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How to Select the Best Songs to Sing at Open Mic

3407029143_48c0537645_bWhat are the best songs to sing at an open mic? Here, online teacher Liz T. shares her best tips for selecting a song and impressing the crowd…

 

If you’re a singer looking to get more experience performing your songs in front of a live audience, attending a live open mic is a great way to start! Open mics are becoming very popular these days, and you don’t have to live in a major city to sing at one. Many local restaurants, coffee shops, and colleges host open mic nights to build a music community and are very supportive of live music at their establishment.

Get to know the live music venues in your city and ask about their open mic nights, and how you can be a part! Keep in mind that some places will be free to play, but you will not be paid to play – or you actually may have to pay $10 or $15 to play one song. If you need piano or guitar accompaniment there may be a small fee for that as well.

Once you’ve found a good spot, it’s time to take the stage! Here are some tips for selecting the best songs to sing at open mic:

1. Pick a song you know. My advice is to pick something that you are very comfortable with singing at first. You might be nervous performing at a new space, and the crowds may vary from 2-3 people to 100 people. The best songs to sing are ones you know like the back of your hand. If nerves do start to kick in, you’re less likely to forget the melody or the lyrics!

2. Choose a cover song. Choose a song that another artist has made popular, a song that the audience will be familiar with already. Some of my go-to favorites are “Natural Woman” by Carole King, “If I Ain’t Got You” by Alicia Keys, “I’ll Be There” by The Jackson 5, and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Marvin Gaye. The crowd will really get in the mood, encourage you, and perhaps even sing or dance along.

3. Be yourself. There is no particular right or wrong style of music to sing at an open mic. Even when doing a cover song, try to be unique and individual as yourself. Just like on YouTube when you hear covers, you don’t want to hear them sing the song exactly like Alicia Keys. Give it your own interpretation, or if you are accompanying yourself, change the style or tempo of the song. You could do a country song maybe with an island/reggae feel for summer, or try doing a rock ballad a little more pop, with swing.

4. Perform an original Song. If you are a songwriter, open mics are a great place to start showcasing your original work, and to test if it works in a live setting. You can feel free to experiment at open mics, just make sure you are comfortable with the song before you start experimenting. Open mics should be fun, low stress, and truly for your and the audience’s enjoyment. It should be laid-back, but you still want to look professional on stage. Also, open mics singers usually perform with one instrument rather than a full band, either you and a guitar player or piano player, or you can accompany yourself. You can also use a background track, but then that tends to sound a little too much like karaoke.

So have fun, and enjoy performing for a live audience. Once you get comfortable singing at open mics, start keeping a book of different songs you could perform in the future. Good luck! You never know who might be in the audience; this could be your big break!

LizTLiz T. teaches online singing, acting, and music lessons. She is a graduate of the Berklee College of Music with a B.M in Vocal performance and currently performs/teaches all styles of music, including Musical Theater, Classical, Jazz, Rock, Pop, R&B, and Country. Learn more about Liz here!

 

 

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5 Things That Singers Should Never Do on Stage

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Ready to hit the stage? Read on as Saint Augustine, FL teacher Heather L. reviews 5 rookie mistakes you should avoid during your next performance…

Singing on stage and in front of an audience is really special. Some estimate that only two percent of the world’s population will ever sing on stage by themselves. Maybe that has something to do with the fact that it comes with its own unique set of challenges. Those challenges can seem bigger than our confidence performing. Perhaps the easiest way to feel confident singing on stage is have a short list in your mind of what not to do. As a 20-year veteran of the stage, I’ve created a list of what not to do when you’re singing on stage.

1. Stop singing
I’ve experienced it a dozen times. You’re singing just great, you feel good, then you get to the second verse, and your mind goes blank. You forgot the words. It happens. If you’ve rehearsed well enough with your bandmates or accompanist, then you can relax knowing that they’ll “come back around,” so to speak, and pick up at the moment that you dropped out. If they don’t, or if you’re performing with a recording, then you could still find a way to sing “la, la, la,” or you could even repeat the first verse. As silly as those might sound, they’re a lot better than dead air. Even a heckler or other distraction might make you think about calling it quits. Don’t stop singing.

2. Scratch
This is a tough one that I learned as a choir kid years ago. Even a singer in a large group scratching his face on stage can be really distracting to an audience. In a way, it can take away from the show. So just imagine how much less polished a solo singer must look. Now, let’s be realistic. Don’t torture yourself. If you have an unbearable itch on your face, then so be it. But do your best to wait until a song is over, or at least until the verse is over.

