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Elk Grove, CA

raquela@ElkGroveSings.com

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Q & A

 

Q: What method do you teach?

 

A: I teach classical vocal technique (derived from the bel canto - which means 'beautiful singing' in Italian - tradition), but make adjustments to my approach as necessary. The majority of my students sing in contemporary genres, as do I, and this classical technique is applicable to all genres and styles of singing.

 

Q: Will I sound like an opera singer if I take lessons with you? Will I be able to learn how to produce sounds that are authentic to my desired (contemporary) genre?

 

A: Disclaimer: Although my roots come from Opera training, thanks to my Broadway experience and Complete Technique training, I am now a full time practicing "pop" singer. Classical technique is not genre specific, and is very effectively applied to both contemporary and classical genres of singing. The majority of my students do not sing classical vocal music. (I also do not perform operatic repertoire.) They sing in genres ranging from adult contemporary, folk, pop, rock and heavy metal to jazz, classical (including choral singing and opera), liturgical, carnatic and Bollywood, and everything else in between. And they do not sound like classical singers when they are performing their own repertoire, unless they choose to.

 

When a student is open-minded and trusts me to guide him or her in the right direction, he or she very soon discovers just how much the technique that I teach is applicable to his or her own genre and style. In fact, my students are sometimes a little surprised by just how effective and versatile classical technique truly is, and by how versatile it makes them as artists.

 

Classical technique instructors, like myself, should not be confused with opera teachers, who do indeed specialize in helping their students obtain characteristically 'operatic' sounds and in teaching the various aspects of classical vocal music performance, such as diction, foreign languages, interpretation, repertoire and acting. The technical foundation that I provide is the same, but the resultant sound will be different when the student chooses to modify it for the purposes of singing in his or her desired genre. (During lessons, a more 'classical' sound is desired so that the student learns to sing with healthy, free, open, balanced singing before adding contemporary qualities and effects.)

 

Despite what many singing teachers of contemporary methods will try to tell you, studying voice with a classical technique will not place you in an artistic or stylistic box or make you sound like an opera singer - unless, of course, you choose to, (in which case, I would refer you at some point to an opera teacher who could provide you with the genre specific instruction that you would need in order to succeed at that particular style of singing). It also will not limit your ability to sound 'authentic' to your genre or style. How technique is applied to one's singing is unique and individual, and classical technique can be 'tweaked' to invite some contemporary qualities in without compromising vocal health or skillfulness.

 

Classical technique training, as an approach to singing, does not seek to alter a singer's natural sound, or mold it into something that it was not designed to be. (I have far too much appreciation and respect for the uniqueness of the individual instrument to dictate how emotion should be expressed vocally or even to demand a certain aesthetic outside of lessons.) It does not seek to create a specific or standard vocal sound in all singers. Rather, its purpose is to bring out and maximize the natural beauty in the individual voice through healthy and skillful vocalization. This is achieved through mastery of breath management, resonance balancing, onsets (initiation) of sound and registration shifts, as well as through developing vocal agility, suppleness, stamina, control, etc.. A voice that is highly skilled in these aspects of technique is a voice that is versatile, and able to create a wide variety of sounds and effects that can be applied to a variety of musical genres.

 

My goal is to equip my students with knowledge, exceptional technical skills and healthy voice production. What a student does with his or her voice from an artistic and stylistic standpoint - how he or she uses or applies those skills outside of my studio or during vocal coaching sessions with me - is entirely up to the student. (I do offer some vocal coaching during lessons, which helps students learn to apply to their own song selections the technical skills that they are mastering through their vocal exercises.)

 

Q: Wouldn't simply going straight to learning a contemporary method of singing save me time and money in the end?

 

A: Not likely. Many singers of contemporary genres make the mistake of attempting to develop their contemporary singing technique first because they view it as a more direct route to achieving their goals, and then run into vocal health problems and limitations in their skills as a result. I work mainly with students who have studied other (contemporary) techniques and methods before coming to me - one such method (providing DVD lessons) has gained tremendous popularity over the past few years - and have been injured, and left frustrated and discouraged by the limitations that this way of learning has placed on their singing.

 

Generally, they find that while they have indeed learned how to produce the desirable sounds and qualities that are authentic to their preferred genres, and even sound pretty good when singing in that style, they are unable to demonstrate much versatility, and are limited to that genre or particular approach to negotiating their range only. In the end, they often end up spending more years and taking more lessons (and thus spending more money) with other teachers as they seek resolution to their difficulties and healing of their injuries because they must undo many of the habits that they picked up earlier on.

 

I truly believe that it is always best to begin with the solid foundation of classical technique, and then use that classical foundation as both a springboard for all other styles of singing and a sort of 'litmus' test against which the healthiness of voice production can be measured. If a singer first learns what it feels (and sounds) like to produce notes with openness, relaxation, 'freedom' of the larynx and ease, he or she will more easily recognize the early warning signs of potential problems, (as when the voice is being pushed beyond its limits), before strain, fatigue or injury occur. When a singer only learns to sing with the kind of constrictions, pressed phonation, torso 'anchoring', increased breath flow, etc. that are encouraged in contemporary vocal technique, he or she may not be able to accurately gauge how much his or her voice can handle, or know whether or not a certain sensation is normal. (I frequently receive e-mails from singers studying with other teachers or attempting to apply contemporary techniques without any professional guidance who tell me that they require days of vocal rest after their lessons or gigs because they lose their voice quality and experience pain. Very often, these same inquirers ask me if this is 'normal'. My reply is always a resounding, "No!")

