Archive for the ‘Voice’ Category

Creative Processes and Products- Order and Chaos in Dialogue

March 5, 2016

Jim Simmons no guitar

By Jim Simmons

When beginning to write your own music, you will quickly discover the need to record your ideas. Soon after this discovery, another usually follows: namely, the need to make decisions about the ideas that have emerged.

These two problems have many solutions, and that is a good thing, because as you grow in your craft, so too, will your craft change. Even stranger is the fact that your creative process will also undergo its own changes and life cycles. Let me give an example:

Genesis used to write all of her chords down on paper, with the lyrics underneath, but now that her guitar technique has improved beyond simple chord playing, she’s found it difficult to describe what her guitar accompaniment is doing with words, letters, and symbols on paper. After trying to notate riffs and ideas simply by labeling them as they occurred (idea 1, idea 2), she became frustrated at never quite remembering what she had played. So, then Genesis began to video herself playing the ideas.

Now, what could some of the hidden difficulties be in the new approach? Perhaps our song writer still has the necessary and difficult task of sifting and choosing before her, and this may not just apply to different sections of the song—perhaps, she’s discovered there are two versions of a section that seem equally satisfying, and she can’t choose between them.

I have recently been undergoing certain changes in my own creative process, similar to the ones described above. I want to offer a few encouragements to any creators out there who’ve struggled with such challenges.

First of all, your song, project, piece, whatever it is—it doesn’t have to be the end-all-of-all perfect artistic/musical statement that you make. So, don’t feel the need to put all of your ideas into one song/piece/etc. Hopefully, you’ll write more in the future, so leave something else to say for later projects. Secondly, if you have differing versions of a musical section, that may be a good thing, since deliberate variations often lend interest to the listener. Regarding creative process, remember that just because it’s a “process” doesn’t mean it has to be systematic. It’s true that sifting through videos, audio recordings, lead sheets, and other sorts of sketches can be a chore, but such work will always bear fruit. Even if you wind up creating “too much” material, you may eventually use some of the leftovers to get you started on another work.

Lastly, creativity is, in my mind, more a way of life than a means to an end. It’s true that an artist should seek to share their work with others, and that it’s a shame when an artist never gets their ideas out of their head. But, similarly tragic is an artist haunted by perfectionism and the fear of failure. As good as you (and I) want that song, or piece, or project to end up sounding, creating music and art are values in-and-of-themselves. So, on one hand, be passionate about the quality of your finished product. But, on the other hand, be free, messy, methodical, imperfect, and committed to the chaotic, ordering process of creativity.

Here are some videos documenting a piece as it grew. I was sick at the time, and not very concerned with my playing technique, so some of the notes sound pretty bad, and some of the videos end with me more frustrated than satisfied, but I am so glad I can now reference these for the new version of the piece that is now underway.


Happy Creating!

Jim Simmons


Part 1


Part 2


Part 3


Part 4


Part 5


Part 6


Singing More than Just the Words

October 12, 2014

By, Catherine Behrens. Voice instructor at The Lesson Studio










Music can bring about strong emotions, bring back old memories, and soothe our tired bodies at the end of a long day. As musicians, it is one of our chief goals to move people with what we do. We want to give a message to our audience that will leave them changed after they have heard us play or sing. There are many things that go into creating an impacting performance, but there is one tool that I want to focus on that is specific to singers. We have words. Composers and songwriters choose their lyrics very carefully. Whether they have taken inspiration from a great poet such as Shakespeare, Dickinson or Goethe, or if they have written their own, these words have been crafted to evoke emotion. When we sing, we sometimes get so focused on all the technique (which is super important!) we forget about the words. So here are some ideas on how to get the most meaning out of your song.

First, write out your words on a separate piece of paper and read them out loud. If there is a part that doesn’t make sense to you, really focus in on it. Try and figure out if it is symbolic or literal. Maybe it’s a metaphor or a description. If you still don’t know, talk to other people about it. Your teacher, family members, classmates, anyone who you think might be helpful in understanding what the writer meant. Keep reading it to yourself until the message of the words, and what you want to get across when you sing it, becomes ingrained in you. This is also a fantastic way to help memorize your songs!

