Did you have a grapefruit this week?

Grapefruit blogpost

My husband is somewhat hard of hearing. It comes from spending his 20s in rock bands and his 30s doing woodworking projects, both without benefit of hearing protection.

So when I said to him last week, “Online lessons are going so much better than I expected. Yesterday I had three people who had breakthroughs!”

He said, “They had grapefruits??”

Much mirth ensued.

I told that story to one of my students (who had been one of the breakers-through) at her next lesson and she said that now she wanted a grapefruit.

I have found that the advantages to online lessons include:

  • I can’t play for my students on vocalises, so they need to become more independent. Consequently, we can hear where there are intonation and registration issues that otherwise might be covered up by the piano.
  • Since I can’t play for them on repertoire, they need to sing a cappella or with an accompaniment track. I have to listen to them, during which I take notes – almost like I’m adjudicating a competition. I miss less because I’m not playing the piano and splitting my focus between them and the accompaniment. Something cool I’ve been doing is to type my observations directly into the chat while the student is singing, so that they’re there for them when they finish. If the student records their lesson, that chat is there for them to review afterwards.
  • I can look at them really closely in a way that would be frowned upon in an in-person way. I can get up to the camera and say, “What are you doing with your tongue?” and look directly into their mouths (without any fear of bio-aerosol droplet virus transmission or experiencing halitosis – on either side). Again, if I’m playing the piano, I might not notice that someone’s jaw is not releasing back and down, but rather is coming forward, but if I’m not, I can (which was the first “grapefruit” of that day).

This time has been one of experimenting with what works, and, in doing so, experiencing some growth that we might not have expected. And maybe finding a grapefruit or two.

(And yes, I am married to Emily Litella.)

Articulating your text: Could Siri understand you?

8461B1E0-155C-4E01-B562-43667B451AB3_4_5005_c.jpegOne thing I was thinking about yesterday – if I were to use voice dictation for a monologue or the text of a song I was working on, how well would Siri understand me? Would she spit back my text relatively close to how I intended it, or would it be gibberish?

It might be an interesting practice technique to try this the next time you’re working on a monologue (or song text, which you should be working as a monologue anyway) and see what happens. Will Siri (or Alexa, or “Hey Google”) pick up every word you say? If not, why not?

  • Are you dropping the end of your sentences?
  • Are you slurring words that should have more emphasis?
  • Are you talking too fast?
  • Are you hypo- or hypernasal?
  • Are you inserting “ums” and “ahs” where you shouldn’t be?

Virtual assistants are, as we all know, imperfect. Sometimes I say perfectly ordinary things that Siri has managed to interpret in wildly inappropriate renderings (and thank goodness I looked at it before I hit “send” or else I might’ve been in big trouble). But sometimes, maybe I’m talking too fast – a common issue I have – or maybe I’m not articulating clearly enough. I do tend to be a bit hyponasal, and sometimes in voice dictation, the words come out  with Ds where there should’ve been Ns.

(One word Siri always gets right, for some inexplicable reason, is “Kardashian.” Which I think might signal that the end of civilization is nigh.)

Give it a try. The results might be fascinating. Tell me about them in the comments.

New Practice Checklist

This week, I put out a practice checklist, which was distributed to all my students as part of a welcome/welcome back packet. I had had a new student’s mom ask me about a structure of practicing, and I went back to a previous blogpost about practicing I’d written for some guidance. And I decided that, while there were some really good gems in there about how to practice, the post was, in itself, 8 years old and based on a newsletter than I sent out 20 years ago, when I was a brand new teacher. So it needed some updating, and I felt that it would be more effective if it was a little less text-driven and more to-the-point.

