Jon Novi’s tips for aspiring singers (and other people) in no particular order:
1. Sing long notes. Work towards an even quality and steady pitch, with no vibrato. Be able to sing a song at least eight times as slow as the original tempo, Breathe after every note of a very slow exercise. Beautiful notes are made from pieces of very long beautiful notes.
2. Have a teacher. No band, recording or computer can judge which exercises your voice needs, and there are many. Choose a teacher you like and who can work with a large number of vocal problems. Yes, many musicians are self-taught, but the best musicians have had several teachers.
3. Work on notes in the middle of your range, and half-step by half-step increase your upper and lower range.
4. Stop singing when it is painful or fatiguing. If you sing three notes, rest three notes. If you sing for three minutes straight, then rest for three minutes. Never do anything painful.
5. The human voice is propelled by air. There are those who say breath is life itself. Voice = breath. Before singing, be sure to breathe slowly and fill the lungs if you have the time, during an instrumental interlude, for instance. When counting beats before a vocal entrance, breathe slowly. Do not raise the shoulders but breathe from the diaphragm. The diaphragm is a muscle that can be felt when lying on the floor face up (supine) and breathing. Look this up and be sure you understand diaphragmatic breathing.
6. Sing with confidence. It is the only way. If you do not have confidence, find out where to get it. Lack of experience? Get it. Poor knowledge of the piece? Get it. This is crucial. Memorize the lyric of the song by understanding its journey in time. Know what your key is and know what the scale degree is for every single note, including your improv. Glasses slip on your nose? Fix them. Not dressed right? Avoid this. Band too loud or pushy? They’ll have to change. Have self-respect. Have confidence.
7. Eat healthy. Your body is your instrument. Most musicians (including singers) play only with top-notch instruments in great condition. Substitute spinach for lettuce, fish for beef, fresh for frozen or canned, home-cooked for restaurant, low-fat, low-salt, low-sugar for high, tap water from a metal or glass container for popular sodas. Learn how to cook. Everything is trial and error. Avoid artificial sweeteners like aspartame, which can cause blindness or death.
8. Avoid drugs like caffein, nicotine, alcohol, cocaine, heroin. I could list the vocalists who ruined their voices with tobacco. My voice teacher told me that cannabis burns three times as hot as tobacco in your throat.
9. Relax. It is the only way to sing. It is the only way to live. Psychological stress ruins everything, including your health. The usual symptoms are flu-like, and you can’t sing with a cold or cough. There are many ways to relax: in-person conversation, hobbies, reading, riding a bicycle, exercise, meditation, prayer. Avoid wasting time. Time is your most precious resource. Time-wasters include certain people, TV, Facebook, texting, Twitter, Snapchat, Skype.
10. Get enough sleep. I hear tons of radio interviews with people with trashed voices, and I can bet you dollars to doughnuts they didn’t get enough sleep. Most people do not.
11. Mind over matter. Do your music. Don’t let distractions prevent your art. Don’t listen to detractors. My parents and first four voice teachers told me not to sing at all, and guess what? I’m a professional vocalist now. Read Steven Pressfield’s War of Art, Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements, Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits, etc. Read, read, read.
12. Work at your art. Make lists, memorize songs, exercise, connect with other musicians. Make good choices.
13. Be able to sing a wide range of styles with your one voice, including a half-dozen different silly ones. Listen to other vocalists, dead or alive, as well as other instrumentalists, live and recorded.
14. Do what you love. The money will follow.
15. Search for your very own voice.
Jon Novi is the world’s leading authority on writing professional music by hand (pen and ink) this side of Los Angeles. He has a master’s degree in clarinet performance, has concertized Prokofiev piano concerti with a symphony orchestra, played saxophone and steel guitar for the president of Mexico, but prefers teaching most of all, including composition, to beginners, professionals, housewives, little kids, retirees, and those in-between. Jon Novi is a hopeless romantic who learned to sing and ride a bicycle despite everyone’s disapproval. Using a plastic reed on his tenor saxophone, he out-blew 144 marching musicians at TCU, home of The Horny Toads, setting an example for amphibian wannabes. While composing out-of-date music for contemporary ensembles (French for “together”) he continues to search for the reason anyone would be attracted to a large nose.