is also a certified IVA singing teacher.   www.alidavocalstudio.com

5 Ways Adults Benefit from Music Lessons

 

I recently had a family member tell me how ecstatic they were after their very first accordion lesson with an inspiring music teacher.  As a singing and piano teacher for the past 7 years, I have immensely enjoyed seeing the changes that the practice of music can bring to people’s lives, not just kids but adults too.

But somewhere between graduation and that serious job offer, some adults tend to push any creative pursuits to the side.  Many have forgotten that their past musical education or choir experience used to not only bring them joy but enhance their lives on so many levels.  Well, it’s never too late to start up again, and here are just some of the many reasons to make a music lesson a priority:

It contributes to better work/life balance.   Not having time is a big issue for some, especially being influenced by a culture of workaholism.  But with more and more companies understanding that work life balance leads to better employee productivity,  extra curricular activities are being encouraged in the workplace.  Some companies are now offering employee benefits that can be used towards such activities.  Booking that singing lesson means you have another activity outside of work to attend to.  It means you have to ‘switch off’ work mode for that hour.

It fosters mindfulness.  Studies show how mindfulness can lead to better health and wellbeing.  Music just like any other art form, allows us to escape the constant chatter of our thoughts.  The practice of playing a musical instrument or the practice of singing takes us a bit further.  In a world where multi-tasking is a full time job, music can allow us to focus and be present which will reap rewards for our health, while lessening anxiety and depression for some.

It helps us escape electronics. When was the last time we weren’t glued to our phones or tablets or computer screens?  With a one hour music lesson, you are forced to shut off the madness from the outside world and really connect with what’s in front of you.  It’s a nice breather to hold an instrument vs holding a phone. Or to actually vocalize and use your voice, instead of typing in words in a text message.

It enriches brain health.  Playing a musical instrument and singing require the use of both sides of the brain simultaneously. Studies show that studying music can improve memory and cognitive function.

It sets an example and is inspiring to those around us.   The practice of music requires focus, determination and discipline.  This can be inspiring for those in our lives including children.  I am reminded of a fabulous quote by Marianne Williamson:  “…as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same.   As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Alida Headshot 2015

Alida is a singer and pianist based in Vancouver, Canada.  A graduate of UBC Music, Alida is also a certified IVA singing teacher.   www.alidavocalstudio.com

 

 

The Culture of Perfectionism in Performing Arts

 

When learning how to sing, or studying any performing art, let’s face it, perfectionism inhibits us.  For centuries, performing arts teachers and students have demanded perfection when it comes to their craft.  But in recent times, with new research, there seems to be more awareness that striving for excellence may be a better approach.  What’s the difference?  First let’s take a look at only a few ways in which perfectionism inhibits our progress.  (keeping in mind that there are many more ways)

Perfectionism has time limits to progress.  It demands that you already be at the finish line, as soon as possible, and leaves no room for slower steadier growth.  For example, during a first lesson, I’ve heard students say, “how come my voice isn’t fully connected at my passaggio?”  Rather than acknowledging “it may take some time before my bridge is fully polished, so I am willing to recognize that and work with the tools you’ve given me.”

Perfectionism leaves no room for YOU.   With perfectionism, it is only the ‘false self’ that gets strengthened, and you can’t be authentic.  Vulnerability is essential in singing and performing.  Without it, there is a huge wall between you and your audience.  Most audiences can’t relate to inauthentic performers and can see right through it.  This is why performers who are relatable and just themselves can sometimes sell the most concert tickets, and yet they don’t necessarily have the most flawless vocals.

“In a culture plagued with the notion of ‘hard work’, how can we strive for excellence as performers without compromising our balance as human beings.”

Perfectionism doesn’t allow for the present moment. It is sometimes too wrapped up in the end result and ‘getting it over with’.  Then when the end of the performance happens, very often the artist is left disappointed that it’s over so quickly, and they didn’t get to enjoy the process.

So where do we find the balance between doing well and keeping our sanity.  In a culture plagued with the notion of ‘hard work’, how can we strive for excellence as performers without compromising our balance as human beings.

