The Top 7 Signs You’re Working With THE BEST Voice Teacher or Vocal Coach

The Top 7 Signs You’re Working With THE BEST Voice Teacher or Vocal Coach

83336438.1

It goes with out saying that we would all love to be working with THE BEST. We do our research online, ask our friends who they study with, find out who works with the stars we love and try to make an informed decision as to who is THE BEST Voice Teacher out there. While most of this seems like good sense when looking for a teacher– there is an element missing in this equation that is crucial to your success as a vocalist. That element is YOU.

I’d like to believe that in the city of New York (or most any city for that matter) a person who has set out to make their life’s work to teach or coach voice will have something extremely valuable to offer their students. Hopefully, they will have spent years doing their own exploration, studying several different techniques and pedagogies and making discoveries with their own instrument. They may hold certificates of study or be members of a teaching association such as NATS or NYSTA. They will have gained a reputation by slowly building their clientele and benefitting from positive word of mouth about their teaching. They may even have reputable clients that you recognize.

"Hey Elphie, I found THE BEST voice teacher!"

“Hey Elphie, I found THE BEST voice teacher!”

Of course, these qualities are desired in a teacher and when your friend tells you their teacher is THE BEST– that’s probably a fantastic referral source that you should take very seriously .

With all this in mind, the most important element in finding THE BEST teacher is finding out whether or not they are the best teacher for YOU.  The following is a list of signs that the teacher you are working with is working for you and you are a THE BEST match:

 

weinstein_goals1. MUTUAL GOALS:  You feel like your teacher understands and supports the goals that that you have set for your instrument and for your career.

 

SO HOW DO WE OVERCOME COMMUNICATION BARRIER

2. COMMUNICATION: You feel as though the way in which your teacher communicates is clear to you. You’ve found a common language and way to express ideas. You don’t have the sense that  your teacher understands something and you’re just not getting it.

 

3. CONFIDENCE:  You feel confident that your teacher has an understanding of your instrument and you as a person and will be able to help you achieve your goals.

4. TEAM SPIRIT: You feel your teacher has your best interest at heart and is on your team.  

Quote-Productivity-is-never-an-accident5. PRODUCTIVITY: You feel that the time spent in your lesson is well structured and productive towards your goals. Whether your working purely on technique or on repertoire, you feel that the time in the lesson is geared towards helping you move forward. 

 

 

6. INSPIRATION: You generally leave your lessons feeling motivated and inspired.

images-1

7. FUN:  You look forward to your lessons and consider them an exciting and special part of your week.

Your voice teacher is an important member of your support team and the right teacher can be key in helping to reach your goals and stay motivated and focused. When it’s a good match you will feel supported, confident and like you are consistently making progress— it’s great! Whether you are looking for a new teacher or have been working with your teacher for years, it’s important to check in and see where you are and if these dynamics are working for you.

Keep in mind that sometimes we go through plateau phases or set back phases while other times we are growing exponentially. If you are feeling stuck with your teacher, that does not necessarily mean you need to move on. However, it would probably be a good idea to have an open dialog and discuss the situation. Most of the time, if you are feeling frustrated, your teacher is feeling that as well and would like to help you find a way through that frustration.You may make some exciting discoveries within that discussion. Other times,  you may discover it’s time to move on and explore your work with someone else– even if it’s just for the time being to discover a new perspective.

With the proper research you will be able to find several teachers who have a ton of great technique, inspiration, experience and resources to offer. The only person who can really know if you’ve found THE BEST teacher is YOU.  Whether a teacher or student, we are all artists and we got into this industry because we are passionate about music, theatre and creativity. It’s part of our life force.  We all want to be inspired and we all want to use our gifts and creativity to contribute to the world of music and art. The best teachers learn from their students and are there to offer their experience , knowledge, guidance and support. When those elements are in place and communication and inspiration is flowing… it is truly THE BEST. 

