Tuesday, July 19, 2016


After all this time spent with my vocal instructor, she finally laid the law down at my last lesson and told me, "you're singing an actual song today." I've been doing nothing but vocal exercises for so long but never was ready to make that leap.
If you've never had vocal lessons, let me tell you that there are some very strange exercises out there. First starting, I was quite self-conscious doing them because they distort your face in odd ways and some just have you making strange buzzing sounds and blowing your lips out really hard. But I overcame and now think nothing of it. Being silly with it makes it easier. But the thought of actually attempting a real song in a real way, without being silly, has been a roadblock for a while. It's terrifying. There's a lot of vulnerability in it. But, as I said, she laid down the law and I had no choice.

As I was unable to come up with a song, she picked for me. I'll tell you that the songs we did were certainly not what I had in mind when I started trying to sing. But you have to start somewhere, and thus we started with two songs that were in a comfortable range for me.
"You know what song would work great with your voice? 'Loveshack!' "
Now, I said above that neither song I ended up singing was what I had in mind...but it's freakin' "Loveshack." Everyone loves to sing that (ridiculous) song. It also has the bonus of a female part so my instructor could do that and I could do the male part. Doing a duet made me more comfortable about the whole ordeal.
"Loveshack" was done on a karaoke machine and the volume of it made me more comfortable singing. Part of my singing problem is a confidence issue when you can hear too much of just my voice. I can just belt it out along with the radio while I'm in the car and (mostly) be on key, but as soon as you cut the volume off, my voice withdraws back into my body like a scared turtle. So I think the loud machine was a good stepping stone.

The next song was "The Dance" by Garth Brooks. I'm not much into country, despite living in Nashville for so long (there's a lot more here than country, if you're not aware), but I grew up with my parents listening to country in the 80s and 90s and there are a few songs from back then that I like. This happens to be one of them. As we decided on the song she says, "now we are going back to the piano, you're going to play this song and sing it...I'll face away from you if it will make you more comfortable." And that is exactly how it went down. I managed to make it through the entire song and didn't feel it was a complete disaster. She was oddly excited and, seemingly, proud that I had made the steps I had, but instead of feeling proud about it myself, mostly I was thinking, "I'm never going to have a strong, interesting voice like I dreamed." I try to shove that thought aside the many times is comes to mind. Negativity is never going to get me anywhere.

Now, I've done plenty of piano performances at this point in my life, and I'm never really nervous about them. Even my first performance when I was only ~6 months into learning wasn't bad. I get a few butterflies leading up to it, but once I'm at the piano, I zone out and take care of business. I'm told I look very angry when I play, but that's just me focusing. My expression probably isn't helped by the fact that I have a default "resting bitch face" though...
Despite my playing piano in front of groups of people without nervousness, singing in front of ONE person - who has by now seen me and heard me do some WEIRD stuff - was dreadful. And she had her back to me!
I knew as I finished that I had been nervous but, as I reached up to scratch my brow, I felt my forehead and it was COVERED in sweat. My eyebrows were damp if that tells you how much. That gave me a new respect for live performers. Not that my respect was low; vocal classes has pretty much raised my awe of singers each time I go to class. Granted, I'm sure most of them are far more confident in their voice than I so they might not have quite as much inner turmoil about performing.

I'm supposed to be working on the country song for our next class and hopefully by then some of the mistakes I made I can manage to remedy. We'll see in a few days.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Satisfying Progress

I had a few enjoyable moments in the last few days. The first is that I sent my final -...maybe - version of my first piano piece to my vocal coach. She really seemed to like the initial versions but was far more excited for my most recent revision. She brought it up during our session yesterday and kept saying how much she loved the melody. More excitingly, she said how if she came across anyone at work (she's a professional song writer as I believe I've mentioned) needing a moody melody, she'd totally pitch my piece to them. Which is pretty freakin' cool. I don't expect anything to come of that but it was a nice confidence boost.

Secondly, I managed to climb my way (slightly) both up and down the piano with my voice more than I ever have before, which I didn't expect having thought I'd hit my absolute limit prior to this. As of now it's looking like my range will officially land around 3 octaves or perhaps a step more. Here is what I was able to eek out yesterday.

