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Visualization in Music Practice

By Nicholas Krolak

visualization in music practice

Let’s do a little experiment. Sit down and close your eyes. Now I want you to think of the hardest piece of music you know. When you are ready, play through that piece in your mind as fast as you can. When you make a mistake, raise your hand and stop. How far did you get? If you are like most people, including myself, you didn’t get very far at all. Possibly a few phrases, but most likely only a couple measures.

This exercise, which was shown to me by the electric bass virtuoso Gerald Veasley, illustrates an intriguing point. Let’s think about this. The mistake that happened, which is a mirror of what happens with your instrument, happened without the instrument being present or you playing it. The mistake actually happened in your mind. 

We often think that when we can’t play a musical passage, it is because we cannot play our instrument, a physical problem. However, this exercise suggests that the problem may not be physical. Rather, an internal block is just as debilitating as an external one.

So what can we do about this?

The answer is visualization. When confronted with a passage that is difficult or has been giving you trouble for a long time. Take some time to sit with your eyes closed, away from your instrument and think your way through the passage. Very slowly at first, and increasingly faster. Try pantomime the movements on your instrument. Then play it on your instrument. 

You will be surprised at how effective this can be. It has been my experience that more often than not one of two things happen. 1) The problem magically disappears or 2) The cause of the problem is revealed. The second outcome is extremely important. It is very easy to be stuck in a blindspot and visualization can help give you a better perspective on the issue. Also, once you are aware of the real problem, you can take steps to fix it.

visualization in music practice

Another great use of visualization is for preparing for a performance.

Before your next performance use visualization as a test to make sure the music you have prepared is ready. If you can think your way through the music you are in good shape. Next, spend some time visualizing yourself at the performance on stage. If you are unfamiliar with the place you are to perform, go there ahead of time. The goal is to make your visualizations as realistic as possible. How will you feel on stage? How bright will the lights be? What will the audience’s applause sound like? How will you feel after the performance?

The technique of visualization is used by many high level performers in a variety of fields. From professional athletes, CEO’s, as well as performing artists. Make no mistake, it is not a substitute for regular and focused practice. Rather, in combination with regular, focused practice, it has the capacity to greatly increase your confidence, skills, and results. 

Beginner Jazz Coordination: A Game Plan

By: Art Thompson

My introduction to jazz coordination was sort of a trial by fire thing. I was a young student at the Armed Forces School of Music, fresh out of Basic Training, and as green as my uniform concerning anything related to jazz drumming. At my first lesson, the teacher explained how to properly execute a jazz swing beat and the dynamics of each component of that. Not too difficult. Probably the toughest part of that was getting control of my heavy right foot, which up to that point was accustomed to slamming the bass drum on every stroke of whatever Rush song I had learned that week. In jazz, the bass drum is to be played lightly while the main focus is on the ride cymbal and hi-hat. This is to avoid over-powering the string bass player. Here is the pattern he showed me:

Keep in mind the eighth notes should swing, so it really sounds like this:

Once this was established, he then instructed me to open up the book Progressive Steps to Syncopation by Ted Reed to page 37 (I believe it’s actually page 38 in the more recent editions) and read down the page with my left hand. I think I respectfully laughed. The first four measures of that page looked like this:

He advised me to simply get pattern 1a together, let it go on “auto-pilot,” and keep my focus on reading the snare drum line with my left hand. Oh yeah… and don’t change the ride pattern. After the lesson I immediately hit a practice room and realized very quickly my teacher’s advice wasn’t going to work for me. I needed to devise some sort of game plan to get this assignment together before my next lesson, which was only one week away. Yikes!

Since I knew I was dealing only with quarter notes and eighth notes (down beats and up beats), I needed to figure out how the rhythm I was playing in my left hand would relate to the ride cymbal pattern. My method began with only playing downbeats or upbeats with the left hand while playing the jazz ride pattern in the right hand. I also left the feet out of the equation until I had the hands worked out. In examples 3 and 4 you can see where the hands coincide and where they don’t.

The next step is to play short two-note combinations of downbeats and upbeats on the snare drum. Repeat each measure until you have a firm handle on it before moving on to the next.

