Everyday Artist Spotlight: Heidi Burson

HB Headshot WEB - Heidi Burson.jpg

We are so pleased to introduce you to the fantastic Heidi Burson, a Nashville-based singer and songwriter whose powerful, soulful voice will speak directly to your heart.  Heidi has had an impressive career in music. Having released two self-produced, full-length albums and working on her third, she continues to make waves in the industry. Read below to learn more about what drives Heidi’s music, what artist most inspires her and how arts education has impacted her life.  Also, do yourself a favor and watch the videos to hear her stunning voice and spectacular songs and then make plans to catch her live on her current tour!  We promise you won’t be disappointed. 

Why is your art important to you?

My music is the ultimate therapy for my good and bad days. It's a blessing to be able to express myself through music and lyrics that I hope can turn around and help others in the same way.


What do you want your art to say? 

Be yourself. Be confident. Choose love. It's okay to have bad days. Treat yourself and love yourself well so you can love others more deeply. Pay attention to the world around you.


What project are you working on now?

Touring across the US and abroad at the moment but also working on releasing a new single before the end of 2018 which will lead the way to a new record in 2019. 

Heidi Burson Web Photo - Heidi Burson.jpg

Who is your favorite artist?

My favorite artist first and foremost is Aretha Franklin. She's my go to for musical soul food and inspiration because I believe she means every single thing she sings/writes and I can tell it comes from a place of raw emotion and experience. She's not afraid to tell it like it is and just go for notes most singers would never dream of trying. She's an incredible musician too; singer, pianist, songwriter, composer, arranger. A true talent.

How has arts education impacted your life? 

To the maximum! I'm not even kidding when I say I use things I've learned from my classes and vocal/piano training EVERY DAY being a performer. From an education standpoint I've acquired a well trained ear and appreciation for music I only have as a result of the arts education I was exposed to growing up both at home, in school and at a collegiate level. Teamwork is another one. As an independent artist, 99.9% of the time, the buck stops here but the experience I have from working in choirs, ensembles etc has taught me how to literally "play well with others" and work as a team to deliver a flawless musical product on stage at every show. I also think you learn at an early age in arts education to take pride in your performances and I translate this mindset into every performance whether it's to 500 dressed up people in a fancy theater or 15 folks in a dive bar. 




Heidi Burson’s story as an artist is one of shared human experience. Very early on, she felt the poignancy of the music of performers such as Etta James, Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin. She was struck by the power and intensity with which they expressed the longing, which we all share, for love and acceptance. These influences, coupled with her own life experiences and a generous dusting of wry humor, have helped to forge a voice and style that is uniquely fascinating. When Heidi sings, people listen. They do so because her delivery is captivating. They do so because she speaks to their own inner feelings. Heidi is a soul singer. "Totally new to us, Burson’s range is something that we will be arriving early to see in person. The deep and somewhat sultry tone that she produces will surely silence most any room that she is performing in. " No Country for New Nashville Magazine "Her on-stage ability to control the room is evident by her captive audience. It’s one thing to be a songwriter and another to be a performer. Heidi Burson is both. Led by Burson's commanding and soulful voice - one with a range that rivals Jill Scott and Adele...The sound is massive; a rich musicality practically oozes off the record." - Kevin Carr with Behind The Set List. To date, Heidi is an award winning artist and songwriter and has released 2 self-produced full length albums, Every Shade of Blue in 2012 and a brand new record, The Story in 2017. Her music is spinning on AcmeRadioLive and Lightning 100 in Nashville and her single, "Give Your Love Away" has been played on BBC Radio. She has recently received song placements on UK playlists for various businesses and is now receiving spins on independent radio stations across the US. She has toured across the US, UK and Europe including a feature at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland to which she'll be returning in 2018 with her own solo show "Soul On Fire." Her touring has seen her perform in various festivals, concert series and notable venues such as the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, the 100 Club in London, BB King's and Ruine Senftenburg Castle in Austria. With relentless drive and some milestone career goals now achieved, Heidi hopes to continue reaching across the world to connect people to each other with the love of good music. As an independent artist with something relevant to say and a better understanding of how to navigate the music industry on her own terms, there is much coming from this one in the years ahead.





Matching Pitch in Middle School (and other true stories!)

by JoAnn Struck

Choir in middle school seems to be the meeting place for every student who loves to sing but has difficulty matching pitch.  The choir program at my school excludes no one.  Everyone who wants to sing can join.  It’s my job to help them become better singers.

