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Archive for the month “September, 2012”

How To Write Your First Song


There is no wrong way to write a song. This is simply a way to get you started. Songs will come differently every time you write one. Sometimes melody and lyrics come first, sometimes a title or theme idea. Also, these tips assume that you can play four or more chords on an instrument or in some kind of music editing program.

1)      Stick To Form

Most pop songs follow a certain form. Usually Verse 1, Chorus, Verse 2, Chorus, Bridge, Chorus. Verses are the parts that tell the story. The chorus is the part that repeats the same every time and usually has a catchy melody. The bridge is usually an instrumental solo of some kind and uses different chords or a different rhythmic pattern than any other place in the song.

2)      Choose Your Chord Progression

Chords and the order they go in cannot be copy written, only melody and lyrics can. For your first song it is okay to use the chords from one of your favorite songs. C, F, G, am, dm, em in any order sound great together. Keep it simple and play only four or five of them for each section of the song. Make sure you use the same progression every time that section repeats.

For example your song should go something like this:

Intro – C, G

Verse 1 – C, F, G, am

Chorus – C, G, F, G

Verse 2 – C, F, G, am

Chorus – C, G, F, G

Bridge – em, am, C, G

Chorus – C, G, F, G

Ending – G, C

3)      Come Up With A Short Title

Your title can come from anywhere; a newspaper story, book title, I especially love the poems of Shel Silverstein for inspiration. Try to limit it to one to four words. Your title will also give you the theme and topic for your song, Adele and Taylor Swift and great examples to study. Here are some random words from titles from the books on my shelf to get you started: Star Machine, Guilty, Teardrop Romance, Nobody, Penny Road.

4)       Write Your Lyrics

Using your title as a topic, write your lyrics sticking to your form. Here is an example using the poem “Nobody” by Shel Silverstein:

Verse 1

Nobody loves me, Nobody cares,

Nobody picks me peaches and pears.

Nobody offers me candy and Cokes,

Nobody listens and laughs at my jokes.



But yesterday night I got quite a scare,

I woke up and Nobody just wasn’t there.

I called out and reached out for Nobody’s hand,

In the darkness where Nobody usually stands.

Verse 2

Nobody helps when I get in a fight,

Nobody does all my homework at night.

Nobody misses me, Nobody cries,

Nobody thinks I’m a wonderful guy.


But yesterday night I got quite a scare,

I woke up and Nobody just wasn’t there.

I called out and reached out for Nobody’s hand,

In the darkness where Nobody usually stands.


Then I poked through the house, in each cranny and nook,

But I found somebody each place that I looked.

I searched till I’m tired, and now with the dawn,

There’s no doubt about it- Nobody’s gone!


But yesterday night I got quite a scare,

I woke up and Nobody just wasn’t there.

I called out and reached out for Nobody’s hand,

In the darkness where Nobody usually stands.

5)      Come Up With A Riff

Pop music writers like to include a riff or hook in the song. It is a pattern of three to six notes that is memorable and repeats throughout the song.

6)      Keep Rewriting

Like any other form of art it takes lots of reworking and layers upon layers to make a masterpiece. So keep writing and reworking your song as needed. It will get easier every time you write a song, so keep doing it!


Learning to Practice Takes Daily Practice – 6 Tips to Help You Get Going


As a private lesson music teacher, the most common question I get asked is how to get new students to practice. If you are the parent of a young student, you will have to set practice expectations and times for your child. Rarely will they practice on their own. Just like school homework, practice time must have rewards when completed and punishments if not completed. If you use the tips below, your child should be successful and after 4-5 months they will usually practice on their own. If you are an older student, these tips will help to give your practice time structure and focus.

1)      Find Time Every Day

Because learning a new instrument, a new dance move, or memorizing a monologue is kinetic, it is imperative that you work your muscles daily. It is better to do a small amount of rehearsal every day then do long rehearsal periods once or twice a week. If you are learning to play an instrument you have to learn to control your minute muscles, and are often learning how to read music which is like learning a foreign language. Both these skills require daily repetition.

