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physical activity to strengthen your voice

Will Cardio & Physical Activity Make You a Better Singer? [Video]

cardio to strengthen your singing voice

Can doing physical exercise and cardio help you become a better singer? The answer is yes! Learn how to strengthen your singing voice and which activities are best in this article by voice teacher Rebecca R

Imagine this scenario: you’ve signed up to run your first marathon. Maybe you ran cross-country back in high school and have kept up with running as a regular form of exercise. Because of this, you don’t use a training plan, and instead continue your normal exercise routine. When the day of the marathon arrives, though, you struggle to complete the entire course and end up injured. You’d probably feel like your body betrayed you, right?

While this scenario is a VERY exaggerated circumstance, it gets the point across: in order to accomplish a physical goal in the healthiest way possible, a certain amount of body awareness and training is required.

And although it doesn’t demand nearly the same endurance training as running a marathon, singing is a very physical activity. While just two tiny muscles are responsible for forming the sound of your singing voice (your vocal cords), the act of singing is a whole-body experience.

So, what’s the proper way to train? Adding physical activity to your musical practice to develop stamina and strengthen your singing voice is a great idea. Here’s how it can help you sing better:

1. Your body is your instrument.

In nearly every introductory voice lesson I teach, the student is always surprised by how physically demanding the lesson is. Often, he or she feels like they just went on a jog. That is exactly how any student should feel after a voice lesson!

When you sing to the best of your ability, you are using your entire body. Your feet ground you, your legs support you, and your torso expands and works to provide the breath support needed to fuel your singing. Even if you’re sitting in a chair, leaning against a piano, or laying on the ground, you are using more than just your throat and head to sing.

If learning how to strengthen your singing voice is a goal for you, the first step is to map out body awareness. Ask yourself the following questions the next time you sing:

  1. Which muscles are engaging when I breathe? When I’m singing a phrase of music?
  2. What do my feet feel like under me? Can they feel the ground?
  3. Where do I feel my torso expand when I inhale? In the front? On the sides? In the back?
  4. Am I holding any unnecessary tension in the body? Maybe in the shoulders or the jaw?

2. Breath, breath, and more breath!

Lung expansion is a saving grace for any singer. For most circumstances in everyday life, we inhale and exhale subconsciously without needing to actively engage our lungs. When we sing, however, we use up to 90% of our lung capacity depending on the range, style, and length of the song.

Unless you also happen to be an athlete, chances are you don’t perform many activities throughout the day that require a lot of conscious breathing. Enter cardio exercises: jogging, running, swimming, circuit training, you name it! All of these forms of exercise, in addition to their overall health benefits, will improve lung expansion, which helps you access more of your lung capacity and fuel your voice through any practice session, lesson, or performance. Good breath support gained through cardio exercise is what ultimately will provide the stamina to sing safely for hours, days, and years.

Editor’s Note: For more breathing exercises, join our next live, online class! View the schedule and reserve your spot here.

3. The Importance of Posture

While having good posture may seem obvious, I don’t think most singers realize that posture is something that needs to be worked on and strengthened regularly. Just like training the lungs with cardio, we need to strengthen our body to support good, natural posture while releasing tight muscles.

Yoga or pilates will accomplish both of these goals, along with added mental benefits! By strengthening your instrument (your body) and loosening up tight muscles, you will sing more freely and with more ease. As an added bonus,you’ll be able to warm up your voice much more quickly if your body is already warmed up!

Here’s a quick little trick for when you need help setting up your posture: Inhale fully and deeply without raising your shoulders or tightening your neck. Then, as you exhale, imagine your spine growing longer in both directions, up out of the top of your head and down toward the ground simultaneously.

How Much Physical Activity Do I Need to Sing at My Best?

While the minutes spent and intensity of all physical activity will vary from person to person, here’s a basic schedule you may want to follow:

  • 3 times/week: Cardio should be reserved for long vocal practice days. On cardio days, I’ve found that my lung capacity is at its best, and the energy I feel after cardio helps fuel long practice sessions. To get all the benefits of the cardio when you sing, try to fit it in before you practice.
  • 2 times/week: Yoga or pilates is reserved for my non-practice/non-performance days. Yoga classes that are lengthy and provide a hearty workout (such as Vinyasa or power yoga), as well as pilates classes, build strength and flexibility, which can leave the body sore and in need of some recovery. It’s best to avoid activity that might add temporary tension or tightness on singing days — or save the workout for after your singing.
  • Every day: Gentle yoga and stretching can be done anytime and is highly encouraged, particularly before you sing. I always reserve time for some gentle yoga on performance days, audition days, or long rehearsal days — the gentle stretch not only allows my mind and body to calm down and feel grounded but also makes warming up vocally easier and quicker.

Give it a Try…

Follow along with the video below for a quick stretching sequence you can start using today.

Singers, what kinds of physical activity do you engage in? Leave a comment below and let us know how it’s helped!

RebeccaRPost Author: Rebecca R.
Rebecca R. teaches singing, piano, and music theory in Ridgewood, NY, as well as online. She teaches students ages 6 and up, and a variety of experience levels. Learn more about Rebecca here!

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How to Be a Better Singer... With One Overlooked Secret

How to Be a Better Singer… With One Overlooked Secret

How to Be a Better Singer... With One Overlooked Secret

Wondering how to be a better singer? There’s more to it than knowing how to use your voice. Read on as teacher Tony F. explains…

 

Do you love to sing? Is singing the first thing on your mind in the morning and the last thing at night? If you can answer yes to those questions, you might be what’s known as (cue the Star Wars theme music, maestro)… a singer.

