Category Archives: vocals
Excerpt from The Complete Idiots Guide to Singing Written by Susan Anders ~voice instructor
Develop better pitch accuracy vocalize using the sounds “dee” and “daw” with your scale warm ups –
work at it slowly, record your lessons and listen back. By using melodyne software(available at Digital
Dynamics) you’ll be able to accurately see your pitches graphically. Listen for specific vowels that are
problematic. As you continue work on a song replace dee and daw with those vowels. Listen carefully to
the piano or guitar to help you lock into the pitch. You should know melody well enough to be able to
sing a cappella, and it’s a good idea to practice at different volumes. Remember no scooping or sliding
when you’re learning a new song and working on pitch control. It’s important to maintain good
breathing techniques make sure you can feel your lower part of your abdomen expand. Inhale thru your
mouth. Keep your rib cage lifted, push in w the abdomen muscles as you sing for support.
Shoulders should remain down and relaxed and the larynx neutral. You should have an inner smile,
think about being happy as you sing, as this will help to raise the soft palette and improve your tone.
Use a mirror and make sure that your eyebrows are not scrunching. and on the low notes, should fill a
nice low resonant sound as you vocalize “eeeee” or “eeeeeew” with no vibrato, and on the higher notes
vocalize with “me-yah”
Maintain good breathing, good posture. Proper diction and these will help proper intonation, all of
these will help you as you work for better more accurate pitch control of your singing.
Excerpt from The Complete Idiots Guide to Singing Written by Susan Anders ~voice instructor
Analyze the score to determine:
4. Component parts (intro, verse, chorus, solo, bridge, outro)
5. Convert melody to solfeggio – assign relative pitch numerically to each syllable
6. Locate pitch climax and pitch floor
7. Mark the chord changes
9. Back story (who where what when why) make it real, what’s the character of the story teller
10. Mark the rhythm – say out loud (whole 234, half note, walk, running, alabama) tap out timing, say la
11. Mark the phrasing and study the phrase lengths for breath consideration and markings – use comma
12. Number all measures
13. Rehearse the melody w backing track, should be able sing it a cappella
14. Underline the words that are important and need emphasis in each phrase
15. Look for diphthongs on long held notes
16. Ensure all “uh” sounds are song as ah – tall vowels
17. Mark consonants endings (diminish r’s, and watch consonant connections)
18. Look at the lyrics and determine the emotional tone, and see if there is a shift in mood as the song
19. Determine stylistic and contextual tendencies
Excerpt from The Complete Idiots Guide to Singing Written by Susan Anders ~voice instructor
Most harmonies are based on intervals of 3,4 and 6, third, fourth and sixth above the melody
Diatonic harmony – pick a note in the scale, then add a third to that, plus a 5th created diatonic chords
Block chord harmonies: instead of following the shape of the melody, the harmonizers sing notes that fit
the chord movement, creating a chord pad.
Intervals: the distance between two notes. From C to E is a major third, from C up to A is a major 6th. When
harmonizing you are staying an interval away from the melody, commonly a 3rd, 4th or 6th.
Parallel Harmony: the most common kind of harmonizing. A parallel harmony describes the same shape as
the melody while staying an interval above or below the melody. Parallel thirds harmonies are the most
common kind of parallel harmonizing. The two rules for singing a parallel harmony are 1) follow the shape of
the melody, and 2) make sure what you do works with the chord movement of the song.
In Seconds Harmonies the harmony part is an interval of a second away instead of a third or fourth.
Upper harmony (1/3 above melody)2 rules: follow the shape of the melody and fit it to the chord
being played (intelligent pitch shifting)
measuring – counting up the scale to find your harmony
1-2-3-4-5- now I’m singing up and down a scale
1-3-5-1 now I’m singing a chord
If too high – sing an octave lower, now this harmony becomes a 6TH below the melody instead of a third
The upper – upper harmony UUH – has same two rules as parallel, but you use the first harmony to begin
counting up three steps. So you take the first harmony, and count up 3 steps to complete the triad chord
Minor keys work the same
When root note is on the bottom – it is called a root position chord
Inversion is where the root note is raised an octave and the previous 3rd is now on the bottom. With
inversions, the harmony intervals will either be a 3rd or 4th
Call Response Harmony – found in gospel where the harmony echoes or responds back to the melody
instead of singing at the same time
Lower Harmonies – UUH dropped down an octave is nearest parallel lower harmony – called lower
harmony. The UH dropped an octave= lower- lower harmony. Just drop down or measure down a 3rd or
4th until it locks w the chord
Block Chord Movement
Chromatic Movement – go down in 1/2 steps (eew’s and aah’s)
Harmony should be sung lower in volume than the lead vocal and less intense (so add some breath to
reduce the intensity)
Some harmony will drop the last consonant so you don’t have multiple s’s.
To polish a harmony part were going watch intonation, cutoffs, dynamics and the blend
1.find easy songs, where you can use parallel harmony and step wise movement
For rangier sections use a 2. block cord harmony
3. Work with and practice with others
4. Use karaoke tracks or a guitar or piano for pitch reference
5. Listen to vocal groups
6. Find the upper harmony first measure up a third interval from the melody line for the upper harmony
7. And then measure up another 1/3 for the UUH
8. Record yourself
9. Use parallel harmony, call and response, non parallel , seconds, and block chord harmony
Written by Susan Anders ~ vocal instructor
You’ve watched the show, you’ve seen the competition, and you think you’re ready to come face-toface
with Simon Cowell. The first step is to blow everyone away at the initial American Idol audition.
