Monday, December 29, 2014

Top Blogs of Healthy and Confident Singing Voice in 2014

As the year draws to a close, it is fun to revisit the best of topics of the year (isn't that why they summarize the year so often on television?).  Seriously, it is interesting to look at.  The top 5 prevalent topics of Healthy and Confident Singing for 2014 are:

1. Sick But Singing December 2014

2. Vocal Color- How it Makes YOU Unique November 2014

3. Mind Control and Singing: "It's All in the Mind" October 2014

4. Just a Few More Reasons Singing is Good for You: Stress Relief, Self Esteem... October 2014

5. Yoga and Balance are Synonymous. How Can Yoga and Balance Help Your Singing? April 2014

Honorable Mention: Reasons Why You Need to Sing Everyday! March 2014

Are there any topics YOU would like to see addressed in 2015?  Questions that you would like answered related to singing?  Let me know by clicking here: Contact Me  Visit my website for more informationVisit My Website for more information or sign up to receive my blog!

I look forward to a WONDERFUL 2015 filled with singing!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Happy Holidays to All and Happy Singing!!

Fa la la la la, la la la la!!  'Tis the season of caroling and singing!  Happy Holidays to all!

Remember to take time for yourself and take time to enjoy the magic of the season.  Sing your favorite Christmas carols, practice for the Holiday Concert, listen to Christmas music on the radio, make sure you find time for one concert (or listen to a recording) of Messiah, add some Manheim Steamroller or Holiday Rock if that is more your style.  Music shares the meaning of this holiday season!

Musicians are the makers of holiday traditions and getting people in the holiday spirit.  We get so caught up in our craft that sometimes we forget to just plain enjoy the music.  Take a moment before or during that next concert to 'drink in' the holiday spirit and truly appreciate the beauty of the music of the holidays.  Whether it be the religious or secular aspect of the season, music really puts the icing on the cake of the holidays.

When you are stressed about how you are going to get everything done before the holiday, frustrated with the traffic at the mall, or worried you are going to be late to get to your next rehearsal, take a minute and close your eyes (or just breathe if you are driving) and sing your favorite holiday song, find a holiday station on the radio or a Pandora station.  Enjoy the wonders and magic of the season with the thing that drives us all into the spirit, MUSIC!

Stay tuned for a summary of the hottest singing topics from 2014 and sign up to receive my blog and

Monday, December 15, 2014

Make Your Practice More Productive

We are all in a time crunch at this time of year. So many performances, shopping to get done, social engagements, finals at school, snowstorms to weather.

How do you make the most of the time that you have to practice singing?  Take time to do a few things and you will get so much done in less time!  Try these tips.

1.  Establish a practice space and eliminate all distractions from the room (phone, tv)

2.  Get your body and mind ready.
- Stretch your neck, arms, legs.
- Do a 'rag doll' by flopping forward bending over your legs and take a few deep breaths in and out.  Release any tension through your fingertips.
- Do a 'tree pose' to extend your spine and calm you mentally.  (Make sure you do this on both sides)

3.  Follow a 5-10 minute vocal warm-up (Spend time finding 4-5 exercises that warm your voice up well quickly).

4. Isolate exactly what you are going to work on in your practice on your repertoire and focus on that 1 or 2 things.
-Are you working out your breaths, phrasing, pronunciation, interpretation?
-Focus on only 1 at a time.  If you master that, move on to another.

5. Sing through the whole of the selection you are working on.  Assess how you did.

6. Did the work you did stick?  Make notes to yourself as to what you need to work on the next day.  Is it the same or should you now work on phrasing or interpretation.  Write down a note or two and when you will practice next.

By focusing and getting right to task (that ideally is selected before you get to your practice space), you minimize messing around with non-singing tasks and can get a lot accomplished with your practice time.

If you have more time (maybe in between Christmas and New Year's?), take time to explore new things, improvisation, sing through old repertoire just because, or figure out what you want to use for your next audition.  The beauty of music is creating it and perfecting it and freedom to explore new paths our icing to the cake!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Sick but Singing? "Tis the Season to be....."

Tis the season to be jolly, fa la la la laaaah...oh boy, I'm sick. The holiday season is filled with singing, concerts, and shows.  What do you do if you find yourself sick?  Despite our best efforts to stay healthy, sometimes we do catch that cold.

First take a minute and assess if you have to do the performance or not.  If you are in the chorus, maybe you can back off a little bit on a song or two.  If you are the soloist or lead maybe not.  If it hurts when you are singing, really take a moment to re-evaluate your technique.  If the show must go on.....

Be Smart

Take care of yourself physically.  Get extra sleep, drink lots of water, wash your hands, take extra vitamin C, stay warm, avoid talking if you don't need to.  Do anything that will support your immune system and get you better.

Take care of yourself mentally.  Think about what you can and cannot do about the situation and get a little mental R & R.  Don't go overboard with the ramifications, just make a plan.

Take some time to take an unemotional and honest look at how the sickness is affecting your voice. Sore throats often lead to a raised larynx and reduce vocal power and resonance.  Swelling of the mucous membranes absorb some of your sound and affect your resonance.  If the cold has gone to your chest, it may impact your ability to rapidly fill your lungs for good breath support.  General aches can impair your endurance.  Figure out how this illness if affecting your singing.

After you do this, make rational adjustments.  Reduce your expectations a little bit.  You may not sound as you usually do.  Maybe that high C is not going to be as loud as you know it can be, maybe you need to add a few breaths into phrasing to help you, maybe you need to increase your support or warm up for more time than usual.  It is best to get through a performance by singing on cue and in tune than worry about subtle changes.  Showing up and showing professionalism is part of a singer's life and everyone will understand.  In the meantime do your best to relieve your symptoms and get better so you can do your best on that day!  Remind yourself that you will wake up again tomorrow and the next time you sing you will be well and astound everyone!

Many singing greats have had to make the show go on and admit they learned something from singing with a cold.  Opera singer, Renee Fleming, states in her autobiography that she truly learned to sing when she was sick.  She could no longer cheat on my technique and get away with it, she had to listen to her body and trust her technique to get her through.

This is not encouraging you to sing if you are very sick or if your throat hurts, but a means to help you get through it when you need to.  Of course, the ideal would be to take care of yourself to the point that you never get sick (but let's be realistic, we do), but be smart if the show must go on.

Dr. Jahn's Advice (Professor of Clinical Otolaryngology at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and author for Classical Singer):

-Make a realistic appraisal of whether you really need to sing or can cancel.
-Make an unemotional checklist of how your vocal production is impaired
-Develop a strategy for working around those impairments,
-Use medications and adjustments in technique
-Accept a philosophical attitude toward a temporary setback

Stay healthy and smart about your singing!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Does the Vocal Color of Your Voice Impact Being Cast in a Role? What Else?

Does the color of your voice impact being cast in a role?  A resounding yes!  Can the director hear your voice singing a particular part?  It not only comes down to what voice part you generally sing, but does your voice have the qualities or colors to sing a particular role.  There are many varieties of sopranos, mezzo-sopranos, and altos.  Can this mezzo alter her vocal color to do a British accent for Nancy in Oliver or become very nasal to sing Adelaide in Guys and Dolls?  Can this soprano sing a pure, clear tone as wanted for Sarah in Guys and Dolls or Maria in West Side Story?  The vocal color Mother Nature gave you can be played with a little bit within a box of coloration, but not taken totally out of the box.  To think about it visually, there are different shades of blue, none of which can become yellow.  A mezzo-soprano voice can do both Nancy and Adelaide with technique, training, and experimentation with a trained professional, but probably is not really capable of singing the role of Queen of the Night!

What else comes into play?  We must not only sound the part, but also sort of look the part.  Yes, stature and looks to take a role in casting. In Oliver, you cannot have a short Nancy and a tall Oliver. Some physical features can be changed and you may be asked to do so by wearing a wig or dying your hair color, but they cannot drastically change your vocal color.