Symptoms may include: rocking your head to a favorite song as you sing along while driving down the road… an unbalanced addiction to karaoke parties… or a tendency to sing along with songs you don’t even know, just because you can.

While there’s a lot to learn about keeping your voice healthy, developing your ear, and improving your pitch, here’s something you might not have thought about: your voice is actually all in your mind.

Here’s what I mean…

1. Your Mind’s Eye

Yep, you’ve got to see yourself singing. Imagine yourself singing five years from now. Can you see it? Good. Now imagine yourself singing 10 years from now. And 20 years. And maybe even 30 or 40 years from now. Can you see yourself with gray hair… singing like you did when you were young?

When you can see yourself, in your mind’s eye, singing confidently in front of a group of listeners, you’re one-third of the way to actually doing it. And don’t just see yourself singing… take it to the next level and see yourself in full control of a powerful and stylish voice. Are you starting to get a clear picture?

OK, now see yourself smiling. There’s sheer joy in singing when you keep yourself in the moment. See the troubles of the world fall at your feet. See your audience swept away in the moment with you. And see yourself floating weightless through every note, phrase, and inflection.

Practice this kind of visualization in your spare time and before every rehearsal or performance. Your voice will thank you.

2. Your Mind’s Ear

Can you hear music when no music is playing? I’m not asking if you can recall your favorite song and the way it sounds. I mean actual notes and scales. Can you hear those? You should be able to, if you quiet your mind and listen.

Set aside any distractions like your mobile device or your social accounts, and listen. Start by thinking of the first note in a scale. DO. Got it? Doesn’t matter if it’s a C or G or E. Just start with DO.

Now move up the scale past RE, MI, FA, SO, LA, TI, and all the way to DO. Listen closely. Do you hear the sound of each note in your own voice? If you can’t, you might need to find somewhere even more quiet and secluded. And you might need to practice focused listening.

Focused listening starts in your mind’s ear. When you can clearly hear notes in your head and in your voice, and when you combine hearing yourself sing with seeing yourself sing, you’re two-thirds of the way to actually doing it. But you’ve got one more area to deal with as you learn how to be a better singer.

3. Your Mind’s Voice

Most successful singers (or successful people in anything, really) will tell you they’ve had to battle a nagging, negative voice inside their head. Have you ever heard that little voice in your mind, the one that says “you can’t do it”?

Have you ever started to sing and thought, “What am I doing?” or “Who do I think I am?” If so, you’re not alone. But here’s what will set you apart and what will get you over that hurdle…

don’t be afraid to mess up. Tell that nagging voice in your mind who’s boss.

Remember, you’re in control of your thoughts. And if you’ve been practicing your visualization and listening techniques, you should be able to think thoughts like…

  • “I’m gonna sing the notes off this scale!”
  • “I can sing circles around this song!”
  • “I love singing so much, no one and nothing is gonna stop me!”

You can do it. Start right now. When you change the thoughts in your head, you’ll be well on your way to being a better singer!

TonyFPost Author: Tony F.
Tony F. teaches vocal training in Colorado Springs, CO, as well as through online lessons. With over 25 years of live performance experience, and has also written jingles for radio and websites. Learn more about Tony here!

Photo by WFIU Public Radio

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how does the voice work course

How Much Do You Know About How Your Voice Works?

how does the voice work course

Here on the TakeLessons Blog, we talk a lot about singing tips and tricks for making your voice shine. And as you’re learning how to sing — especially if you’re working with a voice teacher — you’ve probably already learned how things like posture and breathing can affect your voice.

But how much do you actually know about how your instrument works? Understanding how your voice works is a big key to singing well, yet many vocalists never take the time to study it.

We recently connected with Elissa over at Voice Body Connection, who has been working on an online course designed to help you learn just that. Still not convinced? Here’s how Elissa explains it:

We start using our voice mere moments after we’re born. But here’s the thing… no one sits us down and hands us an instruction manual. There’s no explanation about how we should make sound, we just do it! A couple years from now we’ll start learning speech and language, and all that will include much more explanation. However it’s likely going to be years before we start any sort of vocal or singing lessons which will draw our attention to the quality of our sound (if ever, of course!). By that time we’ll have some pretty well engrained patterns and habits.

So here’s the problem with never having learned how our voice works: When something goes wrong with it, we don’t know how to fix it. If no one taught us how we produce sound in the first place, it’s very difficult to troubleshoot when we’re not able to make the sounds we want. We’ve got to understand what’s going on.

We think of our voice as something intangible. In fact we often use the word “voice” metaphorically. That way of thinking is lovely, but our voice is also something very concrete. It comes out of our body, and there are significant muscles and cartilage and bones and organs that contribute to our ability to make sound. It’s valuable to know what all of these are, which is why we go over them in our Spotlight on Anatomy blogs and in Vibrant Voice Technique training.

Think about it this way: if you’re a real car person, you’ve gotta learn what’s under the hood. It would be silly to grab a wrench and start messing around if you’ve done no research about how the car is put together…you might mess something up! By a similar token, we all know it’s foolish to start IKEA furniture together without following the (inscrutable) instructions. It’s useful to spend the time understanding how things work. After all, how we understand a thing informs how we use it.

Let’s repeat that, because it’s the big thesis:

How we understand a thing informs how we use it.

So, how does the voice work?

OK, so… how much do you know? Do you want to learn more about how the voice works? You can learn more about Elissa’s course here — and if you register before December 19th, you can even get a discount on the price.

Curious in the meantime? Here are some vocal health resources we like:

Readers, what’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned about your voice? Let us know by leaving a comment below!

