My Thoughts On How To Practice Voice

I wanted to share some thoughts on how to practice as a vocalist because it seems to be a common question!

The first thing I need to say is that I am speaking as professional vocalist but NOT as a trained vocal teacher or coach. These are my thoughts and opinions based on personal experience.

1) There is no substitute for a qualified voice teacher. I used to take a lot of pride in being “self-taught” or not having any formal training. It made me feel like I was special somehow. But then I realized something very important: I was not really that good. If you are like me and were born not-great but have a deep desire to become excellent, then I strongly recommend finding a voice teacher. It may be a financial investment, but I have a hard time thinking of any professional path that doesn’t require a financial investment for training. Would you go see a “self-taught” doctor? Should I go get my hair cut by someone who is “naturally talented” or someone who has been trained? Find a voice teacher. Get training. Find one who has studied or been certified in vocology (Nashville, you know my girl is lizjohnsonvoice.com).

2) There are several different areas to practice. You need to warm up. You need to exercise and strengthen your voice. You can practice reading skills. You can practice vocal flexibility (being able to sing more notes faster). You can practice repertoire (specific songs). You can practice improvisation. You can practice scales. You can work on your vocal range. You can practice developing pitch accuracy. You should think about what you want to accomplish with your voice. My personal priorities are strengthening my voice and vocal improvisation. So I address those goals by 1) doing vocal strengthening exercises called Blaylock exercises, 2) working on exercises from Darmon Meader’s book “Vocal Improvisation: An Instrumental Approach”, and 3) learning instrumental solos from jazz recordings. Sometimes I also practice sight reading by reading new songs out of the Vocal Real Book.

3) Both consistency and variety have their place. Consistency is important for practice. You can’t do a set of exercises once and expect to see lasting change. You must pursue discipline and consistency with your practice. But realistically, we also go through emotional waves when it comes to music. Some days I practice and the sound of my own voice makes me want to cry. How helpful is it for me to spend a long time practicing when I’m in that mental state? I would argue that it’s better to just do the essentials (my voice strengthening exercises, for example) and ditch the extras (repertoire or learning solos) for the day in favor of a different form of practice. Maybe it means practicing ukulele or charting a new song to add to my solo sets. Maybe it means breathing exercises. Maybe it simply means listening intently to an album that inspires me. So I would recommend having an arsenal of various practice strategies so that you can switch it up and still practice on days when you’re sick or struggling with the sound of your voice.

4) Practicing slowly is vital. If you can’t do it yet, break it into smaller pieces and practice it slowly. Practice it as slowly as you need to to do it right. If there’s one measure that’s giving me trouble, my first thought is to slow it down. If I still can’t do it, I need to break it into smaller pieces and identify what is giving me trouble. Often, it’s a particular interval that I’m not used to singing. So I may practice that interval—a descending minor 6th, for example—as it appears in the passage I’m practicing, then take it up a half step, then down, etc. for as long as I can. Then maybe I try to practice the whole measure slowly. Eventually, this will drive me crazy and I’ll pause until the next day :) But don’t gloss over the things you’re close to doing well but aren’t nailing. Zoom in on those spots, practice them slowly, and then give it time to sink in.

5) Imitation is an important tool. I’ve had several different people ask about finding their true sound, their unique voice. I think one of the best ways to discover your own true sound is to spend a lot of time imitating others and trying on their sounds. No matter what you do, your musical vocabulary is made up of things you’ve heard. You can’t avoid imitation, no matter how hard you try! But you can use imitation as a tool for evaluating what sounds feel best on your voice. It will take a lot of time and a lot of imitating to sift through the information that’s out there, but don’t pressure yourself to “land” on a right answer. Just accept that it’s a process that will last a lifetime. Have fun trying on different vocal tones or styles. Keep what feels right.

That about sums up the questions or thoughts that have been on my mind lately. To close, here are a list of ideas to get you jump-started on your vocal practice journey:

-Schedule an appointment with a well qualified voice teacher

-Warm up with a video like this: https://youtu.be/YTMSwPq4KIo

-Pick a song out of the Vocal Real Book to sight read and then learn

-Pick a song off YouTube to sing along with and imitate the style of the person playing or singing

-Buy Darmon Meader’s vocal book and practice different scales

-Practice singing and playing an instrument at the same time

-Try playing a piano melody and singing along in unison. Make something up

-Learn a famous vocal solo like Chet Baker’s “It Could Happen to You”, Ella Fitzgerald’s “Blue Skies”, or Sarah Vaughan’s “All of Me”

I’d love to hear your thoughts, advice, and questions!

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens; bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens; baritone uke with its 4 lovely strings; these are a few of my favorite things!

Okay, I don’t care about copper kettles but I do love kittens. I wanted to share some of my favorite things today! I’ll start with music stuff but at the end I’m going to add books and shampoo because I love them :)

FIRST UP: UKULELES!

1) Lanikai Spruce Top Baritone: https://amzn.to/2JOgs53

This is what I use in many of my videos! It is not electric. I don’t think the electric ones are available on Amazon, but you can search for a dealer at https://lanikaiukuleles.com/product/flame-maple-baritone-ukulele-with-kula-preamp-a-e-ukulele/. That’s the page for the electric baritone I play.

