Rick Gabe

Vocal Instruction

Esperanza Spalding- on learning, growing and the creative approach

Hey all….I have always admired Ms. Spalding for her tremendous talent as a Singer, Bassist and songwriter. And, she writes and performs largely in the Jazz and Classical genres. That’s saying an awful lot for a 28 year old.

This linked article is from early 2012 but her thoughts here on success as an artist, and on the creative process are such that I had to share. Very inspiring.




Harmonizing with the Universe

The Benefits of Singing

by Madisyn Taylor

Singing is an act of vibration. It takes music from the realm of the unformed– whether that is in your mind or from that magical space of inspiration–and moves it from within to without. From the first breath singing moves the energy in a circular way inside your body. As the breath fills your lungs, it brushes against the second and third chakras – the centers of creation and honoring self and others. Instead of merely exhaling, pushing the air past the fourth and fifth chakras where heart charka and the center of will and intention reside, singing engages both the heart and mind. Sound vibrations from vocal chords resonate in the sinus cavities, filling the head with motion and sound while the brain lights up with the processing of the mathematics of music. This marriage of activities brings the third eye into play and opens the door for inspiration from the crown chakra before sending the sound out into the world.




Once the vibration begins, it is sustained with each note, moving throughout your body and the space around you. This can help you to harmonize your frequency with the world and with the divine. The use of the voice can bring about catharsis, a cleansing from the expression of emotion, which is why we feel better after singing certain types of songs. All of this occurs even if we are not conscious of what we are singing, but when we really connect with an intention, the power of the voice and music together are powerful tools in creation.


Even if you are not a singer by nature or talent, you are not left out. If you have a voice, it is your birthright to celebrate life with song. It doesn’t matter if you don’t feel you have a nice voice. Chanting or humming, singing solo or with others, your voice is yours to enjoy. Whether you sing along to the radio or use vocalization as part of your meditation time, singing and harmonizing are healing activities that bring your body’s vibrations into alignment with the universe.

These sacred chant albums are a great way to experience the sound healing power of singing for yourself. The kirtan format of call and response singing was created in India thousands of years ago as a form of spiritual technology to align individual with collective vibration. – Steve Gordon

Radiance by Jaya Lakshmi
This Universe by Singh Kaur


Photo by Lomo-Cam



Vocal Health

Hey all….I want to pass along a wonderful resource on vocal health from Duke University. This is a most comprehensive overview on the proper care of the voice from vocal hygiene, to the voice as we age.

I will come back in time to discuss some of these topics in more detail. I have also added this link to my resource page here on the site.

Vocal Health

Should vocalists write their own songs ?

A question often asked by students is: should vocalists write their own songs? In order to cover this great topic in detail, let’s begin with some history.  Looking back we see an interesting chronology of events over the last 80 to 100 years in the evolution of music as it relates to singers and songs.

In the “Golden Era” of music, considered to be the 1930s and 1940s,”Standards” were the rule of the day. Most singers at this point in music history did not write songs. Some of the vocal stars of this era included Helen O’Connell,Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan,  Peggy Lee, Doris Day, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. Of course, Frank became a legendary performer over five-plus decades, and was an incredible interpreter of song while he surrounded himself with great arrangers and producers. But Frank did not write songs.

The song writing process during this era was so individualized, typically one person wrote music and the other the lyrics and then the singer performed the songs with a band.  Some legendary songwriting teams include Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart (Blue Moon, My Romance), Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen (All the way, Love and Marriage) and perhaps the most famous songwriting duo of this era: George and Ira Gershwin (Someone to watch over me, I got rhythm).

But by the latter 1950s and early 60’s, the phenomenon known as the singer-songwriter bloomed out of the folk and rock genres by artists such as Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and Carol King. These artists now wrote music and lyrics and performed their songs as well.

In the case of King, she produced songs for publishing companies which were then performed by other artists. By the late 60s/early 70’s King was performing her songs and in 1971 she created the legendary Tapestry album, a multi-million seller. The country music industry is today perhaps the music genre with largest cadre of songwriters who write songs for other singers.

And so today we now have scores of singer-songwriters. Additionally,  there are many singers performing tunes from a variety of writers.  As a singer you must decide the best direction for you. If a singer has the desire and can write good songs then they should do so. But some singers may choose to leave the writing to songwriting professionals. The goal with your songs should be to assemble the best possible songs to propel your career.

