Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Do you REALLY want to sing like that?

Complete Vocal Technique makes it clear that anyone can sing in any way. However, that doesn't mean everyone wants to sing in every way.
The choices you make - what sounds you chose to do, and, what sounds you chose not to do - is part of the building of your own unique sound. That is simply part of what makes you You.  

Every now and then a singer gets stuck when approaching a new way to sing a song, despite that they seem to have everything they need to do it. A clear wish has been expressed for how to sing the song, they have the knowledge of what techniques can take them there and the tools for how to do it. Still they can't do it. 
This is a good time to go a bit deeper into the actually wish, to see if it really is what they think it is… 

Let's take an example: The song "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going", sung by Jennifer Hudson. Let's say a singer wishes to sing it exactly like she does, or at least with similar energy and expression. 
The recipe for this is, simply put; a good amount of volume, which means we will be spending a lot of time in the full metal modes. Then put in some Neutral and Curbing here and there, a lot of twang and some dips into darker sound color to even more increase the great dynamics of the song, a good deal of vocal runs, some splashes of growl (vocal effect) and basically there you have it… 
Anyone can do this if they know how to. But there is something more to it at a deeper level. 

Who sings like this? What kind of character would chose to express themselves in this way? Of course that is a question that can be answered different ways depending on the person, but to simplify it a bit I would say; someone who is really eager to say something and to say it loud! The song is basically a 5 minute scolding. Imagine a long period of stong feelings and effort and build it up to a climax when you are at the top of frustration and everything basically explodes out of you. 5 minutes of screaming, yelling, begging, whining, sobbing… 
It is a great, powerful song and has given joy to many, many listeners. And this is what it is, a 5 minute loud explosion of feelings. 
Then take a singer who never speaks louder than a soft stroke. Who prefers to sing gently, simply and quietly. Now they are in my studio wishing to sing like Jennifer Hudson. Perhaps because they love it and really long to burst out into that kind of expression. Perhaps because they need to learn how to do it cause they got a job where they're gonna perform it like this.. Or perhaps because someone else told them it would be better if they sang like this. Maybe they just have some idea about that this would be good to do, but still, they really don't feel like doing it.. It can be they are not really comfortable with expressing themselves this way because it's just very far away from their own personality. Maybe they want to change both their personality and how they sing, or maybe they actually don't. Being loud is great, but being gentle is also great. It's really just a matter of taste and when a singer is expressing themselves, it is about THEIR taste, no one elses. 
Remember, it is possible, if you really want it. But the question to ask here is, do you REALLY want to sing like this? Are you up for it? Because to sing this song like Jennifer Hudson sings it means to bring out that kind of character. It takes a lot of energy and you need to be ready to give that energy. To be loud, to be angry, to take a lot of space and to not doubt that it is ok to do it. 
When that question is asked and the answer is yes, we are ready to get to work!

- Annika

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Technology and teaching singing | Vol. 1

Hello singers,

Nowadays we use a lot of technology when we perform as singers both on stage and studio. Microphone for example is so common that we often forget that without it we couldn't have certain kind of music. There would be no Madonna, Lara Fabian or Björk in the way we know them. In my next performance with my new band Boy With Strings I'm gonna sing everything through a voice pedal, Voicelive2, which gives me a nice sound with compressor, eq, reverb, delays and what's really cool, harmonies! Everything is also played through a computer and software, Ableton Live, in which we loop, effect and manipulate our playing in many ways. Modern technology gives us so many new possibilities, doesn't it?!

So, how much technology do we use when teaching singing? Not so much typically. Lately, I've tried using different software in my teaching. There is not many programs actually developed for voice teachers so we need to find creative ways to use those created for doing something else.  I'll share some things I've found useful. In order not to make it boring, I'll share one or two tips at a time. Also, I'd love to hear about your ways of using technology in teaching!


Recording voice lessons is nothing new anymore. But not everyone has their own recorder, or they forget to bring it, and I myself find it a bit too complicated to record, compress and then send sound files to every individual singer. My solution is DropBox and an iPhone app DropVox. In DropBox I make a folder for every individual singer which I then share with only them. In DropVox I can simply choose that folder in the beginning of a lesson, press record and stop it when the lesson's done. What I found great is that the sound file is compressed automatically to m4a format so it saves space. Also, you can start recording the next lesson when it's still uploading the previous one. I love the simplicity of DropVox and how it takes no time to set up so it doesn't waste any time on the lesson.

Let me know if you have other software you love to use for recording.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Shapes for the visual singers

Essential for successful learning is the teacher's ability to adjust the pedagogy to the person being taught. This isn't anything new. People are different and prefer different ways of learning and different ways of interacting.