There is a poem written by an unknown author called “Excellence vs Perfection and one of the quotes is: “Perfection is fear.  Excellence is risk”  So at some point we may need to take the risk of a new approach in going about our creative craft.  A process of self reflection may be necessary and here are some questions we can ask ourselves:

Is there a balance between technique and performance in my approach? Performance psychologist Noa Kajeyama puts it best: “The more you focus on technical perfection, the more nervous you will tend to be. Why? Because you don’t have much else going for you — and you know that the likelihood of a technically perfect performance is close to zero. There is a part of you that knows you are likely to fail from both a technical perspective and a “move the audience to tears” perspective. No wonder you’re nervous – you’re setting yourself up to fail.”

Am I over-practicing to the point of vocal or body fatigue, un-enjoyment, or self resentment?  Or am I using deliberate practice, shorter (more productive) practice times with more focus on weaker spots coming out of my practice sessions seeing more results.

Is someone pressuring me due to their own insecurities? (agents, managers, friends or family)  Do I need to set boundaries with those around me in order to excel at my craft without feeling psychological pressure?  Or am I pressuring myself due to my own insecurities?

Have I taken the time to reward myself for a job well done or to celebrate milestones in my progress?  Looking at the glass half full very often leads to greater achievements.

Am I relying on the approval of the audience?  Every artist knows that not everyone is going to like your performance. So focus on self-validation and work with a trusted and qualified teacher than can provide you with constructive feedback.

Lastly, when the state of perfectionism overpowers us, one of the most important and profound questions we can ask ourselves is…

When someone says I did a good job, do I have the courage to believe them? 

Headshot for website Alida is a singer, songwriter and musician based in Vancouver, Canada.  A graduate of UBC Music, Alida is also a certified IVA singing teacher.   www.alidavocalstudio.com

The Adele Effect

 

It’s no secret that Adele’s new release is having a profound effect on avid music listeners.  And who can forget the hilariously funny SNL skit with an arguing family interrupted and unified by “Hello”, which puts them in a trance-like state.  But why have so many re-fallen in love with Adele?  What is this trance-like state all about?  What is the Adele Effect?

It’s the songwriting.   The lyrics and the music.  Her use of everyday language in her phrases combined with haunting melodic lines, octave and 5th jumps, make for more musical movement.  Emotional lyrics in her verses followed by powerful ‘sing along’ hooks in the chorus.  Music and lyrics are both strong here.  Piano/vocal interwoven with strings and Gospel-like background vocals. What dominates is the vocal line…

It’s the voice.  Singing is the main focus here, not movement on stage, or overpowering rhythms.  Is this the return to vocal music as a preference?  In light of recent worldly events, are we craving emotional expression with the voice as the focused instrument?

Adele isn’t afraid of using her chest voice, mix voice and head voice. Her vocal style doesn’t overpower the naturalness in her tone.  While there are many singers who can outsing her, she is opening the mind of the average listener to new possibilities in vocal range.  She is challenging the vocal limits set by many singer/songwriters by evolving her vocal approach, and some may argue she has a long ways to go.  But no singer is vocally perfect.

It’s her authenticity:  Adele is just her vulnerable self on stage, she refuses cosmetic contracts and sticks with music, songwriting and performing as her purpose.  She is very humble in her interviews and that makes her even more likeable.

While in this trance-like state, let’s not forget the plethora of female and male vocalists who are underexposed that can outsing Adele any day.  But if it’s Adele that can inspire listeners to a return to vocal music – and interrupt family arguments, then so be it.

Alida is a singer, songwriter and musician based in Vancouver, Canada.  A graduate of UBC Music, Alida is also a certified IVA singing teacher.   www.alidavocalstudio.com

6 Hints to Learning Your Next Musical Theatre Song

6 Hints to Learning Your Next Musical Number:

For singing actors it can sometimes be overwhelming to meet the demands of learning new repetoire for upcoming auditions or performances.  Sometimes it can take several days before a song is ready to be performed in one of those settings.  Here are some hepful hints that you can follow towards tackling that unfamiliar number:

Take out the acting temporarily: Very often singing actors want to jump into acting the song without having learned the song entirely yet.  ‘Shelf’ the acting for now and you can bring it back in, once you become more familiar with the melodic phrasing.  Sometimes the acting can distract us and prevent us from learning the correct melody versus how we think the song goes.

