Fear and Singing: Yes, you look silly.


November 19, 2013

If your reading habits are like mine and tend toward skimming, let me give you the goods to this post right off the top so that I’m certain you’ll walk away with some useful info: In singing, the shape of your mouth influences the quality of your sound.

Basic, right? Look, I never said my teaching was earth shattering, but I might be so bold as to say that if you really take this idea to heart, it can be transformative in your singing, no matter where you are in the game.

Let’s explore it right now. I’d like for you to sing on any pitch a very simple “ee” vowel. Go ahead and give it a try.

Oh, what, you don’t want to because you feel silly? Take inventory of that feeling because we’re going to talk about it more in a minute.

C’mon! “eeeeeeee”

Now, while you’re sustaining this sound slowly change the shape of your lips to an “oo” vowel as though you are sucking on a straw, still keeping your teeth and tongue in the shape they were when you began singing “ee.”

What do you notice? Did you hear a shift from a brighter sound to a darker sound? Was nasality introduced? There is no right or wrong answer to this, I just want you to think through what you heard.

I’m not with you right now, but I’m going to assume that you heard some change in the sound you were making. I might also suggest that if you spent some time doing this exercise, examining the quality of the “ee,” you might arrive at a sound that you liked the best. You can file this under things only singers think about. “What is my best “ee”?”

Quick side note: Vowels are the meat to our sandwich – or tofu if you’re a vegetarian. Good singing is often associated with extended vowel sounds as we navigate our way from word to word. Vowels are where we truly #SING where consonants are where we shift and transition. Does that make sense?

With that in mind, what implication might this little experiment have for your singing as a whole? I’m being serious. If you dig in, could there be a best mouth shape for “ah?” “oh?” etc.? Umm, yea. In fact, I would bet many of the singers you like the best know their best “ah,” “oh,” and “oo” and you know what else? They ain’t afraid to put their mouth in the shape required to make it… but many of us are.

Remember earlier when I called you out on feeling silly? Can we dig into that for just a second? If you’re like many of the singers I’ve worked with, you’re probably most concerned in that moment about how you look. I can’t tell you the number of times in voice lessons, I suggest a singer consider a mouth shape that may improve their sound only to have them move in that direction minimally, at best - followed shortly thereafter by a self-conscious giggle. I then demonstrate and encourage. Sometimes I implore! Often uncovering similar results.

Smells like fear, right? And you know what, I get it. None of us want to look foolish, but I have some news that is going to be both disappointing and freeing.

You do, in fact look silly. Yes, you look silly.

Gah! I knoowwwww. Time to quit voice lessons. *drops microphone*

Not so fast. You’re not the only one! If opening your mouth and going for it looks silly, we all look silly. In fact, it’s not just you and me, but our favorite singers (the ones who know their best “oo” and “ah”) look silly, too.

I put a call out on Facebook for people to share their favorite vocalists. Below are some of the singers they named and some visual examples I grabbed from YouTube. I’d like for you to take a look at the image and imagine what the sound is like. Then, if you’ve got the time, click the image to go to the video and watch. See what you hear.

Tim said: Jeff Buckley

Katie B. said: Erykah Badu

Mario said: Carlos Gardel

Katie W. said: Mika

Carol said: Linda Rondstadt

Lisa said: Emma Kirkby

Do you need more? Here’s yours truly at his wonkiest.

Extreme, right? Big mouth shapes. Some silly, silly expressions. But what do you think of the sound? I mean overall, these people are your favorites (Ok, ok, me excluded.) and they sound pretty good!

So, the question remains: In those moments, where those singers were going for it the most, do you think they were afraid of looking silly? Let, me answer that for you. NO! 

Dude. It’s risky. Singing is risky. But, with great risk comes… you know the rest. In this case, the specific risk might be opening your mouth without the fear of how it looks and noticing the results. Having trouble doing so? Channel your inner Jeff Buckley. Channel Ms. Badu! Close your eyes, and imagine yourself as Mika! What do you hear?

The reward? Maybe, just maybe, and only after a few tries, you’ll find a better sound than the one you started with. That’s what we all want, right?

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Announcement: We’re Hiring!