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3 Reasons Singers Should Also Learn How to Act

3 Reasons Singers Should Learn How to ActGreat stage presence can really enhance your performance as a singer! Here, voice teacher Molly R. shares how learning how to act should be on every singer’s to-do list…  

 

Enviable high notes. A pure tone. Easy vocal runs. Low notes that can carry for days. Flexibility throughout the range. These are just some of the things singers say they want to achieve when they first start voice lessons — among many, many other goals!

As a voice teacher, I do my best to work with them so that they find success in making their voice feel and sound great — but to me, there’s something many singers are missing in their “wish list” to become a better singer: how to really sell your song as a singing actor!

Here are the reasons why it’s so important that a singer also learns how to act.

1) It’s good for your body!

When we stand still, our sound will also be stiff and still. Experiment time: think about something that gets you riled up or giddy with happiness. What does your body do? It moves. It paces, it gestures. It expresses. Nothing is left bottled up.

When we move, the breath and the voice move — simple as that. As a result, the audience gets a more exciting sound, and that’s a very good thing. It’s also a big part of stage presence for singers. We were meant to move and express, not just stand there. That’s not natural! Although, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t practice good singing posture as well.

2) It makes you a true standout.

There are lots of great voices out there, and competition is stiff. What can set you apart from the crowd is if your audition panel or audience really feels a true connection with you! And the only way to get that connection is if you make absolutely sure that you know exactly what you’re singing about.

So don’t treat your songs as mere lyrics — do what the great artists do, and treat each one as a mini play or movie. Create a backstory for your character. Put other characters in your song and visualize them. The more layers you add to your performance, the more compelling it will be. Once you add layers, you’ll be creating a unique and authentic stage presence.

Once in a while we’ll have a challenging song where we say to ourselves, “But I can’t relate to that! I’ve never had my heart broken/been cheated on/had someone I love die/been in love/etc.”

In cases like these, it’s time for you to use your imagination. So maybe you never had a lost love — but everyone’s experienced some sort of sadness! Channel that. Simply sing about about something else you have lost to really bring the authentic emotion to the song.

3) It increases your job prospects!

If you start by learning how to really act your pop or jazz songs, after a while you may feel ready to audition for musical theatre roles, if that interests you! Who knows? After doing some musical theatre and getting some stage time under your belt, you may want to try straight plays!

Singing actors are also meant for the cabaret stage. In these intimate venues, performers string together an eclectic group of songs to tell a story. If you study acting, you’ll feel a lot more at ease about your performance and find it easier to add in the “banter” in between songs that’s essential in this type of performance.

Stage Presence for Singers

There’s no need to feel intimidated by the world of acting if you’re completely new to it. There are many qualified voice teachers and acting teachers on TakeLessons to help you get started! Whether you want to improve your singing or get started with acting, you’re sure to find the right instructor for you.

Additional Resources

Looking for more help? Here are some articles and videos we like:

Singers, have you taken acting lessons? Did it help you with your stage presence? Let us know about your experience in the comments!

mollyrPost Author: Molly R.
Molly R. teaches online and in-person singing lessons in Hayward, CA. Her specialties include teaching beginner vocalists, shy singers, children, teens, lapsed singers, and older beginners. She joined TakeLessons in November 2013. Learn more about Molly here!

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How to stay motivated for singers

21 Powerful Tips to Refuel Your Passion for Singing

how to stay motivated as a singer

Struggling to find singing gigs? Not feeling inspired? If your passion is dwindling, it’s time to take action. Don’t give up singing just yet! Read on as Sacramento, CA voice teacher Kevin B. shares his advice…

 

Let’s face it — when you have a job or any kind of regular commitment, there are going to be some days when you just don’t want to do it. This goes for everyone — even musicians who couldn’t imagine doing anything else!

If you find yourself feeling this way, don’t freak out. Don’t think that you’ve become jaded or depressed, or that you don’t care about your art anymore. The fact that you’re willing to resist the call of the TV, put on the big-kid pants, and go do your craft just shows how much you do care, and it sets you apart from thousands of musicians everywhere.

But here’s where the problem lies: being a singer, much like being an actor (or any other sort of entertainer for that matter), is not a job where you get the luxury of being able to lack enthusiasm. You’re front-and-freaking-center, and when you don’t want to be there, it shows. So suck it up kid, and put on a smile!

Or better yet, refuel your passion. Here are 21 ways to do so.

1

1. Re-envision your dreams – and be specific about them!

I’m willing to bet that you remember the experience that set you on this path. Whether it was that musical that made you cry, or that singer that blew you away with his skill and presence, you haven’t forgotten what makes you hit that practice room when it’s time.

Much time has probably passed since then, and you’ve got a good grip on your skills, your strengths, and what you bring to the table. So now is the time to turn your dream from an ambiguous entity into a concrete goal: is there a certain part you want to play? An ensemble you want to join? A venue that you dream of performing in? Whatever it is, you’ve been working hard, and you’re well on your way to achieving that dream! That ought to put a smile on your face.

Keep Your Singing passion alive

2. Leave the student behind – just for a bit

Whatever you’ve been learning in your voice lessons, chances are you’ve taken it with you in your everyday music listening. When you listen to music, your head is probably racing to apply everything you’ve learned: “Oh, he’s totally singing with a high larynx in that part!” “Oh man, she was not in tune on that belt!”

This is normal, but turning off that part of the brain also has its benefits. You enjoyed music before you started taking lessons, and enjoying music with that same blank slate that you used to have can help you remember why you started doing this in the first place. Give it a try!

