Cindy Shadrick Voice Studio

Voice Instructor, Vocal Coach, Music Director

Excellent Bedside Manner Required

Teaching voice is more than perfecting your students' technique or choosing great literature.  As the teacher you also become Mentor, Friend, and Therapist.  Many of my students actually began calling their voice lessons, therapy sessions!  I've discussed before how studying voice is a very intimate thing in that you do not have an instrument between you and your teacher.  Because of this, it's natural to develop a close friendship and bond with your teacher.  This is why it is SO IMPORTANT that the voice teacher have an excellent bedside manner. 

I am a true believer in being realistic with my students.  It will not do my students any good if I build their hopes higher than their talents will allow.  With that said, I am NEVER negative in a lesson.  (As Mary Poppins would say, "I'm firm but never cross.")  What good will being negative do?  It is important for the student to know when they've made an accomplishment, whether it's pronouncing the text correctly or achieving the tone of Bryn Terfel.  I have noticed many students, either in a school setting or beyond, leaving their teacher's studios crying.  Or sitting in their practice room in tears.  Why is it necessary to cry after every lesson?  When we give criticism, it is sometimes necessary to wear kid-gloves.  That is not to say that being firm with a student is wrong, but negative criticism only reinforces a student's already lowered self esteem.  Instead, let's make the singer self-aware by using positive reinforcement.

It is also acutely important that the teacher be willing to have warm, therapeutic conversations with the singer.  This student has not only put their voice in the teacher's hands but also their dreams and goals.  Has someone knocked their dream today?  Were they told by their parents or school teachers to get a business degree rather than a theatre degree?  Did their buddies tell them they weren't that good and not to bother?  In my opinion, it is the job of the teacher to keep the student's dreams alive-so long as that is what the student still wishes.  If a student comes to me and needs to 'talk it out' then I am there.  Over coffee, a chocolate shake, or a giant box of doughnuts, I will be there ready to hash out the issues and give 'therapy' to my students. 

Teachers, please consider your bedside manner.  Make sure your students feel strong and self-assure in your studio.  Please help them to secure their goals and enable them to make good decisions.  Allow yourself to be more than just their teacher, but to also be a mentor and friend. 

Students, allow yourself to be open with your teacher.  It is truly our pleasure to mentor you. 

Top Ten Ways to Get More from Your Lessons

Here are my Top Ten ways to get more from your voice lessons.

1) Warm Up Before You Arrive  The first 10 minutes of your lessons are spent vocalizing.  This isn't to warm up your voice but to work on technique and make adjustments to your sound.  If you don't warm up before you come in, we do end up just warming up and never get to make those very important technical advancements.  Take 15-20 minutes and vocalize before you come into your lesson.  (If you have a 9:30 am lesson, better start earlier!)

2) Be On Time  Your lesson time starts on the hour (or half hour), not when you walk in the door.  Take advantage of the time you pay for.  Arrive at least 5 minutes early to insure your lesson begins on time.  Your teacher cannot cut into the lesson time of the following student because you were late.  Promptness also shows your teacher that you are excited to be there and you care about what you are working on together.

3) Come Prepared  Bring your music with you, and a pencil.  If your teacher has made copies of music for you, bring them.  Your teacher really does want you to sing these pieces.  If you are interested in learning new music, GREAT!  Make sure to bring in sheet music for you and your teacher.  Don't assume your teacher has sheet music to every song ever written.  If you need to practice music for a show, don't forget to bring your script, score, and/or libretto.  Also make sure to bring water.  You would hate to waste your lesson time by having to go get a drink!

4) Leave Your Fears at the Door  My students know that they are going to be making new sounds, moving pianos, doing aerobics, dancing, and any other crazy things I can think of in their lessons.  My goal is to get you out of your comfort zone so you can really begin to open up your voice, body, and emotions.  Your fear is the only thing holding you back.  Check it at the door!

5) Record Your Lessons  Whether it's on your iPhone, digital voice recorder, or (gasp) a blank cassette tape, it's great to record your lessons for several reasons.  First, you begin to really hear what your voice sounds like.  Two, you can hear the changes in your voice from week to week.  And finally, you get to take your voice teacher home with you all week.  Can't remember the exercises you worked on or how to pronounce some of the words in that art song?  Just listen to your lesson!

6) Take Notes-Lots  Because lessons move so fast, your teachers do not have time to repeat themselves over and over.  Take notes, immediately.  Write the lessons down in your own words so you understand the concepts.

7) Be Open to Suggestion  Your voice teacher wants the very best for you, and part of making good choices for you as a singer is allowing your teachers to suggest a different sound or different music.  It's a big goal of mine, as a teacher, to encourage my students to try new music.  If the student is currently singing all pop music, I may suggest jazz or blues.  Only working on musical theatre?  How about an art song or aria?  I don't expect the students to love everything I throw at them, but hopefully they begin to respect a new style of music and may even like to sing in that style!  It's also important for students to be open to their teachers' suggestions of new songs within their chosen style.  If you've been focusing on the music from Wicked, Mamma Mia, and Hairspray, try some older musicals.  If you're singing today's Top 40, try some Motown or even 70s' pop.  Only hip to Mozart?  How about some Schubert or Brahms?  Go ahead, give it a try!

