Having been in multiple musical training programs and classes, I can tell you that the most common bit of advice I have heard from college professors, musical directors, casting directors, and fellow performers is this: GET A VOCAL COACH.
Prior to the first day of an audition prep class at Collin College, my fellow students and I were asked to bring a prepared audition song to present at our first meeting. I quickly looked through my book and decided on “Don’t Rain on My Parade” from Funny Girl. I wanted a song that could show off my belt, along with my personality, and needed something I could sing in my sleep. Since I knew the song forward and backward, I anticipated wowing my classmates and volunteered relatively quickly to take my turn.
I had been singing all of my life, was president of an award-winning high school choral program, and was a vocal major in college (although I ended up minoring in music and majoring in graphic design—a “safer” choice) so I considered myself well-trained. However, that was in the distant past, and although I sang in a 100 voice church choir weekly, it had been a while since I had studied under someone formally.
I stepped confidently to the accompanist, showed him my cuts and tempo, and took my spot center stage. Not knowing a soul in the room, my nerves fluctuated between pride and terror—a feeling I hadn’t felt in a while. As confident as I was singing in front of hundreds weekly, an intimate audition was a very foreign setting for me. I sang passionately, intentionally connecting with my audience classmates as I was used to doing on stage in my normal setting. As I wrapped it up, embellishing the ending with my own signature vocal flips, the director smiled and waited for the supportive classmates’ applause to end. He gave me a few instructions and had me repeat the ending, considering the character’s motives in the song (what?? I just like listening to Idina sing this…what character sings this??) and removing my vocal interpretation and honoring the composers original notes (pretty sure Jule Styne liked it the way he wrote it) Then he said, “Wow. OK. I look forward to hearing more from you in the coming weeks.” Then he asked, “Are you studying under someone?” to which I replied, “not right now.” (nor in the last 10 years). He then made a large example of me that we should ALL be studying under someone to constantly refine and perfect our vocal craft as it applies to the musical theatre setting. That comment resurfaced at least 40 times over the next 50 mock audition attempts, followed by some local recommendations of outstanding instructors and coaches.
I have since trained with a voice professor, 3 vocal coaches, a performance coach, and taken masterclasses with vocal professionals and casting directors. The expertise these pros offer specifically in the area of musical theatre has been essential to my growth as a performer. If it’s been a while since you’ve had some serious, specific instruction, find a way to meet with a coach. The vocal stamina required for musical theatre is fierce, and if you’re not properly trained, you can be seriously fatigued by night 4. It’s kind of like marathon training (I ran my first half-marathon last December). You have to start months ahead, gradually building your mileage so your legs can perform well on race day. If you depend on your current physical abilities to carry you through the 13 or 26 mile course, injuries are possible that could sideline your running goals for many years to come.
Vocal coaches not only keep you accountable to daily workout and build vocal strength, but they also help with vocal breathing techniques, which is essential to maintaining a clear and powerful tone amidst the whirl of nerves, character emotion, and strenuous choreography that could derail your vocal performance. Posture, proper musculature and sound placement, articulation and annunciation, nasality, vibrato, belting, and many other issues can be properly addressed and corrected. Much like a trainer specifically diagnoses and corrects physical imbalances to allow an athlete to perform at their highest potential, a vocal coach can analyze your specific needs and help move you to new places in your singing career.
Below is a list of voice and performance coaches I have worked with and gladly recommend. Please comment below if you have a stellar coach in your area. One of our survey questions revealed that our readers need help finding vocal professionals. Help us out and mention your faves!
Michael Maresca – MMOV Studios – South Texas and lessons via Skype
Ron Shetler Vocal Studio – New York City and lessons via Skype
Tom Burke Voice Studios/Broadway Voice Box
Robin Hackett – North Texas
Nancy Elledge – North Texas and Texas Christian University
Studying with someone great? Let us know below!