Any music artist wants to be associated with the best possible material. From a commercial view, as music artists we want to be paid for performances and if we are fortunate enough to produce songs that sell then we have the opportunity to receive royalties on those songs that we write. To take things one step further, there is the option to pursue your own publishing company for even greater control of your material and for higher economic gain.

So in the end, it all comes down to the songs, the quality of our songs- regardless of the source.



Tribute to Levon Helm

Thought it would be great to look back a month or so on the 2013 Grammys and spotlight the wonderful tribute to the late Levon Helm.

What a great assemblage of current stars along with a few of the industry titans in this performance: Zac Brown, Brittany Howard, Elton John, Mumford and Sons, T. Bone Burnett and Mavis Staples. This is a wonderful treatment of “The Weight” from The Band.  Enjoy!


Practice, Practice, Practice !

Over the years in my teaching experience, students especially early on have pressed me with questions about how to approach their vocal lesson practice, as well as how to measure their progress.  Of course the underlying driver of these inquiries is the desire to understand the process and also what to look forward to in terms of time and benefit.

For students of any instrument especially singing it’s easy to fantasize some wonderful end result such as being that star performer on a stage, but how can they measure the progress of their skill development, and then know what they have to “put in” in order to improve. Well perhaps its best to break this discussion down a bit and look separately at the two topics:

How much time should I take for practice? For each person, practice time around voice lessons is variable. It begins with the goals that each student has with music and then the structure of their time and other commitments.

Some folks may have very specified, long-term goals while some just want to be better singers- and have fun with music.  Even 15 minutes a day is better than no practice at all, but we know that no matter the endeavor, music or any other, the more time we put in with vocal study- the more we get out. And of course, many moms have said to their children (as my mom urged me many moons ago) practice makes perfect!

How can I measure my ongoing progress in voice lessons?

On this one I prefer to borrow from one of my long-time mentors, musician and educator, Chuck Anderson and his take on music students and progress, from his book, Music- Pursuing the Horizon:

Students at all levels seem to have instinctive awareness of how much there is to learn. The student should realize that comprehension and development involve many levels: awareness, physical and aural development, as well as creative exploration. Most students want all these levels to happen overnight. One level leads to another in a type of evolution. Development in music is similar to adding words to one’s vocabulary, the more words the greater the expression. And the primary goal of music is self-expression and communication. Development has to be measured over a significant period of time. Just ask yourself ‘what can I play/sing today that I could not at a point in the past; therein lies the answer.

Mr. Anderson, you are dead on with that summation!

Practice and the development as a singer is a popular topic with students and I look forward to sharing additional perspectives in the future.


Tone Deaf???

Along the way you’ve probably heard someone claim that they can’t sing. “I can’t carry a tune in a bucket,” is a common refrain. Maybe you’ve even said it yourself. But too often, those that have the belief that they can’t sing also carry the misguided belief they are tone deaf.

Well I’d like to share some realities of this condition.

Tone deaf is the complete inability of the voice to rise higher or lower in normal speech. It is not a comment on the accuracy of your singing voice. The term for that is intonation.

Intonation refers to singing in or out of tune, or put another way, on or off pitch. Many people sing out of tune and then erroneously conclude they are tone deaf.  And so the singular issue may be that you do not sing well and there can be many reasons for this:  lack of voice training necessary for enhancement of vocal cord development and the vocal production apparatus, as well as the development of the aural connection of ear to the voice.

The likelihood that you are tone deaf is extremely low unless you have a severe speech impediment. If this scenario was true then you could not fluctuate the pitch of your speaking voice. So tone deaf is discernible in speech- not just in singing. Again, if your voice goes through its normal pitch fluctuation with rise and fall then you are not tone deaf.

You may not currently be able to sing, but that does not mean that you are tone deaf. Don’t let misconceptions keep you down- you too can sing. If you have ever been inclined to sing- then go for it. Take it beyond just singing in the car and find a teacher and get started with voice training.

Musician/Singer Spotlight- Kenny Rankin


Hey all…

One of the great singers in the pop and jazz world over the last 35 years, and maybe the most unknown at the same time was Kenny Rankin. He had such a unique quality to his voice and possessed such a great command of each vocal line that he sang. He was also a great songwriter and the most incredible arranger.

Of all of the singers that I have followed and admired over the years, Kenny Rankin is most puzzling to me as to why he was not more popular. Sadly, in 2009  Kenny passed away after a long battle with cancer.

Here is one of many amazing examples of his arrangement and  vocal prowess in his version of the Beatles classic: Blackbird: