Clearing The Cobwebs

This post is a preview from my upcoming book:S.I.N.G. A 4-Step Process For Finding Your Voice


This is your wake-up call.

You need to make a decision right now. You’ve come this far. You’ve committed to getting this deep into the program. You’ve done more than most people ever will. You’d be amazed how many millions of books are bought each year as trophies to sit on a shelf, never to be opened.

You stand at a crossroads. When you start the next chapter, you’ll be singing every day. It won’t be a lot at the start, just a few minutes here and there, but you may feel very uncomfortable for a while. You are starting the journey to literally rewiring your brain in a number of ways.

First there is a part of your self-image that references your ability to sing. We’ve already talked about how you probably consider yourself a “non-singer” or just someone who “can’t sing very well” or “doesn’t sing”.

Exercise: Take out a piece of paper - a journal, a napkin, something! - and answer the following questions: “Am I a singer? Can I sing? Do I sing?”

Be completely honest, it’s okay to write “I’m not a singer, I can’t sing, I don’t sing.” You may feel some or all of those things right now. The following chapters will allow you the chance to retrain the part of your brain that says those things and open up some new options.

Now look at your answers and reflect: “Says who?”

Who is that voice that tells you singing just isn’t for you? Is it you? Is it a parent? A sibling? An old teacher? A childhood friend? Who told you you can never sing, you should never sing?

Once you’ve decided who says you can’t sing (even if it’s you!) there’s another question to ask: “What qualifications do they have?”

I’ve worked with thousands of singers for over a decade, including dozens who were what many would call “tone deaf”. I myself was a terrible singer all the way through high school, and if you heard me in those days you’d ask why someone would record a bunch of puppies being stepped on. I’ve worked with many vocal coaches and read countless books, studies, articles, and dissertations on the voice and singing. I’ve studied the CD and DVD singing programs and taken all I can from them. I have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars and countless hours in my musical education. I’ve led singing with four year olds and ninety four year olds. I’ve stood in front of crowds of over a thousand people folding their arms and looking at me with that “I can’t sing” face, and I’ve won them over and had them singing together in glorious harmony.

I don’t say this to brag, (okay, maybe a little) but to ask you if I’m more or less qualified to judge your singing potential than the person who decided you can’t sing.

Ask yourself what (if anything) they knew about the human voice. Are they really qualified as an expert to judge whether or not you can gain this skill with years of study and practice? Are they psychic?

Without even hearing you once, I can tell you without doubt that you can learn to sing. You are the result of millions of years of human evolution, and your brain, body, ear, and voice are absolutely incredible devices capable of more than you ever imagined. There’s a 90% chance you are a better singer now than I was in middle school, and in a few short years I learned to sing quite well. If you’re in the 10%, I guarantee I’ve had a private student worse off than you are. I’ve had students take years to learn to match pitch. But they learned.

More importantly, I learned from them. After working with each “non-singer” who came to me, the next one learned a little quicker. You, my friend, are benefitting from the struggles of these “tone deaf” strugglers who took a leap of faith and asked for help. What took them years and months will take you weeks and days because you will have a clearer path.

Thank the voice in your head for its honest opinion, and let it know that you asked someone a little more qualified, and he said it’s worth a shot.

Can you sing, do you sing, are you a singer? The answers may take a long time to change, but there is another question you can control the answer to.

This is the last question to answer before you turn the page and commit to S.I.N.G.

Exercise: Write your answer, make sure to date and sign it: “Will I sing?”

When you find the strength to write “I will sing”, you are ready to read on.

I am proud of you, let’s learn.

Record Yourself To Improve As A Musician


A recurring theme in my teaching is the concept of "leverage points".

Leverage points are actions that give you a big bang for your buck, a high return for the amount of energy you put into them, and there is usually a major reason why they work:

Most people don't do them.

I'll cover more leverage points in the coming weeks, today, I want to share how a really simple tool that you already possess can make you a much better musician almost immediately.

If you are reading this post, you are doing so on a computer or a smartphone, either of which likely has a built in microphone and camera. In an ideal world we'd have studio quality sound and HD video but let's bootstrap it and get started with what we have.

You're thinking "Record myself? I sound/look awful on tape, and I hate listening to it, this is stupid and it probably won't help at all"

Everyone thinks this.

That's why it's a leverage point.

When you pay for coaching or lessons, what you're really paying for is a body of knowledge attached to an objective set of ears/eyes. The sound you hear in your head when you sing, and the way you think you look when you conduct, and the way you think you sound while you're playing is not the way your audience perceives you. This is why a coach is so invaluable, they can see what you can't, and provide guidance in correctly glaring errors and improving performance.