Next, go into each individual sentence and determine which words are the most important in that sentence. For example, if you have something like “Never mind I’ll find someone like you” I would pick “mind” and “someone” as my two big words (although next time I sing that phrase I might pick “find” and “you”). This is probably going to be a little different for everybody, which is great because that’s going to make your interpretation unique. Once you have your words for each sentence or phrase, go through your music and underline them to remind you that those are the words you want to highlight. When you sing them, give them just a little more love than the other words. Making them pop like this will give your listeners a road-map of what is important in the music.

Finally, invest in what those words actually mean. It isn’t enough to have a head knowledge of what you are singing about, you should be feeling it too. So if you are singing a love song, and you’ve never been in love, maybe try to think about a friend that means a lot to you, or a family member. Make the lyrics your own. If you can’t relate to it, neither will anyone else. The thing that makes your favorite artists so good is that they move you. Maybe it moves you to dance, or cry, or to change the world, but you are feeling those emotions because the artist felt them first. Now it’s your job to feel those same things and pass it on the the next person.

So, at the end of the day, be sure you know what your song is about, and that it means something to you. Whether it’s Mozart or Rihanna, look at what the words behind the music mean. They cared a lot about how those words fit into music, and you should too. So dig deep and make the world listen to your song!

RE a Drop of Golden Sun!

May 14, 2013

by Erin Keller, Voice and Piano instructor at The Lesson Studio

For me, one of the most valuable things I have ever learned is solfege. Solfege is what we call the language of the singing scale, also known as Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Ti Do. Solfege is very useful for many reasons, including but not limited to sight-singing music for the first time, hearing, learning, and singing intervals (the “distance” between two notes), learning scales, hearing melodies in your head and translating them into more concrete or even written ideas, and also figuring out what the notes are in a song you are trying to learn from a recording. I was in a children’s choir when I was young, and I learned solfege very well by the age of 10. Because of this, I could sight-read any music you put in front of me by the age of 10. To this day, I still use these skills all the time.

How does solfege work?

Being a singer and looking at notes on the page, it is very hard at first to have any idea as to what to do. When you play an instrument there are specific things you do with your hands in relation to the strings or keys or buttons, etc. to create each pitch on the staff. Singers do not have buttons. For singers, sound is created by two small muscles inside of your larynx (the thing that moves up and down in your throat when you swallow) called your vocal cords, which vibrate very quickly together. The pitch gets higher when your vocal cords get longer and lower when your vocal cords get fatter and shorter (like when you pluck a rubber band). Your vocal cords stretch to the exact length needed for each pitch because you think of what note you want to sing and hear it in your mind ahead of time. (AMAZING) This means that having a clear sense of pitch in your mind enables you to be accurate with pitch with your voice. Solfege is in essence a set of imaginary brain buttons for singers to use in order to sing the correct notes in tune. This system dates back to as early as the 8th century and was created by a man named Guido D’Arezzo. Another man named John Curwen took this system a step further in the 1800s and created hand signs for each of the tones in the solfege scale. They are as follows:


Using the hand signs helps you to create a more physical and visual connection to the notes in the scale in terms of how high and low they are in relation to the other tones. Doing solfege without the hand signs is not nearly as effective, so it is strongly encouraged to utilize the hand signs whenever you are using solfege.
Here is an example of a C Major scale labeled with the solfege syllables:

If you come work with me as a voice student I will teach you solfege, and we will start out with the above scale and work our way up to reading music at varying difficulty levels. These skills will benefit you in many ways by increasing your ability to learn songs you like, improving your intonation, helping you locate and navigate the break in your voice between head voice and chest voice, air flow and breath support, and many other things. This is only one small part of the voice lesson, though. You will also be working on various vocal techniques associated with vowel formation, breath support, resonation, flexibility, strength, chest voice and head voice, and laryngeal positioning. Of course we would also work on repertoire of your choosing, including but not limited to pop music, classical music, country music, jazz, rock, folk, music in different languages, and much more. With my varied experience and your motivation to work hard, we can accomplish whatever you desire, helping you connect with music in a new and special way that is meaningful and rewarding to you.

