For Voice Teachers: The Private Voice Studio Handbook

on . Posted in Teaching

The Private Voice Studio Handbook by Joan Frey Boytim

Joan Frey Boytim's Private Voice Studio Handbook is a Must-Have for all Voice Teachers

September is just around the corner and now is the time to get your voice studio organized for the next school year. A great tool for getting your studio set up is The Private Voice Studio Handbook: A Practical Guide to All Aspects of Teaching by Joan Frey Boytim.
Long known and respected as a voice teacher and presenter for the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS), Ms. Boytim taught voice privately for over 45 years. Her experiences as a school music teacher, a private voice instructor, and a compiler of dozens of vocal repertoire books for Hal Leonard publishing have provided her with more than enough expertise for producing this excellent handbook.
I've been using this book as a guide and resource for my voice studio since I began teaching in 2004. Knowing the ins and outs and having heard it all, I can confidently recommend this book for any and for all private voice studio instructors.
Here's what I think:


+ Friendly Format: each chapter begins with a 'letter' from 'Nancy' and serves as an introduction to each chapter. Even these short letters provide insight and assistance.
+ She is clear that a voice studio is a business. Chapter 21 is appropriately entitled "Business 101" and that's exactly what Ms Boytim provides. She covers the delicate task of raising lesson fees with clarity and appropriateness: "Since studio teaching is a business and not a hobby, your fee schedule adjustments must be made as economic factors dictate."
+ Ms Boytim has covered all the major topics in a great level of detail. She covers equipment, the studio policy, music purchases, record-keeping and organization.
+ The structure of the lesson is important, as consistency and repetition lend much to the students' learning process. She covers the initial lesson in-depth (Chapter 7).
+ Solfeggio Syllable Sheets:  So many singers don't necessarily learn the basics of how to create music, they learn music and then can repeat it. Learning to identify the structure of music is a key component of creating music, and Ms Boytim has included her own Solfeggio Syllable Sheets for your studio use--with duplication authorization. She's even included simple harmonizations so you can accompany the student for these. These are an invaluable tool to helping students learn how to sight-sing and they are basically free.
+ Multiple Income Streams:  there's a list on page 105 of other income producers. She gives great ideas!


- Since this book was published in 2003, it doesn't offer advice on running your website or using online scheduling.
- Some of the topics, like what to wear (she recommends skirts for females...) are not necessarily going to resonate with Gen X, Gen Y, and the Millennials. When in doubt, go for Business Casual or for Business Dress. It's always better to be over-dressed than under-dressed.
- Sometimes it's better to politely reject a student that you can not serve well, whether it be through personality conflict or mismatched goals. Ms Boytim doesn't answer this question, which can be a sticky situation for an instructor.

In Summary:

The Private Voice Studio Handbook is a must-have for any voice instructor, whether you are teaching part-time or full-time. It's important to have a clear structure and to present yourself professionally as an independent business owner and as an instructor. Especially if you are in the vital foundational stages of your business (the first 1-3 years), this book will provide you with essential information and guidance for a successful voice studio.


Yoga for Singers 3: 4 Yogic Wisdoms for Singers

on . Posted in Singing

What My Yoga Practice Has Taught Me (Besides to Stand on my Head)

We all have a common desire:  to feel good about ourselves and what we are up to in the world.  Many musicians choose to go into this field because they couldn’t imagine themselves doing anything else.  Anyone brave enough to say a wholehearted “yes” to make their true passion their living knows there are ups and downs along the way.   I know that I am living my yoga when I’m able to gracefully receive a rejection email and say to myself “I’ll try this again next year,” or being able to honestly cheer on a colleague that was accepted for a gig that I wasn’t.  Yoga is so much more than standing on your head or doing the splits, it’s a way of life.

Here are a few gems that I’ve learned along the way:

1.    “Practice and all is coming.”  -Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (founder of Ashtanga Yoga)

11970905601565623445Gerald G Yoga Poses stylized.svg.hiIn yoga and in singing, you must show up.  Getting to your mat or the practice room is really half the battle.  The other half is what you do with the time you have.  Are you focusing on a certain piece of music or yoga pose?  Break it apart into small pieces, so that each vocal passage or warm-up yoga pose is preparing you for where you’re aiming.  Know where you’re going, and keep practicing.

2.    Check your ego.

One of my favorite accompanists always reassured me when I was nervous to “perform to express, not to impress.”  With that as my mantra, I sing because I love it, am prepared, and can’t imagine myself doing anything else versus singing with the fear of judgment from others.

In a yoga class, taking childs pose in a room full of people doing a headstand is sometimes the harder (but stronger) choice because you’re doing what feels good for YOU right now instead of the person next to you.  Music can be insanely competitive.  By dropping my ego on the mat, I’ve noticed it softens in the performance hall, too.

