Student Spotlight: What Paola learned from THE WOLVES

Being in a successful Off-Broadway play for a few months is equally exciting and tiring, but then add the fact that you are playing a teenage soccer player- yelling, running and stretching all over the stage and you have a recipe for utter exhaustion! Amazingly though, Paola handled it all with ease and grace. Check out what CCVS student Paola Abreu learned from her experience in the cast of THE WOLVES at Lincoln Center.

What did you learn about yourself and what your body needs over the course of rehearsals and performances?

It’s funny.  I think that every time I do a show I relearn preparation skills.  So I’d say that I was reminded that every day is different; some days my body felt warm already, and all I needed was a quick foam rollout and lip trills and I was ready to go, other days I would need a solid 20 minutes to reset, breath, and get juicy.  But everyday asked me to tune in to what was necessary to be present for the work to be done. Same goes with the cool-down (which we performers often forget to do).  After some shows, icing and self massage was super necessary, some shows a hot tea and a warm bath, some shows I just needed to go out and dance.  

How did your vocal and physical training/preparation support you in the run of THE WOLVES?

Oh well vocal and physical training is acting training.  There is no way that I would have been able to efficiently, wholly, and generously tell this story without the gifts training taught me.  The voice and body work together.  After all, your voice is in your body!  When your body is warm and ready, often so is your voice.  Learning how to tune in and bring myself to relaxed, attentive openness allowed me to be a vessel for the words and the story to come through me, rather than forcing things to happen the way I think they should.  If you have been blessed with a solid piece of writing, the way that Sarah DeLappe blessed this script, then the work is already done.  You just need to be able to get your body, heart, and brain to a place where the work can easily move through you and shape you throughout the rehearsal process.  Then when the play starts running, the rest of the work is being present, open, generous, and trusting that the story already lives in you, and nothing more need be done.  

 

Read the review of THE WOLVES here.

Do Skype Lessons Really Work?

Don’t take my word for it!

I was worried starting Skype lessons. Are they really possible? And if so, are they as good as in-person lessons? And the answer is YES! The sound quality is a lot better than you would think and Chelsea is more than capable of hearing what’s going on in my voice. Besides the very occasional technical difficulty, Skype lessons are just as effective as in-person lessons. And as someone who lives across the country from Chelsea, it’s totally worth it. AND I can do it in my pajamas! Total win.  – Hannah Bayles. Singer & Voice Teacher in Provo, UT

I would highly recommend taking Skype lessons with Chelsea. When you’re on the road singing the same material eight times a week, it is very easy to become complacent with your technique. I find Skype lessons incredibly useful because they reinforce my work ethic, and keep me striving to improve my voice in areas I may not sing in every day. Even through the computer, Chelsea’s ear is stellar in recognizing tension in my voice and diagnosing the cause of it, and giving me exercises to free up my cords.  It doesn’t feel like we’re in different time zones at all! – Isabelle McCalla. Currently traveling the country as Jasmine in the National Tour of Aladdin the Musical. 

My 12 year old daughter has loved taking voice lessons via Skype from Chelsea. At first I wasn’t sure if lessons through this medium would be as effective as in person, but I have been proven wrong. Not only has my daughter’s singing range and tone improved, but her confidence in herself and her voice have increased dramatically in just a few months of lessons. As a busy mom I appreciate the convenience of not having to travel and drive to yet another one of my children’s many activities, and my daughter actually prefers singing from the comfort of her own bedroom. It’s familiar ground for her and she is able to relax and let loose. It has been a great experience all around for us. – Amanda Neilson. Westchester County, NY

The advantages to Skype lessons include schedule flexibility. It’s easier to find time in the day for a lesson when you’re taking a lesson at home. I also like to practice what I learned right after class. By saving time traveling to and from the studio, I have an extra hour of my day that I can devote to singing or to whatever I choose. The primary advantage of studio lessons is the nice, friendly atmosphere and I also feel slightly more focused in-person.  Nevertheless, I feel I can get 95% to 100% of what I can get in studio on Skype. Even if I’m slouching while I’m on Skype, Chelsea can tell. Normally, there’s a slight delay so she won’t play the notes of the scale as I sing- she’ll just give a chord to indicate when and where to start. One word of caution- If you are an absolute beginner like I was many years ago and have trouble singing a scale without somebody playing the notes along with you, then Skype lessons will be difficult.  However, right now I have no problem singing a scale or an arpeggio after given a chord so I have no trouble using Skype. As a result I end up using it the majority of the time. –Zev Aber. Singer, guitarist, and tutor in New York, NY.

Tips for a successful Skype lesson: 

Find a quiet place with minimal distractions. A keyboard nearby may be helpful but is not necessary! Check that you have a strong and fast internet connection BEFORE your first lesson. Make a test call to a friend beforehand to check that everything will go smoothly the day of your lesson.