2)      Set a Time Limit

Set a timer for about 5 minutes longer than you think you can do. If you are a beginner or the student is very young, 15 minute practice sessions every day is successful. As you progress and your interest grows, keep extending your practice time by 5 minutes. An intermediate student should easily practice 30 minutes to an hour every day, advanced students can practice anywhere from one hour to six hours a day. I find it successful for young students especially to practice 10 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the evening.

3)      Set a Goal

Especially for young or beginning students, it is important to set goals. For example, play the song five times, each time at different tempos. Find the hardest parts and repeat them 9 times. Ask your teacher what you should be working on, if they are not already giving you homework.

A)     Work Your Technique

Half of your practice should be making sure your muscles are doing the proper technique. For example in ballet class making sure your hip to toe position is correct and then repeating the movement so it becomes part of your subconscious. If you are learning to read music, do music flash cards or other music theory worksheets so the note names and rhythms come easily to you. As a singer, I like to record myself either with a voice recorder or by video so I can really hear what I am doing and watch my posture and chin to make sure I am in the optimal position to create the best sounds. My voice students who practice by listening back to our lessons, then use a voice recorder for their personal practice time, progress twice as fast as those who do not. They are able to hear themselves as others hear them, experiment with different sounds, and guide themselves to their desired sound.  Sometimes watching yourself back on video will reveal small tics or habits that you were not aware of. Once you are aware of undesirable habits, then you will be able to modify them until all that is left is good technique.

B)      Work Your Memory

The other half of practice is memorizing repertoire to perform. Personally I’ve found that I must practice a musical phrase or dance routine about 9 times before my muscles can really start to memorize it. If I am learning a dance routine or blocking for an acting scene, I find it is helpful to review a video so that I do not add anything or skip anything. Once the routine is in your body incorrectly it is twice as hard to fix it, so do take your time making sure it is correct before you go about memorizing it. If you cannot get a video, make sure to write down the routine or blocking right after you first learn it. I will write tips about how to memorize in another post.

4)      Do NOT Restart From the Beginning Every Time You Make a Mistake

It is a waste of time and energy to go back to the beginning every time a mistake is made. It only reinforces the part the student already knows well, since they continue to repeat it, and it causes anxiety that at any mistake all their hard work will be destroyed. I like to tell my students that practicing is like eating a meal; we don’t shove the entire plate of food in our mouth but take bite sized portions. Some of the food will go down easy, but other bites may take extra chewing. Meaning, break your task into smaller manageable tasks and then focus on the hardest parts of those smaller tasks. For example, if you are learning a 10 page song, do not try to play it all in one practice session. Instead play just the first page. After your first run through, go back for the hardest measures and play them until you feel you have mastered them, then repeat for the next page and so on.

5)      Record Your Work On a Practice Log

For young learners and beginning students, seeing their goals and progress on a chart can be very encouraging and can keep them motivated. Also over the years, a practice log will help you to remember how you started and to truly gauge how far you’ve come.

6)      Give Yourself a Reward

For young students getting a small treat or privilege after every practice session will help keep them motivated. Try putting the treat or reward near the practice area so the student can see it and know it is coming. As they get better at practicing for longer periods I usually make the rewards bigger, like a larger toy or special outing, but less frequent. For older students, treat yourself accordingly. I can’t tell you the number of times I have used a cup of frozen yogurt to motivate myself to memorize a song, or a trip to Disneyland to get myself through a six month rehearsal process for a show. Knowing a prize is waiting at the end of all my hard work helps me to keep going, especially when I don’t feel like it.

Learning to practice daily takes practice. For children, the discipline of learning to do a task they may not always feel like doing will help prepare them for adulthood and the amount of work it takes to be successful. Practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes habits. Practice the habits you want to have until they become part of you.

