Category Archives: Music

End of 2016 Wrap Up!

To all my students (and parents) from 2016:

I just want to say thankyou so much to all my students this year.  You’ve worked hard, and when I talk to my friends who are instrumental music teachers complaining about how their students never practice, I always gloat, coz mine DO!  Mwhahaha.  And you are all sounding awesome and making great progress on all your very different vocal & musical journeys.

As a teacher  & musician I have also learnt & grown this year.  In January I took my second 5-day Level 1 & 2 Course in Estill Voice Training, and passed my written exam towards becoming an Estill Certified Master Teacher.  I then put my preparations for the practical exam somewhat on hold, when I decided to make my own music and creativity my number one priority for this year (and probably for all years to come)!  I finished a group of 12 new songs, recorded home demos, and am currently in discussion with a few different producers, to find a person or people to work on what will probably be 3 new EPs released under my solo stagename.  I’ve resumed practice of my jazz repertoire, with intention to start doing jazz gigs again after a long break, and began working on some funk material with a friend with view to starting a new band next year!

Now that I’ve gotten my creativity & own musical practice firmly back into my routine, I can put some focus back on my Estill practice.  I’m hoping that with regular practice I’ll be able to be ready for the practical Estill CMT exam by halfway through or the end of next year (it involves some very challenging fine isolated control of the vocal mechanisms, some of which are going to take a while) after which I’ll become a CMT “candidate” and then have to have my teaching observed on each mechanism & section of the work twice each by two different teachers before I finally qualify!  Phew!  It’s a long process, and I’m not in any rush, and prioritising my own creative work over my vocal coaching qualification has improved my quality of life & mental health out of sight.  

Sometimes it’s important to check your priorities!

That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped studying & learning about the voice and how best to serve my students.  I’ve had some one on one and group sessions with my mentors Steph and Gerald at The Voice Gym; and have taken or referred a few of my lucky students to sessions at The Voice Gym too. I’ve learnt a lot from sitting in on or listening to recordings of my students’ sessions with my mentors and in discussion with them afterwards.  I’ve accompanied one or two students on a trip to visit otolaryngologist (ENT) Dr Amanda Richards at Pinnacle Surgery for a vocal health checkup, which is always fun, to get to see the vocal mechanism in action on camera!

Through these things and also just the practice that comes with teaching the mechanisms over and over with each new person, I have felt my understanding of these exercises & mechanisms become much deeper during 2016.

Which brings me to my new focus for 2017 as a teacher:  to go more deep and work with everyone a little more slow & focused.  

In the past, I’ve often had a subconscious fear of my students getting bored – as the anatomy-based approach can sometimes be quite involved and although it can elicit exciting changes quite fast, it is really a “long distance” run rather than a sprint, requiring dedicated work to make small changes to your vocal habits in order to arrive at the sound you are wanting. 

And there is so much to get through, and so much to learn!  A one hour session often hardly seems like enough!

So in the past I have perhaps burned through the different techniques & mechanisms quite fast with everyone, instead of taking a long time on each one, in an effort to make sure everyone stays interested.  It’s a great thing to have a general overview awareness of all the different mechanisms and what they do and are useful for, especially as they are all obviously connected and affect each other!  But it’s also important to do slow, focused work on the areas which are most important to you and your goals, and for some of you (especially those at a more professional level), this is where I’m going to focus in 2017.  The plan will vary greatly from person to person of course, relating to their individual goals and needs, but I will be for everyone, as a teacher, consciously taking things a little slower and working a little deeper on each mechanism, working on the important exercises with you until you have really got them under control.

Of course I still want it to be fun!  That’s always been my M.O. as a teacher, having heard so many horror stories of people giving up singing or music because they were made to sing songs they didn’t enjoy and do pointless exercises that made no sense. 

I will still be making sure we sing actual songs, and songs that you enjoy!  And linking the exercises as always back to their relevance in the song you are wanting to sing.  And as always, you are the client, and I am here to serve you.  If you feel that how I am structuring the lessons is not working for you in any way, you can always bring this up with me, and we will adjust to suit your needs.

Phew!  Okay, thanks for reading this far!  Here’s some quick important stuff:

Three things for my students to do:

1.  If anyone hasn’t yet joined the Facebook group I run for all my current & past students, feel free to do so at the below link!  Mostly I use it to occasionally post some interesting video of someone using their voice in an interesting way so we can analyse it together, and you’re welcome to share anything else you like there too, or discuss anything relating to singing & your practice:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/396830587109253/

2.  If I haven’t yet given you a copy of my first album (recorded back in 2012, pre-Estill!) remind me next time you come in, as I give a free copy to all my voice students, just for fun.

3.  Plan for your singing journey in 2017!  We will have already gone over this a bit in our final sessions of this year, but it’s important that you in yourself have a good strong idea of what direction you want to go in, what you want to achieve, and have a reasonably clear plan (this is the main part I can help you with) of what steps will get you to your goals.  