It’s a misconception that middle school boys are the only ones who have trouble matching pitch.  Don’t get me wrong, they and it’s obvious when their voice becomes its own alien being.  Even though my feeder school music teachers do a fabulous job of teaching kids to sing, there are still some who just can’t do it.  It’s not anyone’s fault…it’s just what it is.

I’ve been to countless workshops on the boys changing voice.  They all had wonderful things to offer and I use many of them.  There are many physiological reasons for the boys voice change that I won’t go in to here.  Please check out the list of books at the end of this article if you want to further dive into that aspect. 

Over the years I’ve created my own hybrid method of working with these unpredictable voices using everything I’ve learned from workshops and the experience I’ve gained working with my students.   I have also found that this works great with girls, too!  At the beginning of the school year, this is one of the first warm-up exercises I use with the whole choir.  It’s rather magical.

This method came from my good friend Dr. Steven Curtis, retired choral professor from Oklahoma University.

For any student that has trouble matching pitch, have them talk to you until you find their speaking pitch on the piano.  Use that pitch as a starting point.  Have them sing ‘ah’ on do-re-mi-re-do.  Dr. Curtis explains that if a boy (or girl) is having trouble matching pitch, they will have a much better chance of matching 3 pitches instead of a typical 5 (do-re-me-fa-so-fa-me-re-do) that we would use as a standard vocal warm-up.  I use ‘ah’ because I can hear them better and I can hear when their voice changes into their upper register or (for boys) pops and cracks or just plain disappears.  Have them sing this moving up by half steps until they run out of notes and do the same descending by half steps. This gives you their current range.

Now the real work begins.  In my classroom we are very comfortable (even with girls present) talking with the boys about what pitches they can or cannot sing.  (this is a subject for an entire different blog post).  I explain to any student having trouble matching pitch that they must use the daily warm ups as a chance to broaden their range.  I am careful to include the 3-note warm-up for quite a while until I feel most of my students are matching more and more pitches.  Sometimes I will ask an individual section to do a warm-up so I can check their progress.  I will also have students come individually to work with them and their unique vocal issues.

True story #1:  I had a 7th grade girl that constantly sang way too low.  Sometimes an octave lower that the music was written.  I had her come in before school and discovered that her elementary teacher had told her not to sing.  GRRRRRRRRR!  This girl loved to sing but no one took the time to help her.  Within 5 minutes of a few warm-ups and a quick reminder of how to produce a good sound, she was singing on pitch. She had no actual vocal problems, just a lack of instruction.

True story #2:  Last year I had an autistic girl who sang in the stratosphere no matter what I did.  I had her begin coming in once a week for a “lesson” (15 minutes).  I started her with the 3 note warm up and discovered she could match pitch by herself.  We started singing simple songs like “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and I would change the key each time we repeated it and she could match pitch.  One of her vocal problems was tension.  I would constantly tell her to relax and her pitch matching improved immensely.  So we made a signal between her and me to help her remember to relax during a rehearsal or performance.  Part of her issue though was the need for repetition.  Most autistic students need lots of repetition for everything they do.  By the time we were ready to perform for the concert she had learned the music well and could sing on pitch most of the time.  It was so fun to watch!

True story #3:  I had a young man join choir for the first time in 7th grade.  He had a bit of an advantage because he had been in orchestra since 4th grade and already had a strong idea of performing in-tune).  He literally had 5 notes he could match.  I took him through the process I mentioned above and told him if he wanted more notes (larger range) he was going to have to work for it.  I explained that he should never sing anything that was painful but it was OK to stretch his range each time we warmed-up.  Daily, I could see the look of concentration on his face as we did warm-ups.  It was delightful to watch!  By the end of the year, he had increased his range to over an octave.  I was so proud of him!

Can every student match pitch? I believe they can.  It takes work from you, the teacher, as well as the student.  It won’t happen overnight and sometimes it might take longer than you have them as students.  Put in the work. It’s worth the effort!


Check out the following resources for voice building:

Strategies for Teaching Junior High/Middle School Male Singers

The Boys' Changing Voice

Working with Adolescent Voices

Finding Ophelia's Voice, Opening Ophelia's Heart


JoAnn Struck has begun her 33rd year of teaching music in the public schools.  She has taught music for K-12th grade and has spent the last 25ish years teaching middle school choir at Capps Middle School in the Putnam City School District in Oklahoma City, OK.  She earned her B.M.E from Southern Nazarene University and her M.A in Choral Conducting from the Conservatory of Music at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.  She continues to question her sanity but truly loves teaching middle school.  She can be reached at



Singing in Tune (Yes, in middle school!)

by JoAnn Struck


The first few choir rehearsals are important in so many ways.  One of the first skills I teach is tuning.  If a choir doesn’t know what “in tune” sounds like they will never be able to understand it or recreate it.

