The first time I set foot into Jonathan Graves’ studio I was relieved to feel my giddy excitement tempered with complete comfort. As this was my first vocal lesson ever and I knew I was about to bare my soul by singing my guts out in front of a complete stranger. The studio, equipped with a keyboard or two, several guitars, and a few computer screens, felt professional without feeling clinical. Jonathan himself seemed to be a friendly and encouraging guy my own age, which helped me open up and really give the lesson all I had.
We sat in his cool vintage chairs and talked a bit about my goals as a musician. I shared with him that I’d been finally putting my written words to melody, and playing guitar alongside to develop these materializing songs. I wanted to focus on just my singing with him to begin with, as I felt that bringing the guitar into the equation would split our attention. Jonathan agreed, adding that we could always get to it after a couple meetings.
We warmed up my voice with scales. Jonathan played a run of notes on his keyboard and I was to match them. Through this exercise, my range would be understood and we would have a better idea of where my chest voice and head voice meet. I found this exercise empowering, to say the least. Then we got to my breath.
Apparently, most of us breathe from both the top and bottom of our middle sections, but in order to get the most power from our breath, we need to fill up our bottom gut like a balloon. Jonathan got me to lay down, because the only time we breathe from our bellies naturally is when we are lying on our backs. Once I had a firm understanding of what that felt like, I stood up and kept my hands on my belly for the rest of our session. Breathing from deep down felt really right, and I was amazed at how much power and sustain I had with each breath!
After my voice was warm, Jonathan asked me what I’d been listening to the most lately. To which I answered (and always will answer) Fleetwood Mac. He asked me what singers I love, and why, and I rambled on about PJ Harvey, Josh Homme, Stevie Nicks, and Tori Amos. Before I knew it, I had a firmer understanding of why I like the music I like, and how to recognize aspects of a singer’s vibe and begin to integrate those aspects into creating my own vocal sound.
Jonathan then asked me to pick a song that I wanted to work on. I had been in awe of early Heart as of late, so I chose “Little Queen.” Having never heard the tune, he looked it up and we were soon bopping our heads in tandem. He asked me to go home and listen to the song a bunch, familiarize myself with the subtle changes and the lyrics, and our next meeting we would record me performing it. I was psyched!
The next week I came back really jazzed to record vocals for the first time since my band recorded an album in college. Jonathan led me through a warm-up, and then we dove right in. He had actually recreated the song without the Wilson sisters’ vocals, playing and recording the guitar, drums, and bass himself. Breathing as he had coached me, I sang into his super legit microphone, and our first take was awesome! We did a couple more takes, with Jonathan patching me in to create the most polished sound. We then had a recording of me singing one of my favorite songs ever, and I was impressed.
Jonathan teaches voice, guitar, bass, keyboards, and beatmaking, as well as songwriting, recording, and production under the moniker Future Music Lessons. His rates are reasonable, his space is clean and well-equipped, and he oozes expertise without any pretention. I would highly recommend him as a teacher, and can hardly wait to continue working with him!