#OnRepeat: “Holding On” by Disclosure feat. Gregory Porter

This week I’ve had the song, “Holding On,” by Disclosure feat. Gregory Porter #OnRepeat.  I’ve always prided myself on being open to new and different kinds of music, but admittedly, I’ve had a hard time getting into electronic music of any kind. Until now.

The group, Disclosure, is an Electronic music duo from England consisting of two brothers. I’m sure many of you out there have heard of them already, considering the fact that they performed at big music festivals in 2013 like Coachella and Lollapalooza.

“Holding On” is reminiscent of early 90’s R&B and Pop music. Gregory Porter’s powerful voice adds to this vibe, especially when he hits those long, high notes. Gregory Porter’s voice and improvisational choices fit the song perfectly.  I’ve never heard Porter sing a more up-tempo song like this one before, so it is a nice change from all of his already beautifully written, more Jazz and ballad-like music.

I was very impressed with this song for the simple fact that it shows that Gregory Porter is trying to branch out musically.  Many musicians–singers, especially–tend to stay in one type of music their whole career and while this may work for many, it can potentially be dangerous for some.  It is great to see Porter try to progress and evolve into a well-rounded singer and performer, all the while maintaining a signature sound in any type of music.

 

I hope you guys all enjoy this song as much as I have been. I’m not too familiar with Electronic music  so if anyone has any great groups or artists that play this type of music, let me know in the comments below!

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Straw Therapy–What I’ve Learned So Far

So I was scrolling through Twitter several weeks ago and I came across a video posted by a fellow vocalist on straw therapy. Throughout the years, I’ve come across this topic several times although my vocal instructors haven’t elaborated on it further in my lessons. So, after rediscovering this topic, I decided to take it upon myself to research and try this vocal exercise myself.

What is it?

Straw therapy–or, what many people call “straw phonation”– is a type of semi-occluded vocal tract exercise that specifically focuses on allowing the singer to create sound (phonate) without putting extra glottic tension on the vocal chords.

This, along with other exercises, such as humming and doing lip trills (lip buzz), are used not only by vocalists, but speech therapists. Straw therapy or phonation is typically practiced using a straw–you can sing a line of a song using the straw and vocal exercises such as scales. I’ve also seen some vocalists use the straw while blowing into a bottle with a small amount of water in it. Below is a video of Ingo Titze, a vocal scientist who helped pioneer the use of straw phonation in speech therapy, elaborating further on the topic and how to use it:

 

 

Benefits

Many vocalists and vocal instructors use semi-occluded vocal exercises (I like to call them work-outs because they really help the overall timbre and performance of your voice) like straw phonation to:

1. Helps vocalists to produce resonance or buzzing sensation in the face (many vocalists call this the “mask” because the area where resonance and sound occurs is felt in the mouth, sinus area and nose).
2. This, in turn, helps to lift the soft palate, and ultimately, the voice, reducing throaty singing and giving the vocalist’s overall timbre a lighter, brighter, fuller sound.
3. Help vocalists smooth out transitions between low (chest) to high (head) registers.
4. Help vocalists to create a more efficient sound that’s balanced with the air support required for singing.

I’m still experimenting with this vocal exercise, but from what I’ve learned and experienced so far, this technique is extremely helpful. Don’t underestimate it either folks: try to sing the melody line of a song you’ve been working on using a straw; it’s quite difficult (different straw diameters have different levels of interance so keep this in mind). I, myself, have been using this technique to sing through melodies with big intervals to help smooth out any breaks that I find between registers.

Have any of you tried this vocal exercise? Do you find it helpful or not? Let us know in the comments below!

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#OnRepeat: Etta James’ “At Last”

This week, I’ve had Etta James’ “At Last” #OnRepeat. I know a lot of you out there, when reading this, will think “of course,” but I’m actually writing this post for all of the people who don’t know who Etta James is. Especially the younger ones who think that Beyonce’s version of “At Last” is the end all and won’t think to do their own research. I’ve always try to educate myself about music that I hear for the first time–read books, articles, watch documentaries, or even just strike up a conversation with your parents or a professor.