6 Tips to Find a Good Performing Arts Private Instructor, Class, or School

So you finally decided to take music, dance, or acting lessons, but where to go? How do you find a good program and a good teacher? Here are six tips to help you find the right teacher for you.

1)      Know what you want and what you can afford.

Take a look at your budget and your schedule. Are you looking for a once a week activity or every night? Do you want to do solo performances or group performances? How much can you afford to spend? How far are you willing to drive? Deciding these things will help you to narrow your choices down to something you can live with.

2)      Do Some Research.

There are a plethora of websites that give reviews. Check out the local studios on Yelp, Google, and Angie’s List. Also check professional membership groups like National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) or other similar groups for your discipline. Every year Backstage does an edition listing the best teachers and schools as voted by readers in NYC and LA. But remember like everything else in life, you may not agree with all the opinions presented on the web, however they will give you a feel for the studio. Also check out class fees to get an idea of the going rate in your area. For example at the time of this post in Covina, CA half hour music lessons range from $20-$30. In Hollywood, CA they range from $40-$60. The local community college is also a great place to get quality classes for cheap and they take all ages. My husband took fine art classes at the local community college when he was in 4th grade after his school day was over. During high school I took music classes in the evening at the local community college. At the community college dance class I took a few years ago, we have a bunch of retirees. They are usually offered at all times of day and are a great place to start your training. Also check out what your city offers. Many have a large selection of music, dance, acting, and art classes. They are a good place to start, but if you are a more advanced student one on one classes are the way to grow.

3)      What do they offer and what is required.

Most studios offer 2-4 recitals or showcases a year. Most charge an extra fee for recital or performance participation. Some provide your book or learning packet, most do not. Do they offer scholarships? If so, what kinds of commitments are involved? Most places that offer scholarships require the families to do many volunteer hours. Some places will allow videos and photos of the performances and rehearsals, but many hire professionals and sell photos and DVDs of the performances as a fundraiser. If it is an on-camera acting class, do you get a copy of the footage? If it is a dance class, do you have to provide a uniform and specific dance shoes? For many dance studios you must purchase specially designed costumes for every dance number your child is in, so take this in to account. Do you pay weekly or monthly, and are they willing to work out a payment plan if you need it? Find out as much as possible about all the “hidden fees” involved in your activity.

4)      Meet with the teacher before you pay any money.

Most good schools will offer a meet and greet, free introductory lesson, or free class observation to make sure you are a good fit with their program. At that session you can ask all your questions, talk to other students and their parents, and get a feel for the teacher’s style. They might have a very reputable program and successful students, but if the teacher rubs you the wrong way for any reason then you have not lost any money or made a commitment you do not want to keep. On the other hand, if you are hesitant and the teacher is awesome, then you will be excited to start classes.

5)      How to tell a good teacher.

Make sure their training and accomplishments and in line with what you want to achieve. If you want to be an opera singer, don’t learn voice from someone who doesn’t sing. If you are getting ready to audition for a certain school or scholarship program, find a teacher who has either attended that school, is one of the people for whom you will be auditioning, or has many students who have auditioned for that school. Make sure the teacher you want is the person who teaches the class. Sometimes teacher’s assistants or other professionals teach 50% or more of the time. You are paying for this teacher’s time, so make sure you are getting your money’s worth. Often I have to remind my students that private lessons should be tailored to the student and that they should speak up about what they want to learn. Make sure the teacher gives you good personal attention and is available to answer questions or give advice during class time, via e-mail, or open office hours. Another thing to consider is how well-connected the teacher is to the industry you want to get in to. Do they offer special classes with industry professionals? Do they have the inside scoop on various auditions, competitions, performances? What professional memberships are they part of? Lastly, make sure your personalities and teaching/learning styles are compatible. If they are not compatible, don’t worry, just keep looking for a teacher you like. You will know it when you find the right teacher for you.

6)      Don’t stay too long or too short with one teacher.