 

There are certain contemporary vocal effects that I intentionally do not teach, including belting, 'screaming', and 'growling', because I have concerns about the healthiness of their production. I do understand that, depending on the singer's desired genre or style, creating an 'authentic' sound may require using such effects either a lot or in moderation during performances. On occasion, I have referred students desiring to sing with more 'extreme' contemporary technique to other methods that focus on teaching these particular sounds. Sometimes, those students will continue to study with me while simultaneously learning another method. In this case, they benefit from both all of what classical technique provides as a solid foundation and what a specific contemporary method brings to the table.

 

Q: Do you teach children?

 

A: Not as a general rule, most professional private voice teachers do not. My specialty is with children between the ages of 9 to 13 years of age. While I will make exceptions if a child proves to be mature, focused and full of natural potential, I generally do not teach children below the age of nine. There are a variety of reasons for making this decision, which I explain in greater detail in the FAQ's section of my blog section.

 

Q: Do you offer any pre-recorded DVDs or instructional videos?

 

A: No. Despite countless requests for such products, I have chosen to not take that route. I feel that the student-teacher relationship is such an important one for many reasons, and that pre-recorded lessons cannot come close to offering the quality of instruction that is received in a 'live' setting.

 

For example, pre-recorded lessons do not take into account the singer's current skill level or the specific areas of technique in which that individual student is falling short, and rely entirely upon the paying customer's own assessment of his or her vocal skills, whether it is accurate or not. Furthermore, they do not offer the benefit of regular feedback from a skilled listener - very often, the singer doesn't hear himself or herself the way that a trained listener/teacher would. They don't offer individualized or personalized 'lesson plans', which means that a singer might have to weed through a fair bit of recorded material before finding the specific information or exercises that are most relevant to him. They also don't offer an entire arsenal of solutions, so when a given exercise on the program doesn't work or produce the desired results or fix the problem, the singer doesn't have other options/solutions presented to him, (except, perhaps, to purchase yet another similar program on the market).

 

These pre-recorded instructional programs typically don't address vocal posture (e.g., properly positioning of the tongue, jaw, etc.) and the root causes of tension, so singers can unknowingly continue singing poorly. Even if the customer sings in front of a mirror, he or she may miss the very subtle movements and signs that a teacher is trained to notice and has experience in addressing. The singer could then be practicing along to an instructional DVD, but be singing the exercises incorrectly, or in potentially injurious ways, and not be aware of his or her mistakes until he or she experiences discomfort, pain or injury.

 

I aim to be as professionally responsible as possible, and for that reason, I only instruct students when I am able to both hear and see them singing. (I also do not seek to have a monopoly on voice students through the mass distribution of a product that I have created.) This is not only a more responsible approach to teaching, as I can ensure that what I am teaching is being applied correctly and safely, but it is also more efficient, as problem areas can be addressed directly and immediately, and resolved more rapidly. Much time can be saved when a student does not have to sift through hours of information and exercises that may or not be suited to his or her proficiency level or relevant to the specific areas of weakness in his or her technique. The student can also engage me in a dialogue and ask questions that will be answered right then and there, and explained as many times and in as many ways as necessary in order for the concepts to be understood clearly.

 

I have recently recorded a series of vocal exercises (in MP3 format) for those students who are currently studying with me to use throughout the week. These exercises will be familiar ones that are practiced during their private lessons with me. These same files may soon be offered to the general public, as well, with personalized ranges so that the singer doesn't have to wait for several minutes until the exercises come back down in key again. I may be contacted directly for more information about these personalized scales.

 

I offer a wide variety of lesson options - from group classes to week-long private intensives to weekly private lessons to one-time assessments to personalized video lessons - that could fit nearly any budget. I am also always available through e-mail to answer any singing related questions free of charge. I try to make quality vocal instruction as accessible as possible.

FYI: YouTube is evil! ;-)

 

Q: Do you teach belting?

 

A: Yes, but not directly. Based on what scientific research has revealed about the many constrictions along the vocal tract, the muscular effort and the pressed nature of the onset of sound, I do not teach belting directly. So as not to sound like a two-facer, I am a bleter as well as a well rounded singer. I worked on Broadway for almost 20 years, so 'bleting' is 90% a part of what goes on in New York today. HOWEVER, keep in mind, I have had equally more then 20 years of intense training since I was 9 years old. I may teach a 'faux belt' or the 'twang' technique from CVT, which is a much safer way of producing a big and powerful vocal sound without forcing, pushing, straining or injuring the voice, as it does not rely on 'compression of the breath' at the laryngeal level.

 

In order to achieve natural and healthy volume and power - who doesn't want to be able to impress an audience with those big 'money notes'? - I help my students develop their breath management skills ('breath support') and balance out their vocal resonance by optimizing usage of the resonating spaces of the vocal tract that will yield a louder, but unforced and healthy, sound. Ultimately, the overall quality of the sound is also superior (e.g., slightly less 'bright' and more 'warm').

 

This is not to say that a student of mine cannot also master belting. In fact, a few of my students do belt when performing, but are careful to limit the use of the belted voice during rehearsals and performances in order to preserve their vocal health. Although I do not directly teach them the technique, I do teach them to 'listen' to their voices and to be in touch with their bodies - what I call 'self awareness' - so that they will know whether or not their vocal production is healthy (safe). I also teach them how to make any necessary adjustments to their technique to avoid injury.

 

For more general FAQs about singing and technique, please visit my blog section.