For those of you who don’t know who Etta James is, she is a Blues, Jazz, Gospel, and R&B singer who is known for bridging the gap between R&B and Rock ‘n’ Roll. She is associated with Chess Records, who were very successful in the 1960s and is known for implementing elements of Soul and Gospel music into her songs. Some of her well-known songs (among many others) are “All I Could Do Was Cry,” “Tell Mama,” and “I’d Rather Go Blind.”

“At Last” is one of the few songs that you can listen to and within the first few bars you know who is singing. It is a classic Etta James song. Although many musicians that I’ve spoken with about this song have said that the song has become too “played-out”–being played at weddings, at parties, and receptions–they all agree that the reason for this, is that the song is an iconic love song. Etta James has so much passion and soul in her voice. Whenever I hear “At Last,” I hear a deeper emotion than just puppy love, something that blends raw emotion with all of those funny butterflies-in-your-stomach, dancing-in-the-rain feelings you get when you find that one person you can’t stop thinking about and want to spend every waking moment with, even when all of the initial “honeymoon” feelings of a relationship start to fade.

I hope that you enjoy listening to this song as much as I do–even as many times as I do! In my opinion, Etta James will always be one of the queens of Soul and Blues music because of her powerful voice and the way in which she conveys the message of each song.

If you guys have any songs, musicians or groups that you can’t stop listening to, leave a comment below!

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That Moment When Everything Clicks

This past Friday I was able to be a part of a school event that combined theater, Mariachi music, and Cuban music. The school put on a great production–costumes, stage design, a great narrator and actors that interacted with the audience–in the re-telling of the classic, romantic tragedy of Romeo and Juliet (except for the main characters were Rosalia y Juan). I’m not writing this to talk about the storyline or the actual show itself, however. I’m writing to talk about a great moment that happened while I was performing a lead song during the show. A thing I tend to describe as “everything clicking” or “everything falling into place.”

I had been practicing the song for months, performing it in front of my peers and professors multiple times. For some reason that night, though, I found myself getting nervous to perform the song (it probably didn’t help that I was going to be singing up on a raised platform due to the stage setup, in heels). The theater was completely packed–many of the audience members were either fans or players of Mariachi or Cuban music–and little camera flashes or random shouts of excitement would happen periodically throughout the night.

When the music started, however, all the insecurities fell away. Everything just felt right. The music was swinging–it wasn’t too fast or too slow. I remembered all the words–which happen to be the trickiest things to remember when your nerves are going crazy–and all of the things I improvised actually worked out pretty well. Hand gestures, vocal inflection, and facial expression all tied together, making the performance look and feel natural (something that I have a hard time pulling off). Most of all, I could feel and see the audience responding positively to my performance, which always feels really good for any musician.

I don’t say any of this to toot my horn, so to speak, but to try to give you a clearer picture of what that “everything clicking” sensation feels like. It’s one of those feelings and situations that every musician strives for because it doesn’t happen all the time. You hope that when you’re in that moment, that all of your training and practicing doesn’t go out the window, but at the same time, you realize that that’s not as important as what you experience in that moment. Connecting with your audience. Conveying the message in that one song to everyone around you, making them feel what you’re feeling in that moment. I hope that every vocalist out there, whether beginner or advanced, experiences this at least once in their lifetime. It’s an incredible moment.

Anyone out there ever experience anything similar to that “everything clicks” moment when performing? Do you call it something different? How did you feel when that happened?

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#OnRepeat: Herbie Hancock feat. Corinne Bailey Rae “River”

This week I’ve had Herbie Hancock feat. Corinne Bailey Rae’s “River” #OnRepeat. This song, originally written and performed by Joni Mitchell, has two of my favorite musicians working together, resulting in a simple, yet sweet collaboration. Herbie’s whole album, River: The Joni Letters, pays homage to the great singer-songwriter, Joni Mitchell.

