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Artikel Tagged ‘Vocal Edu Series’

Vocal Edu Series (6): The A Cappella Education Association

24. September 2013 Keine Kommentare

by J.D. Frizzell, President of the A Cappella Education Association (AEA)

jd casual head shotFlorian, thank you for giving me a chance to talk about our new nonprofit organization, the A Cappella Education Association.  Your work for the advancement of a cappella both in Europe and abroad has been stellar, and I want to thank you for it.

About a year ago, Ben Spalding started a High School A Cappella Facebook and Twitter account.  It was a way for all of us high school teachers directing a cappella to connect and share ideas.  He reached out to others to help spearhead this effort, and before long, we realized that we needed a website.  I helped build the website alongside Ben, Brody McDonald, and Alex Phan.  Those three, in addition to having some of the best HS a cappella groups in the US, had geographical proximity.  This was tremendously helpful to us as we got started.

Sometime this spring, we were all talking on the phone about the ways we’ve seen a cappella grow from a groundswell in our areas.  A few years ago, this process started in Ohio when Brad Rees and Brody McDonald presented on OMEA conference with Up In the Air and Eleventh Hour. Over the next few years, presentations and performances at the conference inspired more groups to form. The Tiffin University and Kettering festivals gave these groups a place to learn, perform, and grow. As an example of results, the Kettering festival grew from 5 groups to 13, 19, 25, 30 and now 50 groups. Most of these groups are from Ohio, and many were formed within the last 5 years.

I have one of the only active HS a cappella groups in my region, and I thought, “How can we replicate their success here and around the country”?  A couple of months later, we had laid the framework for the AEA.   The idea was that we:

  • ·         Remove barriers preventing people from starting groups at their schools (ignorance of syllables, vocal percussion, live sound, recording, arrangements, etc.)
  • ·         Provide easy-to-access, high-quality resources for all of these areas.
  • ·         Use our existing network of music educators to help inspire new group formation.

You see, every year, music educators go to one or two local, regional, or national conferences.  Most of us have to go because they coincide with our All-State choir events.  This means everyone is there—all choir directors, band directors, orchestra directors, etc. from the area.  These are organized by either ACDA, The American Choral Director’s Association, or NAfME, the National Association for Music Education. 

Brody’s presentation above at the state NAfME convention in Ohio is a great example of what can happen when you have a captive audience of music educators.  Brody’s group Eleventh Hour has also performed at regional and national ACDA conferences, introducing the concept of contemporary a cappella to hundreds of new high school choir directors.

aea-1This is how AEA will be effective in our mission to create hundreds of new a cappella groups over the next few years—combining state presidents, local volunteers, group performances, masterclasses, and presentations with a large body of resources.  Proximity is key– boots on the ground, so to speak.   It isn’t going to be easy, but we already have 55% of the U.S. covered by AEA leadership and volunteers. 

To help provide resources for a cappella groups, we are creating one of the most comprehensive, interactive sites on the planet, which will serve:

- as a digital starter packet for folks starting groups for the first time.

- as a resource for existing groups to find new arrangements, share ideas, make better recordings, and collaborate with one another.

- as a forum through which members of all a cappella groups from professional to amateur can interact and influence.

- and as a way to connect a cappella groups to quality providers of services, including arranging, production, live sound, mastering, and more.


The website will have a library of free (you read that correctly) original arrangements from some of the best in the biz, including Deke Sharon, Ben Bram, Chris Harrison, Alex Phan and more.  Moreover, many of these arrangements will also include studio and live recordings for added benefit.

The website will also feature a detailed, step-by-step guide to recording a killer album with advice from the pros.  With contributions from just about everyone you could imagine, this guide will be one of the best on the internet, with pictures, sound clips, and videos.

To help us, we’d love for folks to visit our CrowdTilt page.  Consider donating to get us started,  volunteering, becoming an industry member/sponsor, or applying to be a state president.  Together, we will make contemporary a cappella a defining musical art form for today’s generation and for many more to come.


Vocal Edu Series (5): A Complete Vocal Experience

by Stefan Rheidt, originally posted in August 2012

August 15th, 2012

Wednesday. ICE 104 on the way to Frankfurt/Main Airport. I’m on my way to Copenhagen, where I have been studying singing for one year now. Stefan Rheidt, 52 years old, choir director – yes, that’s me – I have gone back to school again. It’s not that I don’t have a degree: I am a jazz music graduate. No, I’m learning for my life. Or, to be more exact, for my profession. And what’s even better: All of what I’m currently learning, I can make use of immediately.


