Update on Women, Menopause, Singing

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We are still wooing the right title.

Writing with coauthors Nancy Bos and Joanne Hayes Bozeman has been one of the most rewarding collaborative experiences of a long life spent in collaboration. Combining the voices of three powerhouse artist/educators who are researchers has taken a huge investment of T-I-M-E. But building a solid infrastructure for the book and becoming vulnerable to each other (check out Brene Brown’s The Call to Courage) are birthing our idea into reality.

We are writing a book for Great Aunt Betsy who sings in her church choir, for the college voice professor who has always sung well and then, well, doesn’t. For the community musical theater singer, to the elite classical and popular music singer. For the voice teacher or singer who’s own voice has gotten better and better and may not understand what is happening with others who have a different experience. For the medical community that knows nothing about menopause and voice changes because it is outside of their health model. For the used-to-sing woman who is just fine with how her voice is as she gets older and doesn’t think much about it.

So the challenge has been how to combine our three author-voices, our interviewees’ individual stories AND a curated list of reliable information into one voice–

–to reach all these singers.

It’s happening and we can’t wait to share it with you!

Regina Spektor and a Classical Vocal Exercise

I owe this idea to a recent conversation on The New Forum for Professional Voice Teachers. Many on this forum sing, train and teach both classical and popular genres of music. We have a wide assortment of training methods, resources and approaches stored in our mental libraries and our own music-making.

Recently someone posted Regina Spektor’s “Us,” to illustrate her technical approach to one part of the song. One of the comments was that some passages were “straight out of Lutgen.”

So I went a-looking…..

Lutgen was a German composer who wrote many books of vocal training exercises in the mid 1800’s. The exercises were for those studying European classical singing of the time.

Intrigued WHY my colleague would relate Regina Spektor to Lutgen’s 18th century vocalises, I looked them up. And there it was. Lutgen exercise #1–

Listen to Spektor and then see how the above exercises could be used to help someone sing parts of this song. Or ask your young students to listen for these exercise patterns in the song. This might be a great project for them or you when you need to work less strenuously. You can also search for Lutgen exercises on Youtube. Some enterprising music educator has put up keyboard renditions of all the Lutgen exercises!

Help your students find patterns between 1) CCM singer/song-writers and 2) classical vocal patterns found in old exercises! A little sleuthing is lots of fun.

Evidence-Based Vocal Pedagogy and Other Mystifications, Part II

If you haven’t read Part I, head over for a quick read.

My husband is an Instructional Designer. We have long, sexy talks about Andragogy, which is the art and science of teaching Adult Learners. In his field, (and many others) Pedagogy means the art and science of teaching children.

These conversations have got my WHEELS TURNING and I am thinking that “Evidence-Based Vocal Pedagogy,” when working with adult singers, would be enhanced by using a few principles from Evidence-based Adult Learning.

So If you work with adult singers or voice teachers, here’s a short quiz to find out if your teaching might be more effective with a few of these basic principles of Adult Learning. (and maybe you already do this–BRAVA if that is the case.)

I. Adults learn better when the instruction they receive is tailored to their learning styles (e.g, Visual, Aural, and Kinesthetic)

DRAMATIC PAUSE

The answer, according to Evidence-Based Adult Learning is, no. Most of us were taught otherwise. But here are some interesting articles that explain more:

Debunking Learning Myths

The Atlantic “Are Learning Styles” Real?

II. The more you give your students, the more they will learn.

TAKES A SIP OF TEA

Once again, the answer is no. A colleague asked what is meant by “the more you give.” In this case, they are referring to the amount of information or ideas presented in one training session, whether that is one class or 10 classes, or in a private lesson or coaching.

To get how this might apply to both private lessons for adults and courses, here are three sources to jump start your thinking:

Compulsory Teaching, by Dr. Shannon Coates

Shut Up and Let the Student Sing, by Cate Frazier-Neely

Giving Students ‘Think Time

III. Making mistakes is useful for learning

STARES OUT WINDOW AT DAFFODILS

Here, the answer is yes. The enemy of learning, creativity and authentic vocal expression is Perfectionism.