I have to say that Herbie Hancock and Corinne Bailey Rae collaborating together is one of the sweetest musical mixtures that I’ve listened to in awhile. The way that Herbie thinks of harmony seems to fit right in step with Corinne’s range and choice of notes when she improvises. This shows that not only is Herbie a good leader (proven by his countless albums), but that he can be just as powerful as an accompanist for a soloist or singer.

In case you didn’t know who Joni Mitchell is, she is a singer-songwriter who is considered one of the most influential musicians of pop music because of her writing that displays themes of social commentary and environmental ideals. Some of her well-known songs are “Court and Spark,” “Both Sides, Now,” and “Help Me.”

The lyrics for “River” give the air of someone who has made bad choices and wants to be somewhere else. The lyrics are simplistic, yet the message of sadness and longing is conveyed. A portion of the lyrics are below:

“It’s coming on Christmas
They’re cutting down trees
They’re putting up reindeers
And singing songs of joy and peace
Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on

But it don’t snow here
It stays pretty green
I’m going to make a lot of money
And then I’m going to quit this crazy scene
I wish I had a river I could skate away on [. . .]

I hope there is nobody on here that dislikes Herbie Hancock or Corinne Bailey Rae because there will most likely be many more posts about these two, especially if they are working together.

If anyone has any new songs, or musicians to check out, leave a comment below!

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Rehearsal Tips for Singing in a Band

Playing in a band, small combo, or ensemble can provide valuable experience both on and offstage. You gain exposure during actual gigs and network with your bandmates to try to get more work outside of that musical experience, possibly even gaining more friends while doing this. On top of all of that, you can learn more about yourself as a musician, performer, and person. Having been a part of several small combos and ensembles over the years, I would like to offer some rehearsal tips on how to sing when in a band or large ensemble for anyone who wants to get their feet wet or for those who need a refresher.

1. Make sure to have your own copies of music for your band’s set. Whether it is on an iPad or printed out on regular sheets of paper. Personally, I prefer the latter so that I’m able to write notes down on the chart (changes in song form, corrections of notes or harmonies, addition of musical licks or lyrics, etc). This is also something to have for yourself during your own personal practice time and/or to go over with your vocal instructor.

2. Practice BEFORE rehearsal AND the gig. This one seems like a no-brainer and sometimes it’s hard to get in extra practice time between rehearsals and gigs. I’ve seen this happen time and time again with musicians in a group, singer or not. If you want the material that you’ve learned to stick, you need to practice. Rehearsal time should not be time for you to practice–this is time for everyone to run through the set list briefly and fix kinks that are happening collectively with the band.

3. Try not to sing full-out during a rehearsal. This is especially true of a rehearsal that happens right before a gig and when you have a large horn and/or percussion section in the group you are a part of. If other members in the group cannot hear you sing, turn up your mic slightly. You should not be yelling over a band. It is not worth the possibility of damaging your vocal chords just so that you can be heard for a rehearsal.

4. Practice good singing habits. Whether it is for a Rock group, chamber ensemble or Latin-Jazz combo, always practice things like proper breathing technique, posture, and vowel shaping. Just because you’re not singing full-out, doesn’t mean you start practicing bad singing habits. What you do in rehearsal will most likely be done in performance, so try to practice the proper way.

5. Have respect for the music and for the band. Try not to show up late or talk during times when other bandmates or the band director is trying to talk. Get to know your band members, how they work and what their limitations are so that everyone can plan accordingly and work towards improving together. Another aspect of this is knowing what the goal of the band or ensemble is: Does this band compete or is it just for fun? Is it an academic group or a professional band? Is the group serious about the music they are playing?

6. Try an idea out first before shooting it down. If you hear a melody that sounds weird to you or an unusual harmony that you’ve never sung before, try practicing singing it how it is written first before saying no. This will keep the band and band director (and possibly composer) in good spirits. However, if the song or melody is completely out of your vocal range, either hand it off to another singer or ask for the key to be changed. You don’t want to put strain on or damage your vocal chords for the sake of a band.

7. Bring a recording device. This is for your own practice time outside rehearsal so that you can remember what the band or ensemble specifically did for each song in the set. However, if you have a band director, make sure to ask them first before you start recording.

