This week has brought a lot of change. Here in the US, we have a new president! God Bless Lady Gaga who brought us the National Anthem at the inauguration (my reaction here).
And earlier this week, my husband Jordan and I found out what the next two years has in store for us. After a long process of him applying to specialty programs, we finally have a plan- and it includes a BIG move (read that news here).
With all this going on, I’ve been thinking about change and opportunity.
Have you ever felt…?
Have you ever felt stressed out of your mind trying to make a decision, not really having all the information needed or any options laid out in front of you yet? Have you ever ran through every possible scenario in your mind, well before the choice could even be made?
That’s how I had been feeling lately.
My Uncle Ralph would say, “You can’t make a decision until you can make a decision!”
Until the opportunities present themselves, there’s actually nothing to decide.
I think our job as artists (and human beings, honestly) is to put ourselves out there for the opportunities we want.
Submit for that audition, send in a self-tape, work on your voice now to prepare for the future, apply to a lot of schools and cast a wide net, etc.
After we’ve done all that we can do, the opportunities start to present themselves.
But if you never put yourself out there, there’s nothing to choose from. It’s not your job to take yourself out of the running.
Jordan and I had hoped this next chapter of our lives would include a move back to New York City. That’s not what ended up happening, but we’re not upset. We’ve spend the past 9 months throwing all sorts of things out into the universe and are now seeing what opportunities come back to us.
I hope the same for your and your artistry- try a lot! See what sticks! See what comes of your efforts. Then pursue those things wholeheartedly and with an open mind.
Have you ever tried to go for a high note and been thwarted by a massive crack in your voice? Have you ever wondered how to eliminate the break between your low notes and high notes?
Learning how to mix should help you with that! But what is mixing and how do I do it?
Oxford Languages defines “mix” as: two or more different qualities, things, or people placed, combined, or considered together.
Two or more things combined together!
In regards to our singing voice, mixing, or developing a “mix,” refers to seamlessly combining our chest voice and our head voice. No matter the styles of music you sing, your voice has two distinct registers: head voice and chest voice.
The transition or area between these two registers is known as one’s “mix” (noun). The process of that coordination is known as “mixing” (verb).
You cannot build a bridge to where there is no shore
If a mix (or mix voice) is a combination of two different registers in our voice, then you first and foremost need access to those registers before you can start blending them!
What is chest voice?
Also known as your lower register — it’s the range of notes in which we comfortably speak. Chest voice is the foundation of your singing voice. Strength and success in the rest of your range depends on the stability of your chest voice! Imagine your voice is shaped like a pyramid: chest voice is the strongest, thickest (literally, in your cords!) part of your voice. The rest of your voice is built on that foundation!
Without utilizing chest voice properly, singers may sound breathy or weak, lack dynamics, and have a less powerful middle and upper range. Whether you sing classical music or classic R&B, using your chest voice is essential to having a strong and balanced voice.
What is head voice?
Also known as your upper register, and sometimes referred to as falsetto (although they are not one and the same!). Say an excited “Whoo hoo!” like you’re cheering at a game — you’re using your head voice! A well balanced voice releases into head voice at the proper time to access brilliant high notes. Resisting this transition will lead to strain, poor pitch, and a limited range. Everyone from Whitney Houston to Bruno Mars to Pavarotti use their head voice, so get on board!
What is mixing / mix voice?
Mixing is the coordination process of blending chest voice and head voice together. Sometimes this coordination is referred to as “bridging,” like bridging the gap between chest voice and head voice. You cannot build a bridge to where there is no shore…so chest voice and head voice need to be accessible, if not comfortable, before you can expect to build your mix voice.
While not every singer experience mixing in the same way, I’ll argue that any singer with somewhat decent technique is mixing in one way or another, from classical music to classic rock. Some people feel it as a gradual stretch out of their lower register, some people feel distinct and different “mixes” in their voice, such as a “head dominant mix” and “chest dominant mix,” etc.