The rules and audition format for each city where American Idol auditions are held keep changing
each year, so be sure to check the American Idol site and prepare exactly what they specify for the
city where you plan to audition. Here’s a checklist to help you prepare:
1. Find a Good Audition Song
For most auditions you will want to sing just a chorus of a song, so make sure it’s a great chorus that
really shows you off. This is not a time for subtlety, you want songs that hit people over the head like
“I Will Always Love You”, “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” and “If I Ain’t Got You.” However, all of
these songs I’ve mentioned will probably be sung by many other singers. Do your homework and
find a song that’s not as popular but just as showy. Recent hits are in everyone’s ear, so go back a
way and find something older and great. Try singing songs originally made famous by a singer of the
opposite gender to make it fresh. Also try jumping genres: “I Will Always Love You” was originally a
country song until Whitney reinvented it. A fresh approach to a killer song will get attention.
Find a song that shows off your full range without going beyond it. You don’t want to be straining for
any high notes, but you don’t want to bore them with a song that’s too easy. The key of the original
song may be too high or low for you, but when you sing it a cappella you can put it in your key. Put it
in the highest possible key where you still sound good. If the low notes are still too low you need a
different song, you won’t be able to magically sing them at the audition. See my article about singing
low notes for more on that.
If possible, get a version in your key to practice with. That can be a karaoke version in the right key,
or if you have a karaoke player you can change the key. Or, you may need to go to a vocal coach or
accompanist for one lesson to get a piano version of the song for practice purposes. If you do this,
make sure to get a version with and without the melody played, and while you’re at it get one where
just the bass notes of the accompaniment are played. I’ll explain why in the next section.
2. Practice Your Song With Accompaniment
You will be auditioning without accompaniment, but too many singers forget to really learn the song
before doing this. Then a cappella they go off-key. I had a singer come in last year right before an
audition who managed to sing one chorus in five different keys! You’ll want to develop your own
version of the song, but learn the melody first. That means get that melody down. Record yourself
singing along with the singer or piano accompaniment with melody and make sure your voice
matches, especially on high notes, low notes, fast phrases and runs.
When you are comfortable singing your song with the singer or melody, practice with a version
where the melody isn’t played or sung. Focus on listening to the accompaniment while you sing, that
will help keep you in tune. Record yourself again and listen for any pitch problems. Remember that
sometimes singers go out of tune because they just need more practice, and sometimes they go out
of tune for technical problems like too much throat tension. You may need to work more with the
melody version of the song, but if you keep practicing and you’re still out of tune, go see a vocal
3. Practice Your Song Without Accompaniment
Now you want to see if you can keep it together singing a cappella. If you have a version where just
the bass notes are played try singing with that first. Or start singing with the recorded
accompaniment, turn off the track and sing a cappella, then check the track when you’re done to see
if you’re still in tune. If you play an instrument you can use the same method, just play the first and
last chord and sing a cappella in-between.
Once again, record yourself. If you’re drifting to another key, go back and work with the
accompaniment some more. If you sound good, get ruthless with yourself: evaluate your singing as if
you were Simon Cowell. Listen for pitch accuracy, tone quality, expressiveness, articulation, and
control. Polish your performance until it’s a sparkling diamond.
4. Practice Your Song In Front of the Mirror
Now that your singing sounds good it’s time to make sure you look good. Get in front of the mirror
and sing to yourself. Make sure you aren’t bouncing around too much, or that you aren’t a statue.
You should look relaxed, but still have good posture. Your face should look interested as you sing,
not like you’re in pain. As you sing to yourself in the mirror try to focus on your forehead, which will
keep your eyes from flitting around.
5. Practice Your Song In Front of a Camcorder
The camera doesn’t lie: tape yourself and then check for all of the already discussed visual, vocal
and performance points. Taping yourself might kick up some nerves, too.
6. Practice Your Song In Front of an Audience
Many singers are good at working their song feverishly up to this point, but forget to practice in front
of people. Live performances have an energy that is hard to recreate at home, so the only way to
prepare is to do practice performances. Sing at karaoke clubs as much as possible. Even though
your American Idol audition will probably be off-mic and a cappella, this is still a good way to
prepare. You could have a friend videotape your performance. Also, gather family and friends and
perform your song for them. You could even tell them to act bored or tired, since that may be the
emotional state of the people you sing for at the audition! Whenever a friend can spare thirty
seconds to be your audience, sing for them. Singing in as many different places to as many different
people as possible will prepare you for the craziness of the actual audition.
7. Practice Your Song In Your Sleep
Well, this is a joke, of course, but I do have a point to make. If your audition is like many of them, you
will have been waiting a long time, perhaps even camping overnight, before you finally get to sing.
You’ll be tired, impatient, hungry or otherwise not at your best. Then when you finally get to sing,
adrenaline will hit you like a lightning bolt. You want to be able to give a fantastic performance even
if you’re exhausted, nervous, hungry, angry, whatever. If you’ve practiced and fine-tuned your
performance enough, you can transcend any physical or emotional state and still deliver the kind of
knockout audition that will get you noticed.
How To Master Low Notes:
What Many American Idol Singers Forget to Do
There are many articles out there on how to audition and how to develop your performance skills, so
I instead I’m going to address a vocal skill that I find lacking in many of the American Idol singers.
I’ve been coaching singers for over twenty years and I continue to see this problem in the singers I
work with as well.