I hope that these tips help some of you to improve your experience rehearsing (and playing) in a band or ensemble. Having respect for yourself, the music, and other musicians are very important, but if you’re not enjoying yourself, all of these things will be very hard to keep in mind. Make sure to find music you enjoy and band members who are of a similar mindset to make it more fun for everyone.

If you have any additional tips or stories to share, feel free to leave a comment below!

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Finding Your Own Practice Space

“Practice makes perfect.” Practicing is the only way in which someone can improve their craft. Drummers, percussionists, and horn-players alike will tell you that shedding or practicing for hours at a time make them feel physically and mentally great. Though singers really shouldn’t be singing for 8 or 9 hours like a drummer does, the concept of practicing is still the same for a vocalist.

Where you practice is just as important as how you practice and the length of which you practice. Here is a list of things that you should be conscious of and have in your practice space when singing.

1. Make sure you have some type of mirror. You want to be able to check your posture, your body when you’re practicing breathing technique, mouth shape when you’re producing vowels shapes or singing in different languages, and practicing performance technique. The best way to check this is to see yourself doing this. A floor-length mirror would be a good size so you can see how your whole body reacts when you sing, including your feet and legs.

2. Try to practice with a piano or keyboard. If you’re anything like me, it is very hard to pull a pitch out of thin air. It is always best to practice with a piano so you can gauge your pitch with an actual instrument.

3. Have a recording device. Either audio, visual, or both. This is another way to check your progress in warm-ups and run-throughs of songs. You can check any nervous ticks you might have in your hands or face, intonation issues, and even mispronunciation of words or lack of inflection in a phrase.

4. Get a music stand. This is for any papers with lyrics and/or sheet music so that you can have your hands free when singing. It is always better to practice how you will sing onstage in the practice room–without sheet music in your hands.

5. Make sure the space is somewhere where you can make a lot of noise. I know this one sounds weird, but you don’t want to be worried about neighbors when you’re trying to hit that high note or belt that long note in a song. You should be worry free so that you can be free to work out weird notes, difficult melodies, and figure out the dynamics of a song for your voice.

Most importantly, don’t worry about making mistakes. Your practice space is your space and your time to improve and learn more about your instrument: your voice. You can never improve unless you make mistakes at least once in awhile so why not make them while practicing?

Do you guys have any other tips for finding a good practice space or any other essentials for practicing? Let us know in the comments below!

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#OnRepeat: Concha Buika’s “Mi Niña Lola”

This week, I’ve had Concha Buika’s song, “Mi Niña Lola,” #OnRepeat. For those of you who aren’t hip to Concha Buika, she is a Flamenco-Jazz fusion singer from Spain. When you listen to her voice, you hear the low, powerful range mixed with a somewhat scratchy-like timbre that produces a memorable sound that you won’t be able to get out of your head. I, myself, was introduced to her music back during my undergrad career and instantly fell in love with her sound.

The song, “Mi Niña Lola,” is a beautiful song depicting just how much love a father has for his daughter. Below are the lyrics:

Dime porque tienes carita de pena
Que tiene mi niña siendo santa y buena
Cuéntale a tu padre lo que a ti te pasa
Dime lo que tienes reina de mi casa
Tu madre la pobre no se donde esta
Dime lo que tienes, dime lo que tienes
Dime lo que tienes, dime la verdad
Mi niña lola, mi niña lola
Ya no tiene la carita del color de la amapola
Mi niña lola, mi niña lola
Ya no tiene la carita del color de la amapola
Tu no me ocultes tu pena
Pena de tu corazón
Cuéntame tu amargura
Pa consolártela yo
Mi niña lola, mi niña lola
Se le ha puesto la carita del color de la amapola
Mi niña lola, mi niña lola
Se le ha puesto la carita del color de la amapola
Siempre que te miro mi niña bonita
Le rezo a la virgen que esta en la ermita
Cuéntale a tu padre lo que te ha pasado
Dime si algún hombre a ti te ha engañado
Niña de mi alma no me llores mas
Dime lo que tienes, dime lo que tienes
Dime lo que tienes, dime la verdad
Mi niña lola, mi niña lola
Mientras que viva tu padre no estas en el mundo sola
Her performance of the lyrics–where she chooses to pause, increase in intensity, decrease in volume, or even just speak the lyrics instead of sing–adds so much to the meaning of the song. Her raspy-like timbre adds desperation to the message of the father’s words to his daughter. I also appreciate the fact that she didn’t change the sex of the point of view of the narrator (father to mother). Sometimes singers do this and it makes the lyrics lose value. I might be slightly biased about this song specifically since I am a daddy’s girl, but even so, this song is beautiful.