Set aside 15min to sit down with a notebook, and ask yourself:

a.  Do I want to perform in 2017?  Where and when, to whom, and how often?
b.  Do I want to do any recordings?
c.  What’s something I haven’t done with my singing yet that I’d like to?
d.  What am I proud of from my work in 2016, or what am I really enjoying about my voice right now?
e.  What about my vocal technique could use some improvement, what do I want to work on more in 2017?

My Main Practice Tip For The Holidays is:

LITTLE AND OFTEN is better than HEAPS HARDLY EVER.

The way our brains work, it is much better to do 3 minutes of practice, 5 times a day, than it is to do 5 hours of practice once a week!

I’m constantly thinking about how I’m using my voice while i’m speaking, I practice my onsets while I’m cooking, I do sirens while brushing my teeth, I practice FVF retraction at traffic lights.  This is the best way to develop your control, rather than blocking out some huge amount of time only once a week.  

Keep singing your songs for fun as well as doing serious practice, PLAY with your voice, and get curious!  

Finally, don’t forget to make sure we have sorted out when we are starting up again, how often and how long your lessons are going to be, and what payment plan you’re going with.

I hope you have a restful, fun, musical and safe festive period, and I look forward to seeing you in 2017!

Much love and keep singing!

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Joyful Singing – Strong Speech – Vocal Health
http://bectilley.com/
info@bectilley.com
0408 504 599

The “Certificate of Legit-ness” and What It Means To Be A “Real” Musician

I have a quick story to tell you today about one of my students, who I shall call “Mary” for the purposes of this post.

As with many of my students who have never had lessons before, Mary came to her first lesson pretty nervous and pretty certain she wasn’t very good.  Some of the warnings I get from new students regularly include:   “I’m probably the worst you’ve ever heard”  “I don’t know if I can even sing in tune”  “I sound really bad” etcetera.

I am sometimes a little nervous when a student tells me they can’t sing in tune, as that would be a challenge; however thus far, having had many students over the years I’ve been teaching, I have not yet come across a single individual who was tone deaf.  It seems to me that the vast majority of humans have a good sense of aural pitch.  If anyone has trouble singing in tune, it is usually not due to an aural problem, but simple lack of control of the voice.  

The first thing I do when a student very bravely but nervously sings me a song for the first time, is usually reassure them that they are not terrible, definitely not the worst I have ever heard, and that they can sing in tune.  It takes a little while for them to believe me, but as I teach them how to control the simple physical mechanisms of the voice, I see their self-confidence improve as they realise singing is not some esoteric talent you either have or don’t have; but a physical skill which just takes understanding, practice, and good teaching to control.  

Mary came to me having already started doing a few solo gigs with her guitar at a local pub, so she already had an inkling that maybe she had something decent to work with, but she was definitely nervous.  We developed a good rapport, and after a few lessons, I noticed something in the way she referred to herself regarding singing that I hear often.  She would say things implying that she was not “a real singer” or “a real musician”.

So I sat her down and told her firmly:  You use your voice.  You sing.  You play songs on your guitar and you sing them.  You even do live performances in front of an audience.

YOU ARE A MUSICIAN.  YOU ARE A SINGER.  

I must note here that although Mary does, you do not have to perform live to be a musician or a singer.  There is no official qualification you can get; you do not need a Bachelor of Music to be a musician.  If you sing, if you love singing, if you enjoy singing, whether it’s alone in your bedroom or just for your family or  in front of an audience, YOU ARE A SINGER!

And it is my firm belief that almost every human is, or has the ability to be, a singer and a musician.  It is part of our genetic makeup, it is part of what it is to be human.  Rhythm is in our heartbeats.  Music is in the sound of our voice regardless of whether we are singing or speaking.  Every human culture on the planet has music.  In our society, music has become something of which you are either performer or audience; you are either the person who makes music or the person who listens to it.  Many areas of music become elitist and snobbish.  People who don’t study music institutionally or don’t have lessons all their life and perform on stage hold this belief that they aren’t, and could never possibly be, a musician.  That could not be further from the truth.

Send your mind back not too many years in the past, when music was a communal happening; a family activity; a community experience.  We sing to our babies.  We gather around the piano in the parlour.  We play drums around a fire.  We strum 3 simple chords on a broken guitar.  We sing in church.  We hoot and holler at the moon.  Nowadays we gather in the thousands to listen and dance to our favourite musicians, we feel the unity in the room, brought together with thousands of strangers by a love for music; but you must know that you have just as much of a right to create music as the person on that stage does.  Music matters, whether it’s for one person or millions; and it belongs to everyone.

You do not need a certificate to qualify you as a singer.  That being said; I recognise that sometimes external validation is a helpful step in us believing something about ourselves.

So I made Mary this “Certificate of Legit-ness”
 (again, not her real name):

certificate of legitness

(click to enlarge)

Mary was pretty stoked with this and apparently got it framed.

Whatever it takes to help my students and fellow humans believe that they have a right to music; I will fight this battle gladly!

Til next time!

Bec x

Should a teacher ever tell a student to give up?

This was prompted by an interesting article by Stephanie Eslake titled “On Being Told To Give Up”.  Click to read the original article.  In it, Eslake discusses other articles that advise teachers on how to tactfully advice students that music is not the right career for them.  She challenges the notion that it is a teacher’s place to tell a student to “give up”.  My thoughts are below.