3. Apologize to the audience
I once heard a fellow singer at a church where I served apologize out loud to the congregation after what she perceived to be her mistake, in the middle of the song! Truly, no one probably would have ever noticed. But by saying sorry and bringing attention to it, she not only distracted the audience from the song’s message (which is why we sing in church in the first place), but also made them feel uncomfortable. In my book, a singer’s first job is to get and keep an audience comfortable, not disengaged.

4. Keep your eyes closed
While recording, I close my eyes sometimes. I even close my eyes while I perform for an audience, in moderation. But I can think of several singers whom I’ve heard perform beautifully but kept their eyes closed for a song’s entirety. In fairness, they might have had stage fright. But it doesn’t make you look cooler or make the song more meaningful. It closes you off to the audience. It impedes upon your ability to share. The singer and the audience have a relationship. In any relationship, there’s only so far that two can go together without sharing. Imagine meeting a person with whom you’d like to develop a friendship, but then telling her, “I want to be good friends, but sorry, I can’t tell you my full name, and I can’t have you over to my place.” Your potential friend might ask, “Okay, so what exactly can we do?” Don’t let this happen to your relationship with that crowd of yours. Remind yourself to open your eyes regularly. If it makes you nervous to look at people’s faces, then look at the back wall. The audience won’t know the difference, but they’ll still be able to see your eyes and their unique expressions.

5. Argue with your fellow musicians
Musicians are not always known for being even-tempered. Even famous performers like Tina Turner and Elton John have been known to argue on stage. But even between sets or songs, it’s unprofessional, distracting, uncomfortable, and frankly, childish. I’m not asking singers not to argue at all. I’m asking singers not to argue on stage while the audience is sitting right there.

Remember, the moment that you take a stage, it belongs to you until you leave it. You essentially own it. That also means, however, that you own what you do up there. Your show could be polished and professional. With a few simple reminders for ourselves of what not to do, what to do might just come naturally when it comes to singing on stage.

HeatherLHeather L. teaches singing, piano, acting, and more in Saint Augustine, FL, as well as through online lessons. She is a graduate of the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey, and has performed with the New York and Royal Philharmonics, the New Jersey and Virginia Symphonies, the American Boy Choir, and the internationally renowned opera star, Andrea Bocelli. Learn more about Heather here!

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So You Want to Become a Singer? Here’s How to Get There

become a singer

Private lessons? Check. Big dreams? Check! But there’s one more part of the equation that’s integral to become a singer and reach your career goals. Find out as Monclova, OH teacher Carrie A. explains…

I can’t tell you how many students over the years have come to me saying they wanted to be on TV or Broadway. While those are great aspirations to go after, it really isn’t the place to start to become a singer. What I have found is a great way to get started is to look for opportunities to perform right in your own community. It is seriously a huge long shot to go from never performing at all, to being chosen for some sort of reality show. Without preparation and experience, it can really be a recipe for disaster.

I have performed in front on thousands of people numerous times, including once at Carnegie Hall. I, however, did not start there. I participated in lots of community theater, performed at weddings, did gigs at coffee shops, and performed at other small-scale venues before I had more distinguished opportunities. I understand the desire to perform in front of large audiences, but I strongly encourage my students to take advantage of every opportunity they have to perform, whether big or small. Every performance is an opportunity to learn, grow, and have fun. I’m going to give you some suggestions that I have given to my students that have opened lots of doors for them.

First, get a set list together. Whether you are a vocalist or instrumentalist, you need to have at least 10 songs prepared that you can use if someone gives you the opportunity to perform. Don’t be in a hurry with this step. Look for songs that mean something to you and flow well together. Work with your music instructor to find what fits you and go with that.

Second, gear up for rejection. You will be told no, probably multiple times. Don’t stop until you get a yes! I’m a professional singer and I’ve had to deal with the same thing. Don’t take it personally, just move on and get excited for when someone says yes.

Third, connect with area charity organizations and ask if they need music at their next fundraiser. It will be a chance to use music to strengthen the community and possibly create more connections for future performances.

Fourth, think of places you can give back and get performance experience at the same time. For example, lots of nursing homes will jump at the chance to have you come and entertain their guests.

Finally, don’t look down on any opportunity that comes your way. Remember in the beginning it’s all about getting yourself out there and letting people know you are available, and honing your skills at the same time. If that means you start by singing the national anthem at a local high school basketball game, so be it. One of my students did that very thing and now is invited by major car racing events to do the national anthem where she sings in front of 30,000 people and the event is televised. Bottom line – in the beginning nothing is too small if you really want to become a singer. Enjoy where you are and build to a great future in music!

