The Whole Singer ™ Approach

Singer PyramidI’m working on a book! The purpose is to provide a kind of road map to aspiring professional singers of contemporary styles.  There are so many different aspects to singing professionally, so many skills you need to master, that it can be overwhelming and hard to know where to start.  That’s why I’ve attempted to categorize and prioritize some of the necessary steps (See the Whole Singer™ Approach pyramid – R).

Some of these skills you may possess naturally, and some may be very challenging for you.   You can probably master some on your own or through practical experience, while for others you will definitely need the help of a teacher.  If you were lucky and started in elementary or high school and subsequently attended one of the few schools that actually teach contemporary styles (like Berklee College of Music here in Boston) you may have gone through the steps of the process in something like the order laid out.  However, for many of us, our lives and careers have not been that orderly and you may cycle through the various levels in more random order, reviewing and improving throughout your musical career.

So what are included in the different levels of the Whole Singer™ Approach?

1)  Technique
A healthy, functional instrument is the foundation that allows you to sing freely in whatever style you want. As a teacher, my goals for every singer are the following:
  • Improve intonation (pitch)
  • Eliminate cracks or breaks
  • Increase range (ie, at least two octaves)
  • Increase flexibility
  • Maintain vocal health and build stamina to meet professional-level performance demands

It’s also crucial to your success in this area to learn how to practice effectively and find ways to incorporate practice into your busy life.

2) Musicianship
Don’t be the singer that inspired this joke:

: Why is the singer waiting on the porch?

A: She can’t find her keys and doesn’t know when to come in!  

Even if you don’t read music, you can learn how to “talk down your chart,” communicate with accompanists, figure out your keys, and keep time. This puts you in more control of your music.  It is also helpful to know your career goals and work backwards from them, as the requirements for musicianship can vary depending on the specific genre and kind of gig you are aiming for.


3) Artistry
People with beautiful voices can sometimes be boring singers.  You’ll want to find music that you love to sing that is not overdone — unless you’re going to do it in a unique way. Some ways to make a song your own include: creating a memorable arrangement, interpreting the lyrics in an authentic and personal way, and changing up the melody and rhythm through improvisation.    Of course, writing your own songs ensures that you are one-of-a-kind, while musical theater performers need to learn how to create a character and subtext.

4) Performance Skills

At some point you will want to make the move from studio to stage.  Performing in front of an audience requires focused concentration, keeping a positive mindset and managing stage fright.  You’ll also want  to project a strong stage-presence (appropriate to your genre), and learn to create rapport with your audience.

5) Career

If you are planning for a professional career, you need to understand what the industry standards and best practices are for your particular genre, whether it’s Jazz, Rock, Hip-Hop, Pop, Musical Theater, etc.  You’ll need to put together tools of the trade such as pictures, a demo, an online promo kit.  For some styles –  especially musical theater – you’ll need to know how to prepare for auditions.  For others, you need to know how to approach venue managers, build your list and promote your gigs.

In my work as a teacher, I often find people who have put the cart before the horse and started a career before mastering the fundamentals – investing big bucks in recordings and videos before they could  sing in tune, for example.   Or they take endless classes in interpretation but can’t sing in time.

I can relate because I’ve done a lot of things in my life and music career backwards!  Sometimes you “don’t know what you don’t know.”  For instance, I was so in love with performing that I got up on stage with a trio for professional gigs before I had any idea how to lead a band!  It led to some humiliating mistakes, but I was determined, so I kept taking classes, finding teachers and seeking knowledge to fix the things that weren’t working.  And I’m still doing that, after over thirty years!

Music is a vast subject, and no matter how long you study and play, there’s always more to learn, greater heights to achieve.  I hope you enjoy the process!



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