Before I encountered CVT - which thankfully acknowledges individual differences as a core part of the pedagogy - I have done a great deal of studying on personal development. There are several different methods and models for altering pedagogy according to learning styles, as well as critic to the whole idea of it. But there is perhaps no need to necessarily believe in or practice any specific theory or model at all, as long as you keep your eyes open to the fact that people work differently and that different problems may need different solutions. It only takes some sober thinking to realise that if you are trying to teach or learn something and it's not working, it's crucial to try something else!

In vocal training, some singers learn well by copying sound examples, which is one good reason for the common myth that some people seem "gifted" with a good singing voice. They have simply done a lot of copying! Music sung by people in their environment or perhaps played on the radio. Auditive singers are also the reason to why an important part of being an Authorized CVT-teacher is to be able to demonstrate all sounds.

But then again, the sound example may help the auditive singer a bit, but perhaps not give the whole solution. Or another singer might need something completely different. Maybe they will find anatomical explanations helpful or maybe they find their way through a metaphorical inner visualisation.
Some will want to have hands on and feel what they are doing while others will want to see illustrations and diagrams of what to do. To be able to teach the singer what they want, it's crucial to be able to meet these needs. And if one trick doesn't work, it's time to pick up the next.

In my teaching I often find great use of shapes. Showing a shape representing the sound can help many singers (obviously not all), to actually produce the sound. For some, that may be about inner visualisation and for some about anatomy. Surprisingly, the fictive shapes that happen to be most efficient in visualizing sound, are quite similar to what is actually going on anatomically!

Mostly I show the shapes with my hands or sometimes I draw them on the board. But today I have tried to illustrate some of the shapes I often use in print. If you find them useful please let us know! Feel welcome to share too (- and we are happy for a link back here if so). Perhaps you have other shapes or tricks that work well for you, please share!

- Annika 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Gender roles and boundaries in singing

Hello singers!

I got inspired to think and write shortly about this subject after I played some of my new songs to a colleague and friend of mine. She pointed out that the songs had a kind of musical feel to them, maybe because of how I sang. It was an interesting point and also got me to think why does it jump out when a guy sings like that. I think that many female pop singers sing in a musical-like way. Especially many of those who are often held the best like Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, Lara Fabian, Beyonce, Christina Aguilera and so on. But if a guy sings like that it's often described as too soft and sweet or sugary, isn't it? Of course there are exceptions like Michael Jackson, Darren Hayes of Savage Garden, Freddie Mercury and more recently Adam Lambert. Maybe it's always so that if you jump out a bit more you also need to prove yourself more.

Do you agree and do you think that there are similar boundaries for female singers?


Monday, October 22, 2012

Learn to play. Play to learn!

Today I'd like to share someone else's words with you. Among many incredibly informative and inspirational talks published on the website TED.com, one of them very much sums up my view on knowledge and development: 
Never stop learning and in order to do so - always remember to forget what you've learned! :).
If you check out the video below you'll understand what I mean…

I also would love to open your eyes for TED.com if you're not yet aware of this fantastic place. Ted is a nonprofit movement devoted to spreading ideas. A kind of global community where any people with ideas worth spreading are given a plattform to do so through local and international conferences and forums. The best talks and performances from TED and their partners are then made available to the world through TED.com for free. Isn't that just brilliant? 
I can be a real softy and things like this make me so happy I could cry. Imagine how many good people there are in this world and that they make such an effort to make the world a better place for others. 
I must warn you, if you start watching TED talks you will spend a lot of time there, you might change your views on several things and you will learn a lot. 


Check out more riveting talks by remarkable people at TED.com 

- Annika

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Mind maps, teaching artistry and Björk

Hi everyone, it's Ville this time. As me and Annika wrote before we were recently in Copenhagen discussing technique, singing and working on our future plans. Often when we meet we end up talking so much that we forget to write anything down. This time we tried to avoid some of that by making a mind map of all the things we were discussing. It worked surprisingly well. I was forced to do a lot of mind maps at school when I was around 10 years old and then I didn't like it all. Now it seemed to work out much better. I decided to try using it also for something else.

This autumn I returned to my master's studies at the Sibelius Academy. I'm doing it part time, almost like a hobby, to keep it fun. Anyway, I made a mind map to help me structuring  the theme of my thesis. I don't know if I found out what I wanted but realised something else. I wrote down all kinds of possible things that could be part of singer's artistry or being a singer. Then I looked at the mind map and noticed how very little part is actually being taught at the singing lessons in different institutions!

