Thursday, November 15, 2012

Vocal Coach: A Schoolhouse Crew Review

In October the Schoolhouse Review Crew was given the opportunity to try out some music programs by Vocal Coach. I was selected to review a program called Vocal Coach Singer, which was created by Chris and Carole Beatty.

The Vocal Coach Singer program is available as an MP3 download for $99.99 or in CD format for $119.99. (Of course, you also save shipping if you select the MP3 format.)

Vocal Coach Singer is a complete program to develop and improve the voice of anyone who wants to be able to sing well. The materials provided cover training in warm-up, breathing, tone, diction,  expanding your range, and preparing for a performance. In addition, there are multiple workout formats provided for various voice ranges. In addition to the nine MP3  zip files, the Vocal Coach Singer download comes with a zip-file of PDFs for the singer's use, which includes a Guidebook, Journals, PDFs of the music sheets for the various vocal workouts, and a form to document song evaluations of materials you have used. Vocal Coach Singer is designed for use with teenagers through adult. If your students are younger, you should look into purchasing their program for 5-12 year olds, Teaching Kids to Sing.

One of my fondest memories of my middle school years has to do with my participation in Chorus at school and Choir at church. Well I remember Miss Aiello and Mr. Daugherty putting us through the voice warm-ups. I remember how we initially grumbled, and eventually just accepted warm-ups as something we were required to do. I do not believe the voice instructors I had ever adequately explained to me the necessity or the reasons for warm-ups. In Vocal Coach Singer, Chris Beatty takes a lot of time to explain the importance of warm-ups, the "why"s, and the "how"s. A great variety of warm-ups is provided to assist the singer as they develop different aspects of their voice (range, relaxation, posture, etc.).

Vocal Coach Singer is designed to be worked through two to five days per week, beginning with the MP3 file called "Getting Started", and then moving through the various additional download files, beginning next with the "Complete Breathing" file.  

I love that the website has a link to free singing resources, and that these resources include YouTube videos. Here is one:
The content of the video is some of the same material contained in one of the MP3 downloads, but somehow I find it easier to digest the information with the video than just the audio. I guess I am remembering that I am more a visual learner than auditory learner.

The first thing that I learned, while implementing this program, was that I am not as media-savvy as I thought I was.  When I received the downloads, I saved them to my computer promptly. I had been told that I needed to open the files using my iTunes, so I began working on the Introduction materials that way. Then I hit a wall. I kept finding Introductory iTune tracks for each of the sections of the files, but I could not figure out where the rest of the materials were. My tracks had also gone into my iTunes library out of order so that my materials were playing Introduction Track 1, and when it would finish it would immediately skip to Track 11. So, in effect, I would get an introduction that lasted 26 seconds, and then the audio would say, "In conclusion..."  I was so frustrated. And I thought it was a problem with the program and didn't realize it was a problem with... dare I say it... ME!

I finally realized there had to be more to the program, and I emailed Chris Beatty for help. I was really stressed at this point, and I finally humbled myself went to my 23-year-old daughter, as well, and told her my situation. I knew I had downloaded everything, and I suspected it was there somewhere, but I couldn't find it.

She sat down with my computer, and sure enough she found it (bless her!), and I quickly opened all the zip files and individual files to my iTunes so that I could finally access the materials. Also, Chris Beatty very quickly got back to me, as did his Customer Services person, Ian, to follow up. (Kudos to you both for your fast Customer Service and follow-up!)

So I know now that I would have done much better if I had gotten the CDs. So please hear me, if you are not intimately acquainted with using iTunes, seriously consider spending the extra money and getting the CDs instead of the MP3 download. I, for now, have been forced to learn a bit more about how iTunes works in conjunction with my computer, so I think I'm good for now, but I still think I would have preferred the CDs so that I could send  my son into his room with the CDs and a CD player and let him work on his voice lessons privately. I imagine I should even be able to figure out how to transfer this stuff to my iPod, but I still haven't got that figured out yet. ::sigh::

If you are at all familiar with my previous reviews, you should know by now that my son is very hard to please. He is very hard on the products I review (as in when I ask him what he thinks, his usual response to just about everything I try with him is, "I hate it."). We got off on the wrong foot with this product, so it should not surprise you that right now his opinion of Vocal Coach Singer is, "I hate it." But it is my opinion that my son has a really good voice that would benefit by giving this program more of a chance than we have yet given it. My experience has been that it takes him longer than six weeks with a product to change his tune. So it is my intention to continue with Vocal Coach Singer and come back at a later time to post an update to let you know how things are going.

What did I think?: 
  • Well, personally, I needed something more on paper, like in the Guidebook. I would really have appreciated having a paper plan showing me in writing the advised method of implementing. It might have said, "Day 1: Listen to Introduction, Tracks 1 and 2; Day 2..." etc., so that when it is time to work on the "Complete Breathing" materials I know whether to do one Track, or two, or five... I just felt quite confused listening over this program, not sensing natural breaks as to where one days' lessons end and the next days begin, or if certain files are to be repeatedly reused. If this were written out as a planner for program implementation, maybe the MP3 files could even be linked in so that with a click the correct file opens right where it should and you know you are covering the right material. Maybe I am a lofty dreamer... Maybe the clickable links are not feasible, but I would sure like to see a written lesson plan.
  • I really like the nature of this program, such that if I can get my son to love it and understand how to use it, hopefully he can go into his room and work on his singing in private while he is developing his voice. I aim for this goal due to issues in my home of unkindness between siblings. ::sigh::  I love my son's voice and would love to help him develop it through this program.
  • I like the contents of the PDF downloads. I like that the music sheets can be printed out for the student to see and follow along, which can aid the student in learning to sight-read music.
  • I really enjoyed my own personal enrichment as I worked on the program. I loved hearing the improved quality of my voice as I systematically worked my way through the exercises. Funny as it is, I enjoyed singing the warm-up exercises' funny words, and looking around to see if anyone was listening. I loved the nostalgia of once again working on "Voice", and doing exercises similar to ones I worked on in the 1970's, as well as additional exercises that were new to me.
  • In light of the difficulties I had getting this set up and running, I have to say that for me this was a very teacher-intensive program, as in it took me a lot to get it up and running. Once it is running smoothly, the student might need help each day knowing where to start and how much to cover, but other than that there is little additional teacher/mom work required for daily preparation. 
  • In spite of the difficulties I had getting this program set up and running, I am giving  Vocal Coach Singer, two thumbs up, and I highly recommend you consider getting it if you need help getting your music program off the ground. (But get the CD's, okay?) And remember to frequent the website for freebies and further support, and subscribe to their blog for ongoing support.
  • Oh, one more ISSUE for the folks at Vocal Coach to correct or look into: the recordings direct the listener to go to the blog, whereas that is actually a non-working link. The link I listed on the previous bullet is the correct link.
This has been a Schoolhouse Crew Review.

DISCLAIMER: As a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew, I received an MP3 download of Vocal Coach Singer in exchange for my honest, uninfluenced review.  I was not required to write a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way.  All opinions I have expressed are my own or those of my family. I am disclosing this in accordance with the FTC Regulations.

To read more reviews of Vocal Coach Singer, as well as reviews of Teaching Kids to Sing, the other product Schoolhouse Review Crew was reviewing, visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew Blog. Feel free to leave comments below; I love comments!


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