8) Ask Questions  Really, ask questions.  Don't understand the cycle of breath?  Ask.  Don't get why I'm having you jump up and down with your hands on top of your head while you sing the Ave Maria?  Ask!  Your teacher does not expect your to know everything, nor do we think that explaining a concept to you will make you understand the technique the first time on the field.  Go ahead and ask!  Your teacher just wants you to excel.  I promise, they will not be offended if you ask why that music is good for you.

9) Listen to Recordings of Your Songs  While I don't want my students learning their music directly from a recording, I do encourage students to listen to several different recordings of the songs they are learning.  Get new ideas for stylistic choices.  Yes, Idina Menzel sounds great.  Now what are the other singers who perform that role doing?  Not everyone is Defying Gravity the exact same way!  Listening to recordings also gives you new ideas for what you'd like your voice to sound like.  No, I don't want you to mimic other voices, but listening to recordings can give you new ideas for vocal characteristics. 

10) Practice  I know, this really should be a no-brainer.  But think about it......  How much time do you spend practicing?  For younger students, I encourage you to practice 3-5 hours a week (min).  For older, more advanced students, an hour per day.  Do you really want to keep having the same lesson every week?  Your teacher cannot help you progress if you don't take the proper steps in between your lessons.  Practicing is key.  Singing is something you enjoy.  Don't think of practicing as something you have to do, but something you truly want to do.  You already know you're going to spend more hours practicing than you are performing; enjoy your time singing!  Don't have hours of time to block off for practice?  How about 15 minutes?  Sure!  Go ahead and chop up your practice time.  It's not important that you are spending hours and hours singing scales, but that you are using your time efficiently when you're able to make time to practice.  Singing is FUN.  Sing often!



Curtain Up, Light the Lights, Pause, Rewind, Play

Growing up in northwest Iowa, there weren't a lot of opportunities to see live musical productions.  We could make the four hour trek down to Des Moines or up to Minneapolis (no, we don't say north or south in Iowa) to see a touring production if one came through, but there weren't local theatrical productions.  I depended on movie musicals to learn about shows, acting, music, etc.  Most importantly, I depended on them to give me some glimpse into the arts world that I so longed to be in.  Hello Dolly with Barbara Streisand, Cabaret with Liza Minnelli, A Chorus Line with Michael Douglas....wait a minute...

Yup, somewhere along the lines, the production companies realized that these movies would sell better if you put some A list actors in the mix.  Welcome Chicago.  This movie destroyed what was my favorite musical in the late 90s.  Sure, Catherine Zeta Jones and Renee Zellweger did an ok job, but couldn't they have used Bebe Neuwirth and Ann Reinking?  Don't even get me started on the latest version of Phantom.  The singing in that movie was so atrocious I had to watch it on mute.  And, trust me, I love Johnny Depp and Tim Burton but really?  Sweeney Todd?  Why?  It's truly unfortunate.  Many people cannot see the live production and you throw this at them, leading them to believe this is as good as it gets?  By cutting half of the music out of these films, how are we supposed to get it?

Even as recently as the closing production of Rent in 2008, some musicals have been recorded live.  By making these versions available, the adoring public are able to get a real idea of what the shows are about, how the music is supposed to sound, what the atmosphere could really be.  I always encourage my students to see a live production of whatever musicals they are learning or shows they are auditioning for.  If that isn't possible, we search and search in hopes of finding a live stage recording of the show.  Unfortunately, there just aren't that many available.  What can we do to convince these musical production companies to do more live recordings?  It is imperative that our young people have the opportunities to see these live productions as they were meant to be seen.  Let me tell you, the folks living in Estherville, Iowa are not about to hop a plane to New York to see the Title of Show or the revival of Annie Get your Gun, but they deserve to be able to see the show as it was meant to be.

Hand Over the Instrument

One of the first things I tell my students when they begin studying with me is, "Your voice is an instrument."  It is imperative that the singer be able to visualize the voice as an object rather than an intimate part of their persona.  Singers are often characterized as being overly dramatic, particularly if we've had a bad performance or a disappointing lesson.  But really, what do you expect?  My husband, Jason Shadrick, is a guitarist.  We have often discussed this view of singers being overly sensitive if they have a bad vocal experience.  What I have tried to explain is that if Jason had a bad lesson or performance, he can put his guitar away in its case and look at it tomorrow.  Or, change strings, or buy a new one....  As singers, this is the only voice we have, and it's a part of us.  If I have a bad performance I don't get to put my voice away and think about it in a couple of days!

