Coordination vs. Maintenance

I see a lot of singers in my voice studio and every single voice is different. Everyone is at a different point of the process with different needs each lesson. The most troubling situation is when a singer comes in with a song for an audition that they are absolutely right for, but they’re not able to sing the material. As voice teachers, we work tirelessly to do whatever we can in that lesson to make the song work, but sometimes there’s just no hope. The singer isn’t ready. This breaks my heart, especially when the singer is SO RIGHT for the part and when the singer is SO CAPABLE of singing the material at some point along the road. I not only get sad, but I get frustrated because this situation is avoidable! Often times singers come to voice teachers for “emergency” lessons to work on an audition and then the teacher won’t see them again until the next “emergency” lesson for the next audition. If you fall into this singer category, it’s ok! I promise! But, you need to ask yourself a very important question about yourself as a singer. Am I...

Coordinating or Maintaining?

There’s a big difference between these two states and where you are plays a role in how often you need voice lessons. The “emergency” session is helpful, but are you really becoming a better singer with one or two lessons a year that are focused solely on the audition at hand? Let’s examine these two states and the differences between them.

Anyone who’s had a lesson with me has heard me use the word coordination. In fact, you’re probably sick of hearing that word come out of my mouth! This term is used all the time in dance, but it’s often forgotten in singing. It can be hard to remember that in singing we are dealing with muscles that need time to coordinate just like any other physical activity. For instance, your body needs time to figure out how to balance in a pirouette when dancing, just as your voice needs time to figure out how to balance breath coordination while singing. Your body needs time to be flexible enough for a grande battement, just as your voice needs time to be able stretch high enough for your range to expand. You get the idea.

Don’t be fooled though–you don’t have to be a beginning singer to be in the coordinating phase. If you’ve been singing in a less than functional way for a long time and you are now working on a more healthy, functional sound, then you’re coordinating. If you are a well established classical singer who is venturing into belting for the first time, you are in a coordinating stage. If you have been singing for years but are now recovering from a vocal pathology, you are in a state of re-training, which involves a lot of coordination.

So, if you’re in a coordinating stage, that’s wonderful! You are learning about your voice and partaking in the process of becoming a more educated, in control singer. How often should people in this stage take voice lessons? I typically say as often as you can. That sounds pretty general, but if you can afford once a week for a month or two, you will progress faster. If you can afford once a month, then go for it! Part of speeding up your progress is committing to lessons because the extra set of ears and eyes guiding you is invaluable, committing to practicing regularly on your own, and being patient because coordinating takes time, no matter how often you take lessons. This leads us to the age old question…

What about auditions while I’m coordinating?

If you are a professional performer and are still coordinating parts of your voice, you will run into moments when you are asked to sing something that you might not feel ready for. You have to make the decision as to whether or not you go to the audition. Your voice teacher and vocal coach can offer advice to you about the situation, but the decision is ultimately yours. The more you understand your voice and where you are in process will allow you to make a more informed decision. How can you understand your voice better and where you are in process more clearly? You guessed it. By taking voice lessons. The “emergency” lesson is great to help you feel confident about the material, but if you are still learning how to belt, no matter how right you are for Elphaba, that one lesson won’t get you the job. If you commit to taking lessons regularly and allow yourself to coordinate your belt voice, then you can walk into the room and feel confident in your ability to wave that broom high into the sky while belting your face off.

Ah! What a lovely place to be in. If you are in control of your voice, can use your voice in multiple styles/genres, understand how your voice feels when it’s healthy and when it’s not, and feel prepared to sing the roles that you are right for and want to play, then you are probably more in the maintenance phase. You aren’t still coordinating on your voice on a day to day basis, but are simply keeping it in check. You don’t want to fall back into old habits that have been corrected and you don’t want to develop new habits as you go through audition season or wrestle with a demanding role 8 times a week. How often should someone in this phase take voice lessons? I think a check in every few months is divine. It’s great to have the extra set of eyes and ears offering you feedback as you keep your voice in shape. This check up can keep you from ending up back in the coordinating phase because of a nasty habit that crept in when you were doing dinner theatre in Boise. So, does this mean that…

You can move back and forth from coordinating and maintaining?

Yep. Unfortunately. Habits can creep in and cause you vocal trouble and then in order to get them to disappear, you need to do some coordinating. Ugh. What a pain. You can minimize the chance of this happening by keeping yourself in check with mindful practice and the occasional lesson to keep you on track.

I hope you will take a minute to think about where you are in the process and how you can most benefit from not only voice lessons, but any classes or lessons that you take. You need to be patient with yourself as you learn a new skill, but you also need to give yourself the opportunity to be successful.