What Do I Do With My Hands When I Sing?

This is the number one question from singers who have trained hard and now want to “show their wares” in a club or cabaret setting. “What do I do with my hands?!”

“Leave ’em attached to your arms,” I say.

Amateur singers use their hands for emphasis. As if pitch, poetry and dynamics just aren’t enough in the presentation of a song, newbie singers often find themselves waving their hands all over the place to make it look like something good is going on.

Which doesn’t look that way at all… It looks awkward and performative (read that as “insincere.”)

So, put your hands down. Both of ’em. Leave ’em down. If you absolutely have to move your hands, then move one hand at a time, but keep that ramblin’ hand below your waist.

And now that your hands are tied, let’s get back to what your real focus needs to be in order to nail a song. It’s not going to be the beauty of your voice or the dimple in your cheek that engages your audience. It’s the thought that counts.

Every song begins with a thought. That thought starts on the downbeat of the intro – not when the lyric begins. The arrival of a thought and the arrival of music are simultaneous. An intro is a musical thought percolating in the mind of the singer. The intro plays, the thought develops, pressure builds and finally that singer bursts into song. In a musical, that thought might have been spoken out loud in the prior scene or perhaps the character is now putting all the thoughts together in real time. To drive the energy of a pop song – one with not as much context – we definitely need to create some powerful arguments in our head in order to have a dialogue or “back and forth” with our audience. That’s how we keep them engaged, not by throwing our hands or walking around the stage, but by having an open, direct conversation with the crowd. Share your thoughts with the audience and they’ll pay attention. Pose, prance, gesticulate… they’ll check out until someone else comes along who can keep them engaged.

How Long (And How Often) Should I Practice My Singing?

What does it take to get a singing voice in shape? How do I know when I’m in shape and how do I stay in shape?

You always want to start with a good vocal warm-up – one that emphasizes the vowels we typically sing (A, E, Aw/Ah, O) and one that works chromatically (half-step at a time) through the vocal register. I do wonder why people do that “motorboat” (er, “lip trill”) thing as a warm-up. I’ve never heard a song that required it, so I avoid it. A decent vocal warm-up should take about five to ten minutes and if you consider yourself a singer, then you should do that daily.

As for going through your repertoire, after your vocal warm-up, you should run your five, multi-purpose audition songs all the way through. Don’t just do 16 or 32 bars, get some stamina and stretch in there. Stand and sing, but if the only place you can sing is in your car in traffic, then so be it. Make sure the songs represent you as a positive person, a winner. Singing a ballad about what a loser you are may be cathartic, but you’d also be putting a fluffy raincloud over your head at your audition. Honestly, if I’m a producer with $20 million to put into a new Broadway musical, I would not be inclined to hire a group of performers who consider themselves losers or unlucky at everything they do. Find something positive to sing about.

At this point, including the warm-up, we’re at about 20-25 minutes of singing. This would be the baseline for maintenance (and you can now tack on your fun, sobby torch songs). If you do this seven days a week, great! You will grow stronger and always be in relatively good shape. You probably really enjoy singing, too. If you do this for three days a week or fewer, you won’t really grow, you’ll pretty much stay in the same arena, and, like most things, you get out of it what you put in.

Does this mean that you need to start singing an hour or two every day? No, don’t do that — yet. Build the habit slowly, adding one or two songs a week (a month, whatever), so that if you start at 20 minutes a day, the next week will be 25 minutes and so on. For three years, I sang in my bathroom every day. At the end of those three years, I was singing for two hours straight. I don’t expect everybody to do that, but, once I get started, I really do like singing.

My most recent gig lasted for a few years where I sang standards and showtunes for three hours a night in a high-end restaurant, Thursday through Saturday. It was a ton of singing, but I was able to do it because over thirty-five years, I had built a foundation for a strong voice, constantly relied on solid vocal technique and maintained a fairly consistent practice.

What Singers Don’t Understand About The Female High Belt

Disclaimer: Do not attempt to do this on your own. You could hurt yourself. A healthy, safe belt requires an experienced coach, so if you need help, you can text me, call me or zoom me.

It’s technique over talent. Simplicity over complexity. Proper musical tension wins over a non-descript “mix.”

I don’t advocate a mix for female singers until they are fully and safely able to belt F3 to Ab5 (utilizing true vocal cords) and sing in their legit (false vocal cords) from Db4 to Eb6.

It’s a simple question: if you don’t have equal strength in both voices (legit and belt), why would you try to mix them?

Nothing like listening to a singer belt their way through a number only to bail out on the last note with some wacky mix that sounds nothing like the exciting voice they were using for the first three and a half minutes. You’ve seen it and heard it plenty of times.

Building a safe belt starts with pulling the corners of the mouth into a smile. In the early days of discovering it, it has to feel like an extreme, forced smile in order for the singer to feel musical tension for the exit of the sound. After all, your mouth is a sound hole, why keep it closed? The belter presses the jaw down (about two fingers worth), shows teeth on top and bottom, bites (into a big sandwich) and then simply “yells” over the molars.

“That a lot of tension!” you might say. And I would agree.

Then I would show you my acoustic guitar and ask what you think it would sound like if I “relaxed” one string and left the other five strings to their proper tuning (or tension). Would the guitar still be in tune? Is it even playable? Would the headstock, pegs, neck, wood and bridge all be working well together or would the whole instrument fail because of one relaxed, no-tension string?

