|This week I shared a Vocal Coach Reaction video of Sierra Boggess singing “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again.” Isn’t it a great performance?!|
As the associate coach on the Broadway production of PHANTOM, I have a bit of an inside scoop on how the music team likes that song to be sung. But if you think there is only one correct way to do it- you are wrong! There are as many ways to interpret a song as there are voices in the world.
Think of all the women who have played Christine in productions of PHANTOM across the world. Sarah Brightman is vastly different than Sierra Boggess and Sierra is vastly different from Ali Ewoldt, etc etc.
This is true for all musical interpretation. Listen to classical pianist Lang Lang’s recording of Chopin’s “Minute Waltz.” Now listen to amateur pianist Matt’s recording of the same piece. Totally different tempos and interpretations. Is there a right way or a wrong way? Chopin famously said “Put all your soul into it, play the way you feel!”
Particularly with musical theatre repertoire, there are some songs that are expected to be sung a certain way. For example, on a scale from one to ten, one being “legit classical singing” and ten being “heavy belting,” “Glitter and Be Gay” from CANDIDE lands somewhere around a one and “Defying Gravity” from WICKED is somewhere around a nine.
The thing I want to encourage my students to think about is this: what is the optimal placement/interpretation for your voice? Where and how does your voice live, soar, and come alive the most?
It’s truly not worth your time to try to interpret a song the exact same, cookie cutter way you heard your favorite performer sing it. Be inspired by them? Sure! Take some cues from their vocal choices? Absolutely.
But your instrument is NOT the same, and your optimal voice may feel and sound differently from theirs. In a voice lesson, find what feels the best and let your voice teacher be your ears- trust their feedback!
Find your optimal balanced voice and you’ll be on your way to vocal freedom.
|Have you ever heard one of these? There’s a lot of misconceptions about singing out there, particularly in how a singer “should” be trained. If you want a clue about the difference between classical and contemporary singing, look for my resource at the end of this post.|
But first, have you ever heard (or believed!) one of these myths?
1. “If you’re classically trained, you can sing anything!”
That’s like saying if you studied the violin, you can play any stringed instrument. Not true! You might have a general understanding of how other stringed instruments work, but you’re going to have to learn the technique and styles that work for other instruments just like everyone else.
“Classical training” is now a very vague, watered down term in the singing world. So whatever style you want to pursue, make sure you find a teacher who can help you accomplish very concrete technical goals like finding chest and head voice, navigating through your registers with a smooth, even tone, and eliminating breathiness or strain. Whether they call themselves a “classically trained” teacher means very little 🤷♀️
2. “Whatever genre of music you want to pursue, a music degree with a classical teacher will prepare you for it.”
Again, that’s like saying that if you want to be an animator for Disney, you should get trained in Renaissance painting techniques. Sure, there are artistic principles that may apply to both mediums but it is not going to directly train you to do the thing you want!
To be frank, I’ve heard from many singers who studied classically in college with hopes to pursue a singer/songwriter or musical theatre path afterward… only to realize that their undergrad taught them to sing classical music, classically, with little exploration elsewhere.
If a career in opera or classical music is not for you, there’s no need to go that route. But if opera is your dream- then a music degree studying classical music is the perfect path- go for it!!
3. Classical singing is boring.
What? What performances have you been listening to?! Have you heard Pavarotti wail on a high B in “Nessun Dorma”? Have you delighted in the insane agility and range that is the Doll’s Aria?
Classical singing is thrilling, difficult, and when done well- spine tingling-ly good! Mad props to the singers who train years (decades) to sing this material.
So what’s the big difference between classical and contemporary singing? My friend and colleague Annie Little breaks it all down here.
It’s not often that I lose my voice. Thankfully so, since using my voice to demonstrate good -and bad- singing is my job day in and day out!