If you are singing through one or more passages (transitions spots) in a connected way (ie, not flipping or disconnecting to a breathy, falsetto tone) then you are mixing through your voice!
The ratios of how much chest voice to how much head voice you’re using in different parts of your range may be different depending on what style of music you sing, but some kind of blend must be present in order to sing with ease and full vocal freedom. For example, because their genre requires it, classical sopranos may have more head voice in their recipe but the very best sopranos still access chest voice in some way.
How do I find my mix?
The term “finding your mix” or “discovering your mix” is rather misleading. You aren’t going to stumble upon your mix voice one day after you find the magic “mixing” exercise. A mix voice is developed over time!
Like I said earlier, learning to mix (or blend) through your registers is a coordination that takes time and practice. It’s quite literally like coordinating any other muscle group in your body. Just like any high level athlete takes years to perfect their moves, you will need to do the same! Singing is a physical activity that depends on many muscles and systems working together at once in order to deliver a seamless, smooth transition from low notes to high notes and back down again.
Here’s the honest truth: It’s unlikely you’ll be able to teach yourself how to mix, despite the hundreds of YouTube videos available on the topic. Acquiring any new skill requires coaching! How do you think Serena Williams became the world’s greatest tennis player? Or Michael Phelps the most decorated Olympian of all time? Or Mariah Carey one of the most enduring pop singers of the last 30 years? They certainly didn’t do it alone!
Want to improve your mix voice but aren’t sure where to start? My guided vocal warm-up recording takes you through a series of exercises designed to help you strengthen your mix.
Your digital download comes with a PDF guide, walking you through how the exercises work and tips for how to get the most out of the warm-up series.
Plus, with any purchase of the Warm-Up Series, you’ll be added to an exclusive Facebook group with hours of additional video content to help you improve your voice, plus direct access to me for all of your questions!
A voice teacher’s job is to point out the things you can’t hear about your own voice and to guide you through exercises specifically designed for your vocal goals. Investing in private lessons is the most efficient and effective way to make progress with your voice. There’s simply nothing else like it!
With proper guidance tailored to your unique voice and singing goals, you will be well on your way to building your mix and finding vocal freedom!
Have you ever struggled for a high note, felt out of breath after singing a single phrase, or experienced a break in your voice? Have you ever hoped to train your voice to sing in multiple styles but felt limited by your current abilities? If so, you’ve probably longed for a magic bullet that would solve all your singing problems.
What is it that allows some singers to sing with total freedom? It’s vocal balance.
Think of your voice like a three-legged stool: If one of those three legs is shorter than the others—or, worse yet, is missing!—you will have a difficult time sitting on that stool . . . that is, if it even stands at all!
Singing is made up of three systems: respiration (breath), phonation (your vocal folds coming together), and resonation (how your vocal tract is shaped).
If any one of those three systems is out of whack, you’ll feel that familiar frustration or even discomfort in your voice.
When you are able to bring these three systems of singing into (vocal) balance, you will have access to your full range of notes, with control, ease, power, dynamics, and flexibility.
These three systems of singing are the only things we singers are in direct control of.
We can choose how much air to inhale and then how quickly or forcefully to expel it (respiration).
We can choose (with GREAT amounts of practice!) how thick or thin our vocal folds are when we go to speak or sing, therefore affecting how heavy or light of a tone we create, as well as on what pitch (phonation).
And we can shape our vocal tract in a variety of ways to achieve brighter or darker sounds, namely by shaping and modifying our vowels and adjusting our larynx position (resonation).
Vocal balance means that in our neutral, relaxed state, no part of the voice feels more squeezed OR more breathy than any other area. We have access to our lowest and highest notes, and they sound and feel connected, meaning there aren’t any flips or breaks between our chest and head voice.
There are certainly transitions that occur that we may be able to feel and hear, but for the most part, we enjoy a smooth singing experience from the bottom to the top of our range.
