Back to school means the end of another great summer with the kids, and the start of the school year that just seems to get busier each year. Students have the option to choose from what feels like thousands of options for activities; its hard to find the perfect one for them and even harder to find time to support them in it. We might be just a bit biased, but we think voice lessons are THE BEST activity your child can add to their curriculum- especially since they can be done virtually on a busy day! Below are 5 of our favorite reasons to get kids involved in voice lessons.
Improved test scores
Dr. Kyle Pruett, clinical professor of child psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine, says “People who have had formal musical training tend to be pretty good at remembering information stored in memory.” Who knew that you could train for the SAT/ACT away from a book and desk while having fun doing it?
Encourages collaboration and communication skills
Singers rarely perform alone. Typically, they collaborate with a pianist, guitarist or another instrumentalist/vocalist. This act of collaboration practices the social skills required to communicate effectively with someone. I have seen high school students make tremendous strides in their communication and their listening ability by taking just a few private voice lessons.
It teaches discipline
They say that practice makes perfect, but I have learned that practice makes permanent. What you practice with your voice will become second nature. Practicing also requires a bit of a self-starting attitude, as sometimes it isn’t fun at first. I define Finely Tuned as "making precise adjustments for optimal performance." Once a student internalizes how to Finely Tune their voice in lessons, they can then apply these same principles to other activities in their lives. We also post some of our favorite practice exercises on our YouTube page so students can access for free whenever they would like.
It promotes self awareness
Let’s face it…what student at this age couldn’t benefit from a little bump up in their self-awareness? These can be trying years, but learning how to sing creates self-awareness by noticing and recognizing how you create specific sounds using your body.
It forces the brain to work harder
A singer must use many parts of the brain to create their art. They are constantly internalizing notes, words, and rhythms, all while trying to convey a message. This is multi-tasking at its finest! The focus required to take a private voice lesson forces a student to be engaged the whole time, as opposed to hiding in a class with 30 other people as so many high school students do in band or chorus classes. The private attention a young singer will get in a voice lesson is different than just about any other activity out there and is often highlighted by the students as their favorite part of lessons.
The Bottom line: Taking private voice lessons not only allows students to pursue a hobby, but also helps them develop habits that are applicable to everything they do in life. Voice lessons are a terrific after school activity (an added bonus of no commute if you take lessons online)! Visit our Voice Lessons page to learn more about our approach.
About Finely Tuned Voice Lessons:
Finely Tuned Voice Lessons (FTVL) is a private music studio located in Mercer County, NJ and online anywhere with internet! Our studio offers 5-star rated private voice lessons to singers of all ages and abilities, with a special emphasis on middle school and high school students. You can learn more about about our voice studio by visiting our website, sending us at an email at email@example.com.
Ahhhh it’s finally summer!
Summertime offers a fantastic opportunity to get outside, spend time as a family, and enjoy some downtime without the hustle and bustle that comes with a new school year. Often that downtime turns into boredom. Here’s where your dedicated music practice comes in! During the school year if you struggle to practice several times a week, suddenly you have time! I suggest setting specific days and times to practice and block out the time. Treat it like an appointment that you wouldn’t move: a doctor’s visit, etc. Once you have your time set (30 minutes at least) you need a plan of action. A typical practice session would look like this:
Monday-Wednesday-Friday 11-11:45 am
11-11:15 warm-up *feel free to use the YouTube tracks or a previous recording of your lesson
Set an intention for your session. Ex. I would like to learn and drill the passage of moving notes and sing it up to tempo with ease OR I would like to learn the melody of my new song
11:15-11:30 Sing your song 1 time all the way through being mindful of your breath, resonance, and ease of vocal production. Mark your music for places you’d like to revisit. Spot-check those places and sing through again! Maybe you choose to sing on vowels only, lip trill, etc. What tools can you think of that might help you? What tools have we employed in lessons previously that have worked well?
11:30-11:45 Sing something else! Maybe you have another song in your repertoire, or maybe you’re practicing something for fun on your own. You could also use this time to listen to new repertoire or brainstorm a wish-list of future songs to work on.
*Jot down what you practiced and how you practiced. Write down any questions that may have come up during your independent practice to be asked in a future lesson!
I hope this method works for you! Try it out and see what you discover.
This year has been full of firsts for me: my first time singing at Carnegie Hall, first time living in Arkansas, and much more!