Erin Keller, Voice and Piano Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Practice Makes Perfect (or Does it)?

April 30, 2013

by Ron Troester, Voice and Piano instructor at The Lesson Studio

How to be Successful in Practice and Reach Your Goals in Musical Performance:

1. Be careful to find a time that works well for your practicing that isn’t interrupted by other activities, even if for only 15 minutes. Focus your energies to that time on getting better!

2. Choose a different point of focus for each day, and set aside a day for a fully coordinated practice session or rehearsal that assimilates what have been your points of focus earlier the week or in the previous few days. The pursuit of success requires you to cultivate a commitment to consistency. Quality practice time is essential to amount of success you will receive.

3. Use the approach of: generalization, specifics, generalization, details, generalization. Take time to look over the piece from beginning to end, and get a good sense of the time signature, style and the form. Recognizing sections that repeat can greatly reduce rehearsal time.

4. Do something to warm up your voice or fingers—scales, patterns, a familiar song. It begins the focus on what you are going to do and gets muscles ready for action.

5. Now be more specific. Take time to learn notes correctly—vocal line, or each hand on the keyboard, so that you have the patterns in your hearing and muscles right. It doesn’t matter how much time you take for this, but it greatly reduces re-learning parts that weren’t correct at the beginning. Use the syllables to find pitches and intervals that are difficult, fingerings that work best, and then write them in the music! This will remind you of what to do next time, without so much review time. And then review it often!

6. Pay attention to details. Find the trouble spots and isolate them—take great care to really get these comfortable. Then put these sections back into the song to get consistency in the whole piece. Be careful you are always thinking of the tempo, dynamic and phrasing markings.

7. Think of performance details as well during these times—are you rehearsing as you would perform it? For vocalists, this includes knowing the text, what it is saying, and how you can convey it in the best and most interesting manner. This is part of the rehearsal process.

8. Put the piece back together—from beginning to end. Now evaluate your work thus far. See what you can do successfully with the piece, and where to go back and detail specific sections again.

9. Don’t always start at the beginning to run through a piece—start at the back, or in the middle, then keep adding sections toward the beginning of the song and run to the end. It is common for everyone to start at the beginning and then the end sections don’t get rehearsed as well, and it sounds weak or not as comfortable.

10. Run the piece from beginning to end, thinking of performance level as you do. Don’t let just one time influence your rehearsal. Do it several times, and it will show more and more improvement and confidence. Muscle memory is the key—repetition, repetition, repetition!

11. Life happens – the unexpected or unthinkable shows up as Murphy’s law takes you to court. Sometimes you have too much on your plate or there’s additional stress, and you find it difficult to focus. So, you have to cut back on rehearsal time Then, what rehearsal time you have suffers because you’re exhausted or distracted. When the time comes for that special live performance gig you’ve been dreaming of, you stumble and fumble your way through, and it doesn’t go the way you would like. Change up the routine, take a couple days break, ask for another opinion or evaluation—then go back to your normal routine again.

12. Discipline is vital to your arrival, survival, and potential for thriving in the pursuit of being a better musician. Realistic pacing and realistic goal-setting are both key to helping you stay disciplined and keeping your commitment to consistency. Manageable goals are important—don’t expect it to all happen at once. Enjoy the small successes as well as when you reach bigger goals!

13. As you consider your performance on a piece of music, focus on showcasing your strengths and the ability to communicate your passion and interest in the music selection. In other words, what would you like your audience members to feel, think about, or even want to learn more about? These objectives in how your music can serve others will help you with choosing material for your song sets as well as selecting stories to share that resonate with your personal passions and your desire to make a difference. Music has the ability to inspire, encourage, entertain, enlighten, and educate. And most of all, you should enjoy this—HAVE FUN!

14. At the same time, don’t allow yourself to not push your skills. Take a moment to sight read something quickly—see how you do. Don’t make every piece about getting it all perfect. It is good to be able to know that you can learn quickly, as well as taking the time to work out more difficult music.

