|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.
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 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?
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.
Listen to my favorite albums of 2020 playlist here:
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.
As a side note- I thought my performance was better in the second take, but the audio recording didn’t turn out as good. And to that I say, c’est la vie!
You’ve arrived at the climax of the song- this is it! Here come the big, exciting notes everyone is waiting for! And…! You completely run out of steam, breath, or vocal stamina and you crack, gasp for air, or pass out (ok, hopefully not that last one).
Here’s a three-step process to give your best performance without blowing out your voice.
You have to learn the concept of saving and spending. This is an idea I teach to my professional (and aspiring professional!) singers, particularly those that are singing an athletic, acrobatic song.
These kinds of songs require a singer to decide when to spend and when to save. Their voices, I mean.
Imagine that you are singing “Waving Through A Window” from DEAR EVAN HANSEN. You only have $1 of vocal energy to spend on that song, and once you’ve spent it- you’re done! You cannot keep singing!
First off, identify which notes are the “big spender” notes or phrases.
Probably that final “Waving! Waving! Whoa-oah!!” section is a 25 cent phrase, and that’s just the last 10 seconds of the song. What other notes or passages throughout the song require an extra dose of energy, power, stamina, or stylistic effort? Identify those passages right off the bat.
Second, be judicious on where you can save.
What are the penny notes or phrases? Not every word, phrase, or melody is equally important in your storytelling or your technical effort. So, find the places in the song where you can hold back a bit.
Lastly, sing through the whole piece and adjust your budget as necessary.
You may find that once you put the whole song together, your interpretation of the song requires certain phrases to be highlighted with more (or less) volume, power, or effort than you initially planned.
This concept also applies to entire roles you might play in a show, or your band set or concert tour.
If you are playing Evan in DEAR EVAN HANSEN, tell yourself you only have $10 to spend on the entire show! Which songs and scenes get allotted what amount of your total vocal energy?
As singers, there will always be songs, roles, or performances that require a LOT of our energy, and even for us to leave “vocal balance” for a time in order for our interpretation and stylistic choices to come through how we want. That’s ok! By allotting a vocal ‘budget’ to each song you perform, you can save your voice and stay stylistically true to the music.
Here we are again!
It was tough, but I chose 10 albums I love that defined my year. Take it all with a grain of salt- these are my (completely subjective) favorite albums of 2019.
Top Ten Albums of 2019 (in no particular order)
THANK U, NEXT, by Ariana Grande
My 2019 could pretty easily be summed up by Ariana from Jan-June and Taylor from July-Dec. Thanks for framing my year, ladies.
Truly, this album is a masterwork. Sure, Ari’s vocals were best showcased on her earlier albums and it’s looking like we’ll never get back to that prime diva era, but she’s making muuuuusic and she has things to SAY and I’m here for it. You know the hits, now try “NASA” (the best song on the album), “in my head,” and “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored.”
FREE SPIRIT, by Khalid
At the start of the year the words “Who is Khalid? Is this DJ Khaled’s other moniker?” escaped my lips. I’m so embarrassed. Khalid’s Free Spirit bowled me over this year and was on near constant repeat. Sensual, warm, infectiously rhythmic with deep textures I cannot get enough of. You know “Talk” from the near endless radio play, so check out “Twenty One,” “Free Spirit,” “Outta My Head” featuring John Mayer, and “Right Back.”
GIRL, by Maren Morris
We got a lot of Maren this year, including her all-female collaboration The Highwomen (which is entirely different from this solo record and a really refreshing throwback to peak Parton-era country). As Spotify recently reminded me, Maren’s debut album HERO was my top in 2016, so I was highly anticipating this release. And it delivered! Despite her forays into top-40 pop (“The Middle”), Maren gives us a true country album here and she belts her way through it with gusto. The standouts are the title track “GIRL,” “The Feels,” “Make Out With Me,” and “The Bones.”