Be it a soft “Neutral”, a moanful “Curbing”, a shouting “Overdrive” or screaming “Edge”, all modes of singing add so much to my work with choirs, that even untrained listeners realize, how the sound changes. The terms “Neutral”, “Curbing”, “Overdrive” and “Edge” are the pillars of an innovative singing and teaching method called “Complete Vocal Technique” (CVT), taught at The Complete Vocal Institute based in Copenhagen.

The little downside: To become a CVT teacher, you have to travel to the CVT headquarters based in Copenhagen, Denmark. However, not only the Danish go there: My 13 fellow students come from Iceland, Norway, Finland, The Netherlands and Germany, most of them board a plane for their way to school. The reason is: CVT is groundbreaking and unique in Europe. As opposed to the past, vocal technique was merely taught by classical musicians for classical music, CVT offers the full spectrum of sounds the human voice can produce. That’s why for three years we are going to meet six times a year for four-days onsite learning periods.


So here we go for school year no. 2: After we had learnt to teach singers in our first year, this second year is all about presenting CVT in lectures. So we memorize the so called “Presentation Manual”. In English, which is the language during all lessons. It comes to show that we Germans are the bottom of the table as far as English as a (actually not so) foreign language is concerned: The three of us are regularly stammering and stuttering on our quest for the right words and explanations whereas the Scandinavians and Dutch seem to sing and talk almost accent-free. Anyhow, it’s all about singing, and singing is clearly a global thing.


August 16th, 2012

Thursday. The first lesson starts at 10am. Our homework for today included to sing a song, that our teachers had specifically chosen for us as a special challenge. I “won” “Them Bones” by Alice in Chains. So the first thing to do is to check out the song on YouTube. Until today I liked myself interpreting my favourite jazz ballads in a most individual way. Which doesn’t help me the slightest bit in this case, because now “Heavy” is on my to-sing-list. And screaming with an effect called “Rattle”. Not sure if I’m going to enjoy this. However, my colleagues seem to like it, they want to see more of my “evil side”. Together we invent a hopeless scenario and I shout out my (invented) frustration. I am rewarded – like all my fellows – with warm applause.

August 17th, 2012

Friday. Today we got back our written tests from school year number one. We weren’t given marks, but we have to rework the problems we got wrong. That’s the way it works here in general: We are not being graded, but mistakes are not allowed to be made without properly reworking the respective topics.


Cathrine Sadolin, Complete Vocal Institute founder

In the evening we attend a special lesson by CVT director and founder Cathrine Sadolin. Research keeps going on and we and some of our teachers are brought up to speed. Today’s topic is the vocal flageolet. Cathrine and her team of specialist have constantly done research on that topic and we are being presented the newest results.


August 18th, 2012

Saturday. The focal point of our education is teaching. CVT has developed a quite sophisticated system, which addresses different types of learners. There are tipps and tricks for everyone, we teach each other and learn to give feedback, that is truly valuable. This doesn’t only sound good – it really works.


In the afternoon we are taught on a very interesting subject: To teach things that we ourselves aren’t capable of. There are tricks to do that, too, and it’s not about cheating, but about being very professional. Which brings us in the mood for the next seminar: Only very few of us have sung in a classical way. So next time we will be confronted with doing exactly this, the next but one time we will teach classical singing. How can this work? I have no idea, but up until now, everything here worked out fine, why not this time, too?


August 19th, 2012

Sunday. It’s the last day of this workshop period. Everybody is pretty tired today. One of my female colleagues is asked to sing a classical aria, but being tired she is unable to hit the high notes. We spontaneously decide to bring forward the lunch break, so that she finds some time to regain strength. And guess what, after the break, it all works out fine including the high C.


Wrapping up the time in Copenhagen, we assemble for a feedback session. We Germans are surprised to find the otherwise laid-back Danes to complain about the fact that courses often start late. We end up for a final beer on the square in front of the school. Final hugs follow and everybody disappears to their home countries and to everyday life. See (and hear) you soon, in six weeks, to be exact.

The Royal Danish Library

August 20th, 2012

Monday. No school today. I have decided to stay in Copenhagen for one more day to finally get an impression of the city. Right now I’m sitting in the Royal Library, enjoy the silence and finish my report. The Library, called “The Black Diamond” is a successful mix of old and new architecture. A dignified building with ancient wooden shelves full of old books, that opens up in the direction of the harbour with a glass front and offers a spectacular view of the harbour and the surrounding buildings. Copenhagen is worth a trip – that’s one thing that is for sure.


