Q&A

PIANO AND VOICE Q&A
Q. Why should my child learn piano?

A. With today’s generation of texting, ipads, iphones, and video games, we are allowing children to become a bit too comfortable with the idea of instant gratification. Piano lessons can enrich a child’s life by teaching him/her the idea of working towards a long term goal. Acquiring skill in the piano takes time and practice. Piano is a long term endeavor that can be very rewarding and provide a feeling of accomplishment. Not only will learning piano be a fun activity for your child, but it may provide many benefits such as an increased attention span, increased concentration, and enhanced motor skills. Actually, the benefits of learning piano are similar to those of learning a new sport!

Q. I am tone deaf. Can I really learn how to sing?

A. With enough determination, diligence, and practice, you can learn to sing with pitch matching exercises! Training is key with a student who has difficulty carrying pitch and Janelle is very experienced with helping in this area. If you are “tone deaf” you simply need to learn more about how different notes sound and how to mimic these sounds. Essentially, listening and ear training skills need to be enhanced so the student can learn to distinguish between different notes on the piano or notes being sung. Once the student develops a better ear, pitch matching will become easier. Several vocal exercises will be taught and practicing them daily will be key to progress in matching pitch and singing on key! For songs, Janelle will play the melody of each chosen song with the sheet music and the student will slowly learn each pitch note by note until they are proficient at matching pitch.

Q. Do I have to sing classical music in order to learn how to sing well?

No! Janelle will certainly teach classical music to anyone who desires since she is trained classically in opera, however this is not a necessity to singing well. In fact, several classically trained singers struggle with learning pop since they such completely different genres and sounds. Janelle has also trained classical singers and transformed their sound into a more pop style simply by making vowel changes. The classical “Ah” sound can be changed to more horizontal vowels such as “aaah” and “ay” and with practice can change the entire sound from opera to pop!

There is no doubt that classical training is also beneficial and can provide power in the voice, however pop training can achieve the same benefits through several specific pop vocal exercises that are specifically meant for power and belting in a healthy way. Janelle emphasizes a mix voice when singing pop so that the singer does not damage his/her vocal cords by pulling the chest voice too high. If this is confusing to you now, just take a few lessons and it will all fall into place.

Essentially, Janelle tailors the vocal lesson to the student’s needs. For instance, if an already seasoned singer has a Broadway audition for a performing arts college, Janelle will help choose and prepare an appropriate song for the audition and prep them for the audition with vocal coaching. She will also provide copies of sheet music and a piano backing track if needed. Other students may be completely new to singing and will need long term lessons focusing on pitch, technique, breathing, belting properly, and learning new melodies/songs. For every student, however, singing should a fun outlet to release tension and increase confidence!

Q. What is healthy belting?

A. Healthy belting simply explained is when a singer projects without shouting. Singing resonates in all different areas of the body. When you sing in your chest voice (which is where your speaking voice resonates), your tone will resonate in your chest area and should sound loud and strong. Your head voice resonates more in your head area (forehead and top of the head) rather than your chest. Some people try to belt out pop songs primarily in their chest voice, which can wreak havoc if they are trying to hit a high note and they simply cannot reach the note in their chest register. The voice may crack or sound strained when a singer pulls his/her chest voice too high and it begins to sound like they are shouting. The best way to rectify the issue, is adding more head resonance to the sound or pivoting into your head register. However, this takes a lot of skill and vocal training because what can happen is the head voice register may sound light and breathy and may sound too soft compared to the chest voice. Switching from chest register to head register in the middle of a song can disrupt an entire song if not performed with training and finesse.

There are several exercises and training techniques that can alleviate this problem that Janelle covers in her lessons. The goal of singing should be one smooth sound and we should not hear a switch or break between the chest voice and the head voice. When you learn how to sing with a combination of chest register and head register and can sing smoothly in a strong voice without any breaks, it is called a Mix voice.

Essentially, there should be no distinction between chest voice and head voice, rather there should be different registers and areas where the voice may resonate more, rather than two separate voices. This can be achieved through exercises and practice involving strengthening the head register so that it sounds just as strong and powerful as the chest register.

