Vocal Warm Ups to Enchant Your Singing

I was inspired to write this blog post by Nikki Loney, a Canadian vocal music educator whose popular The Full Voice podcast is one I just listened to for the first time. She has a three-part series called “Warm Ups from Around the World,” so I tuned in while working off cream puffs on the treadmill.

(But first, silly me–and this is how my brain works—

When I read the podcast title I thought, “Oooo! scales and vocal patterns from India and the Sufi tradition! Chanted and sung styles from the Maori in New Zealand! Vocal Exercises from Bejing Opera!) ūüôā

No, Nikki’s warm ups are much more practical and suitable for many ages and stages of singers. Part of her mission is to help singers and teachers understand the purposes behind 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 take a listen.

I AM INSPIRED TO SHARE…

…three vocal warm ups, and their underlying reasons, that I’ve¬†learned¬†or¬†developed¬†over¬†the¬†years.¬†¬†Attribution goes to¬†my¬†father,¬†the¬†late¬†Robert¬†W.¬†Frazier, the¬†late¬†Randolph¬†Mauldin¬†of¬†Washington¬†Opera,¬†and¬†my¬†Creative Muse.

I.  Pick short musical phrases from the music that your group or student is singing. Choose patterns that can be moved up and down the chromatic scale, or can easily jump around once a key is established. Keep 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.” She ends the song with these intervals of the major Root Chord (the key the song is in.)

Use “Blue—Bay—-Ou—-“

Works for women and men. Ray 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 mix to head registration smoothly in all styles of music. It easily incorporates with most functional vocal pedagogy models out there that use other names for those registrations/qualities.

Or, if a mix hasn’t developed yet, it helps with teaching relationships between intervals. It also helps with sustained singing, breath management. As a teacher, use it as a deliberate application of the “Mezzo di Voce” exercise.

Plus you get to introduce 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 Choral Conductor Robert Shaw used. Church choir directors can’t usually take the kind of time needed for this way of working, but it can be done in 2 minutes with one short passage as part of your choir’s warm-up. Over time this will bear also bear fruit for 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 1-3-5-8-5-3-1 major scale pattern. (perhaps start with a minor arpeggio.)

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 sometimes 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 thousands of years ago with the late Randolph Maulden, of The Washington Opera. Obviously I warmed up before coaching with him, but then he often had me further warm up by singing phrases from whatever I was working on, starting 4 half steps down from its key, and going up two half 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 pysche. (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 useful to you!

Growing Your Growth Mindset!

Two Awesome Resources to help find and ‘grow’ your Growth Mindset!

Growth Mindset for Creatives with Petra Raspel, Interviewed by Nancy Bos on Bos’ Every Sing Podcast

and

Growth Mindset for Singers with Cate Frazier-Neely, Interviewed by Dr. Dan of Dr. Dan’s Voice Essentials Youtube Channel

Note: To skip to the beginning of my interview go to around 7:00.

Let me know what you got out of listening or viewing! What one or two points really got your attention?

Contemporary Musical Theater Repertoire: Women in Mid to Later Life

There are a large number of ‘mid-to-late life’ female musical theater singers who are singing better than ever as they age. I am sure they work very hard at it. And at the same time, they’ve learned to let go of their younger selves to make room for the warmth, depth and passion the mid to later life years can bring.¬† Please add your additions to this list in the comments.

If you are a women “of a certain age,” you can sing just about anything if you invest in good arrangements. If an ingenue sings the song in the original musical theater version, you can work with a good arranger or pianist to have something arranged for you that helps to express you today. This does cost money, but then you have an arrangement that is yours to sing in cabaret, auditions and other programs. But we do have a new body of song starting to build up that expresses the many facets and experiences of growing older.

My Most Beautiful Day (Tuck Everlasting)

I haven’t Got a Prayer (Sister Act) Sung by Mother Abbess (starts at about 30′)

Dividing Day and Fable  (Light in the Piazza) sung by Margaret

Close the Door (Anastasia) sung by Dowager Empress

Better Yourself (War Paint) sung by Elizabeth Arden

Now You Know (War Paint) sung by Helena Rubenstein

So Big/So Small (Dear Evan Hanson) sung by Heidi

(Also, listen to Renee Fleming’s latest CD release with an arrangement for her of this song.)