Other factors come in as well of course- can you act the part?  How is your reading?  How is your monologue if required?  How do you interact with the other actors auditioning? If there is a dance audition, can you dance the part?  If it is a tap show, do you tap?

The best thing you can do is prepare yourself to be YOUR best!  Prepare your song vocally, delivery of the song, refresh your dance moves and your acting skills.  Take singing, acting, and dance lessons on an ongoing basis. If that is too tough to manage with your time, focus on your primary strength and then find a way to rotate the others in by doing a Musical Theater Audition Workshop or add lessons during the summer months.  Happy Auditioning!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Vocal Color- How it Makes YOU Unique

Each person has their own individual singing voice which is determined by many factors, most of which is the distinct composition of each person's body.  Vocal color is created in each individual.  One of the beauties of singing is the uniqueness of of each voice.  Since every person is built differently, resonators shaped individually, stature, background, ethnicity, native language, it makes your sound different from anyone else.  Sure commonalities exist- 2 sisters might sound similar just as they look similar, but you can still tell a slight difference in vocal color, a singer may be able to imitate another, but is that their true vocal color?

Vocal color is distinctive timbre of the voice, a voiceprint as unique as a fingerprint. 
-Charles Riley, Classical Singer Magazine

In most gifted singers, color is like a Hollywood star's face which, no matter what the role may be, has a signifying presence.  Brian Zeger of Julliard Opera and the Lincoln Center

The palette of color of one's voice comes from using the resonances in the mask and head to color the vowels.  This is where you find your true sound.  Of course we can imitate others, but our own sound still shines through.  A good voice teacher can see through the technical hurdles of a beginning singer to fine the vocal color that is hidden within and possesses the tools to unearth the true color by removing those obstacles.  Then they add the final step of maximizing resonance so the vocal color can be heard clearly and consistently.  In other words, a good teacher can help you find and maximize YOUR true vocal color.

We all have a starting palette and should explore with in Mother Nature's realm what singing voice was given to us!  Singers who have good technique find there is a range of shades within their natural vocal color to draw upon. They sing an art song with a slightly different color than an aria or a Broadway tune.

As every body is different, so is every voice, and the color is strongly affected by the shape of the resonators, the facial bones and hollows, and the body supporting the voice.  Technique and musical choices naturally affect it, but the initial color is always going to remain unique to the singer. Nicole Cabell, singer at the Metropolitan Opera

Every great artist has a rainbow of fundamental colors available to him or her, but must remain faithful to what Mother Nature gave him or her genetically.  Rutenberg

In this day and age of technical perfection and over correction in the recording studio, we must be aware that too much editing can take away the natural vocal color making a voice unique.  Uniqueness sets a voice apart from the rest and create a 'diamond in the ruff'.  Go find and develop YOUR vocal colors.  www.susanandersbrizick

Monday, November 10, 2014

2 Plank Challenge: The Results are In!

So, after a few weeks of adding 2 planks to your daily practice, what happened?

I noticed I started supporting my singing from my abdominal muscles immediately upon doing my warm-ups.  A plank activates the abdominal muscles to do exactly what we want them to do when singing:  contract lightly but firmly.  It also activates the quadriceps or front muscles of the legs. Engaging these muscles when standing helps us activate the internal abdominal muscles and provide adequate breath support to our sound.

My brain also was truly focused on singing from the start.  1 or 2 minutes of concentration on a muscular task also calms the brain.  Instead of trying to calm it down to focus all on your own, physical motion helps you.

It also calms and slows down your breath from our quick paced world.

Comments from my studio:

"The planks help me develop a stronger core which I can feel."

"A tighter belly creates more breath support which is therefore easier on my throat when singing.  I always want to start my sound in the throat without using my breath first.  This is helping me to break this habit."

"My core is getting stronger to use it and guide my air better."

"I am connecting with my breath more now when I sing."

Thank you to all of you who commented on my blog The 2 Plank Challenge-What-does-doing-2 planks before singing do for you?  Most singing teachers agree that adding planks and other physical activities help singers be more in tune with their bodies and improve singing. Here are a few comments which stood out to me:

"I've been advising my clients for years to do the Plank Challenge in order to build up their core strength - very effective :-)" Kim Chandler

"After I took up triathlon, I noticed a huge difference in my singing. More power in the voice, better breath control. In my studio, through the years, I have often had my students to planks and other core building exercises. For inactive students I highly recommend they take up an activity the will build their aerobic capacity, as well. Our bodies are our instrument and we can shape them to be better for singing."  Elizabeth Rotoff

"I have been having my students planking for a year, I have been doing it for a long time. The results are immediate: even on days when they are a bit under the weather, after planking for 30-40 seconds, the breath connects with the body and the vocal results never cease to amaze! HIGHLY recommended..."  Angela Ahiskal 

Each individual is unique so various approaches work for different people.  Singers who are also athletes may need less direction on support and dancers often already have tight core muscles which may need to be relaxed when singing.  Those who are not as physically active outside of singing may need to take more time to get in tune with their bodies.  Physical fitness is an important part of being a singer today.  Find the activities that work for you to keep improving your singing and truly get your voice and body coordinated to make YOUR best sound.  Keep up the plank challenge and let me know other things which help you! 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Mind Control and Singing - "It's All in the Mind". A Look at the Science of Singing.

Singing is a complex act which so many of us enjoy.  So much of it takes place in the mind and then the body responds.  In singing, we learn many things involving the complexities of our brains and muscular movement.   There are two main ways the mind can control the body: neural (actions of nerves) and hormonal (chemincal pathway).

1. Neural Mechanisms (nerves and direct communication between the brain and nerves and muscles)

The craft of singing involves making reflexive muscular movements conscious or voluntary.  A reflexive movement is something that the body does without us thinking about it such as the heart beating.  A conscious movement is something our mind tells our body to do such as reach for the water bottle and pick it up.

One of the main reflexive movements we learn to make voluntary is the lowering of the position of the larynx to sing. Singing teachers discuss the idea of yawning, but stopping the yawn before it happens or relax the larynx and 'open the throat' on the inhalation and keep it that way during singing.  This is a learned response that we make voluntary by retraining the brain to send the message and training our muscles to do so.

Another main reflexive response that singers learn to control with their mind to make it a voluntary movement involves breath control.  We innately breathe (unconscious or reflexive muscular activity).  In singing, we learn to control the breath and the length of inhale, rate of exhaling to sustain a phrase, and keeping the breath relaxed and low.  This mindful control of our breath also affects our posture and relaxation of muscles in our neck, shoulders, etc.

There are of course also other muscle actions which we are consciously aware of that we learn to coordinate with the reflexive responses above including contracting the abdominal muscles to initiate breath support, and keeping an open rib cage.  Our mind controls so much!

By consciously having our brain send these new signals, we reset the norm for our body when we sing- "a low larynx for singing" and "low, relaxed breath with tall, open posture".

2. Hormonal Mind Control

The brain also releases chemicals to our body in response to things it experiences.  This occurs in the mindful brain (the cortex) of the hypothalamus.  It converts electrical impulses from the higher brain centers into chemical substances.  It is how performance anxiety, excitement, or depression affects vocal performance.  The chemicals emitted by the hypothalamus affect how our bodies respond to these situations.  Here we must work on training the brain to consciously send signals to parts of the vocal tract that were previously affected, and become consciously aware of the signals these body parts send back to the brain. '

 The emotional brain influences the momentary artistry of performance' (A. Jahn, Classical Singer, 2009).  In other words, the chemistry that happens in our body at the moment affects our singing at that time.  Through time and experience, each individual learns their bodies response to performance situations.  Some are nervous and therefore adrenaline kicks in.  When adrenaline is channeled into nervous energy and excitement rather than the fear that the voice will crack, it can be a positive influence on the actual sound that is created.  If a singer knows that this is happening, they can learn how to use that energy (or chemical response) to their advantage.  Nervousness can be channeled into excitement and energy to benefit the performance (just like a 5 year olds excitement about something can be consciously channeled into productive time) with repeated experiences.  The more one performs. the better they learn to control their individual bodies response to stress or nerves.  The better prepared a singer is with the musical material, the easier it is to channel it into positive energy.

