Studio News

Patricia Shanks Voice Studio, 220 Newport Center Drive, Suite 16, Newport Beach, CA 92660       (949) 723-4473

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February 2010 - Patricia Shanks teaches vocal technique and musical theatre audition skills to SAG Youth Conservatory actors in Hollywood  For complete details on the program, visit the SAG Youth Conservatory page.

February 2010 - Burbank Philharmonic Hennings-Fischer Young Artists Competition (L to R: 'cellist Indira Rahmatulla, Maestro Fung Ho, soprano Brynn Terry, Maestra Sonia Marie De Leon de Vega, soprano Narine Ojakhyan (winner), Maestro Steven Kerstein, violinist Nigel Armstrong (winner), Patricia Shanks, Maestro Barry Brisk, Larry Lippold, alto saxophonist Matthew Ennis, baritone Travis Sherwood, soprano Stephanie Elsayed and soprano Sarah Parnicky)

Commercial Voice-over Workshop for Women in Animation

October 2009  - Teaching voice technique and offering voice-over coaching to Women In Animation members and guests.

Patricia Shanks Voice Studio in the OC Register!

Click here to read the story on music instruction in OC.

In Memoriam

Thank you for all you have done for me and for so many others.
You will be missed.

Natalie Limonick
Marion Cooper
Beverly Sills
Luciano Pavarotti

Inner Beauty

In January 2008 a routine screening with the laryngoscope produced these beautiful shots of my vocal cords. Click the following link if things biological don't make you squeamish.

Patricia Shanks Vocal Cords 

Pirate Patricia has some fun entertaining at the Studio Party.

For years I have been concerned with the lack of availability, locally, of good instructional books for singers. As an outgrowth of that concern and others, I have established a tiny retail arm to my studio business. For those like me who turn into kids in a candy shop at the sight of a collectible music book, or who drool over some hard-to-find treatise on singing, ta-da!  We now have  

At present, sales are "in person" only. Internet sales may be forthcoming. Please visit the Website to see what I have "in store." Visit often to see what new "finds" I have in stock to tease and appease your musical appetite.

By Request

For those of my students who have been asking me to sing here is a video sample. Recorded after the February 2004 concert at Old Town Music Hall, this is a completely off-the-cuff rendering of Victor Herbert's A Kiss in the Dark with accompaniment provided by Bill Field on the mighty Wurlitzer theater organ. The live audience of 4 people appeared to be pleased. And I had great fun singing with the mighty Wurlitzer.

This candid moment was captured on a Canon ZR60 digital camcorder (complete with clicking lens cap cover) positioned halfway back and to one side of the house. The file is playable if you have the Windows Media 9 Player, a strong constitution and a high speed Internet connection.

A Kiss in the Dark (File temporarily removed. Please check back.)

The Old Town Music Hall is a non-profit organization that presents classic films, silent movies with organ accompaniment and live concerts. Click on the text link in this paragraph for a schedule of events and more information.

For Teaching Purposes - Audio Samples

It is the brave voice teacher who uploads poorly recorded examples of her singing from decades past. Many students have asked me about what and where I have sung, and what I sounded like "back in the day." Here are two samples, along with my comments about why these songs are good teaching tools.

Long Time Ago (circa 1982)

This Copland song is wonderful for learning legato singing and crescendo-decrescendo. The simplest tunes sometimes afford the singer the greatest opportunity to color the text by coloring the tone. The accompaniment in this Copland arrangement suggests the long line of passing time, with occasional nuances like his treatment of "flowing water." The rhythmic motif Copland picked up from the first two notes of the melody and which he uses throughout, gives us the sense of hanging in space for a moment, as if lingering in time to consider our lives as they were a long time ago.