Work with the sheet music.  Unlike pop recordings, most of the time you have to stay true to what the composer wrote.  Working with the score will make sure you have the correct rests, note values, tempo, and suggested dynamics.  Sites like musicnotes.com are great because you can find the original key and also change keys if necessaray.

Listen, then sing: Sight read while following along with original cast recordings.  Let your ear become familiar with the phrasing.  If the phrasing is quite fast and you aren’t sure about the melody, sight read the melody at the piano, or have a teacher play the melody on the piano at a slower tempo.  Like a pianist would, work the piece in sections, rather than trying to sing the song in its entirety from beginning to end.  Understand the song structure and take the verses and just work them.  Then move on to the chours.  If you come a accross a challenging phrase, break it down and practice that melodic line about 4-5 times and then move on to the next one.

Modify vowels when necessary:  In musical theatre (depending on what style of musical theatre it is) very often the lyrics are pronounced more articulately than other styles of music.  Work with your singing teacher to ensure you are pronouncing the lyrics correctly.  Sometimes you may have to modify the vowels especially when transitioning through vocal bridges.  For example, from the musical A Chorus Line:  “What I did for LAH-ve”, try modifying to “wh-uh-t uh-eye did for L-UH-VE” and see if you are able to remained vocally balanced on that sustained high note.  

Know where you need to breathe:  Breathing is not always before the next phrase,  sometimes breathing is carried over to the next for dramatic effect and the breathing may be delayed.  Mark out where you want or need to breathe.  Once again, listen to original cast recordings for reference, or conuslt wth your voice teacher.

Bring back the acting:  Most importantly, once you know the song well enough and have learned it ‘off book’, it’s time to bring back the acting.  This doesn’t mean staring straight ahead and pretending to feel something.  In her book “What Do I Do With My Hands, A Guide to Acting for the Singer” Rhonda Carlson suggests:  “The first thing you should ask yourself when you are performing a song is “To WHOM am I singing?….Next…WHY you are singing the song.  If your WHOM is going to be specific and real, he or she must be more than a stationary spot on the wall.  Instead, your WHOM must be living, breathing and responding in your mind’s eye.”  In other words, it has to be authentic.  What experience in your life can you recall in order to better relate to this song?  Working with an acting coach in the musical theatre field can be helpful in taking the characterization to the next level.

As challenging as it may be, the process of getting to know new repetoire can be very rewarding!  Don’t forget to applaud yourself when you’ve done all of your prep work.

Alida is a singing teacher in Vancouver and the owner of Alida Vocal Studio, which provides singing lessons to singers and actors.

Lessons from a Rock Star

Recently I attended an international voice teacher’s conference with the Institute for Vocal Advancement (IVA).  I learned so much and I look forward to sharing a lot of what I learned in your upcoming lessons.  One of the highlights was watching Dan Reynolds the lead singer of Imagine Dragons being interviewed.  His voice teacher Jeffrey Skouson asked him many questions related to his career but also his journey as a vocalist.  Here are 3 important ‘lessons’ that we can all use no matter where we our in our vocal journey:

Make vocal health a priority:  Dan stressed how much rest and eating habits can effect his voice and how he makes this a top priority to ensure his instrument (which is what people are coming to watch) is healthy.  He spoke about how he follows an anti inflammatory diet and ensures that he gets 8 hours of sleep every night.  Also, he doesn’t eat 4 hours before bed.  In a job where artists are needed not only on stage but in interviews, business meetings, ‘meet and greets’ the voice can get fatigued a lot faster than the average person.  Many artists have ended up in vocal trouble having to cancel concert tour dates (very recently Sam Smith) due to vocal health decline.