In general I’ve seen a huge improvement in vocal technique since the first American Idol. The
success of the show has brought a bigger pool of singers to the auditions, and the ones that make it
past the third round of auditions are often pretty good. They each have mastered many of the
essentials of good singing: a pleasing sound, good range, volume, and a certain amount of control.
But there is one weak area I keep noticing in many of these singers: lack of low-end control.
Many singers obsess about and work long hours to be able to belt as strong and as high as possible,
but when they sing a low section of the song they go out of tune. Additionally, their voices might get
breathy, weak or wobbly. For all the flack Simon Cowell gets, I’ve heard him criticize several singers
for this and he was absolutely right. A good singer masters her high and low range.
Steps Towards Mastering Low Notes
Remember that the vocal chords relax as notes descend in pitch, and if they relax too much you can
lose control of the sound. To stay in control of low notes you need to feel resonance (vibration) in
your face when you sing them. This is difficult because low notes, by their nature, cannot be sung
loudly, and louder notes vibrate more. Your goal for low notes is for them to have clarity and
presence, not volume–that’s what the microphone is for, bring it closer to your mouth on low notes to
To feel resonance in your face on your low notes, start with humming. If you don’t feel anything, try
slowly shaking your head from side to side to relax your throat. If you still don’t feel any resonance or
vibration in your face, continue this exercise every day for a week. You can also try tipping your
head slightly towards the floor to increase resonance. Every singer I’ve ever worked with eventually
can feel resonance, and it’s critical. When you’re singing correctly you should always feel resonance
in your face and not much of anything in your throat. With resonance comes control.
If you did feel facial resonance while humming, now try singing a held note on “mee” – pick a note in
the middle of your range. Try to sing it without vibrato and strive for a clean, non-airy tone. Again, try
slowly shaking your head from side to side if the sound is airy or you don’t feel resonance. If you do,
gradually sing lower and lower one-note “Mee”s. Notice that your volume will drop as you descend,
but you should still feel that vibration and the tone should remain clean.
It’s much easier to feel resonance and control on “closed” vowels like “ee”, so work with this sound
for awhile. Find a section of a song that is fairly small in range: the chorus of “I Will Always Love
You”, sung without Whitney’s vocal fills, will work. Sing the chorus on “Mee” fairly low in your range.
Once again, sing with no vibrato and a clear tone. This may sound overly controlled to you but it will
help you strengthen your low end. If you can sing the whole chorus and feel resonance throughout,
try it again in a lower key. Repeat this until you reach the lowest part of your range. If at any time you
feel the sound in your throat or you’ve lost control of the note (it weakens, wobbles, or gets airy),
move back to a higher key.
Working Low Notes in Songs
Let’s say you’ve worked your low end for awhile but you still find singing low notes difficult in your
songs. First of all, check the key and make sure you aren’t going too low for your range. If it’s too low
for you at home I can guarantee it will be too low when you are filled with adrenaline singing for an
audience. Your high notes might be easier due to the adrenaline, but your lows will be harder to
reach. Pick a reasonable key. Then sing your song, but at first substitute “Mee” for all the low notes
until you feel resonance and control on them. When you go back to the regular lyric, very slightly
smile on your lowest notes to brighten them. Lifting your eyebrows helps, too, but not so much that
you look goofy.
One more thing: absolutely do not sing any fast runs on your low notes until you have mastered the
regular melody. So many singers put the cart before the horse and throw in the fancy stuff before
mastering the melody. If you can’t control the low notes of the regular melody you will surely go out
of tune trying to sing elaborate runs.
Working on you low end can be a nice break from all the high notes we work on as singers, and it’s
also good to do if your voice is a little tired. Mastering your low end may just give you the edge over
all the other great singers that make it to American Idol.
Susan Anders – vocal instructor
An earlier version of this article first appeared in Acoustic Guitar Magazine written by Susan Anders ~ vocal instructor
You’ve been singing for awhile now, you’ve developed a technique and style that works for you, your
confidence is high, and you just need one thing before you hit that jam session, stage or studio:
other musicians! Finding musicians to play with is like finding a combination of the perfect job and
the perfect mate. Finding someone you get along with can be hard enough, but to find someone (or
ones) who shares your artistic taste, your vision, your dedication, and your schedule can be a
daunting task. Luckily, the world is packed with musicians who are probably looking for you. If you
can put the time and thought into your search it’s probably just a matter of time until you find your
musical mate(s). Here are some steps that can help:
Before You Start Your Search
• Get prepared. What are you going to say to the bass player you meet at Borders who
asks you what you do? Can you describe the music you like and what your abilities are in
an easy soundbite? “I’m a belter and I want to put together an acoustic Nirvana cover
band.” Keep it simple. The bassist may not be right for you but a friend of hers might be,
so you want something easy to remember. No one likes to pigeonhole themselves (we’re
all originals, aren’t we?) but try to put yourself in a ballpark.
• What do you want? A guitarist at your level with whom you can jam? A band that is
dedicated to getting a record deal? A once-a-week casual jazz gig at the corner
coffeehouse? Get very clear about your goals. The clearer you are, the less chance
you’ll be sidetracked by musicians who aren’t right for you.
• What can you offer? Musicians will play with you for a variety of reasons. It’s pretty
easy to lure musicians to a jam session (many are known to follow the scent of free beer
and chips), but securing the level of committment required for starting and maintaining a
band is quite another matter. Some players have a “no pay, no play” rule. For many a
struggling artist this may be a deal breaker. But paying your musicians does have a
definite advantage: you get to be in charge. She or he who signs the checks calls the
tunes. If you want musicians to play for free, however, you may need to offer them
something else. If you write all the songs, are you willing to split future royalties with the
band? Do you have a lead on a paying gig? Great contacts? Don’t be discouraged if all
you have is talent, vision, and drive – a dream and a well thought out plan can be very
seductive. Be honest: I have voice students who have found musicians by saying
something like “I have no track record, I’ve never performed, but I’ve studied voice for
two years and my teacher says I’m great.”
