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Chelsea’s Favorite Albums of 2018

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Listen to my favorite tracks from my favorite albums here:

Charlie Puth, Voicenotes. You heard it here (definitely not) first. Charlie Puth is this year’s King of Pop. My Fave tracks include “Boy,” “Empty Cups.”

Punch Brothers, All Ashore. Punch Brothers make an album =  it makes my best-of list. Fave tracks include “Just Look at This Mess,” and “It’s All Part of the Plan.”

Shawn Mendes, Shawn Mendes. If Charlie is the king, then maybe Shawn is the prince. As my friend Renee put it, Shawn is my age inappropriate crush. Fave tracks include “Lost in Japan,” “Where Were You in the Morning.”

Third Story, Cold Heart. Three-part male harmony and expertly crafted songs that makes me weak in the knees. Soulful, folk-y, pop rock, these guys don’t bother with playing the genre game and instead showcase their killer songwriting and breathtaking vocals. Fave tracks include “Searching for a Feeling,” “Still In Love,” “Only Love.”

I’m With Her, See You Around. These three insanely talented solo artists came together for this female supergroup. Three-part harmonies (do you sense a theme here?) and stringed instruments make for endless combinations of bluegrass bliss. Fave tracks include “See You Around,” “Pangea” “Game to Lose.”

Tori Kelly, Hiding Place. The gospel album the world needed. I got to see her play Riverside Church this fall and the SPIRIT WAS FELT! Fave tracks include “Psalm 42,” and “Never Alone.”

Mumford and Sons, Delta. A late in the year release and a surprising favorite. I feel like Mumford is back in the musical zeitgeist with the arena pop/rock production on this album. Fave tracks include “42,” “Guiding Light,” “Rose of Sharon.”

Panic! At The Disco, Pray For The Wicked. Been belting it out with Brendan Urie since 2005 and I’m not going to quit now. Fave tracks include “High Hopes,” “Hey Look Ma I Made It,” “Dying in LA.”

Jess Glynne, Always in Between. A boppy pop fest with (IMO) some questionable feminist messages (looking at you, “No One.”) Overall Jess brings her funky soul vibe to pick-me-up positive Brit-Pop and I am here for it. Fave tracks include “Never Let Me Go.” “All I Am,” “I’ll Be There.”

Robyn, Honey. Long awaited and really worth it. The first time I heard the title track, I cried. Pathetic? Perhaps. Fave tracks include “Honey,” “Missing U,” “Ever Again.”

What were your favorite albums of 2018? Happy listening in the new year!

Q&A: What’s up with these crackly high notes?

Question:

I’ve been practicing the trills and “MUMs” and don’t think there is necessarily anything wrong (hopefully) but sometimes when I get past like an A [5], it gets crackly and I’ve noticed my voice sometimes will ever overshoot to whistle tones (which I don’t even know how that’s possible).

Was just wondering if you had any recommendations for practicing…I really have never had a voice teacher that vocalized me this high consistently so maybe its just uncharted territory and discovering how to sing up there, but thought I’d reach out! Maybe its something I’m eating or doing? I rarely drink or smoke so I know that isn’t the problem. Do you recommend that I get scoped just for safety?

Answer:

First off, I think what you’re experiencing sounds pretty normal, especially because you are new to using this part of your voice on a regular basis. That A5 is your third passage- it’s a very common spot for things to “fall apart” for a time while you work on connecting your chest and middle voice to your true soprano head voice. I’ve worked with many women who break into their Mariah Carey notes before they get it put together. So for now, don’t fear!

There’s a few things I’d recommend trying out over the next few days. First- have you tried vocalizing through a straw? I love this because it really does require very little air flow and keeps your cords together (adducted) as you vocalize. Try blowing through a straw into a cup of water. See here, and here.

I’d also try vocalizing on an NG (like the word SINGGGG), have we done this together?

Give it another week and see how you feel. I’m a huge fan of going to get scoped, so if you have the time and $$ to do it, please do. It’s always a good idea. Here’s who I recommend:

Lucian Sulica, may be difficult to get into see on short notice:
https://voice.weill.cornell.edu/about-us/lucian-sulica-md

Paul Kwak, Laryngologist at NYU:
http://nyulangone.org/doctors/1184937914/paul-e-kwak

Keep me posted, and see you soon!