(I apologise that this post is long and rambling… it could do with some editing, but I have spent entirely too much time already on it so I am just going to leave it here!)

As a voice teacher, who loves my job, music, and my students, I would never tell someone they had abilities which they didn’t, or try to pump them up and feed them unrealistic expectations.   But my pet peeve is when students tell me of some teacher in their past (usually a primary school or highschool music teacher running a choir) told them not to sing, or that they COULDN’T sing.  GRRRRR.  This makes me so angry.

This article is speaking mostly about this in the context of a student having a dream of a successful full-time career in music.  How would I approach this?  To be honest, I don’t think I would encourage ANYONE, no matter how amazing they were, to expect that a full-time career in performing is a definite possibility.  It’s a very difficult dream to achieve and hinges on luck and business smarts (and a multitude of other factors) as much as talent or skill.  I would encourage any student to have multiple strings to their bow, figure out how they can serve others (find out what people need and sell them that) keep learning, have a plan B… but never would I recommend that anyone give up on their dream.  Doesn’t matter who they are or how good they are or aren’t, I’d give them the same advice – to be an optimistic realist.  Something could take off or it could be a complete flop, and it often doesn’t have anything to do with how good you are.

But if you LOVE singing/playing/learning music, I don’t see any reason to ever stop!

For me, teaching singing is just as much about the enjoyment of the act itself as it is about reaching a particular standard –  everyone comes to lessons with different aims, all want to improve, some have lofty goals and dreams but others just want to sing because they enjoy it, and want to sound as good as possible while doing so.  I have never yet come across a student who could not improve their singing at all with what I have to offer.  If I couldn’t help someone improve, I would refer them to a teacher with greater skills than me or who might be more suited to that student’s particular style or needs.

Every student is going to come to me with different goals in music – just enjoyment, some improvement, basic performance, career, world class ability, etc.  Every student is going to have different levels of experience, natural ability, motivation to practice, desire to improve, and ambition to achieve at higher levels.  All those factors at different levels in each person will contribute to how fast they will progress, and the nature of the way a teacher should teach them.

There is perhaps a point at which lessons potentially become pointless – I have one student in particular who has been coming to me for some time now, I have taught them all the mechanisms and techniques which I know will improve their singing in the ways they want to improve it.  We went from weekly lessons to fortnightly lessons… and now at this point I am starting to feel that a lot of the time I am just repeating the same instructions to them over and over.  They know the 5 or so mechanisms they need to practice and keep an eye on in order to maintain their good vocal strength, range, versatility, etc.  They are not looking to become world-class or megafamous, and their goals for their singing mainly involves doing shows around town in various styles, performing their originals as well as covers, and developing unique sounds.  They don’t have specific performances they are preparing for or specific repertoire they are looking to polish to perfection.  In a short time from now, they might start to get bored with lessons with me and I might get bored of teaching them and saying the same things over and over.  At that point, if they want to continue having lessons, I will suggest they try a different teacher to see if a different perspective could offer them some new insights and greater improvement.  With students who are in that middle ground of having brought their voice up to a very decent level of ability and control, but don’t have a desire to be exceptional, there comes a bit of a stalemate like that.

With students who have loftier goals of world class performance/fame/specific productions or performances they are rehearsing for, I would take my teaching to a deeper level, focusing heavily on individual phrases of each song, crafting them in an artistic as well as technical way, challenging them to work harder and practice more.  But if a student is not inclined to that much precision, doing this kind of work would be a bit pointless perhaps, and probably boring to them.

If I had a student who was really abysmal at singing, and was showing no signs of improvement after many lessons… (to be honest I would be extremely surprised to meet such a person…) and if I could not help a student improve at all I would think it much more likely it was a failing on my part than on their part, or a fundamental incompatibility between us, and again I would send them on to a different teacher.

If a student was practicing enough and being taught useful stuff (i.e. genuinely good technique based in scientific knowledge and experience), and not improving, that would be surprising… and also probably pretty disheartening/de-motivating, so I would expect it would cease to be enjoyable, and at some point they would probably give up of their own accord.

My bottom line here is: I would never be dishonest with someone and tell them they were amazing if they weren’t, try to pump them up or give them false expectations.

BUT It doesn’t matter how “bad” someone was;  I would never recommend they give up music.  If they don’t improve with my lessons, I would send them to someone I thought could help them better.  If they don’t improve with any lessons, they could join a choir or something in order to continue to enjoy music in a casual context.

And if they have bigger dreams than simply enjoying doing music for its own sake –  it doesn’t matter how unrealistic their dreams seem to be to me; I would never recommend they give up their dreams.  Who the heck am I to claim to be the all-seeing wisewoman who is certain they will fail?  Pffff.  I would give realistic advice on how to ensure they were not wasting their time and could look at many different ways of fulfilling their passion for music.  I would encourage them to have other plans to fall back on.  I would tell them honestly my thoughts on how difficult their dreams may be to accomplish.  But I would never say, “sorry, I really think you should give up on this.”      In my opinion, as a teacher, that is definitely not my place.

What are your thoughts?