Introduction to The Four Principles of Healthy Vocal Technique: How to Sing Different Musical Styles without Vocal Pain

I have two rules for my voice students. 1) Sing healthily. 2) Sing in tune. With these two rules in place, most styles can be performed in a way that does not hurt the voice. All singers have to do is apply simple principles of biomechanics (how the body works and moves) to their singing. Unfortunately, many singers needlessly shorten their musical careers because they neglect to learn even the most basic vocal technique.

There are several reasons why singers do not study how to sing. First, they think that “either you got it or you don’t.” Singing—to them—is some sort of magical skill that people are born with. This idea could not be farther from the truth. While some singers are excellent mimickers and have large amounts of innate talent, most singers need to put in the time to develop their talent. They must practice and take lessons and then practice some more, just like a student of any other instrument, such as cello, trumpet, or piano.

Second,  singers are afraid that lessons will change their unique, one-of-a-kind sound. They are afraid that voice lessons will cause them to sound too polished. This is an avoidable danger, but there is an element of truth to this fear. Unhealthy singing can produce a very distinctive tone. Unfortunately, singers often sacrifice a long and fruitful vocal career by creating these distinctive vocal colors. Simply put, the human voice was not meant to make those unusual sounds for extended lengths of time. Biomechanics can be very unforgiving.

Third, they think that they can learn from social media. There are many people on video sharing sites who are happy to get likes and shares and views by talking about and modeling what they think is healthy vocal technique. Often what they teach is anything but healthy vocal technique. It is mere quackery. As a voice coach/teacher with years of experience and multiple degrees, it bothers me when I hear some social media personalities claim to teach viewers how to sing beautifully in 5 minutes, and then the personalities demonstrate using unhealthy vocal technique! Singing is a skill that takes many years to master. Anyone who promises you that you can learn to sing quickly or easily is selling you a bill of goods.

Fourth, they have had unpleasant experiences with voice teachers in the past. Some voice teachers will not push their students, and so their students end up treading water for years. These students have wasted precious time and money with these charlatans, therefore they assume that all voice teachers are like that. This is untrue. Just like with any field, some professionals are good and others are bad. A good voice teacher will push you to develop your most authentic voice in the healthiest way possible.

With this in mind, I have produced this how-to book on the Four Principles of Healthy Vocal Technique. In it, I have distilled years of studying and teaching the voice into its most basic elements. I teach these principles to every voice student and choral singer at the outset of our time together.

The following information is not new. It is not meant to be. It is, however, factual and seeks to develop the ability to sing using scientifically accurate methods. These principles of healthy singing can be applied to many styles of singing, from pop to jazz to country to classical to musical theater to many other styles. I have also included vocal exercises, helpful diagrams, and demonstration videos to help the reader. These tools are meant to supplement the reader’s understanding of this complex topic.

This book will remove much of the mystery of singing, but it will not automatically make the reader a talented singer. As I have stated before, beautiful singing takes a lot of concerted time and effort, trial and error. What this book will do is grant the reader a firm conceptual basis of singing, enable them to sift through the poor teachers and the hucksters on social media, and hopefully start a fulfilling, lifelong journey of making music using the voice as their instrument.

Program for Celebris Concert on June 1, 2019

Hello Everyone,

I’m excited to share our program with you. We will be performing at First Congregational Church in Kalamazoo on June 1, 2019 (7:00 pm). We have some amazing, professional singers and some very moving music. As with many of my concerts, some of the music is very old, some is very new. I’ve always loved the juxtaposition of ancient and modern.

The theme for this concert is Remember Me: Songs of Hope, Love, and Longing from America and the British Isles. We’ll be looking at songs (folk, pop, and classical) that have American and British composers/poets. Some songs are British songs arranged by Americans, and vice versa. Through looking at songs from both countries, I’m hoping that the songs will speak to the universality  of the human condition. All humans hope, all humans love, and all humans long.

We’ll be premiering a piece by Evgeniya Kozhevnikova, a recent graduate of Western Michigan University’s school of music and winner of a 2019 Downbeat award! She plays the piano beautifully, and her piece reflects that sensitivity and creativity.  She will also be gracing us with some solo piano pieces.

Cost is $10/person at the door. Follow us on Facebook.

Come. You’ll enjoy it!

I

My Sweetheart’s Like Venus (Gustav Holst)

The Turtle Dove (Ralph Vaughan Williams)

Danny Boy (Arr. Ryan Block)

II

And So It Goes (Billy Joel, Arr. Bob Chilcott)

Fix You (Coldplay, Arr. Philip Lawson)

III

A solis ortus cardine (Gilles Binchois)

Easter Anthem (William Billings)

IV

Remember (Evgenia Kozhevnikova)

My Lord, What a Morning (Arr. Harry T. Burleigh)

Will the Circle Be Unbroken (Arr. J. David Moore)

V

Jesus, Our Friend Indeed (J. Aaron Greene)

On Fighting Old Mistakes and Welcoming New Ones

I am finally at the point in my life where I can look back with some objectivity. I’ve done things that I’m immensely proud of.  I’ve created events and institutions that are still running even after I’ve left that position.

