Technique is about Choices

The only reason for mastering technique is to make sure the body does not prevent the soul from expressing itself.
-La Meri-

The best feeling in the world is feeling completely limitless when singing a song- no obstacle in your way, no note out of reach, no melody too tricky to master. The worst is feeling like you’re barely scraping by in the piece, unable to make choices regarding interpretation or style because you are limited by what your voice can physically produce.

Mastering vocal technique gives you options, it gives you choices. It expands the realm of what is possible. Working on technique does not mean you lose that original sound only you are blessed with- it expands what your God-given voice is capable of!

One other thought on the topic of choices: developing good technique is understanding what variables took you from point A to point Z. Good technique is the sum of so many small things- the shape of your vowels, the looseness of your jaw, the relaxation or engagement of certain muscles, the balance of air flow and vocal fold resistance. What allowed you to get the full, released sound on the word “Love” on a high F? Can you identify the small choices that got you there? Eventually, it becomes intuitive.

Work to technically improve your voice, like a ballerina or basketball player might improve their body and game. You’ll find a world of possibility open to you!

Who’s On Your Team? Find an ENT!

Want to be a professional singer? It’s time to get the right professionals on your team. In addition to working regularly with a voice teacher, I recommend developing a relationship with a Laryngologist – an Ear Nose and Throat doctor who specializes in the voice. I recommend going in and getting a ‘base-line’ scope- the doctor will take video and pictures of your vocal folds ideally when you are feeling your most healthy. Then, if any future vocal issues arise, you and your doctor can refer back to your ‘base-line’ exam and really see what the difference is.

Shouldn’t a voice teacher be able to fix anything that’s wrong in my voice? My friend and mentor, Guy Babusek, shared the following thoughts:

“I have witnessed voice teachers in the past saying things like “I don’t hear any nodules, so you’re fine,” “I can give you some therapeutic exercises that will heal your vocal damage,” or “My diagnosis is you have a polyp and need some vocal rest.” These kinds of comments are always quite concerning to me.

While a voice teacher may have some medical knowledge, a voice teacher (unless otherwise licensed) is not a doctor, and therefore is not qualified to diagnose or treat any medical condition, including that of the voice.

While it’s true certain vocal exercises can have amazing therapeutic effects, I recognize I am not a therapist, I am a voice teacher. Only within the confines of the protocol a doctor has outlined, am I able to recommend vocal exercises to a student who has been suffering with a disorder of the voice.

Please remember, a voice teacher who suggests any type of diagnosis or treatment of a voice disorder is NOT qualified to do so (unless they happen to also be a licensed physician). Any student who is worried they have a disorder of the voice,  should get him or herself to a laryngologist’s office.” …read more here

Looking for an ENT in the NY area? Contact me- I have some great docs I highly recommend! Having issues with your speaking voice or need vocal therapy? I’d love to refer you to a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) I trust.

10 Years of Vocal Education

This weekend I found out that I PASSED my Mentor Level/Level 5 panel test!

Great! So what does that mean . . . ?

I began my vocal instruction education in 2007 with a voice teaching organization called Speech Level Singing. At that point, I already knew I wanted to teach someday — either part-time to support my other artistic dreams, or full-time if the time came that I felt teaching was more my path. My mentor and teacher, Jeffrey Skouson, encouraged me to consider starting my teacher training before I had even started college. So with his blessing and my parent’s support I started what has been a TEN year process of education, conferences, reading and study, private lessons, yearly testing, and so much more.

Ten years later, I’ve achieved the highest level of certification possible with the Institute for Vocal Advancement. This past month, Jeffrey and the other Master Teachers in our organization watched and assessed as I taught a 20 minute lesson in front of them (a ‘panel test’). It was not unlike the other annual tests I’ve been taking for the past ten years, but this time the entire panel of Master Teachers adjudicated. And I passed! With flying colors!