Keep Your Singing passion alive

3. Apply what you’ve learned to a new genre

Most of us, I’m pretty sure, have thought about singing multiple genres before. And one of the things I love about studying voice is that so much of it applies to many different genres, or even all of them!

Sure, you loved how you got that perfect vibrato going on your Italian art song, but what about using that same technique on the classical crossover song you love? You’re really nailing the breath support with your music theater repertoire, how about seeing how well that support works on that old jazz standard your grandpa used to play? You’ve worked hard on improving your instrument, you deserve to play around with it!

Keep Your Singing passion alive

4. Challenge yourself

You should feel challenged in your lessons. If you don’t, that’s definitely something you should take up with your voice teacher. However it can also feel empowering to challenge yourself on specific things.

After all, no matter how much your teacher gives you to work on, you only have them for a certain amount of time each week, and there’s bound to be more things to work on than just what you’ve talked about in your lessons. Just think of how much fun it will be at your next lesson when you get to say “Hey teach, look what I can do!”

Keep Your Singing passion alive

5. Learn from the pros

Sometimes it takes a pro’s touch to get your spark back. Fortunately, there are many opportunities available to learn from the best! The queen mother of all such opportunities is a master class: if you have the chance to attend – or better yet participate in – one of these, be there. Period. In the absence of such an opportunity, you can also find interviews or master classes on YouTube to help you stay motivated and get back on track.

Keep Your Singing passion alive

6. Keep a practice log

When I was seeing a personal trainer to keep in shape, he told me to write down all the workouts I completed. That way each time I went to work out, I would see what I did the previous week, and I could decide whether to do the same thing or try something more challenging.

For many vocal students, practicing can be the same way. In terms of keeping your passion on track, the benefit it has is that you get to look back and realize how far you’ve come.

Keep Your Singing passion alive

7. Go to a concert

This probably seems like an obvious one, but it always strikes me as odd when musicians spend all their time practicing their craft, and no time watching it! Seeing someone up on the stage doing what you love might just make you wish you were up there, and then – BAM! There’s your motivation to keep singing.

Keep Your Singing passion alive

8. Focus on finding that music job you’ve been wanting

Sure, you’ve thought about how wonderful it would be to get paid to sing. Perhaps, though, you didn’t think about how empowering it would be. When people pay you to sing, to do what you love, it boosts your confidence, and confidence is a singer’s bread and butter.

If you don’t know where to start, ask your voice teacher. They’ll be able to tell you if they think you’re ready for such a thing, or at the very least how to get you ready. For those interested in being a professional singer eventually, this is an important step!

Keep Your Singing passion alive

9. Switch it up!

When it comes to practicing, repetition is the quickest way to kill enthusiasm. There’s no more effective way to kill a piece of repertoire than to work on “that one phrase” over and over again. If you haven’t learned to spare yourself from this kind of torture, now you know.

Instead, work on “that one phrase” for a while, then switch to another piece of rep, or at the very least a different part of the song. Singing should be hard work, but there’s no reason it has to be boring work!

Keep Your Singing passion alive

10. Try on a new hat

No, not literally. What I mean to say is try a new role in music. If you haven’t tried your hand at songwriting or composing yet, you might be surprised to discover how empowering it is. If you’re not the creative type, try learning a new instrument or even learning to dance. Not only might this give you a new perspective on your singing, but it’ll help you beef up your resume!

Keep Your Singing passion alive

11. Absorb the arts – namely the ones that inspire your music

There’s a reason that they talk about painting, architecture, and literature in music history classes. It’s because the different schools of the arts influence one another. The lyrics to art songs come from poetry, and many pieces of music correlate to paintings and other art. So go to an art gallery, a poetry reading, or a play! As a student of the arts, you are a part of a rich, vast, and diverse culture, and that is something that should be celebrated!

Keep Your Singing passion alive

12. Take on a new project

Singers should have voracious appetites. You should want to get involved as often as you can with as many different projects as you can. If you’re feeling particularly unenthused about your studies, maybe you just haven’t found the project that really fuels your passion yet. There are an abundance of talented musicians out there, so go find them!

If you’re worried about the time it will take out of your week, stick to something small. Find a pianist who can pick up music really fast, practice with him or her once a week, and then just like that you’ll have another project under your belt.

Keep Your Singing passion alive

13. Make a lunch date with a teacher or mentor

The best teachers I know are the ones who will do anything for their students. If you’re struggling with how to stay motivated (or anything else related to your singing), your teacher or mentor will likely have advice for you. They’ve probably experienced what you’re going through at one point! If nothing else, you’ll get to spend a lovely afternoon with someone who cares about you!

Keep Your Singing passion alive

14. Take a break!

Perhaps your problem is that you’re just working too hard! One of my favorite pieces of life advice I ever got is: “Music should be inspiration for life, and life should be inspiration for music.” Musicians should be happy people who live a fulfilling life. So make time to do what you love, and you might just end up falling in love again with what you do!

Keep Your Singing passion alive

15. Go kill it at karaoke

As I’ve mentioned before, confidence is a singer’s life’s blood. So if your compliment reservoir is running low, go and fill it! Pick that perfect karaoke song, have a couple drinks with friends, and soak up any compliments you get from the experience.

If you’re under 21, see number 12 and find a duet partner to do open mic nights with you. Often these places are filled with lackluster musicians, so if you put even a little effort into your performance it’s bound to get noticed.

Keep Your Singing passion alive

16. Invest in your future – even if it’s something small

Sometimes in the midst of all our hard work, our destination can seem so far away. To stay motivated, find a way to bring home the reality of the next big thing in your singing life.