CarrieACarrie A. teaches guitar and singing lessons, and tutors in various subjects, in Monclova, OH. She has a BA in music and business, and has been teaching and performing professionally for over 10 years. Learn more about Carrie here!

 

 

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Music Criticism: How To Handle a Critical Audience

how to handle criticismYears ago, I heard my first band would be featured in the local paper and I was so excited to read the article. I hurried home to read it and found that the short blurb was far from complimentary. A public critique like that can make you want to give up. I certainly wanted to hide under my bed for a week!

However, I have learned how to handle criticism and continued to make music that makes me happy. In the time since then, I have been lucky enough to receive both criticism and positive reviews. How sad it would have been if I had quit music over one review!

If you’re struggling to cope with a critique, here’s my advice to deal with music criticism gracefully and even learn from it. Read more

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Teacher Spotlight: Performance Anxiety and Motivation

guitarBeginner guitar players often go through the same struggles. Combating stage fright and feeling stuck are common, but working with a teacher who can help you through will certainly help. Below, Portland teacher Lance V. offers his advice…

 

I recently received this message from one of my readers.  She asks a few questions that gets to the heart of playing an instrument.  Here’s her message and below that is my response.

How to Build Confidence On Stage

Today we lost legendary R&B singer Etta James, whose adaptable style, powerhouse voice, and fiery hit “At Last” made her one of the most recognizable blues performers of all time.  Her talent has been recognized in several different ways, with an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and several Grammy awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award.

As with many soul singers, a voice that powerful demands a commanding stage presence as well.  If you’re on the shy side, sometimes all it takes is some extra performing experience to break out of that habit.  Anytime you see an opportunity to perform, grab it!  And yes, that includes karaoke, as cheesy as it sounds.  Check out this great list of other ways to gain experience and increase your on-stage confidence:

- Open mic nights. Great for getting used to singing with a live band, and for getting seen.  Many bands started as a result of people meeting each other at open mic nights.
- Peruse Craigslist for bands looking for lead or backup singers.  (Being a backup singer is a great place to start if you have no prior live band experience.  You’ll learn a lot even as a backup singer.)
- Start or join an a cappella group.
- Student recitals. If you are taking lessons with a voice coach or at a music school, there are probably performance opportunities through there.  They may not be the rock-star performance situations you ultimately envision yourself in, but they’re valuable stage time nonetheless.
- Start a duo. Team up with a pianist, develop a repertoire, and start playing in restaurants and bars.
- Start a band. Easiest if you are a teen or twenty-something, before your peers have real jobs, kids, and mortgages.
- Hire a band. For those with deep pockets:  if you’re willing to pay for a professional band’s rehearsal time, even a novice could start a rock trio and play standard covers in bars.
- Try out for a role in a musical theater production.
- Join a choir. There are lots of community choirs – some are open to all ages and levels, others require auditions.
- Prepare yourself to sub in a party band. Even if you don’t win an audition to be a party band’s new lead singer, they may find themselves in a tight spot one day if their lead singer gets sick.  If you prepare a standard party repertoire, you’ll be ready to step in if and when a last-minute opportunity arises.
- Make a live music video. Design a stage area somewhere – your basement, your garage – and videotape yourself performing to backing tracks.  When you’re ready, call some musician friends and have them come over and play the song(s) live with you performing up front.  Videotape that and put it up on YouTube and on your own web site to help you connect with bands looking for singers.
- Learn an instrument. If you don’t play any instruments, guitar is a great one to start with because an acoustic guitar is very portable and is enough accompaniment.  This opens the door for you to write your own music and get hired for small gigs. (Search for a music teacher here!)
- Play on the street. If you do play guitar – or, once you have learned a few chords – go out somewhere and practice playing in front of people.

What are YOUR favorite ways to get performing experience, and what has helped your on-stage confidence?

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Photo by Roland Godefroy.

4 Things You May Be Doing Wrong at Gigs

Cee Lo Green found himself amidst some controversy this week when he switched up the lyrics for John Lennon’s Imagine during a live New Year’s Eve performance.  Instead of singing “Nothing to kill or die for.  And no religion too,” the line was changed to “And all religion’s true.”  Needless to say, Lennon fans raced to the Internet to voice their less-than-pleased opinions on the matter.  Behold, the power of live TV.

