Here is a list of questions which I am often asked, relating to vocal technique, singing and piano lessons.
1. Where do the lessons take place?
All lessons are conducted at 85 Cranemore, Werrington, PE4 5AL, in a purpose built, sound-proof music studio. There is a waiting area for parents and a toilet.
2. Can anybody learn to sing?
I believe that if you have a healthy speaking voice, then you can learn to sing. Singing is a myoelastic and aerodynamic phenomenon. Put simply your singing voice is produced by the muscular effort of bringing the vocal cords together (that is myoelastic) and breath support (that is aerodynamic). Provided that those 2 elements are controlled then you can produce a sustained tone. With instruction and practice you can learn to vary the tone with precision, i.e. you can learn to pitch. The reason why some people are seen to be tone deaf, is the result of inappropriate muscular tension which hinders the production of an easy and pleasant tone. A person who does not know how to 'support' the voice with the correct posture and the correct breath flow will not be able to produce a comfortable tone. I will be able to teach you how to support and release your voice. If you have asthma, it is a good idea to let me know, because the breathing exercises which I will teach you will need to be arranged in order to relax the vocal tract.
3. What ages do you teach?
I teach all ages and voices. The rule of thumb is that the pupil must be able to read. After all if you cannot read the text, then you cannot sing the music. It is never too late to learn to sing and I have taught many people of retirement age. The youngest pupils I have are six years old. I have prepared choristers for cathedral auditions in Peterborough, Lincoln and Norwich. Hayley Sanderson, resident singer on BBC Strictly Come Dancing, studied with me for five years. She is probably the most successful of my pupils.
4. What styles do you teach?
I have completed courses in Estil Vocal Figures with Vocal Process Ltd. These courses complemented the excellent tuition which I received from the age of 17 onwards. In addition I have supplemented my knowledge and expertise by collecting and reading books on singing written over the last one hundred years. I am thus able to offer pupils tuition in all vocal genres and styles: opera, lieder, musical stage, folk and popular. I can teach for pleasure,for examination, or for a specific goal e.g. a college audition.
5. How many lessons will I need?
This question can be rephrased as "How long is a piece of string?" The answer is: "It all depends." I find that most people enjoy their lessons and continue for months (some for years). You should find that with my help and expertise your singing voice will have improved greatly within the first six weeks. I pride myself on being able to identify vocal problems and provide exercises to resolve the issues. I, like many other professional colleagues use the ISM Agreement for Private Music Lessons, whereby a series of 6 lessons are arranged. (This is also your guarantee of professional quality and conduct.)
6. How often should I practise?
The amount of progress you will make is directly related to the quality of your practise, not necessarily the frequency of your practice. 'Perfect practice prevents poor performance.' There are some exercises you ought to do everyday. Other exercises you should do every other day. The important thing is to set yourself realistic goals and achieve them. If you aim to practise three times a week and you are able to achieve that goal, then you will feel better than if you aim to practise five times a week and never achieve that goal. If you sing in a choir or in a chorus you will be able to put the techniques which I teach you into use. I can provide you with a practice C.D. which you can use at home.
7. I do not read music. Does it matter?
It is not essential to be able to read music before you start to learn to sing. There have been many good singers who have sustained a career without being able to read music, but an ability to follow the dots on the sheet is definitely an asset. If you want to learn to read music, then I have proven strategies and techniques which will enable to to become a confident sight reader in a short time. Sight reading tests are part of the A.B.R.S.M. examination syllabus and I will ensure that you are thoroughly prepared for that aspect of the exam.
8. I cannot sing high/low notes, is my voice damaged?
It is common for inexperienced singers to feel that their voices are restricted in range. When we allow the voice to work comfortably we find that the low notes are heavier in tone, the higher notes are lighter in tone. If we try to produce the same sound across the vocal range, we stop the voice from working well. In order to sing well we have to use the 'registers' of the voice. I will teach you how the registers work and how you can control the voice. You will find that once you know how to produce the right tone your vocal range will quickly expand. You will also develop control, vocal colour and vocal stamina.
