“Greg really knows what he’s doing technically. He’s a pro. And not only is he well trained in singing and also “how to teach voice”, but he also embodies a quality of a teacher that really helps–he cares. His focus and attention really help to speed up the learning process. I would definitely recommend him.”
“Greg Really knows his stuff and how to apply it to all levels. I went in as a beginner and before I knew it, I was singing the Count’s Aria from THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO! Highly recommended!”
“Studying with Greg has increased my range to nearly 3 octaves!”
“I have been studying with Greg for 6 months, following an assignment from Milton Katselas to increase the resonance in my speaking voice. The result has been more than I ever hoped! I am more aware of my body, I have greater flexibility and command of my breathing and thus my voice, and I can literally feel my vocal cords strengthening.”
“Greg Safel is a professional in every respect. Greg makes you feel like a pro as he takes you through moments in your voice that lead you to understand who you are vocally, and improve your weaknesses so that you yourself become a pro. The process is easy, if you do the work, and simple, if Greg directs you through the complexities of your own voice”
"I have improved so much since working with Greg! My voice is what people comment on first after hearing me play!”
"I'm not Joe "the Singer" guy by any means, but I can hold a note or two. Greg has helped those notes grow more controlled and resonant with every lesson I've had with him. His knowledge of the inner workings of the human voice are as fine-tuned as his ear. Greg is not only a great teacher and listener... he's a great human being as well! I was recommended to him by a friend and I would recommend him to anyone!"
"I used to speak with a strong Singaporean accent. And when you have a Singaporean accent, you almost never loose it, and Americans have a hard time understanding a Singaporean accent. Greg has been training me since last year, he recognized my problem after a couple of sessions, and worked with me to change my voice. I still have a lot to work on, and now we are working on bringing up the volume. It is a process that takes time, and I look forward to the one-hour weekly with Greg."
It’s a new year and I’m reminded again how little patience and persistence our modern, fast paced, technologically advanced society will put up with. When it comes to voice training, patience and persistence are two things that can ensure success! With the immediacy of the Internet and the fast pace of video games, a lot of singers and actors want their voices to be trained in a few lessons. Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen like that. If it did, there would be an abundance of excellent singers and actors with amazing vocal abilities When you train your voice, you’re training muscles. Muscles take time to grow strong and flexible. It’s just like going to the gym. Can you imagine going to the gym for a week and being “done”, having your body look like a fitness model for the rest of your life? Ask any fitness model about persistence and patience, and I’m sure you’ll get a good lecture!
Vocal training is important for singers and actors at every level. Keeping your instrument in the best shape possible requires daily exercise and consistent sessions with a teacher to make sure you are doing everything correctly. I know it sounds like a hassle, but check with the singers and actors you admire most and see what their vocal regimen is, and I bet they do the work with persistence and patience!
There is a great article in the New York Times about Opera Singers keeping themselves in shape. The cliche about the “Fat Lady” no longer applies. Opera has become more physical and directors are casting to type, meaning that the ingenue looks like an ingenue, and the young leading man looks like the young leading man. Check out the slide show at the New York Times and see what these singers are doing for their workouts!
Something came up again this week that I would like to talk about. That’s “Being Ready”. I have a student who has been away from my studio for almost a year and hasn’t been working on his voice during that time. Now something has come up that he wants to do that requires a pretty good singer. He came to me to “fix” his voice so he can do the work. Unfortunately, he’s lost all of his upper register. It’s breathy and airy without a solid sound. That’s going to take some time to correct and he will have to miss out on this opportunity.
I have another student, a young woman who has been working steadily with me for about eight months, and a couple of opportunities came up for her this past week. She didn’t feel like she was ready to audition. I encouraged her to audition because she needs the experience, and she’s a good singer. There is more work to be done, but she’s been consistent and her voice is the best it’s ever been. She can do the job, she needs to learn that.
Two examples of “Being Ready”. The point is, keep working on your voice! You never know when an opportunity will come your way and you want to be ready.
One thing I want all students of voice to understand, voice training is a process. You have to be patient with yourself and your progress. Learning new techniques take time. Don’t be in a hurry. Of course we all want to be fabulous singers/speakers, as quickly as possible. Re-think that. Some aspects of vocal technique take a while to develop. Accept this and learn to enjoy the journey. Your voice is where it’s at right now, and with training and discipline, it will improve weekly. So don’t get impatient and try to rush your progress. Rushing will lead to tension, frustration, sloppiness, and even damage to your voice. So relax. Stay focused, but relax. You will progress as you explore your own vocal instrument under the guidance of your teacher. With daily exercise and discipline you will get the voice you want!
For now, No tension in the throat! If there’s tension or even pain when you sing, somethings not working correctly! I know it sounds obvious, but a lot of people will “sing through it” and wonder why they’re hoarse all the time. Continuing to sing this way will cause damage to the cords. Get to a teacher and figure it out!
