Booking It! Broadway, Film and Recording Industry Go-To Vocal Coach Liz Caplan

By Adam Hetrick
and Michael Gioia
14 Feb 2014

Sara Bareilles and Liz Caplan

For performers who may identify as a soprano, or alto, etc., how important is versatility? Should singers work to develop different parts of their voice in order to get cast, or focus on their strong point?
Caplan: The short answer is actors/singers should develop all parts of their voice. Gone, unfortunately, are the days of music school rules of only working within your tessitura (Italian for "texture"). The tessitura is where you can sing for the longest amount of time without fatiguing. If one wants a versatile career with longevity, the actor must work all registers of his or her voice. From one audition to the next, from one production to the next, the human voice will be challenged depending on the character one gets bestowed.

Singing every note one is capable of vocalizing goes against every tenet of "old school" training. When voice majors leave university training having only worked within their tessitura, they will find themselves challenged when asked to sing in a different register with an unfamiliar timbre. This becomes problematic when the singer tries to push to compensate for lack of muscle support in untrained areas of the voice. Vocal damage could ensue.

I have always liked to work the voice's middle registers first in order to strengthen the part of the voice that people often refer to as the "hole" in their instrument. This hole happens when you bear down too heavily in an unfamiliar and untrained register. One ends up with a lower register that's super beefy, an upper register that sounds somewhat breathy, and then a non-existent middle register. Once the middle voice has some suppleness, strength and volume, it becomes easier to distribute that same timbre below and above the middle. Because there is finally balance amongst the registers, belting per se might never be necessary. And don't we all desire a seamless instrument?

What are some common mistakes you see performers make that can strain or damage the voice?
Caplan: The first common mistake is not warming up. This is where I get old-school myself. I believe that warming up helps prepare the actor for any variables that might rear themselves at an audition, rehearsal and performance. Examples of such variables are weather and temperature, allergies (dust and mold are detriments for singers), amount of sleep, nutrition, hydration, respiratory health, adrenal health, muscular skeletal alignment, energy and mood. If one warms up, you at least have a sense of the sound you are capable of making on a given day. This removes the element of surprise.

Training the voice and keeping it healthy is much like training for the Olympics. One must train constantly, and not just last minute. I think at one time or another we have taken a short cut and "crammed" vocalizing in when you haven't been on top of doing so. You realize quickly how the muscles are smarter than you, and are not so willing to perform on command. So ongoing vocal work is so much more fulfilling when the part for which you are perfect finally comes around and you are prepared.

Other common mistakes are realizing that food allergies, alcohol and smoking might not agree with your voice and help your cause. I'm not trying to be a stick in the mud, but if your voice does not respond after a night of wine with friends or sitting around a hookah, you might want to time those magic moments more thoughtfully. I can truly state with certainty that the people with whom I work who have reached performance milestones (Tony Awards, Grammy Awards) are generally quite disciplined about what chemical, no matter how organic, enters their bodies when they have auditions and production schedules ahead of them.

Other musical mistakes would be singing the wrong piece of music for your voice and type. Imagine yourself being on the other side of the table. What would you want to hear yourself sing based on your vocal capabilities and physical type? Being realistic about what's in your wheelhouse is important. You want to come to an audition ready to inhabit a character with solid choices, tell a story and be your most-relaxed self. We all truly want you to have a positive experience.