Then, try three and four note combinations.

Once you have accomplished this, the next step is to add the bass drum and hi-hat into the mix. After that you should have the necessary facility to successfully work though the exercise on page 38 in the Syncopation book. Here is what the first four measures look like written out.

One thing you will probably notice after working though the first three or four lines is that rhythmic figures will start to reoccur since there are only so many of them. At that point, it just becomes a matter of making the transition from one figure to the next. This will likely feel very robotic and unmusical at first. But in time it will get easier and eventually start to sound like music. Another thing to keep in mind is that this process, while it may seem very time consuming at first, will actually help you get this type of coordination together faster than if you were to attempt to read down the page using the auto-pilot method. Just take it slow and be patient. And above all, have fun.

Finding Your Voice in Song

By: Stefanie Emery 

voice lessons

Many people are intrigued by the art of song and the beauty of the singing voice. For some, singing can come naturally, but for others it may be their life’s work to create the best singing voice possible. Either way, there are many mechanics and techniques that go into a well balanced singing voice.

When we learn that our natural speaking voice is in fact the same “voice” we use to match pitch for singing the mystery and challenge of singing can be simplified. The simple idea that we can transfer the speaking voice that we use to communicate every day to song will help a singer manage the obstacles of matching pitch, creating rich tone, and avoiding an overly breathy sound. 

Let’s break the singing voice down into three main areas. Chest Voice, Head Voice, and Mixed Voice.  Although we access these three “voices” differently, and they have different qualities to them, our goal is to create a consistent sound throughout all of our vocal “registers” thus leaving us with “one voice” instead of three completely different sounding voices. This is a big goal for most vocalists, as navigating between these areas can produce very different tones, volumes, and characteristics if not trained with proper control. Here are our three “voices” and some details on the resonators within our body that produce these sounds.

Chest Voice 

Most commonly recognized by the area where we use our natural speaking voice, the Chest Voice is accessed through the chest, acting as it’s external resonator, and in the mouth as it’s internal resonator. If you place one hand on your upper chest and say “HEY” you should feel a vibration in the chest. Chest Voice is where we produce our strongest sound which is usually the most easily accessed with lower pitches (think back to the speaking voice) and into a mid to higher register where we can produce big, belty sounds. 

Head Voice 

Head Voice is the opposite of Chest Voice because it is a much lighter sound and feeling. Think about taking all the weight away from a big chest voice and hitting pitches in your upper register, these are notes that feel higher and are not as easily achieved in a lower speaking voice area. Head Voice resonates externally in the back of the head and internally in the nasal cavity. To feel the Head Voice place one hand on the upper back of your head and say “WEEE” in a high pitch. You may feel that resonator vibrate slightly. Now say “What’s Up Doc” in the style of Bugs Bunny. Hear that very nasally sound you just created? You are using your Pharyngeal Resonator, or nasal tone, which is accessed externally off of the nose and internally at the back of the Pharynx. Your Pharynx is located internally towards the back of the head within the vocal tract. 

Mixed Voice 

Mixed Voice is where we combine the resonators of the Chest Voice and Head Voice, while  including the Pharyngeal Resonator to add in nasal qualities. Without this nasal component we won’t be accessing the “Mix” of these two other resonators to their fullest extent. All three of these resonators are present in a well balanced Mixed Voice. We use Mixed Voice to achieve rich, full sounds that span between our Chest and Head Voices allowing us to achieve the most consistent sound spanning our low and high registers. Mixed Voice can be used in our upper register to achieve higher pitches without them sounding thin or weak.

Learning how to access these three areas of the voice and how to coordinate the proper mechanics can be achieved through vocal technique exercises, experimentation, and application in song. 