Q. What are vowel modifications?

A. 
Vowel Modifications are when certain vowels within words are modified or slightly adjusted so that the pitch or tone of the word sounds better when sung. Most vowel modifications work best in the singer’s high range and are used the most here. Sometimes singing on a certain vowel may be causing the pitch to go flat or off key or perhaps the tone is not as bright and round as it could be. For instance, if you are trying to hit a high C in your chest voice on the word “OUT” and it is going flat, a simple vowel modification can help you hit the note. Instead of pronouncing the word as “ow-oot” you can simply put an “ahh” vowel sound into the word as in the word “hat”. In other words, try saying “At” instead of “Out” and you will see how much easier it is to hit the note. Another example of a vowel modification we would use specifically in pop music is the word “all”. Instead of saying “aw-ll” we can put more of an “oooh” sound into the word so it becomes “ooh-ll. This vowel is brighter and will produce a more pleasant tone that is less likely to go flat.

Q. Why can’t I hit a high note?

A. One of the most challenging aspects of singing is being able to hit notes in a higher register. There are many reasons why a note may feel too high for your range and many ways to fix the issue. One common mistake is pulling the chest register too high when trying to hit a high note, thereby causing the note to crack. This causes vocal strain and vocal fatigue and can damage the vocal cords. Therefore, it is best to sing the note with more head resonance than chest resonance.  However, as mentioned earlier, it can be very challenging to switch from chest voice to head voice without sounding weak and breathy. Ideally, the singer must maintain power and strength within the head voice so that you cannot distinguish between the chest and head voice. The goal in singing should be to have one smooth register with no breaks in the voice. There are dozens of exercises that Janelle teaches to achieve the flawless transition from chest to head voice and creating power in the head voice. These exercises take time and practice and the transition does not come overnight.

Another reason why singers struggle with hitting high notes is because they are not relaxing their larynx or “voice box”. When they attempt to hit the note, they choke up because they may be thinking of how high the note is rather than thinking the exact opposite-you should be thinking down when singing high. If you think down it will allow the larynx to relax and make it easier to hit a difficult to reach note.

Another mistake is singing the “high” note on a particular vowel that could be causing the sound to go flat as mentioned earlier. Often times, simply modifying or making slight adjustments/alterations to the vowel that is being sung can work wonders on hitting a higher note with ease.

Q. What is a vibrato and how can I learn to do it?

A. A vibrato is when the voice oscillates or wavers back and forth quickly. Opera singers use a heavy vibrato whereas pop singers like Adele tend to have a light trailing vibrato. Some pop singers do not use vibrato at all and sing in a straight tone.  Having a natural vibrato comes with time and is a sure sign of correct breathing. Breathing from the diaphragm is key to achieving a flawless vibrato. If your vibrato “wobbles” or shakes unevenly, it is usually an indication of improper breathing. There are breathing exercises that Janelle teaches to assist with vibrato.

There are a few different exercises to achieve vibrato whether the goal is  a heavy or light vibrato. For example, one simple exercise would be to sing a C and then a C# which are half steps. Singing half steps slowly and then gradually increasing the speed between the half steps is the first step to mastering vibrato. Since it is easier to show this exercise than tell, simply take some lessons and it will all make much more sense!

Q. Do I have to learn classical piano in order to play pop music?

A. It is not necessary to learn classical piano in order to play pop, especially when learning basic pop chords. However, if you have never played piano before it will be important to work through a couple of Alfred’s basic lesson books initially. These books will introduce you to reading music, basic musical terms, and note recognition. You will need to know where all the notes are on the piano first before learning any type of music and it will be necessary to master the basics such as some piano exercises and playing basic piano melodies before launching into playing full pop accompaniment. However, pop chords can be introduced immediately and once you have mastered all the chords, you can pick up sheet music for any pop song and should be able to play it with the chords. Over time, this can evolve into playing the melody and full pop accompaniment as you advance in learning how to read music. Therefore, it is recommended that lessons include a basic lesson book, pop chord sheet (provided), and a pop songbook to work on.