Voice Teacher or Vocal Coach?

You’re looking for a voice teacher/singing teacher/vocal coach/performance coach/accompanist/piano player. Are these all the same person? Are they different? Does it matter? To help me answer this question, I asked two of my friends and colleagues to help me out with this post.

Here’s a secret for you: I’m not a great pianist! My students already know this about me. If there aren’t chord symbols in their sheet music (I’m a top notch pop music faker!), we’ll use an instrumental track or I’ll play the melody line. But fortunately for me, and for them, this doesn’t limit my ability to teach rock solid vocal technique, play through all of our exercises, and get through most all of the music we look at in lessons.

What should a voice teacher do?

As a singing/voice teacher, my primary goal is to improve my client’s actual singing ability, or their vocal technique. This means that in lessons we are working to increase range, stamina, strength, and quality of tone. We go through exercises and then apply that technique to music. While this often includes artistry and interpretation, audition preparation, and learning new music, the first focus is always on proper singing technique.

However, if a client of mine has a lot of new music they need to simply learn, or sheet music cuts to prepare for an upcoming audition next week (or tomorrow), I send them to one of my friends, Jeremiah Ginn or Bronwyn Tarboton.

Jeremiah and Bronwyn are both talented accompanists and vocal coaches, along with being talented actors and singers themselves. This, combined with their musicianship and piano playing ability make them excellent vocal coaches. “As a vocal coach I usually work with people to prepare for specific upcoming auditions…. I make sure they are as prepped as possible for all aspects of the audition including teaching them their music, getting them familiar with the accompaniment, cutting and marking their music, communicating with the pianist, interpreting the music and lyrics, and bringing out different vocal styles etc.” says Bronwyn.

What makes a good vocal coach?

So, what makes a great vocal coach? Jeremiah suggests: “You need to be great musician first and foremost. Since my primary job is to help you learn music, the ability to sight read, to have great piano technique… Apart from that I think you also need experience as a teacher, and as a storyteller. Other than helping you musically, I’m there to help you tell a story with your music. So it’s important to be trained in acting, and hopefully have some experience on stage.”

Bronwyn adds, “Instead of working on new vocal skills, it’s about taking the skills and abilities they [singers] already have and honing them for a certain audition. In a day or even a couple days there isn’t much time to develop new abilities, but I can help them showcase their strengths and highlight what they have to offer in the audition.”

I asked each of them when they might recommend that their clients work with a voice teacher. Brownyn said, “In order to actually become a better singer it’s important to work with a voice teacher and have time to practice and internalize new concepts, so that by the time you get to the coach or audition, the things you worked on with your voice teacher are second nature.” 

Jeremiah agrees. He states “a voice teacher is there to be a technician. The voice teacher should be able to help the student master their vocal technique, solve problems with their voice, and help them to become the best singer they can be. I think that the vocal coach then comes in after the work with the vocal teacher has been done to refine and polish the performance. But without the solid base in technique, the vocal coach cannot do their job.” 

Can a teacher be both?

Some voice teachers happen to be great coaches and pianists, and some coaches have enough vocal technique experience to be good voice teachers. However, this is the exception and not the rule. In my experience, a person is almost always more suited to one thing or another. I’ve had a few young singers begin lessons with me recently who have been amazed at the significant difference in their voices, even after just one or two lessons. If a voice teacher is able to implement correct vocal technique, students should be able to immediately recognize significant vocal progress. And not just audible progress, but they should physically feel the difference. They’ve often said something like, “I realize now that the lessons I was having with my previous teacher were mostly about learning new music. We didn’t actually work on any vocal technique.” It is an unfortunate circumstance when teachers with some singing experience and the ability to play piano claim to be voice teachers, and their students don’t know that they aren’t reaping the full benefits they would receive by working with an actual vocal technician.

How can you work with both a coach and teacher?

How can you reap the benefits of working with both a coach and a teacher? Recently, Jeremiah has been joining me in lessons with one of my current students who is preparing for a tricky role in Sondheim’s COMPANY. With both of us working together, the singer gets immediate vocal direction from me, and musical and performance direction from Jeremiah, who also provides full accompaniment as we go along.

