My friend and fellow singer/voice guru Valerie Day invited me to contribute to a recent blog post she published all about practicing in the midst of a pandemic (topical, eh?). I chimed in with a few tips that have really helped my students make more progress during this weird time.
BRENDA EARLE STOKES, creator of Piano Skills for Singers 1. Treat daily music practice as self-care. Spending time every day singing and making music is a great way to invite structure and creativity into every day and will help to feed your mind, body and soul. Make your practice space comfortable and cozy. Make sure that it has nice lighting, get a decent chair or stool, and fill your space with candles and inspirational quotes. While you’re at it, make sure you give yourself some private and distraction free time. Continue reading here..
Now that winter is upon us and many of us still in lockdown, this is the perfect time to tackle a project that I’m sure has been in the back of your mind.Whether you are a music student, a recent college graduate, or a musician just starting out, there is a standard tool kit that each of us needs to have.These resources, or career assets as I like to call them, will help you to identify yourself as a serious artist to performance venues, media outlets and most importantly, your audience.
Every artist who wants to start their career needs a common set of assets, including photos, a bio and press quotes. This article will give you some clear guidance on what assets you need and how to go about gathering them.The ultimate goal will be for you to have your own website, which provides a centralized location for people to learn about you, hear and see you perform and get excited about your work!
I know that this list may feel daunting, but I urge you to not give up before you begin.Break down each step and give yourself a few days to work on each one.In the matter of a couple of weeks, you could be finished and ready to establish yourself as a professional.
Photo by Erika Kapin
Photos are super important!If you don’t have photos, then how are you going to have a press kit or a website?Everyone needs a professional looking headshot that shows them looking their best.Your headshot will be necessary to promote performances, to use on social media, to have on your website and for media to publish when they write about you.
Professional photos are ideal, but a friend with an iPhone and some decent lighting will also work in a pinch.(You can always upgrade them when you have the budget.).
New York City-based photographer Erika Kapin gives this advice:“It’s important to work with a photographer whom you trust and feel comfortable with.”She also recommends wearing something that helps you feel good and confident in your body – remember, these photos need to represent you at your best!
Photo by Erika Kapin
Do you want to pose with your instrument?Do you want the photos to be formal or casual?The look of the photos should match your music in some way.Look around to artists you admire to get some ideas for the look of your photo shoot.
A bio is a document that tells the story of YOU.A successful bio will give the reader a clear picture of who you are, what you do and what your accomplishments are. Your bio will inform potential bookers why they should hire you and will tell your audience why they should listen to you.What makes you unique?
Every bio should include:
What instrument you play
The style of music you play and who you are influenced by
Where you are from
Where/with whom you studied
Where/with whom you have played
Accomplishments like awards and prizes
Your bio needs to be well written with accurate spelling and grammar (ask someone to read it for you!).It is ok to embellish, but it is important for you to be truthful.(Don’t say you “performed with Sting” if you went to his concert and sang along from the audience!). Are you a tuba player who sings?Do you play jazz oboe?Tell us what makes you unique and exciting so that we will want to hear what you do.
You’ll want to have 3 different bios – short (250 words), medium (450 words) and long (900 words).Make sure to update your bio regularly to include new projects and accomplishments.Read bios of your favorite musicians to get ideas on how you want yours to read.
Press quotes are a staple of someone’s press kit, as they reinforce that you are an artist of a certain calibre and that other people in the industry have heard your work and respect you.
If you haven’t been written up in the press yet, don’t worry!You can gather quotes from notable people who know you and your work.Make sure that the person writing the quote is someone in the music industry.A quote from the principal of your school or the family you babysit for is not going to be useful here.This would be a great time to reach out to teachers or mentors who know your work and are willing to write a quote for you.Make sure to identify the person who wrote the quote, so you are making it clear that the person who is talking about you is knowledgeable.
“Brenda Earle Stokes has a creative approach to jazz improvisation and is a rising star of the Toronto Jazz Scene.”– Betty Jazz, Jazz Radio Host
Over time, try to build your list of quotes by inviting bloggers and local media to review your work, by sending them a recording or inviting them to your performances.