The two times I vividly remember losing my voice was first:
My senior year of high school the weekend of our spring musical. I was playing Jo in Little Women The Musical and I got sick and developed a raspy singing voice just in time for opening weekend. What luck!! Thankfully with some help from my Ear Nose and Throat (laryngologist) doctor and my voice teacher who happened to be at the performance opening night, I managed to pull through.
The second was about five years ago. I had an awful nightmare and woke up screaming in the middle of the night (does this ever happen to you?!?!) I probably terrified all the neighbors in a two block radius. I didn’t sleep the rest of the night and the next day- my voice was gone. Completely hoarse. I felt fine, so I made do by miming adjustments in my lessons and apologizing to students that I was completely out of commission!
I know other stories of people losing their voice.
Julie Andrews lost her voice after returning to Broadway in a difficult role inVictor/Victoria, followed by a voice surgery that changed her voice for the worse (by the way, it is extremely rare for a voice surgery to go wrong like this. Most of the time surgery is an important and exceptional treatment plan in voices that need it).
Shania Twain lost her voice for years, she credited it to an emotionally volatile time in her life. You know that expression, “getting choked up”? Emotions can really do a number on our voices and completely close up our sound.
Maybe you’ve never “found” your voice.
Maybe you’ve never allowed yourself to consider yourself a “real” singer. On that topic, check out this inspiring TedTalk by my friend and fellow IVA voice teacher Heather Baker.
Whether it’s lost or yet to be found, your voice is never far away. In most cases, a few days of rest or a few voice lessons can get you on the right track. In more rare circumstances, a few visits with a laryngologist (voice doctor) or Speech Language Pathologist (voice therapist) might be in order. Or, some soul searching to find where your emotions are blocking your communication might be just what’s needed.
Your voice is always within, ready to be found.
Now as for the practical advice…
What to do if you’ve lost your voice and need to sing! Hint, lemon and honey won’t help 😉
My student Caroline and I have been having lessons together for going on four years now. She’s one of those students turned friends and honestly, we’ve been through a lot together!
One of my greatest joys of working with long-time students is getting to witness their progress over long stretches of time.
Sure, you should be making improvements in your first lesson with a new teacher (yeah- you should!!), but the lasting change and real work is developing stamina and technique over months and years of work.
What, like singing is hard?!
This week in our lesson, Caroline revisited Eva Cassidy’s arrangement of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
During our lesson Caroline said, “When I had tried to sing this before, it was in my singing for actors class in college. I remember, I was probably just trying to belt the whole thing and I thought, ‘why is this so hard?'”
Have you ever come back to a song you sang years ago, to be pleasantly surprised at how much easier it is for you to sing today?
Caroline elaborated on the process that led to today’s feeling of ease:
“It makes me realize whether it’s singing or acting or anything, putting the time in and repetition of doing it and doing it, developing a skill and craft and technique is the key. Then even on days when I don’t feel 100% vocally, I’m still amazed at how much I can do things, even if I mentally think i can’t do it right now. I realize, ‘oh, i can sing this, even when it’s not 100%.'”
“Even if it’s just ten minutes and I run through some vocal exercises in the car, just to do it like using a muscle… then when it comes time for the event you just know it’s going to be there even if something is amiss.”
This! This is why we work on technique
Not for a week or a month, but over years! High level singing on any level (middle-school choir competitions? That’s high level!) requires singers to rely on technique built up over time when sickness, fatigue, or injury inevitably occur.
Caroline concluded: “…Where my voice is now, I can now just enjoy singing [the song] and focus on the artistry and where I’m going to breathe, instead of ‘how am I going to do this and not hurt myself?'”
Do you want to feel that same vocal freedom? With the right training and some time put into it, it’s possible!
Be honest, have you ever thought:
Head voice = not chest voice, therefore it’s not impressive.
I’m here to tell you that singers who avoid their head voice (and therefore, high notes) wear out their voices *47x faster than singers who use their head voice and embrace their upper range.
*47x faster is a completely scientific, not made-up number.
But it’s true. Singers who develop and regularly sing in their chest and head voices have longer careers, more stamina, and more agility in their voice.