3.     Be Kind.

Be kind to yourself first.  This is not always easy when your expectations for yourself do not meet the reality of the situation at hand, but relax.  The fact that you are putting yourself out there to be seen and heard by so many people is an act of bravery and courage.  When you speak nicely to yourself, it shows.  Affirm your talents and unique qualities every day.  The kindness that you cultivate for yourself by showing up on your mat and practicing yoga can inspire your kind words to colleagues in your midst as well.  You want to be the person that gets the call for the last minute gig not only because of your talent, but because you were a kind and generous person to work with on and off the stage.

4.    You are enough.

When working on a challenging pose, I encourage my students to just “be” in the yoga pose instead of forcing their way into it.  This allows them to experience exactly where they are in this moment.  Physically and emotionally, we are all built differently, and come with different sets of experiences and stories that shape us into the artists we are.  Validate the good and the bad experiences in your life, be grateful for both, and use them as fuel to create a little more each and every day.

Embodying these things isn’t easy, but that’s why we practice:  we return again and again to that inner pull of creating, performing, moving, breathing, expressing, and doing the very best we can.

Breathe well, my friends.

Yoga for Singers 2: Beginning Yoga for Singers

on . Posted in Singing

Beginner's Yoga Sequence for Singers

Let’s be real.  Starting to practice yoga can be intimidating.  Perhaps this is because of its inherent connection with having to be flexible (which you don’t) or needing to twist yourself into a pretzel (which you don’t).   A very wise yoga teacher once told me that yoga is a breathing practice, and the physical postures are there to facilitate a deeper connection to your breath.  One of my favorite singing teachers told me instead of thinking of singing well, think of breathing well.  It all comes back to the breathing!

Here’s a beginners yoga sequence that I created just for singers.   Try it out before your next voice lesson or audition.

1.     Mountain Pose (Tadasana) > Chest Expansion Forward Fold

Stand with your feet together and arms at your sides.  Really root down through the feet and engage through the legs.  On an inhale, sweep your arms above your head, look up, and lean back – opening through the chest.  As you exhale, interlace all ten fingers behind your low back.  Inhaling, draw your knuckles down towards the floor, and shoulders away from the ears.  As you exhale,  bend your knees very deeply, fold forward from the hips, and lift your knuckles up towards the ceiling to expand your chest.

Mountain pose is a spine-lengthening and grounding posture that can help you stabilize your singing stance. As you find the chest expansion forward fold, try to focus on a wide, horizontal rib cage breath.

YogaSequence1  YogaSequence2  YogaSequence3 

2.     Crouch and Curl

From your forward fold, release your fingers down towards the mat, bend your knees deeply, lifting heels gently off the mat.  Round your spine, tucking chin to chest, your forehead towards your knees.  Take 5 deep breaths.

With the spine rounded in this crouching position, you can really focus on breathing into the entire space of the back.  For me, this pose has calmed a few pre-performance jitters!  


3.     Crocodile Pose (Makarasana)

From your tiny ball, lift your hips and straighten the legs just slightly.  Plant your palms on the mat and step your legs back.  Lower your knees to the mat, and come to lie on your belly on the mat.  Untuck the toes and relax the legs.  Stack your forearms on top of one other to create a pillow for your forearms.  Tuck the chin into the chest. Take 5 deep breaths.

This pose draws awareness to a diaphraghmatic and low belly breath.  With the whole front of the body is in contact with the mat, you notice the belly pressing against the mat with each inhale when belly expands.  This pose is also a calming, restorative posture, which is beautiful for calming nerves.


4.     Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) > Low Lunge > Twist

Position your palms on the mat just under your shoulders.  Curl your toes under, and lift your hips towards the ceiling to create an upside down “v” – or downward facing dog.  Lift your right leg off the mat, and sweep it through your hands for a low lunge.  Plant left hand on the mat and lift the right finger tips toward the ceiling for a twist.  Expand through the chest and find length from left hand to right fingertip.   Return right hand to mat and step back to downward facing dog and repeat on the second side.  

Downward facing dog is a powerful grounding posture, as well as spine-lengthening.  By finding the twist, you expand through the chest, creating openness across the front space of the body as you prepare to perform.  

YogaSequence6  YogaSequence7   YogaSequence8


Nicole adds:  Be smart about your yoga practice. Know your body--what it can do, and what it can't. Talk to your doctor or take a yoga class with Krista or another yoga teacher near you to be sure you're on the right track.

Yoga for Singers 1: Confessions of a Singing Yogini

on . Posted in Singing

Confessions of a Singing Yogini

One frigid January evening when I was not even 20, I stumbled into a hot yoga studio and took my first yoga class.

I hadn’t the slightest clue about body alignment in postures, no grasp of Sanskrit and its place in in the yoga class, and definitely no concept of just how much water I would have to drink afterward to rehydrate.

11949846861384616885stylized yoga person ger 06.svg.hiHere’s what I did know for sure:  I was hooked.  Something about the dance-like nature of the yoga postures, the focus and stamina that came from slowing down the breath, how I felt so much taller, lighter, and open upon leaving the studio.   