• Get Organized. The first thing that’s said when two musicians get together to play is “So
what do you know, dude?” Make a list of the songs you do. Get sheet music or chord
charts in your key and gather them into a folder. Make copies.
If you’re doing original music, record a CD of it if you can. A CD is also handy if you sing
cover songs. Many musicians will want to hear your voice and/or your songs before
agreeing to play with you. Think of this CD as your calling card, and pass it out to any
potential musicians. Don’t spend too much money on this pre-demo CD; a guitar/vocal or
piano/vocal CD will get your voice and songs across sufficiently, and many
producer/engineer/musicians can help you record one for cheap. If your songs aren’t
finished, get your lyric scraps together in a notebook, so you have something to show
future collaborators. If you have the money and determination, another avenue is to
record a more elaborate demo that more clearly shows your musical vision and abilities.
You’ll have something splashier to show prospective musicians, and you can use it to
market yourself before you’ve found them. The world is filled with producer/engineers
who have their own studios, and they usually have a stable of musicians they can use for
their projects. Lastly, make a list of any relevant contacts you have: photographers,
booking agents, graphic artists, etc.
• Where will you compromise? Your dream band can readily be found. . . in your
dreams. The real world usually offers up something less. Will you join a band that loves
your singing but refuses to play your songs? What if you find the perfect band but they
want you to only sing back-up vocals? What if that great guitarist can only rehearse
Sundays from 3 to 4 o’clock? You want to be flexible without getting stuck in a situation
that’s worlds away from your goal. Know ahead of time what your limits are.
• Tell everyone you know. Everyone has a musician cousin, neighbor, friend, or
employee. Get the word out.
• Throw a party or jam session. Invite every musician you know and tell them to bring
every musician they know. If you are new to jam sessions, it wouldn’t hurt to hire an
experienced player (preferably a local name musician) to keep the ball rolling. Plus you’ll
attract more players if you can say “Yeah, and Joe Blow the Killer Bassist will be there.”
It doesn’t have to be a music party, either: My husband and I used to have a monthly
salon where we invited people to meet and discuss political and social issues. When we
needed a bass player for our band we realized that we could choose from three bassists
who were regular salon attendees!
• Musician Classifieds. It’s tough dealing with strangers and you may meet with some
attitude, but there are some great musicians out there using ads.Treat these as you
would a personals ad: don’t give out your address, check each other out on the phone.
Consider placing your own ad. Read other classifieds to get an idea of what to include.
You want to describe yourself, what you want and your goals with a minimum of words.
For example, “Deadhead tenor seeks musicians/singers to jam with for fun only.” “Pro
level female singer wants to join deal-minded bluegrass band. Dedication a must.”
Musician-wanted ads are found in free local weeklies more often than in major daily
newspapers (musicians are not the most affluent of people). Look for alternative weeklies
in coffeeshops and libraries. Also look in guitar and music stores for periodicals geared
towards local musicians. Don’t bother with ads in national magazines unless you are a
well-funded touring band.
• Bulletin Boards. These can be hard to find in larger cities but it’s worth looking. They
can be valuable, especially for finding musicians in your neighborhood. Look in
instrument and sheet music stores, but also check out boards at your local coffee shop
or grocery store.
• The Internet: Chock-full of sites where you can connect with other musicians, plus you
can mp3 your demo to possible musicians for free. Just be careful since you don’t know
who you are connecting with. Don’t give out your address or phone number until you
have a good feeling about whomever you meet online.
• Musician Contact Services: These cost money, but they can have listings you won’t
find elsewhere. You’ll find ads for them in the back of music-oriented periodicals. Use
them after you’ve exhausted other methods.
• Get out into the world: This is critical. It’s time consuming but fun, and can be the best
way to meet people. Go to:
• Clubs and coffeehouses: Preferably ones that play your style of music. When you find
one you like, try to go fairly often, even if a band you don’t know is playing. You’ll feel
more at home and be braver about meeting people when you’re a regular. If you like a
band or artist, approach them (but not when they are hurriedly clearing their stuff from
the stage). Most musicians appreciate the attention, and you never know if they might be
looking for new singers.
• Open Mics: Go whether you perform or not. Lots of solo artists are looking to be more
than solo. I’ve also seen performers at open mics say things like “I just met this guy out
back and he’s going to sit in on this next song.” If you’re looking for other singers, you’ll
find loads of them at piano bars. If you are past the beginner stage, some clubs have full
bands with which you can sit in: look for “Jam Night” listings in the paper. Some of these
are open, some are invitation only. Often you can wrangle an invitation if you go and
hang out several times. Open mics change continually: check your local weekly for club
and coffeehouse listings.
