Thursday, December 16, 2010

Make 'Em Work For It!!

Let's be honest- voice lessons can be expensive!! In this tough economic climate, it becomes an even larger sacrifice to spend money on vocal training. For that reason, if you are making the investment, the vocal instructor you choose should be worth your hard-earned dollars. There are waaaaaay too many charlatans out there who are, in essence, ripping you off!! They are not leading you into vocal freedom and are nothing more than vocal cheerleaders. You should be making your teacher really work for the pay. I want to share with you some things to consider in terms of teacher accountability.

First of all, let's be clear: If your vocal coach can't explain clearly and simply how the voice works, RUN IN THE OTHER DIRECTION!! A REAL teacher should be able to lead you into a working knowledge of your instrument. It is only when that happens that you will truly master your voice. He should be able to give you a purpose for any and every exercise that is given. I tell my students that if I don't give you the reason behind the vocalese, they can smack me. When the client is away from me, he will need to become self-sufficient and fend for himself on the road, in rehearsal, or in the studio. Knowing what exercises serve what purpose will keep you able to function on a daily basis. For too long, singers have been allowed to be the 'dumb' musicians, lagging behind their instrumentalist cohorts in knowing the nuts and bolts of their axe. A solid coach won't allow that.

Beware of voice teachers who throw around trite directions like "sing from the diaphragm" and "place the tone forward", for example. This is often a sign that they have no clue as to what is pedagogically sound. Famed vocal coach Seth Riggs warns against such teaching by result instead of by cause and effect. They should be able to give specific exercises to bring the voice into balance. Teaching voice is an artful science and a scientific art. The scientific knowledge must be there. If not. move on to another teacher.

A good voice teacher doesn't need to be the best singer you ever encounter, but if he can't sing, MOVE ON!!!! The coach should be able to demonstrate the concepts and exercises for their students. You should put the teacher on the spot. Ask her to sing through her passaggi or bridges. If she can't make easy transitions, she shouldn't be teaching you how to do it. The trainer should possess the technique that they claim to teach.

By the way, a degree in voice doesn't guarantee that the voice teacher is truly qualified to be training other singers. There are a number of wonderful teachers may have degrees in music education, musical theater, or speech pathology. Also, don't be overly concerned with the piano skills of the coach. They need to able to play the exercises and chords, for sure. But their principal job isn't to be the accompanist. The main focus should be on your watching and listening to you as you vocalize and then move into song work.

Set the bar high, folks. Don't throw your money away. Do your homework. Ask good questions. Audition the teacher. You will not regret the effort you put into the search when you find your voice growing into the instrument you've dreamed of having.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010


The last 3 weeks have been a period of great upheaval for me. After almost 15 months of living in Long Beach, CA I had to make a very difficult decision. Because of huge financial hardship- and after much prayer- I concluded that I needed to move back to my native Gary, IN. Two weeks ago, I arrived back in my home town. I am happy to be back with my parents and siblings. But it is not easy to be back here after becoming so connected to my new home in California.

It was in Long Beach that I returned to performing and reclaimed my identity as an artist. I began recording my CD. I co-founded Urban Rhythm, a community show choir, with my roommate and trusted friend Eric Leocadio from the Catalyst Network of Communities. I connected with some phenomenal people who believe in my artistry and inspired me to blossom. I had the opportunity to participate in conversations to build bridges between the LGBT Christian community and the church at large. I lost close 40 pounds- that is huge for me!! Though I had some significant challenges out there, the time there was amazing...and I wouldn't trade it for anything!!

Honestly, I have been on an emotional rollercoaster during this time. I realize that I am ,in fact, mourning a death of sorts. The passing of certain hopes and goals. I feel stuck between two worlds- my old home and the new. It is draining. But I believe that I am back here in Gary for a divine purpose. God is preparing me for the next chapter of my story so my return is not about defeat. It doesn't mean the transition is easy. It is scary- I won't lie!! But I am moving ahead. "Never say die- keep, keep on...", sing the Sounds of Blackness on their hit song "Optimistic", and that's my motto.