When these systems are in balance, your voice is free to make the widest possible variety of sounds!
But how do I find vocal balance?
There are four key steps to finding what “vocal balance” means for you:
Finding basic intonation. This means coordinating your brain and your voice to match pitch and follow melodies.
Finding what is known as chest voice and head voice.
Eliminating unnecessary extrinsic muscular tension. The extrinsic muscles are the muscles around your larynx (voice box) in your neck, jaw, and tongue. We don’t want them to get in the way of our larynx from functioning how it’s supposed to.
The feelings you discover when working towards vocal balance may be different from other singers, and that’s ok! While certain vocal technique principles guide us all, each voice will be, feel, and sound unique. That’s the beauty of the human voice, each instrument is unique.
Think of training your voice like a gymnast might train for the balance beam.
When the gymnast is first starting out, she may only be able to very carefully, and with a lot of effort and thought, walk from one end of the beam to the other. No fancy turns, jumps, or leaning off one side or the other.
But imagine that as the gymnast increases her strength, muscle memory, and coordination, she is able to add in a turn, then a leap, and one day somersaults, backflips, and then finally that crazy helicopter leg thing that Simone Biles does at the Olympics!
How is this possible?
Well, this gymnast first found balance on that narrow beam. She knew where the exact middle was. She memorized the feeling of her whole body in perfect alignment over those few inches of beam and knew how to always come back to that placement.
Only then could she start to lean off one direction or the other. She probably fell plenty of times along the way, pushing herself too far from “balance,” but that just taught her to come back to “center” each time.
The same is true for us vocalists!
Once we find balance and are comfortable there, we can lean toward that powerful belt-y Adele song that we long to nail at karaoke night.
Or we can lean in the other direction and commit to a legato, legit classical piece for an upcoming music school audition.
Whatever your vocal goals are, I am thrilled to guide you to finding YOUR balanced voice. Because from there, anything is possible!
Here are my favorite albums of 2020, with a few honorable mentions and bonus tracks.
Gaslighter, The Chicks
Easily my most played album of 2020, this is a banger from start to end chronicling lead singer Natalie Maines’ divorce from her husband of 17 years. Embroiled in a two year legal battle, the divorce was finalized in December of last year. This album exposes some of the most heartbreaking details of the experience and serves as a rallying cry for anyone who’s ever been done wrong.
Narrowing this down was insanely difficult, but check out rousing lead single “Gaslighter,” “Sleep At Night,” “My Best Friend’s Weddings,” the hilariously biting “Tights on My Boat,” and my personal favorite “Hope It’s Something Good,” full of lush harmonies and devastating well-wishes to the one who broke your heart.
Future Nostalgia, Dua Lipa
Highly acclaimed and Grammy nominated, this rousing disco album accompanied my road-trips and at-home dance parties this year. It’s a good time.
You know lead single “Don’t Start Now,” so try out the sleek and sexy “Cool,” the effortlessly dance-able “Levitating,” and four to the floor stomping “Hallucinate.” Honestly, it’s a bop from beginning to end so press play and dance away.
An early 2020 pick that combines 2000’s Paramore vibes with revealing singer-songwriter odes to love and loss. All in all, it’s an album that speaks to human experience in an eery, “did she read my mind” kind of way. It’s pretty brilliant.
I wondered if I wrote the lyrics when I first heard the vengeful “You Should Be Sad.” “3am” appeals to the ever present 17 year old angsty girl inside of me, as does lead single “Without Me.” “Finally // beautiful stranger” also felt like something pulled off the pages of my journal, thankfully reflecting a much happier time.
Solitude, Tori Kelly
Only a five track EP, this quarantine project still makes my list thanks to her insane vocals, catchy hooks and personal story telling.
My top picks include the pump-up jam “Value,” the bouncy “Unbothered,” and a love song for real people in real love (no fairy tale here), “Glad.”
