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

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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.

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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!

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www.broadwaywarmup.com

The Organic Connection Of Emotion To Breath When Singing

 

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“If you are connected to a feeling your diaphragm WILL respond!”

I was doing a 29 hour reading of a new musical recently and these words came out of the director’s mouth. It instantly struck me that this is an idea that I teach in my studio repeatedly and it was worth exploring further .

I think what struck me about this director’s words was that singing is a truly organic experience connected to an emotion and more specifically connected to the body, mind and spirit’s need to communicate that emotion. We can spend countless hours in the studio hammering out vocal technique (which is of course a crucial basic element), but when push comes to shove, if we are not fully invested emotionally and spiritually, that magic “X” factor will inevitably be missing.

I just took a break from writing this to teach a lesson. As I was working with the student (who is someone new to the studio) on her song, instead of working on her breath support, vowel structure or resonance, I simply asked her to speak the lyric and connect to what she was saying. I then asked her to sing the segment we were working again. The result was immediate and dramatic. Instantly, she was connected to her breath , she was articulating and the sound was ringing like a bell!

In her book The Right To Speak, Patsy Rodenburg talks in depth about the connection of emotion to the release of sound and breath support.  She states, “Once we feel supported and ready to speak we connect to real vocal power. Any previous temptation to push, bluff, embellish, or even retreat from words is lessened. These are, after all, only manipulative habits we use to compensate for our fear of trusting our innate means of support. The whole scope of the voice opens and widens.”

She goes on to say,” Sometimes when we come face to face with a heightened choice-a moment of grief, pain or joy- we can experience support as never before. The habits of the body and the voice are overridden and suddenly we go on automatic pilot, almost as if the moment can only be purged through sound. We laugh till our sides ache, someone new to support work will feel their ribcage beginning to work.”

This same idea is true when we are singing .  We can train our voices and work on our breathing, but it’s the intention to communicate a feeling that will really allow the breath to respond and the voice to soar. So often the performer gets caught up in “How do I sound?” “Here comes the high note” or “I wonder what they’re thinking of me right now”. I can guarantee that performer, audience and everyone involved will feel a greater sense of fulfillment from a performance the moment the singer lets go of all of those questions and commits completely to what is happening in the song. That means what the lyrics are saying, what is happening on the page in the music, what the accompanist is giving you in the moment, and the energy in the room.

When working on repertoire, I’m insistent that my student bring their acting choices into every lesson from the start. What you are thinking and feeling as an actor will dramatically affect how you are approaching the piece. Chances are, you’ve done your work and trained. You’ve warmed up your instrument and are ready to go.  Now that you are working on a piece of material, it’s time to trust that work and know that “If you are connected to a feeling, your diaphragm WILL respond!”

Be Warm,

Kim Stern

Co-Creator : The Broadway Warm-Up

A Completely Synchronized Vocal and Dance Warm-Up That Can Be Completed in under 30-minutes! 

The Sound of Music: Embracing The Open Space Around You.

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Picture yourself doing the star solo spot of a show stopping 11 o’clock number in a Broadway show. Now picture yourself singing in front of a table full of people at the final callback for a major production. Now picture yourself in your voice lesson. In each of those scenarios, think about the amount of open space you have around you and what might feel like to fill that space with your energy and with your voice. Hopefully as you imagine the sensation, it feels relaxed, released, energetic and free. Many times when I am working with a student, I find that a large part of what is keeping them from reaching an honest, free sound is the fact that they are not willing or able to release their sound or energy into an open space. Without really realizing it they are shutting themselves down and refusing to free their instrument. When I discover this happening , I like to introduce them to the “Sound of Music”. In this exercise I have the student imagine they are Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music ( in the beginning of the movie) . She’s on top of the Swiss Alps with nothing but open space around her, her arms are stretched out and she is spinning like there’s no tomorrow. Usually , I have a student imagine they are holding giant hands full of autumns leaves or glitter dust (whatever sparks their creativity) at the center of their core in their hands. I then have them take as breath and open their arms and release an extended sound on any pitch that feels comfortable while envisioning releasing that object into the open space ( Swiss Alps) around them. The result is generally instant , effortless and very effective. From there, we will go further and explore what it feels like to explore a truly released sound in an open space in an effortless way throughout their range. I’ve also noticed over the years, that generally, the first time someone comes in for a lesson, their instinct will tell them to stand right next to the piano when they start to sing. It’s as if we somehow think the piano has a magic ability to help us to sing better by staying close to it. (* Note: While pianos are wonderful instruments , they currently have no proven magical powers.) Realistically there are very few performance or audition instances where we find ourselves actually standing that close to the piano. I encourage my students to take the space available in my studio and own it in a truly energetic way. It’s what we do when we perform and we need to practice that in our lessons as well. If we can own the space we are in and allow our voice to fill that space in a free and comfortable way, we will inevitably be at an advantage. I spent several days recently teaching a vocal technique and vocal performance workshop to a lovely group of students from Shore Crest Prep in Florida. During our work together , many of the students made big vocal strides simply by embracing this idea, it was just fantastic to see their voices open up and really shine as they released their sound and let it fill the space around them. We also use this idea consistently in The Broadway Warm-Up. Several times in the warm-up you will find yourself opening up your arms or expanding your space for a port de bras. Explore what it feels like to really embrace the space around you in these moments. Imagine the room you are warming up in is limitless so that your energy and sound can extend well beyond the borders of that space with out any efforting. I truly believe that one of the things that is so inspiring about the human voice is the fact that we are literally transmitting a part of ourselves through the vibrations we create when we sing. It’s incredibly vulnerable to release that voice into the world and let it be heard, but when you do, the reward for everyone involved can be immeasurable!

