Ever Wondered Why That Song Is Stuck In Your Head?

Last night Glee rocked out to Van Halen’s “Hot For Teacher”, pepped up some Hall & Oates, and ended with Adele’s “Rumor Has It/Someone Like You” for an awesome final mash-up.  How many of you woke up with the “rumor has it” line stuck in your head?

We’ve all been there: you wake up with one line from a song as your first thought.  Later on, throughout the day, any time you let your mind wander you’re instantly singing that same line again, looping over and over.

But have you ever wondered why songs get stuck?  If you’ve ever found yourself singing a particular chorus or verse every few minutes, scientists have now determined the factors involved.  MSN enlightened us this week in their The Body Odd column:

Known as earworms, these random snippets of songs or melodies pop into our minds repeating themselves again and again like a broken record.Studies suggest that 90 percent of people get them at least once a week. Over the last decade, researchers have spent time collecting data to learn who gets earworms, how often they occur, how long they last and which songs won’t budge from our brains.

Now, a new British study in the journal Psychology of Music has tried to understand their origins. They looked at how earworms, which psychologists call involuntary musical imagery, get started in the first place.

Researchers collected data from 604 people who completed an online survey. After analyzing the responses, they identified four main triggers for earworms. The most common one was music exposure, either recently hearing a tune or repeatedly hearing it. A second reason was memory triggers, meaning that seeing a particular person or word, hearing a specific beat, or being in a certain situation reminds you of a song.

The third reason for earworms is your emotional frame of mind, or “affective states.”  Feeling stressed, surprised or happy when you hear a song may make it stick in your head. And a fourth cause was “low attention states.”  A wandering mind, whether from daydreaming or dreams at night, can set off this involuntary musical imagery.

So there you have it – leave your mind vulnerable and you might be stuck with a certain song for days on end.  Researchers have also found that musician’s earworms usually last longer that most.  But what about getting it out of your head?  That’s still a mystery.  Some experts suggest distracting yourself – so head on over to our Facebook page to do just that, and let us know your thoughts!  What’s the longest you’ve had a melody stuck in your head?

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Tips and Tricks: Memorizing Music Made Easy

As a music enthusiast, you’ve probably already heard all of the studies on music education.  It’s no secret that learning music as a child helps with confidence levels, math skills and goal-setting.  But this story sheds even more light on the benefits of music.  The Society for Neuroscience presented a case at their annual meeting of a 68-year old German cellist with a brain infection that wiped out his memory, leaving him in an amnesiac state, unable to remember much of his past.  Yet miraculously, doctors found he could still remember scales, rhythms and intervals of music he once played before the illness, and he scored normally on a standard test for musical memory.  The case furthers evidence that musical memories often endure long after other memories are inaccessible.  Now that is the power of music!

When you’re first starting out learning an instrument, memorizing music is an important, although sometimes difficult, task – even if your memory is intact.  This can be especially tricky for pianists, who have two hands to remember.  Practice may make perfect, but we also wanted to share some additional memorization tips to keep in mind:

1. From day 1, practice your music with the intent of internalizing and memorizing it. Don’t wait until you’ve learned the piece to begin memorizing it.

2. Use good fingering and use it consistently. It will take a lot longer to learn the piece if you are using different fingerings every time.  Writing your fingerings in the score will help (especially if you decide to use fingering other than what is indicated in the score).

3. Always memorize the dynamics, articulations and other markings on the page along with the notes. Don’t wait until you have the notes mastered!  It’s difficult to go back and fix things later.  It’s better — although perhaps more tedious initially — to learn it right the first time.

4. Watch your hands as you play. Closing your eyes all of the time isn’t a good idea: when performing, you might look at your hands and suddenly everything looks foreign.  Get used to watching your hands.  Look for patterns as you play.

5. Practice slowly. If you play with a fast tempo as you are trying to memorize, you are strengthening mostly your muscle memory (which is not enough, on its own).  Practicing slowly is harder, and forces you to strengthen other things, like your visual, tactile, and intellectual memories.

6. Memorize in small sections, usually just four measures at a time — but sometimes two measures at a time may be necessary.  Once you’ve gone through the entire piece in this manner, try doubling the number of measures and going through the whole process again.