When you are first developing your technique, it is important to stay with one teacher. As an opera singer it is imperative to stay with one teacher somewhere 3-5 years. I think the same can be said of dancers or other types of performing that are very muscularly technical. Getting too many different methods and techniques from different teachers can be more harmful than helpful when you are first starting out. However, once you have a solid technique in place, definitely check out other teachers so you can gain new and clearer perspective on your craft, make more contacts, and gain different performance opportunities. I would never go to more than one teacher at a time for the same skill, but different teachers for different skills at the same time is great. For example, the crossover effect of acting classes on how a performer sings can be remarkable. Similarly you do not want to stay with one teacher for too long and get stagnant. Sometimes it is hard to stop working with someone you love, but you have to keep growing and a good teacher will understand. My motto as a teacher is “my job is to make myself obsolete.” After three years, my students should know what I am going to correct in their performance before I have to say anything. Hence why finding someone you admire and enjoy learning from is important, a good student will become like their master.

I am proud that you are looking to better yourself and your craft by learning from a master teacher. There will be lots of bumps on the road to becoming a performing artist, but keep learning, keep playing, keep creating. You are worth being the best you can be, and the world needs your skills as an artist!

10 Steps to Becoming Famous

English: Justin Bieber at the Sentul Internati...

English: Justin Bieber at the Sentul International Convention Center in West Java, Indonesia. Português: Justin Bieber no Sentul International Convention Center, Indonésia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are really two kinds of fame: 1) people who are famous for honing their abilities and talents and 2) those people who are famous for their “personalities.” These are 10 steps to help you achieve the first kind of fame.

1)      Know Your Craft

Take lessons, classes, perform at open mic nights, talent shows, school events, community theater, etc. Know the history, the greats, see every production you can. Remember it takes about 10 years to master a skill and as the adage goes, you do not want to jump into the water with sharks if you can’t swim. If you start trying to do things beyond your skill level, you are setting yourself up for failure or to be taken advantage of. Always keep learning new aspects to your craft. Professional performers practice and rehearse 6-8 hours a day. You must love your craft enough to spend every free moment with it, and you may have to give up other activities to be truly great. I do not always have fun practicing, but I love performing and I am dedicated to it. Music, dancing, acting are muscles that you have to work out daily. I set daily practice sessions with a timer and make myself practice whether I feel like it or not. Sometimes it is only 10 minutes, sometimes it is hours, but I practice every day. In another post I will discuss what to look for in a good teacher, a good class, or a good school.

2)      Find a Mentor

This could be a teacher, coach, manager, anyone who has done what you want to do and can help you avoid common mistakes and pitfalls. Sometimes this person will magically fall into your life, but more than likely you will have to go find them. Again, more on the details of finding a good mentor in a later post.

3)      Research Everything

Before paying a lot of money for any class, photos, demo CD, or any product, do research online and see what other people say about it. If it is a scam you will know. Remember managers and agents take max 15% of what you make on a gig they book you. You should never pay them up front. is a good place to start for all kinds of informative articles and audition listings for newbies. There are also a ton of books on various topics teaching how to do it yourself. I like the “Dummies”series of how-to books, they get right to the point.

4)      Compare Yourself Only To Yourself

Each performer is on a different journey as an artist, by comparing yourself to others you will only damage yourself and your process. Learn from your mistakes so you do not repeat the same ones over and over, and keep learning your craft. Use other performers as inspiration, not a measuring stick.