So now I am re-establishing my teaching studio here in Northwest Indiana and hopefully get back into seeing clients in Chicagoland as well. I am prepping to hit the stage very soon. The dream has not died- it has just changed addresses!! Work in progress.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Salute

When I was 16 years old, my church hired a new organist. I was shocked to see a fellow 16 year old take his place at the Hammond B3. His name was Philip Gordon Freeman. On that Thursday night choir rehearsal, I didn't realize what a musical powerhouse I was encountering. But it wouldn't be long before I would see how profoundly gifted and annointed he was. In our senior year of high school, he helped form a new young adult choir at Koinonia Missionary Baptist Church. The Voices of Inspiration would become a powerhouse group despite its small size. Philip would pull us out of our shells and unleash the strong voices that were inside. At a time when I was still insecure about my singing, he helped me discover just how big my sound could be. The singer I am today was definitely largely shaped by those years singing under PGF's direction. I grew so much vocally as well as a director and overall musician. But I also loved how this young man had such a serious commitment to the Lord and music ministry. He didn't just want us to sing to sound good, but to think about what we were ministering!!

Philip could be quiet and reserved, but was also hilarious and could act a fool!!! That big ol' smile could light up a room!! We knew how to work hard but also had a great time. The Voices of Inspiration was a real family, with Phil as its young father. Those years were so great for me with him and the group. He would eventually become Director of Music, garnering respect from those much older than himself because of his discipline and vision.

On Wednesday, September 15, 2010, Philip G. Freeman passed away in Gary, IN. He was 41 years old. Four months older than me. He is the second friend of my same age to die in just over a month. Though I am glad that he is at rest, my heart still aches knowing that we'll never get to sing or laugh together again on this side. I will always treasure his friendship, teaching, and loving spirit.

Philip Gordon Freeman 2/12/1969-9/15/2010 RIP. I love ya, man!!!



I know I've been bad about posting over here. I will remedy that this week. I have updates coming shortly.

Here's the link to my new Reverbnation page. It's a great platform for artists and their fans. . Check it out and join my mailing list, too!!

I'm heading to bed. I'm still recovering from the week from hell!! Laterz!!


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Here's my link to my listing on

Vocal Training

Vocal Training

Earl Harville is a vocal trainer in Long Beach, California. He brings 12 years of experience to teaching singers of all ages. He taught music in public and private schools from grades pre-K through...

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I'll be posting a blog to bring you up to date on the past few months in the life of Earl 4.1!! C Ya soon!!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

I'm back!!

Hello, good people!! It's been a solid month since my last post, but I'm back!!

March was a really active month for me. I performed every weekend of the month, which I didn't see coming. The Catalyst Brunch kicked things off, followed by the 2nd Saturday Art Show. Then the first two weekends that featured live performances at the East Village Farmers' Market found me playing again. It's been great getting back into performance mode. I had been away for far too long!!

I have also been at work recording my CD. I'm working with local producer Ron Faber here in Long Beach. We've cut basic tracks for 7 or 8 of my songs so far. After we have 10 to 12 tunes done, we'll head to Northridge to record vocals. The chemistry between us is good. I come from a strong R&B/gospel/pop background while Ron is from the hip-hop side. I think we challenge each other, which is a plus creatively. To date, all the songs have been my solo compositions, but he brought in an instrumental track that I'll be writing too as well. I'm also looking to re-write lyrics to some tunes written a while back with my songwriting partner back in Gary. Additionally, I am helping Ron with tracks that he's working on for other artists, bringing a more musical feel to some of his hip-hop material. It's been a lot of fun thus far!!

My brother just got married and is having the big reception in late May. I'll be heading back to Chicagoland for that event. I'm writing a song for the bride and groom, which they seem excited about. No pressure....LOL!! The music is done- now to finish the lyrics. That tends to take longer for me than composing the music.

Another project is coming up that I'm pretty excited about as well. Harville Vocal Studio will be in partnership with Catalyst Community to create an urban show choir in Long Beach. We'll be looking for 24 singers of high school age from across the city and will be holding auditions in 6 locations starting in June. Our hope is to have a group that will have all the major sections of town represented. I will be the choir director and Catalyst founder (and my great friend and roomie) Eric Leocadio will be guiding us in putting together the business structure.

So you see, it's a rather interesting time for me. I promise not to be gone so long. Talk to you again soon.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Watch How You Talk!!

Let's clear up a few things, why don't we. The speaking and singing voices are not two separate instruments!! We do not possess two sets of true vocal folds with one controlling talking and the other singing. The vocal folds, or cords, function to form speech AND sung sounds. They are one!! Singing differs from speech in that pitches are created over a wider range of notes and tones are held out for a longer duration.

