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BWW Blog: NYC Vocal Coach Bob Marks - Understand the Basics of Voice Registration

BWW Blog: NYC Vocal Coach Bob Marks - Understand the Basics of Voice Registration

If you want to see a group of voice teachers and voice scientists turn from a generally gregarious and collegial group into an angry mob, ask them to strictly define vocal registers, or the "gears" of the voice that are responsible for different types of sounds.

If you study with a handful of different teachers, for example, they may refer to singing with thickened vocal folds as chest voice, modal voice, voix I, thyroarytenoid-dominant production, yelling, or speech-like production, just to name a few. Similarly, we might call sounds created with thin vocal folds head register, voix II, cricothyroid-dominant production, loft voice, falsetto, and on and on.

The fact of the matter is that it doesn't really matter what you call these sounds. Whether you call those sounds chest, mix, head, or applesauce, doesn't really matter, as long as the singer is able to understand and recreate the results in a healthy way. On Broadway, what matters most is 1) does it sound right for the style of the show, 2) does it sound appropriate for the character, and 3) is it healthfully and sustainably produced.

Musical theater as a genre is a deceptively broad style of singing, because it contains any number of genres and styles. A singer might be cast in a classical, "Golden-Age" style show such as Carousel, and then later sing a whole tribute program to Billie Holiday (Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill); and, if you are Audra MacDonald, you might do this so skillfully that you earn Tony Awards for both. There is no question that versatility pays big dividends in this business.

Singers learns how to deal with these demands by becoming skilled in using the different available gears of their voice both at the source (the vocal folds) and adjusting the filters to create the exact sound that they want. There are only so many perimeters of the voice under our control; our job is to "mix" the qualities to create the right sound for a character, much like a painter might use colors. I will often ask a client to share with me the terms that they use to think about their voice, and then use those when working with them.

In the world of Broadway shows, singers often audition for many styles of musicals. Appropriate vocal adjustments can make all the difference when you have to sing for a traditional Rodgers and Hammerstein show one week, and a rock musical the next. Regardless of what actual terms you and your teacher use to label vocal qualities, I recommend that you to think of your singing in terms of actual sounds, rather than value judgments such as "better" or "worse." An important goal for Broadway employment is versatility.

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, BroadwayWorld.com 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. www.BobMarks.com

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 Unive

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