• Professional Organizations: ASCAP, BMI, SESAC (all performing rights societies) and
NSAI (Nashville Songwriters Association Intl) often have industry showcases and classes
that are loaded with musicians. All of the above have regional chapters throughout the
country. Taxi is also a great organization full of networking musicians, as is Just Plain
• Music Festivals: Festival campgrounds are crammed with soon-to-jam or jamming
musicians. Use common sense and good manners about joining an ongoing jam
session, but in general you’ll find loads of friendly players. Many musicians go to the
Kerrville Folk Festival simply to hang out with fellow musicians and end up skipping the
scheduled concerts. Not all festivals are conducive to campground jamming; I camped at
the Telluride Bluegrass Festival one freezing June: people disappeared into tents at night
and thawed out by day watching the performers. Staffers will know if their festival is jamfriendly;
• Guitar Camps and Music Classes: Guitar and music camps are incredibly fun as well
as a great place to find musicians. If you’re shy about singing with other musicians, this
is the place to start; guitar camp staffers and teachers are notorious for their ability to
painlessly ease you into jam sessions. If you’re more advanced, you’ll find loads of likeminded
players who would like nothing more than to jam until sunrise. The camps are
filled with smart, funny, nice people aged eighteen to eighty I’ve taught and been a
student/camper at several camps and it’s often the most fun I have all year. Go to one
even if you aren’t looking for musicians, you’ll have a blast.
I’ve taken several classes where the people I met were the highlight of the class. You’ll
find musicians in theory, songwriting, and music business classes. Your local music store
may offer classes, and also check out your nearest community college. Class listings can
also be found in the back of your local weekly. If you’re feeling brave, you can even call
private music teachers to ask if they have any great students who are looking for singers.
One of the best things about going out is that you’ll meet and befriend other singers. They may not
all share your exact musical goals or abilities, but there’s nothing like being part of a community of
singers to keep you happy and on track throughout your musical search and beyond.
A final inspirational story: when I moved to LA years ago I knew exactly three people in town. I
immediately sent my demo CD to the local music paper’s demo review columnist, then waited eight
months for the review to appear. During that time I went to every open mic and club I could find. (By
the way, you’ll meet more people if you go by yourself.) I met my future bass player at an open mic
and my future co-producer at a club. My demo was finally reviewed the following summer and I
subsequently received a call from a producer/engineer/guitarist who’d read the review and liked my
material enough to offer me spec studio time to record my first album. While recording the album we
formed a band, started dating, and later got married. So get motivated, get organized, get out there
written by Susan Anders ~ vocal instructor
Why should a songwriter consider the added time and expense of taking singing lessons? Of course, I’m biased: I’m a singing teacher. But I’m
also a songwriter, and over the years I’ve seen the many benefits of vocal study. Even if you are
convinced that you sound like a frog with strep throat and you will never sing in public, there are
reasons to take a few classes. They include:
• Vocal Health–Why leave a writing session hoarse when a few warm up exercises done
while driving to the session could prevent you from straining your voice?
• Ability to Think Like a Singer–This is invaluable if you are trying to get your songs cut.
I once wrote with a guitarist who came up with a line that sounded great on guitar but
was very awkward and uncomfortable to sing. When I said that the line “didn’t sing well”
he looked at me as if I were nuts. But I would bet my car that the difficulty of singing that
melody made the song less pitchable-I certainly didn’t want to sing it! Some lyrics also
look great on paper but feel awkward to sing-once you learn about singer’s diction in
voice class you’ll understand why. As you learn about your voice in singing lessons you
develop an instinctive feel for which melodies and lyrics flow vocally, and which don’t.
The more singable the song, the more pitchable it is.
• Better Work Tapes and Communication With Co-Writers–Even the aforementioned
frog-voiced writer has to sing for co-writers and make work tapes for demo producers,
demo singers, etc. Developing your range and pitch accuracy will make it much easier
for you to communicate to the world what you hear in your head. One writer I know was
only writing lyrics though she had definite melodic ideas in her head– after she took
some lessons she gained the confidence to also contribute musically.
• Singing is Fun!–Singing well is even more fun. When you sing correctly it feels good
and endorphins kick in. Singers often experience a “singer’s high” akin to a runner’s high.
I have on occasion been in a funk, forced myself to do some vocal practicing, and sung
myself into a good mood. And when I’m having fun I have a better creative flow, so I
write more and better songs.
The above points pertain to all songwriters. The following points are for songwriters who perform at
writer’s nights, song circles, and other gigs.
• The Better You Sing, the More People Listen–Rivers Rutherford, Gretchen Peters,
Leslie Satcher and Jeffrey Steele are all hit songwriters as well as wonderful singers. At
live shows their singing ability draws you in, then they deliver the songwriting goods.
Developing your voice helps promote your songs. A while back I heard a successful
writer squeak out his recent George Strait hit at the Bluebird Cafe–it was barely
recognizable from the version I’d heard on the radio. We in Nashville pride ourselves on
being able to distinguish a great song regardless of the singer, but had I heard the
writer’s version first I honestly don’t think I would have recognized just how good the
song was. I’m not saying that a writer needs to study singing for years and try to develop
a star quality voice–I’m saying that some voice study can and should improve tone,
range, pitch accuracy, sustenance, and overall delivery of a song.
• The Nerves Thing–Playing out is part of the job. It’s how we try our new songs out on
people and how we network. The more you learn your voice and what it can do, the
easier it is to perform. I’ve had episodes of world class stage fright but I knew my voice
would stay solid, which ultimately eased my nerves. Because I’m fairly comfortable with
my voice, stage fright never prevents me from getting my songs out to the world.
If you decide to try some voice classes, make sure to let your teacher know that you are a writer.
Better yet, spell out your goals in the first conversation: do you want to sing your own demos, knock
everyone out at live performances, get rid of the sore throats you get during writing sessions, simply
get more comfortable with your voice, or what? Being clear about your goals will help your teacher
develop a sensible study path for you.
