BWW Blog: NYC Vocal Coach Bob Marks - Create Realistic Goals

By: Mar. 15, 2016
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A lot of people seem to believe that the ability to sing well is somehow inborn, and that singers fall into two camps: those with talent, who practically come out of the womb singing beautifully, and those who are tone-deaf (suffering from the medical condition dysmelodia), and shouldn't bother trying to sing. The reality is that those are two dramatic extremes which affect only a small handful of people; the other 99 percent of us fall somewhere in the middle.

Just like any other art form, learning to sing involves a great deal of time, practice, dedication, knowledge, and resources. I could probably sell a lot more books by promising you that there are "tricks" to singing that will turn anyone into a powerhouse performer overnight. To be fair, it is true that a student with raw ability can make rapid progress with the right guidance. It is also true that some performers are late bloomers and must really apply themselves over a long period of time before they make discernable improvement.

Because the process of singing is so unique to each person, at least some private study is critical for everybody. However, I am frequently amazed when a new client expects that a single lesson or two is enough for anyone to deliver a polished performance. If I gave trumpet lessons, no one would expect that after one lesson a student would be ready to audition for anything on a professional level!

When you go to a coach to prepare your songs, it's important to realize that it's not like buying a pair of shoes - you don't necessarily walk out with a song "ready to go." It is more like getting a suit tailored to your specific frame. Coaching is a process that not only involves choosing the right material, but also arranging, transposing the music, as well as working on the performance vocally and physically.

How often you need to study depends on your schedule, your financial resources, and your goals. Obviously, consistency is important, especially at the beginning of private study. Once-a-week sessions are the norm, but it is not uncommon for clients to come in more often when important auditions come up or they need to prepare for a callback. More experienced students who have a solid practice regimen, might find they come in less frequently for "check-ups," or to update their repertoire.

As an experienced coach, I have a fairly good sense of what can be accomplished on a given timetable, although bare in mind that results will vary for every individual!

In your first lesson: We need to get acquainted! I can lead you through warm-ups, get a sense of your strengths and weaknesses, and run through a couple of pieces you already know. I will try to bring your attention to small changes (where to breathe, diction issues, etc.)

In a month of lessons: We start to get into a rhythm with your practicing, you we will start to make headway with several new pieces of repertoire. With applied practice you should feel at least small changes in your instrument.

In six months of regular study: Most likely, you will notice a few major technical improvements in your singing. Depending on how much time you dedicate to practicing, you may have mastered a dozen or more songs in this time. In this time, the instrument will start beginning to feel more "in-shape," and bigger changes in range, quality, and endurance should be obvious.

Of course, the results you achieve will depend in large part on the quality and time you put into practice, and where your natural strengths lie. If you are a very light soprano, it might take you longer to get your chest voice working than someone who has sung a lot of belt repertoire.

Noted vocal coach Bob Marks specializes in helping singers showcase their talents to their best possible advantage. He is in the process of writing a new book (with Elizabeth Gerbi) about auditioning for musical theatre. Until the book is published, is pleased to offer weekly bits of audition advice. Please feel free to submit any specific questions you'd like to have answered in these blogs.

Bob Marks maintains a busy vocal studio in New York City, working with performers of all ages and levels of experience. He also teaches performance workshops throughout the US and Europe. He was a pianist with the original Broadway production of Annie, and spent two seasons as the Associate Conductor of the St. Louis Muny Opera. For several years, he was the host and musical director of the acclaimed Youngstars performances of professional children in New York City. His well-known clients have included cast members of almost every current musical on Broadway, and stars such as Ariana Grande, Lea Michele, Natalie Portman, Laura Bell Bundy, Constantine Maroules, Britney Spears, Ashley Tisdale, Debbie Gibson, and Sarah Jessica Parker. He holds a degree in speech pathology, and has taught at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, the Professional Development Program for the New York Singing Teachers' Association, and at Nashville's Belmont University as a special guest artist. As a vocal coach, his clientele ranges from beginners to Broadway cast members, as well as singers of cabaret and pop music. He is an expert in helping performers present themselves to their best advantage in auditions and onstage.

Elizabeth Gerbi, Assistant Professor of Music Theater at the State University of New York at New Paltz, is well known across the Northeast as a singing teacher, voice coach, choral conductor, and music director/pianist (150+ productions). As a singer-actor, she has appeared in regional productions ranging from Annie Get Your Gun to I Pagliacci to The Kenny Rogers Christmas Tour. Recent projects include musical directing The Chris Betz Show at Rose's Turn and The Sage Theatre in NYC, Side Show and Tommy at Westchester Broadway Theatre, The Sound of Music at the Wagon Wheel Theatre of Warsaw, Indiana, conducting Dreamgirls and Seussical at Debaun Auditorium in Hoboken, NJ, adapting Starmites 2000 with Broadway composer Barry Keating, and accompanying master classes for Broadway veterans Ken Jennings, Lindsay Mendez, and Lisa Howard. She is also a former consultant for the Rodgers and Hammerstein Music Library, and currently serves as a both New York State School Music Association Solo Adjudicator and a respondent for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. She attended Ithaca College (Bachelor's of Music in Voice Performance and Music Education) is a Level-III graduate in Somatic Voicework: The LoVetri Methodô, and completed a Master's in Music Education from Boston University.