I’ve also made mistakes. Plenty of them. I can’t tell you how many times that I’ve fallen down. But the trick is to get up, wipe the metaphorical (or literal) blood from your nose and the dust from your pants, and then keep moving forward.

One quote that I tell my private voice students and my choirs is this: Never make old mistakes; only make new ones.

Now, on the face of it, this truism might seem simplistic. And it is. But it assumes a few things.

1) It assumes that you will make mistakes.

Making mistakes is inevitable. You will mess up. You will hurt friends and fail them in ways that you didn’t know that you could. You will get fired from that job, and it might even be your fault. You will bomb that test, show up late to that interview, and waste that money on what you thought was a sure thing. This will happen. I know that it will because it happens to everybody. You aren’t special.

2) It assumes that you often keep making the same mistakes.

This, for me, is the most frustrating part of the whole bit. It’s one thing to make a mistake. It is another thing to make the same mistake multiple times. How many times can you be late for work because you overslept? How many times can you double-book yourself for a gig? How many times can you selfishly choose to spend time and money on yourself when your friend is in need?

These are our blind spots—the problems in our lives that are of our own making, our sins and foibles. And yet we repeat them ad nauseum.

3) It assumes that we can stop making these mistakes.

This is the difficult part of this statement. It forces us to attack those sins and habits that continually rear their ugly heads. We must take proactive steps to ensure that we don’t repeat and repeat and repeat them. In lessons and rehearsals, I tell my singers to mark the mistake with a pencil. Double/triple/quadruple underline it. Circle it. Whatever it takes. Write reminders to not miss that note or rhythm.

Lasting change and personal growth must be intentional.

4) It assumes that we will make new mistakes in the future.

This, too, is inevitable, and we must not fear it. Fear of failure is debilitating. It stops us from taking chances. It hamstrings us from achieving the things that we will only accomplish with persistent trial and error (read: everything new thing that we attempt to do).

So when you fall flat on your face, get back up. Own it. When you fail your friend, do whatever it takes to make it right. When you fail that interview, make sure you are more prepared for the next one. If you are always late for work, get up 10 minutes earlier or buy a second alarm clock. Learn from your mistakes, change yourself, and move on.

Life Update March 2019

Yes, it’s that time again! Much has happened since January, and much more will happen in the coming months.

Singing

Sounding Light

This week, I’ll be singing my first gig with Sounding Light, a talented professional choir based in Oakland County, MI. We’ll be singing Muehleisen’s Pieta, a massive work reflecting on the pain and sorrow of war. Here are the performances. Come to one of them, Detroit-area, Flint, Frankenmuth, and Cleveland friends!

Friday, March 15 – 7:30 p.m.

Featuring Stoney Creek High School Choir
Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist
1007 Superior Avenue E
Cleveland, OH 44114

Sunday, March 17 – 4:00 p.m.

Featuring Stoney Creek High School Choir
First Presbyterian Church
746 S. Saginaw St.
Flint, MI 48502

Saturday, March 16 – 7:00 p.m.

Featuring Stoney Creek High School Choir
Our Shepherd Lutheran Church
2225 East Fourteen Mile Rd.
Birmingham, MI 48009

Monday, March 18 – 7:30 p.m.

Featuring Stoney Creek High School Choir
St. Lorenz Church
140 Churchgrove Rd.
Frankenmuth, MI 48734

Battle Creek Master Singers

I’ll also be singing with the Battle Creek Master Singer’s Cabaret on March 23 & 24 featuring the wonderful voice of Rhea Olivacce as the guest artist.

I highly recommend coming! People who come enjoy the music, the food, the beverages, and the fun!

Writing

I’ve been quite happy with the positive reception of The Giftless Chronicles. I’ve had people who don’t even read the YA Fantasy genre say that they had to know what happened next in the story.

Shadows and Nightmares: A Story of the Giftless Chronicles (available on Amazon), is the follow-up to my first novel. I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed writing it. My characters grew, the world I created was further developed in mythology and history, and there was some great humor and action.  Ultimately, the story is about trauma and healing, but with some awesome monster-killing action in between. My story has been out for a month, and people really seem to like it!

I’m currently working on my second full-length novel set in this universe. It will set up the final struggle with the big bad in book 3. Can they stop The Return, and what will it cost them?

Conducting

As always, I’m conducting a lot. My singers in West Michigan Homeschool Fine Arts will be putting on their final concert of the year on April 9, and then I’ll be working with another homeschool ensemble until early June. I wrote a new music-reading curriculum for my singers that has been quite effective, and we’re advancing to nerdier stuff like asymmetrical meters and intervals.

