Tuesday, December 20, 2011

You might get a groan out of this.

Dear Gary,

You ought to get a groan out of this.

C, E-flat, and G go into a bar. The bartender says, "Sorry, but we don't serve minors." So E-flat leaves, and C and G have an open fifth between them. After a few drinks, the fifth is diminished, and G is out flat. F comes in and tries to augment the situation, but is not sharp enough. D comes in and heads for the bathroom, saying, "Excuse me; I'll just be a second." Then A comes in, but the bartender is not convinced that this relative of C is not a minor. Then the bartender notices B-flat hiding at the end of the bar and says, "Get out! You're the seventh minor I've found in this bar tonight." E-Flat comes back the next night in a three-piece suit with nicely shined shoes. The bartender says, "You're looking sharp tonight. Come on in, this could be a major development." Sure enough, E-flat soon takes off his suit and everything else, and is au natural. Eventually C sobers up and realizes in horror that he's under a rest. C is brought to trial, found guilty of contributing to the diminution of a minor, and is sentenced to 10 years of D.S. without Coda at an upscale correctional facility.


P.S. Have a great Christmas

Monday, November 14, 2011

Voice Lesson Zero

Even before I meet students for the first time, I give them this haiku:
~~~~~~ You, singer, must sing! ~~~~~~
~~~~~~ It matters not WHAT you sing ~~~~~~
~~~~~~Only THAT you sing.~~~~~~

Anyone can start improving vocally with just this one lesson.

Yours, Gary.

Monday, October 17, 2011


And the home of the brave...


it's the vowels that get most of the singing.

You'd think five vowels.. A E I O U, and sometimes Y (and even W) ... would be enough, but they are not. Dictionaries have pronunciation keys on most pages. They ALL have 12 or more distinct English vowel sounds. Wikipedia gives 30 different sounds in English:

ă pat, bad, cat, ran
ăr parry, carry
ā pate, bait, play, same
ä pa, father
är part, arm, bard, aria
âr pare, hair, pear, there, scary
ĕ pet, bed, bet, end
ĕr perry, merry
ē pete, ease, see
ĭ pit, sit, bit
i pee, midi, very, ready
ĭr pert, syrup, Sirius
ī pie, my, rise
îr peer, here, near, serious
ŏ pot, not
ō oat, go, hope, know
ōr port,hoarse, glory
ô paw, law, caught, saw
ôr horse, more, laureate
oi poi, boy, noise
o͝o, put, foot
o͝or, poor, tour,
o͞o, poo, lose, soon, through
ou pout, house, now
ŭ putt, run, enough, up
ûr purr, fur, bird
ə uh, about
ər per, enter

Critically, 30 vowels is too many. When I sing them out loud, long and slow, some of those those vowels sound the same to my West Coast USA ear: ä pa = ô paw, i pee = ē pete. (Say these out loud. Do you hear a difference? if yes, then it's two different vowels to your dialect of English. If not, it's all one.)

Further, some of those vowels are made by smooshing two other vowels, gliding one into the other (called diphthongs). oi poi = ō oat + ē ease. ou pout = ô paw + o͞o lose. Diphthongs are sung as one simple vowel (almost always the first one) followed briefly by another. Practice it by prolonging the first vowel, then second vowel is a quick glide away from the main vowel just before you make the next sound.

Then there is R which could get its own article... and will. Classical singers (and almost all other languages singers) treat R as a diphthong following the main vowel.

I go with a simpler list for practical purposes.
(this from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_phonology)

Lexical sets representing
General American full vowels

This list omits long i, while thought and palm are very similar in many English dialects.

Simple to think this way:
a e i o u, long and short, gets to ten (Face, fleece, Pie, goat, goose, palm, dress, kit, thought, foot) then add these three: Nurse, trap, strut

Since R in spoke English can change the vowel, so that's another 13 vowels you CAN learn, but they're rarely sung, even by American singers.


Do long tones on 13 different vowels.
Take any vocalize. Run in on 13 vowels.

Lots more on this subject later.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Affordable Voice Lessons

Real simple:

For a live vocal teacher, I have really low rates, but even those can be too much for regular lessons for young singers and struggling artists.

This little offer is a good-looking prospect:

I have a few occasional students who pay them a one-time fee to buy and use this, then contact me for a short lesson when they get stuck and are not improving. I put them back on track with my online voice lesson (seven minutes is usually enough) and away they go.

Keep in touch.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Voice Lessons Online

While most subjects must be taught face to face, music performance is successfully taught online. Is anyone else doing this? I tutor a score of folks each week this way now from my website, some of them local (even through Wyzant), but many more of them are from all over the world from places I could never physically visit.

Instead of connecting to a student in a physical space, we connect in a virtual space. My student and I are both at home on our own computers, with an audio headset, a common chat channel and sometimes a mini-camera active. We can tutor over Google-Talk, Second Life, There, MS Chat, or Yahoo Messenger, but my favorite music-teaching platform is Skype. Skype service is free for all, the sound and video stream is fantastic and I can inhibit new callers so the student and I are not distracted by incoming calls during our session.