You may have been incorrectly taught to push the voice up from the heavier chest register. This produced too much vibrato and, because the vocal muscles are being over worked, the transition between chest and head register is not operating seamlessly. Chest voice underpins most female contemporary singing, and it's easy to get it wrong:
•too much weight
•the wrong resonating space
•vocal folds working too hard
•poor breath management
•vocal " weightlifting"
the list goes on. The outcome of poor vocal usage is vocal collapse. The first warning signs are a sore throat after singing and hoarseness. The wise singer will sing comfortably, because comfortable tone always develops, uncomfortable tone - though dramatically useful on occasions - cannot.
I will teach you to balance the voice and to correctly coordinate the vocal registers. My pupils have well balanced voices which use an appropriate amount of vibrato, but rely on resonance to achieve dynamic projection of tone.
9. What happens in a typical singing lesson?
A typical singing lesson will have three parts. 1. Introduction and warm up. 2. Repertoire development. 3. Conclusion.
The introduction and warm up lasts for approximately 10 minutes. We start with some voiced breathing exercises because the voice will work better if the breath has been warmed up before hand. Then the warm-up commences with some gentle, brief onsets and offsets (attack and release). Third, the voice is warmed up by humming, which enables you to explore a light and lyrical vocal tone. Then the tone is reinforced by the gradual introduction of 'twang'. Finally a set of vocal register building exercises are introduced.
Repertoire development is the main focus of the lesson. To begin with it is useful to study songs which are useful for the development of voice and technique. Younger voices are encouraged to learn songs from the book, 'Making the Grade 2 and 3.' The songs are useful for the development of lyrical tone, dramatic stage tone and a mixture of heavier and lighter tone. The songs also present a variety of musical styles. Adults study classical, theatre and popular styles which are correctly set for their voices.
The conclusion of the lesson is an opportunity to record in a notebook the pieces you have to work on and to write relevent remarks. We also set a date and time in the diary for your next lesson.
10. What are Vocal Registers?
The lower part of the voice is historically known as 'chest register' on account of the vibrations which a singer feels on the sternum. The tone is determined by tension in the vocal cords and arytenoid muscles. It has a distinctive 'heavy' quality. Jo Estill used the term 'speech register' because the larynx is held in the same position during normal speech.
The upper part of the voice is historically known as 'head register' on account of the vibrations which a singer feels in the 'mask' or the sinuses. The tone is determined by the action of the cricothyroid muscle, which tilts the thyroid cartilage forward, stretching and thinning the lips of the vocal folds. Jo Estill used the term 'sob' because the larynx is held in the same position when laughing or sobbing gently.
There is a transition between the two registers which the singer must learn to control and negociate smoothly, termed the passaggio. It can be injurious to the voice to abuse the registers by pushing the lower register up - and once inflicted the damage can be permanent.
11. Who was Jo Estill - and what are the vocal figures?
Jo Estill (1921 - 2010) was an American singer, teacher and vocal researcher, who codified in simple exercises or 'figures', 29 options for changing vocal quality by correctly controlling 11 structures in the vocal tract. In a sense she discovered nothing new. Perceptive singing teachers have known about these options for years, but I doubt that any one teacher has codified them and presented them as clearly as Jo Estill. When I completed the first vocal figures course with Gilly-Anne Kayes and Jeremy Fisher, I felt that I had experienced in one weekend, an empowering refresher of everything I had been taught in the previous 20 years. Furthermore, I now understood the why's and wherefores of all the figures. In 2004, Jo was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of East Anglia, an award she richly deserved.
12. Am I too old for singing lessons?
You can learn to sing at any age. It is a healthy and rewarding recreation. It is surprising what an adult pupil can achieve. M.C.L. is one of my older pupils. Recently he took his Grade 6 Singing, not sure whether he would achieve an impressive mark. He and I were delighted with his pass with distinction and M C L has kindly given me permission to publish his mark sheet. To view his sheet click here.
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Copyright © 2014 Jonathan Jessop.