Voice teacher and owner of his own studio, Andrew Byrne has been training himself to work with singers since he was 17. “From 17–27, for about 10 years of my life, I just sat in studios and listened to and watched voice teachers work, so I kind of got to have a unique perspective ’cause I got to be in the space with them.
“I saw literally thousands of lessons and that really, to me, was a chance to learn what I did and didn’t like as a teacher, and it helped me immeasurably in working with women, since I have a different instrument than a female,” Byrne explains.
Since then Byrne has done it all: taught at colleges and universities, worked with the assistant conductor of “Les Misérables,” composed his own music, and taught hundreds of his own personal students.
As a teacher, Byrne has an innate ability to share knowledge and help musical theater performers better themselves. He chats with Backstage about some of his tips for actors who want to get the most out of their voice lessons and auditions.
Take care of your body.
Though Byrne loves his job and feels that it was what he was meant to do, staying physically healthy is a challenge for him, and something he says is extremely important for performers.
“The biggest challenge for pretty much anyone who’s in our field is that this is an athletic thing that we do, so the thing that I try to focus on for myself in training and also training myself is to keep myself in good shape physically because it’s very repetitive, so there are a lot of repetitive strain injuries in our field,” he says.
“I often say to people, Singing is a sport; it’s an athletic activity that we’re doing and we have to treat it as so…we’re looking at issues of muscle balance all the time and making sure we’re not letting our body get out of whack in that way—I think that’s an important part of my philosophy in teaching.”
Go to your voice lesson with clear goals in mind.
Getting voice lessons is something you do only when you’re serious about your profession, so do what you need to get the most out of your time.
“The first thing is to come with some clear goals in mind. We as teachers are of course trying to help you reach whatever it is that you want to do; we’re all trying to help our students become what they want to be, not what we want them to be,” he says.
“So, the more clearly you can state your goal and what you want to do, like, ‘I want to become a fierce rock singer,’ ‘I want to be able to extend my range for three notes,’—whatever it is that you actually want, I think that keeping your goals in mind and stating them explicitly to your teacher are great, so that we can assess how we’re doing on those goals, see how we’re meeting them, see how we’re progressing together.”
Go to your voice lesson prepared.
Being prepared might seem like the obvious answer, but Byrne’s reasoning is anything but. “It’s difficult to work on music if you’re buried in a score and you don’t know it. The brain can hold about 3–5 pieces of information at a time so I’m gonna have a lot to tell you as a teacher.
“So if you are unsure of what your notes are, or you’re completely flummoxed by what’s going on in the music, a lot of your attention is being diverted to that, so you’re going to get less out of your lesson,” he explains.
Don’t rush through your audition.
Having been on many, many auditions himself and coached many before theirs, Byrne has some solid ideas when it comes to mistakes that needed to be avoided.
“One of the biggest [mistakes] is in rushing. It’s obviously a field with a lot of people in it and we feel that we’re having to get in and get out and do our thing, but it’s really a time to connect with people in the room. When you are rushing yourself, it’s very difficult to get to actually see you and it’s just important to… We get so focused on ‘Is this high note gonna come out?’ or ‘Am I gonna remember the words to my song?’ [that] we’re forgetting that this is an interview; it’s a chance to interact with humans in the room, and the audition is as much about all that stuff before and after—if not even more so—than the actual work you’re doing in the song.”
Make eye contact in the room.
“I see just a lot of people making a beeline for the piano and not actually looking at anyone which is, if you think about it, kind of strange behavior for humans. We would not really normally do that,” Byrne explains.
“It’s a habit that, I think, you need to check and to make sure that you’re actually really seeing everybody in the room. Even if it feels like it’s taking a long time, I think you should try to make eye contact with everyone. Sometimes it’s not always possible, ’cause sometimes someone’s looking down and writing, but making an attempt is, I think, a really important part of it.”
Don’t rush the moment after the song.
Byrne says he often sees performers rush, but more specifically, rush through the moment after the song. “It’s an awkward moment knowing what to do next, but I think that, personally, the best strategy is to just stand there and wait for instructions.
“I think people often say ‘Thank you’ after they’ve sung their song before anything has even happened, and to me, thank you is saying goodbye actually in our culture. If you feel awkward in that moment I think the best thing to do is to just take a breath. Just take a breath in, let it out, and kind of just wait for further instructions,” he adds.
Byrne has plenty more advice! Check out his Backstage Expert columns!
For more information, visit http://www.andrewmbyrne.com.