Vocal exercises are given at all levelsJazz and blues singers present a very specific body of learning just as classical and musical theatre do and it can be just as rigourous. Much of jazz and jazz-based blues is based on a swing rhythm and there are very specific ways the breathing is used in jazz that differs from classical. Articulation is different and improvisation, something a lot of people and especially those with a background in classical music find hard to get into, is part of the mix.
- Beginners– Materials determined (to a large extent) on the student’s tastes and goals. In teaching the basics of jazz and blues, I generally use vocal exercises to teach basic technique and try to get the student through their vocal “breaks” during the first lesson or two which I feel is an important exit skill for beginners to have. We also cover stylistic devices necessary to be “in the pocket” or to present the vocal line more loosely (the beginning of improvisation!). I give exercise from jazz and blues standards that are well-known for the first few assignments on improvisation. After that, the student is encouraged to pick songs according to their taste and we can work to make a “book” if singing publicly is part of the goal. Included in necessary skill are the basics a singer needs to know to sit in with a piano player or combo. I work with students to give them the skills they need to be able sing and function as a performer. I emphasize how to allow yourself to not just feel the song, but allow that to carry over into the performance which can be tricky. There are often listening assignments for swing phrasing, loose phrasing, continuity, interpretation, and technique. If you are not already familiar with how to do it, I can also give you enough of a background in music theory to find which keys will work for you when I am not around to help you out, to transpose charts into the keys you need that don’t irritate jazz players (some keys do – they are fussy!), and how to determine additional charts you need in different keys (for example, horn players play in a different key than the piano does but when it comes out it sounds in the same key – but you hafta figure out what key to write the chart in). This stuff sounds complex but you can grasp it and go from having no understanding of music at all to transposing a chart within about 4 10 minute lessons with very little homework. The homework load for beginning jazz and blues singers depends upon if they have been trained in another genre already and are transitioning (exa: used to sing opera – making the transition to jazz), but if you dedicate 15 minutes a day to it you will get better. I recommend 10 minutes of vocal warm ups and as long as you want on the songs themselves. Listening assignments will not take more than 10 minutes per week. I encourage you, as always, not to stop singing in the shower and stuff just because you are taking lessons – you should keep singing for fun.
- At the intermediate level, jazz and blues singers may have their own set of issues if they are not one of my continuing students and we can address these definitely. Additionally, intermediate students are asked to set a goal for themselves for one year and work toward that goal with sub-goals every 4 months. If the singer is not already performing, one such goal might be to develop a body of repertoire large enough to play at clubs and apply for club gigs (sub goals might be learning the basics of a set of songs & learning 5 or 6 of the songs very very well so they become signature for you and taking these to a sit in (“jam”), forming a combo and making charts out for them and becoming so familiar with a second set of songs they become signature for you – singing these at a jam, recording a demo and producing a package to send to clubs and getting it sent out while learning another set of songs and making them signature – play them out, polishing the combo and doing follow-up work to place the group at a performance space while learning the remainder of the songs to perform at a jam and also the actual performances that the student gets as a result of these efforts). It is not mandatory that you complete a year’s study with me, but you should plan into the future a little if you are an intermediate student as it will help us figure out what direction to go to make you the most satisfied as a singer and making progress in the right direction.
- Advanced students– In addition to going forward into new skills, a lot of the work I do with very advanced singers takes the form of coaching or intervention of specific vocal problems. What happens with advanced and professional singers is that they can sort of “drift” technique-wise as they are playing their line up of gigs and concerts. They lose track of where they are and start building bad habits. Also, it is normal for professional singers to have a vocal coach as it is really difficult to make changes in ones voice without a second objective set of ears to help you out. Pavaroti and Frank Sinatra both had a vocal coach till the end of his life as do many high-functioning artists. I also do a lot of work refining on what the singer has learned basically in their beginning and intermediate stages – there is a lot of nuance to the voice that can make serious changes in how easy it is to sing and the quality of the voice. The student usually comes in for a reason and dealing with that reason can be the focus of the lessons. Vocal exercises will usually be given to deal with any specific concerns about technique. Oftentimes, advanced students still have a lot of vocal stress that they may not be aware of but that degrade the quality of their voice. These are dealt with in the first two lessons directly in most cases and continued work in this area is something I encourage. Stylistic coaching or injury recovery are other areas many people seek someone to work with.