Synergistic Singing is different because we take back singing for it’s real, orginal purposes: to get out of your head and connect with your body, your heart, your senses and with others. Synergistic Singing is about celebrating your freedom of movement, daring to vulnerably express yourself and feeling the comfort of deeper connections with others through singing. Oh, and of course singing for it's own sake...but you knew that one already ;)
Build the Nerve to Sing, So You Can Practice the Courage to Be Yourself
Practice the Skills of Singing, So You Can Enjoy Your Voice, Get Out of Your Head and Into Your Heart
Learn to Sing with Others, So You Feel More Deeply Connected Through Music
I was plopped abruptly into a public middle school in Texas, as homeschooled middle schooler from Canada. Talk about feeling alone in a crowd...
In my own life, I felt pretty isolated. I moved from texas to Canada in 4th grade and for complicated reasons wasn’t allowed to go to public school, so I was homeschooled. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to meet with other homeschoolers, so my only “friends” were my parents and dogs, essentially.
There are actually a lot of good things that came out of that experience: I got into reading (nothing else to do really), plants (oh yeah, did gardening before it was cool) and I became much more reflective and found ways to be my own best friend.
Fast forward a couple years later, and we moved back to San Antonio Tx where I was plopped right into public school 8th grade, in a not-so safe neighborhood. I had my share of knife threats, our house getting vandalized, you know, that kind of stuff.
I also super didn’t fit in. I didn’t understand the lingo, culture, nothing. I was like an alien from another planet. I wasn’t really good at anything, besides kind of growing plants. Then I joined choir. Now, this is supposed to be the part where I find out that I’m gloriously talented, end up on American Idol and live happily ever after.
That definitely wasn’t the story though. I was actually the least skilled singer in my choir. I couldn’t match a single pitch.
One day, my choir director, who was such a kind teacher, pulled me aside and pointed out what it was to sing in tune. I got really curious about this mysterious thing called “singing in tune”. What could that be? He said the key was listening.
So I picked one song, “I’ll Be” by Edwin McCain. I listened to that song day and night, played and tried to sing single notes on my hand-me-down 80s piano-keyboard my brother gave me, and took voice lessons.
Every once in a great while, I would match a single note. I remember the feeling, it was bizarre. It felt like a vibration in my voice melted into a sound outside of me. Many people can already sing in tune, so they often can take for granted how magical this sensation actually is.
Over the course of a year, I slowly matched pitch more and more often until I could sing somewhat in tune. Because I had no real systematic approach like what I have now when I teach students, everything took a lot longer. I had a plenty of time though with hardly any friends in middle school. I did, at the end of my 8th grade year, perform my first song ever, in tune. It made me re-think what was possible. Maybe there is something to singing that isn't fixed, set-in-stone?
Once I started singing in tune more reliably, I started singing with friends in choir. For the first time in 3 or 4 years, I felt what it was like to connect with other people in a deeper and more meaningful way, and I never looked back. I didn't quite feel like an alien. Even though I wanted to be the best singer in the world, there was a much more deeply satisfying feeling that I experienced through singing with others. Singing together, we can both have better friendships, connect in a deeper way, have a hell of a lot of fun and create something beautiful in the process.
It reminds me a lot of what some of my friends who were in football would tell me about what it was like to be on a team: there’s a feeling of belonging and community. That is so desperately needed in this divisive time we’re in. Singing together is much more doable and simple than getting together a football team, and you won’t ever "age out" of being able to play or be left out for other reasons.
I feel in this day and age, we have lost a bit of that...that feeling of depth in our friendships, family relationships and intimate relationships. Music used to be that glue that connected people together. Unfortunately for the lay person, it tends to be a background soundtrack to your life through headphones, used as a block to connection and belonging. I want to say I’m not against blocking conversation, just like I’m not against salt...until the salt over powers the whole dish.
I’m not all that interested in becoming world-famous, or having a big reputation as a voice teacher. These are all nice things potentially, but only if they don’t get in the way of my real why for teaching, the thing I come back to when I face the mountain of challenges in front of me in my teaching and business. This is my why:
I want to help you connect more deeply to music, your voice, yourself and others. I want to celebrate your individuality, your unique voice in a way that connects you more deeply with yourself and others.
Why would I set up a free class, help singers meet each other and work on duets with singers, when it would be so much easier to skip all that? Because unlike competitive sports, music enables us to work together in a way that isn’t competitive, but collaborative. Music can connect us, rather than dividing us by driving competitiveness or comparisons. This is my mission: to bring music and singing back as the glue that connects us.
What I love about singing together specifically, is that your unique voice is it’s own special snowflake, it’s own contribution. So singing, as compared to other instruments, leaves opportunities for us to experience both owning our own individuality and style and having your individuality contribute to your own sense of belonging.
Singing, unlike nearly any other musical instrument you engage in, develops the skill of nerve. The daring vulnerability it takes to sing in front of a teacher and others makes singing a special training ground that other disciplines have a hard time matching.