November 16, 2013

Davin Youngs Voice Inc. seeks an outstanding voice associate to teach private singing lessons, vocal coachings and workshops.

Davin Youngs Voice Inc. advances vocal success through transformational learning experiences. For professionals and amateurs alike, we offer premium quality voice lessons, coachings, and workshops in an encouraging and meaningful environment. We foster success through fearless learning and hard work while building community through inclusion and sharing. With firm foundations in classical voice technique, our pedagogy is based in a thorough understanding of the way the body works, emphasizing awareness through feeling and listening. We believe that these principles make for successful singing across genres, encouraging stylistic diversity and flexible musicianship. Oh, we think singing is fun and feels good, too!

Do those things resonate with you? Sweet! Let’s chat if…

- You are passionate about learning and teaching.
You’ve studied voice performance and pedagogy, preferably to the master’s level and beyond.
You’ve taught in a private studio setting, a minimum of two years.
You’re a great singer with a proven track record (performance experience, recordings etc.)
You play the piano to a level that will support student learning.
You’re not limited to one style of singing (We like opera, but we also like pop, r&b, folk, gospel, rock etc.)
You get it. Voice lessons aren’t just about singing.

To begin the conversation, submit recorded singing examples and any relevant online presence (YouTube, Soundcloud, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc.) as well as your resume/CV and references to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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DYV Students: Student Spotlight Interview No. 2


November 11, 2013


You all, Sheba is super cool and I can’t wait to introduce her to you. She has a unique story and voice and her own music to match. Be on the lookout for her in the future, but lets get to know her a bit more now….

Davin: Hey, Sheba! Tell us a bit about where you’re from, what you do with your days etc.??

Sheba: Hello! I was born in Zambia and grew up in the Chicago-land area. My days are mostly spent writing and working on music as well as traveling and working for H&M Corporate. 

Davin: Nice! Hence your fly style.  Tell us a bit about what brought you to voice lessons?

Sheba: What brought me to voice lessons was my desire to take my voice to the next level. I felt like I was under-singing and I wanted to be the best version of myself vocally.

Davin: Has there been anything about your lessons so far that you’ve found surprising?

Sheba: I was surprised at how quickly you were able to discover my vocal issues as well as bring out the voice that was hidden in me. Especially after years of voice lessons as a kid and in college. You knew exactly where I was and where I could be. This was everything to me.

Davin: Much of that is your hard work! So what are you plans with your music? Where do you hope this goes?

Sheba: I hope to eventually put out my first EP, take over the indie music scene and be able to perform full time

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Fear and Singing: What are we all afraid of?


November 10, 2013


Friends, I have a hunch that I want to share with you, yet I’m aware of one danger in sharing. It is a broad and sweeping generalization. Generally, those sort of things should be avoided on the Internet. But, If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to turn this into a bit of series that begins with a sweeping idea and narrows in on the specifics as they may impact you.

So, you ready for it?

Many of our least successful singing moments can be traced to one overarching issue: WE ARE AFRAID.

Oooooo. Let that sit for a minute.

What do you think? Sweeping, right?

Recently I taught a master class for seven super talented students. Every one of them sang well. Very well in fact, but as performing goes, I could see and hear that each was experiencing some level of nervousness or fear. As I observed this playing out in their songs, it occurred to me that it might be valuable for each to share with the group how that fear was physically manifesting itself. I recall hearing things like “my knees are shaking” and “my hands are tingling.” I also recall the audience giggling because they could both imagine and relate to that which each singer was sharing.

We can all relate, right? Think about the last time you were scared. What did your body do that seemed out of your control? Weird stuff. Dry throat, heart racing, tight shoulders, knees shaking, short breath, nausea, the list could go on and on.

Now, let’s imagine that you don’t know a single thing about “good singing technique.” Let’s also imagine that I was the type of person to make sweeping generalizations on the Internet and I was going to tell you two things we need for vocal success. Here’s what I might say:

1. We need to be able to breath well
2. We need to be able to use that breath to make sound by engaging and committing our whole body

Now, assuming this is still all you know about “good singing technique” you may think “Umm, that sounds easy.” And you know what, you’re right. It is. Except, we get scared! Not just scared when we perform, sometimes we are afraid when we’re by ourselves, or with our voice teacher, or? And remember what happens to our body when we’re afraid? (knees? sweat? shaking!) 

