Voice and Piano Lessons in Vallejo!

I am excited to announce that I now have a new home studio in Vallejo, CA!

I teach private voice and piano lessons for all ages and experience levels.

Beginning Voice: ages 6 and up; 30-45 minute weekly lessons for beginners (depending on age and level)

Intermediate/Advanced Voice: all ages; 45-60 minute weekly lessons, in classical or popular vocal technique.

Beginning Piano: ages 4 and up; 30 minute weekly lessons (or 15 minutes for very young beginners) for beginners.  I usually recommend increasing to 45 minute lessons once a student starts learning more challenging music (around level two of a method series).

Intermediate Piano: all ages; 45-60 minute weekly lessons.

Beginning Voice/Piano Combination: all ages; 45-min for beginners, increasing lesson length when needed.  This is a good way to get started reading music and singing, and is often a good choice for younger beginners.

A brief note about materials and repertoire: I will recommend specific books for use in lessons.  I generally use the Piano Adventures series for my piano students.  Voice students will be asked to purchase music as well, usually at least one songbook and one book of vocal exercises to build technique, which I will recommend based on skill level.

 

 

 

 

Frequently Asked Questions: Voice Lessons

What do you do in voice lessons?

My approach varies slightly with the age of the students, but the basic outline is the same.  Each voice lesson includes vocal warm ups, music reading exercises, and singing songs.  Students learn how to sing with healthy technique, good posture, proper breathing, and expressive stage presence.

How old should my child be before beginning voice lessons?

There is no minimum age for learning to sing.  Even very young students can learn basic technique, which will lay the foundation for advanced study as they get older, and prevent vocal damage that could be caused by unhealthy singing.  Singing simple, fun songs is a great way to build confidence and have fun, while also learning to read music.

What should we expect at a trial voice lesson?

First we’ll spend a few minutes talking and getting to know each other.  I’ll ask what kind of songs you like to sing and if you’ve ever sung in a choir, been in a musical or play, or played an instrument.  You can also ask me any questions you might have.  Then we’ll start with some simple warm up exercises so that I can hear your voice.  If you like, you can bring a song that you know to sing for me, but that’s not required.  A trial lesson usually lasts about 20 to 30 minutes, and allows you to get to know me and my teaching style, and lets me learn about you and your voice.  It’s not a test or audition, so there’s no need to be nervous!

How many lessons will it take before I notice improvement?

Every student is different and moves at his or her own pace.  Some students notice instant improvement as they learn how to use their voices more efficiently.  It’s also normal to go several weeks without any obvious improvement, because singing well requires muscle coordination that takes time to develop.  The best way to encourage improvement is through consistent, careful practice at home.

What if I am tone deaf, can I still learn how to sing?

Very few people are truly tone deaf, meaning they are unable to recognize changes in pitch.  Many inexperienced singers simply have trouble singing in tune.  This can be because their ears have not been trained to recognize subtle differences in pitch, which would be corrected through vocal exercises designed to help them hear when they are on the right note and when they are not.  Out of tune singing is most commonly caused by poor technique or excess tension, which improves as the student learns how to sing more efficiently.

What should voice students practice at home?

Beginning voice students should start with short practice sessions (15-20 minutes per day) and gradually increase the length as the voice gets stronger.  Singing for too long before healthy technique has been learned can be tiring and even damaging to the voice.  It’s important to begin every practice session with some warm up exercises before working on more difficult music.  It’s better to focus on specific skills that were worked on in the last lesson than to just sing through a song several times.  Some of my students like to bring a notebook with them so that they can write down what we worked on in the lesson and what to focus on while practicing.

Is it ok to sing when you are sick?

The vocal cords are delicate, and it’s important to take good care of them and prevent damage.  Singing with allergies or a stuffy nose can sometimes be fine, as long as the vocal cords are not inflamed.  However, cold medicines and decongestants should be avoided before singing because they dry out the vocal cords.  A singer who is feeling hoarse or having trouble making sound should not sing!  Hoarseness, or feeling like it’s difficult to make sound, can be a sign of swelling in the vocal cords, and continuing to speak or sing can cause serious (and even permanent) damage.  Singing should never hurt or feel uncomfortable.

How to Choose Songs for Auditions

Choosing the right song for an audition is important, because it shows that you know your voice and what you can do.  This article from Opera News has great tips for opera singers who are competing or auditioning at the professional level.  Here are a few more tips that I share with my students.

1.  Always sing something that you are comfortable with!  An audition is not a good time to try out a new song that you’ve never performed.

2.  Sing something that fits your voice well.  If it’s a little too high or a little too low for you, pick another song.  It’s important to show that you know your voice type and how to show off your strengths.

3.  If they ask for two songs, use this opportunity to show the full range of what you are capable of, but don’t pick songs that are so drastically different that they are not right for your voice.  Choose contrasting styles, but both pieces should still fit your voice comfortably.