The more in sync our bodies are with our minds, the better our singing can be!  Take the time to get to know YOUR body and mind and how they interact to make your best music every!

Visit my website for more singing information.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

2 Plank Challenge: What does doing 2 planks for 30-60 Seconds Before Practicing Do for You (or your students)?

I have a challenge to all singers out there, add 2 planks of 30-60 seconds a piece before practicing.  It is ideal to to this on your toes, but on knees is a good start.  Try adding this to the beginning of practicing for a week or two.  Take note if anything and what changes about your singing.  Write it down and then process, what does this do for your singing?

Try it and then respond.  Then check back in.  I will post more thoughts in 2 weeks.

As always, more tips on becoming more 'in tune' with your singing!  Check out my website for more information Happy singing!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Social and Intellectual Growth is Positively Influenced by Musical Study

"Social growth comes from discovering how to express oneself, understanding others and learning from mistakes.  All of the arts- performance and visual- help with social growth and paying attention to detail, time on task, and perseverance, while also providing intellectual growth."  The Arts Key in Kids, Teens' Development, Kids Chester County by L. Tobin

This quote really hit home for me. Music feeds our souls to grow emotionally, socially, intellectually, and physically.  October is National Arts and Humanities Month.  As parents and teachers, we are always looking for ways to help our students (and kids) grow academically, socially, and physically in our ever changing world.  This statement addresses many areas in which people need to excel in to be successful in life.  Here is how music, specifically singing, helps achieve them:

For Social Growth

Being able to express oneself. 

It is so important for people to be able to share what they are feeling with their words and to express what they are truly thinking.  This is paramount for social development.  Musical study can enhance this as, especially with singing, we teach students to express the meaning of the words in a song. Whether it be a Shakespeare poem set to music or a Broadway tune, the performance of a song is enhanced and not complete until the singer can express the emotion of the character or text.  It is the 'icing on the cake'.

This transfers over into a student being able to connect with their emotions (how do THEY also feel about the text) and interpret the meaning of the words written by another (see below).  Not only can they connect with their own emotions better, but understand others better.

Understand others.

Interpreting the meaning of the text of a song is essential to voice lessons.  It helps students relate to the words of others and be in touch with their emotions.  Individual musical study involves understanding the music, the composer, and the teacher.

This translates over into better understanding other peoples feelings and reactions in their everyday life.

Learn from mistakes.

Music lessons teach a student to constantly improve upon their musical skills.  Of course we first focus on learning the notes and rhythm of a song.  We then move on to make sure these skills are completely accurate and learn from any mistakes we may have made.  We learn phrasing and are constantly improving our skills.  It is an art in and of itself to process constructive criticism in musical study which in turn helps our students accept and process critiques in the working world.

For Intellectual Growth

Pay attention to detail.

In any music lesson, paying attention to detail is essential.  What is the time signature, key signature, or dynamic marking?  How fast should the piece go?  What does the composer mean by these markings?

Fast forward to a business situation and putting together a Power Point Presentation or practicing medicine where you are trying to diagnose what is wrong with a patient.  You must pay attention to detail to do each and not let anything fall through the cracks.

Time on task.

Practicing for music lessons at home demonstrates the ability to stay focused and on task (as does time in the lesson).  This develops our ability to focus and follow through to the end of a project (both musically and professionally).


Polishing a song to the point in which it can be performed flawlessly and communicated to the audience is perseverance.  Preparing a song for an audition shows follow through and dedication.   Follow through to the end of a project or presentation in the work world is another intellectual skill we need in the adult world.

So, parents, keep seeking out music and arts lessons for your kids and teachers, please use this information to promote musical lessons or participation in your arts programs.  The arts teach so many things in addition to the beauty of the masterpiece we create!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Just a Few More Reasons Why Singing is Good for You! Stress Relief, Self Esteem, Pain Management.....

We all know that singing just plain makes us feel good.  Why?  There are many reasons both physical and psychological.

Singing uses deep belly breathing which calms the nerves and takes out of the 'flight or fight' mode of stress.

We live in a world of stress, often not taking time for ourselves or continuing to push through hectic times instead of taking a moment to breathe.  When we sing, we use our deep belly breaths (or diaphragmatic breathing.  When we do this, we relieve stress, and slow or stop the stress hormones that are released in our bodies.  Try practicing when you start to get stressed from studying for a test- it will calm your nerves.

Singing also reduces our blood pressure, relaxes our muscles, and increases brain function.

The breath used in singing lowers our blood pressure and relaxes our muscles.  When we are more relaxed, our brain functions better.  We can clearly think through things as the rapidity of our thought slows down.  (We process 60,000-90,000 thoughts per day.  When we breathe and relax, thought production slows to be closer to 60,000  This is more manageable than 90,000 as our brain can thoroughly process the thought, not jump to another before one is finished) Armstrong, Doyle, Carroll Wellness

When we are more relaxed, not only do our brains function better, but so do our bodies.

When using relaxed breathing, our muscles get in sync better with one another.  We sing better, which then in turn again makes us feel good!

Singing can improve self esteem.

From the example above, see that we sing better and therefore feel good about ourselves. This translates into other areas of our lives that we improve self esteem and self confidence.

Performance arts, such as singing, allow for self expression.

When singing a song, you are expressing the text of the song, but also adding your own personal interpretation.

Singing has been proven to enhance well-being, reduce feelings of pain, and even prolong life. (The Arts Key in Kids, Teens' Development) L. Tobin

We all have a song that we listen to or sing that just plain makes us feel good whether it be an angry song or a feel good place.  When we SING it we slow our breaths and breathe deeply thus enhancing our stress release, pain, and love of life!

"Studies have linked singing with a lower heart rate, decreased blood pressure, and reduced stress despite the ability level of the singer." L.Tobin

No matter if you are singing alone or in the choir, the physical sensations of deeper breathing, and resonant qualities of singing help one feel better.

The next time you are feeling stressed, go sing and let some of the stress out!!!

Visit for more information regarding singing and singing lessons.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

How Do We Get Organized to Practice Now That Fall is in Full Swing?

I don't know about you, but summer flew by and now I find we are in the throws of the full schedule of fall!  What a great time, but how do we fit practicing into that crazy schedule?  Take a moment and breathe!  We have had a couple of weeks of what our fall schedules will be.

Sit down and organize yourself and think about these things. 

-Where do you have that extra time?  Certain days or time frames?
-Are there certain days that you have more time than others?
-When do you become stressed with your studies? Would it be beneficial to take time out as a break to practice when studying for that Geometry test?
-Is there time that you idly waste on Facebook or Instagram that could be tweeked?
-Do you have an extra long bus or car ride at some point in the day?

Once you have identified some places that you have a little extra time (or could make time):

-Pencil in a 30 minute practice session into your planner
  (If you have a math test that you want to study for 2 hours for, mark a 30 minute break to practice 1 hour into it!)
-Move yourself to your practice space
-Turn off/ignore all other outside influences
-Warm up using the exercises from your lesson
-Practice for 30 minutes (or more if you are motivated)

If your time is in a space that is not quiet or not conducive to sing out loud:

-Pull out your music,look at it, and 'silently' practice
-Think through the song
-Mark in your breaths and dynamics
-Write out the lyrics and work on your interpretation
-Work on your pronunciation
-Work on memorizing the words and phrasing

To focus your practice time even more:

-Write down exactly what your teacher wants you to work on in each song (phrasing, pronunciation, breath support, vowel space) at your lesson so your practice sessions are mapped out
-Pick one thing to work on that day and if have time move onto the other

The more you plan out your practice sessions, the more productive you will be in a shorter amount of time!  PRACTICING individual techniques and ideas rather than just SINGING your song is a sure way to progress faster.