Lalala uh oh!

Do you see where I’m headed with this?

If you’re like me, you’d be tempted to problem solve by digging in right away to the “Why are we afraid?” piece. I’d like for us to resist that urge and begin without trying to figure our fear out, but rather, naming our fear. The reason for this is a simple quote that keeps resonating with me from a book called “The Inner Game of Music.

“Trying fails, awareness cures.”

Ever get scared, and try to not be scared, only to get more scared? Yea, me too. That’s why, I’d love for us to begin by looking through the awareness lens with the help of some fellow students.

A few months ago, I posed this question to our Facebook community and received and overwhelming response. The question? “With regards to singing, what are you afraid of?” Here are some of the answers:

Stephanie: “I fear that my voice will crack and that I wont be able to recover from it.”

Brett: “I’m always afraid that the tone of my voice is bad, and that I can’t trust my ears.”

Michael: “When I’m in costume, makeup and in front of the lights, I have no fear. I trust the director has cast me for a reason, and I’m always on stage having fun. With that said, singing at an open mic, master class and sometimes auditions scares the crap out me. I fear being judged in those more intimate venues and need to get out of my head that singing in these venues is not coming across as self indulgent. Its funny you pose this question, because I no longer fear the tone quality of my voice, the intonation or even vocal range.”

Peter: “I’m generally afraid I look funny. Every time I try and really go for it, I catch a glimpse of myself in my head and can’t help but kind of laugh.”

Melissa: “My fear stems from an insane inferiority complex and this constant idea that I’m not as good as everyone else trying to do this (not tonally or range wise, but just the quality of my voice), and I’m afraid that people will think “wait what? Why is this mediocre girl singing right now?” Also anything related to chest voice and the perception that I’m just shouting.”

Iva: “I have the same problem as Michael, I have the stupid idea that everyone will judge me… plus I judge myself and think I am not good enough. Also, I am afraid that I am going to run out of the breath.”

Cody: “I’m actually not afraid of being off pitch before I start a song. The thing that puts me in my head is my perception of the color of my voice. I imagine (and still do) that it has weak, reedy quality to it that must grate when I go into my upper registers. That fear then leads me to pull back on notes, which then gets me off pitch, which starts me worrying about being on pitch, which shuts down my whole shebang. So ya, fear is a huge part of it.”

Sheba: “Cracking!! Before I hit the stage my voice goes dry because of nerves.”

Tiffany: “I’m terrified of singing in front of others, period! I’m always thinking I’m going to mess up either by being off beat, off key, forgetting the words etc. The worst part is that I can see myself mentally doing a great job… but when I am in front of others that confidence flies out the window and in my mind every body is laughing or criticizing me. Despite all of this I am DETERMINED to do a solo at some point in life. It’s one of my bucket list items.”

Do any of these resonate with you? They do with me. Also, do you notice that many of these are not about performance, but rather about just singing? Like, opening their mouth and making a sound? Hmmm.

So, Let’s sit in this awareness space for a while ok. In fact, let’s specifically not fix anything, but rather, let’s keep a journal with two columns:

In singing, I’m afraid of…                         
Running out of breath 
Looking silly 

When I feel afraid, my…     
Throat gets dry
Palms get sweaty
Knees shake

Feel free to leave your own fears and symptoms in the comments below. (Group singing therapy?) Once we’ve spent time naming our fears, we’ll use future posts to dig in a bit more to the “Why?”

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DYV Students: Student Spotlight Interview No. 1


November 4, 2013


For the past year, I’ve been posting student spotlight interviews on Facebook. The truth of the matter is, nearly every day I meet some awesome people who happen to sing. They have great stories to tell and I think it can be super valuable in the learning process to share our stories with others who are pursuing something similar or even very different. I’d like to give these interviews life in a different forum, so I will posting them here as well.

Sometimes I meet students who I would label perpetual learners, and the truth of the matter is… I’m a bit jealous! Some people seem to be committed to consistently putting themselves in the way of learning and I can’t help but think this is what we should all strive for.