Acoustic Guitar Magazine written by Susan Anders ~ vocal instructor
Out with friends at a club one night a singer has an epiphany: what she wants more than anything is
to be the next Janis Joplin. Unfortunately, she just spent five years learning arias with a classical
voice teacher, developing her richest, highest tones. Her sweet, clear soprano voice won’t cut it as a
blues singer, and she knows nothing about belting, improvising riffs or working on stage with a rock
band. Some of what she’s learned in her classical studies might cross over, but she wishes she’d
thought about where she was headed as a singer before devoting all those years exclusively to
It’s important to know what your singing goals are. I don’t mean technical goals like increasing your
range or improving your tone, though they are also important. What I mean is, when you daydream
about singing, what and where are you singing? There are many directions a singer can go, and the
sooner you know what your goals are, the better you can direct your energies towards achieving
Try that daydream right now. Relax, close your eyes, and imagine that you are singing a song you
love, having a wonderful time. Try to suspend all judgments like “I’m too old” or “I’ll never be good
enough to do that”. If you can’t conjure up a scene that feels right, then imagine yourself in several
different situations, taking note of which one seems like the most fun. Imagine yourself, for example,
belting out the lead in a Broadway musical, wailing with a rousing gospel choir, laying down tracks in
a recording studio, fronting a rock band in an amphitheater, or accompanying yourself on guitar at a
After you’ve dreamed up a singing situation that feels right, ask yourself the following questions:
• What style of music were you singing? Is that the style you love the most?
• Were you singing alone or with others?
• How were you dressed? Blue jeans? Evening attire? Leather?
• Where were you? An amphitheater? A church? How about the audience, were they
sitting attentively? Dancing, screaming and storming the stage?
• What kind of accompaniment did you have?
All these questions are to help you define the style of music and the context in which you want to
sing that style.
Once you’ve pinned down a singing goal that feels right, it’s time to ask yourself some harder
• Is your voice right for this style? If not, could you make it right with vocal studies? A
reputable voice teacher can give you a decent opinion as to what you might realistically
attain with training. If you can afford it, get opinions from several professionals. A friend
of mine who is currently headlining throughout Australia was told by a teacher that she
had no singing talent at all, and a student that I didn’t expect much from got herself a
record deal within a year of her first lesson! If you do consult a teacher, ask them
beforehand if they can teach you what you need to know. Don’t study with an opera
teacher to learn jazz phrasing; don’t go to a blues teacher to prepare for musical theater
If your voice truly isn’t right for the style of music you love, you have several options. You
can say to hell with the odds and go for your goal anyway. The world is filled with
successful singers who have atypical voices–Neil Young and Macy Gray come to mind.
Or, you can modify your goal slightly. For instance, if your voice isn’t strong enough to
lead a rock band, it might still be good enough to be a back-up singer. You could also
make a slight style shift: maybe you don’t have the volume and power to sing lead in a
Broadway show, but your acting skills and smaller “character” voice could work great in
cabaret. Blossom Dearie is a good example.
• Does your temperament fit the job description? Some singing positions require you to be
outgoing, some require wild spontaneity, some require cool precision. While I have no
qualms about walking into a recording studio and learning a song on the spot, the idea of
doing 16 bars at a musical theater audition makes me queasy. You could make yourself
miserable forcing yourself into a singing situation that goes against your nature.
Research the reality behind your dream. Find someone who is doing what you want to do
and take them out to lunch so you can pick their brain. Unless they are an overbooked
superstar they might very well be flattered by the attention. Scour the internet for singers’
chat groups and web sites. Read interviews with working singers in magazines. Get a
good idea of the ups and downs of your singing goal and ask yourself honestly if it’s right
• Does your look fit the job description? I hate to have to ask that question, but sometimes
appearance is an issue. Changing your wardrobe is easy enough , but ask yourself if
you’ll be comfortable singing jazz in cocktail wear, folk in blue jeans or heavy metal in
leather. More importantly, ask yourself if you have the look for the style you want to sing.
I’m all for busting stereotypes, but if you are fifty pounds heavier than every hard rock
singer you admire, or if you want to be the first Asian rap superstar, do you have the guts
and stamina to buck the status quo?
Some styles of music are more ageist than others. There are lots of folk, cabaret, and
jazz singers who are well over forty. Pop, hip-hop and dance music, however, are mostly
inhabited by younger artists. Happily, there are always examples of singers who go
against stereotype and succeed: Lucinda Williams had Rolling Stone’s record of the year
and broke out of her cult status at age 45, Charley Pride was a success as an African-
American in the all-white 70’s country scene, and Lyle Lovett’s kind of homely face never
• Is making money with your singing a priority? Some styles, like folk and choir singing,
rarely bring in much money. Exceptions exist: several friends of mine make their living
touring the world as folk singers, and opera choir singers can make a decent wage.
Some singing positions have the potential to make money, but can take a lot of time,
money and energy spent before you see a penny. Vocalists going for a record contract
are a good example of this, as are budding Broadway singers.
Singing jobs that might support you include: jingles and session work, casuals (singing
jazz and pop standards at hotels, weddings, etc.), live back-up singing for established
artists, cruise ship and theme park work, and musical theater touring companies.
Educational jobs like running children’s music classes also pay, but you may end up
conducting and coaching more than singing. Many of the classical singers I know have
weekly “church gigs”, and during the Christmas holidays also have plenty of paid caroling
and choir work. You can also make some money doing club work in various styles but it’s
debatable whether you can make a living at it in industry towns like LA, New York or
Nashville, where everyone is showcasing for free.