Have a recital coming up? Go buy the dress you’re going to wear! Have a rock show coming up? Maybe it’s time for a new mic. You’ll have to do these things anyway, so why not do it now? Spend the afternoon daydreaming and getting pumped… and then go practice, so you can nail the performance!

Keep Your Singing passion alive

17. Add to your collection

Another investment that you can make to fuel your enthusiasm is in the form of books and DVDs. Singers should have large collections of repertoire books, as well as DVDs of live performances to model their craft after. If you need an enthusiasm boost, maybe it’s time to beef up your collection. It can only help you grow!

Keep Your Singing passion alive

18. Discover something new

The best singers are curious people. So, get out there and be the first among your group of friends to discover an opera or musical that nobody has ever heard of. The music that can give you your new inspiration could be out there, but if you don’t seek it out you will never know!

Keep Your Singing passion alive

19. Research one of your favorite singers

In keeping with number 18, be curious about the people who have helped you get where you are. If you have an idol, you should know where they grew up, how old they were when they first got signed, who their first record label was, and so on. If you haven’t figured out from reading so far, I believe in learning from the pros!

(Editor’s note: You can also learn what not to do from watching famous singers!)

Keep Your Singing passion alive

20. Network

Sometimes the answer to how to stay motivated won’t come from a mentor or a professional singer, but someone a little closer to your level.

If you’re in college, you’ve got it easy – join the local chapter of a music fraternity and you’re instantly connected with individuals just like you. If you aren’t in college, go to lots of shows and network there. If you get enough musician friends, perhaps you could even start a weekly meet-up, and get fuel for your passion every week!

Keep Your Singing passion alive

21. Summer programs

There are a million reasons to look into summer music programs, one of which is that there’s nothing quite as motivating as spending a few weeks continually working and improving your voice, surrounded by individuals who are doing the same. Summer programs are often expensive, but if you can spare the dough, the rewards will be more than worth it.

 

The most important thing to remember is that you have to make time for these ideas. That might mean skipping hanging out with your girlfriend on Tuesday night so that you can rehearse with your duet partner, or taking a night to watch a recorded master class when you would normally watch Netflix.

To become a singer, you need to have a fire in your heart for it; neglecting that element of the music is just as bad as singing off-key, breathing in the middle of a word, or any other technical mistake. So go get your passion on track, if it isn’t already… and then rock that practice time like the awesome singer that you are!

Readers, how do you stay motivated and make sure singing remains a passion? Leave a comment with your own tips and advice!

 

TakeLessons Teacher Kevin BPost Author: Kevin B.
Kevin B. is a private singing instructor in Sacramento, CA. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in Music at California State University, Sacramento, and has performed in many musicals and operas in Sacramento. Learn more about Kevin here!

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what can you do with a music degree

What Can You Do With a Music Degree? Tips for Singers

what can you do with a music degreeIs it worth it to get a degree in music? Find out one teacher’s take, in this article by San Diego, CA voice teacher Reina M...

 

The voice is a very versatile instrument — and while most young artists aspire for fame on a global level, as a singer you can do many things.

You can become a prima donna in the opera, you can sing at the opening of the World Series, or you can go on a world tour like Beyonce or Madonna. You can become the voice of a Disney princess, record an audiobook, or provide voiceover talent for radio and television commercials.

If you’re nearing college, you might be wondering: is it worth it to get a music degree? Should I go to a prominent music school to receive a degree in Vocal Performance, or will I be just as successful finding gigs on my own? In this post, I’ll share with you what I’ve learned.

Musician or Hobbyist? Deciding if You Should Get a Music Degree

As you’re trying to decide about a music degree, my advice is this: If you plan to become an artist who can sustain a lifestyle with music, it’s important that you apply yourself to learning as much as possible. This commitment to lifelong learning is what will solidify your status as a musician!

This especially applies to vocalists. Music is a language you learn, just like any other foreign language, and there are many vocalists who “speak” conversational music. They get by and can be quite convincing. They can sing what is sung to them, they can recite what they hear, and they may even have original song ideas. Unfortunately, these song ideas will ultimately become a byproduct of the other musicians they are performing with, because conversational singers cannot clearly articulate what they are trying to convey.

On the other hand, there are fluent vocalists who learn their preferred key signatures to the songs they sing, they lead the band on when to change and what to change into, and they may even be able to transcribe the thoughts in their heads for the musicians they play with, enabling them to rehearse more efficiently.

Getting a music degree exposes you to an array of opportunities, and allows you to educate yourself in all areas of the voice.

There’s a caveat though….

Getting a Music Degree: What You Can Expect to Learn

I went to school to study how to be a singer. I received a BA in Music with a Vocal Performance emphasis. I thought I would be taken more seriously by instrumentalists if I were educated, and if I could tell a guitarist or keyboardist what key I was singing in.

This did prove to be true, but I soon realized that it didn’t matter how much I knew if I did not walk into an audition or performance without confidence and a clear idea of what I wanted. I spent four years learning all the background knowledge, but the truth is, there’s always more to learn as you work toward your music career.

It has been 10 years since I graduated college. At first I was convinced it was a waste of time. It was the first eight years after college that I learned how to book shows for myself, how to market myself as an artist, and how to write the music I really wanted to sing. I diversified my instrument repertoire by learning the ukulele; I continued learning and growing.

What Can You Do with a Music Degree? My Personal Outcome

Having experienced college and the life of a starving artist, I am thankful that I went to school and can rely on music to financially support myself in my ongoing musical endeavors. With grand hopes of becoming a star, I did not foresee becoming a music teacher, a title I now wear proudly.

