Importance of the Voice in Musical Theatre, Part 1

Confidence ia important for singers.
Confidence ia important for singers.

It is essential for students to learn the importance of the voice on stage. If singers cannot be heard by the audience, what is the point of having any listeners? Yes, it is a huge accomplishment to be able to get yourself up on stage in front of an audience, but what are you doing up there? Performers, singers, and public speakers have a message to deliver! The next step for the novice performer is to learn how to communicate effectively to their audience.

Confidence, Confidence, Confidence

First and foremost, educators need to believe in their students so that they, in turn, believe in themselves. A lack of confidence in oneself only means a weaker sound. If students believe in themselves, their sound will be richer and better projected.

How can students build confidence?
How can students build confidence?

If students are overly concerned with the way they sound, have them create a list of positive affirmations to repeat over and over again about their voice and themselves as performers. Have them tape the list on the inside of their music binders. Eventually, they will begin to believe their affirmations!

When in class, have the students pretend that they are singing in front of a large house of people. When they hear their voice, have them imagine that their voice is beautiful, full of emotion and desperation to deliver their song’s message. Their visualizations should be detailed: How many people are in the audience? What is the lighting like? Is there an orchestra, and if so, describe it. Having students focus on outward elements helps them become less introverted. They will be in the present moment and not thinking so much about how they sound (or if they are, they will be thinking about how superior they sound).

Breathing is Key

Breathing is key!
Breathing is key!

For all actors, singers, and performers in general, breathing is number one! Breathing from the diaphragm will help a singer’s sound, and definitely aid in vocal projection. When you begin to phonate (that is, create speaking and singing sounds) the air that is exhaled causes vibrations that create sound. These vibrations will continue until you run out of air, or stop phonating. If your breaths are inhaled too high in your chest and not “from the diaphragm,” you will not have enough breath support, and your sound will be weaker.

I had a voice teacher tell me to pretend that I had a belt of noses around my waist. Whenever I inhaled, I imagined that all of these noses were breathing in simultaneously. This helped me to remember and train myself to take breaths lower and deeper into my body. It took a great amount of practice, but eventually this technique became second nature.

One way educators can help students learn the technique of diaphragmatic breathing (or belly breathing) is with a water bottle. Have the student put the water bottle against their belly button and lean against a wall (the water bottle should be the bridge between them and the wall). As they inhale and exhale, have them observe their body rising away from the wall and falling back to the wall. This is another way they can train themselves to belly breathe!

Singing Range-Appropriate Songs

Stay within your range when auditioning.
Stay within your range when auditioning.

Students should embrace their own voice, especially when it comes to singing. They should learn to market their strengths, and not work against them. If a student is a high soprano, they should show off their soaring high notes. An alto should highlight their middle and darker lower tones. For males, they should also stay within their comfort zones. If a vocalist sings outside of their range, they are running the risk of hurting their voice.

That does not mean that students should not work on expanding their range, but they should not be over singing outside of their natural and comfortable range. If a student feels tightness or feels hoarse after singing a song, that is a sure sign that the song is out of their current comfort zone. Remind your students that although it can be beneficial to work on range, when it comes to auditions and performances, they want to display their best work with which they feel 100% comfortable. Save the challenging pieces for the practice room!

Building a Foundation of Trust

Learning how to sing properly can be nerve wracking for a student, and that is why it is so important for educators to maintain an environment that is free from the type of judgments that undermine the development of student confidence and a singer’s developing voice. Educators need to build a relationship with their students that is filled with respect and trust. There is so much to learn about controlling the human voice, but it should never feel overwhelming. As educators, we want to preserve a love for the art of singing.

In Part 2, I will provide some information about the resonators that singers and speakers utilize, and in Part 3, I will offer tips on encouraging and instilling the desire in your students to communicate with their audience.

  • Author Spotlight

    Laura Cole

    Laura Cole currently resides on Maui, Hawaii, and teaches students of all ages at various public schools on Maui. She has a passion for working with ESL children and students with special needs. In her “free time,” she performs in theatre productions at Maui OnStage. Laura graduated from Plymouth State University in 2008 with a B.A. in Theatre Arts and an option in Music Theatre Performance, but has discovered that her heart lies in teaching theatre to kids. She gained most of her experience traveling with Missoula Children's Theatre and directing a full-scale musical with a cast of 60 kids in only 5 days. Every week, they would travel to a new town and bring the same inspiring experience to another 60 kids. As a Tour Actor/Director, she gained experience working with kids of all different levels, backgrounds, and cultures. Since then, she has taught classes at StageCoach Brooklyn, Camp CenterStage, Maui OFFStage, and Seabury Hall on Maui. Read Full
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