Stefan Rheidt, based in Teningen-Nimburg (Germany) is a musician, music teacher and choir director, who graduated from Swiss Jazz School in Bern (Switzerland). He sung with Jazzchor Freiburg for more than a decade and now works with jazz and pop choirs like Vocalise and PopVox in Germany’s South West. If you are interested in CVT lessons and workshops, don’t hesitate to contact him through his website.

Vocal Edu Series (4): Make the most of your expensive voice lessons: Practice!

by Tine Fris, Postyr Project (DK)

Rehearsal Methods for Individual Singers

Taking voice lessons can be an expensive pleasure. In this blog, I would like to share some tips and tricks for you to make the most of the time in between lessons, so you will improve more and faster from lesson to lesson and ask better and more precise questions during your lessons. How much you want to practise is of course up to you. The amount of practise time needed depends of course on your skills and resources and on the goal or level you want to reach within a certain timeframe. No matter your goal, level or timeframe, there are some things you could consider.


The Room

Make sure that you have a rehearsal room, where you can actually sing out loud, and where you are not disturbed. To practise you need to be focused and to feel free to make mistakes without being judged.


Duration and frequency

Studies have shown that most people find it difficult to stay concentrated for more than 45 min in a row. The longer you continue after that, the less you remember, the more mistakes you make and the more exhausted you will be. This means that you are likely to not rehearse again later the same day or maybe even the day after. In the worst case scenario, you might actually get worse and not better, if you push yourself for too long time, because your muscular memory will “save” all the mistakes you made when you were exhausted in the end of the session and not all the rights you made in the beginning, when you were focused and well-rested. Studies have also shown that you learn more from practising 2 x 45 min than 90 in a row. This also means, that you could consider splitting your rehearsal time during a day up in two or three laps: 30 min in the morning and 30 min in the afternoon and maybe 30 min in the evening.



A break is not checking your cell phone, answering emails, watching television or things like that. A break is something where the brain can be unfocused and your thoughts can wander. Make a cup of tea. Go for a little walk. Or even better: Take a power nap! Studies have shown that the best way to save things from the short-term memory to the long-term memory is to sleep.



  • Make a plan of what you are going to rehearse. Make it a mixture of different disciplines, so you don’t get bored and lose your motivation. It could be:
  • Physical excercises to strengthen and stretch to improve posture and decrease involuntary/compensatory tensions.
  • Breathing and support excercises
  • Modes/different sounds in different ranges and volumes
  • Some kind of effect like vibrato or creeking you want to improve.
  • Improvisation over a vamp or a jazz standard. Give yourself assignments like: legato/staccato, change the first note of the phrase or don’t ever sing on the first beat of the bar.
  • Work on a song or two. Focus on different parameters: Rhythm/time/groove, sound colours, pronunciation, dynamics, interpretation etc.
  • Remember to take breaks every 45 min.


Observe – Consider – Take Action

Here is a simple model to help you analyze the observations you make about yourself and help you take appropriate short term and long term action:

  • What do I hear? What do I see? What do I feel?
  • What could possibly cause this?
  • What could possibly change this to the better here and now and on longer terms?
  • What should we do here and now, and what should we do on longer terms?

Thank you, Tine, for contributing a great article on vocal music education – again. Hope to have you back soon and safe travels with your wonderful group, Postyr Project! {FSt/Vocal Blog}

Vocal Edu Series (3): Performance Coaching

by Marco A. Billep

Over the last few years I have been asking myself: Why do I have such a hard time explaining to people exactly what I do as a coach? The answer to this is actually pretty easy – most of my musician colleagues have little understanding about the meaning of the ‘mystic’ term PERFORMANCE!
This term is so vague to them, that most of the ‘nerds’ out there don‘t take it for real and consider it ‘peripheral’. But seriously…aren’t we a cappella musicians all a little bit ‘nerdy’? I always have to think again about explaining why it actually IS worth hiring a performance coach like I am. This is a new attempt to bring my work out of the shadow into the light and to make it a little bit clearer for you.

‘Performance Coaching’??? What is this? Do I need that? How is this supposed to help me now? This is just an extra expense and I still need to invest money into my equipment! Can’t I just do this on my own!? Why should I work with somebody who just tells me where to stand on stage, when I still have thousands of other worries with my band?

Performance-coaching… a ‘luxury-expense’?

These were the exact thoughts my band and I shared in the past. First we had huge ambitions in songwriting, arranging and rehearsing… but then? Most a cappella musicians have learned and studied to compose, arrange, and conduct rehearsals. But that doesn’t always mean they know what it takes to be on stage!

“That will do” was a common thought, but I should have known better, having studied dance and performance as well as singing at university. As if, after getting your degree, you would never need a singing teacher again. There are millions of bands out there, but only a few of them are able to thrill more people than their personal friends and families! Why is this? And WHO wants that anyway???