Many singing teachers teach style - what is right phrasing and sound for certain genres and styles - and/or technique - how to produce wanted sounds in a healthy way. It's easy to notice that a lot of things are missing already within these subjects. Only certain styles and techniques are usually taught as a part of the curriculum. Rock has inspired so many interesting singing styles and techniques that it doesn't seem right to concentrate only on few genres within it, usually the ones with not so "rough" singing. To me, it seems that the curriculum even on a university level is based on a quite narrow image of what singer can be as an artist. This image is largely defined by classical tradition and music business.

So what other subjects could be covered? One quite obvious and easy is technology, all kinds of learning aids like recording audio and video, DAWs, microphones and their differences, voice pedals and effects etc. Also, if singer would like to concentrate more on recording there are many areas to cover like studio technology, recording techniques and auditive analysis. Many teachers teach these subjects but they are not all part of the curriculum, at least in Finland. There's also a lot of things in the area of performance that could help singer to grow as an artist, like movement and dance, communication with audience, trying out different stages and stagings.

I had some more subjects on my list but in my opinion one of the most important things for singing and voice teachers is to encourage critical thinking towards prevalent concepts of being a singer. I believe that this together with more equality of all genres and styles would make it easier for singers to find their place as vocal artists. Now there is so much competition for so few different ways of being a singer that many get frustrated in trying to fit into a certain mold. It is a challenge for all singers, also those already working professionally to redefine singer's artistry - or at least making it more diverse.

I'll end with what I think is a great example of truly innovative artist, both vocally and musically. She has constantly moved on but never lost her integrity as an artist. I saw her concert in Helsinki this summer and her music and performance really moved me, in all ways.


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Proud nerds and Lara Fabian

I spent my first years in school in the US where I grew up. The attitudes I experienced there were quite different from what I encountered when moving to Sweden years later.
At my American schools, the best students were rewarded and being an ambitious and nice student (yes it was even OK to give the teacher an apple!) was the aim. Whether or not it is good to reward the best students may be a political and completely other discussion… however since I did good I was personally happy that it was appreciated.

When my family and I moved to Sweden I soon had to readjust. Knowing or saying too much was not a good thing anymore. Students with most problems were the ones getting most attention and were put in special groups getting more time and teachers. Since I already had learnt English, my lessons of it were spent alone reading a book of choice with no guidance or futher teaching. Soon my fluent language stagnated at the level of a 10-year-old's (my age when we moved). My classmates were competing in being the coolest - which meant daring to speak up against a teacher, making a mess and to not do the homework. Being ambitious or - beware - even be nice to the teacher.. was not even thinkable. 
Shortly, being a nerd was not cool. 

Imagine how glad I was to later meet Cathrine Sadolin whom already during the first CVT-seminars I attended, began to proudly title herself and our group as ..nerds!
Finally! it was rewarded again to be a person who actually cares - who wants to find out more and go deeper, question things, develop themselves and the work they do, to revisit one's knowledge and never stop learning. 

But even at the best, most loving and accepting place as CVI.. there is just that much the general crowd can bear with the worst nerds. After a full day of intensive studying, practicing and discussing at school, followed by more pondering during evening dinners and at hotel rooms.. and when everyone's eyes were struggling to keep awake…. mine were still wide open and excited about still one more idea about vocal technique.  
When everyone had fallen asleep, left the room or even the country, there was only one person whose attention I still had and - who continuously inspired me with feedback and own ideas. As you might already have guessed…  that was Ville. 
And so we found a great source of knowledge, common interests and inspiration in each other. 
This blog is one of several things it lead to and, expect much more. We have been making plans! We are just back from Copenhagen where we spent three whole days with endless talking, planning and studying with no one else around to get tired of us :)

Another friend of mine, who is very dear to me, has many amazing qualities. She is goodhearted, intelligent, loving, funny, quick and has the energy of a hurricane. However she is not a nerd and she never could understand how me and Ville seemed to be able to go on forever talking about the same subject (vocal technique), over and over again!
In a moment of frustration she once outbursted in the humoristic kind of way only she can: 
"I am leaving now cause I know what's gonna happen anyway. Wherever the two of you start, it always ends with Lara Fabian!"  ... :)

And that is partly true. Lara Fabian's singing technique is one of many things we love to discuss. If you too would like to know more about the voice and all it can express, stay with us and join our nerdy discussions! 

- Annika

Monday, September 24, 2012

Hello world!

This is the CVT Teachers Team. That means Authorized CVT Teachers Annika Holmberg and Ville Laaksonen. Right now, we are sitting in our hotel room in Copenhagen. We have been here since Friday and have enjoyed long talks and decided to start sharing our thoughts to singers, teachers and everyone interested in voice and singing. We hope that you will participate in the discussions by writing comments. Actually, you can start already and suggest subjects you would like us to tackle.

- Annika & Villle