I always spend the first few moments of the tutoring session making a good connection so we can hear and see each other clearly. If static, break-up or background noises interfere at all, we spend a few moments taking care of those, checking connections and setting levels. After that, the online tutoring session is very like a live face-to-face tutoring session.

There are some differences, of course. We can see and hear each other clearly, but I cannot point to a symbol on a physical paper page to direct attention to a detail. I cannot touch the student to correct a posture or hand position. However, I can instantly send a link to a website video, picture, or article that we can look at together and talk about right then. I can chat notes about an exercise while the student is singing or playing without distracting her and send it immediately on completing without distracting her from focusing on her performance technique. Using a recording program, I can make and upload short clips of our session so the student can review them after our session. In trade off, I think the online session offers the student more resources than the face-to-face.

I do not think this practice is widespread yet, but it’s effective and economical for teaching vocal and instrumental practice and technique.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Online Teacher Survey

My answers from an online survey for music teachers at

What instruments do you teach? what styles and levels?

1. Voice: beginner to advanced, pop, jazz, classical, theater
2. Piano/Keyboards: beginner to intermediate, classical, improvisation
3. Composition & Songwriting: beginner to advanced, pop, jazz, classical, theater

Which teaching methods/materials do you prefer to use?

Sheet music books in styles that the student enjoys.
Scales, arpeggios and improvisations in many keys.
Short lessons with concert date deadlines to encourage practice.

What would you do, ask, demonstrate, assign on a first lesson with a beginning student?

I'd keep the student singing and stretching skill at a good pace the entire 45 minutes (or 20 minutes for youth or short lessons).

"Hi! Let's get right to work. What would you like to achieve today?"

"Great.. Let's go for that. and I want us to ______ for you, too. Did you warm up today?" (do one for 7 minutes or more if not done)

"Let's have you sing a song, then."
(We choose an easy one in the style they like, they sing with me playing, or karaoke style)

"With that song, I heard this____, that____, and these ___ right. Those _____ and them ____ could be better. Sing again, and let's fix those."
"Here's an exercise to do to help that: _________."
"Do it again for me...and again... That is better.. and keep that as homework".

(as often as necessary:)
"Let's address another issue: try this ____________. and again, fixing ______"

(near lesson end:)
"Nearly done for today. I wanted you to this___ that___ and these ____ better, and you are! You'd wanted to ______. Is that better for you?"

"Your next lesson should be on [date]. Before that deadline, your homework is _______ with the result that you can _______. Sound good to you?"

"Great! Good job, gold-star work today! See you next time."

What makes you a good teacher?

Enthusiasm. Breadth. Patience. Trustworthiness.

How do we sell you to students that are interested in lessons? Career highlights, etc.

Gary coaches all levels. He's great with beginners, even teaching the very basics that get overlooked. He's on contract for some professional singers and the top choirs in Oregon. If anyone can, he can get you to do what you are hoping to do.

Any gigging, sessions, trips, or family issues, etc. that may interrupt your weekly teaching schedule?

I successfully teach voice online to students all over the world via www.voice-mentor.com. My current online private students cluster to Monday and Friday.

I have contracts with the Oregon Symphony Choir, the Barbershop Harmony Society and the Lutheran Church that consume many of my Monday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings, Sunday morning and scattered gig dates.

There is more questions and answers, but those answers are in my website resume.

Yours, Gary

Singing in the Car

Dear Gary,

I'm trying to do the "45 minutes 3 times a week thing" to improve my voice.
Any time I drive alone I sing along with my cd's and will certainly keep up that practice adding a practice or two at home. I don't have a piano so I was wondering are there any cd's available for practicing scales etc? If so where might I find one and is there any particular one you would recommend?


Hi Holly!

You ask great questions!

Singing in a car works to a point, but it's not my favorite. Personally, when I am concentrating on really singing, I am not a good driver. Since I'd rather keep myself and the other drivers safe, I don't usually count on or do car-singing as real singing except as a light warm-up.

There are thousands of CD's of scales and singing exercises out there, and I've not researched all of them. A singer's warm-up and training needs change almost week-to-week. The few times I've used an singing exercise CD, even a good one, I don't sing as well as I do when I'm singing at my own pace.

Listening and singing to song tracks recorded by good singers is a good tool, especially if the singer had mastered something you are trying to master, too. So, dig through your favorite CD's, put one in the player and sing along. It counts as a workout. Just... drive safely.

Yours, Gary

Monday, April 11, 2011

Posture for Singers

This is a mirror post of