Land of Yesterday (Anastasia)
sung by Countess Lilly

Just One Step (Songs for a New World) sung by Woman 2

Love and Love Alone (The Visit) sung by Claire

Almost and Always Better  (Bridges of Madison County) sung by Francesca

Big, Blonde and Beautiful (Hairspray) sung by Mother Maybelle

Days of Plenty and Here Alone, (Little Women) sung by Marmee (the video quality of these recordings is poor, but it’s the the great Maureen McGovern ¬†singing!


Days and Days (Fun Home) sung by Allison

Another Winter in Summer Town and Will You (Grey Gardens) sung by Edie

And last, but not least, check out the second act songs from the musical John and Jen by Andrew Lippa. Jen has a grown son in the second act.

Please comment, like, share or subscribe if you found this post useful! Thanks for reading.

Excess Saliva While Singing, Part II: Vocal Master Class #11

Let’s face it, the topic of “saliva and singing” isn’t particularly interesting unless you need to swallow excess saliva after every other word. Or you need to completely stop singing to allow saliva time to move down the esophagus.

Chronic excess saliva while singing can suck the joy out of making music. It makes you feel unreliable and is both anxiety and frustration-producing as well. Which just makes the problem worse. And then you feel worse because you KNOW this.

I’d never thought much about this issue in my 38 years of working with singers and singing teachers. Then, last month, three clients turned up IN THE SAME WEEK, who were dealing with excess saliva and singing. One singer’s issue was solved within one session, but I had to do my research because it was new to me.

I then had to fit that research into my overlying pedagogic principles and the use of personal creativity in the studio. (Read Vocal Pedagogy and Creativity, Parts, I and II, starting HERE.)

Reason #2: Excess Saliva and Singing can be caused by certain mouthwashes, toothpastes and teeth whitening products.

Celia, Singer #2, is in her late 30’s, a professional chorister with a BA in piano. She developed the excess saliva about a year ago. When she came for her first session, as we were speaking I noted that her mouth smelled minty. As it turned out, I had just spoken with my dentist about excess saliva and certain mouthwashes, which sometimes contains saliva-inducing ingredients that are normally used to help people with dry mouth. Obviously, vocal fold health depends upon being hydrated.¬† I asked Celia about her dental regime and she told me that she regularly uses a mouthwash and fluoride gel-cams.

Da-Ding! She did her own research on the products she used and discovered that they did contain flavoring agents that are often saliva-inducing. These can include sweeteners such as sorbitol, sucralose, sodium saccharin, and xylitol, all of which stimulate salivary function. Three days after discontinuing use of these products, she noticed much less excess saliva while she sang. We had one more session and she seemed to be happy with her progress and ready to return to her voice teacher.

Jan Potter Reed, a wonderful SLP and Singing Voice Specialist at The Chicago Institute for Voice, suggested elderberry lozenges as a possible remedy for excess saliva, but added that singers have to be in touch with whether or not they dry out the mouth too much and create other issues by drying out the vocal folds.

NOTE: Another cause of excessive swallowing during singing is acid reflux.  Each singer with this condition needs a different management plan and kinds of support.

Thank you for being here! Please like, share or subscribe if you found this post useful.

 

 

 

Excess Saliva While Singing, Part I, Vocal Masterclass #10

Recently I worked with three singers who experience excessive saliva while they sing. They need to constantly stop to swallow and regroup before resuming phonation. Getting to the bottom of the issue was different for each one! What a puzzle.

In this first of a 2-part “Saliva Series,” I’ll describe reason #1 and my solutions/recommendations solutions for one singer. The next post will be on solution #2.

“Steven” is a bass with a church job who also sings with an established men’s a cappella ensemble with the name “The Suspicious Cheese Lords.” This organization is paying for each singer to have a private lesson with either Elizabeth Daniels or myself, as we have been their ensemble’s vocal clinicians for the past 7 years. When Steven came in, I asked him to tell me what he wanted to work on and he mentioned the saliva issue, among other things.

We were able to help his excess-saliva-and-need-to-swallow-a-great-deal issue in one session.

Reason #1: Saliva as drainage can be a head/neck alignment issue.