It can feel like a prison to have to work a “real” job and only get to live your passion on nights and weekends. While obtaining a music degree will not guarantee you the success you may be hoping for currently, in the long-run a degree will allow you to use music in other ways if, by some twist of fate, fame is not in your stars.

Reina M.Post Author: Reina M..
Reina M. has taught singing lessons in San Diego, CA since 2005. She earned her B.A. in music from Seattle University and currently sings jazz, R&B, and soul for her original band The Dynasty. Learn more about Reina here!

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7 Must-Download iPhone Apps Every Singer Needs

8 Must-Download iPhone Apps Every Singer Needs

7 Must-Download iPhone Apps Every Singer Needs

Believe it or not, your iPhone can help you become a better singer! There are many apps that you can download for little to no cost to help you with your music training and use in between your singing lessons.

First up, here are four recommendations for iPhone and iPad singing apps from Brooklyn, NY voice teacher Liz T...

VoCo Vocal Coach

It’s hard for us singers to find the time and space to warm up our voices when we are constantly on the go between voice lessons or auditions. But with VoCo Vocal Coach, you can take the app’s warm-up exercises with you wherever you go – for free! I like this app because it has a variety of interesting warm-ups, including scales and arpeggios. Using the speakers built into your iPhone, you can sing along with the tracks, plug in your headphones, or sync your phone to your car’s stereo system. You can arrange basic vocal warm-ups to start and then work your way up to a more advanced level. Also, you are able to adjust the range of where you want your warm-ups to start, depending if you are an alto, soprano, tenor, bass, etc.

In addition to the app’s audio demonstration for each exercise, it actually shows you a visual of the warm-up, as well. Lastly, there is also the option to purchase additional warm-ups through the app.

VoCo

itunes.apple.com

Keyboard Apps

I highly suggest downloading a piano app if you are a singer, because you never know when you are going to need your first starting note or need to hear a chord before you perform. There are many great piano apps that will display a visual of a piano keyboard, and you can click any note you want to hear (sort of like your own personal pitch pipe!). One example is Touch Piano!, a free app available from the iTunes store. This is a great app to have right before you go on stage to perform or in the audition room, especially if you have to sing a cappella. You want to make sure you are singing on key and that your first note is on pitch!

Touch Piano

itunes.apple.com

Ear Worthy

As a singer, it’s important to always keep up with your ear-training exercises. It can be boring, but to be a professional singer, it’s important that you can hear the difference between high and low pitches, and if you’re singing in tune or out of tune. Lucky for you, the free Ear Worthy App can help you do just this! This app makes learning basic ear-training skills fun and simple, and it challenges you at the same time.

Ear Worthy

itunes.apple.com

Music Tutor

This fun, free app will strengthen your sight-reading skills. Using the app’s timer, you will be challenged to identify as many notes in both bass and treble clef as you can within 60 seconds. If you really feel up to a challenge, it also has the option to do this with the solfège method! The great thing about this app is that the more you use it, the quicker you will become at sight reading.

Music Tutor

itunes.apple.com

Practice Center App

Created by professional musicians for professional musicians, this app will help you get the most out of your practice routine! Designed for the iPad, the app can be downloaded for $4.99, and it allows you to actually video record your practice session. When recording the video, you have the option to save it and view it later, or even upload it and send it to friends! It’s great to record yourself singing, so that you can listen back and hear things that you need to improve on. The app also has several built-in features, such as a stopwatch, metronome, and tuning notes.

Practice Center 2

itunes.apple.com

 

Still want more options? Grand Rapids, MI voice teacher Elizabeth B. also shared her recommendations with us, and how she uses technology with her students:

One of my main goals is to help teach my students the fundamentals of music in a fun way. None of my students gets to work on songs until they have a basic understanding of notes, rhythm, and solfège. This can get really tedious. And if it isn’t fun, what’s the point? These apps have helped make learning the “nuts and bolts” easy and fun, and are great for beginners and advanced students alike.

Here are Elizabeth’s top picks for singing apps…

NoteWorks

An app I have enjoyed with my students has been NoteWorks. The graphics are great for younger students, and the music track on the home screen is pretty fun, as well. The home screen allows you to choose your level, and shows you the range of notes on the staff you’ll need to identify, as well as the speed of the notes. There is also a “help” option, which is awesome for true beginners.

When you’re ready, hit play! The notes will float from right to left on the staff, and there is a keyboard below. There is a small crab that eats the notes as you identify them. The goal is to not let the notes hit the train at the end, because it gets power from them reaching the end of the line, and the train progresses forward, ending the game if you’re not quick enough. If you’re using the help option, the correct note on the keyboard will light up in green. I’ve encouraged several of my students to play this game in their practice time, and I have found it to be quite effective in their recognition of notes on the staff, as well as the keyboard.

singing apps

itunes.apple.com

Theta Music Trainer

Another singing app I have enjoyed using myself is Theta Music Trainer. The free version has been just fine for my purposes, although there are several other options. The categories include sound, pitch, rhythm, scales, and intervals. There are dozens of games and activities to keep students occupied for hours, and the best part is that they are truly fun!

One game I’ve enjoyed within Theta is in the Melody category: Parrot Phrases. The game starts with a tip or hint to begin, and then plays the scale for you. After you have the scale in your ear, the parrot plays the three notes you need to identify, and you play them back on the keyboard.

