"But Chris, I've seen old videos on Youtube of you singing scales. I want you to teach me how to sing like that."
Short answer, no. I just can't. I want all my vocal students to be singers, not vocal scientists.
Why? Because I've grown, not only as a vocalist, but as a singer. A singer sings for the song, not for the note. It's taken me 30 years to realize "showing off" is not music. Music is an art form. Music should touch the soul, bring out emotion, make you cry, laugh, smile, dance, and just plain feel good.
Of course, I want everyone to improve their craft, and improving does take some technical work, but when a musician puts the technique first, you have an emotionless combination of physics and math.
I've learned the hard way, it's not about hitting the highest note, or the fastest run on piano or guitar, it's about singing it like you mean it. Ironically, putting the lyrics first, focusing on gemination, diphthongs, and constant air flow, as I've talked about in my other blog posts on my site, will improve your technique, tone, depth, volume, and ... help you hit the notes. I mean, ALL THE NOTES, even the notes in the "easy" part of the song you THINK you sing just fine. I know, I know, sounds crazy. But it's true.
The problem with doing scales too much, especially with a prerecorded program or even with a live accompanist slamming out arpeggios on a grand piano, is the focus. The focus is put on hitting the first and highest note, and blending with the piano/cd rather than paying attention to every single note in the middle of the scales and the approach with the voice. Why blend the voice to a piano or an audio program? The voice is fully capable of being it's own strong solo instrument. In fact, it's the most capable and unique instrument ever in the history of all humankind. It's part of being a human. It's nature. It's God given. It's part of the body. It's easy. It's a part of the soul. Stranded on an island, you have your voice. Walking to the car in the parking lot, you have your voice. Expressing your love to your significant other, you have your voice. Angry at the world, you have your voice.
I used to be a vocal coach that wanted everyone to sing better. And I still am that same vocal coach, but my entire perception and approach has changed. Hitting a high note wasn't an issue for me, however, singing a song on command from start to finish, was an issue. I got tired of being the "guy with the awesome voice" that couldn't sing a song anytime and anywhere with a smile on my face. I took it too seriously. I missed some amazing opportunities. My focus was more on flexing my voice to the top with loads of compression. And it wasn't fun. My clientele was following right along with me. They also wanted to sing the high notes "easily and full" as I did, and that was their focus coming to me as a vocal coach. After a while, I started to get frustrated teaching. I wasn't enjoying it like I should have been, something was truly missing. It took a tragedy to realize what it was.
September of 2012, I lost my only sibling suddenly, my little brother, Geoffrey. It killed me inside. Those that have had an untimely loss understand the feeling. Through the pain, I realized I loved music, but had little way to express it. I knew notes, and I understood the "proper" way to sing and play them. But that was it. I knew I had a love for music, I knew it was inside, but I wasn't showing it. I had plenty of supporters and believers in me and my musical talents. They consistently told me to stick with music and at the time, I was unsure why. After a couple months of grieving, I picked up the guitar, an instrument my brother was proficient in, and I told myself "I'm going to learn songs."
Lots and lots of practicing, a move from New York City back to Nashville, and a lot of thinking later, I understand why I sing and why I'm a vocal coach... to share and enjoy my voice and teach others the same.
The amount of joy after singing a good song, start to finish, my own song or someone else's, focusing on the content, the emotion, the sound that I'm creating, the rhythm, the dynamics, the love, is overwhelming at times. I used to "impress" myself when I got a note in a full mix above a high C. That got me some vocal students. Awesome. But now, I'm proud of myself when I sing a song with ease, every lyric, every chord, without worrying about mistakes. I can do it time and time again without mental and physical fatigue. I'm happier than I've ever been with my music, with my vocal coaching, and most importantly, with my voice, which is truly, truly, the sound of my heart.
So, please, stop singing scales. Sing a song. Sing a song, not because it's technically challenging, but because you, as the singer, enjoy it and find a connection with it. I promise you, you'll sing better than you ever have before.
- Chris Keller
Chris Keller Vx Studios