I was masquerading as a mezzo soprano at the time I sang this piece in concert. People (who didn't know voices) who heard me were telling me that I was a mezzo. Since there was more work for mezzos and altos, I happily went along with the crowd. But this incarnation of Patricia is singing with an artificially dark tone and a depressed larynx. This 1982 Patricia is micro-managing the voice in an effort to turn it into something it is not. The vibrato is more of a bleat than it is a free vibrato. This voice production became problematic within a few short years and I re-learned how to support low, allow the breath to flow, gain strength through vowel formation and resonance and become friends with my old soprano self again.

We sometimes learn larger lessons by making mistakes than we do by always being perfect.

So Many Stars (circa 1975)

This Sergio Mendez song is great for pop and jazz singers who want to learn how to sing large interval leaps without changing voice quality and sounding like Jekyll and Hyde (not the musical). I like many of the Latin Jazz songs of the 1960s and 1970s, because they fall into the soprano range. Much of the popular music, today, requires soprano voices to sing in the modal speech-level range, in the passaggio and into the lower middle voice. There are ways to brutalize the voice and force notes through the lower middle. And there are ways to finesse the voice into singing those notes. The singer interested in vocal longevity learns how to make comfortable adjustments in this range. Singers who only practice singing in the lower range will find their upper range becomes atrophied. Many singers come to me thinking they have no upper range. Very often there is more than an octave available to them up there which they are not using. They simply need to find it and use it.

At age 20, Patricia did (and still does) sing popular music, lest my students think I am only an opera hound. I apologize for the sound quality in this clip. Actually, I am fairly impressed that a cassette tape that sat for over 30 years in a cardboard box in who knows what kind of conditions still played at all! And here is evidence that the old Norelco Cassette Tape Recorder with the hand-held microphone had some kind of a limiter - or something. The higher part pulled way back. After applying eq ... eq ... more, and more eq ... oh, so much eq ... this was the best I could do. Consider the tape hiss and flutter, well, "effects." The 1970s Rhodes Piano had a Leslie on too much thyroid medication, I think. Definitely hyper-active. Click the link at your own risk.

Excerpts from the Studio Newsletter

The Student of Voice as Apprentice

a sensible approach: train, then coach

music education or music entertainment

Why classical vocal training?

standards for song selection for young voices

Voice Clips: sell the steak, not false sizzle

All stories Copyright © Patricia Shanks

The Student of Voice as Apprentice

All that we are, we are because of the practices and discoveries of the past. All that we have become, we have become because of the work of those who have preceded us. When we forget our history, when we choose to ignore the discoveries of our ancestors, we are limiting the quality of our experiences and we are shortchanging the experiences of future generations.

In centuries past, school-aged apprentices spent long hours studying and copying the handicrafts of their masters. The young apprentices watched with awe as deft masters created quality works of wood, silver, or leather. In this same manner, young singers-in-training gained technical prowess and an in-depth understanding of their art and the workings of the voice from master singers and teachers.

Both the master and the apprentice knew that the apprentice would spend many years perfecting the work at hand. Apprentice craftsmen hoped to one day carry on the work of their masters and, perhaps, even improve upon it. Of course, the master was obliged to pass his trade and tradition on to that special apprentice who could create and offer products of equal or better quality to his customers. Nothing less would suffice.

In the case of the apprentice singer, it was not unusual for the singer to make his or her debut performance nearly ten years after beginning serious, daily training. This was the case well into the 20th Century.

According to voice teacher Elvira de Hidalgo, her teen-aged student Maria Callas arrived at the conservatory for her voice lesson at ten in the morning and she stayed at the conservatory until eight at night. It has been noted that the future opera star sat in on all of the lessons of Hidalgo's other students. By concentrating her efforts and reinforcing her work with this additional, unassigned work, the singer was able to master her own instrument. She observed the mistakes and the successes of others and applied what she had learned. In addition to the long hours of practice and study she put into her own singing, Callas spent countless hours observing and absorbing techniques handed down from century to century, and master teacher to master teacher.