Because of this, it is vitally important to train the voice as an instrument.  The tricky part is not having a physical instrument they can touch.  When a student decides to learn the saxophone, the teacher will hand the student the instrument, take it apart so the student may see how it's put together, and then show the student how the instrument works and how you make sound.  As singers, we don't get to do that.  I can't hand you your very own instrument, take it apart to show you how it works, and then have you sing for the very first time.  You've already come into the first lesson with a lifetime of making sound and vocal habits (good or bad).  What I can do is show you a model, or a picture, and describe what is happening.

Perception is key and I teach these vocal concepts in three different ways: seeing, hearing, and feeling.  The first step is being able to visualize your tone, visualize the production of sound, and to see your thoughts and emotions.  Second is hearing.  I encourage my students to record each of their lessons.  This is an important practice for several reasons.  1) It is physically impossible, due to the construction of the body, to hear your "real" voice.  I'm sure you've heard yourself on an answering machine or video and thought, "this cannot be my voice!"  It's very important to develop your ear to hear your actual voice.  2) You get to hear immediate feedback.  This means you get to hear the changes in your voice as you are working on exercises.  This is a very positive way of letting yourself know that what you are doing is working.  3) You get to take me home and work with me all week!  Feeling is the other step.  It is important to develop a physical awareness to what is happening in your body as you sing.  Body movement, vibration, muscle tightness, and fullness of breath are all examples of physical things that we are able to give awareness to as we sing.

With these thoughts in mind, the student should be able to hand over their instrument to the teacher, with confidence that the teacher will hand back an instrument that is bright, shiny, new, and improved!

Welcome to the New Home of Cindy Shadrick Music

Welcome to my new website!  I'm very excited to share this new website with you and what I'm working on currently.  Soon, students will be able to download MP3 files of their lessons.  Visitors can already listen to recordings of some student performances.  Please stick with me as we are updating this project.  Check back often to hear more recordings of students, see new pictures, check out posted events.  Enjoy!

Don't Forget to Breathe

Jane Fonda says it often, "don't forget to breathe."  While eating popcorn, drinking hot chocolate, and watching her workout videos, I would always laugh when she would remind all of us (I guess even those of us who are chowing down on the ice cream) to breathe.  But, she's right.  Too often, as singers, we are actually forgetting to breathe.  It seems like a no brainer: inhale, sing, repeat.  But, in fact, it's not so easy.  Sure, we're taking a breath before singing a line, but are we taking in enough air?  I don't think so.

Many of my students are falling into the same pit.  Their voices are getting bigger, ranges widening, and have a more consistent solid tone.  BUT, their breathing isn't evolving as quickly.  When you're putting out bigger sound, longer lines, etc., you need more air "in the can" to support this bigger sound, not to mention the larger amount of energy you need to put that big ol' voice out there! 

My students are always laughing at me for some of the crazy exercises I give them.  I have a new exercise that I call "Breathing for the Couch."  I have an exercise ball (no, I'm not using it for exercise.  That would just be silly).  I put the ball on the floor in front of them and tell them to pick it up.  Inevitably, the student will take a minimal breath, bend from the waist and pick up the ball.  When I put the ball back on the floor, I ask the student to pretend the ball is a couch.  "Now pick it up, but breathe for the couch."  The student will then take in a large breath, bend from the knees into a squatting position and really LIFT the ball.  "Excellent."  We then begin a plethora of breathing exercises using the ball as the couch.  The students really begin to take in more air, feel a bigger expansion, support the object (obviously this is representing their voices), keep their center of gravity low, support their sound with the lower half of their bodies, and really start getting a better understanding of the amount of energy it takes and the amount of breath support you really need to keep putting consistent sound out into the world.

It may be a little odd, or unconventional, but "breathing for the couch" has my singers working out harder than Jane Fonda!

Motivation and Inspiration

Having already been apart of some amazing lessons this week (and it's only Wednesday!) I'm amazed at how much motivation can come from inspiration.  My student, Victoria, had a wonderful lesson last week and came back this week with renewed energy and excitement.  Her mother even commented to me how motivated she was after her previous lesson to practice for hours on end.  Just working on one simple technique inspired her musically and motivated her to work even harder.

I've had my own bouts with motivation and inspiration.  Upon leaving graduate school, I didn't sing for 7 months.  I vocalized a little when teaching, and gave brief examples when necessary, but did not sing full out for 7 months.  For my birthday, my amazing husband took me to the Metropolitan Opera House to see Natalie Dessay.  Of course I was excited to go, but didn't realize how moved I would be by a single voice.  The next day, I was so inspired by how breathtakingly beautiful her voice was, that I worked up the nerve to go into the practice room and sing.  Not just vocalize a little, but REALLY sing.  That was the moment that it really hit me-I'm sure some would relate it to falling in love.  I fell in love with singing again.  I fell in love with the breath, with the energy and the forward motion, the ring and spin that filled the room, the golden spirals that bounced off my forehead with vibrant tone.  My voice finally felt alive again.

What is your inspiration?  Have you been moved lately?  Please share!