Because speaking and singing come form the same source, it is important to know how much influence they have on one another. Particularly, the way we speak can have a huge impact on the quality of our singing. It is quite common to find that a singer's issues with the a run-down voice come from their speech habits. We generally will do more talking than singing on a given day, so we must be careful to monitor how we handle speaking chores.

Here are some helpful hints for healthy daily vocal use:

- Don't speak on pitches too low for your voice. Men tend to be big offenders here, but women have the issue as well. This habit tires the voice out quickly. If you were to say "mm-hmm", you should get a sense for where you average spoken pitch should be.

- Breathe!!! Too many people actually hold their breath as they speak. This will fatigue the voice and cause excess tension in the larynx. Remember, it takes a steady stream of air to the vocal folds to create a healthy sound!

- Don't scream!! As a school teacher, I know first hand the tiring effects of this habit!! The cords will get slammed together and will likely swell as a result.

- Stay hydrated. The vocal fold shave to be well lubricated to function at their best. Dry cords can become irritated easily and are more susceptible to injury. Drink plenty of water during the course of the day.

If you are a professional speaker, you may find that vocal training will reap the great benefits for your voice even if you're not a singer. The techniques taught at Harville Vocal Studio serve to develop healthy vocal function, for singing or speaking.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

What a night!!!

WOW!!! Last night's show was incredible!!! OMG!!! I had such a great time. The energy was so beautiful. It was an art show presented at the Catalyst Space, a community center for the non profit Catalyst Community. This great organization is the brainchild of my roommate and great friend Eric Leocadio. The gathering was in conjunction with the 2nd Saturday Art Walk that happens every month here in Long Beach. Wonderful work was on display in addition to phenomenal performances from spoken word artist such as MsT Muze and HustleDiva. I was the featured musical artist for this first time event.

In my last blog entry, I told you that I had come down with a cold and mentioned what I was doing to stay vocally healthy. Well, it worked!! Saturday morning, I took a long hot shower to steam the cords before a lengthy warm-up. I then started running the songs for the show. I was pleased to see my voice working well. I ate lunch and then tried to get a bit more sleep. I took another hot shower and starting warming up again. I had to do soundcheck before I was done warming up so I was a little worried at my sound for a few minutes. But then I headed to the basement of the Catalyst Space and took my time doing a thorough vocalization until the instrument felt really free and flexible.

My set consisted of four of my original songs plus some songs from my major inspirations- Prince and Janet. I did "Thieves In the Temple" which was very well received. "Controversy" came at the end of the set and was cause for much dancing. It was sooo much fun!! I added "Kiss" as an encore. Good times!! A song that came out well but that almost didn't make it into the set list is Miss Jackson's "Come Back to Me". By Saturday morning, I had decided I would wait on this one. But right before the start of my second set, my gut said to perform it anyway. I'm glad I listened- it was a hit with the crowd!!! I also did an a cappella version of Lalah Hathaway's "Learning to Swim". I am very thankful for the positive response to my original songs. It has been a journey getting back to revealing my own work to people after years of feeling unworthy to have my own tunes be heard.

This gig led to some great networking. It seems I may be getting some new students out of it. A local writer/producer was present and was impressed with my writing and like my playing as well. He wants me to work with him on some music of his and wants to help get some of my stuff recorded as well. I am grateful for Eric getting me hooked up for my recent performances. He's damn near becoming my new agent!!!

I was exhausted by the end of the night. Being sick helped with that. I made sure I started to warm down after the show was over so that I would have voice left for the next day. A bunch of us involved went out to Roscoe's for dinner afterwards, so I talked alot when I probably should have started shutting up. But it was a celebration, you know?

Here's a clip from the performance:

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Cold.......EEEK!!

It's the day before only my third performance since arriving in Long Beach and what should I discover? I find that a cold is trying to sneak up on me. DRAT!!! Not a happy camper. At least I discovered it really early on. I don't actually have symptoms yet. The giveaway was how tired I was last night and upon rising this morning. I mean I was so drained! By this afternoon, I knew the horrible truth.

Well, what steps am I taking to be fully functional for the gig and beat the cold into submission? I'm glad you asked.