Performing live certainly gives you and your band a kind of power.  All eyes are on you, and at that moment, you can make or break your career as a musician.  But there are also a few common-sense rules to follow to ensure many performances to come.  Here are a few tips for what NOT to do at a gig:

1. DON’T…Show Up Late

Promoters and venues ask you to arrive at a certain time for a good reason. They need that time to load you in and get soundcheck set up. They are asking you to be there at that time so they can give you everything you need to have a great show. They’re not doing it to inconvenience you, and they’re not doing it because they just like to stand around for hours before a show actually begins.

Don’t arbitrarily decide that you think load-in is too early or that you won’t really need all that time for soundcheck. When you don’t arrive on time, no one else can do their jobs. Plus, it means that the promoter and venue may be paying people to stand around and do nothing while they await your fashionably late arrival – something that is not going to endear you to them. When you come late, you send the whole operation into panic mode and make what should be a calm time of prepping for a good show a completely stressful few hours instead – and that could affect your set.

2. DON’T…Abuse the Guest List

Even if a promoter or venue loves your music, that doesn’t mean that they want to lose money on your show. It may seem to you like you should be able to bring anyone into your show you want for free, but the thing is, your guest list spots aren’t REALLY free – they may just feel that way to you. Somewhere, someone is giving up the ticket price of every person who walks through the door gratis. You should negotiate with the promoter or venue up front how many guest list places you’ll get – and then leave it at that. Don’t go out before the show, waltz around town, pick up an entourage and promise them all free entry to the show. What you’re really doing then is asking the promoter or venue to fund your friends’ nights out. How is that fair?

3. DON’T…Overstay (or Understay) Your Welcome

This one is especially important if you are not the headlining band – but even if you are, it is important to adhere as closely to any pre-determined set length as possible. These stage times are drawn up to make sure the whole night runs smoothly, from changeovers to giving the venue enough time after your show to get everyone out and clean up. If you’re one of the support bands, if you go over, you’re taking time away from the headliners – a big, big no-no. If you are the headliners, the time you’re asked to wrap things up may have something to do with noise ordinance laws, licensing laws and all sorts of other regulations – your failure to stick by the plan could have serious consequences for the venue.

4. DON’T…Be a Diva

For a live show to really work, it takes a team effort. The people working at the venue and the promoter don’t work FOR you – they’re working with you. Treat them as such. It’s perfectly OK to ask for things you need to make your show great, but your approach makes all the difference. Give them the respect you’d like to have from them, and when things go well, thank everyone for a job well done. Even if you played the worst show of your life and only five people paid in, your good attitude is goodwill in the bank that will help you get another shot at another show.

Want to put in your own two cents?  Leave a comment below!

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How to be a Rockstar… On a Budget

If you haven’t already seen it, the Rolling Stone recently released their list of 100 Greatest Guitarists, and none other than Jimi Hendrix has topped the list.  We thought this was an excellent pick – his distinct style continues to inspire and influence musicians to this day.  Hendrix is a true rock legend – and if you want to get to that status someday, you’d better keep working hard.

Yesterday we discussed 7 must-read tips for planning your band’s tour as you start organizing and contacting promoters.  If you don’t have a lot of cash saved up, though, the idea of a tour may be much more difficult to conceptualize.  Luckily, it’s still possible to tour while on budget.  Just consider that a part of the adventure!  Here’s how to make it work:

1.  Consider how you will be traveling. For most bands this will mean long hours in a van of some type. Before you set out, have the vehicle serviced at your local shop. Have your mechanic change the oil, check the spark plugs and wires, air filters, radiator fluid, washer fluid, tire pressure, A/C operation and anything else that you can afford. This will help to uncover any issues before you find yourself on the side of the road outside Podunk, Iowa. Repairs on the road can be costly and interrupt your schedule.

2. Prior to leaving, determine how many hotel rooms that you’ll need and any special requirements. Do some homework and know how far you will travel each day and where you plan to spend the night. Check the Internet for hotels in the area and for special deals. Some of the discount websites can offer great savings, but be sure to read the fine print. Sometimes calling the local hotels directly will actually get you a better deal. Ask to speak with the general manager or reservations manager and explain your situation. If they can rent several rooms together, they might offer a lower price.  It never hurts to ask!

3. Food can also be a major expense if not handled correctly. In the van, bring along a large cooler and purchase drinks at the grocery store prior to departure. These are cheaper than at a gas station and will prevent some unnecessary stops.  For breakfast, consider the complimentary breakfast if your hotel offers one.  Also: sometimes before your show, the venue you’re at may provide food.  Always ask the venue owner about this possibility and you can even use it as a negotiation point.