Melissa is absolutely a perpetual learner. Just listen to all the cool stuff she has done and is doing. Oh, and she has made huge strides in singing! Read more below…

Davin: Helllloooo, Melissa! Tell us a bit about yourself - where you’re from, what you do during the day/night etc.?

Melissa: Heyyyyyy Davin! I never know where to start when I talk about myself! Let’s see…I’m 28 and my life has been kind of nuts so far. I’m from Michigan originally, came to Chicago to study international relations, political science and photography at Loyola in 2003, graduated in 2007 and joined the Peace Corps. They sent me to Panama where I ended up kind of hanging out until 2010…during that time I met a Panamanian guy, married him, and then managed to persuade him to move back to Chicago with me, which brings me to now! I work for Rosetta Stone (the language company) which requires me to work three overnights a week, but it’s from home so I can fill in the rest of the forty hours whenever I have time. What else…I’m in the second year of my linguistics MA at Northeastern Illinois University where I’m a graduate assistant and tutor for the department. I’m also currently in rehearsals for a musical that will go up in November and when I’m not doing all that I’m either in dance class or voice lessons. God, I’m tired just recapping all this. Sleep is not high on my list of priorities.

Davin: So, why voice lessons? What brought you to study singing?

Melissa: At first I told myself I was going to start taking voice lessons for the same reason I started taking acting classes - to get me out of my house and prevent me from being a hermit since I work from home. That said, I was totally lying to myself. If I’m being semi-truthful, it’s because I missed being involved in music, since it was a big part of my life in high school. If I’m being totally truthful, it’s because I love singing and am a 28 year old who has never totally relinquished her pipe dream of being on Broadway someday, despite being really late to the game with that realization and subsequent action to try and make it a reality…better late than never! I can’t say it’s a total bust though…I recently just kind of decided to start auditioning for things and now I find myself cast in a musical, which is one musical more than I’ve been in in the last ten years, so it’s progress!

Davin: Has there been anything about lessons you’ve found surprising or impactful?

Melissa: Oh my God, lessons manage to surprise me every week! The first surprise was that I am a soprano, and that came on day one! The next surprise, two minutes later, was figuring out what exactly that meant and how high I can actually sing. A lot of the surprises come from my own conquering of hurtles that I construct for myself…coming into these lessons, I had preconceived notions about my voice and how much (or little) talent I thought myself to have. Those have fallen by the wayside now, and it’s crazy how every week I manage to sound a little bit better, even if I don’t realize during the actual lesson and even if I spend most lessons telling you how horrible I sound to myself! The slow-building self-confidence and the realization that maybe, with a ton more hard work and focus on technique, I can actually be good, not mediocre, is the most surprising and impactful of all.

Davin: Do you have any words of wisdom for someone else interested in embarking on a similar singing journey?

Melissa: My words of wisdom to anyone thinking about starting voice lessons would be ‘brace yourself!’ People might think that taking voice lessons is all about going to a studio and doing nothing but singing scales for 45 minutes straight, but it’s not. It’s so much harder than that and so much more than that, and that’s why it’s amazing. When someone walks through the door of the studio they have to be brave enough to shut their inner critic up, and just listen to you and do what you’re saying. Sometimes that means not intellectualizing every single detail like I am 100% prone to do, and sometimes it means being willing to feel weird or silly in order to get the best results. Taking voice lessons and dedicating yourself to it means having really awesome days where you can’t believe you made that sound and you feel like you should have won a Tony for that song you just sung; it also means having really rough days where you feel like you’ve taken a million steps back and you want to go home, curl up, and die. Brace yourself for those too and remember that those bad days are few and far between compared to the good ones. Most importantly, stick with it…if you listen to Davin, you practice like you’re supposed to, and you open your mouth and don’t blow off vowel shapes, you’re going to end up sounding the best you possibly can!

Davin: Thanks, Melissa! I’m proud of all the progress you’re making.

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Singing & Performance: You were born to sing.


October 29, 2013


You were born to sing.

No, seriously, your body is set up to do this.

Do it right now. I dare you.

Sing a note.

You’re all “But I’m at work!”

Do. It.
It doesn’t have to be loud, just sing a little something…

You did it didn’t you? And, it felt good, right?
Imagine if you did it loud. That would feel super good, wouldn’t it?