15. Ask yourself who has had an impact on your success. What specific qualities have they had a hand in developing or encouraging? What impact have they had on feeding your passions and objectives in the pursuit your musical success? Give thanks for the opportunities that will come as a result of your desire to be your best and do your best. Consider the impact that your being served has had on how you strive to serve others. Write down their names of those who have inspired you to serve, and thank them any way you can.

16. This positive attitude of using your unique gifts to serve others will give you peace and purpose through the rough patches and smooth stretches. It will help you press on past any unexpected stalls and crawls that will creep up occasionally on your journey to true musical success!

Ron Troester, Voice and Piano Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Ron Troester

Vocal Health

April 17, 2013

by Jonathan Cole, Voice and Piano instructor at The Lesson Studio

As singers, our body is our instrument. Because of this, things like illness, lack of sleep, dehydration, and emotional stress can affect our singing in a negative way. Here are some things we can all consider to make our voices function as well as possible:

· Drink plenty of water, especially considering Colorado’s dry climate. Being properly hydrated is one of the simplest things to do and one of the most important factors in vocal health. Remember, substances such as alcohol and caffeine can cause dehydration. Consider using a humidifier.

· Get enough sleep. Experts suggest that adults need 7-9 hours of sleep per night, and children need more: up to 11 hours! When our bodies are not rested, our voices don’t function as well as they could otherwise.

· If you’re ill, even if you just have a common cold, take it easy! Our vocal folds are often swollen when we’re ill (just as any muscle can swell when it’s irritated), so they are more susceptible to injury. If you don’t have to sing or speak, don’t. Consider it a free pass to not practice for a few days! Remember, whispering can be harmful when ill, so avoid it.

· Antihistamines/decongestants should be avoided as they cause drying of the vocal folds. Analgesics (aspirin products such as ibuprofen) should be used with caution while singing. If your body is producing extra mucus (the gunk that makes us clear our throats), consider taking an expectorant such as Mucinex paired with lots of water. Additionally, a spoon of honey and gargling with salt water can help sooth a sore throat.

· Don’t clear your throat unless absolutely necessary. If you must, do so in a very gentle manner and as seldom as possible. If you must cough, do so gently.

· Don’t smoke. In addition to long term health problems, smoking also affects our voices in a very negative way. It also goes without saying that you should avoid illegal drugs as well.

· Exercise regularly. Cardiovascular exercise and yoga have proven to be especially beneficial for the singing voice. If doing weight training, do not “grunt” to facilitate lifting heavier weights. Instead, try making a hissing sound while lifting.

· Eat a balanced diet. If you have reflux, take steps (diet change and/or medication, based on your doctor’s recommendation) to fix it.

· Don’t scream or yell. This is particularly tempting to do at sporting events, concerts, and other loud settings.

· Use ear protection when in a noisy environment, and keep your headphones at an appropriate level.

· Keep yourself mentally healthy, and remember that you started singing because you enjoy it. Singing should never be a chore!

With these tips we can all keep our voices healthy. In the occasional event of illness, they are especially important to consider. You only have one voice—take care of it and it will take care of you.

Jonathan Cole, Voice and Piano Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Jonathan Cole

Summer Music Fun!

April 2, 2012

By Denise McCoy, Voice, Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Summer is right around the corner! Keeping kids entertained with social events will make any parent happy. Why? …Because happy kids equals happy parents. There are plenty of Memorial Day events in and around Denver and Boulder. As most Boulderites know, Memorial Day brings the Creek Fest. It’s a three-day festival with vendors, music, food, dancing, and even a little ducky race down the creek! There is a little bit of something for everyone. On the performance end, there will be five stages with various shows. The five stages are broken up according to interest and age, which are: bandshell, festival stage, community dance stage, kids’ stage, as well as teens’ stage. Information can be found on their website at:

If Boulder isn’t an option, or you want a variety of weekend plans, Denver has baseball games, concerts, an arts festival, and a parade! More detailed information can be found on their website at:

Once Memorial Day weekend is over, summer music lessons are a great way to keep kids engaged in something fun and educational. Music lessons can help students prepare for the following year (get ahead!) or to catch up from the previous year. For any students who have auditions coming up for various musicals, shows, or choirs, the summer is the perfect time to hone in on the skills needed to succeed in your audition.

