Q&A: Collaboration

Dear Lis,

My 15 year old daughter is a talented singer/songwriter but I feel her songs need to be stronger.  She’s tried writing with a kid from school but she felt he wasn’t as knowledgeable as she is and that he was stubborn about using his own ideas. How can we find someone to write with her.


Dear Kim,

It’s hard to find a collaborator because you want someone who is just like you. But of course you aren’t going to find that. You will find someone who has different ideas and probably cares a lot about them. So you butt heads. But that’s part of what collaborating is. She should write with many different writers and try to be open and flexible with them. It’s their creation as well as hers and they want the song to reflect their ideas just like she does. Collaboration will help her stretch beyond what comes naturally to her and explore new territory. Here is a link to a list of songwriting organizations across the country where you can seek out possible writing partners: The Muse’s Muse – http://www.musesmuse.com/gensong.html.

Q&A: Singer’s Block

Dear Lis,

I’m stuck. I sound the same every time I sing my songs; my shows are the same. I’m losing the feeling. How do I break out of my funk?


Dear Wayne,

We all go through periods of time when we get bored with our own ideas – tired of singing the same things over and over. What was once inspiring gets dull and lifeless. You can turn this into a very productive period for you. Now’s the time to break out of old ruts and try new paths. The problem is, you have to take risks; you have to be willing to make mistakes. Here are some ideas. Take a song you’ve been singing for a while and radically change the tempo. Don’t worry if the tempo makes any sense or not; just try to come up with ways to sing it at the new tempo. If it was a ballad and now it’s fast, you won’t be able to sustain notes as long and might have to use a lighter, more flexible melody. If you are slowing it down to a ballad, you may want to cut out some of the rhythmic figures and make it smoother, more legato. Also try changing keys. Play it two whole steps higher. You won’t be able to sing the melody the same way and you’ll have to change the notes. Try new runs; break up old patterns. Sing lower when it gets too high.

The same is true for your songwriting. Try writing in a key you normally wouldn’t use. Challenge yourself with a project like writing the verse in the minor key and the chorus in the major. Listen to other people’s songs and use them for inspiration – for instance if there’s a chord structure you like, try using it with a new melody over the top. Experiment with using images, colors or numbers in your lyrics. Let this be a time to reinvent yourself.

Q&A: Married To The Band

Dear Lis,

Last night at our gig the bass player was really sloppy in his rhythm playing. I don’t think he practices enough. Is it time to look for a new one?


Dear Alice,

There are, of course, good players and bad players. But even good ones have their flaws. Anyone you work with for a long period of time will have traits that annoy you. Maybe they don’t read charts, or they talk too much in rehearsal or they refuse to work with a click track. Maybe they are too aggressive onstage or too shy. You could respond to these problems by saying ‘fire him; get a new one’. But the next one will have their problems too. So instead, think about ways to work on the issues; have a band meeting and talk things through. It’s a bit like a marriage – you have to learn to communicate. Keeping a band together is hard work but it pays big dividends.

Q&A: Fear Of Scales

Dear Lis,

I hate doing scales. Why can’t I just sing songs?


Dear Lis,

Exercises don’t do me any good. I want improve my range and strength singing songs not exercises.


Dear Lis,

Every teacher I go to wants me to do those ‘la-la-las’. What’s the point?


Dear Alec, Justin, Rebecca and all of the others who’ve asked the same thing,

You don’t play football to get ready for a football game. You do drills that focus on the abilities you will need for the game: coordination, agility, speed and strength to name a few. If you want to improve your singing, you need to isolate your particular problems. When you sing a song, you’re thinking about many things at once: lyrics, melody and emotion. How can you also think about tension, breathing or tone? The exercises help your body learn how to hit the high note, how to release the tension and many other skills that you need. Then when you sing a song the muscles that you’ve trained in the scales will operate well without you thinking about them.

Q&A: Building Bridges

Dear Lis,

My registers don’t connect very well. There’s a big break when I pop over from one to the other. What can I do to smooth out the connection between the two.


Dear Greg,

Here is an exercise called the waterfall.

For women

For men

Starting in your upper register, called head voice, sing the vowel ‘oo’, as in ‘too’, and slide down across your break into your lower voice, called chest voice. Try to make it slow and even, keeping the volume the same all the way down. At first you might feel the break. As you work on it, it will start to smooth out, especially if you go slowly over the range where you’re going to be switching voices. Try to fill in the notes that you might be jumping over. Then try reversing it, going from the bottom of your range in chest voice and crossing into your head voice. Don’t try to push your chest voice as high as you can. The goal is to make the transition into your head voice smooth. That will mean getting a little lighter as you go higher.

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