Another first that I still pinch myself to believe it really happened: being in a new opera production with some of my idols! On March 18th and 20th I had the honor and joy of helping to bring to life “The Hours” by Kevin Putsin the opera chorus. This new opera is based on the Michael Cunningham novel of the same name that was turned into the movie featuring Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman and Julianne Moore. The opera featured Renée Fleming, Kelli O’Hara and Jennifer Johnson-Cano as the leading ladies. Ever since I was a child I admired Renée Fleming. I bought her CDs and read her book and always dreamed of hearing her live. I never imagined that the first time I would hear her singing live we would be on the same stage! In college, Kelli O’Hara captured my interest when studying musical theater pedagogy. She’s a terrific example of a crossover artist: someone who can sing proficiently in both operatic and musical theater genres (or more generally, someone who sings in 2 different techniques: classical and contemporary, etc. ).
This production was a semi-staged production, meaning the artists were allowed to use music and the set was minimal. The chorus was placed behind the orchestra in the loft while the orchestra and soloists were on the main stage floor below. The soloists were costumed, and there were supertitles so the audience could follow along. This production is heading to the Metropolitan Opera in November where it will be fully realized and staged! I hope I will get the chance to go see it, as I have fallen in love with the music and the story.
Being able to sing and workshop a new opera with the composer was thrilling. Composer Kevin Puts came to our rehearsals and would periodically ask us to make small changes to our scores: a note, dynamic marking, or rhythm here and there. The function of the chorus is to at times narrate the action, echo a character’s inner thoughts, or serve as background “mood” music. Workshopping this opera hopefully helped illuminate what works and what doesn’t work before it moves to the Met in the fall. I hope the person who receives my score appreciates all of the markings I made for them!
Singing on the same stage as Renée Fleming and Kelli O’Hara is a memory I’ll not soon forget. Watching them work, there’s no doubt in my mind how they rose to fame. Their work ethic, calm under pressure, and rich, soaring voices captivated and inspired me. I will take these lessons into each and everything I sing from now on. I am incredibly grateful and humbled by this experience.
The old saying is, “practice, practice, practice” but in my experience, that’s only 10% of it!
Growing up singing in North Carolina, I always dreamed of being a professional musician. I began voice lessons in middle school and never stopped. It hasn’t been all rainbows and sunshine, though. There have been auditions I didn’t get and performances that were far from my best (namely the time I forgot the words to the National Anthem—I “saved” it, but how embarrassing!). The pandemic has further complicated performing with many engagements being rescheduled and cancelled.
I always knew I didn’t need to star on Broadway or sing at the Metropolitan Opera to feel like I was a successful musician. I was happy to sing smaller, local engagements and I still am! Those smaller gigs paved the way for my successful journey to Carnegie Hall on Monday 2/21/22.
Let’s take a look at some of the steps involved:
Voice lessons 16 years
Piano lessons 5 years
Guitar lessons 2 years
Hundreds of auditions (in person and virtual) and mostly hearing “No”
1 Young Artist Program
2 self-promoted concerts
10+ Professional Opera/Chorus gigs
Church choir section leader 5+ years
Bachelor of Music degree
Master of Music degree
Those are just the musical steps, without mention of the physical, mental, financial, and emotional demands of auditioning and performing!
So, what does it take to get to Carnegie Hall you ask?
Practice, perseverance, and a little bit of crazy. You must be crazy enough to actually think you can pull it off, and willing/able to sacrifice aspects of your personal life at times. I’d like to add that having a strong support system of family, friends, teachers, and colleagues has helped me through the years. If you put in the work and get a little bit lucky, you never know where you'll end up!
By far, the most requested songs in the studio lately have been songs from Disney’s Encanto. This delightfully animated film is full of life, color, charm, and many ear-grabbing hits by none other than Lin-Manuel Miranda. You’ll recognize his name from Hamilton, Mary Poppins Returns, and the tick, tick, BOOM! movie. It seems like everything he touches turns to gold!
If you’re a parent of a child middle school aged and younger, you’re probably walking around singing and humming, “We don’t talk about Bruno,” “Surface Pressure,” “The Family Madrigal” and many more! It is amazing that “…Bruno” has stolen the #1 spot on the Billboard charts, and charts higher than Frozen’s “Let It Go!” Bet you never thought you’d get that one out of your head…
I think what makes “…Bruno” so special is that many characters have the chance to sing. It’s not meant to be a solo song, it’s for the ensemble! One of my favorite songs is “Surface Pressure.” I love seeing Disney feature a strong, female character instead of a damsel-in-distress ingenue.
If you love this movie as much as I do, drop a comment and tell me your favorite song and why!
I was so excited to be contracted for performances during the holiday season at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia! After nearly 2 years of no performing, I couldn’t wait to join the Philadelphia Orchestra again in their choir, even if we had to be masked to rehearse and perform.
On Sunday, December 19th we began rehearsals for Messiah. Before we could enter the rehearsal room, each singer took a rapid Covid test. Those who were negative were able to begin rehearsing that day.
