protect what is special

I’m writing this post in response to a student request. Andee asked that I blogged on the “7 best ways to look after your voice”… Well, in all honesty I can say that there is literally so much information on this out there in cyber land that Im going to leave what I consider to be generic answers (hydration, warming up, vitamins,) as they are already written about. Instead Im going down a more philosophical road.

I’ve titled  the blog “Protect what is Special”. I’m not sure where Im heading but alas lets go!

I think we live in an age where common sense seems to have gone out of the window – the answer to just about any question is only a Google search away. for research purposes I Googled Andee’s question and for the most part the answers were all common sense stuff which everyone should do anyway (most importantly singers)! Hydrate, avoid excessive alcohol or caffeine  (I admit I enjoy a little of both!), don’t clear your throat, don’t shout or whisper, exercise regularly, eat balanced foods and try to keep acidic foods to a minimum, and so on… Most of this reads like a healthy lifestyle to me.

To focus a little closer on how singers should take care of there voices, regular (and directed) vocal warm ups, quality focussed practise (not in the car on the way to a gig or lesson!), occasional check ups with an ENT, voice rest when needed (ie after excessive use or sickness), continued study with a trusted teacher, voice physio therapy including massage, physical work to improve posture and core strength like pilates. All of this should at least give you some grounding in voice care (and i think i just covered 7 ways to help your voice Andee!).

As a teacher I’ve noticed a pattern among singers, and in particular those who sing contemporary music (anything other than classical really!) Most who walk in for a first lesson have never had any training before, and I’m talking about adults who may be working as professional vocalist or even just well established amateur singers. By the time they come to see me they are usually struggling with some aspect of their singing and may be coming to see me as a last resort. This is so sad and reminiscent of myself, investing very little into training my voice as a young singer, until it was almost too late.

So I think we know where Im heading here – “Protect What is Special” – If your singing voice is important to you, whether its your profession or hobby you must VALUE it enough to invest time and effort into developing great health practices and voice training. Enlist the help of quality health practitioners, and a well connected singing teacher to be certain that you are covering your voice from a wholistic perspective. No one teacher or health professional can have all the answers. Ultimately what we value most in our lives does have a cost – be it time, money or effort. As a contemporary vocalist you must respect yourself enough to understand that you are a vocal athlete and athletes must protect their talents and invest in them. If you take the time to train, study, and look after yourself physically you have a greater chance to optimise your talent and maintain longevity.

So, to summarise my advice to Andee (and you) – Love your voice and protect what is special!

 

 

Know your zone

Recently I watched a TED Talk on “How to get better at the things you care about”, this wasn’t a talk aimed specifically at those involved in the arts but I thought that the principles were totally relevant to our world. The presenter, Eduardo Briceno suggested that we spend a lot of time living in a “performing” zone. Carrying out tasks that are either mundane, or built on skills that we may have acquired long ago. Its fair and reasonable for us to spend much of our time in the “performing zone” considering how limited free time (and headspace!) we have. The trouble is if we stay there it will eventually make us stagnate, become bored or maybe professionally fall behind the times in our field of work.

screenshot from TED talk Performance

So, what’s the solution? Briceno suggests we spend time in a place he refers to as the “learning” zone. A space to focus very precisely on the elements of our work that we may need to brush up on or wish to expand upon. This could involve reading, formal study or employing the use of a coach or mentor or any other strategy that brings you into a zone of learning and not performing, its critical to distinguish between the two. The “performance zone” is usually a high stakes environment (if you screw up it actually matters), whilst the “learning zone” is a low stakes environment (safe to mess up and explore). The interplay between these two zones should provide you with a place to evaluate yourself (the performance zone) and a place to improve yourself (the learning zone). Once you have identified an area from your performing zone that needs improvement it is time to get to work!

As a teacher I can certainly fall victim of operating almost exclusively in the performance zone. After all, people come to see me for what “I know”. As a young teacher (probably my first 2 years) I invested very little into my learning zone. I was fresh from Uni, had done a stack of gigs and recorded an album, I was pretty confident in my abilities. Lucky for me I did eventually stagnate and instinctively I understood that learning was not something that ever really finished. This led me on a path of constant self improvement which hasn’t always been to do with teaching or singing directly, at least 40% has come from reading coaching and psychology books which has had a considerable impact on how i teach and treat my students (and myself!! – more of that in another blog).

It is important to mention at this point that employing a coach or a teacher can be incredibly beneficial when learning a new skill or refining an old one. Make sure the coach is a good fit for you, and know what outcome you are looking for. This will prevent you from wasting time and money – a good coach or teacher will be aware of their skills. If they don’t match what you are looking for they should be able to point you in the direction of someone else.

So before I go, I want to encourage you to think about any areas in your performing zone that you need to improve on. Next time you sing, play, act or dance take a recording (even if it makes you cringe!!) Spend time evaluating, and find one thing –  just one – to improve on. Dedicate yourself wholly to improving this one thing. Take yourself freely and without judgment into the “learning zone”!