My Branch United Youth Choir in Coldwater, MI will host its annual choir camp (dates to be announced soon!). It’s always a great four days! If you know of anyone in the south-central MI/Northern Indiana area with kids, this would be a great opportunity to learn about singing and reading music. Best of all, the kids have fun with music and make new friends.

Celebris Ensemble performed our first Christmas concert in December! I’m happy with the group and very excited for our next concert (soon to be announced). Stay tuned!

 

A Prayer for Fiction Writers/Authors

My brother-in-law bought me a book of liturgies/prayers called Every Moment Holy by Douglas Kaine McKelvey. BUY THIS BOOK! I highly recommend it! It has some beautiful artwork, and the language is both simple and artistic. Anyway, I ran across this amazing prayer for fiction writers. I pray that it will inspire you as you create today.

Here are some excerpts (The rest of the liturgy is just as good):

Writers: Lord, let me love this world into being.

Leader: Even as you, in the infinite poetry of your thoughts and the inexhaustible joy of your love, spoke a universe into existence, into life, into the complex motion of its myriad particulars, so grant the grace that I might trace by my thoughts and words the echoes of some infinite pattern of your creation.

Take these my small offerings: my pen, my paper, my words, my willingness to be still and present.

Fill my imagination. Be to me both fire and wonder, inspiration and guide.

Lord, let me love this world into being, and let me love each of the characters I create…May I allow them the dignity to become themselves within the world I have created…May they have something like a breath of life in them, and not be the shriveled fruit of my own moralizing.

Lord, let me love the reader, ever writing for their good, writing words that might, in the employ of your Spirit, bring life and hope and conviction….And when I am too enamored with my own cleverness, grant me the humility and the courage to make the hard choices, to amputate my own ego…[M]ay it please you by your grace to turn my darkness to light so that even the fruits of my pride and insecurity would be redeemed for the good of your people and the furtherance of your kingdom and the glory of your name.

 

How an INTJ Writes a Story: Plotting vs. Pantsing

joelsnyder922_v4As my newest novella, Shadows and Nightmares (buy it on Amazon!), is now published, I thought I would talk a little about a question that many ask me. How do you write a story?

Really, this question could be better phrased as, “how do I write a story?” Every writer is different in their method. And what works for one writer will not necessarily work for another. So, what I’m going to do is give you an insight into how I approach writing. Today, I’ll talk about the first task that I do when I start to write.

The Plotting vs. Seat-of-the-Pants Spectrum

I used the word spectrum. Sounds smart, right?

Anyway, many writers land somewhere on the scale between being the person who plans every scene or who just kinda wings it. A famous plotter is James Patterson, and a famous pantser is Stephen King. Neither way is better than the other.

As an INTJ, I fall on the plotting side. I create a plan, a framework going forward. One of the things I do is write out a brief summary of every scene (chapter) in my books before I write them. In my summary, I include things like location, time of day, character development, how it moves the plot forward, etc. This allows me to keep the story moving.

However, I don’t plan the nitty-gritty things in my  outline. If I do that, I lose the ability to be flexible. Playing within the framework is important to me. I discover nuances as I write. Sometimes, I’ll change little things as I go to plug plot holes and the like.

The advantages of plotting are several. 1) I always know where I am going. I never feel lost as I write. The bones are already there. All I have to do is flesh them out. 2) I rarely have to cut a scene, because every scene has a purpose in advancing the plot. In fact, I usually add scenes in the initial editing phase. 3) I know what my characters will do before hand. This eliminates a lot of plot holes/inconsistencies.

The pantsers’ advantage is that 1) their writing can feel more organic. They are literally discovering what happens as they write. 2) They are more open to changing the plot as demanded. Nothing is set in stone. 3) Their characters can seem more dynamic.

Because plotters do much of their work upfront, they do less editing after it is written. Pantsers do less work upfront, but generally do much more editing on the back end. The work still has to be done either way.

Which approach works best for you?

(Here is a great article by Anton Vann on how to write either as a plotter or pantser. It’s longer and gives a you a lot of great ideas.)

Shadows and Nightmares Cover Reveal and Story Synopsis!

The cover for my new novella, Shadows and Nightmares, is finished and ready to share! This is the second story in my Giftless Chronicles series. Get caught up by reading my first novel. And, if you want special sneak previews and other goodies, sign up to my email list.

My new story picks up a few months where the last story left. Everyone is still reeling from the events of the first book:

When vampires captured her family and turned her brother, Corinne did what any responsible thirteen-year-old would do: she grabbed her magic sword and went to work! Haunted by trauma and terrible loss, she and her fifteen-year-old friend Madelyn seek solace at her grandparents’ camp for Chroniclers. But dark forces, once set in motion, cannot easily be stopped. Madelyn’s nightmares terrorize her, a heartless bureaucrat threatens her grandparents, and a horrific monster from the Old World is preying on inner-city Chicago, leaving Corinne with impossible choices. Can she trust a handsome, powerful young Hunter at the camp to help her?