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!

Beliefs that Hinder Singing Part I: Vocal Master Class #8

Alex is a 60-year old singer who has been challenging, but ultimately, rewarding voice student for the past five years. If you read the number “60” and decided he was to old to be of interest to you, I ask that you take a hard look at your ageism prejudice and see if there is something you can learn from him.

He loves classical music, especially the unusual contemporary classical genre (I was elevated to heroine status after he found out I had worked with John Cage,)  and sings in an auditioned, non-professional choir. He had had studied with the late James McDonald at one time and is a professional composer and pianist.

He has many  beliefs (things that he thinks of as true) that hinder his singing.

Alex  harbors the belief that he is just a few voice lessons away from being able to sing perfectly at every choral rehearsal and every performance because “others seem to be able to do so.” When I first became aware of this belief,  I said,

“Expecting to experience The Ineffable every time you open your mouth to sing, every time you practice, rehearse or perform, is setting yourself up for disappointment…”

To which he replied with the very hilarious

“well, maybe that is why I keep experiencing the F-able when I sing!”

Singers seem to be the only musicians who don’t understand that building a vocal instrument to sing the music you want to sing, and keeping it in shape over a lifetime, are two different tasks than developing musical skills. If you come at singing more from a theater perspective, I highly recommend H. Wesley Balk’s books Performing Power and The Complete Singer-Actor, which explores this idea from your point of view.

Alex views his world through the Autistic spectrum. Among other things, he sees many things very literally– very black and white. He came to me after he decided he wanted to develop more kinesthetic awareness of his body.

We have explored elements of Body Mapping, Andover Education and vocal sounds and patterns from a functional pedagogy approach. He does not like much else of what I have tried, but this method appeals to him.  Many of the somatic release and awareness strategies I use just left him feeling frustrated and stupid. This was a new experience for me, too, to have someone not be able to discern differences and shifts from this kind of work.

We discussed what “balance” vs. “blend” means while singing in choirs, and I repeatedly had to remind him that he takes on too much responsibility in choral rehearsals. At first he liked this observation. It made him feel important. And because he can sight-read anything, including complicated scores in other languages, he thinks that means he is supposed to lead others.. For example, if 3 tenors of 6 are absent from rehearsal, he personally takes it on to make up volume, and ends up shoving lots of air through his vocal folds and fatigues quickly.

So his belief system hinders the already slow process of functional voice training. He understands the idea that in choral singing, one should be able to hear oneself, but not louder than those around you. This Ideal drove him crazy until I explained that the concept only works if everyone in the choir is of equal vocal ability. If your whole section is made up of people barely putting out anything, you can sing softly and still sound like a trumpet. When someone is singing next to you like a nasal brass band, there is no way you can hear yourself. “Loud” will always be heard over “Lovely.”

Alex started therapy and I asked him to bring up his basic trait to feel personally responsible for things that are out of his control. It is often a fear-based control response that requires great courage to look at and begin to heal with new behaviors and thoughts. I am also helping him find a low-key meditation instructor so he can begin to learn the art of mindfulness through another manner of working. He is resistant to studying other forms of somatic education or I would have him study with other somatic educators. Staying in the moment, focusing on what his body is experiencing, is actually very frightening to him, as he does not trust his body, and therein lies a dilemma for someone who wants to sing.

As a culture, we are just starting to return to what the ancient Greeks somehow KNEW about medicine, music and healing. A foundational element that Western medicine has yet to embrace is that our beliefs, experiences, environments and emotions shape our biology and therefore, our singing.

If you are interested in more, look up articles on the scientific fields of  Psychoneuroimmunology and Epigenetics.

Thanks for reading! Please leave me a comment, like or subscribe so I know these kinds of articles are of interest to you.

 

 

 

Psoas Release and Strengthening in a Tenor: Vocal Master Class #2

 

Nick is a musical and musically-literate 26-year old tenor with a Theater Degree and college voice lessons. He was on the roster of, and acted professionally with, an East Coast Shakespeare Company and is interested in singing opera and legit musical theater. He arrived full of enthusiasm…and with a voice transitioning from baritone to tenor.

Somatics

About 15 years ago, through personal circumstance, I realized that the ‘Psoas Muscles’  are an important part of both the body’s Core Muscles and Respiratory System. Somatic Educators are talking about them now, but they remain rarely discussed in the voice teaching community. They are  primary muscles in stabilizing the trunk of the body and in movement.

Nicks’ postural habits were to stand with his pelvis thrust forward and his thoracic and cervical vertebrae collapsed. He stood and walked with his knees turned out and feet splayed. Vocal pedagogue, Marybeth Dayme, (Dynamics of the Singing Voice and other vocal pedagogy books), advocates that singers stand with their feet pointing straight out, knees unlocked, to help biodynamic energy flow. I use this idea with most students and for most, it stabilizes the hips and pelvic structure so breath management and general grounding work more efficiently. But Nick could not stand this way comfortably, and it made his alignment even worse, so I knew I needed to teach him how to first release, then strengthen, his psoas muscles if we were going to free up his alignment in order to have his functional voice training really take root.

For the first two months of weekly lessons, we worked on psoas lengthening, releasing, and strengthening. This took about five to ten minutes of every lesson, and he did the exercises at home. His body alignment used to make him look like a “curmudgeon,” and now reads “leading man!” But more importantly, he has adapted for himself what he needs to do physically for a curmudgeon-y character that will not interfere with what he wants to do vocally.  Good if you need to sing Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame!

Here are some good sources for learning about the Psoas Muscles and how to release and strengthen them for free and flexible alignment.

Liz Koch’s “The Psoas Book.”  Or Visit her Website.

How to Stretch and Strengthen the Psoas

articles from Align Integration and Movement

Always start with a psoas release–which is easy.  Lie on your back with your feet on the floor, knees bent. Just relax and breathe for a minute, and you will feel the small of your back release to the floor. This is a basic release, and it depends on the person how long it will take.

Functional Voice Training

We spend a great deal of time working through the tenor first passaggio. (D# through F# or so) He is developing a new way to move through this transition point, which involves registration isolation, registration blending, and vowel work on traditional vocalise. The three teachers that I learned the most from for working through the tenor passaggio are James McDonald, Richard Miller, Elizabeth Daniels, Jeanie Lovetri and confirmed by the writings of David Jones.

Functional training helps a great deal with breathing and breath management, without mentioning breathing. However, with this student I do work an organic “back breath,” and awareness that the muscles of the epigastrium can not get big and hard on inhalation, or the “appoggio” can not engage in singing.

We also work on not over-opening the mouth while developing ease in his temporalis and masseter muscles. (the mouth is a primary resonating cavity for registration used in classical singing, and if it is to far open in the middle, vocal focus is lost.) This is a tenor’s mid range, and volumes have been written about negotiating this passage. Often high notes are not an issue. But the quality of the top and longevity in singing are dependent on the way this area is sung, for both classical and pop singers.

This requires monitored self-massage of these muscles as he sings slowly from pitch to pitch, vowel to vowel.

Vital Singing

James is so musical that as his mind, throat and body coordinate, his heart takes over and he is beginning to sing beautifully consistently.  It remains astonishing to me how functional work frees a musical soul! We are still a long way from singing the operatic repertoire he want to sing, but the voice takes time.

You absolutely can not hurry a voice towards real operatic development.

If you found value in the post, please like, comment, share or subscribe!  Thank you for taking the time to read this blog!