The overlying principles used in our session together were:

Observation, Somatic Empathy, and Using Repeated Slow and Tiny Muscle Movements to Bring Head and Neck into a Freer Dynamic. (Steven cranes his head forward in a rather fixed state, but only while singing.  He described his work environment as aerodynamic, with supportive-seating, computer height, standing desk, etc.)

We then adding the task of holding music, singing small intervals of pitch while on only two vowels, back and forth along the chromatic scale.

We balanced coordination among arms, wrists, hands, and core muscles while holding music, which affects that neck-head freedom. He experienced new sensations around the T-12 vertebrae, especially in ease of breath response and engagement upon phonation.  He voiced that he thought this would reduce anxiety around performance and ensemble rehearsals.

IMG-2308

All this for saliva issues!

What did we “do?”

  1. Somatic Tongue release which takes a full 10 minutes to experience.
  2. Drape over a Pilates ball to experience spinal movement–which changed shoulders from a fixed to a dynamic alignment. (another ten minutes.)
  3. Then “Gorilla Breath” in stages, from draping front first over a large Pilates ball to graduated standing. (based on Alexander Technique and other body-mind work involving limbic response noises.)
  4. Tongue over straw, ai-ai-ai on 1-2-1-2-1, while guiding back to freedom of spine. At the end of all this slow work he reported that he felt freedom and movement in tailbone and pelvic area.
  5. We also worked back and forth between his native language of French and English and the curious minutia around the “a” vowel which was exposed.

All this mind-body work alternated with allowing one or two minutes between activities to process and let the work to “sink in.” I told one or two anecdotal stories to allow him to relax his focus, laugh and regroup.

I suggested that he mark in his scores when to swallow if it became excessive again while he was learning new skills

We finished by Steven singing a page of choral music. No saliva. He realizes that practicing this awareness is important and is not the same as what he normally experiences out of anxiety about the saliva overload. He said, “I feel singing as a connection between my body and my head. And the saliva is greatly reduced.”

It also helped him use the good stuff that his former teacher had taught him!

Thanks for reading! These kinds of in-depth blog posts take time to write and edit. Please like, subscribe or share if you found it useful!

 

 

Beliefs That Hinder Singing, Part II: Vocal Master Class #9

Joshua is a 46-year old tenor with a lovely singing voice and a great deal of responsibilities both at work and to his family.  He has three children under the age of 13, a wife managing her chronic medical condition, and he works full-time in a demanding corporate job.  It is amazing to me that he has made time for voice lessons consistently since his wife bought him a few lessons for his 40th birthday, 6 years ago!

Josh studied singing in college, follows written music, and performed in musical theater for many years. At the time we started lessons he was singing in his synagogue choir and occasionally soloing as a lay cantor. He wanted to eventually return to singing musical theater in community productions. He figured if he could keep at it, he wouldn’t be rusty when he retired.

He has a history of severe sinus and throat issues, including terrible allergies and multiple procedures to remove nasal polyps.

Josh has little time or head space to practice. While he enjoys our journeying through  functional vocal development, it took him a very long while to change the way he sang. Progress was slow but I always allowed time at the end of every lesson for him to sing through a song or two, with my accompanying at the piano so he could enjoy music-making.

After about 3 years of consistent bi-weekly lessons, he began to understand that he couldn’t just launch into a major aria or show tune because he wanted to, and he started to discern what would bring him satisfaction with the progress he’d been able to make.

Joshua also began to also understand the relationships among his singing, sinus and throat issues and the merciless way he drove himself through life to accomplish what he wanted and needed to do.

Up until this personal epiphany, the physical releases and different vocal sensations created by our work together couldn’t take root for this reason:

He equated the pressure in his throat with the pressure he needed to keep going with his responsibilities as as father, husband and bread winner.¬†To let go of some habitual muscles responses to create freer singing responses felt, to him, like letting go of what he needed to”have” to push through life.

Personal Ego identifications often shift during voice training based on motor learning change, as opposed to a more band-aid approach of completing a motor task. And this ego change can be threatening to many singers.

Yet he did understand that his singing needed to be easier. We began changing his diet through working with a nutritionist and found a medical practice for his sinus issues that had a holistic approach.  He also found a better ENT for his sinus flair ups and changed some of the chemical cleaners in his home to less toxic alternatives.

