Advice for the Aspiring Vocal Student

shutterstock_235472368You might be thinking about taking up voice lessons. Maybe you want to learn how to sight-read hymns for your church choir, or maybe you want to take your singer/songwriter skills to the next level. Maybe you want to shine at karaoke night, or you might want to take vocal lessons to help allay your fear of public speaking. No matter what the primary reason might be for taking up voice lessons, most beginning vocal students have similar goals: to become more comfortable with their own voice and gain more confidence when they sing.

A vocal teacher can help provide students with a balanced understanding of what they are trying to accomplish and the tools to help them achieve their goals. Vocalists are unlike any other musicians – a pianist is connected to the ivory keys through their fingers, the violinist draws the bow over cradled strings, but a vocalist IS their own instrument. If there is a technique that needs to be corrected at the piano, you simply change your approach to the piano; if there is a technique that needs to be corrected as a vocalist, you have to learn new ways of managing your self. There is no “in-between” – everything happens internally. There is a certain disconnect with instrumentalists and their instruments, and one of their main jobs is to bridge that gap between the two, but a vocalist’s job is, in part, to be able to disconnect their voice from their self. You are not struggling against yourself; you are honing your instrument, and that is an important distinction to make.

One of the implications of this realization is that, when you are struggling to breathe properly through a phrase, or produce a beautiful high note, etc., remember to HAVE PATIENCE WITH YOURSELF. The voice is unlike any other instrument, particularly in that it is always in flux. A piano, a violin, and a flute are all subject to fluctuations in temperature, yes, but they are not living organisms. A piano doesn’t have sinus issues from time to time, and a violin can’t catch a cold. Sometimes the vocal apparatus just takes a day off. And that’s OK.

One final thing to remember is this: you are you and no one else. A voice teacher’s job is not to make you sound like them, but to help you realize the potential of your own unique voice. Don’t be discouraged because you don’t sound like your favorite artist; be encouraged, because your voice is your own, and it has its own qualities to share.

For information about voice lessons at the Altadena Academy of Music, please call (626) 296-0799 or use our email contact form.

I Have to Tell You the Truth

by Jen Hickle

I have to tell you something.
Music lessons aren’t actually about music. No– music lessons are about so much more.

When you push through a hard spot and don’t give up, you’re learning perseverance and tenacity.
When you show up every week for mentoring from your teacher, you’re learning consistency, keeping your promises, and how to show up on time.
When you practice, you are developing discipline skills that will last you a lifetime.
When your knees are shaking and you climb the steps onto the stage and perform, even though you’re scared, you’re learning that you can do things scared. And succeed.
When you play music in front of a large audience, you’re learning how to get up in front of people and stay poised and confident.
When you totally mess up, you’re learning how to dust yourself off and try again.
When you master a song, you’re learning how to stick with something and conquer it!
When you drop your backpack every day and head to practice your music, you’re learning time management skills.
When you hear a song on the radio and you know how hard it is, you  have learned music appreciation.
When you go to a concert and admire the talent on stage, you have learned what it means to be a musician.

I have to  admit. It’s never been about music lessons at all. It’s about all the LIFE lessons that you are learning along the way.

Parents, thank you for giving your kids the GIFT of music and life lessons!

“I Began at the Piano”

shutterstock_459327250For many beginning musicians, the piano is the first instrument learned. If you ask a professional oboe player, trumpeter, or violinist if they play any other instruments, they will likely tell you the story of how they started out on the piano and then branched out to their main instrument. Why is that? What makes the piano such a good foundation for further musical study?

One of the main reasons for its ubiquitous nature is that the piano provides everything to the musician in an easily understandable, sequential order. When the 5-year old, who is just beginning to show interest in music by humming their favorite tunes or banging out rhythms on pots and pans, is brought to their first piano lesson, they are shown a keyboard that is arrayed from left to right in alphabetical order. There are no frets to consider, no valves to learn. This doesn’t mean the young child can’t learn the right combination of motor skills to achieve the note they want using different frets or valves- the piano just eliminates one of the steps in creating that sound.

In one sense, the piano is also a very easy instrument to play. If you press your finger down on a key, it immediately sounds like a piano. The same is not necessarily true if you picked up a violin or a flute for the first time and tried to produce a sound. Once again, this doesn’t mean that the beginning student can’t learn how to navigate their new instrument- the piano just eliminates the potential frustration of not being able to instantly create a pleasing, recognizable tone.

Another good reason to begin your musical career at the piano is that it helps solidify your understanding of musical structure. The pianist routinely plays both melody and harmony- it is a chordal instrument, allowing the music student to become acquainted with musical progressions in a way that a single line instrument might not emphasize.

