77 Days ⏰

For a year that seemed to drag on and on and on, can you believe there are just 77 days left in 2020? 

With that kind of timeline, it’s easy to say:

  • There’s no point in starting something new now (the music project you’ve been wanting to dive into for months)
  • I’ll wait until the new year to make any Big Changes (voice lessons and band practice can wait)
  • There’s not enough time to make any real progress (so why start vocalizing now?)

The Broadway community got a big update this week as well, extending the Broadway shut down until May 30, 2021. 

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.

Seven and a half years in the making

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?

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!

10 Years of Vocal Education

This weekend I found out that I PASSED my Mentor Level/Level 5 panel test!

Great! So what does that mean . . . ?

I began my vocal instruction education in 2007 with a voice teaching organization called Speech Level Singing. At that point, I already knew I wanted to teach someday — either part-time to support my other artistic dreams, or full-time if the time came that I felt teaching was more my path. My mentor and teacher, Jeffrey Skouson, encouraged me to consider starting my teacher training before I had even started college. So with his blessing and my parent’s support I started what has been a TEN year process of education, conferences, reading and study, private lessons, yearly testing, and so much more.

Ten years later, I’ve achieved the highest level of certification possible with the Institute for Vocal Advancement. This past month, Jeffrey and the other Master Teachers in our organization watched and assessed as I taught a 20 minute lesson in front of them (a ‘panel test’). It was not unlike the other annual tests I’ve been taking for the past ten years, but this time the entire panel of Master Teachers adjudicated. And I passed! With flying colors!

I am thankful to my teachers and peers who push me and our entire teaching organization to become the best voice teachers possible. I am thankful that at 17 years old, Jeffrey saw something in me that he believed would make a great teacher one day. I am thankful that my parents encouraged me to continue, and I’m grateful for the passion I’ve had to pursue this dream. What 17-year-old sets out to reach very specific goal, which will take a decade or more, and actually achieves it? I recognize that I’m extremely fortunate to have had the support and opportunities necessary to accomplish this long-time goal.

My education is far from over, and thankfully my training will continue with IVA. However, having reached this milestone- there are no more tests in my future! Whew!

I can’t speak highly enough of the community of teachers I am a part of. If teaching voice has ever been something you’ve considered, I encourage you to think about investing in that education and skill set. I’d love to talk to you about how to make that happen for yourself.

All worthwhile endeavors take time and practice! For me, it’s been ten years of time and practice and practice and practice, and I am thrilled to have reached this milestone.

 


A bit about the Institute for Vocal Advancement:

At IVA, we strive to continually develop our program with the latest research in vocal science to address these and other questions. We educate and produce the finest voice instructors in the world who develop, promote, and maintain the highest standards for the teaching of singing.

As a Certified Instructor, you have access to our yearly teacher conference, IVACON, teacher-trainings, master classes and workshops right in your area, as well as online training in the form of webinars. Our education will help you to understand how the voice works and how you can continually improve your teaching in order to quickly diagnose and fix problems in any voice, and also how to develop voices of a professional calibre that can meet the demands of modern careers in singing.

Just Give it Time (+ Practice + Dedication + Lessons + Practice + Dedic…)

I guarantee you all of your favorite singers worked for years to get the voice they have today. Whether it was formal training with a teacher, or practicing along to Whitney’s riffs and runs in their bedroom for years on end, no one just #wokeuplikethis.

Guy Babusek said it well in a recent blog post:

“Some students will only book lessons when they have auditions or important gigs coming up. When there are no performances on the horizon, I never see them. This is not a wise way of working with a voice teacher at all. In these cases, there is no time to actually build a solid technique. These singers are trying to cram in years of training into small spurts sporadically. While this is better than no training at all, it is a very ineffective way of working. Solid singing technique is built over time, by taking weekly lessons and vocalizing daily in a systematic manner.”

I can’t agree with Guy more! The best time to start your vocal training was three years ago, but the second best time is NOW. Right this minute! Don’t wait until your dream role audition comes up, or you go into record your debut album next week. A great voice takes REAL time to train.

If you want to be a professional singer, or even just a good amateur singer, take RESPONSIBILITY for the time and effort it takes to accomplish something worthwhile. Recognize you won’t get their on your own. If you value something, give it the time, energy, and even money it deserves. In the case of your voice- book regular lessons and practice every day.

 

2016 Resolution: Learn to Sing!

Why learning to sing should be on your 2016 bucket list

I have countless clients that come in to me with similar stories: “I always wanted to take lessons, but my parents thought I should learn a more relevant instrument,” “I could only take one extracurricular, and soccer always won out,” “I loved singing when I was young, but as I got older, I just never made the time for it,” “I think I might have a good voice, but I never learned how to sing properly.”

For some reason, singing often takes the backseat when it comes to musical training. Parents think it is not as serious of a musical skill, or as impressive on a college application as, say, the soccer team or math club. Even more so, people believe that you’re born with or without natural singing talent, which discourages many would-be singers from improving their voices.

Here’s the deal. Anyone can learn to sing. Anyone! And it’s never too late to start. Never!

I have a fantastic new client. She’s 65 years young and thrilled to finally be developing her voice in lessons. She’s enjoyed singing her whole life and has recently developed the attitude: what better time than now to do something for myself? Each week she progresses, and her dedication is evident in her hard work and improvement.

Your voice is the purest form of communication there is. Whether you enjoy singing in your car, in your choir, or at Carnegie Hall, singing is always a joyful expression. It’s an instrument you already own, constantly carry with you, and can keep your entire life. Learning to use it is an investment that will reap rewards for a lifetime to come.

Ring in 2016 with some joyful noise!