I went to a site called Teachers Pay Teachers (TpT and purchased a vocal practice challenge sheet that someone created, thinking that might work. But I didn’t care for some of the language (I don’t use the term “placement” in my teaching, and if I did, it wouldn’t be in the way it was used here) and I thought it might be more confusing than helpful. And it was a sticker based system and I thought that meant I’d have to look at something and I really don’t want to do that. I decided to do a checklist instead. So I knocked one out on Apple Numbers, and broke it up into:

  1. The “Warm-up” (Preparing to Sing)
  2. Repertoire (The Songs). This was done in two parts – a list of things to do when you’re first learning the song and, once it’s learned, to polish it
  3. Things You Can Do to be a little “Extra” (i.e., the Next Level). I did take some ideas from the original document that I bought on TpT in this section.

The first two sections involved a suggested breakdown of time based on the elements being worked on, using exercises from my BRAAP™ vocalises that I distribute to my students and that may be found on my website under studio portal (only available to my students). The final section was not time-driven – how much time the student wants to spend on that is entirely up to them.

I also laminated them so that the student can keep them on their piano and check them off with a dry erase, if they are so inclined. (Plus I figure they’ll stay intact longer that way.)

I’m not posting the checklist here, because, well, I just might tweak it a bit to make it a little less my personal studio-oriented and put it on TpT for sale. If you’ve received one this week and would like to ask me about it, please feel free. If you’d like to know more, let me know!

 

“From Shrill to Potato-y”: How I Got Back on the Chiaroscuro Trail

“From Shrill to Potato-y”: How I Got Back on the Chiaroscuro Trail

Nearly 8 years ago, I gave my first classical recital in a long time. I was in Milwaukee and teaching at Carroll University in Waukesha, and I had the opportunity to do a recital. So I prepared a full program, hired a fabulous pianist, and started taking lessons with Connie Haas again, after not having had regular lessons (or really done any year-round singing) for over 10 years.

During my lessons, Connie was telling me that my resonance was not as balanced as it could be. And I wasn’t really buying it, because that had never been an issue for me during the time I was at Peabody and singing in the DC metropolitan area. I knew that the recital was coming harder for me than it would have earlier, but I attributed that to my not having done one for a long time.

When the recital was over, I wasn’t pleased. I had hired the late, great sound engineer Daniel Gnader to record it, but didn’t listen to it until over 3 months later, on January 1, 2012. I listened to it with the idea that I would be able to pull something from it for a demo recording.

I was not pleased. (This is putting it mildly. I was weeping copious tears.) And then my friend Carolina got online and asked how I was, and I said, “I just listened to my recital from September and I sound like poop.” (I didn’t say poop.) She said, “Oh, come on, it can’t be that bad. Send me a clip.” I sent her one. She didn’t think it was bad. I sent her another. She said, “Oh. On that one, you run the gamut from shrill to potato-y.” I asked if by “potato-y,” she meant as though I was singing with a large serving of potatoes in my mouth. She confirmed that was, in fact, what she meant.

This meant that Connie had been right all along. My resonance was out of balance. At times my sound was too bright. At other times, it was too dark. Because I had not had an ear and someone to guide me back on the Chiaroscuro Trail (which sounds like the coolest trail in a national park), I had been too cocky to accept it. And I had not been practicing regularly.

I went back to Connie and told her I was ready to work and fix it. And I did.

I needed someone to tell me the truth about where my singing was at that point. Connie did. Carolina did. And, finally, my own ears did. So I had to do something about it.

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I won’t say that “You run the gamut from shrill to potato-y” was necessarily positive, but it sure was specific. I didn’t feel like Carolina was telling me that I sucked, but that I needed to address a resonance issue that had arisen. Connie gave me the next step – work on being mindful of where my tongue was and of the shape of my vocal tract. Work on the awareness of the tone quality and what it felt like when the sound was right.

Awareness, mindfulness, and acceptance are all things you need to have as a singer.

As a teacher, I will tell you honestly what you do well and what you need to work on. I will give you the tools to expand upon your strengths. I will not tear you down, but I will tell you what your next step should be, whether we’re going to have to focus on breath, resonance, articulation, or registration, or some combination thereof.

Your job, as a student, will be to accept and implement those steps, and to be aware of what it feels like when you’re doing the work and what it feels like when you’re not.

I’m up to that challenge. I’m confident that all my students, past, present, and future, are as well.