 

If you guys have any new music, musicians or groups to check out, leave a comment below!

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Jaw Tension & Its Role in Singing

When working with a student awhile back, I noticed that not only his lips were getting in the way when running through vocal warmups, but his jaw was very tense. It caused his sound to be very strained, nasal-sounding, and it looked as if he was experiencing discomfort from the issue. I myself have had problems with tension, both in my jaw and other areas of the body, so I wanted to share some basic information on the jaw, its role in singing, and a few tips on troubleshooting jaw tension.

The Jaw & Its Effect On a Vocalist’s Sound

The jaw is an essential part of the mouth and can either help or hinder you when singing. The main jaw joint incorporated in the movements necessary for swallowing, eating, yawning, and talking is the temporomandibular joint (or TMJ). Although there are ligaments, muscles, and bones that make up this joint, singers should be primarily concerned with relieving tension in the muscles surrounding and supporting the hyoid bone and upper-neck region. For a more in-depth explanation and for images that show where these different ligaments, bones, and muscles are located, here is the link to a very informative site: physio-pedia.com The tongue, lips, and larynx work together to create different mouth shapes, postures, and sounds vocalists use for singing and can drastically effect how easy it is to manipulate your sound and the type of tone each individual singer can produce. Tension in the jaw or inexperience with moving your jaw when you sing can result in your tone, diction, and overall sound being unclear, unsupported, and can even lead to overcompensation in other parts of your body resulting in strain and discomfort. By making some minor adjustments and following some of the tips below, you can improve the quality of your tone.

Tips to Help Ease Jaw Tension

Make sure before you start applying these simple exercises to your vocal routine that there is no pain when you move your mouth open and closed. Pain could indicate a more serious issue with the joint. A good indicator of how much tension you have in your mouth and jaw is trying to fit three fingers into your mouth, between your teeth. Any less than this could indicate jaw tension or another issue.

1. While singing scales, incorporate a chewing motion. This could be as simple as opening your mouth (jaw movement up and down) or opening your mouth side to side (jaw movement side to side while moving up and down). Some of my vocal instructors have also told me to practice scales while moving the jaw in a circular motion (jutting out your jaw and then moving it back and forward in a circle).

2. While singing scales, try to make your ear touch your shoulder, first with your right and then your left. You can also practice this one with other simple vocal exercises too. This is a form of stretching for the sides of your neck and shoulders, which, when tense, can put more stress and tension on the jaw muscles. This exercise also helps to relieve tension in the tongue.

3. Massage your jaw and surrounding muscles. Using your fingers, gently massage the muscles surrounding your jaw to cause more blood to flow to this area, making everything more relaxed.

4. Try singing in front of a mirror. This not only helps you with performance technique, but aides in helping you become more aware of how much your jaw moves or doesn’t move when you sing.

5. Gently press downward on your chin to help lower your jaw more while singing. This exercise also helps you to become more aware of what it feels like to actually open your mouth (I have this issue as well) when you sing. As with all other tips and exercises, though, if you feel any pain or discomfort, stop. You don’t want to strain any muscles and this discomfort may be a clue to an issue with the jaw joint.

