For dancers, learning to sing might seem like a massive undertaking, maybe too overwhelming to even attempt, especially at the beginning. However, like adding aerial or rollerblading to your special skills section, honing your voice can drastically improve your resume and make you a more bookable performer. And with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing most people to stay at home, you can get great vocal training from a professional vocal coach in the comfort of your own room!
If you’re brand new to the world of singing, here’s where to start.
How do I find a good, reputable vocal coach?
Louie Avila, the founder of LA Vocal Studios, noted that doing your research before booking a session with a private coach is an incredibly important process. An easy way to start on your own is to check out posted student testimonials on various coach’s websites. However, the power of word of mouth is strong when it comes to finding the right teacher. Your agents and friends might know what you’re looking for and have solid recommendations that can cut your search time significantly.
Whitney Nichole, a Bay Area based singer and vocal coach, and the founder of Songbird Studios, warned against teachers who don’t still consider themselves students. “Ultimately, you want [a]...student-centered coach that you vibe with,” said Nichole. (Nichole posted about her other red flags on her TikTok!) Learning to sing is a vulnerable experience; if you don’t connect with a coach, you may not feel comfortable enough to fail in front of them, which will hinder your growth.
Many vocal coaches will all agree that anyone can sing, it just takes practice.
In your intro session, pay attention for a few things. A reputable trainer should be upfront about their professional or teaching experience, and they will usually have either a degree or official certification as an instructor (like a master’s in music). On top of that, a good coach also won’t charge you to make copies of sheet music for you--most teachers have a wide range of musical scores that they use, and normally, they should be happy to make copies for your book.
Avila also stressed that your voice should NOT feel strained after a coaching, especially if you’ve only had one session. A coach is there to prevent any kind of vocal injury, so if you’re feeling pain and your teacher doesn’t address it, it’s time to find a new one!
What are some of the things vocal coaches can help with?
One of the most important things private lessons help with is training your voice to sing in a healthy manner. A reputable teacher will help you identify your range and help you find a handful of songs that you can audition within said range. For women, the ranges are split into three general categories: alto (deep), mezzo-soprano (higher), or soprano (highest). For men, the ranges are: bass (deepest), baritone (higher), and tenor (highest).
Coaches can also help you build an audition book, which, in the musical theater world, is a binder full of different audition songs that you feel confident in showing off, not only your range, but your acting abilities and personality as well. “For dancers, it’s a good idea to have at least three songs [in your book],” noted Avila. “An uptempo [piece], a contrasting ballad, and a pop song. The songs in your book will change as your voice develops, but the sooner you get started the better.”
How much does learning to sing cost?
Private vocal training isn’t cheap. Still, even one, 30-minute lesson per month can pay off immensely in the long run, said Avila. In general, private sessions can cost anywhere from $50 to $200 per hour, depending on the coach and the clients they see. Some coaches also offer discounts to agency dancers, or cheaper group training sessions. If you’re represented, make sure to reach out to your agent to see if they have any go-to recommendations, like Ric Ryder (a favorite of Clear Talent Group in New York City) and Bob Garrett (one of MSA and Go 2 Talent’s referrals)!
But just like with dance classes, consistency is key when it comes to honing your voice. A coach can give you training tips in your session, but it’s up to you to keep practicing daily or weekly on your own, since your voice is a muscle that needs to be strengthened. Just make sure you warm up with either a specialized set of exercises your teacher prepares for you, or use one of the dozens of popular warm ups, like Madeleine Harvey's 10 minute video, or the Jacobs Vocal Academy's straw suggestion.
How am I supposed to dance and sing at the same time?
- Nichole noted that with many beginner singers, common mistakes she sees includes muscular strain and imbalance. This strain is heightened when dancing, so one of the most important aspects to master when learning to sing is learning to control your breath using lung-strengthening exercises. It’s worth mentioning that breathing while dancing and breathing while singing involve two different techniques, so don’t feel discouraged if you can’t seem to master the former right away.
Another way you can practice both is by...well, practicing both! While it seems like a no-brainer, in practical application, it probably feels weird to sing out loud while you’re taking class in a dance studio. However, since the pandemic is still forcing many of us to continue dancing at home, you can sing and dance like no one’s watching (because, likely, no one is!). Start small by either singing along to the song of a piece of choreography you already know, or singing one of your songs in your book while running on a treadmill (this is a common tactic for singers looking to build their stamina). Try a line or two at a time, making sure you’re still applying the skills you’ve learned in your private sessions. Record yourself practicing and show it to your coach, too, this way they can visually see if there’s any strain that they can help alleviate.
Just like with dance classes, consistency is key when it comes to honing your voice.
Something else to remember is that, unless your goal is to be a Broadway star, you won’t need to be able to riff your face off in order to book these kinds of jobs. It’s likely that you’ll be booking something like a musical theater contract as an ensemble member, which means you’re more likely to be singing harmonies and background vocals. (Although, you will be expected to sing a short solo in your audition, regardless.) Ensemble work is about learning to blend with other voices, so if you do book one of these contracts and realize you don’t know how to read or perform harmonies, don’t stress--your coach can help with this as well! Just make sure you record your parts on your phone during rehearsals so you can refer back to them.
I don’t think I have the talent. Should I still try?
Many vocal coaches will all agree that anyone can sing, it just takes practice. While there are some who may be naturally more gifted with a wide range or a good ear, that talent can only take you so far (as many dancers already know). When you put in the work, you will see improvement.
Ultimately, learning to sing can only benefit your dance career. Musical theater, theme parks, cruise contracts, and variety shows, are just some of the few areas of the dance industry that are always looking for double- and triple-threats--and you don’t need to be Mariah Carey or Ariana Grande to do it! All you need to learn to sing is a voice, a device to Zoom from, and a can-do attitude. The rest comes with time and practice.
“The pandemic has turned the world upside down,” concluded Nichole. “I know it has hit our artist community...incredibly hard. In some ways, though, I do feel like it has brought us together (virtually) and challenged us to be creative, [to] adjust, and [to] pivot.” And what else do dancers do best?