7. Repetition, repetition, repetition! Don’t be discouraged if you return to the piece the next day and find that everything you worked on memorizing yesterday seems to be gone from your memory.  It’s part of the process.  Re-memorize those sections.  Each time you return to a section, it will become more solid in your memory.

Once the music is in your head and you’re not relying on your sheet music, you’ll have much more freedom to really feel the music and become a true performer. You can also work on your memorization with piano exercises outside of the studio.



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In Honor Of Amps That Go Up To 11…

If you’re a fan of the rock mockumentary This is Spinal Tap, you know the significance of 11 – you know, one louder than 10?  It’s a big deal, folks.  So much so that fans have dubbed today, 11/11 – among other things – Nigel Tufnel Day in honor of that special amplifier.  (Check out the iconic movie clip here.)

So today, crank your volume up to 11 and check out these other LOUD things in rock & roll history:

Loudest Song Shorter Than Two Seconds
Grindcore, a particularly grating subgenre of hardcore punk, is often characterized by loud, brief songs. “You Suffer,” a 1987 song from genre trailblazers Napalm Death, holds the Guinness World Record for shortest song ever recorded, at 1.316 seconds. Appropriately enough, it was chosen as the band’s debut single, released as a 7″ on Earache Records.

Loudest Mouths In Rock
Oasis bandmates Liam and Noel Gallagher have been publicly feuding since the group’s first American tour in 1994 (and that’s not including the bros’ personal squabbles before Oasis). While younger brother Liam handled vocal duties, older brother Noel wrote the band’s music and generally controlled their creative direction. But egos and grudges got in the way quickly, leading to public fights (including a recorded argument on a 1995 bootleg single and Liam’s last minute withdrawal from Oasis’ 1996 “MTV Unplugged” performance), personal ridicule, and constant conflict that’s never let up since the band’s start. Even after Noel quit the band in 2009 to start his own solo project, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, the siblings have hardly backed down, and it seems we can never go a few months without another outburst.

Loudest Rapper Alive
There’s nothing quiet about DMX. When he speaks, it sounds like he’s yelling. So when he’s yelling, you definitely pay attention. When Complex magazine did their ranking of Loudest Rappers Ever, DMX took the crown from other rambunctious rhymers like Lil Jon and Mystikal. That’s a pretty deafening statement.

Loudest Band Known to Hold Audiences Hostage
A lot of loud, aggressive bands came out of New York’s early 80s new wave punk scene, though the loudest and most aggressive were probably Swans, whose early shows were sometimes shut down by police due to threatening decibel levels. Said frontman Michael Gira: “There was one European show in a barn that only held 400 people. The stage wasn’t wide enough to put the entire PA in front, so we put half of it in the front and half of it at the back, so the audience was smashed between! The walls, ceiling, everything was shaking, raining down years of collected dust. That was good.”

Loudest Band (International)
Guitar Wolf live the loud life (say that six times). These three guys from Japan playing fast and furious garage inspired punk rock may be something that could potentially cause hearing damage. In fact, their 1999 album “Jet Generation” is said to be so loud that Matador Records claimed that “The levels exceeded the theoretical maximum possible on compact disk audio. In other words, ‘Jet Generation’ is the loudest CD in history.” These guys definitely turn it up.

Check out the full list of 11 Loud Moments in Music on Billboard.com.


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A Guitar Made of Legos, and Other Crazy Designs You Need to See

Here at TakeLessons, we want to help you improve your skills, learn something new and, ultimately, be a rockstar! Whether you want to play classical or shred guitar, the great thing about music is how diverse it can be, and how you can really show off your personality with what you play and how you play it.

Take the guitar, for example.  If you’ve already scheduled your lessons, purchased a guitar and mastered the art of the guitar spin (optional), but want to make an even bigger impression, we have some ideas for you.  We came across these photos of off-the-wall guitar designs from Design Buzz and just had to share:

Lego guitar1. Lego Guitar

Remember the small plastic building blocks you used to play with in your childhood? It seems like the ghosts of your past have come back to haunt you. This time, it’s in the form of a guitar, the body of which is made up of black LEGO bricks. It has everything – from pickups to amplifiers – but lacks the strings. If the latter are fitted, the guitar is ready to rock the world.


