Tag Archives: voice lessons

Student Spotlight: Brooke Boyce

Student Spotlight: Brooke B.

Brooke has been a pleasure to watch mature. Though only 7-years-old, she’s extremely accomplished, performing the National Anthem in front of thousands of people, participating in our Pop Star Camp,  singing for Talent for Epilepsy, and attending most of our studio recitals. One of the kindest, most humble, and supportive kids you could meet, she’s beloved by her teacher Anne and the whole staff at Molly’s Music.

MM: What are some of your favorite hobbies, outside of music? Favorite school subjects, books, movies, shows, sports?

BB: Some of my favorite hobbies are soccer, art, guitar, and track.  My favorite school subject is reading, favorite book is Diary of a Wimpy Kid and The Well, I love the whole series.  My favorite movie is Parent Trap.

MM: How did you get started with music, and how long have you been singing?

BB: I got started in music because of my papa, Jerry.  He put me in the classes at Molly Music with Miss Anne.  I have been singing for about two and a half years or so.

MM: What have been some of your favorite performances, and why? How do you share your music with others, beyond recitals?

BB: One of my favorite performances was at the Pop Star Camp last summer.  I sang Katy Perry’s “Firework.” I liked dressing up for the final performance and watching all the kids learn how to sing their song throughout the whole week.  Another favorite performance was singing the National Anthem before a baseball game.

MM: What makes you keep up your practice, and what are your goals?

BB: Miss Anne is a really good teacher and I love seeing her.  My number one goal is to have fun. Another goal is to sing the National Anthem at the Angels game.

MM: Who are a few bands/artists that have inspired you, and why?

BB: Katy Perry, P!nk, and Luke Bryan.  They inspire me because they have good voices.  I think Katy Perry and P!nk are great performers.

MM: What are some of your favorite songs, and why?

BB: Some of my favorite songs are “Firework,” “The Greatest Show,” and “Try.”  I like these songs because they make my happy.

MM: Can you share about a technique, skill, or song you struggled with, and how you are overcoming or have overcome it?

BB: Right now, I’m working on “The Greatest Show.” It’s a little bit difficult.  I’m going to overcome it by continuing practicing and trying until I get it right.

MM: I know you’ve done a lot of national anthem performances. Do you have a favorite one? Is it nerve wracking singing in front of all those people, or do you feel pretty calm?

BB: My favorite one was my very first one for the San Bernardino 66ers.  I feel pretty calm.  I don’t get nervous at all.

MM: It was so great having you at Pop Star Camp last year! What was your experience like? Do you have a favorite memory or a favorite part of it?

BB: I had so much fun that I want to do it again this year. My experience was a positive one.  I really liked watching all of the kids kind of struggle with their songs in the beginning of the week and see how far they come with the song by the end.  I had such a great time.

MM: What advice do you wish you had at the beginning? What advice would you give to other students just starting out?

BB: I’m not sure what advice I wish I had at the beginning, but I would tell students that are starting out to always try your best and believe in yourself.




A Million Dreams - The Greatest Showman: Hard Songs to Sing

Hard Songs to Sing: A Million Dreams, from The Greatest Showman

By far, my most requested song to learn in voice lessons from both boys and girls right now is “A Million Dreams,” from the film The Greatest Showman. It may not be as tough to sing as “This is Me,” from the same movie, but it poses a unique set of challenges that singers new to belting sometimes struggle with. We thought it would be the perfect addition to our Hard Songs to Sing collection.

Why Is This Song Hard

1. The choruses start low and then quickly build to higher notes, leading some singers to tense up, get shouty, or flip into falsetto and drop out at the top.
2. The bridge has some sustained B4’s that can get tough.
3. The last “A million dreams for the world we’re gonna make” in the song will test your breath control. Seriously.

Instant Gratification

The Main Choruses

The problem with these choruses that move from low to high is that singers will have a tendency to start at an easy speech tone and then try to yank that speech tone higher and higher until they’re just shouting.

Try not to visualize the vocal line in the chorus as an upward diagonal line.

Instead, think of a series of waves that slowly drift upward.

This visual will do a number of wonderful things: your larynx won’t have a tendency to go higher and higher, the up-and-over visual will help your soft palate lift and your thyroid cartilage tilt (creating a warmer, more open sound), and the downward motion will help prompt you to use good breath support.

In addition to this visual, there are also some vowel and consonant modifications to try. On the word million, the “l” sound will cut you off prematurely, so just swallow it. It should almost come out “mi-eu-yen,” but maybe not quite that far.