By contrast, many singers today wonder why, after a handful of lessons and after amassing little to no basic knowledge of how the vocal mechanism functions, they are not polished performers. This impatience and basic lack of understanding concerning the amount of work it takes to hone vocal skills is becoming pandemic. Consequently, singers possessing incomplete vocal abilities are suffering vocal setbacks and shortened careers. Because traditions and valuable information pertaining to voice production and vocal longevity are being lost for lack of use, we are in danger of establishing a lower standard of vocalism and vocal performance. The would-be singing artists of the future and those who would be the master teachers may never be exposed to the information they need to polish their skills to their utmost brilliance, because the information of past masters is being selected out of the training process. Sometimes the truths of the masters are reinvented by voice teachers who choose to cater to the impatience of the student singer. More palatable techniques designed, supposedly, to “shortcut” the process of learning to sing are then passed from teacher to teacher, further denigrating the art of singing. Even the best teachers unwittingly fall into some of these shortcut traps, because they have learned the techniques from their teachers.

Today, singers must be proactive in their quest for information about voice production. They must study the singers of the past, recordings of past and current singers, and biographical accounts. In the absence of affordable daily instruction provided by master singers and teachers and an environment that supports serious voice training, singers must conduct their own research on their art. The singer must experiment with technique and pay attention to the techniques practiced by other singers. The singer-in-training must operate like an Olympic Athlete-in-training, often without the benefit of a coach who will offer guidance and nurturance and who will push daily for a higher standard of performance. Today's apprentice singer must be his or her own disciplinarian, doing whatever it takes to make certain that the finished product is worthy of a tradition set forth by master teachers and singing artists of centuries past. 

a sensible approach: train, then coach

Just as a dancer, a gymnast or a figure skater learns the steps and the moves before putting together and practicing a routine, the intelligent singer learns how to sing all the notes before putting them into the practice of a song or a staged performance.

The reasons for pre-training your voice are many. Here are a few of the more important ones.

1) You want to know what to expect from your vocal instrument on any given note and on any given word. An untrained singer never knows what to expect from one day to the next. 2) You want to know how to protect your precious instrument and prevent short-term or long-term injury. 3) You do not want to have your energy consumed with struggling to get the sound out or trying to avoid pains and strains while singing. To the thoroughly trained singer, technique is second nature. The trained singer can focus more on the performance and less on getting the notes out. 4) The vocal quality of the trained singer is far superior when matched with that of the untrained singer. Training allows for more tone coloration, a wider dynamic range, full use and blending of the registers and much more. While an untrained singer may exhibit equal performance prowess and exude as much charisma as the trained singer, voice-to-voice the trained singer is unbeatable. 5) Whether the music is rock, pop, jazz, country, musical theater or classical, the trained singer has a better ability to meet the demands of the music. A singer with long-range career aspirations is well served by extensive training and practical voice work.

A voice teacher is your first stop. The teacher will monitor your practice of vocal exercises carefully, helping you realize the correct sensations of tone while, at the same time, introducing you to the physiology of singing. The teacher may also ask you to practice exercises from complementary method books structured to build the voice.

Concurrent with this technical training, the voice teacher will strive to awaken creativity and artistry in the student. The teacher takes the entire person into account and endeavors to shape the emerging artist.

A student may expect to study with a voice teacher from six months to one year before noticing significant improvement. Of course, this assumes diligent practice habits on the part of the student. Expect to study regularly for five years or more before you begin to perfect your technique. Serious singers take voice lessons throughout their careers.

After you have a basic working knowledge of your vocal mechanism and after you have mastered some of the fundamentals of producing a solid sound, you might consider working with a voice coach. The coach will help you establish a musical style. The coach will work with you to select songs appropriate to your sound, voice type and range. The best coaches usually specialize in one style of music or another. Do not go to an opera coach for help with a rock song, or to a country music coach for assistance on a song from musical theater.

Be sure your basic technique is solid before you dive into working with a coach. If you decide to forsake good technique in favor of potentially harmful stylistic vocal maneuvers, you want to be clear about how to return to a non-stressful way of producing sound. Often, the well-trained singer can find a better way to achieve the desired effect without sacrificing vocal quality.