As an added tip, end your practicing with just singing a song for fun!

Happy practicing and happy singing!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Allergies and Singing in Summer! Do you feel like you 'suddenly have allergies'? Is it affecting your singing?

"I am sick again" or "Is it me or are allergies just awful this year?"  I keep hearing these questions from my students in voice lessons.  Many don't think they have allergies because they have not had them before.  Maybe they are just more sensitive to allergic tendencies now that they are singing regularly and depend on their bodies as their instruments.  Others know they do and for some reason the way they have dealt with them in the past is not working this year.

I was astonished when I read an article in my May 2014 Self Magazine entitled "Are These Making You Sick?".  I too have been feeling my allergies act up and actively starting using a Neti Pot to help combat my symptoms, but here was actually proof that we are not nuts!  Skyrocketing allergen levels may be to blame.  Why?

Climate conditions have changed making plants like ragweed pollinate earlier and die later according to Leonard Bielory, MD, professor at Rutgers University.  If pollen is being produced earlier and last longer, there is more time for it to bug you.

Think about all of the severe types of weather we have encountered in the last couple of years:  in the Northeast we have had many severe thunderstorms, a weird hail storm, an extremely cold and wet winter, Superstorm Sandy last summer, the weather abnormalities keep adding up. In the case of Sandy, Dr. Bielory says "the storm saturated the ground and provided extra nutrients that acted like steroids on many pollen-bearing plants."

In cities, now urban planners are adding trees to the environment which shed lots of pollen.

In summary, more (quantity and types) of pollen are being added to the environment for longer periods of time so you may find yourself with itchy eyes, running nose, and congestion (the number of seasonal allergy sufferers has DOUBLED in the last 2 decades according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America).

Crazy but true, so okay, now what can you DO to help yourself?

Pay attention to your body and its signals.  If you are starting to feel your allergy symptoms respond to them by:

- Wash your hands (and hair) frequently and don't rub your eyes

- Minimize outdoor time at peak pollen times (first thing in the morning)

- Eat well  (salmon and walnuts, arugula, kale, cilantro, onions, radicchio may help prevent immune cells from releasing histamines which may reduce your symptoms)

- Drink your H20 and try a little green tea

- Pay attention to any foods which make your throat itchy or irritated. What is in the food may cross-react with the allergens in the air.  (ragweed allergy- may be sensitive to cantaloupe, zucchini, cucumbers or birchwood allergy you may be sensitive to carrots, celery, parsley, apples)  Food allergies are a completely different subject but you may be sensitive due to your airborne allergies!

- Find your triggers (either by paying attention to when you sneeze or get that allergy test!)

- Be vigilent about cleaning  triggers can be indoor airborne allergens or things brought in from outside)

- Use saline nose spray or a neti pot to rinse out allergens trapped in your nose.  Find an allergy medicine to help you if that alone does not do the trick

- Get lots of sleep and try to reduce your stress levels.  Meditation or yoga may actually help reduce inflammation!

Allergies when not taken care of slowly turn to colds or sinus infections which cause even more problems.  Take care of yourself from the onset of your allergy symptoms so you can continue to sing with ease!  Also, rest assured, you are not crazy if you feel like you 'suddenly have allergies'.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Analyze This! Musical Theater (or Opera) is Not My Passion. WHY Should I Learn the Music? What Analyzing the Music Can Do for You!

There are so many styles and facets of singing that people often wonder, "Why should I learn this style of music?  Why will it benefit me?"  I often get asked that question when I present a young student with a musical theater or folk song piece.  Many jump at the chance to do Broadway but balk at the concept that it is 'legit' or from the Rogers and Hammerstein era or a song that they have never heard before.  It is not what they are familiar with, so why should they learn that style?  I like to re-phrase the question to be 'Why Not?' and 'What can I learn from it?'.

Specifically, one can learn so much from working on a song from musical theater.  Not only are we learning the notes and lyrics, but we delve into character development and what we are trying to convey or communicate (dramaturgy)!  It is often an easier avenue to approach these concepts through musical theater than folk song or art songs or opera.  It is often a great caveat to operatic study as the voice develops, matures, and helps the student to understand the value of the study of the opera as a whole not just their individual aria.  We dig deeper than just the notes on the page and make the difference of "mediocre and truly great performers" (in all realms of musical performance). (Classical Singer, 10/2009)  If we start with our own native language when studying character and historical study of a song (or aria), we can start a complicated analysis process with something that is easy to relate to for a beginning student.  We just have to carefully select the repertoire so that it is vocally and age appropriate.

To understand the seriousness of this kind of study, let's visit the practice of dramaturgy in opera houses.  If an opera house is very lucky, they have their own dramaturg coach.  If not, a very good director who understands the process.  Study of this nature helps to identify questions of who what , when, where, why, and how, and place each singer's role in the context of the opera as a whole.  If you look at the music from all angles- music history, socio-cultural context, and where the material comes from (a poet or original libretto) you can fully 'inhabit' their characters.  Read more about this process at "Analyze This" Classical Singer, October 2009.

This is a brilliant concept!  Full research of a musical piece give the most benefit to authentically perform any role or repertoire of choice.  If you get under the skin of the text and make it second nature and part of you physically, it catches the whole audience (even the squirming 10 year old!). Through research you find the true roots of the music and then can add your own interpretation.  It is the ultimate to prepare a role (opera or musical theater) or song in general!

In operatic study, we read the libretto (full script), translate it word for word (or interpret the older English translation), study the composer's true intent of how he set the words to the music, form ideas of the character and stylize and characterize the music (of course after we have learned all of the pitches and rhythms).  Why not do this with other repertoire before our voices are developed enough to sing opera?

If we start with our native language we skip one step but still need to interpret the poetry and lyrics. If we start this study with more contemporary literature or literature that has topics that are easy to relate to, we can create a process of how we learn vocal literature and authentically perform it- make the difference between an okay performance and a GREAT performance.  As voice study progresses and the repertoire difficulty level increases we then can apply the process and be motivated to research and understand music and repertoire history of long ago that might be difficult to understand in early study. Think of it this way, we don't start reading Shakespeare as we first learn to read, but read stories of young girls and boys that we can relate to.

In today's world, opera is a regarded as musical theater because 'just stand there and sing' doesn't exist. You must act and do it well to get that role!  So by doing dramatugic study of all of our songs we are doing ourselves and our audiences a favor! Not only do we learn the ins and outs of what the composer really was trying to communicate, but we can deliver it to our audience with full gusto!

If you can learn to fully inhabit a role by this kind of study it 'adds another layer to the onion' that unfolds to the audience as an outstanding performance!  Give it a try and see what happens to your performance!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Should I Sing in the Next Voice Recital? Benefits to Doing it!

"Should I sing in the next voice recital?" I often get asked.  The answer is a resounding' "Yes!"

Why Sing for my Voice Studio's Recital?  There are many benefits!

