The Voice Behind The Voice: A Look At India’s Leading Women Vocal Coaches – Score Short Reads
When it comes to the behind-the-scenes dynamics of music, vocal coaches can be quite influential. After all, the best of the best singers need the training to sustain their vocals.
As is evident from the title of their profession, vocal coaches, of course, take care of a singer’s singing technique but they can often do so much more. From breathing techniques to the correct diction, their everyday state of affairs entails a lot of exercises. It’s no cup of tea and a few prominent female vocal coaches in India bear testimony to this.
And there’s no one sure-shot way to coach any singer. All all, genres differ, voices differ, and most importantly, people differ. ‘Every singer’s body and vocal habits are different. So I pick their exercises based on the specific gaps in their ability…The singing method in which I was trained overlaps a lot with speech therapy and vocal rehabilitation.’ says Vasundhara Vee, a Mumbai-based vocal ability mentor.
While pianist and vocal instructor Jeanne Merchant mostly relies on ‘tonal and breathing’ exercises, Shannon Donald (vocal coach and founder of the educational collective Vocal Tribe India) strongly advocates the need to tackle the mental aspect of singing before learning the basic craft.
To put it in her own words, ‘With my singers, we try to focus on HOW they practice & what quality and effectiveness they have while doing the work, instead of just coming to me to collect exercises and information. Once that is understood, then I focus on bringing out individual style – on what makes that singers’ voice unique. How to let go, free inhibitions, and just SING.’
Singer and vocal arrange Suzanne D’Mello also stressed the importance of the SLS method that she often incorporates in her teaching. This method gives prime importance to building one’s diaphragmatic muscles, breath, range extension, vocal agility, and so on.
As D’Mello explains, SLS aka the Speech-Level-Singing Method was introduced by Seth Riggs (who had his fair share of training singers like Michael Jackson, Prince, etc). In layperson terms, SLS can be elaborated as ‘learning to sing with the same comfort with which you speak.’
To perfectly train a singer, the vocal coaches should themselves indulge in regular practice. As Vasundhara Vee sums up her routine, ‘There are hundreds of exercises that focus on different core aspects of the voice. Keeping them in context to what I feel like singing is the most fun for me. Otherwise, it gets dry and boring.’
Samantha Noella too believes in changing her routine every now and then, ‘My routine always starts with a breathing workout, stretching, working on breath extensions, Core strengthening, SOVT Exercises (Semi Occluded Vocal Tract) followed by Lip Rolls, vocal flexibility exercises, which revolve around various scales then depending on what the goal is I work on runs, or strengthening, endurance building, improvisation, etc ( working on a specific song/working on music by a specific artist).’
As for Samantha’s final point, improvisation is found to be a common tenet amongst the routines of vocal coaches in general. For instance, Shannon Donald touches upon picking songs ‘that can be used as exercises’. This can range from a Whitney Houston ballad to a song from a musical, anything that a particular vocal style demands.
When asked about her practice routine, Jeanne Merchant gave a wholesome reply. ‘I sing with my students from 12 noon to 12 midnight through the day and that’s my practice .’
Of course, vocal coaches would practice if they first and foremost take care of their greatest asset i.e., their voice. Needless to say, these coaches have a lot of advice to offer for one to preserve their vocals. Samantha sums up her own tips as follows, ‘I take great care to make sure I’m very well hydrated, take my vitamins, sleep at least 7-8 hours, avoid talking in crowded places or moving vehicles, talk at a natural volume.’
As for advice for other singers, she does shatter a few myths when she says, ‘DO NOT WHISPER. DO NOT gargle with saltwater’. She adds that one should immediately consult a certified Vocal First Aider in case of any voice pathology like nodules and polyps.
Vasundhara Vee’s tips include staying off the internet (courtesy of the misinformation present over there), keeping one’s body flexible and relaxed, and most importantly, mastering one’s singing to the extent that it feels effortless.
This of course, would be achieved with practice and figuring out the right method for one’s particular skills. ‘Every singer needs to know that no matter how loud, high or aggressively you sing, it should feel like zero effort.’ she says. Jeanne Merchant also adds on how one should focus more on singing rather than shouting.
Along with the aforementioned emphasis on sleep and ‘not screaming’, Suzanne D’Mello adds on the dietary requirements that vocalists should stick to. ‘Watch what you eat…Anything extreme is always harmful- so nothing too hot or cold or oily or sour. Stay Hydrated.’
Hence, the mental desire to sing and the hours of practice aren’t enough. The entire body should be preserved for the voice to reach its zenith. As Shannon Donald says, ‘A singer needs to understand that in order for all the practice & exercises to work – they need to create a receiving environment in their bodies, so when they do their riyaz, their vocal cords/muscles respond well and they actually gain progress!‘
Hence, with all their valuable wisdom and years of experience, these vocal coaches have come a long way in their careers.’ I have been able to help so many singers reach singing goals they never thought possible.‘ says D’Mello with a sense of fulfilment who began her stint as a coach by training Priyanka Chopra some eleven years ago.
Sharing these emotions, Merchant also takes pride in her students who got into prestigious universities in New York last year, owing to their stunning auditions. Vee’s life has been equally rewarding rostering at international festivals with artists like John McLaughlin and working with Indian music maestros, a feat that she believes is difficult to achieve for artists without any involvement in film music.
Samantha Noella similarly takes pride in being a singer in the ever-growing indie scene as well as ‘a woman music educator who has her own school, has 2 children, and still performs, ready to take on the world and inspire a new generation of artistes.’
Do Follow :
Vasundhara vee – https://www.instagram.com/vasundhara_vee/
Jeanne Merchant – https://www.instagram.com/jeannemerchant_/
Samantha Noella – https://www.instagram.com/samantha_noella/?hl=en
Shannon Donald – https://www.instagram.com/shannondonaldmusic/?hl=en
Suzanne D’Mello – https://www.instagram.com/suzanne_dmello/?hl=en