Preparing for Your Voice Lesson
What to Expect from Voice Lessons
THE VOCAL TECHNIQUE
In 1999, after years of struggling to to find a vocal coach who could help me build a solid, healthy vocal technique, I met and began studying voice with the late voice teacher Leona Mathews. Mathews was a master at teaching breath management and support. In only a short period of study with her, my voice began to soar like never before. No longer did I experience tension in my throat while singing and my breath became the fuel for the sound rather than something that stopped the sound all together. Suddenly the voice had more power and resonance than ever before. Fellow singers noticed the difference in my voice right away and began asking for tips to help their voice as well.
In my last lesson with Leona before her unexpected passing she said to me "Jeff, you are going to be a voice teacher, and I want you to carry these ideas into the future for singers to learn and master". After her passing I began sharing the ideas with any singer who would listen and each would have a similar experience as I. The next step would be to find a teacher who taught similar ideas of breath management and support.
Soon after Mathew's passing, I was blessed to hear about another voice teacher, Maestro David L. Jones, who would not only carry on the work that Leona started, but would fundamentally change my entire approach to singing by teaching me the concepts of the Swedish Italian vocal technique.
The Swedish Italian vocal technique is designed to balance the voice from top to bottom with no obvious breaks. The voice becomes fuller, richer, flexible, more powerful and certainly more beautiful with regular application of the concepts and exercises of the technique.
Voice Lessons will focus on five major areas of study: register balance, breathing, range building, body posture, and repertory.
During your lesson you will learn exercises designed to balance the registers of chest, middle and head voice. Often, singers have over-developed one register of their voice which can leave the other registers feeling weak and disconnected. Balancing the registers is very much like taking your car in for a re-alignment of the wheels. Suddenly, it drives more smoothly and doesn't veer off to one side. Once the registers of the voice begin to align, the singer can then begin to work towards more power and resonance.
Often, I hear from new singers "I just don't understand how to breathe for singing". Breathing is fundamental to balancing the voice, and in each lesson, you will learn dynamic concepts of breath management designed to make singing feel like you are simply breathing notes set to music!
Range building is another important area of focus. Through fun and challenging exercises, you will easily gain several notes on the top and bottom of your voice. Singers must have full "range of motion" in their voice in order to maintain optimum vocal health.
Body work is an integral part of vocal technique. In each lesson you will learn concepts rooted in Yoga, Alexander technique, Feldenkrais and Breathing Coordination which will allow your voice to grow as never before. A free, strong, supple body is key to a free, strong, supple voice!
Once the voice is running smoothly and efficiently, repertory work will follow. We will focus on one or two songs of your choice. You will need to bring two copies of the song/s with clearly printed chord progressions above each line of music, as this makes sight reading easier for accompaniment. Jeff will accompany most songs on the piano. However, if a piece has an extremely challenging piano transcription, you may be asked to provide an accompaniment track for the lesson. You may bring this on your phone or tablet to be played through the studio sound system. If you are taking voice lessons online, please have a backing track available as Internet lag time can often hinder piano accompaniment.
For singer/songwriters: If you are working on an original piece with guitar or piano, be sure to bring a lyric sheet, preferably with chord progressions for Jeff to view as you accompany yourself.
APPLYING THE TECHNIQUE
Many students want to know how to apply the vocal exercises to song repertory. During the lesson we will break down songs on which you are working into phrases. I will show you how to apply certain vocal exercise to any given phrase, in any type of music. Once all the notes and rhythms are securely in place, squarely in the center of the pitches with good intonation, we will work on stylistic choices that will give the song your individual stamp and make it yours!
RECORDING THE LESSON
Singers are encouraged to record their lessons. We provide two options for recording including a Roland CD recorder and and a Zoom H5 digital recorder. For the Roland you will need to bring a blank recordable CD, and for the Zoom, a 2gig to 32gig SD card. You may also record the lesson on your phone, but as the lesson is one hour in length, you will need to ensure you have plenty of free space on your device. Filming of lessons is allowed as long as the camera is only pointed to you. I do not give permission to have filmed lessons uploaded to social media sites such as YouTube, Instagram, FaceBook or Twitter. Video recordings of lessons are for the express purpose of self study.