5)      Know Your Type

Being aware of how others perceive you will help you. This is LA after all and a media driven era, if you are a small petite blonde woman and trying to record gangsta thug music you may not get far. Mangers and agents want to represent total packages. Casting/Booking Agents want to cast a package. Do you have to look like a model? No. But don’t go to auditions for models and then be disappointed when you don’t make it. Be honest with yourself about your looks and your talent level. Audition and perform in things that are appropriate for your level. You will get better, and one day be able to create and choose bigger and better projects. An acting teacher I had once said, embrace the things about yourself you hate (crooked teeth, cellulite) and use them as an asset instead of a drawback. Also character actors have long successful careers, while pretty people generally lose work as their looks fade. On the converse, if there is something that you hate about yourself (crooked teeth, cellulite), then you may need to start working out and get braces. It is your decision, not something you have to live with. You chose how you look and what you wear. Moreover, you do not always have to play to your type, there are petite blondes creating gangsta rap successfully. When you are aware of how you are perceived, then you can use it to your advantage to reach your goals.

6)      Be Prepared For Failure

In LA a successful booking rate is 1 out of 10 auditions. As a performer you will be rejected all the time. You have to learn not to take it personally. Usually it has 40% to do with things you can control and 60%  to do with a million other things you cannot control. As a person who regularly sits on the other side of the table at auditions, I cannot tell you the number of times we cannot cast the most talented performer there because they are too tall, short, young, old to play against other cast members, the wrong size for the costumes that were already built, or have a crazy stage mother or reputation that production staff does not want to have to deal with. Also I have been cut from an audition, only to get a call from the same people a few years later who booked me for a job. Just because you are not selected this time, doesn’t mean they won’t remember you in the future. When in doubt, go back to working on your craft.

7)      Decide What Success and Fame Means To You

The world will tell you money equals success and fame, but I have found this not to be true. To me success is completing a goal, fulfilling a dream, and making the world a better place. You have to decide as a performer how you will measure success. Will it be the number of performances you do, the art you create, or the lives you touch? That is for you to decide. Also remember there is no age limit on success. You are never too old or too young to start. You and you alone decide your destiny. Heed naysayers warnings, but don’t let them stop you.

8)      Set Monthly/Yearly/10 Year Goals

This has helped me stay on track and achieve my goals more than anything else. I heard a great story about Michael Jackson setting goals. When he was recording “Thriller” he would write with a dry erase marker on his mirror every morning, “I will record the #1 album of all time.” It was no accident that he did. According to “Life Medicine, Wisdom for Extraordinary Living” by Nancy Spence, Ph.D., you should write down monthly, yearly, and 10 year goals in each of the following categories and refer to them often:

a)      Personal Life (Health, Hobbies, Love Life)

b)      Emotional Growth (Controlling and dealing healthfully with your temper, anger, sadness, etc.)

c)       Professional/Educational (Schooling, Lessons, etc.)

d)      Social/Public Service (Travel, Volunteer Work, etc.)

e)      Spiritual (Dealing with death, God, your purpose for being here at this time and place)

f)       Financial/Material (How you deal with money)

Yes, you need to think about all these categories to achieve your goals. They will help keep you balanced and happy. What use is all the money and fame in the world, if you have no family or friends to share it with?  You may not meet all your goals on time or they may change. That is okay, but you must have goals! “Don’t waste your time or time will waste you.”

9)      Deal Wisely With Finances and People

I have heard story after story of people making it big, winning the lottery, and ending up in double the amount of debt. Learn how to budget, invest, save, and spend. You will have seasons of plenty and seasons of want, and you will not be successful forever. When the money comes rolling in, make sure you put some away for a rainy day. Read all of your contracts. If you don’t understand them find a lawyer to help you. Never sign anything you don’t fully understand. Treat people fairly and kindly. There are a million stories of that lowly assistant you were rude to becoming the big boss. Make it a rule to NOT gossip, ever. The performer’s world is small and it will come back to hurt you. On the flip side, if you are great to work with, word gets around fast and everyone will want to hire you. Your reputation is your talent AND your attitude and work ethic.

10)   Get An Online Presence
Put your art out there. Get videos of your band or your acting on YouTube. Start a Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Linked In account for your art, not for your personal stuff. Promote your performances to your fans. Post pictures, audio, whatever you have. If Justin Bieber can be discovered on YouTube, why not you?

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