I am thankful to my teachers and peers who push me and our entire teaching organization to become the best voice teachers possible. I am thankful that at 17 years old, Jeffrey saw something in me that he believed would make a great teacher one day. I am thankful that my parents encouraged me to continue, and I’m grateful for the passion I’ve had to pursue this dream. What 17-year-old sets out to reach very specific goal, which will take a decade or more, and actually achieves it? I recognize that I’m extremely fortunate to have had the support and opportunities necessary to accomplish this long-time goal.

My education is far from over, and thankfully my training will continue with IVA. However, having reached this milestone- there are no more tests in my future! Whew!

I can’t speak highly enough of the community of teachers I am a part of. If teaching voice has ever been something you’ve considered, I encourage you to think about investing in that education and skill set. I’d love to talk to you about how to make that happen for yourself.

All worthwhile endeavors take time and practice! For me, it’s been ten years of time and practice and practice and practice, and I am thrilled to have reached this milestone.

 


A bit about the Institute for Vocal Advancement:

At IVA, we strive to continually develop our program with the latest research in vocal science to address these and other questions. We educate and produce the finest voice instructors in the world who develop, promote, and maintain the highest standards for the teaching of singing.

As a Certified Instructor, you have access to our yearly teacher conference, IVACON, teacher-trainings, master classes and workshops right in your area, as well as online training in the form of webinars. Our education will help you to understand how the voice works and how you can continually improve your teaching in order to quickly diagnose and fix problems in any voice, and also how to develop voices of a professional calibre that can meet the demands of modern careers in singing.

more than singing

I got to talk with Renee about this very topic while we were both at IVACON this past week. I agree, singing is transformational! And it’s a blessing we as teachers get to be part of.

The Lunch Break Diaries

I’m currently at a conference in San Diego put together by the fine folks at the Institute of Vocal Advancement (IVA). Every year, IVA vocal instructors such as myself gather from all over the world to learn more about the craft of singing and the highly nuanced art of teaching vocal technique. We’re basically kept in windowless rooms 10 hours a day for five days and we cram our brains full of knowledge until we feel like pulp on the inside. It’s awesome.

On our second day in the conference, I was interviewed for an upcoming episode of the IVA podcast. One of the questions they asked me was “What is it about teaching that you find most fulfilling?” It prompted me to reflect on what this profession means to me now after all these years.

When I started out as a vocal instructor, I was excited about the idea…

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Just Give it Time (+ Practice + Dedication + Lessons + Practice + Dedic…)

I guarantee you all of your favorite singers worked for years to get the voice they have today. Whether it was formal training with a teacher, or practicing along to Whitney’s riffs and runs in their bedroom for years on end, no one just #wokeuplikethis.

Guy Babusek said it well in a recent blog post:

“Some students will only book lessons when they have auditions or important gigs coming up. When there are no performances on the horizon, I never see them. This is not a wise way of working with a voice teacher at all. In these cases, there is no time to actually build a solid technique. These singers are trying to cram in years of training into small spurts sporadically. While this is better than no training at all, it is a very ineffective way of working. Solid singing technique is built over time, by taking weekly lessons and vocalizing daily in a systematic manner.”

I can’t agree with Guy more! The best time to start your vocal training was three years ago, but the second best time is NOW. Right this minute! Don’t wait until your dream role audition comes up, or you go into record your debut album next week. A great voice takes REAL time to train.

If you want to be a professional singer, or even just a good amateur singer, take RESPONSIBILITY for the time and effort it takes to accomplish something worthwhile. Recognize you won’t get their on your own. If you value something, give it the time, energy, and even money it deserves. In the case of your voice- book regular lessons and practice every day.

 

I’m Sick! Should I Cancel My lesson?

Last week I jumped on Facebook live to chat about what to do if you’re under the weather and feel like you should cancel your lesson. Hop on over to my Facebook page to see that in full. And we’ve already talked about sickness and singing here on the blog.

Just here for the highlights? Here’s what you need to remember if you’re thinking about cancelling your lesson.