Like NoteWorks, I enjoy the integration with the piano, which helps students identify the notes on the keyboard, as well as the notes using solfège. This game is one that I would use with a student who is more advanced with their knowledge of solfège. If I wanted to tailor this game to a beginner student, I would sing three notes on a vowel and then have the student sing them back on the same vowel, and then try to identify the solfège.

singing apps

itunes.apple.com

These fun and affordable singing apps prove that you can always find a time and place to warm up and practice your theory. Whether you’re in between voice lessons, waiting in the wings for an audition or performance, or even just jamming with friends, you can use them with you on the go.

Editor’s Pick

Lastly, we wanted to add one more singing app to the mix….

SwiftScales Virtual Vocal Trainer

If you want to practice scales and other vocal exercises, SwiftScales is a great app to download. As you move through the training program, you can follow along with specific exercises (including breathing), and also create custom routines and scale patterns to practice along with. It’s a great supplement to practice in between lessons with your voice teacher.

singing app: SwiftScales screenshot

Readers, what other singing apps do you love? Leave a comment below, and let us know!

Post Authors: Elizabeth B. and Liz T.

ElizabethBElizabeth B. teaches Broadway singing, opera voice, and music performance in Grand Rapids, MI.  She has a Bachelor of Music from Grand Valley State University and her Master of Music from Chicago College of Performing Arts. Elizabeth has been teaching students since 2011. Learn more about Elizabeth here!

LizT
Liz 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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get better at singing

4 Unconventional Ways to Get Better at Singing

get better at singing

Did you know there are ways you can get better at singing… that DON’T involve singing? Find out the ideas in this guest post by professional voice teacher Molly R...

 

The obvious thing to do when you want to get better at singing is, of course, to sign up for voice lessons! You may have even found that teacher right here on TakeLessons.com.

But singing is so much more than what goes on with your vocal cords. We also have to exude confidence and connect with our audience. We can’t always get the help we need to become dynamic performers from voice lessons alone. Here are some suggestions for other classes that will take you from a good singer to an unforgettable one!

Dance Lessons

No one’s looking for you to become the next Fred Astaire, but it’s essential that you move well if you plan on singing on any stage. Any type of dance lesson will do: ballet, salsa, ballroom, and more.

When the body’s more relaxed and agile, not only do you look more polished, your voice will be a lot more free. Gone are the days of “park and bark,” where you just stand there and open your mouth. To use your space effectively, you have to be comfortable with your body. Fear not, non-dancers: There are plenty of lessons out there that cater to beginners. I plan on taking a swing dance workshop this summer, and I am encouraging all my students to join me!

Tai Chi and Qigong

This is super simple, yet so very beneficial. Master the eight brocades in Qigong, and you have a marvelous way to connect with both body and breath! Tai Chi and Qigong lessons help us conquer nerves, get better sleep, and move with more grace. Yes, many of us have heard how yoga does all these things, too, but many people would prefer something easier and gentler. Plus, Tai Chi and Qigong are perfect for kids and senior singers!

In addition to your private lessons, I recommend following Jesse Tsao on YouTube for tips and inspiration.

Acting Lessons

A great voice becomes a spectacular voice when the audience believes you know what you’re singing about. One of the best ways to develop your performance skills is to take acting lessons. Even if you’re new to acting, beginner acting lessons abound. You can even find teachers through TakeLessons (I happen to teach beginning acting, too!).

Remember, each song you sing is a monologue set to music. Finding ways to express it dramatically, as well as musically, will set you apart from other singers who are only focused on sounding good! To help you get better at singing, an acting coach will challenge you to create a character for each song, thus making each of your performances more meaningful to both you and your audience.

To supplement your lessons, I also recommend reading the book “What Do I Do With My Hands?” by Rhonda Carlson, who has coached many Broadway performers.

Improv Lessons

This one changed everything for me! These days, improvisational comedy workshops are offered everywhere, including at corporate events and schools to make employees and students feel more confident. Plus, it’s plain fun!

Stepping out of your comfort zone is essential for any sort of performer. By taking improv lessons, you’ll strengthen your creativity by learning how to think on your feet and to trust your instincts. You’ll also learn how to “play well with others” — meaning your fellow performers and the audience. And did I mention just how much fun it is? Go for it! After performing in any improv situation, recitals, musicals, and open mics will seem so much easier!

 

So, what are you waiting for? As a voice student, you will always be learning something new to help you get better at singing — but, surprisingly, it’s not always about vocal technique! So go sign up, and have a blast. When you’re having fun on stage, so is the audience!

mollyrPost Author: Elaina R.
Molly R. teaches online and in-person singing lessons in Hayward, CA. Her specialties include teaching beginner vocalists, shy singers, children, teens, lapsed singers, and older beginners. She joined TakeLessons in November 2013. Learn more about Molly here!

Photo by Nick Page

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Singers, Don’t Forget These 9 Items In Your Gig Bag!

Performing in front of a live audience is an amazing feeling! But to ensure a smooth, no-stress gig, preparation is key. If you’re looking for tips for your first gig — or just need a refresher — check out this advice from Saint Augustine, FL voice teacher Heather L...

 

For the performing singer, there’s nothing quite like having practiced your butt off for three weeks, spraying your throat every five minutes with that throat spray for singers, and running through your customized voice exercises, only to realize as you walk through those venue doors that you forgot your microphone at home.

As the lead singer of two Saint Augustine, Florida bands, I know that I’m part of a team. But I also know that I need to be responsible for my own stuff, and what exactly we need as performing singers, whether you’re a solo act or in a group, can get pretty specific. Whether it’s your first gig or you’re an experienced performer, you need to be prepared. Here’s my list of what every singer needs to pack in his or her gig bag.