YOU DO!!!! Because you are going on stage and to all these contests to be SEEN and heard. Why else would you go on stage? To thrill and enchant the people who came to see you!

This is why PERFORMANCE is as important as the right note at the right time! Maybe even more important…! Great performances have already helped so many artists on stage cover a couple of wrong notes, but I’ve never heard anyone say “The correct notes enabled me to cover up my sh***t performance!”

Of course both of these things are connected to each other. The more the artist gets into his music, the better the performance on stage, and the better the performance on stage, the better the artist’s music and whole experience will be for him – not to mention for the audience! What is the difference between a famous or an unknown comedian? Definitely not his ‘jokes’, but his performance! This is exactly what I want every artist to think about before he or she goes on stage in future.

You can learn how to perform on stage just as well as you can learn to compose music.The actual performance must be rehearsed and trained just like learning text and music. And this is exactly the reason why PERFORMANCE COACHING is no ‘luxury-expense’ in your rehearsal schedule – it’s the best investment!

Of course the live performance depends heavily on the artist’s talent, just like the music. Therefore there are enough techniques for anyone to learn even a ‘minimal’ level of performance professionalism. Just like with singing coaches, dance instructors or music theory teachers, you can work with a proper performance coach who will teach you the techniques that can be used in any performance situation. These techniques will also go beyond the ‘personal experience’ methods sometimes used by untrained colleagues. It is one of the reasons why ‘outsourcing’ is so important during your rehearsal process, (Well, this is another topic to talk about).

With reference to performance coaching I would like to point out, that my experience has always been very positive when asking somebody who is not part of the group to consult me. It is a millions times more efficient and much better for the dynamics of the group as it helps focus the feeling within the band, instead of splitting it (e.g. because all of a sudden everybody knows best!). It can also give a lot of new input to your own pool of creativity as new ideas come from outside that might even inspire yours!

I also want to point out, that a performance coach is not a choreographer! Sometimes he can be both, but a proper coach tells you precisely where you are stuck, where you don’t work effectively, or how to focus ‘energy’ to be more creative. He helps the band to stand closer and to get closer to itself- to find its current core or identity.

In my case this often happens during my choreographic working process, but it doesn’t work the other way around! Even the best choreographer can’t help you to be better on stage if he doesn’t understand the band. He just provides you with a pattern of steps! Who and what is a good coach after all? – This will always be (except for the technical parts) a very personal experience! The ‘chemistry’ must fit! In general I can only say: A good coach uses the provided ‘human resources’ and ties them up, realises the potential of the group and helps to set it free. A good coach identifies the energy and structures within the band, respects them and helps to optimize them.

It can often take some time to get to know each other well enough and sometimes I also have my problems of empathising or understanding the spirit of a band. You must also be ‘let in’ (and this is for both – band and coach!).This is the reason why not even the best coach is always the best for every band!


Marco Billep is a Stuttgart (Germany) based actor, singer and performance coach, who’s worked for top vocal groups like Maybebop among others.  Here are some of Marco’s “mefacts” from his website:

Actors agency for film & media (Colombia): SITCO-ARTISTAS/DIANA CAMACHO // Actors agency for film & tv (Germany): HALL ENTERTAINMENT GROUP // height: 1,76 m  /  5´9″ // eye colour: green – blue // hair colour: dark blond // home(s): Stuttgart, Köln, Berlin, Hamburg, Hannover // driving license: car // languages: german, spanish (bilingual), english (fluently), french (good), italian (basic) // dialects: German “Hochdeutsch”, different german dialects, „german-turkish“ alternatively english  with german, spanish or italian accent //sports: fencing, tennis, american football, swimming, juggling, dance training (ballroom, latin, jazz, ballet, breakdance, hip hop) //instruments: guitar, piano, singing  (baritone) pop/musical/classic //qualifications: Universität der Künste Berlin (university of arts), diploma with honors, college scolarship of the artistic foundation “Günter-Neumann-Stiftung”, official coach of the “Chorverbandes Nordrhein Westfalen CVNRW” for a cappella bands, coaching stage performance and choreography

How do you practice? – Vocal Edu Series (2)

by Katja Maria Slotte, The Netherlands

In this blog post I will share some thoughts and tips on practicing, especially on how we practice.


1. Focus

Set a focus for your practice session. Know what you want to work on, and don’t try to work on too many things at the same time. For singers this means knowing what the ‘problem areas’ in your songs are. A singing teacher can help you find out what the cause of your issue is, give you suggestions and tools on how to solve it, and assign you exercises to practice new skills.

