Meet Lara TenHoorn, the vocal coach who is so much more than a vocal coach. You'll wish she was yours.
Singing is one of the most vulnerable things to do as an artist. Each vocalist has been there. In the studio, peering through the window at the engineer and other people who are waiting for you to make beautifully placed, timed, and toned melodies. As you listen back through the headphones or monitors those first few times, it is very confronting to hear your voice being played back to you. Nerves are front and centre, causing you to shake. You beg yourself to relax. You need the award-winning recipe of control, balance, grace, emotion, power, restraint, vibrato, breath, and pray your voice punches through the instruments. It's usually the last thing recorded on an album, and it can make or break a song. In this new world where autotune is king and audiences are used to the photoshop equivalent of recorded sound, do we pay enough attention to our voices? How do we strike the balance between telling our story with emotion and nailing the pitch? It is an art to be mastered over a lifetime, and often requires a vocal coach. You'd be mad not to have some form of guidance or vocal lesson before entering a studio. Lara TenHoorn has been teaching singing for years. Based in Sydney, she has helped refined the incredible voices of many artists and is filled with encouragement, patience and faith for each of her students. Extremely passionate about the voice and the science behind the voice, Lara still gets blown away by some of her student's natural tones - something that is bestowed upon at birth, and not something that can be taught - and desires to make everyone the best vocalist they can be. Lara is so much more than a singing teacher. She also films and produces videos of her students performing so they can add it to their social media profiles and video channels, creating beautiful sets and vocal guidance as well as divine editing and production touches. A more committed teacher would be hard to find. Lara speaks with Music Love about the science of singing, what a typical day looks like, some of her star students (too many to mention!) and some things students do (or don't do!) that really gets her goat.
What does music mean to you?
Music is like a universal language of emotional and artistic expression that crosses all boundaries. Everyone understands it, often without hesitation or any explanation and that in itself makes it very powerful. So to me, music means a way to communicate something that cannot be put into words. It speaks a message, personal story or vulnerability that can only be understood as it travels on melody, harmony, rhythm and lyrics. The emotional connection we naturally feel to music gives us the avenue to understand it, resonate with it and respond to it.
What does an ordinary day look like for a vocal coach?
Good question! For me, everyday looks a little different and that's what I love about it!!
I'm usually up pretty early or early enough to steam my voice for fifteen minutes and start warming up gently. I continue to warm up as I get ready during my normal morning routine. I always make a herbal tea with honey for my drive to wherever I'm going for the day.
On Mondays, I start teaching my first group vocal workshop at 9.15am which looks like 25 students singing a solo each in front of the class and then I'll work with them for about ten minutes each from the piano and give their voice a workout with technical scales to allow them to feel something better.
I do this for two hours, then again for another two hours at 1.15-3.15pm. Then at 3.45pm I teach an a cappella workshop where the vocalists are learning a cappella group pieces and preparing to perform them.... checking harmonies and running small group rehearsals. Then at 6.30-9.00pm, I teach private students who are learning vocal technique in detail and applying it to either recording or performing live. We work hard together on their voice and ear training because I love to see a little progress happen each week!
On Tuesdays, I teach private lessons all day from my home studio from about 10am-9:30pm and often have a little recording project tucked in there somewhere for a student who is preparing to have a new song released.
Most days look something like this - a mixture of private lessons or a workshop or two :)
You have coached many renowned artists. Who is someone who has absolutely blown you away?
Oh wow - yes....there are a few!! I would have to say when I first met Violeta Bozanic - an "Australia's Got Talent" semi finalist at the age of 11 - I was stunned at the deeper, mature tone of her voice for such a young person and her sense of style and expression as she sang was so natural - it's very unusual to find a relatively untrained 11 year old who has a close-to-developed vibrato and the sensibility to change melodies to express themselves. She is honestly one of the most talented students I have ever met and I'm SO excited to see what happens with her!! She is currently working hard on her songwriting (at all of 13 years old!!) and we are working on her second original song release. Her first original single release Baby I'm Sorry has been nominated in the finals of an international songwriting competition.
Barry Conrad is an exceptional person, crazy talent and voice. I have never heard anyone with the flexibility he has in his voice to so easily express anything he's feeling. He often leaves me quite speechless with his heartfelt feeling and accuracy of melisma (runs/raves). His range is also incredible and he works SO hard on keeping his voice healthy and strong. Whenever he sings a song in a lesson, I make sure to record it because I know he'll never sing it like that again - his arrangements are unique every time so full of soul and beautiful tone - his voice astounds me!!
Silent Night by Lara's student Barry Conrad. Video recorded, filmed and edited entirely by Lara
Andy Butler, originally from the Sony signed band "Little Sea," has an absolutely incredible voice and range on him! He can mix so well up to a high C#5, is a brilliant song writer, hard worker and can kill a performance with those crazy high mix notes. He's just a really special voice!!
Emma Elias is another absolutely exceptional talent, flying under the radar. She's a filmmaker but has one of the most beautiful tone's and vibrato I have ever heard. Her artistic expression is also absolutely amazing - I record her every time too because she'll never sing it the same way twice.
David Le'aupepe is also another very very talented and uniquely expressive voice - although I have never taught him in a private lesson, I was privileged to hear him recording in the studio one night and he's exceptional!
Another young voice that I find astounding is Grace Izzard who I also met at 11years old. She sang "Gravity" in her first lesson and my jaw hit the floor. Completely untrained, yet a style, tone and melisma ability similar to a young Tori Kelly or Rihanna. She has been in lessons for 5 years and has broken through many personal ceilings and will continue to do so. We are recording together often also and working on stylistic expression.