Big Foot guitar2. Big Foot Guitar

Big Foot may be meeting a slow death as a legend, but its inspiration seems to pull it back to the limelight again. George Martin, a guitar builder, introduced the Bigfoot guitar at a Miami festival, stunning everyone present with the bulky, odd-looking frame. Though it looks too bulky to be playable, the design itself has gathered its own followers, no matter what it sounds like – or whether it sounds like anything at all!


Pikasso guitar3. Pikasso Guitar

What is formed when you attach four fret-boards to a single guitar-body? Linda Manzer’s Pikasso Guitar. With two sound-holes and forty-two strings, this guitar faces about 1000 lbs of pressure when all of the strings are taut. This custom-made guitar is designed in such a way that the guitarist feels no problem while playing it or even switching from one fret-board to the other. By using the guitar, the guitarist can play any scale and tune to his or her own liking.


Alright, so which one of these guitars did you just add to your wish list?  While these guitars may not be the most practical, they’re definitely awesome.  Readers: what ideas do you have for a wacky guitar design?  Stop by our Facebook page and let us know!

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Tips for Teachers: Deck the Halls with the Perfect Holiday Recital

Although it may seem earlier than usual this year, the red cups at Starbucks are here, many department stores already have their holiday decorations up, Glee’s Christmas album is now available online, and Bieber’s Under The Mistletoe album has already snagged the #1 spot on the Billboard 200 chart.

It’s that time of the year again, teachers – time to start planning your holiday recital!  Recitals are a great way for students to work on their performance skills and showcase what they’ve learned in front of family and friends.

If you’ve already chosen the date and location, you’re one step ahead.  But the perfect holiday recital requires more than just the what, when and where.  You’ll need to get out your Santa (er, thinking) caps and think of some ways to make the recital even more memorable.  Here are some additional details to get you thinking, courtesy of Yiyi Ku over at the Music Teacher’s Helper Blog:

1. Recital fee – Decide if you are going to charge each student a recital registration fee. I used to view studio recitals as advertising opportunities, and absorbed all the expenses. Now I charge a recital fee to help cover venue hire, printing programs, refreshments, and also student prizes. As my studio grows and I am spending more time planning for the recitals, I also feel I need to be paid for my time, at least during the recital itself! Usually I barely break even, but I feel it is an important factor to consider whether a recital fee should be charged, and if so, how much.

2. Student prizes – Decide if you are going to reward each student at the end of the recital by presenting them with some sort of recognition for their efforts. I try to vary each recital and depending on budget, give different prizes. When the recital is relatively small, and there is barely enough money to cover for other expenses, I give each student a Certificate of Performance. Students love to receive their prizes at the end of the recital, and it is also an incentive for them (and their families) to stay for the whole recital!

3. Duet/Ensemble/Family performances – Apart from solo performances, I like to include these, especially for the holiday recital at the end of the year. I teach many siblings from the same family, and many of my students parents are musicians themselves, so it makes perfect sense to include ensemble performances in the program. These are often the highlights of the recital, and although nerve-wracking, parents enjoy the opportunity to perform, too!  Including family members in the program can mean extra rehearsal time for you, but it can also inspire them to practice harder at home before coming to the lessons!

4. Teacher performances – Do you perform a solo or two at your studio recitals? Having to perform solos myself give me the extra incentive to practice and brush up on my own skills as a performer. It is also a great advertising tool; the parents are hopefully ‘wowed’ by your skills and will get you more students!

5. Advertise your studio recitals – I always make a poster for my studio recitals, and try to post them everywhere in the community. If you look, there are many places where there is community notice board, including grocery stores and even Starbucks! Many community newspapers will also be willing to include event listings for free. Holiday recitals with festive music are especially popular. If you put in some time to advertise your recitals, you will usually find that time well spent, as you will get some new students afterwards!

Teachers, what do you think?  What other ideas do you have, and what are your own planning strategies?  Feel free to comment below and let us know your own tips for planning a perfect recital! Looking for a music teaching job?  We’re hiring!