- An Opportunity to Share With Others: You get a chance to share the music you have been working on. - Learning Attention to Detail: You go through the process of fine tuning a piece to the point that you are comfortable singing it in front of others.
- Communication Skills: You learn how to truly communicate the meaning of a song in performance.
- Memoriziation:  You learn HOW you best memorize and truly internalize a piece of music.
-Performance Anxiety Relief: The more you perform, the better you learn to adapt to your body's response to nerves and therefore the easier it gets.
-Your Happiness:  You did it! It felt good to sing in front of others!  You saw your mom smiling and your dad clapping for you!  Your teacher was proud!
-Hearing others voices lifted in song:  It is so good to hear and watch others singing.  You are exposed to new music or hear an old favorite.  You get to see the joy others have in singing.  You may hear a song you know you want to sing in the future (tell your teacher).
-Historical and Cultural Understanding:  You learn the history of the song you are singing, the culture of a variety of different styles of singing, and learn from others performances.
-Community: It is part of the community of the voice studio in which you take lessons. Be a part of it as you learn something from every performance.
-Preparation for the future:  Singing 1 or 2 songs on a group recital now prepares you for a future recital that is just yours or singing a solo song in the next musical theater production.
-It is fun!  Admit it, even if you are a little nervous.

Why Not Sing?

There are few reasons not to, but if you are brand new to the studio and in the beginning stages of voice lessons, maybe you forego this performance.  If you have had a recent vocal injury and are taking voice lessons to rehabilitate your voice. Attend the recital anyway to reap the benefits of listening to others doing the same thing as you and to meet others in the studio!

You love to sing, so go out and do it!  Happy Singing!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Act Up in Auditions - Move but have it make sense!

When auditioning, you are always aspiring to do the right thing and the best thing to land that role or solo. There is an ongoing dispute if someone should act out the piece they sing or stand still. The answer?  Neither, be natural and go with what makes sense.  Make any motion or movement that you make MEAN something, not just be oh, I am going to move my arms now.  Motions should have a purpose and help show you understand what you are saying in the song.  The level to which each auditor thinks a person should move varies, but most agree you should act when singing an audition.

In an article from Classical Singer Magazine, many directors spoke candidly about what they like to see in an audition.  It is helpful to think about these things when preparing that next audition or a student to do an audition.  Here are some of the quotes we should take to heart:

Singers should always demonstrate acting in their audition. Acting doesn't imply taking over the entire room.  It simply means being committed to story telling.  James Marvel, Stage Director

Acting involves knowing what you are saying and why you are saying it at that particular moment.  The singer should know what her or she wants to say in the aria and share it in a way that the audience will know it. Ellen Rievman, NYC Acting coach

Thoughts should appear on the face externally (seeing someone or some object in the room) or internally (seeing something in your mind or reflecting on something).  These change from phrase to phrase and thought to thought.  Thoughts must precede gestures, and gestures must precede the words coming out of the singer's mouth.  They are not naturally simultaneous. 
Dan Montez, Director of Taconic Opera

Include the audience somehow.  Communicate naturally and unselfconsciously.  This may mean you look someone in the eye or not. Brian Dickie, Chicago Opera Theater

95% of singers use meaningless gestures during an audition.  Dan Montez  Don't be one of them.

Take the time to interpret your music and figure out where and when you might move based on the text. Make movement mean something, not just flailing your arms.  It is important to have an outside perspective when working out motions.  Work with an acting or drama coach or ask you sister or roommate to listen and watch you sing and get their input.  Less is often more.  Use your dynamics to express and make your movements truly because you are expressing the text.  Simple and clean while using a little bit of space are good mottoes.  Ultimately, the people at the audition are going to listen to your voice, but it is helpful for them to know you are comfortable on stage.

Find out more about acting and singing by asking your voice teacher or acting teacher to work on connecting the two!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Audition- Raise the Bar on Your Quality Audition

Auditions can be a daunting thing or not!  An audition is what you make of it.  It is another opportunity to share what you do well with potential employers or casting auditors.  What you do to prepare and what you do in the audition room both matter!  Make the most of it by doing the following:

1.  Preparation
 - Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse and be prepared beyond your wildest dreams.
 - Know the audition piece inside and out musically and dramatically
 - Be accountable to present your BEST from making sure the language and music are well coached and the dramatic qualities of your pieces are exceptional.

2. Think of the Audition as a First Date - Put on your best clothes and be a good host!
 - You want to make a good impression, so dress appropriately for the character and make eye contact when you shake hands with the auditors.
 - Make the auditors comfortable in your presence
 - SMILE and bring positive energy into the room
 - You want the auditors to know you will be fun and pleasant to work with- show it!
 - Be kind to your accompanist - they are your best ally in the room
 - If you are well-prepared,confident, and determined to have fun in the audition, you won't have time to think about being nervous.

3. Auditions have changed- Don't just stand and sing- MOVE
 - It's okay to move around and act out your audition piece
 - Move with confidence so they can really see what you are expressing
 - Movement will also free your voice and keep wobbly legs from nerves under control

4. Know Yourself
 - What are your strengths as a person and as a singer?  Be honest with yourself and then bring those attributes to the table.  Take time to find your strengths.

At an audition where you select the repertoire, pick it carefully:
   * If you are funny, make sure you have a couple of comedic selections in your repertoire
   * If you know you sing faster songs best, start with an Allegro selection
   * If you know you express sadness well in singing, start with a depressing aria

At an audition where they select  one song to sing:
   * Research the music. Know it's history so you can act it out accurately
   * Make it YOURS from there and add your own personality/interpretation
   * Be your (funny, happy, pleasant) self in the room no matter what!

You make the most of each audition by bringing your best prepared dish (song) to the table and letting the auditors feast on (listen to) the knowledge that you are talented and will be a pleasure with which to work.  Happy Auditioning!

Monday, June 2, 2014

A Masterclass? What is it and why should I (or my child) sing in one?

A Masterclass?  What is it and why should I (or my child) sing in one?  This is a very common question I receive as a voice teacher.  A Masterclass is exactly what it sounds like, a chance to work in a class (group) environment with a master (teacher) of the subject.

Many national conventions, Voice Foundation, National Association of Teachers of Singing, Music Educators National Convention, run masterclasses for those attending.  Some are large and for the whole convention, some are small and individualized focusing on one specific topic.  Teachers and singers can visit the masterclasses of the most interest to them in workshops made of all masterclasses such as are held at the Voice Foundation Convention.  Colleges often offer their music majors masterclasses or studio performance class on a weekly basis.  It unifies the studio, gives them a chance (and responsibility) to perform often and is an essential part to the performing experience.

In the independent voice studio, it is difficult to schedule a masterclass, but very important to the process of developing performing singers.  In a singing masterclass, students are given an opportunity to perform in front of others as if it is a real performance.  Then the teacher (or master) works with each individual on the song that was presented, teaching them in front of the other students or attendees. It is a great opportunity for all.  I try to plan a few each year in my studio.

The singer gets extra performance practice and more time with their current teacher (or visiting clinician).  They can work on getting over the nerves of singing in front of others in a comfortable environment.  They get practice emoting the text to an actual audience instead of to themselves in the mirror and experience what nerves may do to them.  The singer also gets practice at following direction of the new clinician and trying something out or work with their voice teacher in a different environment.

The audience gets to learn from watching the teacher instruct others.  They may learn something that the teacher has yet to say to them or hear it in a different way that clicks! They get to hear the difference in another singer's sound when the student follows instructions regarding interpretation or breath support. Or see the difference in a singer's appearance when communicating the text (and the change in the sound).   It is an educational opportunity in which much can be accomplished and learned!  Plus everyone gets to know one another a little more!

The teacher gets to teach many students at once and see how different students react to different instruction.  It also gives the teacher a chance to address specific ideas regarding singing that cannot be addressed in a regular lesson.  For example, I will often add a yoga component or acting games to a masterclass to show students how they can positively impact singing and performing.