Stitches - Shawn Mendes cover - and Toxic - Britney Spears covers by Lara's student Grace Izzard. Video recorded, filmed and edited entirely by Lara
I do want to say too that I actually can't count the amount of students that have blown me away - when they really let go, open themselves fully to express everything they're feeling AND sing in the development they have built into their voices in lessons....the sound that comes out of that more vulnerable space is so moving!
What is the most common misconception about vocal technique?
It would have to be that "true vocal technique", or the "real stuff" only applies to classical or musical theatre singers and the rest of us in the pop or indie world of singing get the "scraps" of technical advice. This just simply isn't true because pure functional vocal technique that deals with balancing the vocal registers and building the weaknesses in areas of transition applies to every human voice! No singer gets left out. ALL singers have transitions, all singers have a chest voice and head voice to learn to deal with or develop, regardless of what style they apply their singing to. And every singer that works towards a strong, balanced, healthy voice by using the correct functional techniques will improve in any style and expression they apply it to as well. Classical singing is wonderful and beautiful and difficult, but it's still a particular style/genre of singing. Functional technique is unstyled and therefore free to be applied to any style the artist desires.
What is your number one tip for any singer?
Harder and louder doesn't mean better (or more passionate) and can sometimes be seriously comprising vocal health and longevity. You only get one voice and learning how to mix is one of the healthiest things any vocalist can develop in their voice. Weaknesses CAN be strengthened, head voice CAN be strong and edgy and intense and still sung in a way that isn't fatiguing. Performers CAN last the distance with the right vocal health routine. Husky doesn't mean healthy.
There's too many important things for just one tip, haha!
Tell us some things we can learn about the science of singing
Oh fun! Ok....in a simplified version....
1. Concert A or A4 (440Htz) requires your vocal cords to vibrate at a speed of 440 times per second to create the pitch of A4 (AMAZING!!!)
2. There are pairs of muscles inside the larynx that predominantly control vocal registration and pitch making.
3. The two major pairs are called Thyroarytenoids and the Cricothyroid pair.
4. There are specific vocal exercises that are able to access and isolate these pairs of muscles and allow them to function and carry the process of phonation (the vocal cords vibrating together) in a more balanced way. This process takes time but it can be done!
5. Your vocal cords can save your life!! Anytime you swallow and something goes down the wrong way, your cords immediately come together and you have a choking sensation - this stops whatever you have swallowed from going into your lungs!
It requires a lot of patience to be a teacher. Are you a patient person? Do you ever get frustrated?
Yes it does!! And yes, I do believe I am a naturally patient person. I didn't necessarily ask to be this way, but my temperament "wiring" is definitely more on the patient side. This is something I am very grateful for as a coach! Because learning and progress can take time and there's nothing wrong with that. It's my favourite thing to do - to encourage students that they sound better than they feel, they WILL get there with consistency and patience. Growth takes time.
I only tend to get frustrated if I feel the student doesn't value what they're learning and they leave the lesson and continue to sing carelessly without any focus or practice and in a way that could lead towards damage. I invest all of the energy I can into every lesson and to not have that be taken seriously is disheartening.
One of Lara's videos of performer and songwriter David Andrew
Do you like to perform yourself?
Great question! I actually don't like to perform often, only because I don't feel like it's the right space for me personally. It's not who I naturally am or where I "flourish" so to speak. It's not what I enjoy doing the most. I respect people who do perform a lot because I know its difficult and risky - you only get one shot at nailing it. I have performed in the past and have done well and not so well at times. I have stretched myself in this way, gone out of my comfort zone and had to eventually make a decision that I would invest my time and energy into becoming the best coach I can be. When I do perform, I like to have a decent amount of time to prepare for it. I LOVE studio though - that's where you'll find me - singing, arranging, writing...
Is it true you can be to young to learn to sing?
I don't believe that's true, no. Every one can learn to sing, everyone can improve their musicianship at any age. Not every technical aspect of singing applies to every age, but every one can improve in some way, whether it's pitch, less strain, dynamic control, stylistic expression etc. For example, a young child generally won't have a vocal transition to deal with because voices that young are often very connected from bottom to top. Puberty brings its own set of vocal challenges that technique can be applied to specifically. Young children can definitely learn musicality, even if specific training techniques don't need to be applied to their voices.
Who are your favourite Australian women in music?
One of my absolute favourite voices is Vanessa Amorosi. I LOVE that she's Aussie and in my opinion, she is so underrated for how incredible her voice is!! Her talent, skill, style, engagement, strength of her chest, mix and head voice, ability to sing anything and not strain in any way - she astounds me! In her performance at the 2000 Olympic opener in Sydney, she held her last note for around 27 seconds in full, relaxed mix voice on a high C#5, D# and F. That's pretty crazy!!! She's a boss vocalist and I get the feeling she's not in it for the fame at all - I love how real she is, she's just herself in and out of the spotlight. Super genuine, super talented.
What is your favourite place in Australia?
It actually depends on what I feel like I need at the time. My favourite place is wherever I'm able to be quiet, take in nature or have an adventure, sit in the sun quietly in winter with a great view, have a great friend to share my heart with, swim in our amazing beaches, or walk through little mountain towns in autumn. Our country is absolutely gorgeous, so there is no one specific place that's my favourite, although I do LOVE a road trip down to the sapphire coast area (Narooma, Bermagui etc). I love beachside cafes and mountainside cafes. I have my fave that I visit from time to time :)