Few singers reach their full potential. Often, singers will raise their skill level to the demands of their current situation, but not much more.

John will ask his advanced students “how good do you want to be?”

This question is intended to inspire, to make the serious student think about possibilities and the level of commitment required.

This episode is for singers who want to explore growth and potential, and the possibilities of fully realizing their natural talents.




Episode Transcript

Episode 57 – How Good Do You Want To Be?

Hey, this is John Henny. Welcome back to another episode of the Intelligent Podcast.

Now what I’m doing right now is I’m recording what’s called a “bank show”. Yep, I’m really hip in podcast lingo. And it’s a bank show because next week when you hear this, I will actually be at the US Naval base in Virginia doing a series of master classes. But I’m trying to stay on schedule with this thing.

The podcast is actually been growing. As I said in the last episode, this month is the three-year anniversary. It’s kind of started off as a bit of a lark, and I would just do them when I feel like it. Then one day I kind of went back and just track how many downloads I was getting, and I was kind of shocked. It was more than I expected. Not that I expected a lot, and not that I’m setting the world on fire in going to be the king of the podcast world soon. But for me I was pleasantly surprised with them. I’m actually very thankful and surprised when people give their time to pay attention to what it is that I do. So I truly thank you for listening.

So today’s podcast, is a question. And that question is How Good Do You Want To Be?

This is a question I asked my more serious and advanced students, because the bottom line is in voice. I tell them there’s how good you need to be, and then there’s how good can you get – how good do you want to be. Those two can be a good distance apart, depending on what it is that you want to do.

Now let’s say at my age I decided to become a hiphop artist, and I would like to do tracks about my mild outrage of people using an apostrophe when they’re using the plural version of a word. I may just say things like “Hey, it’s T-H-E-I-R not T-H-E-R-E”. I may be rap about spelling mistakes and grammatical errors, but if I’m just kind of talking like this, this is my style of rap, which would not set the world on fire. However, the vocal skill level I need to do that is rather low. And if that’s the only music I’m doing, well then, I can answer the three criteria very easily – can I make all the sounds that I need to make for the music that I’m doing? Can I do it consistently so that I can do it one day but the next day my voice is blown out or I’m unable too, I’m too tired? And can I do it in an overall healthy manner? The second kind of tie into each other – but those are the three questions. Can I make all the sounds that I need to make? Can I make them consistently, and can I do it in a healthy manner?

If I’m just, you know, rapping about past and present tense of words, then the skill level’s really low. But as you begin to move up the ladder, as you begin to do really serious hip-hop, and you’re using rhythmic accents and you’re using more intensity in the voice, it goes up a good notch. And when you start doing Pop music, it goes up a notch again, and musical theatre. And then you start to get to RnB and Gospel, and then, art song and opera – it just keeps raising the vocal technique level that you need to have.

But then, there is a further level of how good can you actually get. What is your full potential? Are you willing to do the work to get as close as you can? I mean, we never fully get there. But how good do you want to get? How close to your potential do you want to get this instrument? That is the question that I want to ask today. And what is beyond just being able to do the music that you’re currently doing?

A few factors, and one of the first ones is, what I do – what voice teachers do. That is vocal technique. I used to think that to be a good singer you just have to sing in tune. I didn’t realize that’s just kind of the beginning. But when you’re really able to sing every note on every intensity level, on every vowel sound, on every shade and color of that vowel, you’re getting there. That takes a long time, and that takes a lot of focused work and really deliberate practice, and really paying attention. That’s just not running off a couple of scales and then singing a few of your favorite songs in the practice room. That’s really digging down and getting into your voice, and finding out what it’s truly capable of. Then you’ve got to take all that technique. And you’ve got to use it in a musical manner.

I mean, you have got to develop musicianship. I just ranted and raved about this in a Youtube that I did. You can go to my Youtube channel, just look up John Henny. And this one was on Alanis Morisette and her song You Oughta Know, and just the emotional intensity, and even the musicianship that she brings to it – the way that she’s mirroring how the track, the colors within the track, and the complexity within the track. As the track builds, she builds. And as the track pulls back, she pulls back. It’s really a cool vocal. And in terms of vocal technique, no, it’s not going to blow your mind. It’s not beautiful legato and it’s not stunning high notes. But man, there is so much there. I really enjoyed breaking that track down. You can go check on that.

But the musicianship is so vitally vitally important. You have got to get all the vocal riffs that you’re going to need. You’ve got to get understanding note choices on certain phrases, so you’re not just repetitive everytime you come to the chorus. You can do different note choices that just aren’t riffs. You can play with your vocal color, your intensity, your phrasing, and your accents, the push and pull – all of this need to be present. And you really need to understand music and tessitura, and if you’re placing a note in a certain place in your voice – how that is going to change, how would the listener hear that, how different vowels are going to have different colors and different words. And if it can help you choose whether maybe you’re going to go a little darker with that sound or a little brighter with that sound. You can bring a new information constantly, not just in vocal riffs but in terms of the musicianship.

Music is this magic Goldilock’s zone that is a combination of the familiar and the unfamiliar. If it’s too familiar, it’s going to be boring. It’s three blind mice. If it’s too unfamiliar, It’s going to be some weird 12-tone row music, or even Jazz. As they said once in the office, Jazz is stupid – just play the right note.