Compared to my previous record:

I actually managed to land the B just below my lowest C but not reliably and it was a real struggle, requiring me to attempt it again and again until I just barely managed. So I'm not going to count that one.

Next goal: don't screw up my recital in a few weeks. I did a few runs through it on the grand piano at the vocal studio and found some parts that needed tweaking, mostly pedal work. I've discovered being a little lax with the pedal at home on my electric piano is a lot different than being lax on a real piano. The sounds muddle FAR more on the piano and I'm going to have to make sure I'm more diligent about the pedal in the future.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Woo #2

To go along with my previous post, I have nearly finished up my first ever song, aside from the lyrics. Though at this point I might just make it an instrumental...maybe. It's an ever changing situation and my mind switches every few minutes.
After I had settled on most of the melodies and chorus, I recorded it and sent it to my vocal instructor - who is a professional song writer - for her opinion. Her response was:
"Whoa!! That is sooo cool!! You have a real ear for melody lines - no joke - I could totally picture that in a movie - wow!!!"

Which naturally pleased me. Granted, she could have been trying to encourage me with positive reinforcement but I feel like she tends to be very straight-forward so I'm going to take the comment as stated and allow myself to feel pretty excited about it.

Now that I've finally started the ball rolling and allowed the fear of being terrible to subside, I'm really enjoying the progress of creating a song. Of creating at all, really. It feels like far too long since I said down and made something that was my own.
I don't know if my writing method is ideal, but I recorded the basic chord progression onto my phone and listened to it on a loop over and over (which may have driven me slightly insane) while humming melody progressions in my head. After a while, I started to hear where I wanted the song to go in my a measure ahead of time and I would build it from there. It sort of felt like those cartoons where a character starts to off a cliff and builds a bridge ahead of themselves to run on while they are in midair.

I always assumed the first song I ever wrote would be terrible - and it MAY be for all I know - and that I would hate it. But the fact that I not only don't hate it, but actually like it makes me feel pretty good.

There are still many hurdles and a long way yet to go, but I'm glad to finally have making the journey.

Monday, March 7, 2016


I was playing recital piece for my piano teacher last week and she commented on how my play style had evolved from being stiff and mechanical to more loose and how I seemed to play with more feeling of late and how she felt I'd become a real musician. And that  just made my whole day.

I, of course, don't feel that way but it's nice hearing it from someone else.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Song Writing Hurdles

I have a two week deadline to complete an entire song. Music, lyrics, the works. Not to be misleading with the use of the word "deadline", which implies ramifications if I don't complete it. There are no ramifications beyond personal displeasure and potentially disappointing my vocal coach, being the person who tasked me with this undertaking. That being said, consequences or no, I'd like to complete it. It may be terrible and it may be embarrassing, but it will be finished, and that is an achievement of sorts. By being complete I'll be able to leave it behind and try again, hopefully making my next attempt slightly less horrifying. Then I'll repeat the process a few hundred times until I hopefully have something mildly passing. Or more ideally I'll discover I'm a natural prodigy and write a masterpiece, but I'm not going to hold my breath for that one.

Having already squandered half of my two weeks, I recently realized why I'm struggling to make more progress. I'm spending a lot of time on minute details that probably don't matter. Or don't matter at this stage in the process, at least.
Last night I spent an agonizing amount of time on 4 measures for the ending. My working on the ending is in no way indicative of my progress through the song, by the by. I just happened to have noodled with a melody that I felt would sound good as an ending. At any rate, in measure 1 and 3, there is literally a single note that is interchanged between the two, and only by a single tone. And I couldn't for the life of me decide which I preferred. The change is so slight that when I sent it to a friend for an opinion, I was told, "I listened to both samples a few times and can't tell any difference," which makes me believe no one but a professional musician or someone with a very refined ear would even care, so why am I tearing my hair out about this?
Besides, I've decided that I need to try and treat song writing as I would a painting. A simple base layer to start with then slowly and steadily adding more and more details until it is full of texture and, by the time you are finished, becomes interesting. Hopefully.

