Sing your way.
A letter from Chris Keller, founder of Chris Keller Vx Studios:
After more than two decades of music lessons and performing, I have a unique view: I believe vocal lessons are supposed to be fun, but they require a level of openness and vulnerability from both the teacher and student. If you come to a lesson to show off, don't expect to learn anything. Come to a lesson with the excitement of knowing you're going to get better at something you love to do. With time, the initial excitement of learning wears off. Like piano, the excitement of learning the voice also faded away over the years for me. It took a bit of personal journey and a new approach to really get excited about the voice again. I found it in a new and enjoyable way through teaching and writing and performing my own music. I couldn't be happier and more excited about teaching the voice.
If you haven’t taken vocal lessons, I can also empathize with what it’s like to learn a new instrument. Recently, I decided I wanted to take on a new instrument: guitar. It's helped me remember what many of my vocal students go through when they come to the first lesson. It takes a while to get comfortable with a new instrument, especially in front of a teacher, and the voice is no different. Unlike any other instrument, you ARE your voice. There is nothing to hold … no keys, drums, no fretboard to look at, just something inside of us that makes beautiful music. I've never played any other instrument with more of an emotional attachment than I have with the voice.
Singing is a craft. Putting words to notes with different dynamics and lengths and tones, are what makes singing, singing. And that's what I'm here to do: to help you explore your voice, your way. Great singing is much more than higher and louder notes. Finding what lies beneath the high and full notes is what helps you achieve the sound you're hearing and want to share with the world, or just yourself. When I teach, I focus on the "little voice" that's easy to skip over when learning how to sing. It's relatively easy to sing and teach a big, high, loud note with a full voice. Executing at will, consistently, using any word, vowel sound, consonant, tone, emotion … Those skills separate singers from vocalists.
You already have the capabilities to sing well. Singing requires balance and coordination that most people use every day. If you can speak, you can sing. For some reason, we all like to put singing on a pedestal and treat it as a foreign, mystical ability. Truth is, we all sing every time we speak. Every word we say is on a pitch. And we do it relatively easily. Bridging the gap between our everyday speaking voice and singing is what I focus on when I teach. Your speaking voice is your true artistic and unique voice. Building and understanding your voice is what makes singing fun and exciting. And my goal is to have every student leave their lessons feeling excited, inspired, and motivated, not because they "fixed" their voice right away or hit that high note, but because they have something meaningful to practice that makes them want to sing without the barriers they had before.
Preparation before a lesson?
Uh oh. Crunch time. What needs to be done? Relax. We’ll warm up together. You don't have a song memorized? That's ok. We'll work on what you already know, which is more than most students realize. If you don't think you've ever sung a note in your life, we'll find out together that you have sung before. If you've toured 300 days a year for 20 years, rocking arenas and you want to work on your voice, we'll work on it. Bring yourself, an open mind, a love for music, and the breath in your lungs. That's all you need for a voice lesson. If you want to bring an instrument, that’s wonderful. One note from my experience: Drum sets might be a little distracting, but some drum sticks and a pad or two is just fine.
I’m not the fun police, but this is important. If it's not good for your body, it's not good for your voice. Here are some of my responses to typical questions I receive about vocal health:
- Be hydrated (water, not a carbonated beverage)
- Coffee is OK — I sure drink my share, but make sure you have plenty of water in your system. Caffeine is a drying agent.
- Alcohol: This is probably not good to have before any lesson. For gigs (for those of legal drinking age), moderate use never hurt a confident singer. Like caffeine, alcohol is a drying agent, so stay hydrated if consuming. Everyone has a different alcohol tolerance, so use your own judgment.
- Dairy: Avoid it before a vocal lesson or performance. It causes a bit of mucus that can be distracting while singing. With most people, the mucus is more noticeable as they get older.
- Meat: It depends on the person. I’m a Vegan now, but I couldn't tell a difference in my voice before or after my meat-eating days. I have absolutely nothing against anyone that eats meat.