I have recently begun asking my students what their favorite part of a masterclass is.  I have heard a variety of responses from "I learned I don't really have to be nervous to sing in front of others, if I just focus on what I am really saying in the song" to "Yoga has such an impact on freeing up my voice" to "I really enjoyed hearing the variety of repertoire sung by others."  Although the responses vary, one thought is ringing true:  Masterclasses are fun and you can learn a lot from singing in and attending them.  Read more about masterclasses at Susan Anders Brizick Voice Studio Happenings

The next time the opportunity presents itself, I encourage you to sing (or go to) that masterclass! You never know what you might learn.  Let me know some of your experiences with masterclasses and why you like them!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Spring in full bloom- How do you keep the practicing going? Create new goals to keep momentum

Spring is here and you want to get outside!  Who has time to practice?  We have all been bitten by the bug called spring fever and want to be outside.  I love being outside and have to keep myself focused too.  How do keep yourself practicing through spring and summer?  It's important and you may have a little more time in these months with less school work or shorter hours at work.

Here are some creative ways to do it:

1. Set new goals for yourself.
- Learn that new aria or song that you fell in love with.
- Get 4-6 audition songs of a variety of styles and tempi up to the level that you can pull them out for any audition
-Work on your stage fright by performing more often- volunteer to sing a solo at church, sign up for a singing class or summer program that includes a performance

2. Get involved in a summer program or summer production
- Not only will you have fun, but it will keep you motivated to practice and keep you singing
-Work on audition material for the program or production

3. Remember all that you learned and worked on throughout the year.  Don't let it wither over a few months of not singing.

4.  Try working on a new aspect of your singing.  Try a new style.  It may invigorate your soul.

5. Give yourself a break every so often. It is healthy to take a vacation (a week or two) not a 3 month holiday away.

Okay, I hear you- but it is so nice outside!  I'd rather.....

You can do this.  It is important to keep continuity (and yet allow yourself a short break or mental health days:-)  Use your time management and plan out a time when you will practice. What works best for you?

-Will it be right after you get up in the morning/before you go out to the pool?
-Will it be right after you get home from work and before you go outside to relax with your family?
-One or two days a week, practice silently at lunch by analyzing the text of that new song, clearly establishing those breaths, and memorizing it.
-Go outside and sing.  Practice in your backyard.  You never know whose day you may brighten or what bird may join you in song!

Try it and get creative.  We make sacrifices as singers and artists, but what we sacrifice the most is success if we do not keep up with our craft.  Enjoy your times (and days) in the sun, but be true to your musician and find time to keep up with your singing!

What are your ideas for how to keep yourself singing with spring fever and the lazy days of summer?

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Yoga and Jogging Impact Singing But a Singer's Gym? Where you can work out all the glitches with other singers....

Yoga and Jogging Impact Singing But a Singer's Gym?  What a unique concept and it actually exists. Classical Singer featured a Singer's Gym in an article in June 2009. It is an intense audition only program which accepts 10 singers for 4 weeks to workout an aria and scene with other singers. It is intense and not something we all have time for, but we can learn a lot from it's model.  I am intrigued by its concepts are valuable tools to increase the authenticity of a performance

The Singer's Gym is a place to "work out, try things, experiment, fall and get up, and do it better the next time.  These are the things you need to do as you're strengthening yourself as a performer."  Ben Bernstein, co-director of the Singer's Gym in San Fransisco.  Why do we not create more of this opportunity on a smaller scale in studio workshops?

Think about it; as a performer, we have to learn to do each and every one of these things.  We should learn to do it in front of others besides our teacher and learn how we will cope with the learning process.  College environments provide a version of this opportunity to most voice majors through weekly masterclasses for each voice studio.  There is an opportunity to perform the song you are working on in front of the other students in the studio and feedback given by your teacher that day in front of the other students.  You work a little bit on the suggestions the teacher gives and get to watch others do the same.  This is a modified and skeletal version of the Singer's Gym, but a start in the process.  

Many students in private voice studios do not get this opportunity.  Sure the opportunity to perform in a recital is present, but the idea of a 'masterclass' is foreign to many.   As we guide our students in their singing endeavors, I think it is valuable to add masterclass opportunities either by means of a Saturday group class once a semester or an additional workshop which they can sign up to do.  By taking extra time to work on pieces in front of others you can do 2 things:  1. Get performance experience and 2. Get an opportunity to work on being engaged in what you are singing.  It is easy to say, pretend you are singing this love song to an imaginary character.  It becomes real when you actually put a person there to sing to.  When you add real people to the mix who are working on some of the same things, the dynamics and ability to really communicate the meaning of the music changes.  It is all about connecting with the musical piece you are singing and working it in different ways to truly express the music with your voice and your experience.  

In preparing music for performance (especially in my summer program), I try to incorporate some activities to help students truly connect to their songs from an emotional standpoint.  Research the opera, art song, or musical theater song so you know your character or poem.  Look at the text and find a descriptive word or emotion for each section.  Repeat that sentiment to yourself first before you sing each section and then internally as you sing each section.  Bring your own interpretation to the song- how can you make the topic something you can truly relate to?  All of this guidance is easier said then done.  Sometimes doing it with a group makes it easier.  I may try it in my next masterclass.  

The model of the Singer's Gym is in depth, but deserves some merit to include in our studios and encourage our very serious performers to explore.  In summary, each of the 4 weeks has a focus and involves individual and group work to truly get in touch with the character, meaning, and performance of a piece of music. Week 1 is devoted to studying the score and everything the composer put in it.  Week 2 is spent on 'space' and learning the awareness of the space around you and your function within it.  Week 3 is character work, including how to find and embody your character and week 4 focuses on onstage relationships.  The psychology of relationships of characters and of the individuals doing the work comes into play as to how the music is sung.  The whole program focuses on "grasping the idea that you have to know not only what happens in the aria (song), but what happens the moment before and the moment after, and in the accompaniment or orchestration.  Interpretation from their own distinct voice and person." Kathryn Cathcart.  

When we sing we are communicating something and need to spend time on that aspect of performance. It is directed by the instructions of the music written by the composer,text of the song or aria, and placement of the song within the larger overall work, but artistic license should allow for individual distinction and exploration.  The end result of spending this kind of time and dedication to preparing a performance equals one thing- an authentic and enjoyable performance.  Happy Singing!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Yoga is good for singing, but is jogging? How do you know what exercise you do is good for your singing?

Yoga is good for singing, but is jogging?  How do you make sure what exercise you do is good for your singing too?  Last week we discussed the many ways that yoga and finding balance are good for singing.  So is cardiovascular exercise including jogging, running, or fast walking! As long as you are generally in good health, now is a perfect time to add jogging to your exercise and singing regime.  You can add it outside to get that much desired fill of nature in spring!

Jogging is cardiovascular, it gets your heart and lungs working, increases circulation, lowers your breathing, and give you a positive outlook on life as a result of released endorphins.  All of these things take care of your overall health and have a positive impact on singing.  The better your lungs work, the better your breath control.  The stronger your overall body is, the better your endurance in performances.  The more positive your outlook on life, generally the more productive you are in practice, rehearsal and performance.

How do you make sure you avoid any negative affects of starting a jogging routine?

1.  Make sure you generally are in good health.
2.  Buy good running shoes.
3.  Jog on unpaved surfaces as much as possible (outdoor track, grass or stone paths, treadmill)
4.  Breathe through your nose!
    * The nose is a natural filter of dust, dirt, and pollen.  It reduces irritation of the lungs and upper respiratory system.
    * The nose filters air and adds humidity to your system.
    * Nasal breathing triggers the lungs to expand more fully and easily.  It encourages you to use deep   breathing that we need to sing.
    * If you have a stuffy nose, it generally opens up after a little bit of running due to adrenaline in your system.
5.  Embrace the emotional component or 'runner's high'.  Your brain function increases, your thoughts are clearer and you feel better about life!

After you run, try singing.  You should find that you are breathing easier, can sustain phrases well, and have a positive and creative attitude towards solving any singing puzzles you may encounter.  Not only are you doing something good for your physical and mental well-being, but your singing too!

