Crossover Corner: Adjusting to Musical Theatre

Musical theatre performing requires a different type of voice training because it differs from any other singing. Voice teachers and vocal coaches train students in specific MT techniques that include, at a minimum, vocal warm-ups, proper breathing, intonation, diction, and relaxed posture to help you find your true sound and performing expertise. Here are seven methods of training for musical theatre.

    Training for musical theatre requires having the ability to sing in many different genres. When simply singing, the singer can establish a certain vocal type and with practice, excel at that one special type. With musical theatre, singers must adjust and adapt their voices to many various types of singing that include (but are not limited to):

    1. Jazz
    2. Rock
    3. Opera
    4. R&B
    5. Contemporary Pop
    6. and more!

    Being able to belt and have your voice carry is a great tool for musical theatre-style singing and one that is used frequently on stage. Having a soulful tone, more conversational tone, and being able to make subtle changes in styles of singing are great assets to your repertoire.

    Tracey Reina, voice teacher and co-founder of the music school Music To Your Home in NYC states, “Singers need to train extensively on learning how to adjust their techniques for the stage in many ways, and the importance of the simplicity of the voice allows singers to convey the story that they are singing about. This storytelling technique is one of the greatest differences between simply singing and singing musical theatre because, with theatre, the story holds the most importance.”  Singers in musical theatre make gorgeous sounds, but the point of the sound is focused on the words that tell the audience what is happening.

    Adaptability taken a step further plays into the technique of singing with an accent. Certain shows require stage accents, such as in the show Oklahoma! where a southern accent is desired. If a singer can train to sing with that accent intact, it is another facet the singer has that makes the singer more marketable for stage singing.

    Musical theatre also requires more than just singing. In addition to taking singing lessons for theater, singers should be taking lessons on acting and dancing for the stage. Training for these two things makes you as a singer what is called a “triple threat” – where you can perform all three activities (singing, acting, dancing) with ease on stage.

    You should always work to keep your voice healthy, but it is especially important in musical theatre. Shows are usually performed eight times a week, and you have to be in great physical and vocal health to perform all of those shows, week after week. It is a very challenging schedule, so vocal technique needs to always be worked on and improved, so there is no room for skipping things like warm-ups and workouts, otherwise, you risk not having that stamina to keep up.
    Another important technique a singer should develop when learning stage-style for musical theatre is singing with true conviction.  Because the message is so important to convey on stage, a singer needs to establish a few things when learning a song:

    1. What is the song about?
    2. What feeling(s) is the song attempting to evoke?
    3. How does the song tie into the overall story?

    If all these questions can be answered, then your voice needs to then work to establish the right emotions and story when performing. This plays into the part of acting that goes into the singing, something that when a singer is simply singing is not always a necessity. Learning the ins and outs of each song gives you a greater sense of not only what is happening, but the feelings that should be brought forth when singing.

    A great way to learn and train in something is to learn by example. Studying musical theatre performances and understanding the singing techniques that are utilized is a very helpful tool for your own training. Sometimes singers can learn more visually and through listening, rather than just being trained by a voice teacher alone. It can help to go out and see a musical live, to watch and listen to the performers and what methods are used to bring out their best performance. It can help to learn what adjustments you need to make in your own singing for the stage.

    Adjust your microphone skills. It is different than singing with a band or choir versus performing on stage for musical theatre with a microphone. Sometimes performances require you to be wearing a body mic, or at times, possibly just with a hand-held, and it is important to know how to adjust your singing voice in order to sound best when using each. Body mics will pick up almost any small sound when turned on, so you have to be careful when punching constants like “p’s” and “t’s” that pop when you sing them.

    There is a great need for strong vocal health when it comes to training for musical theater as demonstrated, because of the need for a strong mix of vocal types and genres. You will need to develop your voice and establish not only a sound that is unique to you, or your own sound, but also utilize singing techniques that provide a strong mix that showcases your talents for many musical characters.With these methods, it is essential for the singer to find a great voice teacher or vocal coach that has a working knowledge of musical theatre training to assist you with the extensive training for the stage. With as many as eight performances every week, it is important to train to have the best stamina while staying healthy to carry you through every one.


Donna Maurer

Donna has had a love for music since elementary school when she took her first piano lesson. Having tried her hand at numerous instruments, she now spends her time writing about music, the music industry, and teaching lessons in NYC. She is a contributor on multiple music blogs and loves sharing helpful information for her fellow musicians and music lovers.