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We Will, We Will Rock You… With This Awesome Stage Trick

2011 marked the 40th anniversary of the formation of Queen in 1971, and it’s been a wild ride for the rock extraordinaires.  Over the course of their career, Queen has sold more than 300 million albums, including 16 No. 1 albums, 18 No. 1 singles and the U.K.’s top-selling album of all time.  And after 40 years, the band is still well-known – at the MTV Video Music Awards back in August, guitarist Brian May performed “You and I” live with Lady Gaga, and Adam Lambert channeled Freddie onstage with the rest of the band members during the MTV Europe Music Awards in November.  Academics have even deemed Queen’s “We Are The Champions” as the catchiest song of all time.

Going beyond the band’s accomplishments, this got us thinking about the late Freddie Mercury’s amazing stage presence –  how can you not have fun while watching videos of him on stage?  So, we wanted to have a little fun ourselves today.

As a singer, you usually have tons of freedom and space on stage to move around, but as a guitarist, you may be a bit more restricted.  So how do you one-up a lead singer as flashy as Freddie Mercury?   Ladies and gentlemen, we give you… the art of the guitar spin!  Here are some helpful tips from Guitar World about learning the craft and how to avoid ending up in the Rock & Roll Hall of Shame:

1. Make sure the guitar is correctly attached to the strap.
This probably is the most useful tip to execute the perfect guitar spin. Guitars can fly pretty well, but the landing is always a problem.

2. Find your center.
Guitar spinning is not a martial art, but you can apply principles from martial arts.  Find your center of gravity. Be sure you are focused on your center. Are you focused enough? Ready … steady … spin it!

3. Employ your coordination.
Guitar spinning is a serious matter. You don’t want to get fancy until you are sure you’ve mastered the gist of the guitar spin. Never try to dance when you flip your guitar – especially if you didn’t find your center yet.

4. Establish a security perimeter!
Guitars can be as dangerous as any blunt object. You don’t want your singer to end up at the emergency room. It doesn’t matter that your singer is a tough one to knock out. Please make sure you have enough space around you when you spin your guitar.

5. Never use your most expensive or favorite guitar.
You don’t want to end up crying just because you wanted to show off. That’s against that rock star attitude you are desperately trying to achieve.

Check out the full article here, complete with several videos of guitar spin fails (trust us, you’ll want to watch these).  Awe your audience with this stage trick, and who knows – maybe you’ll make it to the Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time list just like Brian May.

Readers, have you tried this trick?  Any tips for avoiding a guitar spin fail?  Click on over to our Facebook page and let us know how you take charge of the stage! Like these posts?  Sign up to receive daily updates right to your inbox!  Click here to subscribe.


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Around the (Music) World in 20 Seconds

Belfast, Northern Ireland welcomed the MTV Europe Music Awards this past weekend, and – surprise, surprise – Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber were among the top winners.  Even across the pond, these stars have a huge influence on music fans, which goes to show just how linked we are through music.  As MTV Iggy continues to bring global acts to the spotlight, the world seems to get smaller and more connected, music-wise.  We’ve got Coldplay, Muse and Adele gracing the U.S. airwaves, and even today’s dubstep claims its beginnings in London.  But take a quick look at history, and you’ll find many genres have their roots engrained even further back and traveled even farther to get to the United States music charts.

To show this visually, UK-based travel website Thomson recently posted an interactive infographic allowing viewers to check out the evolution of Western dance music in less than 20 seconds.  Whether or not you’re a dance music fan, we think this is awesome – not only can you learn where different genres originated, but you’ll see just how they influenced other genres and which areas they traveled to next.  The map begins with the traditional folk music from Africa, Europe and the Caribbean, and continues on through history with the beginnings of jazz, blues, R&B and all of the chain reactions in between.

Head on over to the interactive image here or view the static image below, and you’ll see what we mean!

So open your mind, do some research and discover some new music!  Next, stop by our Facebook page and let us know what you think – how globally-diverse is your own music collection, and what do you think of all the connections?

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Purchase the Perfect Beginner Guitar With These Easy Steps

These days, country music is much more than just grabbing a guitar and singing about losing your job, wife and dog.  Just ask the wildly popular Lady Antebellum – who picked up 5 awards at the 2011 Grammy Awards – or the growing list of stars who started out in one genre and have since tried their hand at country – Kid Rock, Sheryl Crow and Bon Jovi, just to name a few.

