What's YOUR story?

What’s your story?

What was the moment or incident that turned you away from singing or playing in public?

I’ve heard countless renditions of the same two stories. 

Story 1 When you were a kid somebody told you you couldn’t sing, had a bad voice, or you got a critical look from someone so you got embarrassed and never sang in front of others again. They were wrong and it robbed you of the joy of singing.

Most of you still sing when you know no-one can hear you.

Story 2  You loved music as a young child and wanted to learn to play it so you got a teacher who sat with you and forced you to read notes. (usually melodies by old dead European guys) That analytical process was frustrating and you really just wanted to play a song you loved. You felt it was too hard so you turned away feeling inadequate and/or disappointed.

The truth is you were being taught the wrong way. We don’t all learn things the same way.

I grew up singing with my sisters and father especially at Holiday times. I remember my dad at the piano playing the Hallelujah Chorus by Handel and saying “don’t sing the same parts”. So to please my father, my sisters and I would struggle to find the harmonies and we all learned how to harmonize that way. Through the years our family gatherings were filled with making music…except for my mother.

Many years later when my dad passed we gathered at my folks’ house and had some friends over and we played music together and it dawned on me that moment that my mother never sang with us.  I asked her later that evening why she never joined in and this is what she said to me.  “When I was a little girl I was in church and I was singing a hymn that I really loved and someone from the next pew over gave me a dirty look so I never sang again”.

My mother was 82 years old.

So, what’s your story?

If you can talk you can sing!

We humans talk with an up and down sort of contour in our voices. That contour, called prosody, can telegraph your emotional intention to the person with whom you’re speaking. Just think of the way you talk when you’re speaking to your pet or to an infant.  The pitch gets higher and your speaking gets very “sing song” sounding.  Singing is just a more controlled version of that.

Why are so many people afraid to sing in front of other people?

It’s amazing to me how many people I meet who will shy away from singing in front of strangers. I can’t help asking why. Every time I get them to open up about it they reveal some version of “I’m afraid I’ll sound bad”.                                                                                                                      

The truth is, if you can talk you can sing. Some people sing better than others, and that’s to be expected.  I’ve known professional singers who think they sound bad. It’s just human nature to have self conscious thoughts, but that shouldn’t deprive you of the joy of singing!


If you want to get better at singing, here’s an easy exercise you can do. Find an instrument, (one that you don’t have to blow into) play a note, and try to match the pitch of your voice to it. It might take a little practice but you CAN do it. Listen to the tone you’re making. Does it sound higher than the pitch on the instrument?   Lower? When you sing along with the songs you like, LISTEN to your pitch and try to make it match with the music The more you do it the easier it will be. You can do this! I promise!


Case In Point 3/6/18

A young student came in to audition to perform in the Arts Showcase at the school where I teach. She wanted to play the drums. 

She sat down at the drum set and pulled out a book and set it on the floor tom.

She then proceeded to whack the snare 3 times and then pause for one beat then 3 more whacks etc. I asked her how long she had been taking drum lessons. She said 3 months.

That was all she had learned in 3 months. I asked her if she could play any songs and with a bewildered look she said no.

So I asked her what her favorite song was and when she told me I pulled it up on Youtube. I played the song for her and told her to listen to what the kick was doing. She started doing that. Then I told her to listen to the snare and do THAT. She promptly did and her eyes got real BIG.  She was PLAYING MUSIC…not reading dots.  That took less than 5 mins!

…just saying.

To Read or Not to Read...that is the question!

The following is a recap of my blog for Guitar Player magazine.

To Read or not to Read?!?!
There are millions of guitarists in the world and yet the majority of them don’t read notation. Why is that?

I myself am a self-taught guitar player who made a living playing by ear and lightly dabbling in “reading”. I went on to write movie scores (by hand, also self taught) and learned to conduct orchestras so I have some perspective on the subject of “reading” music.

First off, reading notation is only one of several ways to learn a piece of music. Notation in it’s current form has been around for about 400 years. If you consider the fact that music has been a significant part the human experience for tens of thousands of years you have to ask yourself - how did people learn music before there was notation? Music was handed down from generation to generation by listening and watching and mimicking what you saw and heard. Humans are genetically predisposed to remember melodies. In fact humans remember melody more readily than literal information. I bet you learned the alphabet with a song. There are anthropological reasons for this but that’s another story.

Secondly, there are 2 kinds of reading. Reading to memorize a piece of music and what’s called sight-reading. Sight-reading is a discipline all it’s own and it’s HARD. Sight- reading a single note line is one thing but reading chords on the fly is quite a different matter. The other kind of reading is what most of us do. We slowly analyze the dots and sound them out on our instruments and while it’s a pretty good way to learn a piece of music it has it’s draw backs as well. It’s important to note here that “reading” music is a “left brain” activity. It’s an analytical process, however music is an emotional experience and that leads us to the third aspect of “reading music”

Thirdly, reading notation distracts you from the emotional aspects of playing music.
In my years conducting orchestras I experienced this firsthand. When your brain is engaged in analyzing the music so that you play the right notes the emotion of the piece gets lost. It just does... I’ve seen it over and over. Music without the emotion is flat and lifeless (my opinion). I believe most all of us are drawn to music in the first place because of the way it touches us emotionally.