There is an old saying that adequately addresses the issue of practicing. “How will you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, Practice, Practice.” Today’s hectic society does not make it easy for a person to find the time to practice. However, singers need to practice regularly in order to develop the muscle memory needed to solidify the technique. If you want a fabulous body, you need to work out regularly, watch your diet, get plenty of rest, drink lots of water, and avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs. The same rule applies to your voice. It needs time to exercise. A little practice every day is good. Practicing for couple of hours broken into a three-part session every day is even better.
Finally, it is also important for the singer to drink lots of water while practicing. Think of your voice as a Mercedes engine. You would not drive it without oil to properly lubricate it. The voice functions best when it is well rested, sufficiently hydrated and exercised regularly.
Rest days are very important especially if you are singing in a show, a band, a church, synagogue or choir. One day off completely from singing and speaking can be hugely beneficial to the voice if it is being used in a dynamic way everyday.
Sleep is your voice's best friend. 6 hours of sleep per night is barely enough for the voice to recover and recuperate from a long day of singing. 7-8 hours of sleep is highly recommended for optimum vocal health.
SCHEDULING REGULAR LESSONS
For best results, weekly or bi-weekly lessons are recommended. Many singers will even double up on lessons per week if they are preparing for a role, a tour or a big audition. However, once a week is quite sufficient, especially at the beginning of study. Once you feel comfortable with the exercises and concepts, you can certainly cut back to every other week.
PROFESSIONALISM & CANCELLATION POLICY
I have a 24-hour cancellation policy that works like this. If you do not cancel your lesson within a 24-hour time frame, you will be charged for that lesson. If I cancel your lesson within a 24-hour time frame, your next lesson will be free.
Punctuality is always appreciated. However, lesson time is yours, so if you are late, it is your time that is lost. I do understand that unforeseen events can prevent you from being on time. If you are late, as a cause of such an event, I’ll be happy to extend your lesson time into the next hour, provided that there is no one else scheduled at that time. Otherwise, I will try to make up for lost time in future lessons. Please call me as soon as you know that you will be late.
Payment for the lesson is due at the time the service is rendered. If you are paying with a credit or debit card, I use SQUARE payment. If you are paying cash please bring correct cash as I do not always have change with me.
CLASSICAL VS. POP
Students often ask if this technique will make them sound like an Opera singer. My answer to that question is, “only if you want it to.” While the technique is rooted in old world, Italian concepts, I have modified the exercises to fit today's singing styles for pop, rock, musical theater and R&B. Furthermore, having a solid classical foundation in any art form will only help the artist become greater in his/her craft. For example, a person who wants to become a great Jazz dancer will need a good foundation in Ballet. Ballet allows the dancer to develop balance in the body, lengthen their muscles, and develop a strong inner core. Using these classic principles, a Ballet dancer can easily learn a Jazz routine or Hip Hop routine. The same is true, when you study Classical techniques in voice. Many times in my career I have been asked to perform various music styles such as Pop, Rock, Opera, and Country all in the same show. Using a technique that is based on classical principles has allowed my voice to become more versatile and keep it fresh and ringing throughout the entirety of a long performance.
Female students are often concerned with the art of belting. In today’s demanding industry, the female voice is often required to belt to the top of her chest voice in one song and then sing in head voice for another song. The concepts and exercises of the technique will allow you to develop a solid chest belt or mixed belt as high as needed in a healthy way that won't feel like belting at all. The voice will remain balanced, which will allow the singer to switch to head voice easily when needed. You will develop a true healthy sound for belting through breath management and vowel alteration.
ALCOHOL, CIGARETTES, AND DRUGS
Alcohol has become part of every day life in today’s world. Unfortunately, it wreaks havoc on the vocal cords and the esophagus. Moderation is the key. The more you drink, the less lubricated the vocal cords will become. Drinking heavily will also cause acid reflux which is a real voice killer.
Cigarettes of any kind are completely out of the question for singers. Most people know about the harmful effects of smoking to overall health. However, cigarettes are especially hazardous to aspiring singers because they literally burn the thin edges of the vocal cords resulting in a raspy sound, and thereby loose its beauty, resonance and overall quality. If a raspy sound is what you are searching for, consider other healthier ways to achieve it. Smoking will not help you become a good singer by any means.
Drugs of the illicit nature further hinder any type of healthy vocal function. A singer should think of himself or herself as a champion athlete. Illicit drugs have no place in this playing field, period.