Be Warm, 

Kim Stern

The Broadway Warm-Up: 

A Completely Synchronized Vocal and Dance Warm-Up that can be completed in under 30  minutes!

BWALPHA copy

www.broadwaywarmup.com

You Want Me To Sing WHAT?!?!?… A Guide to Deciphering The Breakdowns

auditioning Please prepare: Your best 32 bars of an uptempo contemporary standard song, traditional musical theatre showing range and comic timing.  No pop/ rock or folk.

I can’t count the number of times a student has come into a lesson and been beyond confused as to what to prepare for their audition based on what it says in the breakdown or the information they have received from their agents. Most of the time the confusion is not the fault of casting or the actor.  It’s simply that over the years we’ve evolved several different ways to describe a style of music and have yet to agree on certain definitions. I think it is safe to say that everyone has a common goal when it comes to the audition.  The casting director would love for each actor to come in with a piece of material that is appropriate for the role they are auditioning for and that shows the actor off at their best.  The actor has the same interest going into the room. In the interest of getting us all closer to that goal, I’ve offered some definitions that I’m hoping will help to clarify some key phrases and begin to distinguish certain categories.  This is by no means a complete list –it is simply a conversation starter. Please feel free to share your thoughts as some definitions will certainly need to be looked at further. The list you see is taken directly from current breakdowns and auditions received from students.  If there are additional definitions you would like for me to explore please leave comments below and I will be happy to delve further.

Ballad: a song that utilizes a slower tempo.  Generally a ballad will contain sustained notes and emphasize longer musical lines and phrasing.

imagesBlues: Among the formal, identifying musical traits of the blues are the familiar “blue notes,” a three-line AAB verse form, and a characteristic use of the familiar blues chord progression. Examples: Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith,Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Elmore James, Howlin’ Wolf, T-Bone Walker, B.B. King.

Brief Song: Around 32 bars or 60-90 seconds of music.

Classic Musical Theatre: Refer to Musical Theatre Standard. NOTE: this does not necessarily refer to a “Classical” style of singing.

Contemporary: a general term for a song that would be heard on the radio today. Not Musical Theatre.

images-1Contemporary Musical Theatre: A song from the musical theatre repertoire written within the past 10-20 years that embraces a more contemporary style of writing. This could also include a stand alone song or a song from a musical that has yet to be produced. Examples: Jason Robert Brown, Michael John La Chuisa, Stephen Schwartz, Joe Iconis, Kerrigan-Lowdermilk, Pasek & Paul , Ahrens & Flaherty,Jonathan Larson, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Adam Gwon , Andrew Lippa, William Finn 

UnknownContemporary Rock: Modern rock, a rock format commonly found on commercial radio; the format consists primarily of the alternative rock genre. Generally beginning with late 1970s punk but referring especially to alternative rock music since the 1980s, the phrase “modern rock” is used to differentiate the music from classic rock, which focuses on music recorded in the 1960s through the early 1980s. Examples: Nirvana, Green Day, Linkin Park, Foo Fighters, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Avril Lavigne, Florence + The Machine, No Doubt, Alanis Morissette, Coldplay, Green Day

images-2Country:  Ranges from old-time string-band music to “Western swing” from blues decorated with yodels to smooth, pop-influenced vocals. The basic core formula, which consists of a straightforward chord progression, a resonating chorus or bridge, and a memorable story, will most often be the foundation of country music songs. Examples: Hank Williams, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Dolly Parton, Randy Travis, Garth Brooks,Kenny Rogers,Lyle Lovett, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash

Unknown-7Country-Rock: A subgenre of country music, formed from the fusion of rock with country. The term is generally used to refer to the wave of rock musicians who began to record country-flavored records in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Examples: Emmylou Harris, The Eagles, Dixie Chicks, Carrie Underwood, John Mellencamp, Jim Croce, Keith Urban, Taylor Hicks, Taylor Swift