  1. Know the cancellation policy and be prepared to pay for the lesson. For me and my studio, I send out my studio policies after your very first lesson- which includes my cancellation policy:

    For in-person lessons, if you make a cancellation within 48 hours of the lesson, you are responsible for paying the cost of the studio rental fee, which varies from $17 to $22 an hour. This also applies to re-scheduling.

    If you make a cancellation within 24 hours of the lesson, you are responsible for paying the total cost of the lesson.

    Sickness comes up, and I try to be as understanding as possible with my students as sickness arises. However, I hold all my students to this policy and appreciate their understanding of it. After all, they’ve known about it since day one!

  2. Feel something coming on? Cancel while you can. Back to the above- if you feel something coming on, chances are that stuffy nose will get worse before it gets better. Cancel before 48 hours and ensure you don’t have to pay any lesson fees. Be in communication with me- I want you to take care of yourself and get well!
  3. Have a show tonight? Audition tomorrow? Maybe don’t cancel. If you absolutely have to go on stage tonight or have an audition tomorrow that cannot be rescheduled, it may be useful for you to keep your lesson. I work with under the weather professionals often- it is valuable to learn how to warm up and cool down your voice specifically for when you are sick, and also how to get through a piece with congestion or slight swelling in your cords. *This is NOT a long term solution! Overusing your voice when you are not well can cause long term vocal damage. Some rare times, however, you may need to know how to sing when you are not at your best.
  4. There are other things we can do in a lesson besides sing! Come in and listen to and find new repertoire for your audition book. Let’s do a listening lesson, where we can analyze and assess other singer’s voices and find application for yourself. If you’ve already paid for the lesson, there are other valuable things we can do.
  5. You know your body- make the call for yourself. You are responsible for you and your voice- period! If you know you need time to rest and recover, please do. Be prepared to pay the full lesson fee if this is the case. If you have a stuffy nose, but your voice is unaffected, come on in and sing. It is your call and your voice! You only get one, so take care of it.

 

Stop Looking Sideways, or How I Embraced My Own Path

I am a University of Michigan Musical Theatre grad and I wear my Maize and Blue proud. Being a U of M grad in the world of musical theatre has given me opportunities that never would have been open to me otherwise, and dear friends and a network of professional artists that I am blessed to have. It’s like having a golden ticket- a degree from Michigan is a privilege, an honor, and a great accomplishment.

It’s also a burden to bear.

You graduated from U of M? Wow! You must be so talented! Are you on Broadway? Have you been on Broadway? How many Broadway shows have you done? Are you friends with Gavin Creel?

The answers are no, no, none, and no- although we do live in the same neighborhood and I smile at him when I see him walking his dog.

What no one tells you in your four years of preparation to enter this crazy field is that there is no guarantee of success. And what’s more, the expectations we have for ourselves as graduates of such a program can be too much to handle.

I graduated in 2012 thinking I would make it ‘big’ right away. Every week my classmates and I would hear the awesome news of friends of ours in previous classes making their Broadway debut (or second or third appearance) or getting a tour, or even a TV gig. It was Broadway or bust for all 24 of my classmates and I. We saw the standard of excellence for Michigan grads and we were chomping at the bit to have our chance at success.

Things did not play out how I imagined. I finished showcase, didn’t sign with an agent, and set out on a year and a half of auditions where nothing really came to fruition. I was called back for Broadway shows and tours, I performed in small things here and there, but there was no “I’ve made it in New York” moment for me. It was discouraging to say the least.

But what my real mistake was, and the whole point of me writing this, was… I was looking sideways the whole time.

You know Mr. Wagner’s line? Something like, you can’t go forward if you’re looking sideways? That was me. And that was so many of my friends. And that is so many of my talented, incredible, hard working students now. I was absolutely comparing my life and my success to people on completely different paths. I kept happiness at arm’s length because my life looked different from theirs.