Vocalize daily:  Dan spoke about how he practices his last recorded singing lesson on a daily basis to ensure his voice stays in shape.  On stage he may work hard vocally and take some chances vocally,  but he can always come back to his technique in his lesson the next day to bring his voice back to balance.  “I listen to the 20 minute exercises from my last lesson and I notice that if I don’t do even one day, the next day my voice is not as controlled, I can’t hit the high notes the right way…it doesn’t matter if I have sang properly for a year, if I don’t continually do it, I lose it”

Stay grounded:  Dan said that when an artist becomes successful everyone asks about yourself and you can become as he put, a “sad individual”.  He spoke about how he doesn’t mind stopping to take pictures with fans and that fame doesn’t bother him because he has been able to stay grounded through this major change in his life.  He talked about how mowing his lawn is so important to him because it represents that he won’t ever have too big of an ego to want someone else to do it.  Not only is he a successful rockstar with millions of records sold, what’s so great is he has remained a great vocalist and a humble human being.

Alida is a singing teacher and the owner of Alida Vocal Studio, which provides singing lessons to vocalists of all ages and genres, based in Vancouver, BC Canada.

 

Vocal Happiness – Alida Vocal Studio Singing Lessons Vancouver

As singers, we sometimes are harsh critics of our own voices and we want our instruments to sound good as gold, 24/7.  Since our instrument is part of our body, that may not always be possible.  Colds, allergies, acid reflex, sleep, and training can all have an effect on whether our voices are functioning properly, let alone sounding good.  In shows like The Voice or American Idol, the feedback that’s given is either compliments or disapproval based on whether the singers “sounded good” or not.  The judges, as entertaining as they are, seldom give constructive feedback.  Most of the time, they don’t actually tell the singers HOW to make vocal changes or provide them with practical tools towards achieving better results.

Like those judges, sometimes singers can become their own worst critics and focus on aesthetics of their singing voice.  Instead of judging the sound of your voice,  a more constructive approach would be to work with a singing teacher to help ensure that your voice is functioning properly and is in balance.  The focus in the beginning should be on building your voice through healthy vocal technique.  The sound of your voice will improve if you have the right tools to practice and train with.  Keep in mind that your voice may not always sound the way you want it to and singers have to come to a point of acceptance with the sound of their voices and build on that.

We aren’t always going to like the sound of our own voices, so get to know what your voice sounds like by recording your practices and lessons.  Accept the voice you have, and build on it.  After all, happiness is loving what you already have.

Alida Annicchiarico is a certified IVA Singing Teacher based in Vancouver, Canada. Alida Vocal Studio provides singing lessons in Vancouver and also on Skype to singers from all ages and levels.  www.alidavocalstudio.com

The Four V’s of Singing

These four ingredients are fundamental for building a fantastic singing voice.  Keep these in mind as you work towards vocal development.

VOCALIZE:  Before singing a song, give yourself a vocal workout.  Get the blood flowing to the vocal cords by ‘warming up’.  Using different tools or vocal exercises, vocalizing is a healthy way of preparing your vocal cords to sing a song.  Spend at least 10-15 minutes doing continuous scales with different vowel consonant combinations.  Start off with a lip trill exercises or “bubble”.  Then move towards a “mum” or hooty “gee”.  Refer back to your last recorded voice lesson for vocalizing ideas and try to sing along with the recording.  Or download a trustworthy vocal app such as Voice Tutor.  If you can get into a routine of vocalizing before a song, you will notice your voice will be much more prepared for those difficult notes located usually in the chorus of a song.

VOLUME:  Volume in singing is the amount of air you decide to push through your windpipe or trachea to create sound.  It’s always important to “check-in” with your volume and ask yourself “how loud am I singing?”  Building awareness of how much volume you need to get the right vocal balance is key.  Keep in mind if you are singing pop music, you will be using a microphone at times.  So, if you’re singing too loudly and it’s amplified on a mic, you may get a few audience members covering their ears.   At the same time, it’s important to have some intensity of air coming through in order to create sound.