Slowly he opened to to the idea allowing regular somatic education with an outside body worker/practitioner. Somatic education is largely guided by a practitioner or voice teacher, such as myself, who has trained her/his high “somatic empathy” to serve others¬†as a precursor, or partner, to functional vocal pedagogy. I am not the only person doing this in lessons and sessions,¬†but it is still a rare combination to find in one voice teacher.

I also got Josh into regular therapeutic massage.  He started working with an integrative health specialist on adrenal fatigue, which effects hormonal balance, which frankly, made all the difference in the world in his ability to make faster vocal progress. Then the somatic experiencing started to make more sense to him as he started to feel different physically.

Josh studied with me regularly–every other week–for over 6 years before the air flow pattern and patterns of muscle dysfunction were transformed to consistent freer singing. But kudos to him for not giving up when most people would have because of family and work, and kudos to me for having the patience of the Biblical Job!

Josh continues to sing as a lay cantor in his synagogue and now enjoys singing musical theater repertoire from the Golden Age standards as well as Disney film musicals like Hercules.

If you teach voice primarily in academic music programs, or even work mostly with children and teenagers, chances are good that you don’t see students like¬† Josh in your studio. As people age, their belief systems and health patterns become “fixed,” unless they are tenacious about learning to change and grow. And this requires a huge leap of faith–those “fixed” ideas were originally developed to help a person survive in their environment. This is obviously complicated by the number of responsibilities one has, cultural and religious attitudes, personal expectations and mental & physical health.

All we want to do is sing and enjoy our singing! But the ability to do so is very tied to every facet of our being.¬† Singing is part of living well–everyone needs some movement, some exercise, some beauty and the support of others to connect body to soul, the stuff of a well-lived life!

If you liked this article, please comment, subscribe or share. Thank you for taking the time to read this post!

Click here to read “Beliefs That Hinder Singing, Part I.”

or “Higher Education Without The Terminal Academic Degree”

 

 

 

 

 

First Year of Voice Lessons for an Award-Winning Folk Singer: Voice Master Class #1

Laura is a 33-year old folk-rock/Americana professional singer/song-writer and multi-instrumentalist. She’s won an impressive number of awards and grants as a recording artist, educator and performer. She found me after her singing had become weak and strained, and understandably she was worried. She had never received any formal voice training but had sung her whole life.

A challenge of working with musicians who are making part of their living singing is that they want to continue gigging while they learn and readjust. It’s been my experience that I may lose a singer who fits this description if I don’t move from exercises to practical application right away. No science. Working professional singers who are not voice teachers often don’t want the science until they are feeling fluid again.

Laura’s initial consultation/lesson included a full intake where I found out about her lifestyle, medications and supplements she regularly takes. I immediately looked up vocal side effects of several of her medications at¬†The National Center for Voice and Speech.¬†Fortunately, none of her medications had known vocal side effects.

Laura took a lesson once a week for 4 months, then went to a more sporadic lesson schedule. For the past two years, she has come in for “tune-ups” at the rate of 2-3 a year. Every time she comes in there is a reassessment of her speaking, singing and general health, which determines what we work in that lesson. The following sample is a compilation of her lessons in her first year.

Somatic Work:

We invite a shoulder girdle release and stretch through a repeated exercise using a yoga strap and mindful exhale of breath. Afterwards she says her ribs feel “rotated”–her word–which feels more free to her. She also notices that her head is not sitting as far forward on her neck as it was when she came in. We practice a breath that involves an inhale sustained over a ¬†count of 4, followed by holding the breath for a 2 count, then exhale for 4 count, hold for 2 count, etc.–NOT in order to practice “breathing ¬†for singing,” but to calm her parasympathetic nervous system. She often comes into her lessons both tired and wired with caffeine.

She was not willing to change her caffeine habit until we had worked almost two years!

Once she calms down a bit, she asks to do ¬†a Trigger Point Chest Release exercise that I showed her last year when her father passed away. She feels that this exercise helps free an area in her chest where she has identified ¬†restriction (in her case, from ¬†grief.) She feels that the exercise helps her experience breathing as a release, not a ‘tanking up.’

Reassessment and moving though these body exercises takes about 15 minutes. But now she is ready and focused to move into her work.