Here are the skills required by some singing situations:
• Jingles Singing & Recording Session Work: Sight-singing, ability to learn music
quickly, on-the-spot harmonizing, improvising, pleasing vocal tone, ability to work well
with others and take direction. Certain session singers are cast for the sound of their lead
voice: these singers don’t need reading or blending skills (though it can’t hurt), just a
good solo voice that sounds like whoever is hot right now.
• Choir, Caroling, Church jobs: Sight-singing, pleasing classical tone (except for gospel
or pop choirs), blending ability, ability to stay on part when harmonizing, ability to work
well with others and take direction.
• Casuals (wedding and lounge gigs): Pleasing lead voice, comfortable in jazz and pop
styles, willingness to occasionally be background music. Though intact bands play
casuals, bands are often put together for the event. In the latter situation, the singer
usually shows up with several copies of his/her book of song charts, then calls, counts off
and performs the songs with no rehearsal, just quick arrangement chats in-between
songs. Therefore, you need to know 3-4 sets worth of songs, and have all the charts (aka
sheet music) in your keys.
• Cruise Ships & Theme Parks These are different from casuals in that you’ll know the
song list and rehearse with the band beforehand, so sight-singing isn’t necessary. You
should have a good pop/show voice (like the singers in Disney movies), though good
jazz, R&B and country singers can also find work. Dancing often required. You need to
be comfortable with “working” an audience.
• Live Back-up Singing: Harmonizing and blending skills, vocal sound and stage moves
that fit the specific style. Wit and camaraderie skills help: if you’re going to tour with the
band they want someone they’d like to hang out with in the van. Your looks can be as
important as your sound for this job.
• Club Work: All Contemporary Styles: Obviously the appropriate vocal sound will vary
wildly depending on the style. Some styles, like folk and alternative, have a wide
acceptable tonal range. For others, like country, you really need a specific sound.
Intimate styles like cabaret and folk require good “patter” skills. Jazz singers should be
able to improvise. Rock singers should have a fair amount of on-stage charisma and
dynamic stage moves. Whether your on-stage movement is flamboyant or minimal, you
need performance skills and good mic technique.
• Musical theater: Acting, dancing, movement and auditioning skills, volume, precision.
Reading skills helpful but not essential. Lead singers need the appropriate tone, which
can vary from legit to rock, depending on the show. Chorus singers need to blend and
stay on one’s part when harmonizing.
In addition to the situations listed above, there are many left-of-center, satisfying singing jobs. I know
someone who is hired full time by the city of Palo Alto to sing to patients in hospitals and hospices.
After college I delivered singing telegrams for a year. A waitress I met had a day job at various
schools in Santa Monica, singing songs with the kids. A friend of mine travels the country performing
exclusively in synagogues. He sells thousands of his CDs at these concerts.
After learning about the requirements of your chosen singing style, perhaps you will alter your goal.
In that case, go back to the original daydreaming exercise and try out your new plan to see if it feels
like a worthy substitute.
Finally, periodically review your goals. This is to ensure that you are still on track, and also to see if
your chosen goal still feels right as you grow and change. Singing is one of the simple joys of life. If
you choose well, the process of achieving your singing goals can also be a joyous experience.
Acoustic Guitar Magazine written by Susan Anders ~ vocal instructor
It’s your first performance-your palms are so sweaty that you’re sure your strings will die within
seconds, your heart is beating like a jack-hammer, your throat is cornflake-dry.
It’s your fiftieth performance-your palms are so sweaty that you’re sure your strings will die within
seconds, your heart is beating like a…hey, wait, wasn’t this supposed to get better with time? Well,
yes and no. Virtually everyone, from the very beginner to the seasoned veteran, has experienced
some form of performance anxiety. And while it’s true that nerves lessen the more you perform, they
can still appear out of the blue after years of performing and cause all those awful symptoms: heart
thumping, sweating, dry mouth, inability to move, and dizziness. Stage fright can close up your
throat and tighten your diaphragm, making it difficult to breathe, a nasty feeling for anyone and a real
drag if you are singing as well as playing.
Luckily, there is a lot you can do to alleviate stage nerves. Here are a bunch of aids I’ve gathered
over the years from other perfomers and from my own experience. Everyone is different, so you’ll
have to experiment and find out what works best for you.
Preparing For The Performance
Practice, practice, practice:
There’s nothing like being well rehearsed. Guitarist-singer Jai Uttal once told me that he sometimes
felt he had only 50% of his guitar dexterity on stage. I have felt the same way, so when I think I have
a song down, I practice it even more, remembering that possible 50% loss of chops. On stage, if I
start that first song and my mind is jabbering on about the size of the audience and why can’t I
breathe and what the hell is this song about, my well-rehearsed fingers and voice go on auto-pilot.
Play “bigger” than you plan to be:
Most performers hit with nerves lose a bit of dynamism musically and physically. if you know that you
tend to freeze up on stage, prepare by playing more dynamically then you intend. If you “practice
bigger” you can afford to lose a bit. Sing somewhat louder than usual. Sway your body to keep it
loose (yes, even if you perform seated). Exaggerate any performance moves you usually fall into:
hip sway, foot tap, whatever.
Imagine your entire performance, from taking the stage until you finish and hear the applause.
Picture people in the audience watching you, what you say before you play, how you move during
the song, and how you respond to the applause. Imagine everything going exactly as you want.
