Questions My Students Ask Me

Question: How can I sing harmony–I keep singing whatever the other person sings!
There are some parts when I am supposed to sing the harmony, but I always start singing the melody without meaning to. Then when it’s time to switch back to the melody, I hit the wrong notes. Are there any Quick Fixes you can give me for this?

Answer: You have to focus on YOU, not the other person singing. It actually is a right brain thing, which hears pitch and notes, and the left brain is comparing you to the other person and cannot hear pitch. It is not your friend when you sing! Anyway, to get into right brain, try walking backwards or singing the harmony part on nonsense syllables. (You have to change them around–you can’t just sing “doo-dah” and expect to stay in right brain. You have to NOT know what you’re going to sing next).

Another Quick Fix: Get as far away from the other singer as you can while you are learning your part– it is another melody–NOT the same as the real melody–and you must let your right brain learn it. Then put your fingers in your ears while you sing close to the other singer–you’ll hear you and very little of them. Also, you need to listen to some country or folk songs and sing the higher harmony part–you will eventually distinguish it and learn to do it. It does take work though!

Question: No matter what I do my voice sounds HORRIBLE—please help me!

Answer: In some countries, in Africa and also the Philippines, no one thinks they sound horrible. It’s just simply not part of their culture. They all think they can sing, and they do! (Also, everyone in Botswana, where I visited, sang harmony. They all knew how to sing it from a young age). Anyway, your mind is an incredibly influential force on how your voice will sound—all the tiny muscles and fibers actually tense or relax according to what you think. So—if you think you sound horrible—unfortunately, your voice will create that. Try thinking: I have a really cool voice and I’m getting better all the time!

Question: How do I sing louder? My voice seems so weak sometimes.

Answer: Try one of my Quick Fixes that is GREAT. It’s called “The Bag”. Get a bag and fill it with some heavy things–my purse works SO well!–and put it right in front of you. Sing the part of the song leading up to the weak section–when you get to it, lift the bag with both hands. If the bag is heavy enough, it will really help your sound. Now keep doing that till you can feel how much internal pressure is on your larynx, and on your sides. When you can duplicate it without the bag, you’re going to sound much better!

Question: Why can my boyfriend sing high notes so easily and sound good and my voice breaks and sounds awful?

Answer: Your boyfriend (and all male voices) are already using the correct muscles for “belting”. Girls are not. We are using head voice and have to learn to use chest voice. Also, if we do use chest voice and go up, we reach the limit of chest voice and the voice “breaks”. Here are a few Quick Fixes: keep the tongue flat, the mouth wide, the torso “hollow” and feeling like you’re still inhaling, the larynx a little lowered, and the knees flexible and soft. Practice all your high sounds in a little baby voice and get familiar with where that is located. Don’t be afraid to experiment and sound awful–it’s an instrument and needs to be explored without anyone, including you, passing judgment on how it sounds.

Question: I never get picked at the Karaoke Fest prelims. What am I doing wrong?

Answer: Here are some possibilities: you are singing in left brain. That means you are thinking about hitting the notes, technique stuff, how you look, if you’ll win. This is left brain, and it’s all about you. To actually move people to vote for you, you have to have it be about them. The right brain is in the moment, emotionally in the scene of the song, feeling every emotion just as if it’s happening and it’s real right now. It is also focused and intent on the audience (this should be ONE person in your imagination) understanding what you are communicating. You have to really WANT them to get how you’re feeling, and share those feelings with them. This is difficult for most of us, since we were told not to do this from the time we started having temper tantrums. To open your emotional instrument, though, (and that is what it is), you must be generous enough and courageous enough to let us see you at your most vulnerable. Elvis did it. You can do it.

Happy Singing!

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