singing lessons

Singer in a Band Workshop Musings

There is a proverb that says, "To teach is to learn." To grow, music teachers must find ways to further their own music education.


There are several professional development opportunities for music teachers. By exploring these options for continuing education, music educators can rejuvenate and develop their own musicianship.

As some of you know, I took singing lessons as my learning project for 2009/10. I've sung for years in choirs, but last spring was the first time I have ever sung a solo in public. It's a completely different ballgame. With piano, the performer faces his or her instrument. However, when singing, looking at the audience (or towards the audience) is critical to engaging them. If you cringe because of a missed note or lyrics, not only is it visible, but cringing affects tone.

My vocal coach, Sherry Kennedy, convinced me to take the Singer in a Band workshop she ran last week. Shortly after the singing workshop began, I thought, "What on earth was I thinking? Why did I pick two songs I don't know very well? Why did I pick a song in Spanish?"

Over three days, Sherry, along with my piano teacher Derek Stoll, worked with us eight adults taking the workshop. We had a such a diverse group, including two professional "shampoo bottle" singers and one singer who's had an up and down relationship with singing for several years. There were two piano teachers, myself and my friend and colleague Melodie Archer.

We went through breathing and stance ad nauseum. Many of us needed to "open up", so Sherry stuck foam rollers under our arms (those quickly became light sabers).

As a pianist, nay, as a VRK pianist, I found it especially challenging to have Derek play an intro and for me to just know how the correct notes should sound without me playing the note on the piano was difficult. Another challenge I faced was how to make each song my own so that I didn't sound like Consuelo Velasquez or Stevie Wonder.

Memorizing lyrics was a challenge for all of us however, we all pulled through. The nice thing about singing jazz is that if you forget the lyrics, you can simply scat your way out of a potential mess.


All things considering, it was a wonderful night. All eight of us delivered our best performances. Our success can be attributed to several factors:
  1. supportive and encouraging instructors
  2. the fact that we were all tired from running around from 9:30 AM until 10:00 PM that we were too mellow to be nervous and
  3. the fantastic and supportive energy backstage

We cheered whenever the person performing cleared a "trouble spot" as if we were in a hockey game. You can check out my performances on my website.

Many thanks to Sherry and Derek for their hard work and guidance. Hats off as well to Dave Marshall, our serious-looking drummer and Dave Hamilton, our guitarist who can play many a cool lick.

So what lessons did I take away from this experience? Singing lessons and this workshop reinforced the importance of singing and sight singing to develop one's inner ear. You can't beat the rush from performing in an ensemble and singers take artistry onto a whole new level.

Would I do it again? Most definitely.

(c) 2010 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, Alberta. All rights reserved.

Yawn, Puke, Sing - My First Singing Lesson

I had the pleasure of working with Sherry Kennedy at the Jazz Connection Workshop this summer. It was only a couple of sessions, but enough to make me realize that if I'm ever going to play and sing at a gig and give some intelligent pointers to my students who are trying the "playing and singing" thing, I need to have a solid foundation in my voice. Today, I had my first singing lesson today after many years. We spent a good chunk of it working on breathing and relaxation exercises. The singing stance reminded me of our "ready" stance in Iaido - feet shoulder width apart, no unnecessary tension. Try to relax and hit that state of zanshin.

Ha! I think I'll have to do practice more sword cuts.

I digress. Sherry had me visualize the air coming from the ground, through my feet and up to my boobs as I breathed in. The only way I could make it work was to imagine a white mist flowing upwards. At one point, I think it was blue but I don't think it really matters.

Then, she had me lay on the floor so I could feel my diaphragm expanding into the floor, WHILE concentrating on keeping my shoulders and chin level, WHILE focusing on the airflow going from my toes to my boobs, WHILE dropping my jaw and letting the lower jaw jut forwards (completely slack), WHILE keeping my tongue flat and soft palette open, WHILE imagining I had a straw in my mouth and that I was trying to make an imaginary leaf fly off the table and dance in the air.

Then, Sherry asked, "Are you relaxed yet?"

That's a joke, right?

I know with practice it will all become second nature. Just as I know that getting my muscles to relax will help my piano as much as my singing. It will help in overall posture and health too.

In the meantime, I know I'll be practicing puking and yawning motions in front of the mirror to get my tongue flat and lightly holding my jaw to check that it's slack and forward enough. So if you see someone doing this in the car at a red light, that's probably me.

Now I can't stop yawning.

(c) 2009 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.