The answer is; you could still “play” the guitar, but people would probably not enjoy it very much. Ask yourself why brass instruments are made of brass; drum heads are stretched over a drum; why we strike, pluck and pop an electric bass. It is musical tension that is required.

Interesting thing about that single “relaxed” guitar string; if you apply one finger to the lowest fret and then raise the pitch fret by fret, you are also increasing the tension on the string. The string gets tighter (or shorter) with each fret in order to hit a higher, faster vibration. In our singer’s mind, that’s what we’re also doing with the voice.

What many (too, too many) singers don’t understand about the high belt is that, with a proper (or “heroic”) amount of musical tension in the body, you barely feel it when you hit the high notes.

PLEASE do not try this at home. You could injure yourself or create bad habits that have to be unlearned. Learning to belt safely requires personal training. Acquiring a high belt is an athletic event and to get to the Olympics, you really do need a coach to give you constant, constructive feedback. So, please, if you want to work your belt, give me a call or send me an email. Do not try this on your own.

Remember, if it hurts when you sing, something is definitely wrong.

Removing The Doubt In Vocal Performance

When it comes to vocal performance, I guess we can put “doubt” and “fear” into the same wordsphere. Only problem is that doubt and fear are extremely personal; based on a performer’s lifetime of unique experiences. When I was 17, I sang “Yankee Doodle Dandy” in front of a halftime homecoming crowd. I was decked out in a sequined white tux with tails (thanks, Michelle!) and a stars and stripes top hat. Cheerleaders were in position down on the field – maybe they formed a star, I don’t remember that part very well, but I do remember that I sang and danced on that field. And my microphone was off. The whole time.

The microphone didn’t have an on/off switch, so there wasn’t much I could do about it. As I was performing what appeared to be a mime act, Donna, one of the celestial cheerleaders said, “Your mic’s not on.” And I said, “Yeah, I know” and kept dancing (box step, walk, walk, grapevine…).

When I quietly left the field with the cheerleaders, Scott the sound guy confirmed on the sidelines that, yup, my mic was off the whole time. The drama teacher, Mr. Ruehle, saw my reaction to that news and complimented me on my professionalism, mentioning how I just “shook it off.”

It was disappointing for sure, but I did shake it off. You see, just two years prior, at the gargantuan annual high school musicale extraordinaire held in the sold-out gymnasium, my mic was off for the entirety of my big solo debut at my new school. Now, that was horrifying.

Performing can be a very humbling experience and your willingness to surrender to mayhem is one of the keys to happiness.

So, as a vocal performer, what is in your control?

The Lyric.

You can’t do much about the mic, the mixer, the accompanist or the sound system, but you can know your lyrics inside out.

Here’s your checklist:

  1. Without singing it, how fast can you enunciate every word of the song in a monotone with no spaces/word stretches? Can you do it in under 30 seconds? Time it.
  2. How few breaths can you take in that 30 seconds? One? Two?
  3. Can you look at or read an article on your phone while saying your lyrics as quickly and as understandably as possible? Can you then tell us what the article was about?
  4. While facing in one direction, focus on one item in the room and tell the lyrics to that item, then change to north, south, east or west, focus on another singular item, repeat and continue.
  5. Be joyful in your practice.

“Kiss Them Now” – Nonbinary Love Ballad From Richard Klinger

Grief is a beast. Loss affects all of us at some time in our lives and the loss of a loved one can affect us for the entirety of our lives. Richard Klinger lost his wife Janis several years ago and has battled with grief ever since. Richard created the Jane Fonda workout series, once served as Assistant Attorney General in Montana, was Clive Davis’ West Coast Head of Business Affairs for Columbia Records, headed up a major music publishing house and was at the forefront of the home video revolution – but nothing prepared him for the continual agony of grief. Being an ardent researcher, Richard read books and articles on grief, attended grief groups and reached out to a variety of authors on the subject. His “The Art of Grieving” album was released last month. It is comfort music meant for all grievers. Below is the track “Kiss Them Now.”

Truuman’s “Time To Leave” EP Out Now

Congratulations to Truman Chester and his amazing producer Aidan on delivery of their EP Truuman’s “Time To Leave.” It is 18 minutes and 24 seconds of next-level production from two 20-year old song designers who produce every second of the music; constructing and deconstructing powerful hooks, thoughts, ideas and gluing it all together with an emotional force not often heard this early in an artist’s career. It is fearless and it is heartfelt. Give it a listen.

Performance 101: The Tri-Force Of Performing

Performing with a busy brain is exhausting. Performing with worry or anxiety is, really, not performing at all. What kind of performance can an artist give if they’re stressing out whether the microphone will cut out or a wardrobe malfunction is about to happen or a set piece is about to fall over?

Problem is, much of the aforementioned is out of your control anyway, so you have to trust the others who actually control those aspects to do their jobs. And they will because they are almost as exposed in their job as you are in yours.

What you CAN control is much more important and the reason for everybody gathering together in the first place.

You are in control of the energy.

What you deliver is energy. Focused energy.

A busy, unfocused mind in performance is a torturous thing to watch.

How do we unbusy the mind?

“Energy, Attention, Awareness”

That is our performance mantra and it is fundamental to our work.

If you’re nervous before a performance, join the club, but why focus on nerves when you have a job to do (that you love)?

Focus on Energy, Attention, Awareness.

Take time to figure out what each of these words means to you before and during your performance and utilize these fundamental ideas to unbusy your mind and clarify your focus.