See, that’s what I mean. You were born to do this!

That probably sparks one of two reactions in you.
The first: “I know!”
The second: “I’m a terrible singer.”

If your reaction is the former, do me a favor and keep reading. You’re more evolved than the rest of us, but I think there is something in this for you, too.

If your reaction is the latter, well, let’s talk this through a minute.

I’m not saying you were born to be Whitney, in fact, I’m specifically saying you’re not Whitney. But,  even though you’re not, you were still born to sing and that distinction is an important one to make. “Why?” you ask? Well, giving yourself permission to not be Ms. Houston might just free you up to find more success with that instrument you’ve been carrying around with you for your whole life.

Let me explain.

One day I was in a voice lesson with a new student who had a secret propensity for phonating loudly at home, alone, with no one around, ever. She loved singing and referred to herself as “obsessed” in an email she sent me. In light of this obsession, she decided that she needed someone (me?) to tell her if she “should.” On our initial pass through some warm ups, I found myself practically begging her to open her mouth. She seemed to offer only space for what I imagined to be a whisper and the sound pretty much matched. It was in tune (from what I could hear.) Eventually, I stopped and said, “You know you’re not opening your mouth, right?”

Her response gave me a both a chuckle and an “Aha!”

She said, “I’m not opening my mouth because I don’t want you to think that I think I can sing.”

Funny, right?

The thing is, I get it.  Maybe you do too?

She wasn’t able to open her mouth and sing because well, she wasn’t Whitney Houston. Not only was she not Whitney, but also she was terrified I would find out that she was just herself. (Remember this later on: I already knew.)

A few weeks later, The Chicago Marathon setup shop a few blocks away from my house, and everyone else’s in Chicago because it is stinkin’ long!  I made my way near the finish line to catch a glimpse of the elite runners as they completed their race a couple or few hours faster than most of the actual human beings running. When I saw these super human running machines whiz by at mile 26, it got me thinking… I was born to run. In fact, assuming we’ve all been fortunate enough to be born with our pieces in somewhat working order, we are all born to run. Not only that, but running feels good, too! I mean, I don’t do a lot of it, but it’s kind of common knowledge that running makes you feel high… serotonin and stuff. Also, a lot of people do it. Some people are really bad, and they do it. Others are really really bad and they train for marathons. Remind you of anything?

Fast forward to me on my sofa, watching the 10pm news, which was of course all about the marathon. After spending some time profiling the Whitney Houstons, I mean, elite runners, they cut to a gentleman named Maickel Melamed who was actually just finishing the race. He had Muscular Dystrophy and had taken something like 16 hours to complete the epic distance. His face as he crossed the finish line was something spectacular.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that Maickel wasn’t concerned with keeping up with the elite runners. Actually, it seems he wasn’t concerned with any of the runners, but rather, using his legs to complete the marathon. When asked “Why?” Maickel actually said, “Because I can do it! That’s the point. If you can do something, you discover you can do it, and then you have to do it.”

Are you catching me here?

Now before you call fowl on my comparisons, let me say I know that running and singing are not the same. Singing is an intensely vulnerable act (and let’s save performance for another conversation, ok?) while running seems more… fundamental. But, I think the principle can be applied to me, or to you, or to that student who didn’t want me to think she thought she could sing?

Much of our success in becoming better singers depends upon our willingness to be present and aware of our body and our voice. Deep, right?

The bottom line is being present in that way (it requires little to no judgment in case you were wondering) is scary, even for you Mr. “I know!” But when we’re able to turn off that voice that says, “OMG, I sound bad!” and just stand tall, breath deeply, open our mouth, and do it because we can… we may hear something that we weren’t hearing before. Maybe it’s a bit flat? Anemic? Resembles an alley cat? Or, something that sounds a little better than we imagined it would? What if we tried it again? I’m betting on it being better than the first time.

You know what the best part is? It’s all you. It ain’t Whitney. It never will be. (Don’t worry; we all already know this about you just like I knew it about my student.) And when you get over it not being Whitney, you may just uncover the mental and physical freedom you need to be a better you. The “born to sing” you.

Now, I should probably buy some new sneakers.

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