 

 

 

 

Less fear, more confidence!

The body is an amazing system of energy. Our psychology plays a significant role in how our body reacts.

“if we believe we are under stress, we manifest stress in our physiology” - Dr Bruce H Lipton.

All of us understand how stress or negativity feels – Our heart rate increases, muscles tighten, increase in saliva, sweat and so on. One of the major problems for a singer under stress is how the throat tightens, thus losing range, support, tone and varying other undesirable symptoms. These physical signs are a product of the brain sending fright flight signals from the amygdala and are totally opposed to optimum vocal set up.

Much of the text I’ve read concerning anxiety in singers relates to “performance anxiety” ie “greater scale outcome” like singing publicly, public speaking etc. I like to focus on positive “small scale outcome”  lighting up the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (responsible for confidence) as I believe that if we can get this right the overall outcome can bring out permanent positive change. Examples would be – a student discovers a new but unrefined part of their voice in a lesson, or they realise they can now sing that song they have been wanting to sing or they feel a release of tension in their voice after relaxing their tongue and jaw. Small but significant improvements. If the goals set by the teacher or perhaps more importantly the student, are too high for the individual there is every chance that the part of the brain that is connected with fear (the amygdala) kicks in. The outcome is likely to be bad posture, tight throat, and inhibited breath which all work against the voice.

The key to progress is that we acknowledge improvement, be it small or large. Keep in the present, keep your self talk positive, use positive affirmations. Don’t get caught up in pursuit of big, perfect or unattainable goals as they will fill you with anxiety. A good teacher will set realistic expectations during a lesson according to the students experience, health, psychology and physiology. If this is done it gives the opportunity for the small scale wins to take place and the steady gradual growth of confidence.

When you start to appreciate and acknowledge your improvements (even if they don’t initially match up to your long term expectations) you are actually changing your bodies response to new vocal challenges making crucial steps towards your ultimate goals. Keep positive, keep realistic and make certain you are dimming your amygdala and  lighting up your prefrontal cortex as much as possible!

What to do when you cant afford singing lessons?

Hey! I get this- I sometimes joke that I can’t afford singing lessons!

Lets face it they are expensive and especially if you are going to a reputable teacher.

And so they should be – most teachers spend decades learning, studying and performing. Truth is, maybe your first step isn’t to go and see a teacher.

Save your money and invest it wisely. When you consider that a single lesson with someone like me costs anything from $90 – $150 it’s a LOT of money to find on a weekly or fortnightly basis. So, does this mean you cant study singing?

Why should money get in the way? I do believe that people have a right to sing if they so wish, and even better if they can do so with some great technique to help develop a voice that you can be proud of. Nowadays the internet is full of at home singing programs, the good, the bad and the downright harmful!

It’s literally a minefield with many products being sold really cheaply or even for free. IM SORRY, BUT FOR THE MOST PART YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR.

As a professional teacher/vocal coach of 17 years it takes a lot for me to recommend at home vocal programs – but here’s the thing FINALLY I CAN!!!

A friend and mentor of mine has developed a first rate alternative to one on one singing lessons. Its called SingPro – and believe me this product is going to be BIG.

It provides a simple interface for students to work from with a virtual studio. There is nothing like it out there. Here are just some of the current features of the program.

  • Spectrogram Analysis Driven Vocal Workouts
  • Pitch/ear Training Program
  • Online Voice Lessons and Superior Vocal Training
  • Karaoke & Key Change Exporter
  • “How To” Video Library
  • Interactive Vocal Journal To Track Progress
  • Artist Development E-Library with ebooks
  • Proven Vocal Technique used by Celebrities & Vocal Experts

what-to-do-when-you-can-afford-singing-lessons

Seriously, if you are considering singing lessons this is an EXCELLENT place to start.  For the price of $149 USD you get an amazing at home system that helps YOU to become a better vocalist through tailored work outs and self analysis.

You can record and journal all of your practice sessions, an excellent resource to monitor and review your progress. I have been teaching vocalists for 17 years. I have studied with some of the worlds best teachers and spent fortunes in doing so.

Not that I could ever regret my investment – I owe everything to the teachers I’ve had. However, I wish there had been something like this when I started out. It would’ve directed my study in a really positive, healthy direction.

The techniques that SingPro employs are exactly the same as I would teach in my studio and the same as the techniques I have studied over the years with some of the world’s greatest teachers. To read more about my story you can find info on me here. 

I should also mention that I will be recommending SingPro to my current students as an excellent tool for their practice at home and on tour. This is not simply for beginners. Check out the video testimonials of some of the people who have benefitted from using SingPro

I will even throw in a FREE email review if you send through one (valued at $50)! Just email me, Lisa at info@singwithease.com with codeword SingProFreebie.