Answer to a Belter’s Prayer
Barbra Streisand was my voice teacher. Well… not literally.
Back then it was ‘Don’t Rain on My Parade’ - now it’s ‘Defying Gravity’; the belter’s dream. Sing along, and belt your heart out.
Even after having done a featured role on Broadway (at 14 – without a mic) and studying with the singing teachers ‘to the stars’, belting that D (today’s version – F, G…) eluded me – it wasn’t consistent or reliable. Teachers would tell me that I had a great instrument and offered some tips and exercises, but there was nothing substantive or specific – nothing that had a ‘cause and effect’ result. Just more scales.
Enter Ron Clairmont. Within 7 minutes of my first lesson I had more specific feedback and information than I knew what to do with; observations about my tight tongue, my neck tension, my elevated larynx. My elevated …WHAT?
“Do you mean I can work on individual anatomical parts to improve my singing? There is something that I can DO to make specific changes in my voice?”
That was the moment that changed my life - the moment of ecstatic relief that singing was not just ‘magic’. That meant I could DO something; that I might have some control, some input regarding my ‘talent’. Then I can learn to do it BETTER, then I can FIX what I don’t like!!
Fast forward a few dream roles in regional theatres, some television roles and 1st National Tour of Les Miserables, to an Off-Bwy show that ran longer than anyone had anticipated; hence the need for additional income. With Ron’s blessing I began to teach, and from then on life was not the same. Fulfillment. The exchange between teacher and student was deeply satisfying and in many ways more thrilling than being on stage. Ultimately there was no contest.
Thus began the journey into studies of anatomy-based vocal pedagogy and vocal health. Hundreds of hours of workshops, courses, internships in medical offices – specialized training that had begun with Ron. The rest, as they say, is history.
And back to the Streisand thread – When I eventually booked the coveted role of Fanny Brice in Funny Girl, I worked on the material with Ron before rehearsals began, of course. At some point during tech week between the 10 songs and 18 costume changes, a startling moment of awareness came; it occurred to me that through the entire Funny Girl experience, I never once worried about my voice.
I remember the shiver that went up my spine; this is what I want to give to others.
That is my story.
How to Get the Most out of Your Lessons
According to all experts on the subject of success as well as scientific research on the learning process, it takes about 10,000 thousand practice hours to master a skill. Sounds daunting, but elite athletes, musicians and performers all understand that talent and beginner’s luck only go so far; they know from their experience that persistence and hard work are the keys to maintaining a consistently high level of performance that will last over time.
Use your recorded lesson at least 4-5 times between lessons. Each time you work with the recording, you are having another lesson - for the price of one! You will be programming your muscle memory as well as receiving the benefits of the exercises. You want to program the desired muscle behaviors with enough repetition that your brain can transfer the work to your autonomous nervous system…so that it becomes ‘automatic’. Just as important, you will be internalizing the corrections and will begin to recognize issues on your own and then start to self-correct. The stop-and-go of the lesson is an opportunity for you to learn to assess and then reassess what is working. This is a great way to empower yourself and begin to own your technique.
Create a dedicated practice space for your work. Even if you share a room, arrange private work time and work space. While it’s not always possible to practice at home, honor your process by establishing a dedicated space for practicing.
Create a ‘greatest hits’ recording of exercises from lessons that work best for you. Establish a routine and then vary it, play with it.
Practicing consecutive days (vs. alternating days) can be most effective in programming your muscle memory. Elite athletes, musicians, dancers and yogis practice very precise sets of exercises daily. Take a day off after several consecutive practice days and continue to experiment with exercises to add to your routine.
Practice with your lesson recording using external speakers or through computer speakers, rather than using the speakers on your recording device, ear buds or a headset. It’s important that you practice sensing your sound out in the room. We do not get realistic representation of our sound from inside our head, in ear buds, or in headphones.
**For quick progress – the most resisted, yet most effective practice tool… audio & video record your practice sessions. What some may consider an agonizing process of watching oneself can often be the quickest fix and wake-up call of all. Do self-taped auditions for yourself while you practice!
Vocal health Info
What To Do FIRST with voice issues lasting More Than 10-14 days
If you have voice-related symptoms lasting more than 10-14 days, you should have a videostroboscopy (strobe) exam with a laryngologist. Laryngology is a SUB-SPECIALTY of ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat). General ENT’s typically do not have the same training and expertise as Laryngologists with regard to interpretation of your exam, even if they have stroboscopy equipment and work with some singers. They may not have the relationships with therapists who work with serious singers on a regular basis, as well. Be sure to seek out an MD who SPECIALIZES in working with Professional Voice Users, even if you are a beginner. If you have to travel a distance, it is well worth your time and effort to ensure that you receive a proper diagnosis to ensure and expedite your recovery.
Potential Sources of Voice Problems
- Insufficient vocal training or poor vocal technique in any one of the musical styles in which you intend to sing (i.e., for theatre - from pop and rock to theatre high belt & legit - often to C6, for ensemble)
- Excessive or consistently loud talking or shouting i.e., anything from survival jobs that require talking over music or a lot of ambient noise (teaching, directing,babysitting and restaurant jobs) to long phone conversations, late night partying and cheering at concerts & sporting events
- Environmental irritants (dust, pollen, sawdust, high VOC paints, furniture finishes, carpet glues, fragrances or other chemicals, second-hand smoke, mold, cleaning products fumes, etc.)
- Allergies and Acid Reflux (GERD or LPR)
- Smoking – anything
- Dry mouth due to ‘singer unfriendly’ medications, alcohol consumption or dehydration
- Singing when sleep-deprived
- Singing and dancing simultaneously
- Long rehearsals or long hours in the recording studio, general overuse
- Not being able to hear yourself singing while in performance, due to either amplified stage noise or from high volume/ill-placed monitors
- Adapting to a new theatre or concert space with minimal or no rehearsal
- Singing an 8-show week or singing multiple sets in one night
- Eating or drinking late at night or right before exercise and/or lying down
- Auditory/hearing issues
- Performing live without a recording engineer to “perfect” your vocal performance
More on Belting
Anyone who frequently sings belt‐style music ‐ whether Musical Theatre, Pop or Rock ‐ should be trained by a teacher who has appropriate training and experience in teaching 'belt'. Vocal injury in singers occurs most frequently in those who do not have proper training; even if the voice 'sounds good', that is not an indication of proper technique. Loud singing and/or belting, is high‐impact singing and should be taught by a well‐trained professional vs. by imitation of recordings and other singers.
I teach belting techniques in conjunction with freeing and developing of all the registers(including head voice). Healthy vocal function is healthy vocal function; I will not teach' belting techniques' independently of developing the entire instrument. The most 'belty' theatre, rock and pop singers work on their entire instrument as a way of maintaining the health and stamina of their voices.