There’s a fine line between expecting a student’s best and demanding perfection.

However, my colleague, Jennifer Cooper, says that in teaching adult singers, making repeated mistakes at the fundamental level (pitches, rhythmic accuracy etc.) can create a reinforcement of inaccuracy (i.e. once that pitch is learned “wrong”, it takes dozens of accurate repetitions to correct it).

And I would add that the educating the ear and physical coordination, to make music, is harder as an adult that it is for a child–just like languages and sports. Making mistakes is only useful for people who do the work of learning from them.

The Secret of Creativity: Make Mistakes

IV. Students who express satisfaction with a training course are more likely to have learned more than students who say they were dissatisfied with the training course.

WATCHES CAT LICKING HIS PRIVATES

This one may surprise you. The answer here is no, too!

Expressing satisfaction with a teacher or training course may not be the same as learning what is being taught by the teacher or in that training program. The five-star, ‘rate your professor’ nonsense that has taken root does not measure anything accurately or well. I have seen amazing teachers given one star because the student thought the homework was too hard, and charismatic teachers given 5 stars because they acted like buddies with their students. Expressing satisfaction, or no satisfaction, has little to do with what has been learned in many cases. To read more:

Alliger, G.M. Tannenbaum, Bennett, Traver, & Shotland (1997) A meta-analysis of the relations among training criteria. Personnel Psychology, 50(2), 341-358

Sitzmann, T, Brown, Casper, Ely and Zimmerman (2008) a review and meta-analysis of the nomological network of trainee reactions, Journal of Applied Psychology, 93, 280-295

Please share your thoughts on this series! I am preparing the infrastructure for a new voice teacher mentoring course and could use your reactions to these posts.

Evidence-Based Vocal Pedagogy and Other Mystifications Part I

I’m developing a 5-month digestible program for singing teachers who haven’t had the opportunity to develop a hands-on understanding of what “evidence-based” teaching of singing means in the 21st century.

Dr. Kari Ragan has written her thoughts on this topic in a Journal of Singing article. You do have to be a NATS member to access it on line. However, you can always contact Kari, tell her you are interested in her work, and ask if she will forward you her article.

I’ve been able to work privately with many masters-in-pedagogy and performance graduates, in classical, jazz and contemporary genres, after they graduate with their degrees. I’m seeing a strange trend that has developed over the past 10-15 years, of voice teachers not understanding what to do with the information they have learned. They aren’t sure how to make it useful or fit it in with their world of experience. So the next summer, they go to another pedagogy intensive, hoping to learn what they still do not understand.

There are many fine voice pedagogues who teach in useful ways, and are able to distinguish between voice science, vocal pedagogy, what is true and what is useful. But if you want to be the best teacher you can be, and are not in their programs, how to you begin to make the same distinctions?

That’s what my program is for. I am collaborating with Dr. Patrick L’Espoir Decosta (Australian National University School of Business) to lay the infrastructure for the course.

In Part II I give you a little quiz on what you might think “evidence-based” means in the field of Adult Learning. Especially interesting if you teach adults!

Practice while Standing on One Leg

Ian Anderson, lead singer of Jethro Tull

Did you know you can improve your rhythm AND your singing….while balancing on one leg?

Wha?????

To find out some of WHYS and HOWS, watch my guest appearance on Adam Neely’s fantastic Youtube Channel.

Please pardon the bad haircut. My beloved hairdresser is out on maternity leave and, well, you know…

Menopause and Singing: Shifting the Conversation

As some of you know, I am co-authoring a book with Nancy Bos and Joanne Hayes Bozeman on the topic of women singing through midlife biological changes and menopause.

Research has been pretty fascinating and we are digging into areas not usually associated with The Change. (ooooo, suspense!) Our interviews include 52 female singers during 1) various stages of peri-menopause and menopause, 2) a large variety of genres and musical styles 3) many skill levels and cultural experiences.

We are speaking with colleagues and experts in a wide variety of disciplines and will reference many top-notch resources. We are grateful for those who’ve researched and written about hormonal effects on the female singing voice.

