The Musical Theatre performer should be able to belt, sing legit, and sing pop, and should be able to do all three really well. There are a few students who are magically gifted at performing these feats. However, most of us must take voice lessons, whether that be online singing lessons or from a local singing instructor, and learn how to sing each facet of musical theatre.
Voice teachers often use imagery to get across their points in singing lessons. Imagery is subjective, personal, and unique to the individual, so it does not always work. In my experience, 9 out of 10 times the use of imagery is effective. Imagery creates a response from both the voice and the body, resulting in effective uses for the Musical Theatre student. Imagery by itself is not consistent until it becomes muscle memory. Thus, voice teachers employ the use of imagery in warm-ups and vocal exercises each week. Perhaps it seems too repetitive for some students, but consistency is key in changing vocal habits and in training your muscle memory for vocal performance.
I use imagery most often when teaching proper placement for the belt and mix voices in musical theatre. The desired sound comes from forward placement in the mask. I ask the student to raise their cheekbones and imagine laser beams shooting out of their cheekbones. These laser beams need to come together on a point on the wall in front of you. These laser beams must shoot a whole through the wall. Most of the time this imagery is effective on getting the “pingy”, clear vocal Broadway tone I desire.
In order to belt or mix, you must understand the difference between the two types of voice. I have often been asked, “What is the difference between chest and head voice?” Some students have a hard time differentiating the use of the chest and the head voice. I have them place their hands on their chest and sing in their lower registers to feel the vibrations and resonance. This physical act of placing their hand on their chest helps most students understand what the chest voice is. To show the use of the head voice, I have the student do a “hoot” slide in their upper register and have them place their hands on their chest again. This time they do not feel the vibrations. Then, I have them place their hands on their head and do the same “hoot” to feel the resonance of their head voice. Usually, these things work in showing the difference between head and chest voices, and I do not have to use imagery for the topic. Sometimes, imagery helps, though.
Before you can truly get a grasp of what is demanded of the voice in musical theatre, you must be able to register what is your head voice and what is your chest voice. To belt, you are extremely loud, forward in placement, and in your chest voice. To use the mix voice, you are still extremely loud, forward in placement, but you are in your head voice. Once you have enough voice lessons under your belt and have moved your mix voice into muscle memory, then your mix voice and belt voice should sound the same and be indistinguishable to the untrained ear.
Regardless of what type of musical theatre sound you are trying to produce, you should be relaxed. You need to remain free of tension throughout your body and in your neck muscles. You must stay in proper alignment and allow your breath to reach down into your toes (there’s a little imagery for you!). If you are relaxed, you have deep breath, and proper placement in your mask, then your breath can begin to connect to your sound and you can begin to explore the musical theatre sounds effectively.
Musical Theatre is a demanding profession for your voice. Regardless of your professional level – whether it be Broadway, community theatre, or regional theatre – there are many stresses vocally that occur. Take advantage of a great voice teacher and explore efficient vocal technique. An online singing coach can help you understand how to begin to be heard in the Broadway repertoire, without causing strain to your vocal cords. I also encourage a healthy environment for your body – drink water, eat leafy greens, avoid sugar and white flour, take a yoga class or some other form of relaxing form of exercise for your body. These things really will help free your natural singing voice.