But you have got to bring different colors. You have to bring new information in, just enough to keep the listener interested. And developing your musicianship is going to enable you to grasp that. Oh yeah, I’ve rant about this in my last podcast where I talked about how to record a great vocal. And this one is almost an extension of the last episode. But it’s really how good can you get at those. This is something that you need to ask yourself.

If you just like strumming on the guitar – I remember a famous guitarist saying this, and he would occasionally takes some students, I think, back when he was still becoming not yet famous. He was just trying to show people all just these amazing scales, substitutions, chords, and voice. And this guy is going “Look, I’m an attorney. And when I get home at the end of the day, I just want to play Tears In Heaven. You know, I just want to learn a few songs on the guitar” and realized okay, that’s actually okay.

If you want singing as kind of just this hobby and want to strum a few songs on the guitar, and be able to sing along with it – that is great. Study the voice up to that level. And when you’re having fun and you’re keeping your voice in check, you’re there. But if you really want to reach for your full potential, it is going to take work and focus, and constant self-evaluation. And there are things that you don’t know you don’t know. You need to go find those new things you don’t know.

And as you learn them, and as the brain makes this new connection and creates these new patterns, it is not the most pleasant experience. Deliberate practice and deep work is something that our brain will try and avoid. I will get in those modes where my brain is just scramming and wants to go check social media, or stats on how many people open an email, and things like that. I just have to stop myself. It’s my distracted brain that is resisting the deep work.

So for me, I’d been getting more and more into meditation. That’s really helping me control this pinball machine of a mind that I have. But whatever it is that you need to do to be able to focus, self-reflect and really be honest with yourself – not the nasty critic that just beats you up, but I mean, you really need to know where you are, where you can go, what it is that you want, and what you’re willing to do to get it. Then after you get vocal technique and then your musicianship – as I said the last time I consider vocal technique a large scale but it’s not the highest level, it’s not the highest level of singing –the musicianship is above that but that’s not the highest level of singing. It is communication.

And communication, being able to grab what’s inside of you, and to have access to those feelings and emotions, and why we sing in the first place, and being able to transmit that through a microphone, a PA, or audience, or stand in a stark silence vocal booth, and to put that energy through a mic that’s someone’s going to hear weeks or months later through some ear buds, and yet you connect with them. You changed their state of being. You changed how they feel. That is profound. That is something that you need to work on to make those emotions available while you are doing music.

And then, as a side project, you got to work on yourself. You have to work on your health, your energy, your state of mind, your focus, and all of these things that are going to help you get to be a good of a singer as you can. Then, whatever path will you choose within singing, whether you’re going into Pop or you want to be a studio singer. You want to be back-up for people, you want to go on Broadway. There are whole different disciplines and levels that you need to learn to compete on those levels.

Trust me, you need to be able to compete. If you want to do this for a living, you can never be good enough. You really really got to push. The voice, for whatever reason, the one little advantage that you can have is, singers don’t tend to be as focused and disciplined as musicians on a whole.

Yes, I’m separating singers from musicians, but people who play an instrument tend to be more focused than singers, because some singers get a certain amount of natural ability and they can run on that. And if you have a natural ability, that is fantastic. But I will tell you, I have yet to know somebody. I know they’re out there. But me working with people, and maybe that’s why they came to me, but people who have a really good natural ability, there is a place where that ends, where they could continue to get better. Kind of a double-edged sword of having a great natural ability the tendency is you’re going to be not to work as hard. I’ve seen people with less talent, as it were, surpass those with natural ability because they work harder.

I’m going to keep this podcast a little bit shorter because I already lectured you on the last one. But the question for you to ask yourself I “How good do I want to be? How good can I get? Do I really want to go there and find out? Do I really want to push that end?” For the often the answer is Yes.

If you really believe deep in your soul of souls and your heart of heart and your inner being, that you want to answer that question, and you want to find out – then what are you willing to do to get there? What are you willing to do tomorrow? What are you willing to do with your schedule to break down this work and to break down all the steps, and work towards that future you that is the best singing you, that is realistically possible?

I mean, we can always work a little further, but within reason, who is that you? How good is that singer? Don’t you want to experience being that singer, being that person really actually realizing full potential of your voice? As I’ve said before, this clock is ticking. I don’t care how young you are. The clock is ticking. It takes a little louder for me. As a matter of fact, the second hand is whacking me in the face every sixty seconds. But you need to focus. You need to commit if this really is what you want to do.

Hey, there ended the lecture. I’m going to take my soapbox and I’ going to put it back in the closet. And I thank you so much for listening. If you enjoy this podcast please consider sharing it. Go into iTunes or Stitcher, leaving a review. It really does help, and it really does help grow the podcast. Getting more subscribers just makes me feel so pretty. Don’t you want to make me feel pretty?

If you want more information on me or working with me, you can go to johnhenny.com. You can also check out my Teacher Training program there. If you’re interested in learning to be a voice teacher, I have complete online training program. As I said in the last podcast, this podcast is becoming an interesting screening process for me. The people that have come to study with me who are listeners of the podcast, I really enjoy working with, to the point where I’m actually opening up a little more room in my schedule to teach. As I was shutting that down, it’s filled much more that it was. But I so enjoy teaching people listening to the podcast because, if you enjoy this podcast, well then you get me on some level, which means I’m going to get you. And so far, it’s been a great working relationship with everyone who has come from this podcast.

So again, thank you so much for listening. Thank you so much for your support. And until next time, to better singing! Bye.