Folklore / Evermore, Taylor Swift
Taylor gets a double header here. Tbh, evermore dropped so recently I haven’t had time to devour it like it deserves. For that reason, it gets to tag along to the well-worn folklore.
folklore is up for a number of Grammy awards, and for good reason. It feels at once like a recall to her early country days and a brave new frontier for her artistry. The storytelling is next-level as she expands outside of first person narratives for the first time in her career.
Best songwriter of our generation. I said it!
Check out “the 1,” “august,” “illicit affairs,” and the perfectly specific to her, but somehow also feels like she wrote it for me “invisible string.” I have lots to dig into on evermore, but right off the bat “happiness” got me amped about this sister album.
Chromatica, Lady Gaga
Initially, Lady Gaga said she wouldn’t release her long anticipated return to dance music album during the pandemic. But as the weeks dragged on, she blessed us with this album. There’s not a single ballad in the bunch (!) which means a solid 43 minutes of dance cardio. We need it #workfromhome #workfromthecouch
My faves include the outrageously PUMPED “Stupid Love,” the duet with Ariana I felt BLESSED to receive “Rain On Me,” girl power ANTHEM “Free Woman,” and the disco bop I’m hoping gets turned into a piano ballad one day, “1000 Doves.”
Dedicated Side B, Carly Rae Jepsen
We should have seen it coming! Just as she followed up 2015’s hit album Emotion with Emotion Side B in 2016, my girl Carly blessed us with Dedicated Side B in 2020. Like Taylor, she just can’t quit writing!
My faves include “Window,” “Felt this Way,” and “Stay Away.” The best and most mature track on the album is the stunning and intimate “Heartbeat.”
You may have noticed it was quite a girls club on my list this year. But some of my favorite male artists make an appearance in my bonus tracks.
My favorite track off of Justin Bieber’s Changes is “Confirmation.” Shawn Mendes’ late in the year arrival Wonder offered a slightly underwhelming lead single, but the song “Dream” proved a magical, surround-sound ode to romantic love. I’m so sorry to say I really didn’t love Ariana Grande’s surprise album Positions. But the grand finale of the album, “Pov” gave us a career defining (?) ballad that was worthy of her talent.
Listen to my favorite albums of 2020 playlist here:
A favorite of singers around the world, Throat Coat just feels good! Keep in mind, tea (or any drink) does NOT touch your vocal cords or directly affect your singing voice. But a warm cup of soothing tea does wonders to ease any itchy or scratchy feeling in your throat, especially on cold winter days!
In our house, we have recently taken up pie baking.
I’ve perfected cookies, we’ve kept our sourdough starter alive since April, clocked in tens of hours watching Great British Bake-Off. Now, It was time to take our baking up a notch.
Two weeks ago Jordan and I stumbled across Erin McDowell on YouTube, teaching the masses the surprisingly complicated and beautiful intricacies of pie making. An hour and a half of tutorials later, we were hooked.
The next week, we rushed out to buy her newly released cookbook, loaded our fridge with butter, and declared ourselves PIE MAKERS.
Here’s how it started: Confidently!
Here’s how it ended: disappointed, confused, and an entire 24 hours later.
Oh, and I nearly burnt the apartment building to the ground.
It took 24 hours from start to finish because I ruined the first crust in the oven as all the butter leaked out and smoked up our entire kitchen. So I started again, this time resting the dough overnight in the fridge. When I had finally cooked a successful crust the next day (or so I thought), I waited for it to cool, then baked it all with it’s tasty pumpkin filling.
After hours of cooling time, we were ready to eat our creation!
But alas! The pie was (practically) raw when we cut into it and the bottom crust was decidedly soggy. We ended up BAKING IT AGAIN, which did set the center but turned the bottom crust into rubber.
Did we still eat it? Sure did.
Would I call it a success? No, no I wouldn’t.
Here’s the thing: watching an hour and a half worth of instructional videos on YouTube does not make you an expert.