Slightly open the “ee” vowels, like be and see. Your tongue should stay in the “ee” position, but your jaw should release in a way it normally wouldn’t on such a thin vowel.

The Bridge

It’s easy to want to shout up to the high notes in the bridge. Since they aren’t crazy high, it feels like you shouldn’t have to set up for them. But don’t be fooled. You still want to keep that up-and-over feeling we discussed in the chorus section.

When you sing eyes at “close my eyes to see,” visualize that up-and-over feeling and sigh down onto it on an “ah,” keeping your soft palate lifted, your face energized and your breath well supported.

The Final Chorus

The arc of the pitches in the “A million dreams for the world we’re gonna make” line in the final chorus is illustrated by the turquoise curves below.

It requires a significant amount of breath support to go up and down like that and tends to lead singers to run out of breath, go flat by the end, or sometimes just get very tense. However, you can mitigate these difficulties by visualizing the arc differently. Instead of thinking of the line as something that goes up and down, have your body in place for the high part the entire time. Visualize the vocal line as if it were more like the dark black diagonal line that moves downward over the top of the curves instead of the curvy turquoise line.

If you’re set up for the high notes before you get to them, instead of trying to readjust every time you feel one coming, you’ll probably use way less air and sing more comfortably and efficiently.

Not-So-Instant Gratification

Unlike some of the songs we’ve worked on in our Hard Songs collection, this one probably won’t be out of reach for that long. Whether or not you want to belt most of it, you’ll need a lot of twang in your voice to keep a consistent sound from the lows to the highs. Try this “na na” exercise. For now, just be kind of bratty or witch-like with it.

What have been your challenges with “A Million Dreams”? Let us know in the comments section below, and as always, if you have a song you’d like us to write a Hard Songs tutorial about, make sure to mention it!

Student Spotlight: Tessa A.

Student Spotlight: Tessa A.

Meet Tessa, Anne’s talented voice and guitar student. Tessa is extremely versatile, singing and accompanying herself on everything from pop to musical theatre. Recently, she made it through three rounds of America’s Got Talent, getting chosen to sing in front of the executive producers. We’re excited to hear whether she gets called for the next round, but regardless of the outcome, we’re so proud of her and know she’ll go far with her music.

MM: How did you get started with music, and how long have you been singing and playing guitar? Why guitar?

TA: I always liked singing but started to formally take lessons when I was 6 (~three years ago). I’ve been playing guitar for just one year and wanted to learn an instrument that I can use to accompany my singing.

MM: Do you share your musical skills with family, friends, or your community? How?

TA: I pretty much sing at every family gathering and I also try to do open mics and recitals every chance I get.

MM: What makes you keep up your practice, and what are your goals?

TA: I have a really fun time practicing and my goals are to start writing my own songs by the time I’m twelve.

MM: Who are a few bands/artists that have inspired you, and why?

TA: I love Coldplay because Chris Martin has great vocals. I also LOVE Sam Smith cause his voice delivers so much emotion.

MM: Can you share about a technique, skill, or song you struggled with, and how you are overcoming or have overcome it?

TA: When I was working on “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” I worked really hard on my breath support so I can hit the high notes. Miss Anne helped me improve so much.

MM: What advice do you wish you had at the beginning? What advice would you give to other students just starting out?

TA: To always remember to connect with  the emotion of a song I’m singing. The most important part of singing is making the audience feel a new emotion, and if you don’t connect with the song then the audience wont feel it either.

MM: I heard you had a great AGT audition! Tell us about it! What did you do for your audition?

TA: The AGT auditions were really fun. Lots of crazy acts and talented artists. It was a great experience, and even if I don’t get in it was a great feeling to get to sing five songs for the executive producers.

MM: How did you feel going in? Nervous? Excited?

TA: I was just very excited and a little nervous.

MM: What was the most memorable thing about the experience?

TA: The most exciting part of the experience was when I got to sing for the show’s executive producers.

MM: How are you preparing for the next rounds of the process?

TA: Not sure I will make it to the next round. For now I just practice like always and if I get in I will sing from my heart.

Sing Through Songs at a Voice Lesson

Why You Should Just Sing Through Songs in Voice Lessons Sometimes

As voice teachers or vocal coaches, we often feel pressure to show our students how much we know, nitpicking a song that already sounds phenomenal so that we can be relevant. Don’t get me wrong. I think there’s a time and place for this. No reason a song that already sounds phenomenal can’t sound even more phenomenal, right? But sometimes it’s important for students to have the freedom to just sing through songs in voice lessons without being stopped every 3 seconds. If you’re a voice teacher, don’t be afraid to just let your student sing sometimes. There are plenty of pedagogically sound reasons for this approach. As a student, don’t feel like it’s a waste of your time to go to a voice lesson where you aren’t constantly corrected. Here’s the rationale.

