Writing

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.

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?

Sneak Peek at My New Novella, Shadows and Nightmares!

As promised, here is the first chapter of my new story set in the Giftless Chronicles universe. If you like it, I will be sending an extended sneak peek (more chapters!) to the people who’ve signed up to my email list on Mon, Jan. 14.  Enjoy!

Prologue

“I told you we’d have to kill them,” Emilee said as she  ripped her sword out of the cowering werewolf’s leg. She pointed the sword at his chest, her blue eyes flashing with anger. “Would you care to accept our agreed-upon offer now, Ben?”
Ben yelped, then nodded. “I’m sorry, Emilee. It won’t happen again. We lost a lot of the pack trying to get this. The Knights—”
“Not my problem. You try that stupidity again, and Donovan and I kill even more of your pack.” Emilee glanced over her shoulder, her blond ponytail swishing to the side. “You see, Donovan, this is why you never make a deal with a werewolf if you can help it. They always try to rip you off in the end. Bunch of bottom-feeders.”
Donovan, a tall, dark, and muscular young man, dropped the female werewolf whose blood he’d been draining. She plopped onto the ground, her neck completely chewed through. His sleeve smeared her blood across his face in a failed attempt to clean it off. “Thanks for the lesson,” he grinned, “and the snack.” His teeth, currently two rows of razor-sharp teeth, vanished into a normal set.
Emilee smiled her beautiful white teeth back at him. “Well, if you’re finished playing around, Rybak could use your help with the artifact. It’s a little heavy. I need to pay Ben here what we owe him.”
Donovan nodded and cocked a dark eyebrow. “Yes, ma’am.”
She turned to Ben. “Shall we conclude our business? I have places to be. Walk over to my car, nice and slow. I’ll be right behind you.”
“Y-y-yes, of course.” He limped towards her car as quickly as he could, the sharp point of her blade poking in his back. Emilee always breathed easier after the shoe dropped with these deals. Werewolves might be carrion eaters, but you never knew when they might go feral, particularly during the full moon when they could transform into their powerful wolf-man hybrid forms. That’s also why she insisted they have their meeting during the crescent moon—less chance of getting overpowered. Not that the werewolves hadn’t tried. She glanced at the ten semi-hairy corpses that littered the ground.
When they arrived at her car, Emilee pushed a button on her key, and the trunk opened. “Go ahead and take the first briefcase. The money’s all there. We pay our debts.”
Ben placed the briefcase on the ground, popped the clasps, and lifted the lid. He checked the money, and nodded appreciatively. “Thanks for money. We—”
“You’re going to leave $50,000 because of that little stunt.”
Ben flinched, his stringy brown hair jerked in clumps against his head. “Yes, yes.” He picked up several thick stacks and handed them to her. He closed the case with a look of satisfaction. “Let me know if we can do anything else for you,” he said.
Emilee snorted. “I doubt we’ll need to hire you for a while. You tell that to your boss.”
He fidgeted, and held up the case against his chest. “Understood. By the way, what is that thing?” He lifted a bony finger towards a large, gray stone cube that Donovan and Rybak were lifting onto the truck.
Emilee had already turned her black-clad body away from him. “That’s definitely not something you need to know, if you want to live.” She left him standing there and walked to the truck-bed where Donovan and Rybak, a tall, thin, pale vampire, had finally placed it.
Rybak grunted. “Next time, bring more vampires. I don’t like all this heavy lifting.”
Emilee traced her hand appreciatively over a series of Anglo-Saxon runes etched into the artifact. She knew the other side had the same inscription in Latin. She’d been there when it was made.
“It’s been a while,” she said, smiling as her fingers slid into the grooves on the cold stone. “Strap this down well. I don’t want it sliding around during the long drive back.”
She was about to give them more instructions when her phone rang. She frowned as she saw who was calling, but she answered it with a sigh. “What now?”
“We have a new problem,” a gravelly male voice said with a thick Scottish accent.
“If I have to clean up another one of your messes…”
“This is not my fault, I assure you.”
Emilee sniffed. “Whatever. What’s the problem?”
“One of our residents is coming your way.”
“Really. Who and what is it?”
“I’ve emailed you a complete dossier. I wouldn’t waste any time on this if I were you. She’s very dangerous.”
“Like I was planning to?” She said sarcastically.
“She knows you from the old days.”
Emilee’s pale face turned even paler. “You mean…her?”
The gravelly voice rumbled in the affirmative.
“I’ll handle it.”
“You’d better,” he said.
Emilee finally regained her composure. “I will. I definitely will.”
She hung up and turned to Rybak and Donovan. “We have more work to do. This could wreck all our plans for The Return.”

Thanks for reading! Again if you want the extended sneak peek, please sign up. If you haven’t read my first novel yet, here it is!

The INTJ Musician’s Top 7 Nonfiction Books from 2018

Hello Everyone,

It has been a while, so I thought I’d let you know about some great books that I’ve read this past year. This year was a first for me. I don’t usually read nonfiction, but I decided I needed more skills and knowledge. To help matters, one of my jobs allows me to read during lulls. I’ve squeezed in a lot more reading this year than usual, and you are the beneficiaries!

Disclaimer: 1) Some of these books can be directly applied to life as a working musician. Some will not. They’ve all helped my understanding of the world, though. 2) I have linked to their Amazon pages, but you could do what I did, which was order them from the library. I don’t get any money from sharing these links.

Without further ado, here are my top 7 books of 2018:

your creative career

7. Your Creative Career by Anna Sabino

This was an excellent book with a more philosophical take on being a creative. I would recommend it for those who need to get into the mindset of being an artist and a businessperson. It’s very pithy. It’s got great aphorisms that you can take to heart.

war_of_art

6. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

This short book will inspire those of us who want to create but are too afraid of taking the plunge. I don’t agree with all the language in it or even all the ideas. However, it has helped me focus, and I read it every so often in order to reorient myself.

hillbilly_elegy

5. Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

I descend from hillbilly stock on both sides of my family, so this book was eye-opening for me. I even grew up in a place nicknamed “Hazeltucky” (that wasn’t a compliment, either). Even though I’m a few more generations removed than Mr. Vance, I still could see some of the same mindset struggles in my own life.

ren soul

4. The Renaissance Soul by Margaret Lobenstine

Those of us with multiple interests and skill-sets often struggle. We don’t know how to use our skills to create an income and a life we actually want to live. Thankfully, Ms. Lobenstine specializes in helping people with multiple skills/interests find careers. I highly recommend this book if you are of this mind and are looking to change your life.

intellectuals and society

3. Intellectuals and Society by Thomas Sowell

This was the first book that I’ve read by the great thinker, Thomas Sowell. To be honest, it was a bit dense. I struggled to read some of it. What kept me going was the fact that the material was so great. Having spent  a lot of time in academia, I’ve met people with the bias Mr. Sowell is attacking. All too often, people with degrees look down on people who don’t. We should value people’s opinions based on the merits of their argument, instead of judging them based on how wittily they express their opinions or how many letters they put after their name.

ethnic america

2. Ethnic America by Thomas Sowell

I know, two books by the same guy? This was much more readable than the other book I read, and it was a fascinating read. Learning about the struggles of the major ethnic groups (at least, up to the 1980s—seriously, it needs updated) in America gave me a lot of context. Highly recommended!

the money book

1. The Money Book for Freelancers, Part-timers, and the Self-employed by Joseph D’Agnese

The Money Book has changed my life more than any other book this past year. It contains a ton of helpful information on how to deal with personal finances when you have irregular income. Because of this book, I have saved more than I ever have! If you are a working creative, you need to get this book!!!!!!!