When this young man called me, and asked if I would work with someone who was hearing impaired, I thought "Well, why not?" If what I knew was true about pitch issues, and, like Arthur Joseph taught me, "singing has more to do with the brain and muscle memory than hearing," and "less than 2% of the population is 'tone deaf'", then why can't I teach this guy to sing?
So, we set forth on an amazing vocal journey. This young man who loved to sing, but had to use a hearing aid and read lips to get by in the dance industry came to me with a whole new set of challenges most people would never imagine. If I played a note on the piano or sang a pitch, he thought he had no idea what the note was, no concept of where it was or how to reproduce it! Ben was one of my best teachers. He was consistent, determined and hard working. He even got an acting agent while he was studying with me and landed a national commercial played during American Idol! He wasn't going to let anyone tell him that just because he couldn't hear, he couldn't sing. Like everyone, he loved how singing made him feel. But you can imagine how scary it would be to sing and think, "Okay, I already have hearing issues. What if I sound horrible? How will I ever really know?"
On top of that, I eventually discovered that we had to take out his hearing aids, (which I didn't even think he had at first) because the frequencies were interfering with the correct notes. Ben had to learn first to TRUST that he could do it. KNOW how it felt when it was open and free and LOVE his voice. He had to believe in himself, and that didn't happen overnight. He stayed committed and focused on what he wanted.
During his first lesson/assessment I could tell he had a very nice tone, but wow, his notes were all over the place! He had no control and his breathing was choppy and his sound was forced. There was a lot of tension in his neck, jaw, tongue and chest, resulting from a lot of negative inner dialogue and fears. So even when I got him to hit the right note, it had so much tension in it and little support, causing it to sound flat. We would get to build his voice, one step at a time. There was a lot of work to be done - and I told him this! I told him it wouldn't be easy, and I couldn't guarantee him anything... but one thing I knew, was that he had a sweet tone (you might agree by the end of this) and I could hear it. f it were not for that single factor, I don't think I would have encouraged him. I knew he had potential. I had no idea how long it would take him to tap into it from an empowered space. It all depended on how much he trusted and how much of his time and energy he was going to put into integrating what I taught him outside of the lesson.
COMMON MISTAKES SINGERS MAKE WHEN THEY GET A VOCAL COACH
Sometimes students will go to a vocal coach and think, "I sounded horrible. I know I sounded horrible. Why didn't that vocal coach tell me? Don't they get it? Why did we only work on drills? They didn't fix what I was doing wrong!"
If the coach is legitimate, then the student should be aware that they will not only hear the problem at hand, but be able to immediately diagnose it and give it the right kind of drill. Your voice is made up of air and muscle, and if it doesn't balance properly, you can have all sorts of problems - and that's only looking at 1/3 of your instrument. You might think, "I'm singing the wrong notes!" But your pitch problem might be caused from putting too much air through your folds or tension in your body. Or it could be from singing from the wrong side of your brain! The teacher might give you a drill to address the cause, and you think they missed the problem, but really they are addressing it - just not how you thought they would. Coaches don't always have time to explain every detail, particularly if you put them on a deadline and say, "I have to audition next week." But instead of assuming the coach does or doesn't know what they're doing, it's always best to ask them. I wouldn't assume anything! There's nothing wrong with trusting, doing the drill and then asking afterwards, "Can you help me understand why I did that drill and how to apply it?
You will learn more about your voice and how to address it in the future by asking this simple question. I try to make it clear to my students what we're doing, but I'm also glad when they trusted, like Ben did. We got more accomplished, and at the end of the lesson, I gave him all the feedback and areas to practice that he needed.
LISTEN TO BEN AFTER A FEW MONTHS:
Okay, so he's not perfect yet. There is no quick fix, but remember - he can't hear himself. What a huge risk this was for him to even think about recording! If you don't know this Rent
song, "Living in America," it just might sound like someone yelling at you on certain pitches and really trying to hit the notes. If you do know this song, you might appreciate the fact that I'm not playing the melody and he's still somehow within the key of the song. After doing some of my integrative C.O.R.E. Vocal Power
drills, he learned how to feel the key of a song. He's still shooting in the dark on many levels here, but believe it or not, a few weeks after this, he improved considerably and auditioned for the part of Snoopy in a local "Charlie Brown" production and he made the first two cuts down to him and one other guy!
Well... the other guy got it - but I have to admit, I was very proud!
BEN'S SECRET FORMULA
Aside from his A) Drive and B) Self-Compassion (which takes time for all of us to develop), another thing I really appreciated about Ben, was that he trusted and just stuck with it, no matter how discouraging it was at times for him. I had to think outside the box and be very creative with my approach to his unique gift. Breath support, rhythm, pitch, range, learning to get the vocal folds to unzip and thin out through the bridge had to be taught in a whole new way suited to him, because he couldn't really hear me. I had to teach him to FEEL and TRUST his instrument; not a bad thing for all singers to do! I also had to "tap in" to the right side of his brain and show him how to do the same to eliminate that Negative Inner Dialogue, or like I say, "get rid of the N.I.D.!" The confidence to do this was really the biggest issue. It always boils down to confidence, which means Self Empowerment, and working with Ben actually helped me create a great formula for confidence that is found in my C.O.R.E. Vocal Power™ Series.
LISTEN TO BEN AFTER SEVERAL MONTHS:
Once again, this isn't perfect, but shows much more confidence and now... do you see what I mean about how sweet his tone is? Who would have ever thought it would be possible? And who's to say if this fellow, who initially, did not even have the ability to sing the correct note on the piano when I played it over and over, could end up singing like this? If he can do it, then what makes you think you can't?
I'm so grateful to Ben for everything he taught me as a teacher, singer and human being. This dedicated, powerful Spirit showed me that empowered singing is so much more than just hitting all of the right notes. He had to feel empowerd to sing. Ben gave me priceless lessons that actually took my teaching and his voice to the next level! I know I will never stop learning from my students. After earning all those degrees in school, (which was worth the six years of study, but certainly just a beginning for me) I came to find that it is the interaction and experience with another human soul that gives us the greatest growth in life!
THANK YOU BEN, for your example! Yes, Ben is living proof that ANYONE who sets their Mind and Soul to it, CAN EMPOWER THEIR VOICE and learn how to take it to the next level!
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