*Drink water.....drink water...drink water....drink water...drink water. Do you see where I'm going here? The body is trying to detox when we get colds so help out by flushing out your system with lots of H2O. Dryness in the throat comes with along this bug, and dry vocal folds are not what we want for good singing. We have to get plenty of water into bodies so that the cords- which are low on the body's priority list- get some needed lubrication.

*Herbal teas can be soothing to the throat area. Black tea has tanic acid in it which can actually dry out the throat, so bypass it. Throat Coat Tea is highly recommended. Remember- nothing you drink will touch the vocal folds themselves so they aren't magic elixirs!

*SLEEP!! The body needs to be rested in order to fight off the invaders. I took a couple of naps today to replenish my energy.

*Since the cords are not infected (laryngitis), I'm fine to sing. But a really thorough warm-up is a must!! Don't push the voice too soon. I vocalized for almost a half hour before I started to sing through my set list.

*Inhaling steam is a great way to get moisture to the vocal folds immediately. I have my facial sauna running. I steam between 10 and 15 minutes at a time.

*Since I was feeling so tired, I knew when to stop singing. Not because my cords were irritated, but because I felt my lack of energy could lead to underenergized and faulty singing. So I listened to recordings of my last minute cover song addition and spent time playing through my piano parts.

Well, I need to be turning in soon. I need my 8 hours of sleep. I just finished some great tea and I'm going to steam again for a bit. Here's to a great performance!!!


Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Vocal Athlete's one of the most powerful means of human communication. It is wonderful to listen to- it can take us away from our worries and concerns. It inspires. Opening up our mouths to do the singing can be even more powerful. It can be so much fun!! We can release things that we have inside of us that we may not be able to get out any other way. What a blessing to have it in our lives!!

Some people would believe that singing is reserved for only those born with significant vocal gifts. I believe that singing is for everyone!! In general, ANYONE CAN LEARN TO SING!!! When we understand that singing is a psychomotor skill- a task that is controlled by certain muscular patterns- we may realize that a usable, consistent voice can be developed through proper training. This is why I like for singers to view themselves as athletes. The mastery of their instrument should be approached in a similar fashion to runners, ball players, tennis pros, and gymnasts. A regimen that teaches the muscles proper coordination so that they remember what to do is a necessity. It is only with this building of muscle memory that the singer will be able to have the freedom to perform with ease of production with a wide range of pitches and command of tone colors and textures. This allows them to be free to serve the art- to communicate with audiences.

At Harville Vocal Studio, students are viewed as elite singing athletes. They train with a growing knowledge of how the voice actually function and are given the tools for developing it to its fullest.

If you learn to sing it the classical way.................

When I was in college, I would often hear and read that if a singer was to learn to sing based on the classical vocal model, then he could sing anything after that. Well I can tell you that is NOT TRUE!!! Yes, you heard me- NOT TRUE!!!! Though there are many elements taught in classical singing that apply to all singers, there are some major issues that are not addressed. This misguided notion brings many pop, rock, R&B, and country singers to major college music departments for study, only to find themselves ill-equipped for the demands that their styles demand.

In my own experience, I found that my chest voice developed well with my classical training. It became very rich and strong. But I still struggled as tried to sing gospel and R&B without being taught an easy, efficient means of developing my mix or middle voice. It seems as if that part of my voice didn't need much attention because the view was from a purely classical lens. The truth is that I never set out to be a classical singer!! I love singing that repertoire and am grateful to discover that I could sing it. But it didn't help me to sing everything I wanted to sing.

Female singer have it rougher many times. In a lot classical teaching, a woman is discouraged from developing and using her chest voice. It is seen as crude and unfeminine. Ladies are even told that it is dangerous to use!!! This betrays what modern science tells us about how the vocal instrument works. For a woman who wants to sing Broadway, gospel, or rock, having a strong chest voice is a must. In order to sing with a strong, commercially appropriate sound, she must develop her chest voice so that she can then develop a sturdy mix as she climbs in her vocal range. Imagine what Celine or Beyonce would sound like if they resorted to a purely classical sound. Much of the power and passion would be lost.

Voice teachers should be concerned with teaching a technique that can be used for a variety of styles. Our job should not be to push students into singing the styles we prefer. We should train our clients to sing efficiently across a wide range of pitches in a connected manner. They can then apply that healthy production to jazz, blues, metal, soul, pop, and yes, classical singing.