It doesn’t even mean you have a SINGLE CLUE about the thing you’re trying to learn.
It is a start, and we all have to start somewhere.
If you too are a bit underwhelmed by the progress you’ve made by only watching YouTube or TikTok instructional videos… why not get some personalized help in a lesson?
Or, get on my waitlistfor my soon-to-be released Warm-Up Series. These guided vocal warm-up recordings feel like I’m there with you- holding your hand the whole time.
Thanksgiving is only a week away and I am NOT GIVING UP ON MY PIE MAKING DREAMS! (also, what else am I supposed to do all winter?!)
But, going into my next pie, I am going to follow the instructions carefully, take it slow, and keep my expectations reasonable. I’m not going to be good at this for a while, and that’s ok. For now, I’m going to take alllllll the expert help I can get.
My friend Stephanie asked me to record a video performance of me singing any song of my choice for a virtual fall benefit program. I’m a mentor in her awesome organization, Women’s Artistic Leadership Initiative (womensali.org), and I was honored she asked me to perform.
I chose a song I’ve sung a lot in the past, “How Could I Ever Know” from THE SECRET GARDEN (a musical composed by two women, so it seemed fitting). The day Jordan and I were set to record the song (wow ya’ll, the perks of being married to a killer accompanist), I thoroughly warmed up and we rehearsed it a few times before hitting the record button.
In the past, I’ve spent hours on a self-tape project like this. It’s so easy to be hyper-critical of every sound and expression and want to record take after take in hopes of reaching perfection!
In my experience- perfection is never reached. Instead, what you get is diminishing returns. After a few good takes, each one after that gets a little worse as your voice wears out and your energy wanes.
In the case of my “How Could I Ever Know” self-tape- we ended up doing only two takes. And… we kept and submitted the first one.
What a breeze!
Don’t get me wrong- this is largely because I’ve spent years training, practicing and performing– even performing this exact piece. Without that kind of experience, I may not have had such a confident go of it right out of the gate.
But also – and here’s the point – I’ve learned to let go of my idea of perfection.
Should we always strive to do our best? Yes!
Doing your best is not reaching perfection. It’s doing your best in this moment under these circumstances. It’s not worth it to play the comparison game, particularly when you’re comparing yourself to a standard that doesn’t exist.
In a lesson with my student Jake this week- he’s in the Broadway cast of MEAN GIRLS- he shared something pretty insightful.
He said, “At the start of quarantine in March, every day was completely unknown- will we go back to the show in April? Summer? Labor Day? This most recent announcement, while it’s completely sad to think of 8 more months without theatre in New York, gives me a more concrete timeline. OK, I have at least eight months to do something different, to figure out how I’m going to fill my time.”
Something about a definite length of time makes it easier for us to plan for, obviously!
So what if you crushed the last 77 days of the year, tackling goals you just “haven’t had time for” yet? Or pursued another skill or talent that can supplement your income in the future, knowing that Broadway won’t be back until mid-2021?
Here’s a few ideas to make the most out of the next 77 days:
Make a list of roles/shows you want to play in the future. In lessons or on your own- learn every piece of music that character sings!
Revamp your audition book with material that is *actually right* for the kinds of roles and shows you want to be seen for.
Now that you love your audition cuts- self-tape each and every song in your book! Compile a library of your audition material that you can send out to casting directors when auditioning resumes (and I guarantee much of it to be virtual!).
Make demo recordings of the songs you’ve written this year and be brave enough to share them with a few trusted friends for feedback.
Reach out to the fellow songwriter you’ve always wanted to collaborate with.
Set up a recurring time on your calendar (set an alarm!) to vocalize for 10 minutes a day, 5 days a week. Just do it! And be amazed at how your range and stamina improves.
Are you a voice teacher? Request to observe other voice teachers teach. Book an interactive lesson where you and another co-teach a tricky student of yours that you’d love another opinion on.