4. Payments for gigs should be immediately deposited into a bank account. This can be done via an ATM or bank drive-through. Before you leave, check your bank for locations in the area of your gigs. This will prevent you from spending this money and limit you to the budget that you have prepared before departure.

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Wanna Play Music? Join the Fun During NAMM’s Wanna Play Music Week May 2-8

WannaPlay2011During the week of May 2-8, musicians, schools, and other organizations across the country will come together to celebrate National Wanna Play Music Week, an annual event sponsored by the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM).  This week-long celebration highlights the importance of music education programs in schools and promotes the benefits of playing music for people of all ages and skill levels.  NAMM is also a TakeLessons organizational partner, which is why we are proud to support this event and power the lesson locator tool on the official Wanna Play Music website.

Ahead of this year’s Wanna Play Music week, NAMM has introduced a new initiative called “Pledge to Play” where interested participants can take a pledge and make their commitment to learning an instrument. There’s still time to sign up on the Pledge to Play Facebook page – you’ll even have the chance to win some cool prizes!

The week will officially kick off on Monday, May 2 with the seventh annual “Music Monday,” an event in which schools, community and professional organizations will perform one piece of music simultaneously at 10 a.m. Pacific Time, 11 a.m. Mountain Time, 12 p.m. Central Time, and 1 p.m. Eastern Time.  NAMM hopes that by having everyone sing the same song at the same time, music will transcend all genres and unite people through the melody and the act of performing the piece together.  You can register your school or organization as a participant in Music Monday online or by emailing musicmonday@namm.org. If you aren’t able to play at the designated time, NAMM also encourages participants to pick up an instrument and play at any time throughout the day.

Other events will take place throughout the week, including an announcement of the “Best Communities for Music Education” on Wednesday, May 4 and a day featuring “unexpected celebrity musicians” on Thursday, May 5.  The week concludes with National Music Store Weekend from May 6-8, when musicians and non-musicians alike are encouraged to visit and support local music stores in their neighborhoods. There are plenty of opportunities to get involved during this year’s Wanna Play Music week, so mark your calendar and get ready to play!

The Beginner Musician’s Mind: Four Tips for Successful Performances

The following post comes from TakeLessons teacher Jeremy R. in Hudson, Florida. Jeremy has been a professional performing musician for over 10 years and has taught hundreds of students during that time.  Below he shares some of his favorite tips for beginner musicians who are learning to perform.

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As a beginner musician, learning to perform a song is a challenging obstacle. After all, you spent countless hours learning modes and chord progressions and now you must take what you have learned and translate it into a successful performance.  Below I will share some methods that have worked for me.

Clear your head.  Each time I pick up the guitar, I go through the same mental exercise to prepare myself to play. I pick up the guitar, tune, and play a couple warm up exercises. It’s important that your warm up piece is something that you have to really concentrate on and think about to be able to play. It’s perfectly fine to play these pieces verbatim with little or no deviation. In fact, a piece that challenges your abilities that you have worked hard to master is a great candidate for a warm up piece. The point isn’t to play the piece to perfection; rather, the point is to get the other songs out of your mind and focus your thoughts on playing.

Phantom play.  If you have ever played at a large venue or in front of an important audience then you’ve undoubtedly had the issue of nerves clouding your head and distracting your focus. Before you play your song for anyone else, play it in your mind. Maybe even just finger your fret board quietly. Again, the point isn’t the perfection of the song – it’s the mechanics of your mind while you play.

Emotional focus.  You’ve tuned your guitar, played your warm up exercise and gone through the song in your head. Now you’ve got 4 minutes before you go on. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a guitar player play the correct notes in the correct rhythms in the correct key but the performance is as flat as rice paper. I look for the emotion that is communicated by the song and then I think about things in my life that bring out the same emotion. A great example of this is “Crying” by Joe Satriani. This song is so sad it should come with a warning label saying it could cause depression. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the song “Baba O’ Riley” by The Who is an extremely upbeat and energetic piece.

Believe.  A great personal friend of mine is a phenomenal song writer and performer. You will often hear my band playing and recording his material for the public. He is an amazing talent but doesn’t share it with anyone. Don’t be afraid to get up and play. It doesn’t matter if you’re the next Celine Dion or William Hung – both have their place in music, and you do too!

-Jeremy R.