What’s important in all styles of singing, is the function of the vocal cords. The cords are controlled by two sets of muscle systems. Like any set of muscle systems in the body, there are specific exercises that will make them grow and get stronger.
Classical training means that the exercises employed by the singer, as prescribed by the teacher, are done to make the voice stronger, with proper function. The style of singing is up to the singer and an experienced teacher will work with the singer in whatever genre that singer chooses, making sure that the voice is functioning properly.
So, don’t get spooked by the term “Classical”. There are specific ways to train the cords and those ways have been around for hundreds of years, because they work! They work for every style of singing.
Excellent Vocal Technique is achieved by properly training the muscle systems that control the vocal cords, through vocal exercises, to be able to produce sound that is artistically pleasing to the singer or speaker and the intended audience, organically and intuitively.
The muscle systems that control the vocal mechanism work in specific ways, and much like going to the gym to work the muscles in the body, can be trained to work optimally for the desired use of the artist.
Bottom Line: You have to “work out” the voice. The best way to do this is with an experienced teacher with a great ear, who can guide you to proper technique. Because every voice is different, though the muscle systems are the same, the teacher must prescribe specific exercises for the individual student to maximize their potential, thereby acquiring excellent vocal technique for the singer or speaker.
The best way to train and strengthen the voice is through isometric exercise.
The Italians figured this out a few centuries ago, and their methods and research remain true today. It’s called “The Italian School” or “Bel Canto”. The muscle systems that work the vocal cords operate one way, and there are many varied exercises that will strengthen them. It’s the same as going to the gym to strengthen our bodies. You do “sets” of exercise, rest, do another set, etc. through a programmed workout on a regular basis. And, like going to the gym, your “trainer” will give you progressively more difficult exercises so you grow and develop.
Like the trainer, the voice teacher must be able to prescribe the proper workout for the individual standing in front of him. Everyone is different, every voice is different, and the teacher must be able to hear it, and along with the students desires for their singing, set them on a path to singing success.
If singing is a dream that you’ve wanted to pursue, or just check out, just know that you can! So many students come to me and say that someone in the past told them they were a horrible singer, they should stick to their day job, and totally killed any dream of singing on any level. I actually get upset when I hear these stories because that person is actually hurting their friend by saying that to them.
Unfortunately, that person probably had their dream of singing squashed by someone else!
I believe everyone can sing! My training and experience tells me that this is true! I like working with beginners because with the right teaching and coaching, they make progress pretty quickly, and that makes me feel great! It’s very selfish on my part!
You can get to the level of singing that you want to get to, with discipline and work, no matter your age! Progressive, prescriptive voice lessons are the best and fastest way to accomplish whatever your singing dream is!
For Actors who want to strengthen their speaking voice, give it more range and color, or change it to fit their casting, singing is the most effective way to do it. Two films emphasize the therapeutic effects of working the voice like a singer. Most recent and in the 2011 awards race, “The King’s Speech”. Geoffrey Rush plays Lionel Logue, a speech therapist, who uses singing exercises to work with King George’s speech problems. The exercises are very effective in helping him move past anything that might be halting his speech.
Another film is “Flawless”, with Robert De Niro and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Hoffman plays a singing teacher who helps a stroke victim, De Niro, recover his speech through singing exercises.
Both of these examples are serious cases, but it points out that singing is the best way to work the voice for actors. A series of exercises, prescribed over a period of time for the specific needs of the actor is like going to the gym everyday to achieve the fitness level and body that we choose. Exactly like that. The singing teacher is your trainer to get you to work the muscles of the vocal cords for the desired result.
My training involves listening to the actor or singer in front of me to determine the best course of action. That’s why private training is best. The teacher needs to hear the voice and prescribe the exercises at each lesson, and build on the one before. A lot of successful actors continue their voice training through their entire career, to keep themselves in shape.
For those who have questions about fitting their voice to their casting, this is what I mean. You’re a sexy voluptuous woman, but when you speak you sound like a 12 year old girl. Or a strong leading man who sounds like a Skateboarder dude. The voice doesn’t fit the visual. This can be changed and singing exercises are the most effective and the safest way to do it. You don’t want to go out and abuse your cords just to get a specific voice, that cause damage, sometime irreparable, to the cords and surrounding muscle groups. It’s best done with systematic, prescribed exercises.
If you have any more questions on this topic, feel free to contact me.
Greg Safel studied voice at the University of Missouri, Kansas City Conservatory of Music. From there he started working professionally as a singer, working on stage and in the recording studio at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. He moved to New York City where he worked in musical theatre, as well as Summer Stock and Industrials. In New York he studied Voice with Lehman Byck and Jack Harrold of the New York City Opera.
After touring for a year singing back-up for country singer Eddy Arnold, he moved to Los Angeles and worked in several productions including singing and dancing with Debbie Reynolds. For the last 16 years he has been studying voice and pedagogy with Joel Ewing (Steve Perry, Jeff Goldblum, The Eagles); and studied and worked with Milton Katselas at the Beverly Hills Playhouse for 12 years.
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