Hearing Chest, Head, and Mixed Voice in Song 

While listening to a singer navigate through their vocal registers you can now start identifying which “voice” they are singing in. Dissecting a vocal performance is a great way to learn the different qualities of these areas of the voice. First, recognizing the pitch is most helpful because it will give us a clue to what register of the voice they are in. Is the singer singing low or high notes? Do they sound strong or light? If the sound is lower and strong there’s a good chance they are singing in chest voice, and if the sound is higher and light they are most likely in their head voice. Mixed Voice is sometimes challenging to identify because it usually sounds strong and has a large resonance. Many singers use their Mix to get powerful sounds in their higher register, thus, at times tricking the listener to think they could be in a powerful Chest Voice.  The song “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele is a great example of hearing all three of these voices. She uses her Chest Voice in most of the song but flips into her Head and Mixed Voices in many areas to create dynamic interest and to also achieve higher pitches with ease. Stylistically, she is choosing which voice to sing in to create differences in feel and tone, which creates an interesting performance rather than one that can feel monotonous and dull. When a vocal stays in the same area through an entire piece and lacks stylistic freedom the result is sometimes flat and underwhelming. Using your ear to analyze a vocal is a wonderful tool as it allows one to compare another vocalist’s abilities and begin utilizing the learned techniques in practice. 

Finding your natural singing voice is fun, experimental, and exciting. Knowing how your own voice operates is the first step to becoming a better more well-rounded singer,  and with dedicated practice you may start expanding your vocal range, techniques, and overall sound. As much as singing is technical it must also contain emotion and feel, because without those characteristics it may begin to sound lifeless or even robotic. Remembering that the tools, techniques, and mechanics of the voice are extremely important for vocal success should always be paired with the knowledge that music is an art and without personal expression and thoughtful emoting one will only be attaining, at best, fifty percent of their best possible sound. 

Check out our talented students!

Our seasonal recitals are a great way for students to get an opportunity to perform for friends and family! It’s also great for friends and family to get a chance to see the progress they’ve made since last time, whether they are 6 years old or 60 years old. Check out this video offering up highlights of every students performance from our Spring 2018 recital at the Ethical Society of Philadelphia!

Unique Gifts for the Musically Minded

Shop Philly for the Holidays!

Studios in Fishtown and South Philly
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 Gift Certificates from Philly Music Lessons

The holidays are nearly here! Help someone pay for the lessons they’ve been dreaming about for months. We have affordable private lessons in-home or at our studio in Philly. Music gift certificates make unique presents for all ages, while allowing you to support Philly musicians, educators, and the arts. Nourish someone’s creative pursuits, or encourage a new passion this year!

Contact Us for Gift Certificates

Great Gifts Under $20:

$40 and up:

  • 2 + Lessons starting at $52.50 (first lesson is still half-price). Request to purchase any number of lessons to help someone out with their musical studies.
  • 1 Month of Lessons starting around $120 (includes 1 at trial rate). Exact price depends on lesson duration and location.
  • Season Package of Lessons (10 lessons) – 10% off 10 lessons. Rates vary depending on duration and location. Starting at $315.
  • Voucher for Music Instrument Rentals (3 month minimum) – Price varies depending on instrument and size. Rentals start at $69 for the 3 months. Guitars, violins, cellos, uprights, brass, and woodwinds.

Private instruction at Philly Music Lessons begins at age 4, and caters to all ages and skill levels. Where we teach.

How it works:

  • Fill out the form below or Email Us with any questions.
  • We’ll get back to you within 1 business day.
  • After confirming your order, an invoice will be emailed to you.
  • The gift certificate can be emailed to you as a printable pdf (preferred method), or a gift card can be mailed
  • The gift recipient can contact us at any time after the holidays to redeem their gift certificate.
  • We will work directly with the gift recipient to find a teacher who can cater to their individual interests and can work with their schedule.

How To Sing From Your Diaphragm

voice, music, diaphragm, fishtown, philly“Sing from your diaphragm!” This phrase is almost mythical in the world of voice lessons. Somehow this concept has passed on to students who haven’t taken a single voice lesson, yet even students who have taken years of voice lessons may not know what it means. It doesn’t help either that some teachers say you should sing from your diaphragm while others say you shouldn’t. Who is right? And if you should, how do you do it?

