As Head of the Commercial Performance discipline at Sheridan College, I am able to bring in guest artists for our studio/lab classes. We were so fortunate to have Natalie Weiss in to do a workshop in our Commercial Performance class this past fall. Natalie's ability to 'break down the riffs' reinforced the emphasis we place on tuning and artistry in performance. The students benefitted greatly from Natalie's vocal demonstrations and then her analysis of their strengths and weaknesses as they applied her suggestions. She was articulate, precise and encouraging, equally at home demonstrating the vocal approach or listening to the students and providing feedback.
I would love to have Natalie in to work with our fourth year students who are serious about refining their vocal agility and muscle memory for live and recorded performances.
- Mary-Lu Zahalan, MA Professor of Popular Music Theory and Performance at The Faculty of Animation, Arts and Design
"I am still reeling from today. Natalie is so dynamic to watch, and I've been getting nothing but positive feedback about the class. Obviously, she was born with this incredible voice, but she is an equally gifted teacher. I really hope she continues with the whole master class/vocal coaching thing. She has one hell of a set of ears, and I love that she is so technical in her approach to fixing vocal issues. None of this abstract talk or rainbows and butterflies or 'you want to see the notes flowing out of you' lol, but clear ideas with clear demonstrations. I LOVE this style of teaching! I prefer to teach this way as well.
She could be teaching pedagogy classes. Not kidding when I say this. Yeah, scientifically the names of the muscles are important and knowing what's physiologically happening at every point in the singing process is expected as a pedagogue, but most importantly, she has the ears and the ability to tell when something is and isn't right! I know a lot of scholars who can lecture and 'talk' about singing until their blue in the face but they can't demonstrate that process to save their life! A textbook definition can only take a teacher so far if they can't physically sing themselves.
For most singers, riffs are these mysterious entities. We see them in our music and skip to the next measure! Or muddle our way through until we can get to the next part of the song that feels 'normal' again-and for most singers this means 'one note for every word' lol! If you're like most of the students I come in contact with, you sing 3 of the 10 notes or just say f* it and skip the whole riff together!!!!
Not only do they look scary as hell on the page but they sound equally overwhelming. You KNOW when you are hearing a real riffer. There's an ease. A flexibility in the voice. A naturalness. A truly gifted riffer can make sense of the most beautiful musical phrases with no need for added text-the riff conveys and stirs more emotion than any set of words could.
Natalie is one of those gifted riffers that make singers truly envious of her skill and ability. Why is BDTR so useful and important? Because unlike the most famous riffers in the world , who seem to dangle their gift of riffing over our heads like we're undeserving of this special information, Natalie 'breaks' this mystery down for the average 'Joe'. She doesn't keep this a secret. She makes the overwhelming process of singing a riff manageable. Any singer can tell you that the process of singing is not easy and don't even get me started on the people who say, ' oh you sing?! How fun for you. Wish my job was that easy!' Singing, easy??? Clearly, they don't have a clue. The brain can only focus on so many things at a time. When you're in the process of singing, you're thinking about breath, placement, vowels, legato lines, text, character work, facial expression, etc! It's an insane amount of information to focus on. This is why developing an awesome vocal technique takes years to establish- you hope as the singer to make many of these items second nature and habitual. Much like the process to learning a solid vocal technique, learning how to riff is also a process. There are steps and ways of making the process less stressful, and Natalie has cracked the mystery.
The process in a nutshell:
1.) she plays the riff that will be studied for the 'non' riffer. They proceed to make faces, curse, and say I can't do that. They may even threaten to leave....it's all just too much.
2.) with bright red lips and lots of encouragement, Natalie convinces the singer that yes, they to, can learn the riff at hand.
3.) now comes the fun part. She breaks the long riff down into smaller segments/chunks. 4 notes per segment feel alot easier than 27! By numbering the notes in the riff we can hear the changes in patterns. It's not just 'ahhhhhhhiiiiahhhh' but 123/ 456/ down 1 23....this simple idea of numbering the notes is the key! After going real slow several times, we start to feel real proud of ourselves!
4.) after the singer has become more confident, Natalie uses a nonsense syllable like 'da' in place of the numbers so the riff can start sounding more like it should.
5.) after the singer has done this confidently, it's time to speed things up! Slowly but surely you speed it up!
6.) voila! You change to the right word or vowel of the original riff and you're ready to be squinting your face, waving your hand like a pro.
This process truly does work and makes this so manageable for singers at all levels and stages in their vocal process. It works and has been tested from the most beginner of singers to singers well into their careers. I'm calling it : BDTR will make the textbooks used in voice ped classes. The process of bdtr is so fun and enjoyable it's almost easy to forget that it's a legitimate and valuable method. Textbook worthy!"
-Katie Gornick M.M. Voice Performance and Pedagogy '10 Westminster Choir College and Senior Voice Instructor for The Allegra School of Music, Hillsborough, NJ
"I wanted to thank you again for coming to Oakland and being so honest and genuine with everyone here in your workshop. I really appreciated your ability to critique us in a positive, upfront, no BS kind of way. It's really valuable to find, and be able to see or work with someone like that. Thank you again!!"
- Helena Thompson, Oakland University class of 2016
"Natalie Weiss provided our students in Music Theatre with an amazing master class! She helped our students improve in their vocal technique, presentational style, connection to text, and her 'Breaking Down the Riffs' was highly entertaining and incredibly useful! Natalie created a wonderful and caring rapport with our students and her ability to demonstrate a variety of styles vocally was outstanding. She has an infectious spirit which is captivating, and she has the ability to help bring out the best in students very quickly."