There are plenty of ways to keep your kids busy with music this summer! Look around at various websites and festivals for opportunities! Your kids will thank you, and you might enjoy the family time too!


Increase Practice Productivity by Warming Up!

March 1, 2012

By Paul Perry, Voice & Piano, Instructor at The Lesson Studio



Everyone who plays piano needs to take incredible and meticulous care of their hands. It is important to create a pre-warm-up routine with both stretches and scales before intense practice sessions.

Release the tendons and muscles of your hands, arms, and shoulders by doing some simple stretching before you actually start to practice playing the piano. There are many simple things you do with a tennis ball, including placing it against the forearm and gently massaging up and down the length of your arm (both topside and underside of your arm!) with as much intensity as feels good to you. Also, grip the ball in the palm of your hand, flexing and releasing the muscles, four or five times in each hand. Gently stretch your fingers, roll the shoulders front and back, and find a routine that serves you and your practice!

Play a variety of scales or simple melodic passages before moving on to repertoire.  Be mindful that your forearm is in alignment with your wrist and that your hand does not move as you strike the keys—only the fingers are moving. Avoid twisting your hand as you play, and notice if your palm is excessively lifting up, or is arched down. These habits can overstretch the tendons in your hands—No es bueno! Equalize the strength of your fingers with scales—in particular, the ring finger and pinky are traditionally weak. My right ring finger, for instance, is built just a bit differently than the rest of my fingers. I really need to stay focused on balancing the weight between my fingers in my right hand.  Hopefully after developing a quick pre-practice routine, you will notice that you can practice for longer, more productive periods of time, and without fatigue!

Joyful playing!


The Piano: A One Man Band Instrument

December 12, 2011

by Robyn Yamada, Voice and Piano Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Robyn Yamada, Voice and Piano Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Robyn Yamada

The improvisational pianist is a complete combo.  For example, inside the heart of every improvisational pianist lies a versatile bassist.  It is  imperative that one is always thinking about where the structural line is going and leading the rest of the “combo” through the changes.  There are endless possibilities in creating a good bass line – the structural foundation, really.  The mid-range of the piano (middle C to high C) becomes the guitarist, i.e. mainly used for comping chord changes over the bass line and creating a basic rhythm.  It’s what I like to think of as the jello that holds everything together.  Also, the drum section happens in the mid range.  The comping of the changes is very percussive in nature and sets the rhythm and tempo of the piece.  The upper register of the piano is used for the color instruments (lead guitar, fiddle, flute, horns).  In short, leads should not be played in the mid-range but above high C.  Lead lines played in the mid-range have a tendency to get muddy.  The melody of the piece should be in the mid-range, with fills and solos moved up for clarity and distinction from the main melody.  This concept remains consistent when working with a vocalist.

In summation, the piano as a solo instrument, when approached with a combo in mind, can be used very effectively.  The bass remains below middle C, the rhythm instruments should be played between middle C and high C, and the color instruments belong above high C.

Musical Family Gathering

October 4, 2011

by Denise McCoy, Voice and Piano Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Denise McCoy, Voice and Piano Instructor at The Leson Studio

Denise McCoy

Welcome back The Lesson Studio students! I hope your summer was relaxing and musical! The fall is the start of many music seasons in theaters and concert halls in the Denver Metro Area, as well as local venues, such as the University of Colorado. It is really important for the students and the parents of students to be involved in seeing live performances because not only does it enrich the growing musicians education, it is fun and can be done as a family. Parents who are involved in their child’s musical education are more likely to create positive views towards their study of music and encourage the student to practice. By bringing your child to live concerts, the student can see what it’s like to perform music live. They can see that live performance may have more to offer than recorded music, and the student can see first hand the work that goes into putting together a concert. Practice, hard work and love for music is what makes a performance successful.