Whether they call themselves a voice teacher, singing teacher, vocal coach, or accompanist, now you know the difference! Do your research when looking for a voice teacher, as well as when working with a vocal coach.  In order to truly improve your singing ability, make sure you’re working with an actual voice teacher who can make a real difference in your voice, and a vocal coach who is skilled at teaching music and getting a great performance out of you.

 

How to Audition for a Musical

abernadette_peters_live_0574-1Auditioning for a musical can be both thrilling and terrifying at the same time. As actors it’s important not to let our nerves get the best of us! Remember that the people in the audition are rooting for you to be at your best. They want you to be the perfect fit for their show! Here are six essential tips for nailing your next musical audition.

1. Come prepared

A wise teacher once told me, “Your first line of defense at any audition is preparation, second is concentration.” It’s normal and expected to be nervous when auditioning. The adrenaline and anxiety while waiting your turn and the thrill of the opportunity is natural. But nerves and fear are not synonymous. We are only fearful when we don’t know what we’re doing.

Check and double-check the audition requirements before showing up. Are they asking for a legit ballad, a comedic, up-tempo number? Will they possibly ask some people to stay and dance afterward? How many copies of your headshot and resume are they asking for? The more information you know the better. Once you’ve made your audition selections, practice! Work with a pianist so the first time you sing through your piece with accompaniment isn’t in the audition room.

2. Be yourself

Casting directors want to get to know YOU. Really, truly! If they are going to cast you in a show where you’ll be rehearsing and performing with the same group of people for an extended period of time, you better be likeable. Don’t waste their time with some persona of whom you think they want to see, just be yourself! Dress nicely, but in clothes you would wear in your real life. Choose material that shows a glimpse of your personality. Reputation is everything in this business, so present the best version of you.

3. Sing what you sing best

Choosing what to sing for an audition is often the most stressful part of preparation. Be aware of what the audition notice asks for – if you’re going in for the ‘80s rock musical ROCK OF AGES, your favorite Rodgers and Hammerstein piece is not going to cut it. Within the parameters of the genre asked for, sing what you sing best. Sing what you love, you’ll 131623402_11nfeel confident and perform your best. It’s in your best interest to have a full audition “book” of songs you sing, but staying up the night before to learn what you think is the absolute perfect song for the audition often works against you. Don’t chance forgetting the lyrics or cracking on the high notes because you chose to sing a brand-new piece.

4. Give the pianist the information they need

Make sure your music is clearly marked and includes the following information either in the music or written in by you: the song title and who wrote it, key, time signature, tempo, introduction, end point, and any cuts you’ve made. The pianist is your friend! Always assume they know the piece you are asking them to play, there’s no need to ask if they do. Clearly give them your tempo by singing the first line of the song- not by snapping or counting. Also, it’s not a secret what you’re talking about over there, so don’t whisper it like it is! Speak clearly and confidently, and be as concise as possible.

5. Be courteous

As a general rule in the audition room, speak when spoken to. The folks behind the table (often the casting director, a musical director, the actual director, and other various production personnel) have seen a lot of people that day and usually want to get straight to the point. Certainly say ‘hello’ when coming in, but striking up a long conversation about the new trick your dog learned over the weekend will be met with boredom and/or annoyance. They may ask you what you are singing, in which case, tell them! But there’s never any need to announce what you’ll be performing as if you were in an elementary school production. More than likely they’re familiar with your song. Thank those behind the table, and most importantly, the pianist, before leaving the room!

6. Leave it in the room

An actor’s life is primarily made up of auditioning. The best skill you can develop is to leave your audition in the room. Don’t dwell, fret, or obsess over it once you leave. Make a log of the audition in your audition journal (consisting of what the audition was for, what you sang and wore, and who was there), and then leave it be. Casting is 100% out of your control, and the sooner you learn that the happier you will be. We often forget that things like height, hair color, age, and costume size might be playing into the casting director’s decision. Our job as actors is to be prepared and to be our best selves. Leave the stressful job of casting to the professionals.

Don’t let inexperience be your excuse for not auditioning. Auditioning is a skill just like riding a bike, so you need to practice. Go to all kinds of auditions, and go often. The more auditions you go to, the more confident you’ll be and the better you’ll do, not to mention the more opportunities you’ll have to get cast. Remember these tips, be prepared, and most of all, have fun in the audition room!