But the REAL experts are the women themselves. Their stories, their solutions, their journeys: sometimes easy and breezing on through, some devastatingly difficult.

Statistics are important but their purpose is not to reveal how individual the mid-life journey is for EACH woman. Data can be used to influence public health policy and obtaining grants for important research. Stories save individuals and pass on wisdom not found in data.

Both are needed!

Western medical science & academic learning must become equal partners with honed intuition, and listening to the Wisdom of the Body to create health, wellness and experience singing in new ways.

This is an “angle” of our book. We are writing for singers and teachers who may not have access to the information that has been gathered over the past 30 years. We are also writing for women who are willing to do the work of rebirthing themselves during these years and need extra support.

I’ll report on our progress so join me here for peeks and perks!

Index of my previous articles

Vocal Warm Ups to Enchant Your Singing

I was inspired to write this blog post by Nikki Loney, a Canadian vocal music educator who runs a popular vocal music education podcast called The Full Voice. She has a three-part series called “Warm Ups from Around the World.”

The warm-ups Nikki includes are suitable for many ages and stages of singers. Part of her mission is to help singers & teachers understand the reasons for the vocal exercises they use, and sing them in a spirit of fun and exploration. While the exercises may be familiar to more experienced teachers, I was thrilled to hear the guest artist/teachers’ explanations for WHY you are using them and HOW to do them.

This matters much more than the actual exercises themselves! So consider heading over to her series and listen.

In the meantime, here’s three vocal warm-ups from CateFNStudios that I use.

I.  Pick a short musical phrase from the music that your student or group is singing. Choose one that can be moved up and down the chromatic scale easily. Limit them one or two measures at the most.

Here’s an example for developing voices of any age or stage: a passage from the end of Linda Ronstadt’s recording of Ray Orbison’s “Blue Bayou.”

Use “Blue—Bay—-Ou—-“

Works for women and men. Roy Orbison recorded it first, but he ends on the upper tonic, not the displaced third. If you aren’t sure what that means, listen to them both. You’ll hear the difference without needing to know the theory.

This helps coordinate chest to head registration smoothly in all styles of music, perhaps after registration work has taken root. It easily syncs with most functional vocal pedagogy models out there that use other names for those registrations/qualities.

It can also help with teaching relationships between intervals and with coordinating sustained singing. You can also use it as a “Messa di Voce” exercise.

Plus you get to introduce young people to Ronstadt and Orbison if they look at you with a blank stare….

For choristers, any pattern that has slow, sustained passages has the benefit of the kind of choral tuning that American choral conductor Robert Shaw used. Church choir directors can’t usually take the time needed for this way of working, but it can be incorporated into 2 minutes with one short passage as part of your choir’s warm-up. Over time this will develop stamina, mental focus, and group bonding.

II. For vocal flexibility and ear training for world music, Indie artists or jazz singers–have them warm up on arpeggiated patterns that are not the traditional major scale 1-3-5-8-5-3-1 pattern.

Eventually move to other arpeggiated blues or harmonic patterns using syllables they choose. Try to guide them to “ahs and ays” on the lower notes and “ees, oos or ohs” on the higher pitches. Scat singers will use their patterns or you can suggest something like “doo-bway-doo,” etc.

PS. I make classical singers do this, too, to wake up their ears.

I recognize that not all singers and teachers can play this warm up in different keys on a keyboard. You can adapt this idea for you and your students in any way that serves them.

III. This general idea is for singers who know their music well and are far enough along that it makes sense to them:

I coached privately many years ago with the late Randolph Maulden, of The Washington Opera. Obviously I warmed up before coachings, but then he often had me sing phrases from whatever I was working on, starting 4 1/2 steps down from its key, and going up two more 1/2 steps beyond the highest note and back down. I experienced this as a real work out. This gave me a chance to move through all the registration minutia, and solidified where high notes in the right key actually existed in my throat, body and psyche (as a whole singer.) This idea also can be adapted, so open to your creativity!

Once you know the HOW and the WHY for a warm-up or exercise, you can always adapt it to be the most useful!

Please like, comment or share to let me know this post was helpful to you!