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!

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!

I’m Sick! Should I Cancel My lesson?

Last week I jumped on Facebook live to chat about what to do if you’re under the weather and feel like you should cancel your lesson. Hop on over to my Facebook page to see that in full. And we’ve already talked about sickness and singing here on the blog.

Just here for the highlights? Here’s what you need to remember if you’re thinking about cancelling your lesson.

  1. Know the cancellation policy and be prepared to pay for the lesson. For me and my studio, I send out my studio policies after your very first lesson- which includes my cancellation policy:

    For in-person lessons, if you make a cancellation within 48 hours of the lesson, you are responsible for paying the cost of the studio rental fee, which varies from $17 to $22 an hour. This also applies to re-scheduling.

    If you make a cancellation within 24 hours of the lesson, you are responsible for paying the total cost of the lesson.

    Sickness comes up, and I try to be as understanding as possible with my students as sickness arises. However, I hold all my students to this policy and appreciate their understanding of it. After all, they’ve known about it since day one!

  2. Feel something coming on? Cancel while you can. Back to the above- if you feel something coming on, chances are that stuffy nose will get worse before it gets better. Cancel before 48 hours and ensure you don’t have to pay any lesson fees. Be in communication with me- I want you to take care of yourself and get well!
  3. Have a show tonight? Audition tomorrow? Maybe don’t cancel. If you absolutely have to go on stage tonight or have an audition tomorrow that cannot be rescheduled, it may be useful for you to keep your lesson. I work with under the weather professionals often- it is valuable to learn how to warm up and cool down your voice specifically for when you are sick, and also how to get through a piece with congestion or slight swelling in your cords. *This is NOT a long term solution! Overusing your voice when you are not well can cause long term vocal damage. Some rare times, however, you may need to know how to sing when you are not at your best.
  4. There are other things we can do in a lesson besides sing! Come in and listen to and find new repertoire for your audition book. Let’s do a listening lesson, where we can analyze and assess other singer’s voices and find application for yourself. If you’ve already paid for the lesson, there are other valuable things we can do.
  5. You know your body- make the call for yourself. You are responsible for you and your voice- period! If you know you need time to rest and recover, please do. Be prepared to pay the full lesson fee if this is the case. If you have a stuffy nose, but your voice is unaffected, come on in and sing. It is your call and your voice! You only get one, so take care of it.

 

My TOP TWO Tips for Audition Preparation

Ready, Set, Audition Season!

Here are my TOP TWO most important tips for the weeks leading up to all your big auditions! Your confidence, preparation, and talent will score you parts and acceptance letters- but these two crucial self-care tips will play a big part in your performance at these critical auditions!

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Imagine your voice is a potted plant, resting on your windowsill. You’re supposed to water it every day, right?  However, If you haven’t, by the time your plant is wilting and turning brown it is TOO LATE to water it! You may try, and the plant may be revived eventually, but it’s not going to perk up until DAYS after that first watering.

The lesson? Excessively water/hydrate yourself in the 3-5 days leading up to an audition! In fact, get in the habit of excessively hydrating yourself every day as your responsibility as a serious vocalist. All the water you drink on audition day won’t do a thing to hydrate and plump your vocal cords, so drink up days beforehand!

Avoid caffeine. I’m serious! AVOID it! Caffeine will dry out your voice, pretty much counteracting all the awesome hydrating you’re doing.

Know that nothing you drink is actually touching your vocal cords (if it did, our lungs would fill with fluid every time you drank something!). If you want the biggest bang for your buck in a pinch, steam. Take a long hot shower, lean over a boiling pot of water and inhale, or get yourself a fancy steamer like this one. Again, start this regiment days and weeks prior to your actual audition(s).

A student of mine just told me about this sweet app, Plant Nanny, that gives you reminders throughout the day to drink up! For iPhone and Android.

VOCALIZE

I don’t know many runners who have had much success starting their training the day before a marathon. The same goes for singers. If you’re not already stretching, exercising, and balancing your voice through purposeful, daily vocalizing (the kind of meaningful exercises I do with you in each of our voice lessons), then you will not be in peak condition on audition day!

Sure, you can vocalize just that morning and your voice may feel warmed up. But with daily practice (much more than just singing your songs!) days and weeks in advance of the audition, you will gain range, flexibility, and balance. And who doesn’t want more of all that on the big day?

Get into a daily regimen of vocalizing. Again, who would skip track practice the week before a big meet? NO ONE.simple-yoga-stretches-for-relieving-chronic-sciatica-pain

Start to think of yourself as the professional you aim to be, and get responsible for your voice! You are quite literally the only one who can give it what it needs—you can’t send it into the shop to be ‘tuned up’—you get to do that!

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.