VOWEL:  Struggling on a particular phrase of a song?  “It’s just this one part, I can’t seem to get”.  I hear this quite frequently from singers.  The solution might be to take note of the vowels in the phrase.  Ask yourself “what vowel am I trying to sing”?  “Am I pronouncing the vowel correctly?”  “Am I widening the vowel or singing it in more of a ‘bratty’ smiling way”.   If that’s the case, try doing the opposite.  For example if you are trying to sing the word “love” and saying “LAAV” instead, chances are you are hiking up your larynx (the muscles surrounding the vocal cords) because you are widening the vowel unnecessarily.  This can lead to vocal strain.  Try pronouncing the vowel more like it’s written.  “Luv”  More often than not, if you’re pronouncing the vowel a little less wide, you will notice that you’ll not only get better tone, you’ll avoid straining.

VIBRATO:  Vibrato is a tremolo or pitch oscillation sound effect that instruments can produce.  In singing, it’s sort of that shaky sound a singer makes at the end of a phrase.  In classical or opera repertoire, vibrato is used frequently.  In contemporary music, vibrato is generally used at the end of a phrase here and there throughout the song.  Vibrato is not just a styling effect, it also helps you to sing with more vocal balance of air and muscle.  So it’s really good to make a habit of practicing it.  How do you activate your vibrato?  One way is to try gently pushing on your tummy when you sustain a note.  Work with a vocal coach that can offer you some solutions to get a more even and consistent vibrato.  You don’t have to saturate your songs with vibrato (that is, if you aren’t singing opera).  But here and there, and especially when rehearsing a difficult high note.  Try sustaining that particular note with vibrato.  You may find it’s easier to dwell on that note a bit longer with the right muscle/air balance using vibrato.

Remember singing should be effortless, but you need healthy muscle memory to do that.   Working with a voice teacher on a regular basis, combined with daily practice, will help you develop your voice healthily.  Find a voice teacher that can help you access those areas of your voice that are the most challenging and that guides you to make the above ‘V words’ a priority.

Alida is a singer/songwriter/pianist and actor from Vancouver, BC Canada.  She is also a certified Speech Level Singing teacher.  Her vocal studio website is: www.singinglessonsinvancouver.com

Accepting Your Voice

Accepting Your Voice

by Alida Annicchiarico
Don’t try to make it sound “pretty” or what you think sounds “pretty”. Use your natural voice, you know, the one that you speak in all day. If you train it effectively, the results can be very rewarding. Let your vocal coach point you in the right direction and guide you towards healthy vocal development. Worrying about what you sound like will take the enjoyment out of singing.

“I want to sound like Chris Cornell or Adele immediately.” Trying to sound like anyone else is a long lost goal since no two voices are alike in timbre. Don’t get me wrong, there are some great impersonators out there who have mastered the art of mimicking. If you’d like to impersonate, then that’s a different path. But if you would like to develop your true voice, sing your own tunes, or even cover some oldies, Speech Level Singing vocal technique can help you maintain good healthy vocals and your style will develop through the technique. You will get to know your voice better and your unique tone shines through as a result, which becomes your “style.”

Trying to change your voice when you go to sing can sometimes do more harm than good. For example, we may try to force the sound through our nose, thinking that’s our “style”. When in fact, the singer’s true voice isn’t nasal naturally. Singing nasal is usually singing with a higher larynx which over time can cause vocal fatigue and may even lead to vocal health problems.
Your voice can and will get better with time and the practice of SLS technique. First off, it requires a lot of patience and acceptance. Secondly, rather than beating yourself up about not sounding “good enough”, go with what singing feels like. If it feels strained or requires a lot of effort, then chances are you’re headed in the wrong direction. You may need some more lessons or practice of the vocal exercises. Lastly, instead of expecting that your voice should automatically be at the same level as someone else’s, a more constructive approach is to focus on your own personal vocal development. Don’t compare your vocal progress to anyone else’s. Accept your voice and work with what you’ve got!

Awesome video from VocalizeU

Check out this awesome video by VocalizeU. It breaks down exactly what I teach, having a low stable larynx and connection from your chest voice up into your head voice. They explain it in such a great way!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3lyWKDEXIow