Nowadays it is nearly impossible to get away with not having video.Video has literally killed the radio star (please tell me you’re not too young to get the reference…), and you absolutely need to have video footage if you are going to be taken seriously.The good news is that it isn’t hard to get decent quality footage.Smartphones make it possible for us to film ourselves and video equipment is relatively inexpensive and easy to use.
First off, take an afternoon and gather any footage that you have from past performances.(Remember, you can download videos from Facebook – directions here). Once you have gathered the footage, pick 3-4 clips that represent your work well.Make sure that you use footage that has the best quality audio and video footage and shows you playing your best.
Using video editing software (iMovie or Adobe Premiere are both great), edit your clips so that they are approximately 3-5 minutes long.Make sure to add your name to the video clip, plus the name of the song and your website information.Upload it to YouTube and add links to your website and social media in the description box.
If you don’t have any good video footage of yourself, now would be a great time to get some.Video yourself performing in your home, making sure the lighting looks good.Using an external recording device like a Zoom recorder is a great way to get the audio sounding great.
If you have a lot of videos, you might consider putting together a performance reel.The reel should be under 3 minutes and give a quick snapshot into your work. This reel is one I compiled myself on iMovie, using a variety of footage I captured from past performances.
5. Audio clips
Audio clips are another non-negotiable career asset that you need to have.Just like with video, you want to take a few hours and compile all of the recordings you have.Pick three tracks that sound strong and showcase your skills as an artist.They should be of the highest possible quality and feature you performing your best.Professional audio recordings are once again, ideal, but you can definitely make your own if you don’t have the budget for it.
You can edit the tracks down using software like Audacity or GarageBand.Once you have your tracks sounding their best, you can upload them to Soundcloud.
6.Drumroll please…A WEBSITE
The good news is that if you have made it this far in my “to do” list, then you have everything that you need to make your website happen.It is easier than ever to have your own website:all you need to do is buy a domain name and then build a site.Your website is the home base for all of your work and will give yourself a single location to send people to learn about you and your music.
Your website should include all of the assets you have gathered, and should be assembled as neatly as possible.
Janelle Reichman, a saxophonist and website designer offers this advice to help you get started:
When musicians are creating their website, they often overlook these two simple but important questions: WHO will be using your website, and WHAT is your ideal outcome for each visitor who comes to your website? For example, do you want people to buy a ticket to your next live stream show? Purchase one of your albums or a piece of merch? Subscribe to your mailing list? Book a Zoom lesson with you? If you don’t know what you want your visitors to do, then chances are they probably won’t know either. Start with your audience and your end goal in mind, and then revolve everything in your website set up around that. From your navigation menu to your homepage headline to your call-to-action buttons and copy, everything should gently guide your visitors towards where you want them to go.
There are several website platforms that make it easy to build your own website.The three main ones that I have seen used are Wix, Squarespace and Bandzoogle.All three providers have a variety of templates that you can use to customize your site and they all look extremely professional on a budget.(There are free options and some cost around $20 a month).
If you want to invest in a more customized website, then I suggest that you hire a professional website designer to create a site for you.Janelle Reichman is the owner and designer at Ellanyze and she builds stunning websites using WordPress.
Examples of Custom WordPress Websites (designed by Janelle Reichman)
Once you have build your website, you will want to make sure to update it with news, gigs and recordings and videos.
So, now that you have this list of instructions, I urge you to get down to business.Make a plan to tackle a few of these tasks each week until your have everything you need to build a website.Now is the perfect time to take this step!
I was delighted to be a guest on Nikki Loney’s amazing Full Voice Podcast. Nikki is a fellow Canadian and is a wonderful singer and voice teacher. She also owns the totally AMAZING company The Full Voice, which is an amazing series of workbooks, songs an resources for voice teachers who work with children. I am such a fan of here, so I was extra excited when she asked me to be on her very popular podcast!
We talked about my online courses, especially Piano Skills for Singers and the brand-new Crash Course in Solfege Courses!
Treat daily music practice as self-care: With all the stress and uncertainty of pandemic life, we all need to be practicing more self care. Yes, this includes drinking enough water and getting enough sleep, but why not treat your daily practice as a form of self care too? Spending time every day singing, playing piano and just making music is a great way to invite structure and creativity into you day and will help to feed your mind, body and soul.