Functional Work

There is no one way of voice training that is called “functional voice training,” but all functional voice teachers can agree on the basic idea that if laryngeal muscles are trained in an appropriate and systematic fashion, they will go through muscle fibre changes as well as neurological changes. This, in turn, starts to influence the vocal tract and breath management, both of which then can be worked on from a functional perspective.

The semi-occluded straw exercises are all the rage in the voice teaching community now, but I feel they are not the answer to everything. Laura shows me how she has been doing them and I tweak them to become more efficient. She was pressing her lips together very hard and adding a thrust of her tongue.

We then move into “register isolation exercises” from the Cornelius Reid vocal pedagogy tradition.¬† Because Laura’s central nervous system has calmed and her mind refocused on inner process, ¬†we ¬†are able to work slowly and systematically, with stops along the way for her to process what she is sensing. She has been practicing some of the exercises by shoving way to much air through the glottis, so it takes a few minutes for her to get the hang of a more efficient manner of doing them. I reiterate that she can have half hour tune-ups by the web between sessions to catch these kinds of habits so that she is not working against herself.

“Register blending” exercises follow. These are an array of specific tonal patterns, vowels and loud/soft, but can be mixed up depending on what the singer needs. Laura catches herself folding her shoulders in and recognizes for the first time that this is what happens as she sits at her computer in this hunched manner. ¬†(Even though I have asked her to observe this a million times before, today a lightbulb has gone off!) ¬†But I also need to determine if all that is needed is a ‘quick yoga strap postural fix’ or if she is actually being pulled forward because of registration imbalance, which can cause poor posture!

I determine the latter through the way she moves through the tonal patterns with various vowel combinations, tongue movements and noises. I stay in a lower-middle range until she can feel her larynx start to move freely between registers. I have her place her finger sideways across the front of her throat so she can feel movement through the registration pivotal points. She stops pulling forward after about 10 minutes of very slow work, eventually returning to freer alignment.

In order to work this way, I must be willing to trust the process and not tell her “what to do.” I use simple directives and keep myself in a neutral emotional ¬†state, which, I believe, helps her get to the freedom of movement we seek.

Vital Singing

I ask her to sing part of a song and she chooses something that she wrote that she performs frequently. As she starts to sing, her face lights up and she alternates between singing and giving me verbal feedback. “It feels so free!” There was no break!” I ask her to just sing and stay in the delight of what she is feeling. She pulls out her guitar, straps it on, quickly tunes it up, and begins to sing again.

Lord, the whole thing falls apart. Her face is crestfallen and I know that I can not let her leave her lesson until she is back in her happy place.

The instant she begins to play her guitar, I notice a ¬†tensing in her left bicep. I ask her to keep singing as I gently press and pulse on the bicep–her whole body alignment flies into a freer place and she is closer to her happy singing spot. This is not something that could have happened in one or two lessons, but is due to our process over time. We have worked with her playing her guitar before, but this “bicep business” is a new habit that has cropped up.

We spend a few minutes working on rephrasing some texts, and discover that there are many words which start with the letters “SH.” But then I notice that every time she goes through an “SH” she clenches her jaw shut and the bicep starts to engage!¬† This sort of freaks both of us out. I show her how “SH” belongs to the family of consonants that are called “spring jaw consonants.” They are pronounced as if one has an upper jaw (which you obviously don’t!) and quickly and gently spring the upper jaw down to meet the lower jaw. The vowels stay more connected and articulation through those passages stays precise but freed up.¬†(Thank you, master voice teacher Elizabeth Daniels, for Consonants’ School!) We practice this action separately, then with singing, and then with singing and playing ¬†and the bicep eventually releases again. I am in utter awe of this process.

This lesson was heavy on the functional work, but we kept connecting the dots with somatics and vital singing. The ratios change from lesson to lesson. And yes, this lesson took more than an hour but my fee allows for this necessary time, at my discretion.

Later that week, I watch Laura perform, live-streamed, on the Kennedy Center’s Millenium Stage, and am thrilled to see and hear that she has embraced and embodied much of our work. She sounds great, and looks at ease, happy and engaged.

Please comment, like or subscribe so I know these kinds of posts are of interest to you as a singer or a singing teacher!