Please let me know your thoughts about adding running to your routine and how it impacts your singing!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Yoga and Balance are synonymous. But how can yoga and balance related activities help your singing!

Yoga and balance- a synonym for those who do yoga.  But how can yoga and other balance related activities help your singing?

As an avid yogi, I often discuss the benefits of yoga for the singing voice to my students.  It calms your breath and nerves, opens up the body to breathe better, elongates your spine for better posture and therefore breath support.  A myriad of benefits.  Lets look at the science as to why!

In Make Your Unstable Life Work for You, Claudia Friedlander describes the science of how the balance of yoga can really help your singing!  I was fascinated with how she described what I use often in my studio.  I highly recommend what she has to say!  Let me try to explain it with a few references to her words (in italics):

Stand up and find your balance on one foot, bringing your other foot up to your calf or above your knee, and raise your hands above your head (tree pose).  Feel how you find balance and how your leg, hip, ankle adjust to keep the balance.  It is a series of continuous, incremental adjustments.  Find a sustained phrase from your repertoire that is challenging and sing it while in this pose.  You may find that this passage is now much easier to sing.  WHY?  Finding this balance has put your neuromuscular system on high alert making all motor activity that you engage in benefit.  It cannot lock up like your knees might or stop and start as the breath might because everything is going in to you keeping your balance.  This makes total sense.

As Friedlander states, Singing, like balancing, is a continuous activity.  The more you think about locking up a part of your body to balance, the more possible it is for you to fall over.  The more you think about holding pitches rather than continuing the breath through them, the more difficult they are to sustain.  Find activities that promote stability through continuous movement such as tree pose, walking the phrase, or pretending to throw a baseball with a slow follow through.

Balance and stabilization can:

- Enhance body awareness (improve your mind/body connection to your voice)
- Promotes good posture (free larynx, improve resonance, coordinate better breathing)
- Make you more comfortable and graceful moving on stage
- Stabilize your joints so that you can safely exercise and maximize your stamina (cardio and strength training)
- Teaches your neuromuscular system to create stability through continuous movement that impacts all of your physical activities

Singers should have a workout regimen that includes stabilization training to balance their muscles. Challenging your ability to keep your balance and maintain good posture throughout a series of movements prepares your body and your nervous system to perform movements requiring greater strength and fine motor coordination.  (Fine motor coordination that is essential to quality singing).

How do you do this?

A variety of activities but specifically Yoga, stability ball activities, and functional strength activities (keeping your balance on one foot while manipulating small dumbbells in bicep curls) are a few ways to get started.  As you exercise in these ways, you are challenging your body and brain to stabilize through movement.  This works on the neuromuscular control necessary to develop stability both physically and in your singing.

Secure vocal technique is characterized by stable, consistent tone production.  This requires superb coordination and balance of everything that contributes to singing.  Until you find this, you are tempted to lock up and stiffen things.  Like physical stability, vocal stability is the result of continuous directed movement.  The way to get it is to expose the instabilities in your technique so that you can improve overall balance in the voice rather than gripping.

In other words, use balance related activities and workout regimens to help you truly balance your vocal technique and release tension.  Give it a try, it's pure genius!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Continuity is the key to success in singing and music, but how do you find the balance?

Continuity is the key to success in singing, but how do you find the balance of practice, lessons, and the rest of life?

The key to success in any art is continuity, especially in music.  You fine tune that talent over and over to make it perfect.  Your muscles and your brain remember what to do to make that perfect sound and how it feels to truly make it the best it can be. Continuing lessons on a consistent basis and regularly practicing in between lessons paves the road to success.  But how do you balance that with the rest of your life?

There are two types of singers that should be addressed:  the voice student (young high school, middle school, college or adult student) and the professional singer.

The regular pattern of practicing and always making time for lessons in a weekly schedule can sometimes seem daunting to a singing student.  The continuity of lessons is pertinent to singing success. In addition to regular lesson attendance, one must practice in between lessons what the teach assigns (both exercises and songs) to maximize improvement.  If the student merely shows up on a regular basis but does not work on the vocalise or repertoire in between, progress slows.

It sounds tough I know, but you can find ways to schedule practice time into your daily routine. Write it in your planner.  Put a reminder in your phone for the time you said you would practice.  Schedule it as a break for studying for that math test.  Promise it is the one thing you will do for yourself that day as a busy mom.

Of course life happens and you have a busy week or intense tests at school or you need to help a family member.  That is expected.  But, make regular practice a part of your normal routine and let NOT practicing be the exception to the rule.  If you can't practice one week, commit to go to your lesson and let the teacher know.  There are still things that you can do and so long as it is not a regular occurrence, most teachers appreciate the honesty and work from there.

The instability of performing for a living can also be very tough to manage.  Finding the time to practice when you have very long rehearsals everyday or are travelling.  It can be intense, but there are things you can do.  Look at the music and hear how you sing it in your head.  Map out the breaths, analyze the text, make it a part of you mentally so then you can make it a part of you physically in rehearsal. Record yourself in practice (especially when it is a good one) and listen to it again and again so you know you are remembering it and 'singing' it correctly.  Work on learning the melody of new music by listening to it.  There are things that can be done, sometimes we just have to get creative.

How does this affect the rest of our lives?  Make time for other things that are important to you too.  It is essential to have balance in your life.  Exercise, spend time with family and friends, or doing another activity you enjoy.  It is all important.  Sometimes we have to make sacrifices as a musician and cut the time with friends down a little bit, or workout for 30 minutes instead of going to that 1 hour class or playing the whole game of baseball.  Find the balance that works for you that still enables you to get in your lessons and your practice time!  Music is something you will have for the rest of your life!

There are different ways of finding balance in your life with your practice, be creative and you will figure it out!  Stay tuned next week for how you can find vocal stability and fix instabilities in vocal technique through finding physical stability.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Musical Theater Productions Abound- What can YOU do to make sure you are a part of it next time?

High school and Middle School Musical Theater Productions are happening all over the place right now.  'Tis the season.  Go and watch them if you are not in them.  Practice and have fun if you are performing.  It is a fun season of the year and can get you motivated to work on your own singing!

What can you do to make sure you are a part of them (or a larger role in them) next year? Work on your TRIO of talents:  Singing, Acting, and Dancing.  All 3 combined make the balanced musical theater artist who will land that big role! One may be your forte or strength and then you focus and dabble in the other two when you are not in a show or over the summer or in between semesters in college.  Find a time when you can add an intensive program, camp, or add some lessons in the other areas.  If you are primarily a singer, take an acting class or dance class over the summer to learn more about a different aspect of musical theater performing.  If you are primarily an actor, research a way you can put a little bit of singing training or movement/dance into your year.  Perhaps you take singing lessons all year and take acting in the fall and dance in the spring to get it all in.  Of course doing all 3 would be great, but time is short with the quick pace of our world.  Explore how you can learn a little of each to improve your skills.  Many summer programs include a little of 2 or 3 of the talents.

We all have one strength out of the TRIO of talents, but all are needed to be a successful performer in musical theater (at schools and on Broadway).  You really must work the whole of the 3 part package for maximum success.  Have fun and happy performing!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Reasons Why You Need to Sing Everyday!

A student of mine sent me this link and I love it enough I made it the next blog topic!  We need to sing everyday for multiple reasons and here are some great (and funny) examples!  I agree with most as those who love to sing are always looking for excuses to do it!  Some are not medically founded, but beneficial to think about anyway!