2) Lanikai concert uke in the LOVELIEST BLUE: https://amzn.to/2VPamsq

I don’t play this one but I think it’s gorgeous and if you’re looking for a classic ukulele sound, concert is a good size to get.

Next up: STANDS!

These are all Hercules stands that I use for various things. I use this guitar stand (or a close variation) for my baritones at home, while the small stand is portable for performances.

Hercules Guitar Stand: https://amzn.to/2YxY9VG

Hercules Uke Stand: https://amzn.to/2VOnJsL

Hercules Mic Stand: https://amzn.to/2Hr3LeY

Hercules Music Stand: https://amzn.to/2YzDO2l

And now for… MY AMP!

I use a Fishman Loudbox Mini. It has a quarter inch input and an XLR, ie. instrument and microphone input. It’s small, super portable, durable, and has worked for all my solo performances, regardless of room size. I have a heavy, old set of speakers I use if a room is HUGE and I need speakers to face two directions, but I use my Fishman amp 10 times more often than I use those.

1) Fishman Loudbox Mini (w/ tuner + cover): https://amzn.to/2LTuV2g

This is what I actually use and highly recommend for solo performances.

2) Fishman Loudbox Black +XLR: https://amzn.to/2VU9AdO

This is something I saw when searching for the one I actually use. This one is black and looks awesome. Just for fun.

WANT TO LEARN SOME SONGS?

A huge number of the jazz standards I learn are ones I’ve read out of the Vocal Real Books (low voice edition). No, I don’t have a low voice, but the keys in these books are much better for me than the “high voice edition”.

Vocal Real Book 1: https://amzn.to/2Qbfktr

Vocal Real Book 2: https://amzn.to/2Qba88O

Vocal Real Book 3: https://amzn.to/2Hrf1Ys

Disclaimer: The chords in these books are not always 100% “accurate”. There are some songs that I don’t agree with their changes BUT these books are incredibly useful and mostly have solid changes. I highly recommend them without hesitation. Just keep an open ear for chord changes you might disagree with.

FOR MY VIDEOS

I use this light. The first link is the light I actually use. The second link is for a set of two similar lights. I often wish I had just gone for two lights, but I have no personally used the lights in the second link.

Softbox Light (1): https://amzn.to/2EiQS4K

Softbox Light (2): https://amzn.to/2YEbr37  

SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION

Here is a link to my EP “Forgettable” (which I like to think is pretty good): https://amzn.to/2QfcdAO

HERE ARE A FEW BOOKS I LOVE

CS Lewis Space Trilogy: https://amzn.to/2YCtvdQ (did you know CS Lewis had a space trilogy?! It’s WEIRD and AMAZING!)

Lord of the Rings: https://amzn.to/2Q9Qg60 (fun fact: my second tattoo was the Tree of Gondor)

Scary Close: https://amzn.to/2HrmBlV (Donald Miller talks about being bad at relationships and getting better. I love it)

AS PROMISED, SHAMPOO

I know you don’t care how I wash my hair, but I started using this brand a few months ago and I love it and I think often about telling my friends and then I forget.

Conditioner: https://amzn.to/2YDc25e (it says Hair Mask but I use it as conditioner and my hair doesn’t get greasy)

Shampoo: https://amzn.to/30sGMaK

African black soap: https://amzn.to/2HqNpCR (smells like cherry candy)

What is Blossom?

I have spent a lot of my life feeling like a musical outsider. When I was in school, I was always in the ensemble of the musical. In college, I felt like “jazz” was for a certain type of person, and this certain type of person was smarter than me. After my tonsillectomy at age 20, I had to start from scratch and re-learn what my singing voice would sound like. It turns out that my new voice couldn’t belt as high or do as many runs. I tended to hang out in the shadow of “stronger” vocalists. As an adult, I’ve been rejected American Idol, The Voice, local wedding bands, and local every-other-kind-of bands.

But 3 and a half years ago, things changed. I got hired to sing jazz standards at a hotel in Michigan with a group of amazing musicians. Getting introduced to the Great American Songbook changed my life. And so did the time I spent with musicians who were confident enough in their own abilities to encourage me in mine. I came back from that experience with a renewed sense of passion and purpose. Despite being told “no” a fair amount in my career, I realized that I have unique skills that are worth pursuing. So I quit my full time job 18 months ago and have been a freelance musician ever since.

At first, I thought that other jazz musicians would look down on me for playing ukulele. And to be honest, they probably do. And to be more honest, I don’t give a crap anymore. Baritone ukulele is my favorite instrument to play. I think the ukulele is special because it’s so accessible. ANYONE can play ukulele. But there’s always more to learn; it’s not too small of an instrument for great musicians. It’s truly a fantastic instrument for any skill level. And I think music is an essential part of life. Anyone with an interest in music should be able to feel confident in their abilities, even if it’s just a hobby.

So Blossom is a place where I want to share my knowledge and encourage you on your musical journey. I want to share the ups and downs of my creative pursuits and help you feel fearless in yours. Everyone can be a musician. And everyone has room to grow. Let’s blossom together.