Muscle Specificity, Exercise Science, and Jazz

“Specificity refers to the concept that strength training must be designed
to appropriately target the specific muscle or muscle group with the intended skill or task.”
(pg. 246, The Vocal Athlete, 2014)

On the heels of presenting at the Jazz Educators Network conference in New Orleans two weeks ago, I’d like to share some ideas about using jazz to train voices.

My presentation was called “Functional Voice Training Through Jazz Literature and Style,” and it outlined the benefits of using jazz rep and style as a training modality for commercial (or contemporary) singers.

Think: jazz lit and style as tools in the pedagogy toolbox.

In the 11+ plus years I taught university level jazz voice lessons, it (eventually) became obvious that jazz was good for voices.  I could use it to get a barely functioning voice to work like a charm, and even if a student wasn’t swimming in musical talent, a semester or two of jazz voice lessons could help him/her get control of pitch, range, harmonic awareness, rhythm, and basic levels of phrasing.  Jazz helped vocal function based issues.

Jazz is replete with opportunities for teaching, at least in my opinion.  And I don’t think we’ve even begun to plumb its depths as a vocal training tool.

So, let’s begin, shall we?

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Where Does Greatness Come From?

“The great arises out of small things that are honored and cared for.  Everybody’s life really consists of small things.  Greatness is a mental abstraction and a favorite fantasy of the ego.  The paradox is that the foundation for greatness is honoring the small things of the present moment instead of pursuing the idea of greatness.”

-Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth, p. 266

Anyone who has suffered deeply and come out on the other side knows where their power lies – in the right here, right now.  Greatness isn’t something to achieve, it is lived in small moments stacked one on top of the other.

I like to think of this in terms of practicing or learning new skills – or even healing.

We can’t bypass the process of growth, so why not take delight in each moment of the journey?

What would happen if we walked into the practice room with a sense that this moment was just as great as being on the stage?  Different, but just as great.

These are questions that keep me up at night.


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Life Experiment – Weight Lifting

Today marks 4 months into a weight training program I never imagined I’d do.  But, in order to change the body, you have to change your habits.  This is what I tell my voice clients everyday.

But you can’t preach what you don’t know.  Well, you can, but then you just sound hollow and boring after awhile.  There’s no #truthjuice behind words without experience to back them.

I’ve witness several clients go through a fundamental shift in vocal function after approximately one year of doing organized voice exercises.  Something in their bodies aligns in a new way, and they seem to have a new ground zero set point.  In order to truly know what that feels like, I have to go through that process myself – at least that’s what seems logical.

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Do You Trust That You Sound Good?

Years ago, I was teaching jazz voice lessons to a recently crowned Miss Tennessee.  It was for reals, she was actually a Miss Tennessee.

She was beautiful, confident, incredibly kind, and sang like a bird.  On top of those awesome things, she also taught me one of the biggest lessons in my teaching career.

If you don’t trust that you sound fundamentally okay,
you are never going to be able to let go and enjoy singing.

We were in a lesson, and she was singing her jazz piece.  Well.  She was singing it really well.  She also had a weird look of consternation on her face.  So I asked her, “do you trust that you sound good?”  Because I heard a skilled instrument!  The pitch was there, her voice went easily to every note, she had the words memorized, all the “technical elements” were aces.  But she was preoccupied, and it seemed like she was singing and evaluating simultaneously.

And she stopped.  She paused.  She took a minute to think about it, and then said, “no.  I don’t trust that I sound good.”

This absolutely blew my mind!  And it taught me that no matter how “good” you are, it’s possible to be focused on the wrong thing.

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Does it Get Results?

Tom Blaylock often asks the question, “does it get results?”

He has this lil’ gem of a thought provoker posted in 1001 point font on his studio wall in reference to vocal exercises.  Do your vocal exercises get you the results you need?

I think this is a correct question to be asking.  It requires a singer to dig a little deeper than just mindlessly doing a vocal routine from day to day, or picking and choosing random vocaleses depending on their mood.

It also allows for many answers!  There are any number of ways to get the result you want, so don’t box yourself in to just one way of thinking.  On anything, really.  (Voice is a reflection of the cosmos, remember.)

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