This is exactly what my singing teachers and coaches at school encourage every single day.  

Expand your rib cage.  Breathe slower, and all the way into the back.  Stand tall, rooting down through the feet and reaching with crown of head.  Allow your body to be relaxed, but also active.  Express yourself.

The themes were so interchangeable, I had to smile at this beautiful connection.

The next day, I was rehearsing Brahms’ Zigeunerlieder with my voice coach in preparation for an upcoming recital.  We began the first movement together, she at the piano and me singing.  Half way through the first movement, she completely stopped playing.  

“This is the first time you’ve made it through that long phrase without having to take a cheat breath in the middle!”

Wow.  She was right.  

“What did you do differently that time?” she asked.  

“Hmm, not sure.  I did take my first yoga class ever last night, and I learned a breathing exercise at class.  Maybe that helped!”

That first class swept me into my second, third, and so many more after that.  Yoga has been my constant companion and complement to music making.  Right away, here are the best things I learned and was able to apply immediately to my vocal technique:

1.     Release of tension

The emphasis on noticing where you are holding tension in your body and actively working to release it catapulted my vocal technique from moderate at best to rock solid.  Jaw tension?  Take your tongue away from the roof of your mouth, gently part your lips, and begin to breathe softly through the nose.  Neck and shoulder tension?  Tuck your chin in just slightly to your chest and let your shoulders drop away from your ears.  Awareness is the key:  check in with yourself every few breaths to ensure you are relaxed, but still active in the body.  

2.    Strength

As I got into grad school and was either in practice or performance mode, developing endurance and physical strength for performing was a priority.  The stronger I became physically, the more magnetic I felt as a performer.  I continue to cultivate the strength

3.    Breath

As I illustrated above, the breath is the best gift that yoga gave to my singing.  Training the body to breathe  deeper and wider gave me the confidence to allow my phrases to really soar.  Long phrases begin to come naturally instead of having to be thought out and calculated so much in advance.  So much freedom and flexibility is yours with a full breath.

Come along with me and release tension, strengthen, and breathe deeply in the next segment:  a beginners yoga sequence for singers I created just for you!

Yoga for Singers Starts Tomorrow!

on . Posted in Singing

Yoga is becoming more and more popular and singers are no exception. 1194984685992851260stylized yoga person ger 05.svg.hiWe must be aligned in our bodies and in tune with what our bodies are telling us to really create incredible music and yoga is a fantastic tool to help us do just that.

Mezzo and Yogini Krista Costin has written several articles about her journey as a singer who discovered yoga and received some incredible gifts along the way.

So join us tomorrow through Saturday for Yoga for Singers, right here on Open Intervals!

3 Tidbits about Virgil Thomson and his song cycle "Praises and Prayers" - Hear it June 22nd in Minneapolis!

on . Posted in Singing

Virgil Thomson, composer

Virgil Thomson was a pillar of 20th Century American music and a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer. Although he looks a bit grumpy in this photo, rest assured he was a productive, creative individual, producing 8 books in addition to his numerous compositions. He also earned 20 honorary doctorates. 20!

All that before the computer and "the internets."

1. Thomson was a paid organist at the age of 12 and attended Harvard on scholarship. (Link)

Having a regular gig from the age of 12 is pretty spectacular by any standard. A scholarship to Harvard? An amazing opportunity, one he used well.

2. He spent 1925-1940 in Paris and met/became friends with an impressive list of people:

Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, Igor Stravinsky, e e cummings, Aaron Copland, Jean Cocteau, Scott Fitzgerald, Christian Dior, and Orson Welles. Just to name a few.

Thomson also studied with Nadia Boulenger, one of the 20th Century's most accomplished and famous composition teachers. (If you are in my voice studio, you will be learning about her over the next couple of months!)

3. Thomson insisted on accompanying the world premiere of "Praises and Prayers" in 1963 and was reportedly sloppy in his rhythm and even skipped ahead a whole measure at one point.

That's like forgetting to put the milk in the fridge...dangerous. These songs are dependent upon their own rhythm and text accentuation. (Read:  these songs are hard and incredibly rewarding.)

Luckily Mark Sedio and I know what we're doing and we won't be skipping a measure when we perform 3 songs from this song cycle on June 22nd at Central Lutheran in Minneapolis. Here are all the important points in one:


Sunday, June 22, 2014 at 10:00 a.m.

"Praises and Prayers" by Virgil Thomson

1. From The Canticle of the Sun (St. Francis of Assissi)

2. My Master Hath a Garden (Anonymous)

3. Jerusalem, My Happy Home (Anonymous stanzas on "Mater Hierusalem Civitas Sancta Dei" from The Meditations of Saint Augustine, Ch. XXV)

with Mark Sedio, piano

Central Lutheran Church

333 S 12th St.

Minneapolis, MN  55404