4.  Know the character and subtext.  Acting is just as important as singing, and getting into character will also help settle your nerves and keep you focused.  Try practicing in front of a mirror so that you can make sure your facial expressions and gestures look the way you want them to.

5.  If you are auditioning for a specific role, sing something similar in voice type and character.  You want them to be able to see you in the role.

And a few more audition tips…

6.  Dress nicely and professionally.  Avoid revealing outfits, flashy patterns, or bright colors that will distract from your performance.  Dressing nicely shows respect for the judges and yourself.

7.  Be nice to the pianist!  This means making sure all your music is readable, with any cuts clearly marked.  The pianist wants to help you sing well, but will be unable to do this if your music is hard to read or missing important markings.  Also, knowing how to indicate your tempo to the pianist is important.

8.  If you are given specific instructions for the auditions (bring a resume and/or photo, sing something from the show, don’t sing something from the show, wear comfortable clothes for dancing), follow those instructions!  If you have questions, don’t be afraid to ask.

9.  Be professional and polite while in the audition.  Clearly and confidently state your name and what you will be singing, and don’t forget to say “Thank you” at the end of your audition.  Even if they cut you off mid-song (which is not necessarily a bad thing), just smile and thank them for their time.  Manners are important.

Recommended Materials for Voice Students

There are many different music anthologies and songbooks out there, so I thought I’d put together a list of the ones that I recommend for my students.  I’m always looking for more music for my students, so I’ll keep adding to this list as my music library grows.  If you have any favorite books, I’d love to hear your suggestions as well!

MUSICAL THEATER ANTHOLOGIES

The Teen’s Musical Theater Collection – Young Women’s edition or Young Men’s edition, with available piano accompaniment CD.  Great collection of standard repertoire in a variety of styles and ranges.  Recommended for beginners.

Broadway Presents: Teens’ Musical Theatre Anthology – Female Edition or Male Edition, with piano accompaniment CD.   Slightly more advanced songs that venture outside of the standard repertoire, with some mature themes.  Contains songs in a variety of vocal ranges, so not all of the songs will work for each singer.  Recommended for older teens who may not have settled into a specific voice type yet.

Singer’s Musical Theatre Anthology Series – Several volumes available for each voice type: Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano/Belter, Tenor, and Baritone/Bass.  Piano accompaniment CDs available.  Volume 1 generally contains standard songs from classic musicals, while the later volumes have songs from newer musicals.   Highly recommended for serious musical theater singers.

FOR CLASSICAL SINGERS

Easy Solos for Beginning Singers series – For Soprano, Mezzo-soprano/Alto, Tenor, and Baritone, with available CD of piano accompaniment.  Edited and compiled by Joan Frey Boytim.   A great starting point for students interested in classical singing.

First Book of Solos series – for Soprano, Mezzo-soprano/Alto, Tenor, Baritone, with available CD of piano accompaniment.  Several volumes of songs for each voice type.  Most songs are in English, with some in other languages as well.  There is also a Second Book of Solos series with even more challenging songs.  Edited and compiled by Joan Frey Boytim.   This series is highly recommended for all high school age students interested in classical singing, but many of the pieces will be too difficult for absolute beginners (see Easy Solos for Beginning Singers series above).

26 Italian Songs and Arias – available for Medium High or Medium Low voice, with available accompaniment CD.   Great collection of Italian songs for beginning to intermediate singers, and an essential part of the repertoire for young classical singers.

The Lieder Anthology – from the Singer’s Library series, available for High Voice or Low Voice, with accompaniment CD.  Collection of German art songs for intermediate to advanced singers.

French Song Anthology – from the Singer’s Library series, available for High Voice or Low Voice, with accompaniment CD.  Collection of French art songs for intermediate to advanced singers.

FOR YOUNGER STUDENTS

36 Solos for Young Singers – compiled by Joan Frey Boytim.  Accompaniment CD available.  Classical-type songs chosen to be accessible to younger singers, but may be too challenging for my youngest students or absolute beginners.

Contemporary Disney – collection of 50 songs from a variety of Disney movies.  Great for young singers but some songs have vocal ranges that are too large for many young students.

Kids’ Musical Theatre Collection – 29 songs with CD of piano accompaniments.  Good selection of songs from popular musicals that are appropriate for younger singers.  There is also a second volume available with even more songs.

Broadway Presents: Kids’ Musical Theatre Anthology – with CD of piano accompaniments.  Contains some of the same songs as the Kids’ Musical Theatre Collection above, but also has some more challenging pieces from a wide variety of shows and movies.

What to Expect from Voice Lessons

As a voice teacher, I frequently find myself explaining what I do to non-singers.  Many people have no idea how much careful work goes into training a voice, and what kind of knowledge a good voice teacher needs.  “So, voice lessons is just teaching people songs, right?”  No.