For my middle school choirs, this is the procedure I follow for teaching basic in-tune singing in the first few rehearsals:

I first have to explain the mechanics of vocal production:

1. dropping the jaw-this can be done by putting two fingers (one on top of the other) and slipping it between their top and bottom teeth or when their jaw is dropped they can place their finger in the ‘hole’ next to their ear.  The hole only appears when the jaw is dropped.

2. lifting the soft palate- I have the students use their tongue to feel the roof of their mouth just behind their front teeth.  I explain that this is called the hard palate.  Next I ask them to use their tongue to feel the back part of the roof of their mouth.  They notice how soft and squishy it is and we talk about it being connected to the uvula.  Then I ask them to pretend to yawn (which always turns into a real yawn for them and me!) and ask them to describe to me what direction the soft palate moves.  Surprise!  It moves up!  Some teachers tell their young singers to “create space” in the back of their throat or “open the throat.”  Most students don’t know how to do this without some instruction.  I have found this little exercise makes much more sense to them and is quickly successful.

3.  Mouth shape - keeping the corners of their mouth from spreading.  I teach in Oklahoma and our school is very ethnically diverse.  So the singer “spread” is a daily battle.  I have my students start with singing while dropping the jaw, then experience what lifting the soft palate feels like (yawning), then paying attention to the shape of the mouth.

After some practice with the basic mechanics, then I choose a pitch I know most of my girls AND boys can sing…usually B or A below middle C.  It’s not necessary to have them sing with a lot of gusto at the beginning.  My goal for them is to experience singing in tune. 

We start by singing the vowel ooooo because it’s the easiest to tune.  The first time the students sing in unison, it’s pretty much all over the place.  The boys are still trying to find their voice, the girls are checking out the boys and there’s at least one student trying to read their book without me noticing.  You’ve got to love middle school!

As we they are singing I use motions to remind them about the three things they are focusing on in order to sing in tune.  I drop my jaw and run my hand down the jawline, for the soft palate I raise my hand up in the “la” position and for the mouth shape I ask them to sing as if they have a cheerio or life saver in their mouth and they are singing through the hole.   I stop them and explain to them that if EVERYONE is singing with the correct technique then they will be able to hear the pitch “straighten out.”  So we try again.  They sing the pitch until it becomes “in tune”, all the while I am using my motions to remind them of they things they need to do to make it “in tune.”  It usually takes a few seconds but it will finally get there.  We celebrate!  I say things like: “Did you hear that?  Did you hear how the pitch was all jumbled and ragged and then it straightened out and became smooth?”  They actually get excited!

I explain to them that the goal is to have that ‘jumbled’ time decrease each time they sing.  So we do it again…..and again….and again.  Unbelievably, after a few times, they can sing in tune, they can recognize what in-tune singing sound AND feels like. 

We have to do this process with each vowel sound because each vowel has it’s own shape and challenges.  Once the students have experienced the in-tune sound, then adapting it to the other vowel sounds goes very quickly.  Eventually we sing through all the vowels (on a single pitch, then changing pitches) without stopping to teach them to keep the mechanics in place as the vowels change.

I have found this process to be simple, quick and very successful for my middle school students.  Proper singing has many, many layers…..singing in tune is just one of them.

Very few, if any, of my students have the luxury of taking private voice lessons.  So my choral warm ups at the beginning of each rehearsal is a mini voice lesson.  What an opportunity for students to get this kind of instruction every single day!  So it’s important to make that time count! 


Here are a few of my favorite warm-up books.  They all include exercises in tuning as well as many other important vocal techniques. 

The Complete Choral Warm Up book - Robinson & Althouse

The Choral Warm Up Collection - Albrect

Building Beautiful Voices - Nesheim & Noble


JoAnn Struck has begun her 33rd year of teaching music in the public schools.  She has taught music for K-12th grade and has spent the last 25ish years teaching middle school choir at Capps Middle School in the Putnam City School District in Oklahoma City, OK.  She earned her B.M.E from Southern Nazarene University and her M.A in Choral Conducting from the Conservatory of Music at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.  She continues to question her sanity but truly loves teaching middle school.  She can be reached at