Gospel: A form of impassioned rhythmic spiritual music rooted in the solo and responsive church singing in the American South, central to the development of rhythm and blues and of soul music. ( We probably want to hear you wail.) Examples: I’m Amazed, I Never Lost My Praise, God Is Here, We’ve Come This Far By Faith, I Don’t Mind Waiting, Great Is Your Mercy, Wonderful Change

Unknown-6Legit: Refers to a style of singing that embraces a more classical vocal approach. Generally this will involve an open throat, rounder vowels and vibrato. Songs can come from Contemporary Musical Theatre Repertoire but are primarily found in Standard Musical Theatre. Examples: Rodgers & Hammerstein, Weill, Bock & Harnick, Yeston, Gershwin, Meredith Willson, Kern, Sondheim,Paul Gordo

Musical Theatre Standard: Generally this will refer to a song from the musical theatre repertoire from 1980 or earlier. The song will embrace the traditional stylings of Musical Theatre and can either show off a legit vocal quality or a belt. PLEASE NOTE: This is different from a STANDARD ( See definition below) Examples : Styne, Kern, Gershwin, Strouse, Porter, Lerner & Loewe, Jones & Schmidt, Rodgers & Hartt, Rodgers & Hammerstein

Unknown-2Pop: Pop music has been and continues to be a melting pot that borrows and assimilates elements and ideas from a wide range of musical styles. Rock, r&b, country, disco, punk, and hip hop are all specific genres of music that have influenced and been incorporated into pop music in various ways over the past 5 decades. Pure pop  typically consists of relatively brief songs with vocals that have a very strong catchy chorus, or hook. Examples: Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Bruno Mars, Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Beyonce, Pink, John Legend, Justin Timberlake, Billy Joel, Michael Jackson

Unknown-1Rock: Generally referring to music from the “golden age” of rock or “classic rock”. A genre of popular music that o developed into a range of different styles in the 1960s and later, particularly in the United Kingdom and the United States. Examples: Aerosmith, Led Zepplin, Styx, Queen, The Who, Meatloaf, Guns n’ Roses, Deep Purple, U2, Whitesnake

R & B: Rhythm & Blues. A kind of pop music with a soulful vocal style featuring much improvisation. Characterized by a strong backbeat and repeated variations on syncopated instrumental phrases. Examples: The Four Tops, The Drifters,Stevie Wonder, Al Green, Mary J. Blige, Mariah Carey, Barry White, Lou Rawls, Ben E. King, D’Angelo Unknown-3 Showing Range: This is a request to show off some of the strengths of your vocal range and what you would be comfortable singing 8 shows a week. The material need not show every possible note you can sing, but should give a sense of whether you are a rocking’ high belter, a fantastic rich mezzo, a lovely soprano with a solid floaty C, a soaring tenor or a warm rich  bass. Use this request to show off the best parts of your instrument.

Unknown-4Soul: A combination of R&B and gospel and began in the late 1950s in the United States. Soul differentiates from R&B due to Soul music’s use of gospel-music devices, its greater emphasis on vocalists and its merging of religious and secular themes. Examples: James Brown, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, Jackie Wilson, Etta James, Patti LaBelle

Standard: A song of established popularity. Standards can fall into several categories such as Jazz Standard, Blues Standard, Pop Standard, Musical Theatre Standards or Songs from The Great American Song Book.

Traditional Musical Theatre: Refer to Musical Theatre Standard.

Up-tempo: a song utilizing a quicker tempo.

16 bars: A cut of your song consisting of  approximately 16 measures of music. Ideally, this cut will have a beginning a middle and and end and will give a sense of your vocal strengths and ability to connect to a lyric. The measures do not need to be consecutive, but do need to be clearly marked and make musical sense. In some cases, your 16 bar cut could be the equivalent of 30 seconds of music.  You can generally have a cut that is slightly longer than 16 bars (18-24) but should be prepared to sing EXACTLY 16 if asked. Unknown-5 32 bars:  32 measures of music.  Generally the equivalent of Verse / Chorus / Verse of a song or around 60 seconds of music. As in the 16 bar cut , your 32 bars should have a beginning a middle and end and should give a sense of your vocal strengths and ability to  connect to a lyric. You may generally have a cut that is slightly longer than 32 bars but should be prepared to sing EXACTLY 32 bars if asked.