What to Pack In Your Gig Bag

Throat Coat Tea and Honey (single-serve packets)
You might be skeptical of special teas and potions for the voice, like I once was. But trust me, after singing in a dry room for two hours, you’ll be thankful for the lubrication!

Great Microphone
My microphone is a Shure product. It’s not expensive and sounds great. What’s important is having your own, especially if you ever put your mouth on it. Germs, anyone?

Wind Screen
This is super important for protecting the investment that is your microphone. Strong wind, a drop on the floor, or even blowing air into it can cause damage. Your wind screen can prevent this.

Your Phone
OK, so you might not need to pack this in the gig bag, but be sure to take it. If you’re running late, you’ll want to let the venue know.

Mic Stand
Even if you’re the kind of performer who runs all over the stage with a cordless mic, you’ll need to keep that mic in a safe spot between sets. There might even be a song you’ll want to try with the mic in its stand!

Water
Even though I personally recommend drinking tea with a thicker consistency than water during performances, water will hydrate the body before and after you sing.

Potato Chips
I was skeptical about this one for a long time. But a music producer recommended them, and now, I always pack them in my gig bag. The salt reduces mucus, the oil lubricates, and the crunch helps relieve stress.

Your Merch
If you have any merchandise for your act, like T-shirts, CDs, cards for free downloads of one of your songs, or even just business cards, you’ll want to pack them in your gig bag. You never know who you’ll meet at a show, or what fans will ask for!

Extension Cord
Recently, my band had to make a really stressful and last-minute run to the local hardware store 20 minutes before show time, because our cords weren’t long enough for the new venue. Be prepared with a 50-foot extension cord. Oh, and make it an outdoor one, in case it rains!

Not There Yet? Here’s How to Get Gigs

Word of mouth is said to be the best way to get gigs for bands and musicians. But since the Internet is where so much is communicated nowadays, word of mouth means having a great social media presence. Make sure that you have a fresh, updated Facebook page with videos, reviews (even from teachers and fellow musicians), audio, and lots of photos of rehearsals and formal band photos, too. Make sure that you have a YouTube channel, so that potential clients and fans can watch you perform. Even if you only post great band practices, people can still get a feel for your sound! You can also make your own website for free at Wix.com, where you can post past and future gigs. (Here’s a great post from Wix about setting up your music website.)

Next, search your local paper or Google local open mics — these are a great way to get exposure and meet other musicians! You can also build a profile for free at websites like GigMasters and GigSalad. They’ll send leads for gigs right to your email and charge a small fee. Here’s a great round-up of those and other websites for finding gigs.

Tips for Your First Gig

Gearing up for your first gig? Congrats!

  • First, get as many details as possible from your gig contact, who’s probably the person who scheduled or hired you. Make sure that you know exactly what you’ll need to bring, what the venue already has and is willing to share, how early you’re allowed to set up your gear, how long you’re expected to perform, and a number for your contact at the venue on the day of the event, just in case you get caught in traffic or tied up, and you need to call ahead.
  • Second, if it’s possible, go to the venue yourself to check it out. How much room is there? (This’ll also help you feel more comfortable when you actually perform in the space.)
  • Third, rehearse as much as your schedule allows, and try to practice in the same physical set-up that you’ll be in the venue. Here’s a handy checklist for preparing for a gig.
  • Fourth, relax, but not by telling yourself not to be nervous… instead tell yourself that the nervousness is only excitement. It really is all about perspective and attitude.

All this considered, the most important thing to bring to a performance should be so big, that you couldn’t fit it into any gig bag. That thing is your amazing self-confidence. Remember that excitement you were feeling earlier? One of the best tips for your first gig is to use that excitement as extra energy. Because, let’s face it, you could drink all of the finest teas in the world and own the best microphones, but if you don’t believe that you belong up there, singing, you’re toast.

HeatherLHeather L. teaches singing, piano, acting, and more in St. 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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Pre-performance checklist flowchart

Checklist for Singers: How to Prepare for an Upcoming Gig

Are you a singer gearing up for an important gig? If you’re feeling nervous about singing, don’t sweat. Here, online voice teacher Tyler J. share his timeline for success…

 

The gig is booked, you’ve invited your friends, and you realize on the night of the show that you haven’t even rehearsed yet. Your heart rate speeds up, your stomach turns, and you break out in a cold sweat. “I’ve barely rehearsed, I’m totally going to screw this up” repeats over and over in your mind as you pace back and forth counting down the hours until downbeat. Have you ever been in this situation? Of course you’re going to feel nervous about singing in this scenario.

It’s something that many performing musicians have experienced, but it fortunately can be remedied well in advance. Following the checklist below is a great way to know you’re well prepared, and will help you confidently take the stage when the time comes.

Checklist for Singers

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While at first this may seem like a lot of work, when you space it out over a few weeks it’ll seem much easier. I highly suggest working through this checklist with your vocal coach (and if you don’t have one, look no further than right here on TakeLessons.com!). These are just some of the tips for singers that will help you become an amazing performer. Your teacher can also provide honest criticism of your performance, help you memorize lyrics, and help to keep your voice feeling strong and comfortable. If you’re prepared, you’ll be able to step on stage with confidence and deliver an excellent performance.

Need help finding a vocal coach near you? Start your search here!

Tyler J

 Tyler J. teaches multiple styles of singing and guitar via online lessons. He recently earned a Master of Music in Commercial Music from California State University Los Angeles and can also help students with composition, music recording, and audio engineering. Learn more about Tyler here!

 

 

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