Some voice teachers are also good coaches. In rarer instances, voice coaches may be equipped to teach you a thing or two about voice production.

Once you have a good technical foundation and you have established a style and memorized some songs, or repertoire, you may wish to visit a performance coach. The performance coach sometimes works under the title of voice teacher or voice coach, but the performance coach is distinctly different in approach.

The performance coach may have you warm up your voice, briefly. Usually, there is little to no mention as to how to perfect vocal exercises. As a rule, the performance coach is not concerned with vocal anatomy, physiology or technique. Pedagogical aspects of singing are secondary to packaging you as a performer. Singers who have bypassed work with a teacher and a repertoire coach may learn songs and vocal stylings from a performance coach. This practice is not desirable and might be compared to cramming for an exam using Cliffs Notes. You might get through the exam, but you will not remember the material a week from Tuesday. And what you have studied is only the surface layer of the material. The real growth and discovery experience and accumulation of knowledge and expertise in the subject have been replaced with an incomplete, unrewarding and all around less than satisfactory or satisfying experience. The moral of the story: Know your technique, memorize your music and develop your style before you leap up onstage.

The preceding example notwithstanding, working with a performance coach can be beneficial to you as a performer. You will learn how to move onstage and use a microphone, among other performance-oriented skills. You might look for a coach who offers regular performance opportunities to students who are ready to rock 'n roll in front of an audience.

music education or music entertainment

I teach my students what they need to know so they can do what they want to do and do it well. In this studio we begin with the basics and establish a solid foundation. I give my students specific practice goals and I expect results. When students show me they have done their homework, they are rewarded with more challenging assignments. Those who respond favorably to the challenge will grow as musicians.

All music instruction is not equal

Sometimes lessons take the form of a recreational activity. The emphasis is on fun. Students sing or play through songs with questionable teaching or learning value. There is little to no mention of music theory, history, technique or form. Performance goals often overshadow or altogether replace important intermediate goals. Technical work takes a back seat. The prepared song is not the result of steady technical training and artistic enlightenment. It is not a true expression of the artist in the musician. It is a contrived structure.

A case for education over entertainment

A person who learns to do one thing well understands many things and much about the world. Properly handled, music education is more than just learning to sing or play the piano. When we learn, we grow. With intellectual growth we have the potential to become clearer, deeper, more critical thinkers, and better overall beings and doers. With intellectual growth we also gain confidence and self-respect. Self-respect (self-esteem) doesn't come from somehow managing to sing or play a parcel of songs in a surface-level pleasing manner. At best, such an experience is incomplete. Self-respect stems from the security of knowing what you are doing, knowing how you are doing it, and knowing you are doing it well according to established and recognized standards of excellence.

What you know, you own. What you become, based on what you learn, is yours forever. No one can take knowledge and expertise away from you and it never leaves you. And the surprising bonus that comes with learning well is that you will probably find you no longer need praise from others to feel good about what you do and who you are. When the goal of activity is to do the thing you are doing well, and meeting the highest standards possible, the challenge and every small or large success along the way become the rewards.


“Wisdom begins with sacrifice of immediate pleasures for long-range purposes.” -- Louis Finkelstein

“Self-esteem is the reputation we acquire with ourselves.” -- Nathaniel Branden


Why classical vocal training?

Ten reasons for a traditional approach

There are countless reasons for a traditional approach to voice study.

Here are just a few.

  1. You learn to use and blend the entire range of your voice.
  2. You learn healthy, harm-free voice management.
  3. You learn vocal skills you can fall back on when techniques based on style let you down.
  4. You learn about the physical and artistic components and processes of clear, clean singing.
  5. You learn about languages -- including your own!
  6. You learn the most efficient and effective breathing techniques.
  7. You learn concepts that carry over to your speaking voice.
  8. You learn techniques that centuries of singers have learned and used successfully.
  9. You learn about self-discipline and its benefits and rewards.
  10. You learn about your self. Learning to sing in a way that involves no mimicry, masking or false application of style can be an extremely cathartic experience.

standards for song selection for young voices

In a previous newsletter article I detailed the standard voice ranges for young children up to age 10. Young voices should sing roughly between Middle C and the C one octave (eight notes) above Middle C. This goes for boys and girls. While young singers may be able to sing lower or higher than this, it is unwise for them to do so while in the early stages of physical and vocal development. In most cases, notes sung above and below this range are produced through unnatural means. A thin, tight-throated upper range or a forced lower range will eventually take a toll on the voice.