You may notice that there are several categories that can easily cross over and be misinterpreted. The more precise the breakdown information can be  the more likely actors will show up with appropriate material.  At the same time, it’s important that the actor make an informed decision going into the room. Be aware of who the composers  of the show you are auditioning for are and what their writing style is. Make an educated and informed decision on what to sing based on what you know about the show and the information that has been provided to you in the breakdown.

Case Study: I recently had someone come in for a Beauty and the Beast audition. She wanted to be considered for Belle. When I asked her what she was thinking of singing she said “Somebody, Somewhere”. I was confused. She said she was going to sing something more contemporary and belty/mixy but the breakdown had said “Classic Musical Theatre”.  I went on to explain to her that in that case, they were asking people to sing a musical theatre song as opposed to a pop or rock song. While the breakdown was a bit misleading, it’s also an important lesson in using your judgement to go into the room with something that you feel represents you best for the role you are auditioning for.

As musical theatre continues to evolve to embrace a full spectrum of musical styles, it’s important for us to continue to evolve our understanding of these styles along with it. Continue to explore musical styles that you may not be familiar with and really do the research when you are going in for a role so that you can be confident that you are going into the room with something that will represent you well and give sense of the style that is needed. If something is unclear in the breakdown, see if you can get further information either by asking or looking for other clues from the show— the character, the composers, who else is working on the project and so forth.  At the very least you will have an expanded knowledge as a musician and performer and know that you’ve done the work.

I encourage you to comment and continue this conversation— I’m certain there are several descriptions I have not hit upon and would be happy to explore them further.  Thanks!

Be Warm,

Kim Stern

www.broadwaywarmup.com

The 9 Essential Steps to Preparing for a Role and Maintaining Vocal Health Throughout the Run of a Show

jumping_man_excited-332122530_std

You Booked The Job!…Now What?!?
9 Essential Steps To Preparing for a Role and Maintaining Vocal Health Throughout the Run of a Show
The day you’ve been waiting for has arrived!  You nailed the audition, kept your cool through what seemed like an endless round of callbacks and finally got the call you’ve been waiting for. You booked the job. Congratulations!

After you’ve finished your obligatory happy dance and called your nearest and dearest who’ve been supporting you through this process, it may begin to hit you that you actually have to DO this now. You’ve got a ton of material you need to learn, you’ve got lifestyle preparations to make, and you may have to prepare to leave town- very likely at a moment’s notice . It’s exciting, a relief and anxiety inducing all at once. Many performers feel overwhelmed with the task at hand.

The following is a  guideline of basic steps that you can take to prepare yourself for success in the run of your show while helping to maintain your vocal health along with your general well being.

images1. RESEARCH: Begin to do your homework uncovering the world of the show and your character. You may have already scratched the surface in the audition process.  Now is your opportunity to find out as much as you can and use your creativity as well. Try to uncover the details of where the piece is taking place, the time period, important events of the day, how people interacted and so forth. The more you can understand the world of the show going in, the easier it will be for you make strong and creative decisions in the rehearsal process.

2. NOTE BY NOTE:  Get a hold of the score and script ASAP . You’ll want to go through the score and first identify any specific challenges you may want to work through with your teacher. Begin to figure out sustainable approaches to any challenging sections and make yourself familiar with the rest of the score. You’ll also want to take a look at the text and become aware of any moments that may be vocally or physically challenging there as well.  Keep in mind that everything can change once you begin the rehearsal process such as vocal line designation and even entire songs and scenes being replaced. You want to go into the rehearsal full of information but ready to be malleable and open to new information.