Anyone Can Whistle… but can anyone SING?

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“So, can you teach anybody to sing? Or is singing a natural gift that someone needs to be born with?”

If I had a penny for every time someone asked me that question… well let’s just say I’d have more than a few dollars. The first time I was asked, I proudly answered, “I can teach anybody to sing!” and at the time I believed that answer 100%. As the years have gone by and I have become a little more experienced, my answer has refined itself into something that I feel I can stand behind with a little more grounding, “I can teach anybody to sing BETTER.”

Usually, when someone asks me that question, they are really asking, “Can you teach ME to sing?” Having never worked with them before, it’s a tricky question to answer in the moment as there are many factors that go into working with a vocalist. However, I find that most people begin to understand what their potential might be when I relate it to the idea of an Olympic Runner.

Most of us are born with some basic ability to run. There are certain people who are naturally born to be Olympic runners. Their bodies are just made for it. From the day they were born they had the strength, stamina, speed and agility to be one of the fastest runners in the world. They have long powerful legs, their movements are efficient, they’re naturally aerobically fit. Some of those people discover their talent, hone their gifts and go on to win Gold Medals.

There are others whose bodies might not have the same natural gifts but with proper training, persistent hard work and dedicated practice will go on to win races and achieve those very same Gold Medals. These are the people who are committed to training their instrument to be the absolute best it can be. They will quite literally go the extra mile in order to reach their goal. These people take the raw materials they have been given and maximize their potential. They may not have been born with a gift for running, but through passion, persistence and training have overcome obstacles to achieve their goal.

Then, there are runners that fall into every category in between. There’s the naturally gifted runner who doesn’t have the desire to train every day. There’s the runner who is not so gifted and strives for the gold , but lacks the focus to train consistently. There’s someone like myself who loves a good walk or spin on the elliptical , but really will only be inspired to actually run if there’s someone chasing me… you get the idea.

In training a singer , we are dealing with an instrument of the body. We must develop strength , flexibility and agility similar to the way an Olympic runner would in preparing for any race. The primary difference is that the majority of the muscles that we are dealing with in singing are internal and not visible– so they are a little more challenging to access. We also must take into account the mind and spirit of the performer. How quickly a vocalist progresses can vary greatly depending on their motivation, their intelligence, their creativity, their confidence and their passion- to name a few.

A voice teacher can help to train the muscles and develop coordination. We can teach proper vowel structure and breathing. We can help the student develop their ear and match pitch. We can expose them to great music and vocalists and inspire their spirit and creativity. At the same time, we must recognize that we are working as a teammate with the student and there are several variable factors at play. Some of those factors include the student’s willingness or ability to practice on a regular basis, the way and speed in which their mind receives information, the connection between teacher and student -how well they communicate and how comfortable they are with one another, the student’s willingness to try new ideas and stray from their comfort zone. There is also that fantastic moment when after months of exploring an idea, for one reason or another, the clouds part and something just clicks.

One of my favorite moments as a teacher is finding my way into a students way of thinking and into their hearts and helping them to unlock the voice that has been waiting there for them all along. I’ve seen gifted singers who had lost their inspiration regain their spark and create magic. I’ve seen people go from not being able to match pitch, to singing songs full out and booking jobs in the ensemble of Broadway shows. I’ve seen people who thought that maybe, they just might have a voice, come in for a first voice lesson and discover that not only did they have a voice , it was something to be reckoned with and something to be shared.

When someone asks me, “Can you teach anyone to sing?”, I can confidently say, “I can teach anyone to sing BETTER.” Where we go from there , well that’s the fun part: discovering how far you can go if you put your mind to it. : )

If there are any topics you’d like me to address or questions you’d like me to answer, give a shout out by contacting Kim@broadwaywarmup.com

Be Warm,  Kim