“Placement.” It’s a word singers love to use. I’d say it’s right up there with “breath control” as one of the terms singers use most often!
But what is placement? And how do we actually find the “placement” we’re looking for?
Shooting hoops—what leads to good placement?
Let’s compare vocal placement to shooting a basketball. (Go with me on this!)
When an athlete is shooting hoops, you know they’ve made a decent shot if the ball goes into the basket. If the ball misses the hoop, the athlete needs to figure out what they did wrong so they can adjust their next shot for a better result.
The result of a good shot is that it lands in the hoop. But the ball landing in the hoop is just that, a result! The specific act of the ball landing in the hoop is not the work of the athlete. The athlete’s actual work happens right before the ball goes through the hoop—it’s when the player is coordinating their wrists, legs, and core to ensure the ball leaves their fingers and goes where they want it.
You can throw the ball and affect whether or not it goes in the basket, but you don’t actually put it (or place it) in the basket! (Unless you’re dunking the ball, but let’s leave that out for the sake of this analogy, since we’re talking about shooting it from a distance.)
Placement is a helpful tool of perception
For us singers, the idea of placement is similar. Talking about placement can be a useful way for singers to remember a feeling or sensation, but it’s even more important to remember the process that led you there.
Chances are, something related to the three systems of singing (breathing, phonation, and resonance) is what’s leading you to feel that a sound is “placed” in a particular spot. This may include certain exercise flows, phrasing choices, vowel shapes, or dynamics that may have resulted in that awesome feeling you experienced on a particular note.
To be clear, it’s the choices you make that affect placement; you don’t just choose placement itself. Placement is an effect of the choices you make within your airflow, phonation (how heavy or light), and vowel shapes.
So the next time you feel like a sound is “placed” somewhere that you really like or that feels awesome, remember what the process was that led you there!
Pinpointing this process is a much more effective way to increase the accuracy of your singing rather than crossing your fingers and hoping that you can place your sound in your mask—or your forehead—or your toes!
My friend Carolyn is a gifted actor. She’s incredibly passionate about theatre (particularly Shakespeare) and continuing education. I’ve watched from afar (largely through social media) as she’s made career shifts as an actor and director, and as she’s auditioned for graduate acting programs for the past seven years. That’s right – seven!
Carolyn isn’t a student of mine, but she shared her story on Facebook this week and I just knew you needed to hear it (don’t worry, I asked if I could share her post here!).
“Seven and a half years ago I first started applying for graduate acting schools.
Over that time I was: rejected, gave up acting, found myself and the courage to start acting again, earned more rejections, started taking Shakespeare acting intensives at some of the best schools in the world, was hired for my first Equity Contracts, earned more rejections, gave up on graduate school and refocused on just acting professionally, had a personal awakening and realized how important graduate Shakespeare training was for me, earned even more rejections, received more Equity Contracts, continued to arrange more training with some of the best Shakespeare coaches in the world….
And then…. in March 2020 I was offered a place to train on the “MA in Classical Acting for the Professional Theatre” at London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.
It doesn’t make any logical sense to start a training program I’ve worked years to find in the middle of a pandemic, with upheavals at all levels of education and training, but I am where I’m supposed to be. Sometimes you’re given a glimpse in life, showing you exactly where you need to be, when you need to be there. I’ve learned that IF I’m given the gift of a glimpse, I’d better trust it…even if it doesn’t make sense. So here’s to faith in the future and a wonderful, years worked for, year of training at LAMDA.” – Carolyn H.
Sometimes, the timing of things just doesn’t make sense.
When it comes to working towards a long held goal, there are often so many factors at play, many of which are completely out of our control.
But what is in control are our choices– do we keep pursuing? Do we take a break? Seek more training, knowledge, and skill development? Pause on one goal to work towards another?
Just because you don’t have something you really want (or have worked for, or feel like you deserve) right NOW, doesn’t mean it’s not coming.
Is it worth it to you to keep working until it does?