Left to their own devices, young people might opt to sing the songs they hear on the radio. Ranges for most of these songs are completely inappropriate for a developing voice. The rhythmic and melodic structures of popular songs usually are not conducive to voice building. If a song can be transposed into a more child voice-appropriate range, the young singer resists singing it because it "doesn't sound like it does on the recording."

It is difficult to get children to sing the music that is voice appropriate because it sounds corny, old-fashioned or stupid to them. Children as young as age 5 have appeared in my studio, telling me they want to sing like the latest rock star. Then, they launch into some adult-themed selection about the end of a relationship or falling in love again, complete with fabricated gestures and dance moves. The child has spent however long she has spent learning to be 'like' somebody else, instead of finding out who she is and what her own voice sounds like. The process of personal discovery and vocal discovery has been sidestepped. The fact is, music that comes from the inside is much more long lasting and more meaningful than that which is put on from the outside.

I purposely select teaching pieces that the young singer may not have heard before, for several reasons. These are only a few.

When the singer does not know the song, she is more inclined to look at the music. This is the beginning of learning to read notes. By contrast, when a singer has heard the song she believes she has no need to look at the notes on the page. Looking at the notes on the page is important. There is a direct relationship between the adjustments the voice makes and the notes on the printed page. Real singing musicians learn to read music.

Songs in other languages are particularly good for young singers (or any age singer, for that matter), because they keep the mind and the voice free from preconceived ideas of what the song means or ways of pronouncing words. Sometimes the greatest discoveries come from a place of not knowing. Regional speech dialects applied to singing can interfere with free voice production.

Songs from various periods in history teach more than just the song. They teach musical style and much about who we were then and who we are now. Any effective study teaches more than the subject at hand.

Songs structured similarly to vocal exercises reinforce the training of the voice. Certain word and note combinations are more vocally friendly than others. Certain songs support the steady, progressive training of the vocal muscles.

When introduced to a wider variety of music, the young singer is more likely to find her own style somewhere in the mix than she is to copy the one style she is bombarded with on the radio. She may also find other interests when she is exposed to note reading, musical form, languages and history.

I would be doing the young singer a disservice if I were to allow her to sing whatever she wanted to sing, no matter what the quality and appropriateness. The young singer does herself a disservice and limits her potential when she resists the learning experience and chooses to sing songs that may be detrimental to her present or future voice.

Traditional voice training contributes to vocal health and longevity no matter what style of music the singer evolves to sing. When the traditionally trained singer chooses to sing in a manner that is less than voice-friendly and it causes problems, she will have something solid to fall back on.


“Personally I am always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught.”  -- Winston Churchill

Voice Clips: sell the steak, not false sizzle

Less is more when it comes to "selling" a song onstage. The best approach to expressing feelings in a song is to let your emotions arise spontaneously. The feelings you put into your song have more to do with 1) your genuine emotion at the time you are singing (which often has nothing to do with the emotions expressed in the text of the song) and, 2) the emotions the text and mood of the song evoke in you (which also may be other than what the text presumes on its surface).

If you force emotions, your song will come across as less than genuine. Your audience will know it. If you add postures or gestures in a mock effort to add emotional flair to your performance, it will look fake. Your audience will know it.

When it comes to communicating your song in an effective way, very often, less is more.    


“To be properly expressed a thing must proceed from within, moved by its form.”    -- Meister Eckhart

Patricia Shanks  Patricia Shanks Voice Studio  (949) 723-4473