Singing, Dancing And Acting Your Way To A Musical Career


The professional singing actor must master performance techniques for the musical theater stage, cabaret, nightclubs, and other musical venues. But when the primary goal is to act, how many new skills you will need to develop depends on several factors: your age, your experience, and your vocal range and facility. If you are a character actor or actress, you may not be required to sing and dance as well as someone who is auditioning for the chorus. In all likelihood, the singer auditioning today for a Broadway show or summer stock company would be not only expected to sing well, but also move like a dancer, performing intricate choreographic routines, while having the flexibility to adapt to a variety of performance styles. Actors who can sing are in demand because many musicals written since the 1960s require both strong acting and good singing. Anyone who can act, sing, and dance well is even more likely to be cast in many shows, making dance lessons a worthwhile investment.

Because of the many skills required in musical theater, and the fields of popular music and films, serious, rigorous, and focused training are necessary to realize development in the field. One common strategy is for the student to gain entrance into a school that stresses his or her strongest attribute (for arguments sake, acting) and then attempt to catch up on the skills of dancing and singing later on. Alternatively, the musical performer can gain experience along the way through the experience of performing in public. For this, open mike nights at various piano bars, night clubs and cabarets can prove an invaluable platform.

The Need for Singing Lessons

Singing lessons can improve your chances of landing a role in a musical or in some commercials. Seasoned actors often take singing lessons to continue improving their voices. Beginning actors may take singing lessons just to expand their range and enable their vocal projection.

Even if you never land a singing role, learning how to sing can, at the same time, teach you how to breathe, how to project your voice, and how to modify your voice to achieve different intonations. And all these skills help improve your overall delivery as an actor.

Consider taking dance lessons in addition to voice lessons. At the very least, dance lessons can teach you how to move gracefully, while improving timing and coordination. With enough hard work in this area, you can confidently audition for roles in musicals that require elaborate dance routines. Some actors even specialize in specific types of dancing such as jazz, ballet, swing, or ballroom dancing to better their chances of landing a role.

Singing lessons give you a chance to practice audition songs, or new songs you are learning for a role, and to receive professional feedback while you are doing it. Many singing teachers usually host musical get-togethers for all their students once a month or so. At each gathering, several students perform songs they have been working on. Doing so can be invaluable experience for beginners who may still be shy about performing in front of an audience. The teachers will usually ask other students to comment on each performance as well. Some may love what you have done, while others may have helpful criticisms to offer.

The Right Singing Teacher for You

Finding the right singing teacher can be a matter of trial and error. In major cities you will have a great many teachers from which to choose, so you will want to ask people you know for their recommendations. The truest test of a good teacher is whether or not your singing improves as your lessons continue. If you practice faithfully but are not getting anywhere, then you need someone else. It can also happen that a teacher is right for you only up to a certain point. You may improve to a degree, and then find yourself stalled. That can mean that the teacher does not have the advanced expertise to coach you on a higher level -- something a good teacher will admit. Then it is time to move on to someone with a different approach or greater experience. After working with a voice teacher and building up a workable instrument, the singer or actor needs to find a good vocal coach to continue their development

Be wary of any teacher who constantly criticizes your choice of new songs. It is one thing for a teacher to say that you JomSocial, EasySocial or CommunityBuilderare not yet ready for a particular song, but if the teacher just does not like your taste in music, there might be a problem. A good teacher will try to educate your taste, but should not say no to everything you want to sing. That can be a generation-gap problem that arises because the teacher does not like anything composed after a certain musical era. Sometimes a teacher will say no to a difficult song because it is so difficult to play. If you think your teacher is rejecting songs because they are hard to play, find someone else.

Shall We Dance... Shall We Dance... Shall We Dance

You may be one of those people who can pick up the steps of the latest dance craze in a minute, and end up teaching it to all your friends. Natural ability is certainly a starting point when it comes to dance, although the intricate movements and timing required for the presentation of stage musicals requires tremendous training, focus, and structure. Many people can dance to popular music at parties, dance halls and even sidewalk street acts (known as a busker) with what amounts to crowd pleasing effect.

Often, other dancers or viewers will even stop and form a circle around a couple or group of performers that is really good. If you have got natural dance ability, you can do a lot more with it besides impressing friends and strangers. Terrific dancers are harder to find than terrific singers. And you can improve your singing a lot easier than you can your ability to dance. Few people have equal natural ability in both the vocal and the dance areas, but if you are great at one, you might not need the other.

