Posts Tagged ‘voice lessons’

Choosing the right teacher for YOU

February 22, 2015


by Heidi Ames

There are so many music teachers out there! How do you even begin the process of choosing the right one for you or your child?  If you don’t have any experience in music this part may seem fairly simple. Just call up your local music studio and have them choose one for you or choose one from their online list. Done. Unfortunately many new students don’t know the importance of taking the time to find the right teacher. Here are some helpful DO’s and DONT’s when selecting a teacher:

DO…interview your teacher. Don’t hesitate to ask about a teacher’s background and experience. It is very important to get a solid foundation from someone who can spot and fix tension issues immediately, otherwise bad habits may become ingrained which are then difficult to correct later on. Also, when you progress on your instrument you won’t need to find another teacher later on or be “passed up” to a teacher with more experience.

DO… sit in on a lesson. In many cases teachers are okay with potential students sitting in to observe their teaching style. Don’t be afraid ask!

DO… a trial lesson or two. This way you can get an idea of how you without making a commitment to weekly lessons. Music teachers are used to doing one-time lessons and there are no hard feelings if you decide it’s not the right fit. Good teachers want what is best for you anyway.

DO…ask yourself what you would like to get out of lessons and express them to your teacher. Having realistic goals in mind before getting started is essential to your success. Music lessons are one of the best investments you can make so spend some time getting clear on what you would like to get out of them. If a teacher doesn’t feel they can get you where you want to be they will tell you, but only if you ask!

DON’T… stay with a teacher with whom you do not feel comfortable. You should feel that you can communicate freely with him/her and not afraid or embarrassed to make mistakes for fear of how they will react. Your teacher should be able to make you laugh at least once during your lesson!

DON’T….study with a teacher who does not have training in the musical style you are interested in studying. If you want to be a jazz pianist and your teacher only knows how to play Beethoven you might run into some problems. There are specialized methods for jazz/rock training that many classical musicians have never studied. However, many of the best teachers in any musical style do have a foundation in classical training.

DON’T….stay with a teacher if you are not learning from them. You should be able to see some results in your playing within a couple of months and feel inspired to practice. Your teacher should be genuinely interested in your success and it will be reflected in your playing.

I hope you found this list helpful! Of course there are many factors involved in selecting a teacher and this list is only a starting point. If you have any more ideas, please comment below.

Heidi Ames teaches piano and voice at The Lesson Studio.

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!

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.




August 2, 2011

Paul Perry, Voice and Piano Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Paul Perry, Voice and Piano Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Paul Perry

Last night I went on a cleaning rampage in my apartment… It’s funny the things you think when cleaning.  I went for 5 hours without taking a sip of water and, perhaps I was slightly dehydrated, but I was the countless times the countless times (recently!) when my students come to lessons without water bottles.  Personally I feel lost and unprepared without one (no matter what I am doing).  It doesn’t matter what instrument you play, though singers probably feel the dehydration factor first.

 Here are just a few reasons why water is important to you!

1. Water makes up the majority of every cell in the body and makes up our tears, saliva, sweat, etc.,

2.  It is the largest part of our blood/ lymph systems, responsible for bringing food/oxygen to the cells and ultimately helps remove waste form the body as well

3.  It helps control the blood pressure by balances the electrolytes, can help provide trace minerals to the body and washes out toxins from our kidneys.

4. Water moisten the eyes, mouth, lips, throat, and nasal passages…this is HUGE for singers!

It is recommended that you drink at least 8 glasses of water daily. Of course if you are an  active person you need more than this.   Please, Drink more water!!  I know we all know this, but are you really doing it?  I was at the gym last week and realized I didn’t have my water bottle with me and was shocked when I looked about and realized NOBODY had a water bottle with them at the gym…in Boulder!   Carry a water bottle with you at all times. 

Peace! Paul P

Musical Happenings

April 20, 2011

By Denise McCoy, Piano, Voice and Woodwinds Instructor at The Lesson Studio

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

Denise McCoy

Summer is just around the corner, let the fun begin! Every summer, musicians from all types of genres play for their audience. Boulder has some great venues that are worth checking out with your kids!