My life started to look more and more like this: spending time in the studio teaching voice lessons to people who valued my skills and whose energy brought light to my life, pursuing a relationship with my now husband and then planning a wedding, growing my teaching business, pursuing continued vocal education, pouring energy into my friendships and family and getting back the same.

I always knew I wanted to be a full time voice teacher one day, I just didn’t imagine it meaning so much to me so quickly. In fact, I’ve been teaching, training and re-certifying as an instructor every year for the past ten years, with what is now the Institute for Vocal Advancement. What was initially going to help me avoid waiting tables has become my real passion and the thing that I am most fulfilled by.

It was hard to admit this to myself, let alone my friends, a few of whom were making huge strides in their acting careers right about this time. It was honestly embarrassing for me to say things like, “It doesn’t seem like now is the right time for me in this business. But you know what I might like even more? This whole teaching thing.”

Did people think I was “giving up?” My professors and family expect more from me, am I letting them down? Am I letting myself down? Isn’t acting what I was “supposed” to do?

I just found this “journal” entry in a forgotten notebook tonight. It’s from the day before last year’s incredible Maize and Blue on Broadway concert in honor of Brent Wagner. I wrote,

“I am sad not to be important enough to to be in the Maize and Blue concert. Not to not be in it, but to be of so little consequence in this field, I’m useless… I’m afraid to feel fat, unimportant, untalented by my friends and colleagues at the concert tomorrow. I feel like nothing I’ve accomplished matters, especially in the Michigan MT context.”

Have you ever felt this way?

Here’s what I’ve learned. My path is not the same as yours, and yours is different from the next person’s. When I have let success be defined as just one narrow outcome in a world FULL of opportunity, I have absolutely let myself be miserable. When I measure myself against my friends with Broadway credits or Broadway bodies, I keep happiness at arm’s length.

If this is your dream, do it! Do it with all your heart, mind, and strength! If it’s taking longer than you expected, that’s ok. Breathe, relax, and keep working. And if it turns out this funny business of show isn’t where your heart lies, then give yourself permission to follow it elsewhere. I admire my friends and colleagues who have found themselves in law school, behind a casting table, teaching children’s dance classes, writing Oscar winning songs, directing commercials, starring in their own plays, becoming parents, launching a community theatre, and going to med school.

The world is wide enough. You are important just the way you are, and Broadway credits or not, that will not change. We each have inherent value, and this life is too short to not find out what your unique contribution to the world will be.

Today, seeing my best friends’ names in the playbill is a thrill. I genuinely rejoice in the success of those around me, and I’ve allowed others to celebrate mine as well. To my fellow Wolverines and all dreamers out there- I can’t wait to see what you create. Keep looking forward, because I promise you don’t want to miss the beautiful path you are on.

Photo credit to Lauren Hartman

Chord or Cord? Which is Witch?

Here’s your essential grammar lesson from me, ‘Chord’ or ‘Cord’? Which word describes the two little vibrating masses in your throat?

Your vocal CORDS are two tiny lengths of tissue whose edges vibrate in the air stream to produce the voice. In fact, to be a bit more anatomically correct, a lot of us vocal professionals refer to them as vocal FOLDS.

Are my vocal cords muscles? Kinda, but actually no. There are teeny tiny muscles within your vocal cords, but the part of the fold that vibrates against each other to create sound is a thin layer of jelly-like tissue. This tissue is incredibly fragile and needs to be treated with care! Why else do you think good vocal technique is so important?

In order to sing well, we can learn to control some of the larger (but still super small!) muscles in our larynx (aka ‘voice box’) and somewhat indirectly the teeny tiny muscles in our vocal cords.

And just to clarify, a CHORD is a group of notes (usually three or more) that form the basis of harmony. We strum chords on the guitar, play chords on the piano, and we sing chords in group vocal arrangements.

And now you know!

My TOP TWO Tips for Audition Preparation

Ready, Set, Audition Season!