The problem is that, for most artists, you have 1-2 hours a week of objective observing happening, and you aren't even in control of it!

Have you ever had a relative or a friend hear their own answering machine message, or a random video of themselves and say "I don't sound like that!"

You know that they really do sound like that.

So do you, when you listen to a recording of yourself.

I know it's painful, I know it's hard, I know you cringe and want to convince yourself it's not that useful to do anyway.

And that's why no one does it.

And that's why if you do, you'll have a huge advantage in your field and grow far quicker than you would otherwise.

Recordings allow you to freeze time, analyze deeply, listen objectively, and really hone in on your strengths and weaknesses. If you have a coach, you can look for the concepts you work on in lessons "Is my vowel shape correct? Am I breathing properly? How's my posture? Was that left-hand cue as clear as I thought it was? How's my eye contact? Am I really that breathy on my top notes? Why is my left hand half a second behind my right hand when playing chords?"

This sort of self-analysis is the key to sustained growth in music. Over time you will learn to get better at doing it without a recording, but if you want to shave a few years off the path, invest a few minutes a week in reviewing videos of yourself. This time pays off in so many ways, and as much as it will continue to hurt (I've been doing it for a decade and it doesn't get any easier) it will give you a huge advantage in music.

Now that doesn't mean you need to make these videos public, no one needs to see them except for you. However, one day you may have a really good performance and just happen to have captured it so you can put it out in the world, through your website, youtube page, resumé, or some other channel. Now when a big audition comes along, you can look back and boost your confidence by comparing how you used to perform to how you're doing now, and remind yourself of your most common errors. And you may get lucky and have a great recording you can use for promotion and applications for years to come.

Check out for several dozen videos of my conducting from many angles and many years and many different choirs. I can list 100 errors in each video (even the 2 minute ones) and watching every one has made me such a better conductor. I know that watching them after the concerts has also made each member of my choirs a better musician.

Facing objective feedback isn't easy, but if you have the bravery to take on the task, you can leverage your effort and accelerate your growth as a musician.

Why The Dedicated Always Win Out In The End

"I'm just not as talented as he is"

In the first weeks, months, and even years of competition between peers in any field, the advantage goes to the 'naturally gifted', the 'talented', the 'gifted'.

We've all seen it: the highschooler who gets every lead in the musicals, the young salesman that consistently outsells his coworkers, the kid on track team that no one can seem to keep pace with.

But what happens 10, or 5, or even 2 years down the road?

Let's take our imaginary "talented' youth, say they are a gifted dancer, and name them Billy.

And let's take another, shall we say "less gifted" (read: clumsy) dancer, named Zoey.

For at least the first few years of their dancing lives, Billy will consistently outperform Zoey, that's just the way things are, some people are better than others, and you need to accept there's always someone better than you.

But what does Billy learn about dance by being so good?

In many cases, Billy learns that dance is easy and requires no work or discipline.  While others in the studio must practice for hours to master a move, Billy practices for 5 minutes and nails it.  While other students need help from dance teachers and coaches, Billy thinks he's already got it all figured out and doesn't listen to the voices of experience.  Even when Billy is more amenable to instruction and hard work, he rarely learns to spend the kind of daily practice time most professional dancers do.  Billy started out as a 8/10 dancer, and after 3 years is still a solid 8/10.

Zoey on the other hand, sees that while she is not fantastic, when she practices (a lot) she gets better.  With proper encouragement and a supportive environment (good teachers and parents) she is rewarded for dedication and hard work, and has the intrinsic reward of getting better at something she loves.  She starts out as a 1/10 dancer, and every 6 months gets one level better through hard work and discipline.  3 years later, she is a 7/10 dancer.

Zoey is still not as good as Billy.

At this point a lot of Zoeys give up, and are encouraged to do so by well-meaning parents, friends and teachers that say "it's just not your thing, find a safe career".


This is the moment where, if the dedication continues, she will start to match Billy's ability, and soon OVERTAKE him.

Zoey CONSISTENTLY improves, and eventually that will ALWAYS win over "natural talent"

Now the topic of whether or not "natural talent" even exists is a whole other blog post, I personally don't believe in it, but even if you do, take solace in the fact that with hard work and dedication, you can surpass any "natural" at anything. What did you used to be terrible at?  What have you worked your butt off to improve on?  Share in the comments!