Starting May 7th, Chautauqua’s online box office is open, and tickets can be ordered either by calling their number (featured on their website below). On May 9th, the actual box office opens and tickets can be purchased on site. On this website, you can view their entire summer concert season! The tickets are pretty inexpensive, but it’s generally suggested to order tickets in advance in case the event sells out.

In Denver, there is the Denver Center for Performing Arts. At this art center, there is a wide variety of shows to see. Traveling Broadway shows come through this DCPA, and quite a few in the summer. This is a good opportunity to get to see come acting, singing, dancing and the instruments that play in the pit! Tickets can be ordered in advance and be picked up the same day as the performance. If you stick around the side stage door after performance, you might even be able to meet a cast member!

Colorado Symphony Orchestra offers many concerts towards the beginning of the summer that is perfect for the family! Some concerts are geared towards kids and their families and some concerts have an “inside the score” where music students and audience members can learn a little about the piece of music that is being performed.  For those looking for something a bit more contemporary, Boyz II Men and Pink Martini are playing in June.

The summer is the perfect time to enrich your child’s music education. It’s a great way to get the family together and enjoy a concert!

My Hero, Jeff Buckley: How to “Organically” Build Your Music Style

April 17, 2011

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

Garrett Smith, Piano and Voice Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Garrett Smith

Ok, Jeff Buckley is amazing, but he’s not my only- or even biggest- influence/ hero. I chose to write about him because of his process in becoming his own musician. If you aren’t aware of Jeff Buckley or his music, check out his only fully recorded studio album, Grace, or its contents on YouTube. You may have heard his version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” It is, IMHO [in my humble opinion], by far the most moving iterations of that widely covered song out there. Jeff Buckley’s voice as heard in his album and in live recordings transcends range and race, reaching expansive stratospheres of emotion with nuclear musicality, woven by his elegant balance of refinement and rawness through the medium of that Voice. Unfortunately, he died prematurely by accident in the middle of recording his second album, which is why he has only one complete studio album out. The music world mourns the loss of his potential, yet rejoices in his short-but-sweet contribution.

Enough smoke blown, however, and back to the point. Jeff Buckley was the son of Tim Buckley, a folk-add-jazz musician who gained a cult following and who also died at an early age of 28. Jeff wanted very little to do with his father, especially the music thereof. Because of that huge presence hanging over, threatening to stain his own ‘essence,’ Jeff sought out music scenes in LA and especially New York to educate himself. One year of music school, a reported waste of time, at least opened his eyes to music theory and the rich music of classical romanticists, thus showing him how to play with interesting harmonies. He covered everything: the blues, punk and rock scenes taught him the relevant extremes of guitar-based music; covering folk and jazz music taught him how to songwrite with decent structure and content, while finessing the art of rule-bending; voice lessons came with intense study and emulation of Nina Simone, Edith Piaf and Judy Garland, while worship of Pakhistani super-star Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan seems to have influenced his supernatural-like vocal acrobatics; and yet, Jeff is just so himself. Google the title song of Jeff’s album, “Grace” [grace jeff buckley] and click on the first video. What do you hear?

How might I apply this? My formal music education lies in a classically based Bachelor in Music during which I studied old to new art song (from Dowland to Faure, Wolf to Lee Hoiby,) and performed primarily opera retaining several lead roles on the opera and musical theatre stage. If you were to hear MY music style (which I’m only starting to realize I’m a baby in my own right) you might hear a glimpse of that, yet more of a folk/ soul / rock amalgamation. Some of my informal music education stems from a younger interest in Frank Sinatra, Jewel, Sarah McLachlan, U2, and Indigo Girls followed by a more mature obsession with Bjork, Joni Mitchell, Jeff Buckley and Radiohead all the while enamored by the obscurely fabulous instrumental group, the Rachel’s (I implore you to look them up), and finally an intense devotion to traditional and popular West African music, rhythm and dance for the past 3 and a half years under the masters (Maputo and Mawue Mensah, , Nii Arma Sowah, and Dr. Kwasi Ampene under whom I’ve had the privilege to perform and converse with some great band/ solo musicians including Victor Wooten, check him out. Serious.)