- Sleep: If your body is rested, your voice is rested. It's possible to oversleep. Too much rest, and the voice needs a longer warm up period.
- Exercise: Tune your instrument. If your body feels good, so will your voice.
- Tea: I like to drink organic licorice root tea with hot water from a kettle. There's some science behind licorice root and the vocal cords. In a nutshell, it's like engine lubricant for your vocal cords. Awesome stuff.
- Artificial sweeteners. My submandibular glands tended to swell when I ate anything with sucralose, and my mouth always felt dry when I ate anything with Aspartame. So, logically, as a singer, I stopped consuming anything with artificial sweeteners. The problems went away (just my personal experience, but see if this affects your voice).
- Sleeping with a fan on: I can't sleep without the whirring and air circulation from a fan. So I use one. I have found ceiling fans can make my throat a bit more dry in the mornings. So I'd suggest a fan pointing away from your face.
- Medicine: Debatable among many vocal coaches. I'm not a fan of allergy medicine or anything that "clears" the head. If it dries out your sinuses, it's going to affect your vocal cords in a negative way. Vocal cords don't work well when dry. Using your voice at all with dry cords can lead to a longer recovery period after you get a cold or sinus infection. I take Mucinex DM for mucus and coughing, and occasional Ibuprofen if I have a really bad headache. Be careful with Ibuprofen though; it's an anti-inflammatory. When reducing swelling, the microscopic distance and coordination of your vocal cords is altered just enough to where a learned singer can feel the difference of the amount of pressure needed to achieve certain notes and tones.
- Anything more? Ask me! email@example.com
My vocal inspiration?
People ask me about my vocal influences. I like some artists more for their technical skills, and others for the character and emotion in the their voices. In no specific order, some of my favorite vocalists and bands that influence me:
- Mariah Carey
- Celine Dion
- Lisa Fischer
- Brian McKnight
- Led Zeppelin
- Michael Jackson
- Eva Cassidy
- Adam Lambert
- Bessie Smith
- Ella Fitzgerald
- The Temper Trap
- Garth Brooks
- Guns N' Roses
- Skid Row
- Alice In Chains
- Jeff Buckley
- Jimmy Gnecco
- Lamb Of God
- Rage Against The Machine
- Eric Church
- Brad Paisley
- Justin Timberlake
- A Skylit Drive
- Jesus Christ Superstar (Original cast recording)
Lessons are available in-person at the studio in Nashville or over Skype between the hours of 11am and 7pm CST Monday - Friday (due to being a performer myself, weekends are reserved for Douglas Warren shows.) After purchasing a lesson or lesson plan, the purchaser will be contacted to schedule the lesson time. Due to limited availability, the earliest open time slot may be within a few weeks time. There is a 24-hour rescheduling policy.
Skype lessons are magical. I get to work with people on the other side of the world, literally. You can take a voice lesson wherever you want. And they couldn't be easier. However, there are a few "rules" I like to set for my Skype students to make sure they get the most out of a lesson.
- A solid Internet connection
- Relatively loud speakers
- A decent microphone/webcam (most modern laptops and desktops come with a built in setup that's pretty good).
- Skype on a phone or tablet is a convenient idea, but I still haven't found them to be entirely up to par with a desktop or laptop with plugged in speakers and a decent webcam.
- I prefer speakers to headphones for multiple reasons. The primary reason is acoustics. With headphones, it's very hard to hear the natural sound your voice produces, and there are fine details that microphones leave out. These fine details are very important and sometimes key to understanding and controlling the voice. Any singer finds this out the hard way the first time they go into a studio to lay down vocals. It's a whole new world.
- After the lessons are purchased, I will give my Skype name to the student through the invoice and email when we set up the time slot. Make sure your Skype account is updated and ready to go the day of the lesson.
Hit me up!
- Feel free to email me if you have questions or concerns. firstname.lastname@example.org