According to 15 Reasons You Need to Sing Everyday. (Article on Click and read this link for the humorous take (and videos)

Here is a summary of why to sing everyday (with commentary):

1.  Singing releases endorphin's making you happier.  (Absolutely)
2.  When you sing, you release oxytocin , a natural stress reliever found to also help depression and loneliness  (Both I and my students agree on the stress relief!)
3. You will sleep better because you will be less stressed  (Sounds good!)
4. Tests show that singing reduces heart rates  (Especially when singing something slow and soothing)
5. When singing with someone else, your hearts can synch together (choir anyone?)
6.  Your posture will improve and you will build confidence as a result (Most definitely!)
7. Your feelings of safety and confidence grow when singing with a group (I have seen it many times!)
8. It is a good workout:  you work your lungs, improve circulation, and build strength in your abdominal muscles.  (Our body is our instrument, so it needs to exercise!)
9.  Singing can boost your immune system. (Not sure if this is true, but wouldn't that be great!)
10.When already sick, if you hum a little tune, you can open your sinuses and respiratory tubes (Try it!)
11. It is good for your brain. It enhances mental awareness, concentration and memory (Yes and research documented!)
12. You develop healthier breathing patterns (lower relaxed breathing) (Amen!! If only we did it during the rest of the day in addition to when we sing.  It does enable you to calm down quicker)
13. It can be used as a natural way to treat chronic pain, dementia, depression (also music therapy) (Yes!)
14. You may live longer!  (What a wonderful thought!)
15. So raise your voice and start singing!  The possibilities are endless.  (Singing is a pleasure to you and to those with whom you share your gift.  So HAPPY SINGING!)

Enjoy the singing and let me know your thoughts on these and other reasons of why we should sing everyday!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Cross Training the Voice- "Bel Canto Can Belto" Point of View

What to my surprise did I see when I looked at the most recent Classical Singer Magazine (March 2014)?  An interview with Mary Saunders-Barton, head of the Master of Fine Arts in Voice Pedagogy for Musical Theater whom was mentioned in my most recent blog, Cross-Train Methods are Different for All, But There are a Few Models and Ideas.

An up and coming degree for what we are experiencing to be the need in singing today! The M.F.A. was "developed for teachers with a wide range of understanding and tolerance for different styles who want to develop from the ground up" Saunders-Barton.  In other words, a degree in teaching the cross-training of the voice through experience themselves!

Much to my pleasure, the article not only talks about the degree, but the HOW of cross-training from Mary Saunders-Barton's point of view.  After seeing her run a masterclass at a NATS competition a few years ago, I was intrigued by her point of view added to the Jeannie LoVetri Method.  There are many similarities and a few differences. The importance is that cross-training and teaching Contemporary Commercial Music (CCM) is being studied by many and a science being developed to support teaching a variety of singing styles!

When one thinks of cross-training the voice, opera and musical theater come to mind as the 'theater forms of singing' and are not completely different places.  CCM is "an add-on, this awareness that you can use your voice in other ways", M. Saunders-Barton, which we will continue to explore. A singer must sing, act, and dramatically convince the audience of their character.  The main difference is truly amplification.  Musical theater allows microphones and opera does not.  We still train the musical theater singer to produce the sound through acoustic use and classical voice technique and adjust it to musical theater from there.  It is important to keep the resonance and not solely depend on the microphones!

Saunders-Barton also believes (as do I)  in a vowel-resonance based technique.  Pure vowels carry the acoustic waves of sound the best in both classical and musical theater technique.  Imagine calling out "Hey You!" on open vowels ('ah', 'eh', 'uh') and then closed vowels.  Which one carries further?  Apply the same thing to singing "Hey You!" on open vowels and then closed vowels.  Which resonates more? Open vowels.  According to Saunders-Barton, girls make the most noise F#-B-flat or C and boys the most also F#-C an octave lower.

When asked the frequent question, Is Belt Mixed?, Saunders- Brown answers "Yes, because it is a balance of good healthy function that is a belt quality above the passaggio".  Exactly!  A mix is a balance of healthy and resonant.  Boys need to learn mix as they move to sing higher and higher to keep the resonant quality and not have an extreme break between 'chest' voice or normal voice and falsetto. Girls can really only have an open belt up to D5 and then it sounds like a scream.  We can teach how to get there in a healthy way by learning how to keep the breath in tact and resonance in the right place in the head.

You can indeed belt if you are classically trained.  It is all about the cross-training and developing a well-balanced instrument.  Belt uses the different muscles of your vocal cords in varying ways than classical.  When well trained, they can work well together and compliment one another (just like a runner also needs to do yoga to cross-train muscles).

In summary, we need to pay attention to 4 things:  1. Acoustics/Amplification 2. Vowel Modification 3. Going back and forth between styles 4. Create a belt/mix

The technique of how to cross-train effectively is still developing between PSU' and Shenendoah University's work, the Lovetri Method, scientific study by Voice and Speech Therapists such as Wendy LeBorgne, and a variety of other books and methods.  The demands are there in the music being written, so we must figure out how to get there in a healthy way.  It is all about developing strong, healthy singers to sing the music being written.  Thank you to all who are researching and teaching and sharing your knowledge with other singing teachers so that we can be the best we can be!

Other Books and Sources:

Bel Canto Can Belto Classical Singer Magazine, March 2014

"So You Want to Sing Musical Theatre?" by Scarecrow Press (NATS website audio and exercises)

The Vocal Athlete by Rosenberg and LeBorgne

What are your thoughts and contributions on teaching cross-training?

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Cross-Train Methods are Different for All, But There are a Few Models and Ideas

Cross-training methods may be different in each individual and each individual voice studio.  However, there are a few places to get solid ideas and solid training to do so. Trying out a few methods will help you as a teacher or as a singer find what is comfortable and works for you.  We are in a time of changing music which requires us to embrace and meld the new with our older tried and true techniques.  Use the building blocks of breath support, posture, and palate lift and alter them slightly to achieve the desired sound.  You simply cannot belt or sing country without slightly altering the classical techniques of singing.  Not everyone is going to agree with every new technique, but that is part of what makes singing teaching and singing in general a science as well as an art!

A ground-breaker in this philosophy is Jeanie LoVetri who created Somatic Voicework, the basis for the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute at Shenendoah University.  It is a balance of voice science, classical vocal training, yoga, movement, dance, acting and speech training. It is more widely trusted because it is based on what the voice is doing.   Register balance, vowel sound changes, posture, breathing and stylistic authenticity are the primary tools.

'When done in an informed manner, CCM accomplishes results without compromising a singer's health.  The technique of mixing chest tone into a sound, rather than continual chest belt keeps the voice versatile and healthy.  An educated ear can guide this development.' Marcelle Gauvin, Shenendoah Conservatory

The key words here are to do it under an educated ear and careful guidance.

'Vocal damage can happen in any style of singing if there is improper technique, abuse, or overuses, especially if the vocal gymnastics are on a daily basis!  Get well-informed training to stay healthy.'  Wendy DeLeo LeBorgne, Ph.D., CCC-SLP. Clinical Director. Singing Voice Specialist & Voice Pathologist

With first hand experience taking some of the classes, I learned a great deal about healthy ways to manipulate sounds to achieve overall vocal goals, it just must be closely monitored by a singing teacher and what the vocalist feels.  Going back and forth between singing a variety of styles helps you solidify your technique and minimize vocal abuse just as a runner who instills yoga into their training for a marathon keeps them flexible and strong.  It is by no means the only method of cross-training the voice, but valuable.

The continual development of music and the arts necessitate that we embrace cross-training and to help our singers to be versatile singers!  If we educate ourselves, we ensure their success.

Stay tuned next week for a discussion from another leading 'cross-training' pedagogue, Mary Saunders-Barton at Penn State University.

Read more detail about cross-training the voice in these sources:

NATS  (they now have a Classical and Musical Theater Competition)

Master of Fine Arts Degree in Voice Pedagogy in Musical Theatre at Penn State University

Sing like you speak by Sally Morgan

What do you think and what methods do you use?