- Paul Aikins, Head of Music Theatre Department at Etobicoke School of the Arts
"Working with Natalie was refreshing. I was afraid that I would just be told that I wouldn't be able to belt. Instead, she was able to locate the problem immediately, and had many exercises that helped me realize what I need to work on. This will help me with everything, from legit singing to just speaking text. I believe that by using what I learned in Natalie's masterclass, I will be able to make leaps and bounds of improvement with my musical theatre singing technique. I am definitely interested in pursuing more coaching sessions with her because she has a wonderful balance between professionalism and an understanding of the struggles of a musical theatre actor/actress. I would recommend Natalie to anyone who was looking to improve their musical theatre singing or acting, be it working on their book, figuring out a placement/resonance issue, or even just finding different ways to interpret various pieces."
- Kayla O'Keefe, Shenandoah Conservatory class of 2011
"Natalie's understanding of pop/contemporary vocal styling is superb. She introduced me to many new concepts that I will explore and experiment with along with my classical vocal technique in order to become a more well-rounded vocalist in all genres. She created a fun, comfortable, and focused atmosphere and has a wonderful ability to pinpoint and alter voice placement and resonance. One can see what a wonderful technician she is during her performances filled with brilliant musicality and sincerity."
- Michael Ehlers, Shenandoah class of 2012
"Since I began working with Natalie not only has my voice improved exponentially but my ability as a musician improved as well. She makes things fun and easy to understand which is everything a great teacher needs to do."
- Kelsey Kabinoff, Drew University class of 2012
"I've had the pleasure of a one-hour coaching session with Natalie Weiss, during which we looked at various audition material. She taught me a few warm-ups that I still use on a regular basis, and made various valuable corrections to my technique. By the end of an hour, I already began to notice some changes to my belt range, in particular. My range felt more free, and my higher notes more comfortable--whereas, I had been straining before. I would highly recommend Natalie Weiss as a coach, and I look forward the opportunity to have a coaching session with her again!"
- Chrysti Petrozzi, Flagler College class of 2012
"Natalie really focused on the fact that the basis of any song presentation is the storyline of the piece. Through just a few, small adjustments, Natalie really shed some new light on the acting moments of my song, and as a result, the sound produced was tremendously different. It was no longer about the song, but rather about the scene created BY the song. Natalie understands that within the realm of Musical Theatre, the Acting is JUST as important as the Singing. Her approach was unbelievably beneficial and completely refreshing!"
- Schyler Conaway, Shenandoah class of 2011
"Natalie electrified the students at Shenandoah Conservatory when she came for two days of master classes, private coachings, and a performance. Her advice to singers, particularly those who are learning to belt, produced instant results. She brings a youthful energy that the students really relate to, and she knows what she's talking about when she works with young talent."
- Jonathan Flom, Director of Musical Theatre, Shenandoah Conservatory
Author: Get the Callback: The Art of Auditioning for Musical Theatre
"Natalie is wonderful to work with. Not only is she amazing at working with students on pop styles and riffing, but she can also help so much with the belt and legit voices. Natalie also encourages students to really know what they are singing about, and helps them get the scenario of their song down. She was so helpful to me throughout my college audition process. She knows about auditions and can connect you to students to talk to about different programs. I have loved working with Natalie and look forward to continuing working with her in the future."
- Conner Wayne Milam, Penn state class of 2013
"I began working with Natalie in my Junior year as a last minute preparation for an audition at the University of Michigan for the highly competitive MPulse Musical Theatre Summer Workshop. I had no idea what to sing, or how to sing it. I was so clueless that I thought legit music was music that you paid for. Natalie changed all of that in a matter of hours. She found an audition piece that suited my voice, helped me with a 32 bar cut and worked intensely with me leading up to that audition. The end result... I was accepted! My relationship with Natalie did not end there. As I prepared for college auditions, Natalie worked closely with me to discover parts of my voice that I never knew I had. Her keen insight, and knowledge coupled with her sense of humor and honesty proved to be the perfect recipe for progress. Mostly, Natalie gave me the confidence that brought me success in my college auditions. I can honestly say that I do not believe I would have succeeded without her coaching, undying support, and friendship. Anyone who is lucky enough to study with Natalie will carry that experience forever."
- Celia Hottenstein, Boston Conservatory class of 2013
"It was an other worldly experience to be able to talk with and listen to Natalie Weiss. I have admired her artistry for years and it was so fulfilling to explore her process. Her Masterclass helped me to understand that words are king. They words help inform intention, technique, and interpretation. As a person who is always so concerned with the way I sound, she aided me in understanding that connectivity with people comes from your own intentions, not how others want you to portray something. I am so grateful for this unforgettable experience."
- Jeremiah Tyson, Louisiana State University Class of 2020
"The thing I loved and found so refreshing about Natalie was her transparency. In just a few moments of listening to her process, you get the sense that her craft is a part of her. It is reflected in her repertoire selections, her iconic phrasing and the way she approaches singing in general. The music world is full of phenomenal vocalists who can entice an audience with their vocal tone. What is so special about Natalie (and what keeps you coming back for more) is that you can feel there is something raw and personal in what she produces. It isn't just about the perfect music theatre placement or her seamless control over the vocal registers (signs of a consummate technician which were evident during a portion of the class where she revisited her classical training from college) it's that it is so organic. A specific point she brought up was that a successful performance isn't simply 'good' or just pretty. There is tension, there is motivation. There is pain and desire aching to be expressed, and you have to allow them to manifest physically (to an extent). These are the attributes that, once understood and executed in an ideal balance, transform a singer into an artist. Natalie showed us what the soul of an artists sounds and acts like."
- Caleb Massie, Louisiana State University Class of 2016
"Aside from being an absolutely incredible vocalist and musician, today Natalie Weiss showed everyone just how genuine, encouraging, and innovative she is an educator."
- Andrew Mullet, Louisiana State University Class of 2016
follow Natalie on Instagram
follow Natalie on Twitter