We were tested (either rapid or PCR) every day and sometimes twice a day until we opened on December 21st! The day before we opened, they had to replace 6 choristers, the conductor and all 4 soloists. Luckily, the orchestra was able to hire replacements and the show went on!
Sadly, the next day we received word that they cancelled our second performance and all remaining shows through January 2nd. We are still waiting to hear whether or not we will be able to perform at Carnegie Hall on January 11th.
While the cancellations are so sad, I know that they must do whatever will keep everyone safe. I am keeping in my thoughts everyone who tested positive, or who was exposed. It’s a scary time, and so disappointing for those who were unable to celebrate Christmas with their families. We are also in good company with many Broadway shows being cancelled until further notice.
I urge everyone to please continue to wear a mask (especially while singing in groups) and to get tested before meeting together.
Can you believe that Christmas is next week?!? Time really is flying by. Some of our favorite holiday traditions are baking cookies, singing carols, and driving around to look at the lights. We hope you had the chance to see Downtown Bentonville Square's lights this season---it will take your breath away!
We also had the chance to see "A Christmas Carol" at Theatre Squared at the Fayetteville Public Library. What a gorgeous performance! We love the classic Dickens story, and seeing this adaptation was lovely. It really puts you in the Christmas spirit!
This month, our Arkansas singers are involved in many different holiday productions:
Scrooge in "A Christmas Carol" at the King Opera House in Van Buren, AR
Noel at Bentonville High School
Siloam Springs Middle School Christmas Concert
Various Christmas pageants and cantatas
We're so proud of all of your hard work and bringing joy and light to the community!
Thank you to everyone who helped us in our canned food drive this season! On Thanksgiving day we were able to bring the donations to Care Communities in Rogers. We really appreciate your help in feeding the community this holiday season!
Often, when I tell my students I have an upcoming audition I’m preparing for they say, “Woah, you still have to audition?”
Yes, even professional singers still audition. I’d like to share with you my most recent audition experience.
In September, I was asked to re-audition for a gig that I’ve held since before Covid. It is not strange to be asked to re-audition…things change in a year and a half! I was thrilled to get the chance to sing live for humans again!
In preparation, I took 2 lessons with my own voice teacher (YES, I still take my own voice lessons as the voice is always growing and changing…and aging!). We warmed up, and worked through technique for my chosen repertoire. The company asked for 1 aria/art song in English and one in either French, Italian, or German.
I chose “Joy” by Ricky Ian Gordon and “Du gai soleil” from the opera Werther. I love singing both of those pieces, and they fit my voice well. They are also just different enough to be exciting and show off a couple of higher notes where my voice sparkles!
The company also asked that we prepare to sight-sing. This is always so nerve-wracking! They give you several lines of notes and a starting pitch. After 30 seconds of looking over it, you must begin! I look for the key, any tricky rhythmic places, wide intervals, or accidentals. I trust my musicianship and use a combination of solfege, pretend piano playing with my fingers, and interval recall to sing through the line. My best advice is to just keep going! Try not to judge yourself as you’re singing through. Did I sing the lines with 100% accuracy? No way…but I did keep going, trying to nail the rhythm and accidentals! As someone who is a much better “preparer” than “on the spot” singer, I was relieved when I came to the end!
Auditions are always nerve-inducing, but if you prepare fully you’ll be less nervous. Allow yourself to really become your character, so you’re not thinking about anything else. You can’t truly be present as your character if you’re thinking about your dress, what the conductor is thinking, or what you’ll have for dinner
I walked out of my audition feeling grateful and fulfilled. I sang for an actual human being!!! It was truly thrilling.
This past weekend I had the joy and honor of serving as a judge for the 2021 NW Arkansas All-Region Choir!
High School students from the NWA region (Bentonville, Rogers, Siloam Springs, Fayetteville, Centerton, etc.) submitted around 3 minutes of audition material so we could score them and rank their submissions. The top 20 in each voice part will be invited to join the prestigious All-Region Choir! This Choir works with a guest conductor (often a highly acclaimed college choir director, or choir professional) to perform a public program of beautiful choral works.
I heard over 120 individual recordings of 3 audition song cuts for Tenor/Bass parts. I was asked to offer a score 1-30 or 1-10 depending on the category for feedback in: Musicality, Diction, Accuracy, and Tone Quality. I remember auditioning for these choirs when I was growing up in North Carolina! It’s amazing to be on the other side of the table now.
I would like to offer some recording/auditioning best practices:
From a judge’s perspective, we really want you to do well! It is so exciting to hear a truly polished recording! I’m looking forward to attending the All-Regions concert later this year and hearing all of these beautiful voices together.
Maria Palombo is the founder of Finely Tuned Voice Lessons, a private voice studio accessible anywhere with internet! Voice lessons are for all, regardless of age or ability!