It Fosters Creativity

Some vocal students, especially ones who can accompany themselves, may have plenty of time to be creative at home. But others need a more structured time for creativity. For some students, their voice lesson is where they take the time to explore new things: new opportunities for vocal improv on songs they can already sing easily and new ways to color their tones (breathy, belt, etc.) Since there are so many ways to stylize a song, it’s not always ideal to have a teacher dictate every last vocal decision, and sometimes just running a song multiple times can give you ideas. Not to mention that a vocal coach can be a great sounding board for questions and advice once the song is over.

It Fosters Independence

If you run through a song and miss some of the notes, it may be because you need someone to give you a bunch of advice and help you out. Or it might be because you know you weren’t getting enough air at that one part, already know that, and just need to try it a few times to make it work. I have students who can run a song, know exactly where and why they messed up and ask to go over that part a few more times so they can try different approaches. When they eventually get it, we discuss what it is they did to accomplish their goal, and it ends up sticking with them so they can apply the technique to other songs. Look, I’m not saying that a voice teacher can’t ignite those discussions as well as she helps the student make adjustments, but it’s not a terrible thing to sometimes let the student be the guide when it comes to figuring out corrections.

It Reminds Us Why We Love to Sing

It may feel like the least important reason on this list, but it should probably be hovering around the top. Getting to sing through songs at lessons without stopping and agonizing over every aspect of them reminds us why we love to sing. It’s liberating and cathartic; we can try new things; we can immerse ourselves in the experience. A voice lesson can be a safe, private place to do just that.

Trust me, as a voice teacher and coach, I love helping a student take a song apart. I’m a complete vocal nerd and love getting the chance to share all that knowledge I’ve spent years accumulating with my students. But occasionally, I’m reminded just how important it is to give students a little freedom to direct the course of their lesson–playing with their own improv, jumping from song to song to test how far their voice has come in the last few years, or just enjoying a moment of unhindered singing. After all, isn’t that the point of all this?

low-cost voice lesson subscription service

The Inside Voice: Low-Cost Voice Lesson Subscription Service

As many of you know, over the past few years, we’ve fully transitioned Molly’s Music into a nonprofit. One of our many goals is to be able to provide very low-cost opportunities for singing lessons. We love running our private-lesson program and truly believe that there’s no better way to see improvement than weekly private lessons. But frequent one-on-one lessons are a luxury that many people can’t afford, either because of their budget or simply the amount of the time it can take.

As we move into high school audition season and run our OCSA Prep Program, it’s increasingly apparent how much of a leg up the students who can afford lessons have. It’s our goal to level the playing field as best we can and provide everyone with the possibility of getting help learning to sing.

And so we’re incredibly excited to announce the roll-out of The Inside Voice, our low-cost voice lesson subscription service and the next best thing to weekly lessons.

The service will not only be extremely affordable, but also effective and available from anywhere in the world where you can hop online and record your voice.

How It Works

1. Record a Song. Any device will do, from pro audio gear to your smart phone. Video and audio are both acceptable.
2. Email the track to your Inside Voice teacher.
3. Your teacher will send back the recording with tips on how to improve.
4. Repeat, getting weekly personalized feedback.
5. Watch your improvement.
6. As an optional add-on, you can include a low-cost monthly private voice lesson, either in person or online to get some quick in-person feedback from your teacher.

How Well Will This Work?

As well as you want it to. While feedback may not be in person, you’ll be getting the same tips you’d receive from a private instructor, and as long as you can stay on top of working through the recorded tips or help your child work through them, you’ll be able to make lots of progress.

Unlike most subscription services, this one is personalized and offers the same important relationship between a teacher and a student that private voice lessons provide.

Why We Are Starting the Program

We believe in the inherent value of learning how to sing. It’s cathartic, joyful, and an important part of self-expression. We want everyone to have the opportunity to get to attend schools like OCSA and get cast in performances if that’s something they’re passionate about, but most of all, we want everyone to be able to experience the joy of feeling good about their own voice. If you’re already in private lessons and just need some more consistent help in between lessons, this service is perfect to help you get that additional feedback you need right before a big audition.

Are These Recordings Anonymous

That all depends on you! We’re interested in creating a community of shared lesson videos, because so much can be gained from watching other singers get feedback. However, we know that learning to sing can feel vulnerable, and if you want to keep your lessons private, then mum’s the word.