I'm only now coating the base with color and am a long way from painting any sort of sunset. I'll try and get the colors right when I get there instead of worrying about them while it is still early morning.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Brain and Finger Disconnect

Over the last year I've noticed a rather obnoxious disconnect between any music I play and what my brain is doing at any given moment during the piece. From the start of this piano learning process, one thing I focused on extensively was never looking at my fingers. The practice has served me well, but I've recently discovered - as I learn more difficult pieces that take me longer to learn - that it can cause me to become lost should I ever make a mistake. I used to be rather good at making a mistake and continuing on like nothing happened, which I imagine was a hold-over from my guitar days. But recently I've started to pause upon making an error and that gives my brain JUST enough time to activate and confuse everything. It made me realize that even if I know a piece by memory, I don't really know at any time what note I'm playing as I play it. That means if I've gotten my fingers out of position I have no idea where they are supposed to go without starting back a few measures. This can obviously be a problem.

Muscle memory is clearly an important skill with this instrument, but I feel my sole reliance on it has done me a disservice. I brought up the disconnected feeling randomly my vocal coach and she suggested that when I practice scales and arpeggios (the latter of which I rarely practice...I know, I know...) that I actively call out the name of the notes I'm hitting. My first thought was that this will also help with me oddly terrible ability to say the alphabet backwards from G. But I think she may be onto something. Having only tried this method a few times, I already feel that this is going to help me address the issue.
As I think on how long it took me to find a simple solution to my disconnect problem, it becomes quite clear to me that I need to come up with other similar efficient practice techniques if I ever want to rise above piano mediocre. My progress has been beyond disappointing of late and it's frustrating. I need a renewed effort on more efficiency and deliberate practice. If I can get those working in tandem I believe it will really boost my progress in the direction I want.

In other news, I sang the first part of a song in front of someone for the first time, and it was absolutely terrifying. All these times I've worked with the vocal coach, I have only been focusing on technique and exercises, forever pushing off attempting a real song. Okay, that's not quite true. To ease me into the process, we've often worked on the below:

Which I've gotten pretty good at, if I may be so bold. Though obviously not quite as good as Pavarotti. But singing a song in a language you don't know is pretty on par with doing various technique exercise. It's a lot easier to really throw yourself into it when it just comes out as a bunch of sounds. When it comes out as understandable words, that's when the doubt and fear and such really sets in. With that in mind, when the first word of the new song I worked on came out as little more than a squeak, I wasn't really surprised. I'm not discouraged though as I think on how far I've progressed since my first lesson. In the beginning, even jibberish sounds were hard to make myself do at any reasonable volume; even more difficult were the many strange exercises that make you look completely ridiculous. 
It took a while to become comfortable with all of that, but these days I don't think twice about having to hold my hands to my face and squish my cheeks up in weird ways so that I can trill my lips to get the sound I want. Or, as last time, stick a spoon to the back of my tongue and force it to stay flat when trying to make an "AH" sound. But a year ago I'd have folded in on myself in embarrassment. 
Those trials have certainly changed my view on how I think about singers when I see them make silly faces during  performance. I used to just think, "that's not a good look for them" but now it just makes me realize they are applying some technique or another to their voice. It's been very enlightening.

Whatever ends up coming out of the time spend in these classes, I feel at the very least it has been good for my self-confidence.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Blisters On Me Fingers

For some reason, I decided all the stuff I was working on just wasn't enough to keep me busy, so I ended up buying a ukulele to fool around with. I figured having a fair bit of experience with stringed instruments, it would come to me more naturally than piano did. And for the most part that is true, but having big hands and trying to play this tiny instrument is certainly a learning experience.

For all the years I've loathed "Somewhere Over the Rainbow", it has rapidly become a secret favorite after playing it on the uku. With that easy chore down, I decided to skip all the logical steps and try and master "Bohemian Rhapsody" which is clearly a ridiculous move.
...but can you blame me?

All I've managed thus far is to blister every single finger even with the ukulele's nylon strings. Thi is clearly showing a lack of practice on the guitar of late.

Difficult as the song is, it has been a lot of fun to play. Try to play, rather. After a bit of concentrated effort, I have the first 30 seconds handled...only about 5.5 more minutes of song to go. I should have it mastered in a few years at this rate.