Good lighting is EVERYTHING.
Make sure your practice space is cozy and inviting. Nice lighting adds a comfortable feel (get a decent lamp with a soft white lightbulb!), get a good quality chair or stool and fill your space with candles and inspirational quotes. While you’re at it, make sure you give yourself some private and distraction free time. Log out of your social media accounts, turn off your phone and hang the “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door. (Time to let your kids have some screen time!). This is YOUR TIME to center yourself into creativity, even if it’s only for a short time.
3. Get organized: How many of us have desks and studios that are in rough shape? Messes, piles of paper and a lack of proper materials will derail your practicing. Take an hour or two and get your space in shape! Put all of your music in a folder or binder, putting the most recent material up front. Make sure you have your recording device, speakers, metronome, notebook and several pencils and pens handy so that when you sit down to work, you have everything you need.
Everything I need to be productive.
Put all of your music in a folder or binder so it’s all in one place when you need it.
Make sure you have your recording device, speakers/headphones, metronome, notebook and pencils handy so that when you sit down you’re ready to go!
Declutter anything from your practice space that you don’t need – household items like bills and paperwork and anything else that will distract you from practicing (Whose socks are these???)
Get rid of anything that is visually busy or otherwise distracting to your creative flow. If there are small repairs that you need to make, or loose ends that need to be tied, take a couple of hours and just DO IT (We both know that your metronome has needed batteries for a while, so…)
3. Create projects and goals to work toward. It can be really hard to practice efficiently when we no longer have rehearsals, auditions and performances to be working towards. Now is a great time to find creative solutions to those external goals. Create new goals to help you stay on track and get motivated. Here are a few ideas:
Do a deep dive of the work of a favorite singer or composer. This is a great time to choose repertoire that differs from your usual work or “type”
Film yourself practicing once a week on social media to let your friends and fans know what you’re up to
Host a Zoom concert for your family or friends
Get together (over Zoom) with fellow musicians to share your work and do a feedback circle
Take an online course to help you build new skills
Create playlists of your “desert island” songs and learn them one by one (This is what I’m doing as part of my #RandomSongsILike project!)
Happy New Year! As we tiptoe into this new year, I wanted to take a moment to reach out and share what’s on my mind.
Honesty time: 2020 did not allow me much time or space to make much music. I started out all guns blazing in January with the debut of a new song cycle called The Motherhood Project and then POOF – it was gone.
To be honest, my creative life has not been very consistent since my son was born 8 and a half years ago. I have kept my musical life kicking in fits and starts – doing shows, touring, releasing a couple of albums, etc, but it just hasn’t been a regular process. Most of my time has been focused on mothering, running my private teaching studio and in the last couple of years, I have added an online course business – Piano and Voice with Brenda – to the mix. While it has all been exciting and creative, I still miss the focus I once had for actual music making.
In November of 2019, I did an 8-day residency at the Banff Centre for Fine Arts, which is located in the beautiful Rocky Mountains of Banff, Alberta, Canada. My creativity and inspiration were ignited once again, as I spent 10-12 hours a day in my own private studio practicing, writing songs and being engrossed in intensive music making again. I wrote 10 songs over that short period of time for a song cycle called The Motherhood Project, which documented my journey as a mother in the 21st Century. The project had its debut performance in January 2020 and my plan was to record and tour that project. I could feel that my musical life was returning to me once more….
Of course, we all know what happened next. Like pretty much everyone else on earth, I found myself in a tailspin that derailed every plan I had made. Suddenly my son was home 24/7, and I was scrambling to teach my private students, run my online course business and keep my son occupied all at once.
Since then, I have been focusing on homeschooling my son and providing a loving and engaging home life for him. I have also devoted a lot of my energy to making online lessons work so that my students can continue to grow and learn over Zoom (It ain’t easy!). Plus, the demand for online education has dramatically increased and I have worked hard to release three new courses through my Teachable platform.