Here are a few suggestions for concerts this fall:

Colorado Symphony has a wide range of genres that are performed in an acoustical setting. Here students are more likely to see their instrument performed in an ensemble. This season there are contemporary concerts with performers such as Patti Lupone, Ozomatli, and Jim Brickman. The symphony is also putting together a multimedia performance called “The Planets: an HD Odyssey.” This type of performance integrates different forms of art, to express a theme. On the classical end, Beethoven’s 7th is being performed, as well as Faure’s Requiem, and an all Dvorak program, just to name a few. Renee Fleming, who in my opinion in a famous, real life opera star, will be performing in March. For any young singer, this is definitely not a concert to miss!

If you want to find concerts that are a little more wallet friendly, Colorado University offers a wide variety of concerts throughout the school year. There are student recitals, which are free and can be instrument specific, that are great for a young musician to attend.

The Denver Center offers a massive, and impressive variety of shows that is great for any musician to see. A few to mention are, The Lion King, A Christmas Carol, Wicked, and Hair.  I recommend a concert at the Denver Center, purely because of the wide range of interest that they cater to.

I hope you can take advantage of all this area has to offer musically. There are a lot of talented musicians in the area. I am sure they would like your support and I am sure your kids can really learn from them, and further enjoy music and what it has to offer.

The world is our stage…

September 18, 2011

by Garrett Smith, Voice and Piano Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Garrett Smith, Voice and Piano Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Garrett Smith

I want to talk about performance. Different stages, different levels of performance. Venues, degrees, heights, hysterical to barely audible. Divine to mundane. Terrifying and restrictive to freeing and natural. Red Rocks to the shower. The Met to the cab of your truck. Anytime you tap into that intimate place inside yourself where you encounter your muse and let it out, you are performing. For yourself, for the angels, for your family, to patrons, or to total strangers. To outwardly manifest the phenomena of organized sound, which we call music, you are to some degree performing, as you should. It is healthy to perform. It’s an exercise in letting go, in being natural, in being indeed totally yourself, a divine creature gifted with the capacity of producing combinations of beautiful sound.

We humans are not the only ones to appreciate beautiful sounds. I have two cats. One, Ash, loves to play my guitar (with his tongue, or teeth, or sometimes paws, but mostly his mouth.) Whenever I whistle, sing or play the piano, he’s right there rolling on the floor in utter bliss no matter how loud. The other, Mobius, is a bit more reserved, perhaps even offended by these noises uttering from my interaction with the physical world. The difference seems to be an appreciation of music. If you pay attention, you may notice just as in the Disney princess stories, the birds and squirrels and deer drawn to your music. Even if not such a fairytale scenario, one increases her/his magnetism through the practice and power of performance. People can see when someone is comfortable enough with themselves to allow the beauty of song and sound to move through them.

One of the ways to improve your performance level is to watch professionals of all sorts of genres. Good DJ’s, jam bands, pop stars, folk artists, bluegrass, family style-around-the-campfire, worship music, opera, musical theatre, indeed any theatre (the beats and timing of stage theatre and film for that matter are somewhat musical, for example looking at the cadence in Woody Allen’s dialogue, or Shakespeare) are all going to that place where music lives from different roads. I am involved (in fact starring as the title role) in an original musical comedy, “Casanova at Twilight” being premiered in a week. Written by Tony-award nominee, TV soap star of “All My Children,” and on and off-Broadway actor, Bill Mooney with original music by CU’s Hunter Ewen, this show is raucus, hilarious, and all about timing. You will see a cast of high caliber who have created these characters and this show through their various trainings to bring the audience and themselves the ups and downs that make life so exciting and, indeed, sexy. You can find tickets at (including $5 student tickets!) and we are playing two weekends. There is a free preview on Thursday, the 22nd if you can’t afford tickets, just mention Garrett Smith. I encourage you to come see our process of performance in this intimate space of the Atlas Multimedia Blackbox Theater, and experience what it does to you. Perhaps you will be inspired. Perhaps you will seek your own stage.