If you aim to be a country star someday, you’ll need a good guitar by your side.  Clueless about picking out a guitar?  Don’t worry – these tips from Creative Guitar Studio are a great starting point:

1. Decide what you want:
Decide what you want first. Talk to musicians in your local music scene. Chat with your private guitar instructor, if you’ve already signed up for guitar lessons, and purchase a few guitar player magazines and look through them.  Get catalogs and company brochures, which are often available from your local music store. Read everything else you can find related to guitars that you are interested in. Search for all makes and models and read what people are saying in online discussion forums and threads. Learn and read everything that you can so you can make a decision you’ll truly be happy about in the long run.

2. Acoustic or Electric?:
An acoustic guitar is probably the way to go for the beginner student on a budget. There are no amplifiers or patch cords to buy –  just take it out and play! Also, if you aren’t sure about your long term interest for the months and years of practice ahead, an acoustic can be far more cost saving and sometimes less of a hassle to sell second-hand in the event that you give up on your interest.

Electric guitars are more expensive since they require amplification; a good guitar practice amp can cost around two hundred dollars or more. If you can afford it, however, they do offer a little more room for sound experimentation since their signal can be run through relatively inexpensive sound processors. Another plus to electric guitars is the fact that they do have lower action and are somewhat easier to play than the acoustics. The nylon string acoustics make for excellent beginner models – they are easy to play and quite inexpensive.

3. Go for a “test drive”:
When you go looking at guitars, don’t just look! Grab each one, hold it and examine the shape of the neck. The width and shape should accommodate the size of your hand. It should feel comfortable.  If you have smaller hands perhaps a smaller neck would work better for you (see also: Practice Tips: Exercises and Guitars for Small Hands). Keep in mind that you will be holding this instrument for hours and hours practicing each week. It should feel comfortable.
Check for the following things:
1.) Action – How easy the strings are to depress?
2). Intonation – Is the guitar in tune with itself. (Play chords up the neck to check)?
3). Fret edges – Are they clean and smooth, or sharp and poorly machined from the factory?

4. Pay attention to how it sounds:
The simplest way to define music is the interaction of sound and silence. When checking out an instrument you want to purchase, who cares about the silence part! Just play it! Strum it, pick it, play those strings. Play it in different parts of the store. If you do not play well, take a friend who does and get them to play the guitars that interest you.

Keep in mind accessories you may want to purchase, as well: guitar strap (especially handy for beginners), spare strings, electronic tuner, guitar stand and extra picks.  Oh and don’t forget the cowboy boots, if you’re so inclined.

Once you have the perfect guitar, don’t forget to find the perfect guitar instructor to help you get off on the right foot.  Click here to search for guitar lessons near you!


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Sick of Celebrity Gossip? Check Out These Music Stars Who Are Actually Making a Difference

When the news won’t stop reporting on Kim Kardashian or Justin Bieber’s love life, sometimes it’s all too easy to forget that there are some celebrities out there who are doing good things with their fame and fortune.  Many offer up their time, energy and money by being part of benefit concerts or giving generous donations.

As a reminder that many big names in music are doing their part, today we wanted to share a few celebrity-endorsed organizations that are out there, courtesy of Look to the Stars‘ website:

Dave Matthews Band
The band established the Bama Works Fund in 1999 to help disadvantaged youth and the disabled, as well as support protection of the environment, the arts and humanities.  The band also donated the $1 million raised during a charity concert to homeless and children’s charities in San Francisco, California, and has played other charity concerts benefiting Bay Area parks, music education and AIDS research.

Jack Johnson
Johnson, with his management and crew, created the All At Once Campaign, as well as the Johnson Ohana Charitable Foundation. This charity promises to match fans’ donations to the local charities featured in the Village Green area at each of his shows (up to $2500 per concert).  Johnson and his wife set up the Kokua Hawaii Foundation, and has performed in school classrooms to help raise awareness for the charity and the environment.

Johnson also supports the Australian Marine Conservation Society, which is working to increase protection for threatened sea turtles through the Save Moreton Bay campaign.