Terms to Know

Air. The Vamp, the Verse if there is one, and the Chorus (composed of "8s"), ending with the Rideout, constitute the component parts of the printed sheet-music copy. But there is music that exists between the sung lines ("fills") that can be described as the "Air" in the song. If "Air" is recognized as "music without words," the Vamp and Rideout, too, must be listed as "Air" pockets.

Arrangement. The adaptation of a composition for performance by other instruments and voices than originally intended.

The Chorus. The Chorus is the song. Its melody is all. At the turn of the century, and continuing into the sixties, Choruses were compared and shaped within thirty-two bars of music.

Cover Record. Another artist’s version of a song already recorded.

Groove. Rhythm or tempo that helps create the "feel" of the song.

High Note. The highest note sung in a particular song which varies according to the musical key of the song.

Lyrics. The words to a song.

Modulate. To change from one key to another in a song.

Performing Right. Rights granted by U.S. copyright law which states that one may not publicly perform a copyrighted musical work without the owner’s permission.

The Rideout. The Rideout is the music that begins on the downbeat of the last word of the song. Just as all songs have a Vamp, every Chorus comes packaged with a Rideout.

Song Plugger. One who auditions songs for performers.

The Vamp. All printed copies of songs begin with a few bars of music called the Vamp or Intro. It is recognizable as the first musical statement at the top of the copy and it is further identified by the absence of a logic.

The Verse. The Verse follows the Vamp and is the first vocalizing of the text of the song. The Verse seldom contains heavyweight musical material. Since it is so scored in order to give preeminence to the information contained in the lyric, most often Verses can be ad libded without effort.


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Few people are equally good at all kinds of dancing. To start with, your body type, as well as innate talents for timing and coordination, may be better suited to one kind of dancing over another. Many people who are not coordinated enough to be very good tap or ballet dancers can still excel in such ballroom dances as the waltz, the tango, and the fox-trot. Of course, ballroom dance professionals who compete in contests across the country, are in another category, and they usually have tap and ballet backgrounds as well. If you are generally well coordinated and graceful, you may be able to dance well enough in a short time to carry off a particular role.

When the Performance Counts, Finding the Right Songs to Sing

When performing before a group you wish to impress (perhaps at a piano bar or a jam session), and especially if you have knowledge talent scouts are in the house, problems can arise when anyone sings a big hit by a top singer. A simple piano accompaniment may not have the same kind of effect that the professional recording does. Even if you have a voice that is on par with the star who made the song a hit, there is going to be a very different effect with a piano. It is important that you practice whatever song you are going to sing as you will sing it at the audition that way, you won’t be surprised at the sound just when it matters most.

When performance counts (like perhaps at an amateur hour show or awards presentation), it is risky to try and assume the image of a fabled singer in a legendary performance. Even with strong rehearsal, singing a great or latest hit could be a mistake, if only because you can invite comparisons with the original singer. When auditioning for musicals, it is also wiser to stay away even from older songs that are strongly associated with a particular singer. Signature songs may not be on the radio at the moment, but you can be sure that almost any director (or auditor) will have some historic familiarity with a show or movie that made a particular performer a star. You simply stack the odds against you when you compete with the fond memories of a signature song, so save them for the shower.

Some Basics for a Singing Audition

At an audition, if a role involves singing, be ready to sing a song or two so that the casting director can evaluate your singing range and voice. If a particular role requires an accomplished singer, the casting director may hold a separate audition just for singers. Then, those singers who pass that audition may need to go through an acting audition as well.

At an audition, an actor trying out for a nonmusical can be expected to read from the script of the play he or she is up for. If it is a play that has been done before, and if the play is published, that actor can stage a fairly good reading by getting a copy from the library. If it is an original play that has never been produced before, and the actor is expected to give a "cold" reading, the actor is usually given a half hour to prepare. It is highly unlikely that the actor would be required to memorize the part; actors seldom memorize their lines until they are way into rehearsals. This, of course, is because so much will change during the rehearsal period.