If you’re interested in subscribing to The Inside Voice, just shoot us an email at info@mollysmusic.org for more info.

How to Prepare for an Audition

How to Prepare for a Singing Audition

Individual Auditions, by Mike King under CC BY 2.0

The following is a post written by professional vocalist and voice teacher Anne about how to prepare for a singing audition.

Audition preparation is a tricky thing. It seems like all the preparation should take place in the few weeks leading up to the audition, right? That isn’t always the case, and if you are intending to make performing a big part of your life, preparing for auditions is also going to be a big part of that. So here are a couple of tips on how to make audition preparation a little easier.

1. Take Lessons, Not Coachings

If you have done a lot of singing in the past and are comfortable working on a song by yourself and just want someone to help you tweak it, than one or two lessons is a great way to go. However, if you have never really sung before, taking one or two lessons sometimes isn’t what is best. Learning to sing is a long process that requires learning or even relearning muscle memory, so if you know you want to be auditioning a lot, making sure you are comfortable with all the techniques of singing is important.
[NOTE: A vocal lesson focuses on techniques, such as how to breathe, how to form vowels, and how to overall sing better. A vocal coaching focuses on helping you get a piece of music performance ready, which includes working on character motivation, etc. A vocal coach is not always a vocal teacher, and even if they are, the time is going to be spent in a very different way. Read more about the difference between a voice teacher and a vocal coach.]

2. Have Materials Ready to Go

The worst feeling is walking into an audition and realizing that the song or monologue you were pretty sure you had memorized has suddenly fallen out of your head. Believe me. I know. Trying to cram something in at the last minute is rarely going to give you the results you want. If you know auditions are going to be common occurrences for you, have a list of pieces you have already worked on. Having two or three monologues and four or five songs ready to go means that you can spend your time with a teacher working on your song, instead of trying to find it. Also, you will have multiple things to choose from if you are auditioning for people who have already heard all of your current repertoire.

3. Don’t Wait For the Audition

While it is true some auditions tell you exactly what you need and provide that to you, that doesn’t mean that you need to wait for one to be announced before beginning to work on it. If you are currently taking voice lessons, discuss good songs that can be used for auditions. Pull them out periodically and sing through them, to keep them fresh in your mind. If you aren’t currently taking voice lessons, don’t be afraid to book a coaching to gain some new perspective on songs that you have already worked on or what new songs you should be looking at.

4. Know When to Decline!

Going into an audition unprepared is a terrible feeling. If you don’t feel like you have anything that you can present, and would have to cram memorization in at the last minute, it might be best to sit this one out. And that is totally okay.

5. Go For It!

However, if you are ready to go, but don’t think you have a chance of making it, do the audition anyway. All audition experience is good experience, and you will learn important things about yourself as a performer the more you audition.

Auditions can be disconcerting and scary situations. Being prepared for them way ahead of time, and knowing what you want to work on when you meet with a teacher, is a great way to take some of the stress off of an already stressful situation.

Student Spotlight: Kristina P.

Student Spotlight: Kristina P.

After reading this month’s interview that Sarah conducted with our June Student Spotlight, Kristina, I’m pretty sure Kris is my hero. For the past 15 years, she’s been a competitive skydiver, and she plans to run a 50 Miler for her 50th birthday. As if that stuff isn’t impressive on its own, she’s also a project engineer for a company that makes parachutes for the space industry. More to the point, Kristina grew up around music: her dad was a music teacher, and she performed in musical theatre and choirs throughout her childhood. She has amazing taste in music (just look at her list of favorites), and we’re excited to have her with us now, taking voice and piano lessons from Ben.

MM: How did you get started with music, and how long have you been singing? Do you have any first musical memories growing up?

KP: My dad was a music teacher and taught me how to read music at some point (I don’t remember when exactly). I do remember being really young (4 or 5) and going to Yamaha music classes. Dad would always play Christmas songs on the organ on Christmas Eve.

MM: You once told me you used to be very active in musical theater and choir. Do you know which was your favorite? What was your favorite production/solo? How young were you in your first performance, and how did your experiences of theater in particular change with age?

