I honestly believe that everyone can sing and speak well, we just need to know how.
I’ve been teaching private voice lessons to children and adults since 2008, and I think it’s the best job in the world. I love listening to people, one at a time, and helping them find the strongest, truest version of themselves. You don’t have to be “accomplished” or “full of potential” to be my student, we just have to hit it off: you be you, and I’ll be me (equal parts science, silliness, and metaphor), and together we’ll work to let your voice can sound the best it can.
Progress is possible because muscles change as they are used.
If you’ve ever tried an exercise program, even for a short period of time, you already know that muscles change as they are used. This is true for the voice, too.
Most common vocal problems – singing out of tune, running out of breath, struggling with high notes, struggling with low notes, talking yourself hoarse, forgetting the words, losing focus – come from having too much tension in some muscles and not enough activation in others. The good news is that this is correctable. If you have a sense of adventure, if you’re willing to experiment with new ways of being, progress – and real change – is always possible.
That being said, you will always be you. Your bones are your bones. The width of your neck, the shape of your skull, the height of your cheekbones, the size of your mouth – all these things affect what your voice sounds like to other people. All these things help you sound like “you.”
For years, I wanted to sound like Bonnie Raitt, and you know, I never will. Not for lack of trying, mind you, but for the simple reason that I’m not Bonnie Raitt, I’m me. A voice is produced by one unique physical body. Not a one will ever sound exactly like another. Your voice really is yours, and the world needs to hear it – the strongest and freest, most beautiful and versatile voice you can muster.
Oscar Wilde, right about so many things, was right about this, too:
Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.
If it sounds like we’re a good fit, please introduce yourself!
My fifth grade teacher told me to “mouth the words.”
Music was always on in our house, and I loved it. When I was four, I used the bottoms of candlesticks as cymbals to accompany the 1812 Overture. I sang along all the time to my little Fisher Price record player and Free to Be You and Me. When I was six or seven, my parents took me to a symphony concert and asked if I wanted to play any of the instruments I saw. “That one!” I pointed straight at the violins. I started lessons the summer before third grade.
Part of fifth grade general education was learning all of the patriotic songs, so we sang in class a lot. When it came time for the big year-end assembly, though, my teacher asked me to mouth the words. I had no idea I had been singing badly all year long. No one had said anything. I don’t know how to describe that particular combination of shame and confusion, except to say, you know it if you’ve felt it. In my life I’ve met way too many people who have felt it.
I didn’t try to sing in school again. I sang at home, with the radio, with friends from Girl Scouts, Christmas caroling… the kind of singing that could be excused as “goofing off.” No harm, no foul. Not singing “for real.”
In my freshman year of college (B.A., Russian, CU Boulder), a graduate student overheard me saying that I played the violin and she asked, “You read music?” “Yes.” “I sing in a community chorus that’s a lot of fun, and we desperately need altos.” “I’m not really a singer.” “You don’t need to be a singer to be an alto, you just need to be able to read music.”
Actually, you do need to be a singer to be an alto, but her point was that altos rarely get the melody, and the harmonies can be hard to hear. Being able to read music really helps keep the group on track. I went to the rehearsal. No one made me sing by myself and at the end, they asked me to come back. Singing alto felt a lot like playing second violin, which I loved. I got to be in the middle of all that sound, and I felt useful. I started thinking I might be a singer after all.
Fast forward a few more years. I changed cities and went to a new chorus. The conductor had me sing along while he played scales on the piano. After I sailed up to a really high note he said, “So, why do you think you’re an alto?” “Because I can read music?” I replied. I don’t remember whether he laughed, but he said. “You’re a soprano. Let’s put you with the seconds, and you go find a voice teacher. You’re not an alto. You need training.” The year was 1994.
I’m telling you all of this so that you’ll understand why I say progress is possible.
I was afraid I wasn’t good enough. I was even told I wasn’t good enough.
I started “late.”
And here I am, more than twenty years later, a professional singer and a successful teacher. My fifth grade teacher would be very surprised!
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I completed my Orff Schulwerk Certification at the San Francisco School and from 2004-2015, I directed Children’s Music Programs and helped lead worship at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley. In 2009, I started the Community Living Center Chorus at the San Francisco VA Medical Center – we are still going strong! If you’d like to learn to sing in harmony, check out the Berkeley Sing-in-Harmony Meetup Group. Complete beginners are completely welcome.
I really enjoy making music with other people, especially Muse Crossing, and I spend a lot of time doing that in addition to teaching. I love playing fiddle music for dancing and singing in Scottish Gaelic. I could be much better at both. My children are teenagers and amaze me daily. When I’m bereft or confused, I bake. I was born in Idaho and I still miss that sky.