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 www.susanandersbrizick.com 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 www.susanandersbrizick.com 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 www.susanandersbrizick.com for more information regarding singing and singing lessons.