Let’s say, that you are experiencing wobbly endings on notes and phrases, and your singing teacher has presented you with solutions and exercises for this problem. You could start your practice session by setting ‘endings’ as a theme for your session. Set the following intention: ‘I will focus on how I finish my notes and phrases’. Then, using the tools your singing teacher has taught you, work on your endings in a focused way. Setting an intention or a focus for your session is like zooming in on a specific detail on a photo. You are aware of the whole picture, but choose for a while to look at only one part of it.

Choir directors and coaches can also choose a theme for the session or rehearsal. Examples of technique themes are: vibrato, volume, twang, raising the larynx, etc. Setting a focus also means that we are aware of not introducing too many tools or tasks at the same time. It is not effective practice to ask the singers to focus on a technique related issue, while also expecting them to focus on timing, or choir choreography.

2. Quality, not quantity

In order to get quality out of our exercises, we need to set clear goals for our practice. Whatever it is that we practice, it is better to perform simple exercises with a clear goal, than to perform many (complicated) exercises without a clear goal. This means avoiding automated “la-la-la-la exercises”, and having a look at what the intention with the exercise is.

Especially when we are introduced to a new technique or sound, it is better to sing simple exercises with less notes than to sing complicated arpeggios, intervals or scales. We need to be able to master singing one note with the new technique, before we can move on to scales, interval leaps, and so on.

3. Keep it short enough

In order to stay focused throughout your practice session, make sure the length of the session is allowing you to stay focused. Shorter and focused practice sessions with clear goals are far more effective than mindless, long practice or endless repetition of the same song or phrase. Also, when possible, try to focus your practice sessions to times of day when you have the most energy.

4. Keep track

Another way to practice effectively is to keep track of your goals and findings. If something works out, make a note of what it is that you did, so that you can return to it another time. Your “clues” are depending on your individual learning style. Some people might focus on the position of their tongue, while others focus on a mental image. Auditive learners benefit from recording their practice sessions and voice lessons, so that they can hear the difference between what works and what doesn’t.

5. Bring the exercises back to the song

Singing is not about being able to perform exercises well. Exercises are not useful, unless we are able to put the skills we learn into practice within the context of the songs we sing. Choose your exercises based on the issues you encounter in your songs, and always try out if the skills you have learned through an exercise stand the test of putting it back into the context of the song. When things don’t go like you want them to, keep track of what it is that you did or did not do. That way you can go back and correct the problem. Sometimes you might have to adjust your exercise, or the way you perform the exercise.

6. Vary practice with making music

Finally, it is important that we vary practice sessions with making music.

This is how I like to think about it: singers have a split personality of some sorts! There is a singer or an ‘artist’ in us, that wants to sing and make music because we have something to express, because it makes us feel good, because we love music, and so on. There is also another part in us – let’s call it the ‘technician’. The technician wants to practice, learn new skills and develop. It is focused on details like technique, sound, timing, intonation, and so on. These two parts need to co-exist, but they cannot be equally present all the time. Can you identify yourself in this “split personality description”?

A common reason for ineffective practice, next to not having clear enough goals, is mixing the desire to practice with the desire to make music. It might help to make a deal with yourself, and choose to say either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to practice. Being focused when you practice means saying ‘yes’ to practice, and telling the ‘singer inside ourselves’ that it needs to step aside and allow the ‘technician’ to operate for a while.

On the other hand, give yourself permission to sometimes say a clear ‘no’ to practice. Saying ‘no’ to practice means you allow yourself to sing and make music without focusing on technique or other details. It means singing songs because you feel like singing, singing for the sake of expression. Saying ‘no’ to practice means telling the ‘technician’ inside ourselves that it has to step to the side for a while.

Also, be aware of when it is that you are saying ‘maybe’ to practice. This might happen more often than you think. ‘Maybe’ is when you are not quite clear about our intentions. It is an in-between state where a part of you ‘just wants to sing’, and a part of you wants to practice. ‘Maybe’ results in an unhappy singer, an unhappy ‘technician’, and ineffective practice. So satisfy your inner ‘technician’ with focused practice, and make your inner singer happy by making music and regularly singing your heart out!


About the writer:

Katja Maria Slotte is a Finnish-born vocal coach, singer and music education consultant. She currently lives in The Netherlands and works as a vocal coach throughout Europe. Katja holds a MMus degree in music education and contemporary singing from the Sibelius-Academy in Helsinki, studied Brazilian music and Jazz at Rotterdam’s Conservatory, and graduated as an Authorized Complete Vocal Technique (CVT) Teacher from Complete Vocal Institute in Copenhagen.

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