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!

Growing Your Growth Mindset!

Two Awesome Resources to help you understand, and then ‘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?

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 are a singer who finds yourself needing to swallow 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! I suggested she do 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 one possible reason and my solutions/recommendations solutions for one singer. The next post will be on another reason and possible solution.

“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!

A Later Life Singer: Vocal Master Class #4

“In helping a person increase functionality, it is important to follow the logic of human development.  You can not expect someone to run who can not walk.”

–from “Singing With Your Whole Self–The Feldenkrais Method and Voice,” by Samuel Nelson and Elizabeth Blades-Zeller.

Val is a 64-year old retired business woman who has sung her whole life and studied singing privately off and on. She is in good health. After her husband passed away, she decided to renew herself by studying singing and exploring  jazz standards in several languages.

Somatics

I had noticed that Val routinely “held” herself very carefully and there was a veiled sound to her singing, although it also had a lovely timbre and was tuneful. She sang in a swallowed chest registration, tongue tension was easy to hear. She shared with me that her mother always told her she couldn’t sing and frequently made fun of her attempts to take lessons as a young adult. She had no parental support for her singing and obviously felt she did not deserve to be heard….

…..and I could see by the way she carried herself that she had no kinesthetic sense of her spine as supportive and flexible. She said she often had lower back pain, but as far as she knew, there was no medical issue. So  I chose to  start with exercises I learned from Andover Educator, Dr. Sarah Adams Hoover. Dr. Hoover introduced me in 2000 to the study and practical application of Body Mapping, a phrase coined by the founder of Andover Education, William Conable. Here is one exercise that Sarah taught me:

I asked Val to drape herself, stomach first, over a 55 mm Pilates ball and gently roll back and forth until she became comfortable and relaxed. After asking her permission to touch her back, I placed one hand on the center of the back of her head and the other on her tail bone. (essentially the length of the spine.)

Through slow awareness exercises, such mindful breathing and mental images stimulated by spinal animation videos on the web, she became aware of differences in sensation between 1.) holding herself in her habitual rigid pattern and 2) being able to feel her spine contracting when she inhales, and lengthening on the exhale. The reason this is important is that if the spine is not freely moving on inhaling and exhaling, there will be incomplete movement anywhere else, including the larynx and vocal folds!

With time, this awareness was transferred to sitting and standing, allowing for the change in gravity with each. Her new awareness needs to be reenforced as she sings.

Dr. June Wieder, author of Song of the Spine calls this natural movement “…a standing wave between these curves in order to maintain the structural and neural integrity of the nervous system.” The freedom of our singing is dependent on the function of our central nervous system.

Functional Voice Training

Thanks to the baby boomers and those who came of age in the late 1940’s,  1950’s and ’60’s, there are more senior singers than ever working to stay vital and sing longer. When working with older singers you must understand what happens to a body and voice as it ages.  Also know that it is possible for new neural pathways from brain to body to be forged with the right kind of physical and mental exercises in voices that have functional problems.

If I was to work with Val according to how she sounded, I would have started with breathing and brighter vowels, “getting the sound forward,” trying to relax the tongue, relearning vowel formations, activating the soft palate, etc.  She would have improved for a time, maybe 3 months, then tapered off, because the issues did not stem from how she sounded.

They were the result of what her vocal folds were not doing.

“They way she sounded” were symptoms of atrophied vocal folds and general largyngeal muscle weakness. which caused all these other things. Also, ossification of the larynx (cartilage turning into bone) actually starts in a fetus, but the process continues and amplifies as we age. There are vocal advantages to this, but it does make it impossible to “have your voice feel, sound and act like it did when you were younger.”

In spite of Val’s singing entirely in a low register, it was a weak ‘chest voice function’ which was a surprise to her. Our process, once a week for the first 3 months, focused on exercises to coax response from those weakened laryngeal muscles, then strengthen them in balance with her newly found head voice. Only then could we start to entice a more enjoyable and effective  breath and breath management system.

In the second 3 months, we added a few traditional vocalize after the functional technical work. I had to remember that I could not move faster than Val was ready to go functionally AND emotionally. She began personal therapy which has enabled her to move through her study with more purpose and happiness.

Vital Singing

From the start, I made a deal with Val that if she would trust me and not work on any songs during her lessons for 6 months, she could use the following resources to play with her singing at home. I promised we would begin working on songs after she had been regularly studying and practicing what I wanted her to practice for 6 months. I wasn’t sure she’d cooperate but she did!

  1.   Flight: Rhiannon’s Interactive Guide to Vocal Improvisation
  2.  Pages from Bob Staloff’s book Scat! Comes with a CD. (This is actually an advanced book for people already skilled in jazz style, not just straight American Standards found in collections. So unless you are working with an accomplished jazz artist, I strongly recommend that the teacher be able to sing the exercises before introducing the exercises to students.
  3. I built some exercises around some of the Spanish and French songs she wanted to sing, focusing on singing the phrases without consonants. (snuck some traditional pedagogy in there!)

This approach enabled her to have fun until she caught on to what the functional work could help her do and why we were doing it.

Then, after working with her consistently for about 11 months, I partnered her with a client who is a professional guitarist interested in the same kinds of music, and they prepared a one half hour Christmas set for a holiday gathering. That is a huge deal for someone who has never done such a thing before!

She is now singing at local open mikes, and has developed the confidence to sign up for summer music camps with major artists like Bobby McFerrin.  Her voice has lost the veiled, “stuck” quality, is brighter and more present, and she has a usable 2 octave range with easy transitions from bottom to top.  She now has an instrument that she can “play” with.  She also started a Circle Singing group in her suburb and leads it weekly.

This is a real “voice building” process. I know that many voice teachers don’t bother with students like Val.  But we live in a world sorely in need of transformation. By transforming ourselves and helping students transform themselves, we become part of an alchemical process of healing a very sick culture.

And post-menopausal women, when guided through the change with a team of supported friends, teachers and other guides, become incredible pillars of creativity, strength and power!

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