 

What it Means to “Sing From Your Diaphragm”

The short answer to the question of “who is right,” when it comes to whether or not you should sing from your diaphragm is – both teachers are right! Obviously that requires a longer answer though.

diaphragm, voice, singing, lessons

Here is your diaphragm. As you can see, it sits right below your lungs. Think of it as an upside-down bowl-shaped muscle. Because of where it sits, when your lungs expand (when you breathe in), the diaphragm flattens out to make room for the now larger lungs. When your lungs contract (when you breathe out), the diaphragm curves up again. You can see this motion here.

Students often get lost right around now because what isn’t agreed upon is whether the diaphragm is a voluntary or involuntary muscle. In other words, do we move it consciously like our arms and legs, or does it move on its own like our hearts? For singers, this is largely irrelevant. Why? Because the point of a “diaphragmatic breath” is not whether or not we can move our diaphragm. It’s whether we can take an ideal breath to create a steady release of sound for singing. Therefore, focusing on the diaphragm itself misses the point.

Instead, students of singing should focus on how to feel their breath lower in their body, as opposed to breathing high into the chest. This is why the phrase “sing from your diaphragm” may be helpful for some students and teachers; it creates the imagery of a low breath and a steady release for some people. For others, it creates too much focus on something other than the task at hand.

So in short, you should think about singing from your diaphragm if it’s helpful to you. Any one of the following exercises can also help you “sing from your diaphragm” without the terminology.

 

Exercises to Sing From Your Diaphragm

The Milkshake Breath – When we drink a big, delicious milkshake from a straw, that milkshake goes right to our bellies. We can think of breathing in the same way. Imagine your favorite flavor of milkshake. Then, pretend to hold it in front of you and drink it all in. In this scenario, the milkshake will be your breath, and your goal is to fill your breath all the way to your belly. You can even put your hand on your belly if that helps you place it. If you don’t drink milkshakes, you can imagine whatever drink you’d like – as long as you’d normally drink it through a straw!

The Balloon Breath – When a balloon expands, it expands all the way around, not just to one part of the balloon. It does, however, start at the bottom of the balloon. Our lungs, ultimately, are like this as well. We want to use all of our abdominal muscles to create a steady release of the breath while singing, so we want to inhale with that in mind. Take a breath while imagining your torso is a balloon, and your goal is to fill up the whole balloon, starting from the bottom up.

Dog on a Hot Day – Have you ever seen a dog on a hot day, its tongue sticking out and its whole body working to breathe? We can use this for singing, too, although our breaths should concentrate on our belly. Stick your tongue out for an added tongue stretch, then release short breaths from your abdomen like a dog would on a hot day. This is a great exercise to introduce the release of breath along with the inhalation of breath.

The Snake Sound – To start working on the release of breath along with the intake, breathe in on four counts. Then immediately release the breath on a steady “ss” sound for eight counts. The “ss” sound should be strong but not forced, smooth and not jagged. This will encourage your body to release air as a stream rather than all at once, which is vital for singing.

 

There are numerous other exercises you can use to learn how to sing from your diaphragm (if you choose to think of it that way). These are my favorites because they all come with an organic understanding of how breath works without trying to manipulate our breath in other ways. Feel free to find your own creative ways to take lower breaths, too! Just make sure that no matter which exercises you use, you don’t do too many at once. These exercises can over oxygenate you and make you dizzy if done too many times, especially without practice. Try two or three a day at first for maybe a minute, tops. A little effort will go a long way to getting you towards diaphragmatic breaths in no time.

Fall Recital 2016 Highlights

Students Showing Off Their Skills

Taking lessons and practicing is something that all musicians have to spend most of their time doing, but it all pays off at the performance. Just this December we returned to the Ethical Society of Philadelphia for our largest recital yet. We featured students on piano, violin, cello, saxophone, voice, and guitar for a fantastic afternoon of music making. Our recitals provide our students with the opportunity to show off their skills to friends and family alike. Not only is it a great time for everyone involved, but it’s a crucial experience for becoming a well-rounded musician.

The wide diversity of genres and styles reflects the amazing diversity and talent of all of our students. From Beethoven and Saint-Saëns to The Beatles and Coldplay, enjoy this musical cross-section of our Philly Music Lessons family. We’re so glad to have seen so many people at our recital this past fall, but in case you missed it, here’s a little something to give you an idea of how talented our students are!