You might have had trauma in the past “my choir director told me not to sing” and you might feel like you need “talent” first.
Because voice teachers weren’t able to see inside the throat to see how the voice makes sound, many teachers did a lot of guesswork. So myths started to arise that some singers may have different instruments than others. This is mostly false. There are slight differences, but we now know that anyone can learn how to sing and sound good.
When voice teachers/choir directors/etc weren’t able to help, they often blamed the student. I’ve heard a lot of horror stories about this and I’ve been a victim as well. Because of this, I vowed to always honor the efforts of a student, to be honest and to be kind. I’m not 100% perfect, but I can tell you that you’re in a safe space to sing!
There’s even more to it though: most voice teachers had at least some natural ability as a singer, loooong before they ever started teaching. This unfortunately means that a lot of voice teachers have blind spots, areas where they couldn’t see how their skills were built (because they already had them without having learned) so they never saw a clear path for you to get to that skill.
I had ZERO talent. So pretty much everything I’ve learned, I’ve learned from scratch. So I can see your path, and I can help other voice teachers deal with those blind spots. Of course, once you realize you’ve got blind spots, you’ll find there’s always more to learn. So I’m also always uncovering new things and I feel humbled by how deep this singing world can go.
You might have already cringed at a recording yourself singing. This is totally normal. If I picked up a violin right now and just launched into a song, is it going to sound good? Of course not!
The difference with singing is that some people happen to keep a lot of (unconscious) healthy vocal habits from childhood (let’s just call that talent for short), so they accidentally launch into a song and sing well. Just because some people accidentally have a head start in their singing, doesn’t mean that they won’t run into their own challenges later, or that everyone is held to the same standard! It's expected that you won't "sound good" when you first start singing! If you happen to sound good and like the sound, great! That’s a bonus.
Next, are society has changed quite a little bit when it comes to how we connect with each other, how we relate, how we experience music and how we spend our evenings together. What does this have to do with you cringing at a recording of yourself? Boy howdy! Lots! (I just learned that "boy howdy" phrase...so I simply had to get that line in here somewhere)
So let’s rewind back to the olden days before TV...
Before TV, what on earth did people do? They SANG TOGETHER! This is was a much more potent de-stressing activity that created some great harmony (no pun intended) within the family and community.
The TV arrived! Yay! I love TV! The only thing though, is there was hidden cost: People stopped singing together... and instead of paying attention to each other interactively, they paid attention to a TV...often showcasing the best singers in the world.
So over time, not only did we stop feeling so comfortable singing in front of each other, but we also only ever listened to people who dedicated their lives to sounding good when they sing.
So right now, your standards for singing (unless you’ve been singing for a while) are probably painfully high. Not only that, but if you don’t see all of the blood, sweat and tears that singers pour into their craft over many years, so it looks like they didn’t do much of anything to sing so well.
So you’re set up to basically expect that you’ll run a 4min mile the first time you get on the track, after zero practice...you expect to sound like the best singer in the world without even practicing, much less your 10,000 hours most singers spend.
In addition to the lack of hearing your own voice, the voice of amatuer singers (like we heard all the time before the advent of TV when we’d sing together) you may also have no sense of your own vocal identity.
So even if you sing well on that recording, you may notice that you sound like the original singer...like you’re just copy/pasting some other singer’s style and have no identity of your own.
This is likely because, if you’ve never played other instruments or been in choirs before, you’ve never learned a song without a singer spoon-feeding you every note with a suggested volume, vowel, tone quality, register, rhythm already baked in.
So what do you do about all this? It’s really quite simple: You just need to sing without singing with the original singer. You need help to take the leap and sing in front of someone who knows what to listen for in a beginning singer to know that you’re on the right track to making the sounds you like.
Lastly, and most importantly, you need someone you can trust with your voice, who isn’t going to shoot you down or discourage you so you can move past society’s (accidentally created) hidden messages about singing and sing into your own voice. Then you can sing the song in your heart, enjoy the deep breath in your body and return to musically immersive experience that brings you closer to others, not farther away.
Singing can be scary, but it can also be fun. If you don’t take any of my lessons, courses, etc, then yeah it might be mostly scary and difficult. Some teachers don’t believe what I believe. You walk in and they declare your worth as a singer on the first lesson, or expect things that are just too difficult, too soon, or expect you to sing in a prescribed genre.
They are blinded by their own natural ability, so they can’t understand why you aren’t at a certain skill level as a singer immediately. I understand these teachers, I see how they came to this place, but it’s not what you experience with me.
If you can’t match a single pitch, great! That’s where I started :)
So my goal is to make this process fun, exciting and life-enhancing. I would say that the way I do things makes singing easy, but there will be challenges and that's part of what makes it worth doing, what helps you grow and what makes it so satisfying.
If you want to feel the exhilarating joy of singing, you’ll need to get out of your head which is full of myths about singing and get into your body, your heart and the song.
This is the special gift that singing with others, whether that’s a caring voice teacher, friends, family or total strangers can give: it gives you that little push, that little chance, to get you out of your head and into your body and heart.
