Ask A Cabaret Question at McElrath Cabaret–Do You Spend Time Daily Honing Your Cabaret Skills?–Join The Conversation!


Welcome to McElrath Cabaret–We hope you enjoy our cabaret blog!


Jazz and cabaret singer Paula West with “Fly Me To The Moon”–gorgeous vocal tone–enjoy!


Today’s cabaret question is this:


 Do you spend time daily honing your cabaret skills?


This is really the fun and creative part of becoming a cabaret entertainer.    And just like for the business side of cabaret, if you regularly devote time, anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour per day, you will eventually see improvements in your cabaret skills.


Here are some things you can do to hone your cabaret skills:


  • Take voice lessons and work on improving your vocal tone and breathing.
  • Take acting class and improve your work as an actor–after all, you are acting all the lyrics to your songs, and having the acting chops is a vital key to becoming a great cabaret entertainer.
  • Watch others when cabaret shows are in your area.
  • Make an investment in yourself, and get albums from great cabaret artists to listen to and learn from.  If your cabaret career is treated like a business, this is a tax write-off as part of your cabaret research for your business!
  • Learn to read music and become a good musician.  There are so many bad jokes about singers and their lack of musical knowledge that it is painful, so don’t be the butt of those jokes!  Get out there and take a music theory class or some lessons in the subject if you need to.
  • While you’re at it, if you haven’t already, learn some basic piano playing skills.  You don’t have to be a great player at all, but it is very helpful if you can read music well enough and are familiar enough with a keyboard to be able to pound out your part when you are learning new material, or working on harmonies if you work as part of a duo or trio.
  • Read excellent cabaret books.
  • Become familiar with a wider range of songs.  Go to your local library, or college music library, and read scores from Broadway musicals.  (While you’re at it, check out the corresponding libretto, too, so you know what the storyline is for the show.)  Sometimes you can find folios of music from films as well.  See if you can check them out, and if so, bring them home and challenge yourself to learn as many new songs as possible.
  • Learn how to do research for your cabaret shows.  Become friends with your reference librarians, and have them show you where to find the information that you need.  Find helpful websites for composers and lyricists, and learn about all the greats.
  • Get DVDs of famous cabaret entertainer’s shows.  There are some for Mabel Mercer, Bobby Short and Wallowitch and Ross on Netflix–hopefully others will be forthcoming.
  • Practice writing patter.
  • Practice delivering patter.  Saying it over and over in your head to memorize it is one thing, but actually getting it up on its feet and delivering it in a believable way to an audience is another–it takes practice to get it where you want it.
  • Learn how to work with a single piano for accompaniment when you sing, and as you have opportunity, learn how to work with a trio and a 7-piece band, or even a big band.  There are listening skills involved for you with the larger groups that you won’t get when it’s just you and a piano, but it is a learned skill.  One tip is to listen for the bass player–the root of the chord is usually in the bass, and by listening to the bass, even if you can’t always hear the rest of the rhythm section well, it often will be enough to keep you on track when you are singing.
  • Learn how to work with a microphone, and how to maneuver a mic cable around a stage so that you look professional and don’t trip yourself up on cables.  Learn how to deal with your microphone in relation to monitors and speakers so you don’t get feedback.
  • Learn how to be comfortable with 100 people watching you.  This is easier said than done, but with acting class you will learn skills that will allow you to stay in character, even if that character is yourself, even when you know every eye is on you.    That’s why you’re on stage, isn’t it–to have the audience on the edge of their seat, eyes glued to you, to see what you’re going to do next?  Hey, it’s what the audience wants, too–it’s called entertaining them!
  • Learn what to do when there are musical breaks in your songs.  What will you do when you are onstage and not singing?
  • Learn when you can take small, inconspicuous sips of water during your show.  Actually practice this, and when the best times are.
  • Practice sitting on stage in a graceful manner, and getting up off a stool or chair if you are seated at any point during your show.  If you are short like me, the height of the chair makes all the difference in the world in how you look when seated.  Practice getting up and down in your show clothes and shoes ahead of time for your show, and make adjustments as necessary.
  • Your cabaret show is a visual package that you present as well as a vocal one, so practice those skills that make you look good.  Hair and makeup are 2 that come to mind, and there are tons of YouTube videos to teach you any techniques or styles that you might wish to learn.
  • Learn some improvisation skills.  You need to learn to be able to “read” an audience, so you don’t lose their attention and so you can give them what they want.  Improv acting skills are tremendously helpful in helping to give you the skills to work with your audience as your scene partner, so to speak, so you can help to make them feel at ease and like they are all insiders to you and what you are doing onstage.
  • Learn how to deal with hecklers, drunks and other rude people from onstage.  Is there a polite way you can deal with them?  Sometimes there is, sometimes you might have to make your pointed point clear to them rather directly.
  • Practice being pleasant to work with–this is a skill that those around you will value often above all others, so pay attention to it.
  • Sing your songs at piano bars and open mics whenever you are given the opportunity.  Practice being ready to get up at a moment’s notice and being able to entertain a roomful of strangers.
  • Many, many more!

So how about you?   Do you spend time each day honing your cabaret skills?  Let us know down in the comments!


You can also leave a comment on LinkedInGoogle+Facebook or Twitter.  And you can always feel free to drop us a line, either in the comments below or send us a direct email, and let us know a cabaret question that you would like us to ask, and we’ll do our best to include it in an upcoming Wednesday post.  


I truly look forward to your joining the conversation with your comments! We value each of our readers very much, and hope to entertain you and give you a place to come and learn more about cabaret.


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We appreciate your support!

Till next time, 


Weekly Post Lineup At McElrath Cabaret:

Tuesdays:  Cabaret Tip Tuesday

Wednesdays:  Ask A Cabaret Question

Fridays:  Cabaret Through Time

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About Athena at McElrath Cabaret

Athena McElrath is an entertainer with a love for theatre and singing. She enjoys delving in the area of historical cabaret, researching the singers and clubs that were in business from before 1920 to the present, in New York and beyond.
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One Response to Ask A Cabaret Question at McElrath Cabaret–Do You Spend Time Daily Honing Your Cabaret Skills?–Join The Conversation!

  1. Liz Bacon says:

    Great info! Thank you!