KP: I’m not sure I have a favorite. I think musical theatre is more challenging for me personally because I’m putting myself out there more. It feels more vulnerable than singing in a choir. When I was 10 I was cast as Gretl in my sister’s high school production of The Sound of Music. After that I took musical theatre classes after school 3 days a week and was in several Theatre Under the Stars productions in Houston (Peter Pan, Oliver!, The Music Man, Scrooge!). We moved to Lubbock, TX and I found it more difficult to find performance opportunities and lost interest. I did continue in choir during both junior high and high school. I made all-region choir throughout high school and was an alternate to all-state my junior year. Once I got into college I focused on my engineering studies and only participated in choir my senior year. Then real life happened. I did dabble in community choirs and community theatre productions on and off through 2005. I also went back to school and am 2 credits away from having a BA in Theatre from The University of Central Florida. For the last 10 years I’ve focused on a competitive skydiving career and just didn’t have or make the time for music.

MM: I know it’d been a while since you had time to sing when you started lessons. How has the transition back into it been? Why did you decide to add piano to the mix, and does it give you a different perspective to singing at all, or vice versa?

KP: The transition has been challenging for sure. My memory of my singing ability doesn’t match my current ability. The first couple of months were challenging and it’s taken some concentrated effort and patience to feel good about my voice again. I’ve always wanted to play an instrument and haven’t put any real effort into learning. I had played some organ when I was younger so understand some basic concepts. I’m really enjoying the journey of learning piano because I don’t have any preconceived expectation of my ability. I’m not sure that my piano practice alters my perspective of singing. I think that having a musical background, which in my case is singing, is extremely helpful in learning piano.

MM: Share a bit about your practice space – is it a corner in the living room, your car, a friend’s house, or what? What’s your practice routine like?

KP: I found a used piano on Craigslist that now lives in my bedroom. My goal is to spend at least 30 minutes each day (usually right after work) practicing. That doesn’t always happen as work and life sometimes get in the way. For singing I have a vocal warm up app on my phone that I use every morning on the way to work and then I’ll practice one of the songs I’m working on (saved in my Amazon music library).

MM: Who are a few bands/artists who have inspired you, and why? Musicals and choral pieces, too!

KP: Prince is my favorite. He is a true artist and I especially like his funky, less-commercial music. I also like RUSH. What Neal Peart does with drums is magical. Phantom of the Opera, Rent, Hair and my latest favorite, Book of Mormon, are musicals I enjoy. I’m a sucker for classical music also. Beethoven’s 9th is amazing.

MM: Can you share about a technique, skill, or song you struggled with, and how you are overcoming or have overcome it? What song are you working on now, too?

KP: My struggle in singing has been managing my mid-range, chest voice to head voice transition. I have certainly not overcome that yet, but (with Ben’s help) when I make a decision or a plan about where to make that switch from chest to head (or vice versa) I do better than when I wing it. I have a few songs I’ve been working on– “There’s A Fine, Fine Line” and “The More You Love Someone” (both from Avenue Q) as possible audition pieces. And “Love Never Fails” by Brandon Heath that I will be singing at a wedding this Summer.

MM: Do you identify more with being a musician, a singer, a performer, or an artist right now? Why? Which do you like best?

KP: Right now I feel like a student. I need to make the leap and audition for something, be it a choir or musical theatre production, and get myself out there. I get a lot of satisfaction from my lessons and practice right now just for their own sake, without a clear goal in mind.

MM: I really agree with that student approach. It’s the best even when you are performing! Do you listen to music differently now that you’re an active student? I’m curious, most people don’t appreciate rhythm like drums (or poor bass players) as much since they’re not as familiar. Did you have some rhythm background that let you get Neal Peart more, or is he just that magical?

KP: I think I’ve always listened to music differently because of my dad. He would point out things in songs that I would have never noticed otherwise. He would point out how a drummer might be leading or lagging a band or something about how the bass or guitar player was playing. He could hear so many things and would talk about them with me.

MM: Since we’re all more than musicians – what are some of your favorite hobbies or activities? Books, shows, movies, sports teams? And what do you do for a living?

KP: I’ve spent the last 15 years as a competing skydiver and now that that is behind me I’ve been running a lot. I did my first 50k last weekend and hope to do a 50 miler this year (for my 50th birthday). I love spending time with my little dogs. I’m not really into watching sports. I’m a Netflix junkie (House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Battlestar Galactica). I love good stand-up comedy. I also love unusual movies (too many to list). I am a Project Engineer for a company that makes parachutes, primarily for the space industry.

MM: I love Battlestar Galactica. I cried so much. Why do you like it, and what’s your favorite character?

KP: I love the strong female characters in the show for sure. I also love the human-ness of all the characters (even the Cylons), no one is one-dimensionally good or bad, they all make big mistakes. My favorite is of course Starbuck, she’s very relatable for me. And I named my Chihuahua Boomer 🙂