Just like different personalities, opening your mouth more is not an issue that every vocalist has to worry about. Every singer is different, bringing their own unique timbre and performance style to every musical situation. Articulation, forming vowel shapes, and even singing in different languages create room for many different techniques and approaches when utilizing the jaw in relation to singing. I hope that these basic tips help anyone out there who has issues with tension and/or jaw tension when performing.

If you have any other tips or techniques to try to relieve muscular tension for vocalists, please leave a comment below!

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#OnRepeat: Paula Lima “Água de Beber” (Acoustic Live)

This week’s #OnRepeat is actually a remake of a Bossa Nova standard: “Água de Beber,” music written by Antonio Carlos Jobim and words written by Vinicius de Moraes, but is covered by Paula Lima.  The Brazilian singer and composer, Paula Lima, is well-known for her music which blends influences of traditional Samba, Brazilian Soul and Funk, Rock, and MPB (Música Popular Brasileira) or Brazilian Pop Music; and this rendition of “Água de Beber” showcases these influences. During the 1990s, she was greatly involved in the Brazilian Soul and Funk scene of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, performing as back-up vocalist for Jorge Ben (please look him up; famous for “Mas Que Nada” among other numerous hits) and performing with Brazilian rap duo, Thaíde and DJ Hum, and collaborating with (another one of my favorites) Brazilian Funk singer, Ed Motta. 


“Água de Beber” is a beautifully written song surprisingly in both Portuguese and in English. I only say this because sometimes the English version of a song written in a different language either doesn’t make sense or the lyrics in English mean something completely different. Paula Lima sings the English version of the song, but I think because of the way she performs the melody and words, this version grooves way harder than Astrud Gilberto’s version of “Água de Beber”. Below I’ve included the Portuguese lyrics, the English lyrics and the English translation of the Portuguese version:

Portuguese Lyrics

Eu quis amar, mas tive medo
E quis salvar meu coração
Mas o amor sabe um segredo
O medo pode matar o seu coração

Água de beber
Água de beber, camará
Água de beber
Água de beber, camará!

Eu nunca fiz coisa tão certa
Entrei pra escola do perdão
A minha casa vive aberta
Abre todas as portas do coração!

Água de beber
Água de beber, camará
Água de beber
Água de beber, camará!


English Lyrics


Your love’s the rain
My heart’s the flower
I need your love 
or I will die
My very life is in your power
will I wither and fade or bloom to the sky

Água de beber
Água de beber, camará
Água de beber
Água de beber, camará!

Água de beber
Água de beber, camará
Água de beber
Água de beber, camará!

The rain may fall on distant desert
the rain may fall upon the sea
the rain may fall upon the flower
since the rain has to fall, let it fall on me

Água de beber
Água de beber, camará
Água de beber
Água de beber, camará!


English Translation of Portuguese Version


I wanted to love but was afraid
I wanted to protect my heart
but love knows a secret
fear can kill the heart

This is sweet water,
sweet water, my friend.
This is sweet water,
sweet water, my friend.

I never did a thing so certain
I learned of forgiveness (Literal: I entered the school of forgiveness)
My house is open
I opened all the doors of my heart

This is sweet water,
sweet water, my friend.
This is sweet water,
sweet water, my friend.


Also, below I’ve posted Astrud Gilberto’s version of “Água de Beber” and Paula Lima’s version so you can have something to compare Lima’s version to (and so that you know the origin of the covered version and how it has changed in Lima’s).

 

 

 

 

Lima’s rhythmic timing is on point and she shows this by the way she plays with the rhythm in the intro and the chorus section. Her melodic improvisation is simple, stylistic and impressive to listen to.  Her interpretation of the English lyrics is beautiful and reminiscent of the Bossa Nova style. Did I happen to mention that her stage presence is such that she gets everyone in the audience surrounding her dancing in their seats? Her performance is groovy, captivating, and something that any singer or performer should aspire to.

I know that this post in particular was a long one, but I wanted to provide both lyrical and musical context so that you guys can start to notice comparisons in the styles of music that you listen to and know how to listen and look for them so that you can appreciate not only your own music, but all music even more.

If anyone has any new musicians, bands or songs to listen to, please feel free to leave a comment below.

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