Just take a look at this iconic performance of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” by Patti LaBelle in the 1980’s, when she was in her late-30s/early 40s or so.
Now check out her performance from 2011, at age 67.
While our voices naturally change and eventually depreciate over time, the best singers with solid technique keep singing, and singing well, well into their 70s, 80s or even 90s!
The case for high notes is a strong one!
So if you find yourself constantly belting out songs that stay in a limited range and never touch your upper register… think again! If you want a long-lasting singing voice, remember: Balance in all things, my friend!
This week in my private CWVS Clubhouse Facebook group, Lucia asked:
“What would you consider red flags for voice teachers?”
She had been studying with someone who was well aligned with her vocal goals a few years ago. She recently started studying with them again, only now to realize that this teacher was leading her to sing in a rather unhealthy way. She left lessons feeling strained and frustrated that the teacher was encouraging her to use her voice in only one, exhausting way.
Some voice teachers are excellent fits for only certain types of singers. Some voice teachers have no idea what they’re doing (true story). And thankfully, some voice teachers have a teaching methodology that allow them to help any singer find vocal balance.
What should you look for in a voice teacher?
Finding a great voice teacher is a lot like dating. You might have to meet a few before you find your perfect fit! Here are my red flags and green lights when you’re on the hunt for a great teacher.
Voice Teacher Red Flags:
- You feel frustrated, defeated, or confused after your lesson
- You’re unable to choose repertoire you want to sing
- You’re made to feel like your singing mistakes are your fault
- You’re not given practical tips, advice, or exercises to address your specific vocal goals
- Your voice consistently feels strained, exhausted, or hoarse during or after your lesson
- You don’t make progress within the first two lessons (yes, that’s how quickly you should feel an improvement!)
- Your “teacher” is more of a vocal coach- meaning they are great at helping you learn new music and coaching your performance, but they aren’t able or interested in working on your vocal technique
- Your teacher’s only qualifying experience is their own performance career
- You spend the majority of your lesson time talking or talking about singing instead of actually singing.
- Your teacher talks a lot about how the voice works but is unable to demonstrate what they are trying to get you to achieve.
- Your teacher can’t sing well
Voice Teacher Green Lights:
- You leave lessons feeling inspired and motivated
- Your teacher listens to your goals and dreams and supports your pursuit of them
- Your teacher is able to identify what your vocal tendencies/issues are and gives you exercises specifically to balance your voice. Lessons are tailored to your needs and goals on any given day
- You make progress within your lessons and at home with the exercises they give you to practice
- At the end of your lessons, your voice feels like it just had a great workout- a little tired, but getting stronger
- Your teacher challenges you with repertoire, and allows you to choose songs you love to sing
- Your teacher has completed or is undergoing training specific to teaching voice- they aren’t relying just on their own vocal training or performance degree. Their teacher training might be a college degree in vocal pedagogy or a private certification, like from www.vocaladvancement.com
- Lesson time is efficient and effective! You spend the majority of the time vocalizing and singing music
- Your teacher can sing well and properly demonstrate what they are helping you achieve. (This doesn’t mean they need to be a professional vocalist or have great talent. But every good voice teacher should have a relatively balanced voice)
If you’re looking for a teacher who meets these green light requirements, check out vocaladvancement.com to find a voice teacher in your country/region/city who specializes in teaching vocal balance. Online lessons mean you can study with any of these amazing teachers from around the world!
Anything I missed? What are your red flags and green lights when looking for a private voice teacher?
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!
My top two tips for learning how to mix:
1. Get a copy of my Warm-Up Series for Mixing.
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!
2. Take a voice lesson.
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.
- Finding what we call a “connection.” You’ll need to learn how to blend head voice and chest voice and find what is often referred to as “mix.” The effect is singing with one continuous voice instead of disjointed registers that don’t meet in the middle. This is really where you’ll make great strides towards vocal freedom!
- 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!
What a year. 😆
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.