I believe the truest education of any kind- be it musical, culinary, artistic, literary, medical/ body- occurs when the student widens his/her variety of influence and truly listens to that which moves him or her. Open exploration with a sensitivity to that which resonates most in one’s heart-mind-body will teach one more about his/herself than any school, one style, or single teacher ever could. I know so many “classical” singers (some professional) who don’t know their own voice, their own style at all, because they only know how to RESEMBLE one or two styles. This is not to say that good technique won’t get you anywhere. Technique is an often necessary tool, which is why you should take lessons and search with discrimination for good teachers. The world, and its increasing connectivity, is your school of style. The more you listen, the vaster variety of great musicians and performers you emulate= the more you will know yourself, what you’re about, and how you might want to express that musically or otherwise. Your heart is a magnet and will take what it likes from what you show it. Now go educate yourself and let the open stages be your practice room, if to be your own musician is what you truly want.

A Positive Approach with High Standards

February 27, 2011

By Liz Comninellis, Piano and Voice Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Liz Comninellis, Piano and Voice Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Liz Comninellis

In any educational profession it is difficult to strike a balance between maintaining a high standard and being positive and encouraging towards students. In my five years of experience teaching piano and voice I have often thought about this distinction. It varies by student, of course. However, I have discovered some principles which help to sustain what I believe to be a healthy balance.

1. Always allow a student to sing or play through an entire piece before making comments:

As a child I studied with a teacher who stopped me repeatedly in the first three or four measures of a piece. I was never allowed to go on until the piece was perfect linearly from start to finish. This method of critique was not only discouraging, but also enforced a bad habit of stopping and starting after every mistake. When I went to college I found the habit very difficult to overcome. For that reason, I encourage students to go all the way through a piece before doing “spot work.” I want to enforce the performance element in every lesson- “the show must go on.”

2. Always give positive comments first and carefully word criticism:

I feel it is extremely important to begin your response as a teacher with positive feedback. It must be genuine, of course. There is always something positive to say, even if it is small. However, to say something like, “good job,” is not at all specific or helpful. If the student did not practice consistently, then saying that they did well in a broad sense in not genuine. Instead say, “good job with melodic phrasing in the B section,” or “your note accuracy between measures 12 and 14 has really improved from last week.” This feedback is not only specific, but also shows that you were paying close attention.

3. Teach by example and build independence:

A teacher should always illustrate spoken concepts by playing live or finding pertinent recordings, etc. Catering to different learning styles is so important for growth. Teach so that your student will become independent of you. Hopefully they will grow to make their own musical choices and assessments.



Carrie Newcomer

October 24, 2010
Kristin Vredevoogd, Voice and Piano Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Kristin Vredevoogd

By Kristin Vredevoogd, Voice and Piano Instructor at The Lesson Studio

I had the wonderful opportunity this past Saturday to attend the concert of an artist I’ve recently been introduced to.  Carrie Newcomer is a Quaker folk singer, songwriter, and guitarist.  She has twelve albums out, the most recent one called Before and After.

Carrie Newcomer has a warm, relaxed, and smooth voice.  What truly impressed me about Carrie is the authenticity of her voice.  She’s putting herself out there, not at all trying to sound like anyone other than herself.

Carrie’s also an inspirational songwriter. Carrie also gave a writer’s workshop the afternoon of the concert.  I wish that I had the forethought to have gone to that.  Her concert and music definitely inspired me to do more songwriting of my own.

The subjects of her songs are about every day joys and challenges we all face.  Her music is very natural, flows beautifully, and is easy to relate to.  At the concert I bought her album titled The Gathering of Spirits.  The track I’ll Go Too is my favorite.

I had the opportunity to speak to Carrie after the concert.  What an approachable and genuine person.  I look forward to listening to and collecting all of her c.d.’s.

If you’re looking for a refreshing sound and a new artist, I recommend Carrie Newcomer.  Check out her website at to listen to some of her music, find lyrics and choral arrangements of some of her songs, and to see her travel and workshop schedule.