As rewarding as all of this has been, I realize that there is a level of frustration rising in my soul. Something is clearly missing. So, as I’m often saying to my students, “sometimes you have to dig deep to be an artist.”
So, for 2021, I am going to get back to what made me a musician in the first place. I want to get back to the root of what I love and honestly, I just want to have more fun making music. Since there won’t be many (or any) in person gigs this year, I have decided that I’m going to do the best that I can under the circumstances. To keep myself accountable, my plan is to record one song a week for the duration of the year. Nothing is going to be terribly produced or elaborate – just something simple from my home studio. I have no idea what I’m going to record. I’m going to keep it loose and work on material that feels fun and engaging for me.
If you have been thinking about doing something for yourself this year, I’d like to invite you to join me. I know we’re all bogged down like mad and the last thing any of us has the energy for is ANOTHER PROJECT, but I do believe that a creative undertaking is usually something that brings more energy into your life. Like you, I am stretched pretty darn thin, but I feel like I need to do this to get back to myself again.
So, who’s with me?!? What creative project are you going to tackle this year?
Welcome to the courses! Here is a quick-and-dirty tutorial on how to utilize the Teachable Platform. Teachable is such a user-friendly and intuitive platform, which is why I chose it as the home of my entire suite on online courses! Check out this short tutorial to get oriented!
Want to check out the courses?
CLICK THIS LINK to see the entire suite of online courses and get started learning piano TODAY!
Now that there are FOUR courses live at Piano And Voice With Brenda, I have been getting a lot of questions about which course to choose. This quick little list should help you get started choosing the perfect course to help you get secure at the keyboard. If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to email me at brenda(at) pianoandvoicewithbrenda (dot) com. I’m here to help!
Piano Skills for Singers Level 1 is for you if:
You have never played piano before
You haven’t taken piano lessons in a long time
You want a simple starting point
You want to get back into a practice routine and regain some technical fluidity
Piano Skills for Level 2 is for you if:
You have completed Level 1
You have piano experience, but there are a lot of gaps in your ability
You need to learn how to play chords
You need to learn how to create your own accompaniments
You need to learn how to play voice exercises in 12 keys easily
Do you have to be a singer to take Piano Skills for Singers?
Absolutely not! Although these courses are geared towards singers, anyone would benefit from these well organized and easy-to-use courses.
Jazz Piano Accompaniment is for you if:
You have taken Level 2
You are a classically trained pianist and want to learn jazz
You want to learn how to play from a fake book
You can play chords and you want to play authentic jazz accompaniment
*If you can’t play chords fluidly, you can purchase the “Learn to Play Chords Symbols” course at a deep discount.
Piano Improvisation for Everyone! is for you if:
You are a classically trained pianist who wants to learn how to improvise
You are looking for a fresh new way to explore your creativity at the keyboard
You are a piano teacher looking for a new bag of tricks to share with your students
You want to develop your technical fluidity on the piano in a more creative way
You are a jazz player who wants to develop a deeper connection to improvisation
You are a circle singer or vocal improviser who is looking for a deeper toolkit
You are a songwriter or a composer looking for more inspiration
Private lessons are best for you if:
You are having technical difficulties, like tension, discomfort when you are playing, etc.
You have a specific set of concerns that are not covered by the courses
You prefer one-on-one instruction
You want to kick start your online course experience
You want to work on your singing (I teach that too!)
You have completed one or more of the courses and are keen to find the next step
You want to take occasional or regular lessons via Skype, FaceTime or Zoom
Piano Improvisation for Everyone! is a course designed to get you improvising satisfying music at the piano. In this unique curriculum, you will learn a variety of techniques to get started improvising exciting music at the keyboard. Learn how to explore different harmonic material, melodic ideas, accompaniment techniques and started points for creating improvisation compositions. In addition, we cover how to improvise pop piano solos and jam on the blues!
This course is perfect from pianists of any level, from experienced beginner too advanced. Piano teachers will also get some great ideas and exercises to work on with their students. Discover the enjoyment of developing your technique, harmony and rhythm in a creative environment. Experiment with new sounds and ideas to apply to your songwriting or composing. The exercises are structured, but open ended enough that you could take the work in whatever direction you want to go.