Directly involved Issue 4/11/2011
"Building Our instrument" article by
Steve Tramack - Chair, BHS Chorus Director Development Committee


Here’s a quick checklist for building a better instrument, from the ground up.

Want to prove to your singers and yourself that a) alignment and tension release are important, and b) this is a skill set that everyone can improve in your chorus? Ask your section leaders, or your best chapter quartet, if they can assist with this demonstration at your next rehearsal. Let them know that you’d like to have them sing something for the chorus, and then would like to work with them to help improve their performance, but keep the specifics vague (as to not predispose them to the approach). With your chorus sitting on the risers or in chairs, have the quartet / section leaders come up front and sing a song of their choosing. Ask your chorus to keep that performance in mind as the baseline, and ask the quartet if you can assist them in building an even better instrument. Would they be interested in producing more sound, more consistently, with less effort?

Start at the feet. Ask the quartet to ensure their feet are shoulder-width apart (not the outside of the arms – the shoulders). Ask them to “find their skeleton” – that centered spot where their skeleton is supporting the majority of their weight. If they shift their weight forward and back, left and right, they’ll find a spot where they’re “centered”, with their skeletal structure supporting their weight more so than muscles. Have them sing 16 measures (intro, verse or first 2 A sections of the chorus of the song), and ask your chorus members to vote on whether there was any improvement by simply “finding their skeleton”. To vote, thumbs up = better, thumbs sideways = the same, and thumbs down = worse.

Pelvic girdle. Have them slightly tilt their hips / pelvic girdle forward, just so the knees unlock and the hip joint is now aligned, as you look at the singer from the side, with the middle of the foot. By playing with the degree of tilt, they’ll find that the air falls more easily and lower into the body when the pelvic girdle is properly aligned. Have them (and your singers) play with this – if they go too far, the air seems to get “stuck” high in the chest. If they don’t go far enough, the knees lock and the air also gets stuck. Have the quartet find the ideal tilt (where the air falls low into the body), and have them sing the same 16 bars. Have the chorus vote.

Lengthen and broaden the back. Next, how much length can the singers create between the hips and the base of the skull (the A/O joint)? The back should feel like it lengthens and broadens, but the arms and shoulders must release down and hang naturally. You’ll notice a higher rib cage naturally occurs as the back lengthens and broadens. Maintain the skeletal support – the shoulders should be aligned with the hips and the feet. Have them sing the 16 measures again, and ask the chorus to vote.

Back of the neck. Next, ask the quartet singers to lengthen the back of the neck, while finding that centered spot (not too far forward / back / left / right) for the head; feeling like it’s floating on the top of the spine. It should feel like the head could easily release directly up, were it not attached, and can move freely. The chin is going to be level with the floor, or maybe even 2 degrees below the horizon. Have them sing the 16 measures again, and ask the chorus to vote.

Release any undue tension. The Four Musketeers of Vocal Tension are the neck, shoulders, jaw and tongue. Any tension here will have a direct impact on vocal freedom. Have the singers release tension through moving each of those areas (various exercises are available in warm-up materials from the Society), and sing those same 16 measures again.

Deconstruct and reconstruct. You’ve now built a better, aligned, optimal instrument together with the quartet. As the quartet if they were aware of things that they changed as part of the process. As a final step, ask for them relax, and then, in one motion, rebuild that instrument. That’s what a singer should look like and, for them, feel like. Have them start the 16 measures again, in the “relaxed” position, and then, at the ninth measure, have them rebuild the instrument. You’ll be amazed at the difference!

Now that the chorus has heard and seen the different, go through the full process with the full chorus.

This is most effective if you, as a director, can model this optimal, aligned instrument, and find opportunities to reset this alignment at key points throughout your rehearsal and your music. You should practice this in front of a mirror, so that you can quickly build / demonstrate the aligned instrument quickly and consistently for your singers. The more habitual this becomes for your singers, the better the singing will be, with less effort…which will increase their level of enjoyment. A win-win!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Power Quartetting

This in my inbox:

Have you ever thought that it would be a lot of fun to learn and sing
such challenging songs as "South Rampart Street Parade" (Westminster),

"You Don't, You Won't" (Crossroads)

or even "Eine Kleine NOT Musik"(Gas House Gang)?

If this kind of challenge inspires you, you could be
the caliber of singer that would enjoy the Power Quartetting weekend.
Check it out at http://www.powerqt.com/portland/

From: "Harry Buerer" hbuerer@spiritone.com hfbuerer
Date: Wed Jan 26, 2011 4:29 pm ((PST))

Portland Power Quartetting weekend June 3-4, 2011

2120 NE Tillamook St. Portland OR