Q&A: Singing With A Cold

Welcome to my new Q&A series, featuring real questions I receive from students via email

QUESTION

Hi Chelsea!
A couple of the “Annie” cast members and I came down with a nasty chest cold last week, and doing the show has been a struggle. I lost my voice last Friday, due to all the coughing on top of singing, and went on vocal rest for a few days. My voice has since come back, but it still just does not quite feel strong enough to sing Star to Be. I have been flipping into my head voice to sing the song, and mouthing the words to the ensemble songs so that I don’t blow my voice back out. I’m still coughing a lot, which I think is putting a lot of stress on my cords. My voice does feel almost 100% normal, but I still want to take it easy. I was wondering if you have any tips as to how I can ease my way back into singing the song full out without hurting myself.
Best,
Isabella

 

ANSWER

Yuck! I’m so sorry, I hate how those things end up going around an entire cast. Good for you for being careful and cautious, that is so important when trying to recover while still having to perform.

The first thing I’d suggest is to do a vocal check-in every morning and see how the swelling is before warming up. This is a great video that talks about that: https://youtu.be/zit6I7EPMto

Then I’d spent lots of time warming up with semi-occluded sounds like the lip buzz, or even better, vocalizing through a straw into a cup of water: https://youtu.be/0xYDvwvmBIM

I’d then sing the song on some of the exercises we use like NAY or NUH/MUM, substituting those for the words. That will be easier on your voice then just blasting into the actual lyrics and hopefully set you up for good vocal balance once you do end up singing the lyrics.

Hydrate, hydrate, sleep lots, and cool down after your show with the straw again.

Good luck! Keep me posted. If you want to do a little lesson/check in via FaceTime soon, lmk! Otherwise, you got this! I hope you’re through the worst of it 👍🏻

What to sing at your next Musical Theatre Audition

Follow the directions

Find out what you are being asked to prepare, and stick to it! 16 or 32 bar requests should be observed as closely as possible. If they ask for a ‘short song,’ that usually means a verse and a chorus of something. There’s no reason to sing all 7 minutes of “Meadowlark”, in fact I guarantee you will get cut off before getting through most of it. Find a cut of a song that shows your voice, tells a story, and adheres to the audition posting.

Do your research

Are you auditioning for a 1970s pop musical? A contemporary folk show? Choose a song that is similar to the show you are auditioning for. It’s always a good idea to familiarize yourself with the other work of the composer/lyricist and often a safe bet to choose an audition piece by them or their contemporaries. Unless expressly asked, don’t sing from the show you are auditioning for. Also, when possible find out who will be attending the audition- will it be the director, musical director, producer? What projects have they recently worked on? Maybe avoid material from those shows to avoid a direct comparison.

Choose a real pop song

More and more shows are Jukebox musicals (meaning the score pulls directly from certain artists’ catalogues like ABBA’s MAMMA MIA and The Four Seasons’ JERSEY BOYS) or are written by pop/rock artists (like Cindy Lauper’s KINKY BOOTS, and Sara Bareilles’ WAITRESS). These shows almost always will ask that you bring in a real pop/rock/country/folk/disco song, in which case- do! Don’t choose a pop song or arrangement that is found in another musical (like the various 80’s classics arranged in the musical ROCK OF AGES). Choose something by a favorite artist of yours that is authentic to the period the show you are auditioning for is set in. Check out my friend Sheri Sanders’ site for everything you need to succeed at a pop audition. www.rock-the-audition.com

Avoid signature songs

These are songs associated with a particular famous artist. For example, “Over the Rainbow” is Judy Garland’s signature song. “People” and “Don’t Rain on my Parade” are Barbra Streisand’s. It is best to steer clear of songs where you will be directly compared to legends. I’d also avoid anything that is currently on, or has been on Broadway in the last 3 years, as well as the huge juggernauts WICKED, LES MISERABLES, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, and whatever the new hot show is. At the moment in New York, those are HAMILTON and DEAR EVAN HANSEN. Do yourself a favor, and sing something that ten other people won’t also be bringing in.

Prepare your sheet music!

We’ll go into this in more detail in a later blog post, but suffice it to say- have a clean and clearly marked copy of your sheet music three-hole punched and in a binder. Give your accompanist all the information they need to make it a successful audition for you.

There are exceptions to the rules-

Like if the audition call clearly asks for any of the above pieces, or if you are preparing music from the show at the request of the creative team. Also, the ‘rules’ are more loose or strict depending on whether you are auditioning for your grade school play, community theatre, or a Broadway production. No matter what, it will only help to be as prepared and professional as possible!

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 CWVS 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.

You may also want to listen to this scale, and this scale beforehand- we’ll use them in our lesson!

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!