DEDICATED, by Carly Rae Jepson
I am a sucker for Carly Rae Jepson. She’s…. Everything. How does she craft such perfect pop confections? HOW DOES SHE DO IT? Toggling between lovesick and lovelorn, Carly gives us a slightly more mature look at infatuation and all its accompanying side-affects. The bops abound here. Check out “No Drug Like Me,” “Now That I’ve Found You,” (the song you’ve heard on all the Target commercials) “Want You In My Room,” and “The Sound.”
DRAX PROJECT, by Drax Project
I feel like this is the guilty pleasure item on my list this year, but I need to own it and proclaim my love for it. I saw Drax Project, a pop band consisting of four young Kiwis, play a small show at Soho House this summer, and I was hooked. That night they debuted a new song they hadn’t yet recorded called “All This Time” which included a bass thumping sax solo that had my jaw on the floor (I know this sounds ridiculous- just listen to it really loud and get back to me). This debut album is a lot of fun. Other faves are “Only Us,” and “Prefer.”
BETTY, by Betty Who
I saw Betty Who in concert twice this year- and the second time she pointed and smiled at me from the stage, so basically my life is complete. I’ve never been to a more FUN concert- you must see her live. And her dancers are hot (this is a relevant point to make). 90’s pop flavored, every track on this album will make you want to dance and smile and fall in love. Faves include “Old Me,” “Do With It,” “Between You and Me,” and the N’Sync lookalike “The One.”
SUCKER PUNCH, by Sigrid
The Elle Fanning movie “Teen Spirit” first introduced me to Sigrid (have you seen this movie? Worth the watch), the 23 year old Norwegian hybrid of Robyn and Carly Rae 😍. On a road trip to Arches National Park, my brother played the whole album and I was immediately SAD I had not LISTENED TO IT EARLIER. I’ve never heard an album that delivered straight infectious bops for the first five tracks. Like, DANCE PARTY amazing for the first five. How?! Picking faves is near impossible on this album but I’m narrowing my picks to “Mine Right Now,” “Don’t Feel Like Crying,” “Never Mine,” and the piano finale, “Dynamite.”
SATURN, by Nao
This is a late 2018 entry, but I’m going to claim some kind of outrageous Grammy deadlines for this one. This album got a lot of mileage in 2019, so it counts for me.
Dang. This is the smoothest, grooviest, best make-out album I can imagine. That’s all I have to say. Check out the aching “Another Lifetime,” haunting “Orbit,” and the final luscious track, “A Life Like This.”
WASTELAND, BABY! by Hozier
I was not a huge Hozier fan before this album, but this crooning collection of rumbly baritone folk-rock (folk-rock? What is genre is this?) had me swooning. The first half of the album is the best, in my opinion. The strongest recommendation I can make to you is this: close your eyes in a quiet place and listen to “Movement” as loudly as possible. If you don’t have a physical reaction at minute 2:46, you might be dead inside. Next tracks: “Almost (Sweet Music)” and “To Noise Making (Sing).”
LOVER, by Taylor Swift
Am I a millennial white cis woman in America? Of course this album made this list. Reputation grew to be a favorite album of mine, and I was unsure if a return to sugar coated pop was something I wanted from Taylor at this point. Thankfully, I was delighted to discover Lover as nuanced, layered, beautiful, and mature. Also, I have definitely cried actual tears on more than one occasion listening to the title track. You know the radio hits, now listen to “Cruel Summer,” “The Man,” “I Think He Knows,” and “Death by A Thousand Cuts.”
HONORABLE MENTIONS- songs I cannot get enough of.
“Gone,” Charlie XCX and Christine and the Queens.
When we got to the bridge- I was sure I knew where this track was headed BUT I WAS SO WRONG!
“Call My Name,” I’m With Her
Best listened to on continuous loop.
“How Do You Sleep,” Sam Smith
The video really did me in.
“Dancing with a Stranger” Sam Smith, Normani, CHEAT CODES remix.
Will a Sam Smith 2020 album make my list next year? Yes.
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!
Listen to my favorite tracks from my favorite albums here:
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.