The piano might not be your instrument of choice, but it certainly provides a well-rounded foundation from which to begin any course of musical study.

For information about music lessons at the Altadena Academy of Music, please call    (626) 296-0799 or use our email contact form.

Why is the guitar such a popular instrument to learn?

Many great musicians are guitar players, so guitar students can draw inspiration from a rich history of excellent musicianship. What are some of the reasons that the guitar remains such a popular instrument for students of all ages?

Guitar PlayerGuitar is popular both as a solo instrument and is a fundamental part of a band. Guitar players are able to play with other musicians in a group setting and the guitar is also enjoyable to play and hear on its own. Students can play the melody of a guitar riff or solo, as well as the harmonies of any song. Depending on the interests of the individual, guitar students can work on playing and singing at the same time.

The guitar is a versatile instrument: the guitar is portable and almost any style of music can be learned and played on the guitar. Guitar students can explore different types of songs and genres in order to find the music that best inspires them.

For information about guitar lessons at the Altadena Academy of Music, please call  (626) 296-0799 or use our email contact form.

Why Study Music?

shutterstock_108119105Why Study Music?

Multi-instrumentalist and music educator, Seth Bowser, shares his thoughts about the value of studying music:

The study of music involves much more than just learning how to navigate your instrument- which finger goes where, how to position your wrist, etc. The student of music also learns new ways of expressing mathematical concepts (rhythm), how to be an effective communicator (phrasing), and different languages, among other things.

The study of rhythm primes your brain to think in sets and patterns and to break down complex information into smaller units. These are useful tools when it comes to general problem solving, but they are especially relevant in mathematics because of the fractions involved in counting and understanding rhythm.

As a music student progresses, they learn what it means to “shape a phrase”, which could be likened to delivering an organized, effective speech, balanced with emotion and well-reasoned thought. These are things that aren’t necessarily emphasized in today’s culture, and especially for younger students. Understanding the musical concept of shaping a phrase and consistently putting it into practice opens up a whole new world of effective communication.

Because the invention of the musical staff has Italian roots, the music student is exposed to a wide vocabulary of Italian words. Things like volume and tempo are indicated with Italian words like piano, forte, allegro, and lento.

But music, in and of itself, has its own vocabulary and syntax. We learn the symbols for quarter note and half note, and we learn to associate them with particular tones on our instrument, and this process is similar to learning our native tongue. When the music student knows how to read notes on the staff, they are effectively speaking another language.

From a purely physical standpoint, the music student gains much from developing and training fine motor skills- but did you know that by just practicing your instrument, you are exercising your brain, too? Your brain doesn’t give equal attention to all parts of the body. The vast majority of your brain’s focus is towards two main areas; the hands and the mouth. So, whether you play the piano, the cello, or the kazoo, you are using a large portion of your brain in your daily practice session.

These are just a few of the benefits of musical education. If you’d like to further develop your fine motor skills, or learn a new language, or become a better communicator, why not study music?

For information about music lessons at the Altadena Academy of Music, please call    (626) 296-0799 or use our email contact form.

Renting vs Buying a Musical Instrument

shutterstock_354354143For some instruments, like electronic keyboards for piano students, purchasing is usually best.  Please follow this link for advice on Choosing an Electric Keyboard.  However, for instruments like cello, violin and school band instruments, renting is often a perfect option.

Below are tips from music educator and multi-instrumentalist, Chad Ellis:

Should I rent or buy?

Your son or daughter saw someone at church, on television or the internet playing an instrument and wants lessons! Excited to sign them up for their first lesson you suddenly realize that you need to get them their instrument that they are interested in. Online sources or stores promise a great deal on instruments, but you are unsure exactly what brand or in some cases what size to get.

One thing to consider when buying an instrument is that younger students may change their mind on which instrument they want to stick with, which is very normal in the beginning stages of music development. (It is important to note that though the student may change instruments the information obtained will transfer over from each instrument.)

Rather than investing in a new instrument, I would highly recommend renting one first for a few months. The benefits of renting one are:

  1. It allows you to test the student’s interest in the instrument before committing to buy one.
  2. There are often rent-to-own options, so rent can be applied towards buying the instrument.
  3. For some instruments the students need to be tested for the proper size. Stores that offer instrument rentals have the know how in determining the proper size for the student. As the student grows, they can easily switch to renting a larger instrument.
  4. Places that offer rentals usually have high quality beginning instruments which is important for the student.

For any questions or for referrals to local stores offering rentals, please feel free to contact us.

For information about music lessons at the Altadena Academy of Music, please call    (626) 296-0799 or use our email contact form.