Piano tips for Voice Teachers

Tuesday, February 7, 2017 by Brenda Stokes | Uncategorized

Here is the second in a series of videos giving piano help for singers and voice teachers.  What topics do you think I should be covering?

Autumn Nocturne

Tuesday, September 13, 2016 by Brenda Stokes | Brenda sings and plays!

This is a gorgeous jazz standard about fall, that I've been working on recently.  Recorded in my home studio in NYC.

Consequences of Falling

Monday, September 12, 2016 by Brenda Stokes | Brenda sings and plays!

I love love love kd lang, one of the greatest singers and songwriters around.  Bonus:  she's Canadian (like me!).  This was recorded in my home studio after dinner, while my son was playing.

An end to allergies?

Monday, August 29, 2016 by Brenda Stokes | Vocal Health

     Allergies are rampant these days, and can be especially debilitating for singers.  Allergies can cause stuffed nose, mucus in the throat, coughing, sneezing and even wheezing.  Left untreated, laryngitis and other vocal issues can rear their ugly heads.  I was one of these poor people.  I struggled with terrible allergies, which would often hinder my vocal performances.  Over the counter medications like antihistamines would help with the allergies but would dry me out and cause even more laryngitis.  Replacing my laryngitis with more laryngitis was not a happy solution.

     I was allergy tested two years ago and I am pretty much allergic to everything inside and outside.  Pollen, dust, grass, trees - you name it and I'm probably allergic to it.  My allergist Dr. Michael Lewin in NYC recommended immunotherapy.  Immunotherapy is not new, as allergy shots have been around for years,  but it is now being offered in sub-lingual drops.  I put three drops of the tincture under my tongue every day.  Dr. Lewin told me that because the drops are self administered every day, they tend to start working a lot faster and what would take a year with the shots, can often take place over a few months.  He also gives pre-seasonal drops to get my body prepared for the "big three" - grass, tree and ragweed, which gradually build up about 6 weeks prior to each allergy season.

     It is now two years since I started this treatment and it has literally changed my life.  Two years ago I was very groggy, sneezing, runny nose, sore throat, sore eyes and even wheezing.  Being outside for me was awful (which sucks when you live at the playground with a kid like I do!) and when I was exposed to dust or pet dander I would often feel like I was having an asthma attack.

     I no longer use Singulair or Flonase and I did a whole lot of yard work the other day, without a single symptom.  It's truly amazing!  Dr. Lewin told me the treatment takes 3-5 years and then will last for 7 or more years.  I pay a relatively low fee for a three month supply of drops, which isn't covered by insurance, and is a LOT cheaper than the co-pays I would have to deal with if I was having weekly allergy shots.

I can't recommend it enough!  If you want to learn more, check out Dr. Lewin's website.  I'm sure there are lots of doctors doing this! I have had the same box of tissues next to my bed for months!! 


Sandwiches Are Beautiful

Saturday, August 20, 2016 by Brenda Stokes | Brenda sings and plays!

A bunch of people have asked me to post a video singing and playing guitar!  My guitar playing is much more modest than my piano playing, but I still enjoy playing ESPECIALLY for Little Kids music classes.  Here is a spontaneous recording of one of my favorite songs about my favorite foods, recorded in my home studio!




End of Summer Wrap Up

Thursday, August 11, 2016 by Brenda Stokes | Uncategorized

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"So you don't have to marry a piano player!"

Wednesday, August 10, 2016 by Brenda Stokes | Piano for singers

     My first instrument is piano.  Lessons starting at age 4, Royal Conservatory training until grade 9, when I quit to take up jazz piano full time.  I spent the entire four years of university transcribing Bud Powell solos and practicing in the "woodshed" for 8 hours a day.  Besides a little singing in the church choir when I was a kid, I didn't really start singing seriously until I was in my early 20s.  

     It's no surprise then that a great many of my voice students end up with a piano habit.  For my high school and college age voice students, I always get them to learn enough piano so that they can learn their songs and play basic accompaniments.  "So you don't have to marry a piano player!"  I always paint a terrible life picture for them of what their lives will be, living in a tiny apartment where the piano takes up most of the living room and the whole place is knee deep in sheet music.  That usually scares them straight, and out comes the Bastien "Older Beginner Book" volume one.  I then cross my fingers and hope they don't notice that my husband is actually happily married to a pianist...

     Today one of my adult voice students came in, nearly bouncing off the walls with excitement.  She sings a lot of improvised and CircleSinging, which is heavily influenced by Rhiannon and Bobby McFerrin.  She has amazing ears and I told her it was just a matter of time until her ears needed more harmony.  Well, this past week it happened.  She had an opportunity to do some recording in a gorgeous studio in Upstate New York that had a nice piano and though "Why not?"  She played me the results of that session, and she sounded so free and expressive.  "I need more piano.  What can you teach me?"  And, she's hooked.

     Even my middle school and high school singers end up playing some piano for themselves at some point.  It really is fun to be able to sit down and accompany yourself, even if you're just padding some basic chords.  Add in a bass line in your left hand and a little rhythm in your right and you're Sara Bareilles!  And it's so exciting to hear an entire song come out of one person, rather than just the melody.  

     Since I've spent so much of my life wearing both hats, it's especially fun for me to help my singers become more independent.  So they don't have to marry a piano player!

Five Ways to Get Your Kid(s) to Practice

Tuesday, August 9, 2016 by Brenda Stokes | Advice for parents


1.  Have a house policy of "No TV/screens" until 8pm.  This was the rule in my house growing up.  That gave us plenty of time to get our homework and piano practice work done before we watched tv.  We didn't always like it, but we always got our work done!

2.  Have a set amount of practice that your child needs to do each day.  For an intermediate student, 30 minutes a day is fine, for a more advanced student, an hour is better.  If your child has to miss a day, then have them double up on the weekends.

3.  Ask your child's music teacher for periodic updates on your child's progress.  Does the teacher think your child is practicing efficiently?  If not, ask for their help and support.  And then...

4.  Look over your child's music dictation book and talk about what they are working on.  Ask them what they think is easy or hard to play.

5.  Try to avoid enrolling your child in too many activities.  Just because Johnny who lives next door is taking Karate, Travel Soccer, Mandarin and Guitar lessons doesn't mean your kid should.  Pick one sport and one creative activity per week so that they can learn a skill and still have time for homework and well, being a kid.  Remember the old saying "A Jack of all trades, and a master of none."

Don't Worry Be Happy

Monday, August 8, 2016 by Brenda Stokes | Brenda sings and plays!

Here's a fun video of me singing an old favorite by Bobby McFerrin.  Love the uke!  OOOOOO