ChorusLine3. KNOWLEDGE IS POWER:  If it’s a revival – know what’s out there- know what’s been done. I’m not saying one needs to obsessively watch every performance of Gypsy that’s crossed the boards. I’m saying it’s a good idea to have some awareness of what’s come before.  Have a knowledge of the work that’s been done on the piece and then see what you can bring to it  to make it your own.

If it’s a new piece of work, try to become familiar with the teams previous work.  Get a sense of their general sensibility.  Seeing as you’ve booked the job, chances are you’ve already got a good sense of this. It can’t hurt to delve a little further and see what you can find.

bigstock-The-d-words-What-s-Your-Plan--241257414. PLANNING: Rehearsal can be the most challenging part of the process and it’s helpful to go in with some sort of game plan as to how you need to pace yourself.  Decide in advance if you are going to try to keep up with your regular workout schedule during rehearsal or reduce it. Keep in mind that every body is different and has different requirements for rejuvenation. It’s important to be in tune with your body and have a strong sense of when it needs rest, when you are feeling vocally tired and what foods you can eat that will help to promote your well being , energy and focus through your rehearsal process. Come up with a solid game plan for work time, rest time, play time, homework and food prep going into the rehearsal process and make adjustments as you discover they are necessary.

my-daily-routine-2bu3bqq5. ROUTINE:  Once you’ve gotten through the rehearsal process, you will want to discover what routine works for you on a regular basis to maintain your health and well being throughout the run of your show. It can become tempting to fall into to some bad habits after the rigors of a challenging rehearsal process.  Balance is an important key to keeping everything copacetic. Take the first few weeks of a run to ease into a routine that is going to keep you healthy and able to be at your best regularly and at the same time is fulfilling on a personal level.  You can always make adjustments along the way as you discover the need for them. 

6. WARM-UPS:  Identify 3 specific set vocal and physical warm-ups that are great for this specific show that will prepare you for: 1. When you are under the weather  2. Feeling ok- it’s an average day and  3. Looking to challenge yourself.  These are not the only warm-ups you will do while you are working on this show.  However, it’s always helpful to have at least three tried and true warm-ups that you know you can turn to and that you feel confident will get you ready to go.  Keep in mind these don’t need to be drastically different from one another, you may make some slight adjustments to your favorite warm-up for when you are under the weather or when you are feeling great and Voila!

2054147. CHECK-UP:  Check in with your ENT before you start the rehearsal process. Assuming you have health insurance, this is a great opportunity for you to check in and be sure that you are starting the rehearsal process with a clean bill of health.  If at any point you run into to difficulties either during rehearsal or the run of a show, it’s great for your ENT to have a record of what you looked like when you were healthy and perhaps be able to trace when your problems started to arise. In checking in with your ENT on a moderately regular basis you are also developing a relationship so that if an issue should develop at any point you are dealing with a doctor that you know and trust as opposed to someone whom you are meeting for the first time.

8. CHECK IN:  Whether or not you are going to be in town, out of town or on the road ,set up a game plan for checking in with your voice teacher intermittently. That can mean weekly lessons , Skype or Facetime sessions, email correspondences or pop in lessons when you are in town. If you are not in town, you can also find out if there is someone in the area that your teacher would recommend working with as well as an ENT they may be aware of.

9. YOU DESERVE A BREAK:  If you have the time and funds  before the run-SCHEDULE YOURSELF A VACATION – you’ve earned it! Hoping and assuming your show is a hit, you may not get another break for a while. If you don’t have time for a vacation , try to reward yourself with something grounding like a massage, some meditation or even a nice bubble bath before you dig into the rehearsal process. You’ve worked very hard to achieve this and you owe yourself a pat on the back and a moment to take a breath and enjoy the victory.vacation_965867

Please feel free to make suggestions for other topics you would like us to explore in this blog, comment or ask any questions.

Be Warm,

Kim Stern

Co-Creator, The Broadway Warm-Up 

A completely synchronized vocal and dance warm-up that can be completed in 30 minutes! 

www.broadwaywarmup.com