Studies have shown that this technique improves performance skills. For some people it helps to
spend a few minutes getting into a meditative state first. To do this, sit, eyes closed, breathing
deeply and slowly for a couple of minutes. Silently repeat a calming word or phrase (“Amazing Grace
how sweet the sound” works well), or move your awareness through your body, starting with your
feet then working upward, relaxing each muscle as you go. Then visualize your performance.
I’ve found that getting aerobic calms me and gets me breathing deeply. I often swim laps as I
mentally run through my set, remembering key points of songs and what I might say in-between.
Just Prior to the Performance
Do something vigorous, like running in place, to dispel some of that nervous energy and deepen
your breathing. Swinging your arms or doing a mock hula will relax your diaphragm and help you get
a fuller, calming breath.
(I realize the previous technique and this one are polar opposites, so experiment and find out which
works better for you.) While either sitting or standing, do some deep breathing to center yourself.
Mentally focus on either your breathing or your imaginary run-through.
The “Ha!” :
Force your abdomen in to expel air, like either an airy belly laugh or a dog panting. Try four “ha”s
then an easy inhale, repeat. The vigorous movement can loosen your abdomen so you breathe
deeper, which relaxes you. If you are a singer, doing this with your mouth closed lessens the drying
affect of the extra air passing over your vocal chords, but even so, don’t over-do it just prior to
singing. You don’t have to be noisy: I’ve done this surreptitiously (I think!) while sitting in the
audience at open mic performances where there was no backstage.
Whichever relaxation method(s) you try, make sure to set aside the time to do it. Don’t go out to
dinner with friends and race in breathlessly moments before going on stage. Give yourself time to
get grounded. Don’t worry if you’re sharing backstage space with others; performers are used to
weird pre-performance rituals.
written by Susan Anders ~ vocal instructor
Every body has different sensitivities, so you’ll need to experiment with different foods and see what
works best for you. Here are some guidelines:
When to Eat
Think of yourself as an athlete and eat that way: an athlete wouldn’t stuff herself with food just before
running the mile and neither should you. A full stomach inhibits the movement of the diaphragm you’ll
have difficulty taking in full breaths and you’ll be prone to burping. Don’t starve yourself, either–
singing is hard work, you need fuel. A normal meal an hour or two (two is better) before a singing
session works best. If you need to eat between sets go for non-bulky, easy to digest food. Before a
show I like eggs–high protein, low density.
What Not To Eat Or Drink Before Singing
• Foods that add mucous: milk, ice cream and other dairy products
• Foods that dry the throat: citrus fruits, alcohol
• Throat Irritants: Overly spicy foods, coffee
• Sodas and other fizzy drinks put lots of air in your stomach
• Ice cold anything: your throat will constrict. Warm water or herbal tea is best
What’s Soothing To The Throat
Licorice tea or candy (experiment with this, some people get an uncomfortably speedy buzz from
licorice), baking soda or salt water gargles (see below), honey, sugar lozenges, steam, certain
herbal teas — which teas to drink varies from person to person so experiment.
What Helps To De-Gunk The Throat
You’ve probably heard that honey/lemon/and hot water are helpful if you have mucous in your throat.
But remember that lemon is drying so don’t overdo it. I prefer gargling, here’s the best way: If your
throat feels gunky and/or irritated: mix 1/4 teaspoon baking soda + one cup warm water. Take a
small amount of fluid in your mouth and gargle at a high pitch-this causes your vocal cords to
contract and rise closer to where you are actually gargling (your epiglottis will prevent the fluid from
actually reaching your vocal cords). Spit and repeat several times.
written by Susan Anders ~ vocal instructor
The Complete Idiots Guide to Singing, p 198
• Do drink plenty of water
• Don’t drink alcohol in excess and don’t drink at all when you’re on stage or in the studio
• Do drink warm herbal teas
• Don’t drink any tea coffee or soft drink that contains caffeine
• Do eat a balanced diet low in sugar and low in dairy products
• Don’t do drugs – period
• Do practice yoga or similar exercises
• Don’t forget to keep your head warm in cold weather. Consider wearing earmuffs of putting
cotton in your ears when you go out extremely windy or cold conditions
• Do make cardiovascular exercise a regular part of your daily routine
• Don’t take over-the-counter cold sinus or allergy medications without first consulting your
doctor. Especially avoid multi symptom medications, and nasal sprays which can be addictive.
When you have a cold or the flu, pure decongestants like pseudo ephedrine work well.
• Do buy a portable steamer with a face mask and use it for 20 minutes before you appear
onstage or in the studio
• Don’t smoke, and avoid smoky rooms. This includes all types of smoke, including fireplace
• Do you rest your voice regularly, especially if you sing aggressively as a guide, take one day off
for every three days of performing or two days off for every five days of performing
• Don’t talk too much. It wears down your vocal cords. The same goes for talking too loud or
screaming at sporting events
• Do try to cough quietly if you have to cough. Take a deep breath and use your diaphragm, not
your larynx to expel the needed mucous.
• Don’t hang out in dusty environments, if you can avoid it.
• Do place a warm, wet towel around your neck after a performance and don’t speak for 10
• Don’t try to sing higher or lower than is comfortable
• Do gargle with warm water containing half a teaspoon each of salt and baking soda
• Don’t sing if it hurts or if it hurts to swallow
• Do get plenty of rest, especially the night before performance
• Don’t use lemon and whiskey on your voice. The acidity is too great for your vocal chords, and
the alcohol dries out the vocal folds. Instead, try adding a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar and
a bit of honey to a large glass of water.
The Complete Idiots Guide to Singing, p 198