It is a good idea to play any backing tracks you want to use during your lesson on a different device than the device you are using for your Skype connection. If not, whatever audio you play on that device may cancel out all sound for your teacher on the other end!

In which case, you will need:

  1. A device to connect to Skype on
  2. External speakers to play backing tracks through
  3. An additional device to record your lesson on OR Call Recorder- a desktop application you can download that allows you to record your Skype calls.

 

Every Vocalize is a Breathing Exercise

I’ve heard from some folks that I perhaps don’t speak enough about the correct use of breath in voice lessons or on this blog, even. As one of the three systems of singing (respiration, phonation, and resonance) it is certainly necessary! But I’ll say this again- Whatever breathing skills you have employed thus far in life will do you just fine in singing. Most of us speak all day without running out of breath and Yoga instructors and deep sea divers are not necessarily incredible vocalists! When you really get to know the voice, most issues with “breath” are actually issues at the level of the vocal folds- proper phonation resists air to create a clear, strong tone. Improper phonation either presses the folds too much resulting in a squeezed sound or feeling, or keeps the folds too lax, resulting in too much air seeping through the folds and a breathy tone.

But hey, you still want to argue about the need for breathing exercises? How about this then: Every vocalize is a breathing exercise.

Think about it. Every vocalize (arpeggio or scale practiced to balance the voice, i.e. a lip trill or the word MUM on an octave and a half scale) requires that you 1. Inhale and 2. over a long or short period of time, moderately blow that air through your vocal tract while your vocal folds gently vibrate together, resulting in pitched sound. Then you do it again, and again, and again! Each vocalization tests your ability to use your air steadily and over as long a period of time as you choose. That sounds like breathing to me!

Sure, if your posture is poor and your breath shallow, things may not go well. So, in a mirror, check that you are standing up straight, chest lifted, with your chin back so that your neck is aligned with your spine. When you inhale, your abs will gently release as your lungs fill with air (as opposed to your shoulders lifting with tension), and when you sing/exhale, your abs may gently pull in. All of this should feel natural- no holding , gripping, or tension involved. After all, if standing perfectly rigid was mandatory for singing, how do Broadway ensembles sing and dance at the same time? Or how does P!nk fly around in a harness upside down and belt high F’s in her stadium tours?

Ya’ll- take a deep breath, relax, and go vocalize.

The Case for High Notes

Are you trying to get in shape? Lose a few pounds perhaps? Feel a bit more svelte and slim? I’ve got the perfect workout plan for you!

Squats.

Yep, squats! Just that. No need for any other exercises or cardio, just squats!

Just kidding. You knew I was kidding, right?

While squats are GREAT for you, if you’re looking for a total body makeover and improved health, squats are only going to get you so far. Same thing if you only ever did bicep curls and ignored the triceps on the opposite side of your arm. Likely you’ll look and feel quite unbalanced.

Guess where I’m going with this- it’s the same with your voice. I’ve met a fair amount of singers who only want, or really ‘need’, to sing in quite a small range, perhaps an octave and a half. For men, this means they could quite possibly stay in chest voice that entire time. And when that’s the case, issues arise.

That’s because our voice is made up of two major muscle groups, chest voice muscles that keep our vocal folds thick and short, and head voice muscles that stretch and thin our folds*. The thinning and stretching process allows our voices to ascend in pitch. At any given time, both of these muscle groups are working to some degree (otherwise we couldn’t change pitch at all) but often one group is doing most of the work.

If you get stuck in the mentality that you only sing low notes and therefore only need to exercise low notes, you are doing your voice a total disservice and may even cause unnecessary harm and distress. Just like the rest of our body, our voices are made up of opposing muscle groups- both need to be worked to have a HEALTHY voice! Without weekly, nay, DAILY working of both low and high registers, you will be left struggling to transition from chest to head voice, with funky bumps in the road all the way up and down. Your sound may even completely cut out or be very breathy in your middle or top registers. And I promise even your low notes will lack the vibrancy and flexibility that you could achieve with daily work in your upper register.

What to do? Get studying with a voice teacher who encourages you to sing through two+ octaves if you are a male (a high C is a VERY reasonable goal to vocalize to!) and three+ octaves if you are female. On your own, try semi-occluded vocal exercises like a tongue or lip trill on longer scales throughout your range. Try some headier vowels like EE and OO. You may need to take some time just stretching our your head voice before you can start blending it with your chest. That’s fine, but move towards connecting the registers as quickly as possible. Isolating one register or another is not a good long-term goal.

GET SINGING! And singing HIGH!

 

*If you want to get science-y, those muscles are called the thyroarytenoid and cricothyroid, respectively.

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.