Contrast this with the actor/singer auditioning for a musical. He or she is not only expected to read from the script, but is expected to sing, and perform fully from memory, two staged musical numbers complete with gestures. In addition to this the actor/singer must be prepared to "move" for the choreographer. Although actor/singers are not expected to dance as well as dancers, they must move gracefully on stage. Dancers, on the other hand, although not expected to be the world’s greatest actors (they usually are never asked to read unless speaking roles are being cast from the chorus), are expected to sing well.

Obviously, auditioning for a musical requires not only all the acting skill and training that the actor has acquired from years of diligent work, but it demands additional skill as well, some of them costing at least as much time, effort, money, and training as acting classes. The cost of years of voice lessons can be high, as is the cost of all the classes dancers must take in jazz, tap, modern, and ballet. Even actor/singers must invest in movement classes. Add to this the cost of a vocal coach and accompanist. All these are quite necessary if one wants to have a career in the musical theatre.

Just as you should memorize a monologue, you should also memorize a song, preferably one from a musical rather than a popular song. Unless your role requires a substantial amount of singing, you may not have to sing an entire song, but rather 16 bars as a sampler of your abilities, but come prepared just in case.

At a theatrical audition (and certainly a performance), you may have the benefit of a wireless microphone to amplify your voice. But you should still be trained to project your voice loud enough for everyone to hear in case you don’t have a wireless microphone or if the microphone happens to fail sometime in the show.



Relevant Associations & Organizations


American Composers Forum (ACF)
332 Minnesota Street, Suite East 145
St. Paul, MN 55101-1300
Phone: 6510228-1407
Fax: 651-291-7978
The American Composers Forum is committed to supporting composers and developing new markets for their music, through granting, commissioning, and performance programs. Useful links page.
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American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada (AFM)
4400 Mac Arthur Boulevard NW
Suite 306
Washington, DC 20007
Phone: 202-337-9325
Fax: 202-338-3787
Union that represents professional musicians.
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American Music Center (AMC)
30 West 26th Street, Suite 1001
New York, NY 10010-2011
Phone: 212-366-5260 ext.10
Fax: 212-366-5265
The American Music Center (AMC) is a national service and information center for new American music.
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Association for Independent Music
925 W. Baseline Road, #105
Tempe, AZ 85283
Phone: 480-831-2954
Fax: 480-831-2955
A professional trade organization supporting the independent music industry by providing business opportunities for its members through an annual convention, ongoing information services, educational resource materials and advocacy.
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Chorus America
1156 15th Street, NW, Suite 310
Washington, DC 20005
Phone: 202-331-7577
Serves the spectrum of professional, volunteer, children/youth, and symphony/opera choruses by providing information, publications, conferences, consulting, training programs, surveys, networking, and awards to support choruses in North America.
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Country Music Association (CMA)
One Music Circle South
Nashville, Tennessee 37203
Phone: 615-244-2840
Fax: 615-726-0314
Objectives of the organization are to guide the development of Country Music throughout the world; to demonstrate it as a viable medium to advertisers, consumers and media; and to provide a unity of purpose for the Country Music industry.
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1156 15th Street, NW, Suite 820
Washington, DC, 20005-1726
Phone: 202-833-1717
Fax: 202-833-2686
Advances the art form of dance by addressing the needs, concerns and interests of the professional dance community through journals, monthly member bulletins, specialized listservs, and a collection of studies and booklets.
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Gospel Music Association
1205 Division Street
Nashville, TN 37203
Phone: 615-242-0303
Fax: 615-254-9755
As an umbrella organization, the GMA provides an atmosphere in which artists, industry leaders, retail stores, radio stations, concert promoters and local churches can coordinate their efforts for the purpose of benefiting the industry as a whole
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Merce Cunningham Dance Foundation
55 Bethune Street
New York, NY 10014
Phone: 212-691-9751, ext. 30
Multi-faceted support group for dancers, musicians and media artists.
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National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS)
3402 Pico Boulevard
Santa Monica, CA 90405
Phone: 310-392-3777
Dedicated to improving the quality of life and cultural condition for music and its makers. An organization of more than 11,000 musicians, producers and other recording professionals, The Recording Academy is internationally known for the GRAMMY® Awards.
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National Music Council
Founded in 1940 and chartered by the 84th Congress in 1956, the National Music Council acts as a clearing house for the joint opinion and decision of its members and represents the United States to the International Music Council/UNESCO.
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For a full listing of helpful associations and organizations click here