Here are my TOP TWO most important tips for the weeks leading up to all your big auditions! Your confidence, preparation, and talent will score you parts and acceptance letters- but these two crucial self-care tips will play a big part in your performance at these critical auditions!

HYDRATEOB.10629.DIG

Imagine your voice is a potted plant, resting on your windowsill. You’re supposed to water it every day, right?  However, If you haven’t, by the time your plant is wilting and turning brown it is TOO LATE to water it! You may try, and the plant may be revived eventually, but it’s not going to perk up until DAYS after that first watering.

The lesson? Excessively water/hydrate yourself in the 3-5 days leading up to an audition! In fact, get in the habit of excessively hydrating yourself every day as your responsibility as a serious vocalist. All the water you drink on audition day won’t do a thing to hydrate and plump your vocal cords, so drink up days beforehand!

Avoid caffeine. I’m serious! AVOID it! Caffeine will dry out your voice, pretty much counteracting all the awesome hydrating you’re doing.

Know that nothing you drink is actually touching your vocal cords (if it did, our lungs would fill with fluid every time you drank something!). If you want the biggest bang for your buck in a pinch, steam. Take a long hot shower, lean over a boiling pot of water and inhale, or get yourself a fancy steamer like this one. Again, start this regiment days and weeks prior to your actual audition(s).

A student of mine just told me about this sweet app, Plant Nanny, that gives you reminders throughout the day to drink up! For iPhone and Android.

VOCALIZE

I don’t know many runners who have had much success starting their training the day before a marathon. The same goes for singers. If you’re not already stretching, exercising, and balancing your voice through purposeful, daily vocalizing (the kind of meaningful exercises I do with you in each of our voice lessons), then you will not be in peak condition on audition day!

Sure, you can vocalize just that morning and your voice may feel warmed up. But with daily practice (much more than just singing your songs!) days and weeks in advance of the audition, you will gain range, flexibility, and balance. And who doesn’t want more of all that on the big day?

Get into a daily regimen of vocalizing. Again, who would skip track practice the week before a big meet? NO ONE.simple-yoga-stretches-for-relieving-chronic-sciatica-pain

Start to think of yourself as the professional you aim to be, and get responsible for your voice! You are quite literally the only one who can give it what it needs—you can’t send it into the shop to be ‘tuned up’—you get to do that!

Why Should I Warm Up My Voice?

Singing is a physical activity, so why do so many singers not take the time to warm up properly before an audition, rehearsal, or performance?

I don’t know the answer to that. But to encourage you to get into your own warm-up routine, here are my TOP TWO reasons why you should take the time to warm up.

Avoid injury

Every single athlete takes the time to warm up their body before practice or competition. Our bodies need to prepare in order to perform our best. This is the same with our voices! You know how you feel in the morning when you first get out of bed? Do you really want to walk on stage sounding like that?

I didn’t think so.

Imagine a Usain Bolt rolling out of bed a few minutes before one of his Olympic sprints. He doesn’t take the time to stretch, work out his muscles, or mentally “get in the zone” for the race. Chances are, no matter how talented of an athlete he may be, he could incur an injury. Cold muscles= risk for injury.

It takes 5-20 minutes to warm up your voice. It can take days, weeks, or months to recover from a vocal injury. Do the math and do your warm-ups!

Find Vocal Balance

I was recently invited to sing four songs in a concert my friend Elisabeth was putting on. Two were duets, two were solos, and all four had a very different stylistic feel to them. Within these four pieces I needed to make a wide variety of sounds.

Warming up with intentional vocal exercises can help you find “home base,” or vocal balance. With my voice in good working order, I could springboard from one style to another because I took the time to find connection and balance. Without first finding vocal balance, your voice may feel squeezed, pushed, or overly breathy, none of which are feelings that will lead to a successful performance!  Find vocal balance and sing anything.

What is your warm up routine? If you don’t usually warm up, I’m curious- why not?