The practice of singing and trying to improve with singing, led me to falling in love with movement. Below is a quote that makes me laugh and describes how out of touch we can be with our own body from Ken Robinson:
“There's something curious about professors in my experience — not all of them, but typically, they live in their heads...They're disembodied, you know, in a kind of literal way. They look upon their body as a form of transport for their heads. Don't they? It's a way of getting their head to meetings."”
I do have a little push-back to this: I don't think it's just professors! It's most of us! I know for sure it's me...without singing in my life, that is.
The lack of body awareness can wreak havoc on us at times, you know, like when you're so stuck in your head that you don't realize that you're tense, hungry and over caffeinated...so you make several mistakes in your work, snap at your spouse and decide you're having a terrible day...when just a little bit of body-awareness would help you slow down and say "wait a minute, I need a brisk walk to get out this caffeine, a wholesome snack to put this hunger on hold for a moment and to stop holding my breath while I'm typing away."
Singing is an incredibly attention-demanding skill when you are working with vocal exercises correctly. So when I'm singing, I have to be aware of the breathing pace inside me, the subtle shapes I'm making inside the mouth and throat, the other musicians and singers singing with me...I could go on. It's immersive. You have to be fully aware and present to really make music. This practice helps me be present for my own life, which means my life is more enjoyable. Here's a quote I love but I'll never remember correctly so I'll paraphrase from Chris Bailey's book "Hyperfocus":
"The cheeseburger you eat with 10% of your attention, will never be as good as that same cheeseburger you eat with 100% of your attention".
*or actually Chris Abdo's paraphrase because he can't find where exactly that quote is in the book
So if you want to develop the nerve to express your true self through singing, if you want to experience the joy of moving your body and breath to create music, if you want get back to that deeper way of connecting with the humans in your life, join the Synergistic Singing community below, which includes a free class all about getting the confidence to get started with your singing and the drive to take your singing farther.
Two stories remind me of how learning to sing can help you reconnect with, and be more aware of, your feelings.
I had one woman in her 40's who was an engineer with a monotone speaking voice habit and a flat affect. She decided on taking voice lessons with me because she said that she always wanted to explore music and the more creative side of things, so this was her way of doing that. She told me point blank that she was not going to ever practice, she just wanted to get to know music in a deeper way and have someone to explore that with.
I, as a fairly inexperienced teacher, told her I wasn't sure if she would progress without actually practicing between lessons. I've learned now that your nervous system remembers what you do with your voice, so even without practicing between lessons, the practice within lessons will slowly build and you'll still see results...it just takes longer (sometimes a lot longer). She, unlike me, wasn't concerned about making progress, just exploring. So we kept at it. Then we began to learn her first song. She sang through her song, got the right notes, but something seemed...disconnected. She seemed still emotionally removed from her singing, like she was operating a machine (she was an engineer after all!) so we began working on expressing the text, the emotions, etc.
A spark lit up in her heart. She told me that it was like much of her life, her brain sucked up all of her energy and left very little left for her heart, for her feelings. Her face lit up, the song came alive, and I knew at the moment that my purpose in lessons with her wasn't about just singing itself, but what singing sparked in her: feeling emotionally connected and expressing her feelings more easily.
Singing calls this forth in you in a way that few other things can: we sing to mourn loss, to celebrate victory, to play and goof-off, to tell a story, to charm and to flirt. So much effort in school has been made to tell us what to think, that it left out how to make room for and respond to how we feel. When we sing, we have a moment to connect with our feelings and to make room for and understand the feelings of others. I keep re-learning this truth throughout my life...I'm sure I will need to be reminded of this again.
When my mother died suddenly and without warning, I felt like I couldn't release the pain of loss. I tried talking to family, I tried journaling, I tried meditation...and something was a miss. I just got lost in stories in my head, regrets, wondering what life would be like moving forward, not really feeling like I could let myself feel my feelings or be present for my own life.
In the middle of all this, I was trying to add some new and difficult material to my singing routine. I sat at the piano to practice my songs and techniques...and I began procrastinating by flipping through different songs. I then ran into the song "Landslide" by Fleetwood Mac. I began singing through, telling myself I'll just sing through it once or so and then get to practice. The song drew me in and in all these odd ways it reminded me of Mom. I began crying and singing. It was some point later, reflecting on this, that I realized that singing helped me make room for and process my loss.
If you look back in time, singing has always been a part of processing the pains, the losses, the joys, the victories and the stories in life. Singing has been, (mostly by accident with things like TVs and Smartphones) taken away from many of us and my work is help bring this back. If you can learn to sing or bring your singing farther, you can have a gratifying way sing the song in your heart.
“I can’t speak highly enough of Chris. He has far exceeded my expectations as a vocal coach. Before I met Chris I was skeptical that I could even become a better singer. I wasn’t sure if lessons would even make a difference. After a couple months of taking lessons with Chris...
One sentence summary of what they get
One sentence summary of what they get