John Legend
Legend established the Show Me Campaign to raise funds to help impoverished villages in Africa.  In 2008, Legend and philanthropist Dr. Jeffrey Sachs completed a tour of universities all over the US to encourage social, economic, personal, and educational growth. Called the Poverty Action Tour, the sessions challenged people to support the fight against poverty, and promote the charities and groups that champion the cause.

Rather than giving out money to destitute villages, the Show Me Campaign and Millennium Promise are more practical. They provide mosquito nets to curb the millions of avoidable deaths from malaria, free meals to children attending school which raises attendance rates and health, safe water points, local clinics and fertilizer to improve crop production and eradicate food shortages.

Stevie Wonder
On top of being a United Nations Messenger of Peace, all proceeds from his “Shelter In The Rain” single were directed to Wonder’s charity organization The Wonder Foundation to help with Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.  He also performed a duet with Bruce Springsteen on the all-star charity single for African famine relief, “We Are the World”, and he took part in another charity single the following year, the AIDS-targeted “That’s What Friends Are For”.

Elton John
Since 1992, the Elton John AIDS Foundation has distributed more than $30 million internationally to support HIV/AIDS prevention, the elimination of prejudice and discrimination against HIV/AIDS-affected individuals and direct services to those living with HIV/AIDS.

And of course we can’t forget about… Bono

There are few people in the music industry who have the presence of Bono.  He has been a leader in the fight against poverty, and has helped to create the ONE Campaign, (RED) and EDUN, a clothing company which is striving to stimulate trade with poverty stricken countries.

He was on Forbes’ Generous Celebrity List for his work with Debt AIDS Trade Africa (DATA) against the spread of AIDS and for debt relief in Africa, participation in fundraising concerts like Live 8, and his donation of $50,000 to One in Four Ireland, a charity that helps survivors of sexual abuse.  Bono has received 3 nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize, and was knighted in 2007.

If you don’t have the funds to donate millions like some stars, it’s as easy as participating in (or organizing your own) benefit concert in your community.  Keep in mind it’s a two-way street – as we mentioned earlier this week, benefit concerts are a great way to get publicity for your band.

Have any of you been part of a benefit event, and what was your experience like?  If you hit it big, which organization would you donate to?  Leave a comment below! Like these posts?  Sign up to receive daily updates right to your inbox!  Click here to subscribe.





Find Your Voice as a Singer: 4 Tips that Work

Singer Florence WelchIf you look beyond the auto-tune and publicity stunts of today’s top artists, you’ll notice there are actually a lot of strong, female role models for singers today – think Adele, Florence Welch (as pictured here) and Leslie Feist, to name a few.

One of the best parts of learning to sing is finding your own voice, much like these women have done.  You’ll need to figure out what makes you unique and sets you apart from the crowd.  So before you start your journey, take a look at these tips for finding your voice:

1.  Take voice lessons with a classical voice teacher. Even if a contemporary or pop style is most appealing to you, don’t neglect the study of classical voice training. You can’t discount the important foundation of breathing techniques, vocal placement and resonance. The time spent in the voice teacher’s studio helps you become more keenly aware of the sensations of your natural singing voice.

2. Listen to many different vocalists and many different musical styles. A large part of vocal training is learning the delicate art of listening critically. Note whether a singer seems natural or affected and keep in mind the long-term effects a particular way of singing may have on vocal health. You will be amazed at the diversity of sounds you find, even among similar styles of music.

3.  Experiment with your own voice in the privacy of your teacher’s studio. Save these vulnerable times for the lesson and not the stage. Even when experimenting with different sounds and vocal placement, remember to practice good breathing and healthy technique. You don’t have to compromise vocal health for style.

4.  Keep on learning. Read everything you can about singing, take in lots of diverse performances, talk with others in the field and don’t be afraid to consult with voice teachers other than your own from time to time. Finding one’s own singing voice is an ongoing process and as you learn more you will find that your thoughts about singing will change periodically. This is healthy and indicates a mature approach to singing.

(View the full list of tips here.)

Keep your ears (and mind!) open, and most of all, don’t be afraid to try new things.  By experimenting with different styles, you’ll have a better idea of the singer you’re destined to become, what makes you unique and why your fans are going to love you.

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