First of all, learning any instrument involves extreme attention to detail and persistence.  Giving a good performance requires many hours of work, and not just practicing the song over and over.  Scales and exercises build technique by focusing on particular skills.  Repertoire must be carefully chosen so that it is challenging enough but not beyond the abilities of the student.  The student must also learn how to incorporate emotion and musicality into their performance as well, otherwise the audience won’t care how technically proficient they are.

The thing about singers is our instrument is our bodies.  Sounds are produced by the vocal folds and amplified by resonating through our throat and mouth.  Breathing technique is important, and the muscles involved in breathing must be trained to be active enough without working harder than necessary.  Tension anywhere in the body can create tension in the throat, which makes the singer work harder and not sound as good.  Some of these tensions are visible, like when singers raise their shoulders when inhaling or have a quivering jaw while singing, so they are easier to diagnose and correct.  However, much of what goes on while singing is invisible to the naked eye.

So, how do you improve your singing?  Study with a teacher who knows how the voice works.  Not just one who can sing well, but one who really understands different approaches to vocal technique and how they apply to different singers in different musical styles.  Be patient when your teacher asks you to sing scales and exercises, because these are more than just “warm ups.”

This is what a typical trial voice lesson with me looks like:

1.  First things first, I introduce myself.  I talk to the student and/or parent and ask questions like: How long have you been singing, do you have any performance experience, do you play any instruments, and what styles of music do you like best?  Then I’ll ask if you have any questions for me before we start singing.

2.  Next we’ll start with some simple warm up exercises.  Many students are shy about singing in front of a new teacher, and that’s totally normal!  I may sing the first few exercises with you to help you feel more comfortable.  Remember that the point of this is for me to learn about your voice, not to judge you in any way.  I use these exercises to assess a new student’s range, pitch accuracy, and how the voice is being used.  I just want to know what I can do to help you sing better.

3.  Once I’ve had a chance to hear your voice, we may spend a few minutes working on a song.  If you’ve brought a song to sing, that’s great.  If not, I’ll pick a simple song to work on.  This won’t necessarily be a song we’ll continue working on in subsequent lessons, but starting to learn a song gives me more information that helps me develop a plan for our future lessons.

4.  Before we finish, I’ll ask if you have any more questions for me.  I’ll talk to you a little about what I noticed about your voice and what I’d like to work on.  (For example, “I think your voice has a pretty tone and a lot of potential.  I’d like to help you feel more comfortable with your upper range.”)

A few things to keep in mind:

Vocal training takes time.  You probably won’t notice results right away.  It takes time to develop the muscle coordination required for consistent singing, so don’t get discouraged if you feel like you’re not making as much progress as you hoped.   Also remember that your voice sounds different to you than it does to other people, and what you think you sound like is not necessarily accurate.

There’s always a reason for the exercises.  Sometimes voice lessons involve making silly sounds.  I may ask you to sing “nya nya nya” or do a lip trill, and you may think that’s silly and pointless.  But trust me– there is always a point.  Different sounds have different effects on the vocal cords.   I’m not asking you to sing “blah blah blah” because I think it’s funny, but because that particular combination of vowels and consonants will help you find a better sound.

Sometimes showing is easier than telling.  Especially when working on breath support, it may be helpful for a student to put his or her hand on a teacher’s torso or back to feel how the muscles are working.  Then the teacher may place a hand on the same place on the student to compare.  I always ask permission first (i.e. “Is it ok if I put my hand on your back?  I want to see if I can feel any expansion there when you breathe in.”) and make sure to use touch in a neutral, non-threatening way.   Don’t be afraid to speak up if you feel uncomfortable or have any questions!

Practice is important!  What you do between lessons is just as important as the work we do together.  We can have a really productive lesson and make lots of progress, but if you don’t do the work to reinforce that progress at home, we’ll just be doing the same thing again in your next lesson.  If you’re not sure how to practice, I can help you put together a strategy that will help you practice efficiently.  Generally, it’s best to begin a practice session with a few of the warm up exercises we’ve been working on in your lessons.  It also helps to bring a notebook with you to lessons so you can write down what we did and what I’d like you to practice before the next lesson.  For more on practice, see my post “Practice Makes Perfect.”

If you have questions, please ask!  I value feedback from my students.  Ultimately, you are the only one who knows how your voice is feeling, so if something doesn’t feel right, it’s important to speak up.  If your voice gets hoarse after a short practice session, something is not right and we need to address it.  If you don’t like the songs we are working on, tell me!  I want you to love singing as much as I do, and I will do my best to help you find songs that are fun as well as appropriate.  If you are feeling frustrated, confused, or thrilled with your singing, I want to know.  Customizing my approach for each student is an important part of my teaching philosophy, and I try to regularly check in and ask how things are going, but I also want my students to feel comfortable bringing up any questions or concerns that arise.