Singing and Teaching From an Undivided Self

In a month or so I am launching a mentoring program for Teachers of Singing and Recovering Academics.

It’s called “The Alchemy of Teaching Singing.”

I put this together because there is a crying need for those who work with singers to understand that the best teaching and coaching comes from those who come from an Undivided Self.

They are teaching WHO they are far more than WHAT they know.

Learning to do this requires a sort of alchemical process to find personal and pedagogical truths amidst the deafening noise of information, data, and a cult of personality. These things don’t work well with singing. Because singing is about the silence of stillness, becoming a channel for bio-electric energy, all human expression and divine connection.

I think many teachers know this–but they don’t FEEL it. They know in their heads how it is supposed to be, but have not been able to embody it yet, even as they help their students considerably. They have degrees and workshop certifications coming out every available body hole but still are wondering where their magic is.

We have more educated voice teachers now than at any time in the history of academia and dare I say it? Very little teaching from an Undivided Self, which means very little true wisdom.

It is about staying centered in spite of (insert performance issue, equipment malfunction, audience reaction, your self-agonizing “oh I didn’t sing that passage well.”) The later is slap-in-the-face to the privilege of singing and having an education. All functional pedagogy must lead to these things, or it is simply mental masturbation

Your “undivided Self” is created, not only in health and wellness, but by exploring your own inner life and creativity. “The Alchemy of Teaching Singing” will introduce practical and useful steps towards integrating your Undivided Self as a teacher and a singer.

Every major thread of one’s life experience must be honored, which creates a state of being of such coherence and strength that it can hold students and subject as well as the Self.

Singing is the “Great Thing” that should exist at the center of our teaching. The ‘center of knowing’ is often placed with the teacher, and ignores the special place where the magic happens: in the space between singer and singing teacher.

Special thanks to Palmer Parker and his brilliant book “The Courage to Teach.”

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…

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!

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!

Vocal Pedagogy and Creativity, Part II

Part I in this series was well-received and lays out the groundwork for Part II–

Introduction

In this post, I’ve gone academic on you–just to have a framework to discuss broad topics.  I’ve highlighted three elements that are part of a larger concept that psychologist Benjamin Bloom identified for his learning model widely known as Bloom’s Taxology.

Anyone who wants to teach or to transform information into a useful body of personal wisdom would find his work very interesting. However, you certainly don’t need to consciously know this stuff to have the same outcome. I have operated in the following “mode” most of my life and didn’t know any of this.

Our culture does not allow for the following kinds of developmental learning, starting as early as age 5. Yet, we are all capable of it!

Bloom identified three “areas” of Learning as:

I.   Cognitive Learning (Mental skills and Knowledge)

II.  Affective (Growth in Feelings and Emotional Areas)

III. Psychomotor (Manual or Physical Skills)

According to Bloom, collecting information and remembering data are considered the beginning, or bottom rung, of Cognitive Learning.

And Creating is the top rung.

And here’s what the Cognitive Domain looks like in Bloom’s pyramid:

bloom-taxonomy

Some teachers teach from the place of collecting and remembering information, and then maybe have stepped up onto the level of Understanding what it means to them. This is a good start.

But as an exceptional teacher, you need to  eventually get to the top 1-3 parts of the pyramid.

There is obviously some overlap of all three domains because we each are unique individuals who find our own ways.

For the purposes of this article, I would like to highlight THREE aspects of learning, one from each domain, for you to consider.

Cognitive Domain

1. “Divergent Thinking” means generating multiple ways of taking information and finding new ways to address a topic or find solutions to a problem. This kind of thinking has become a hot topic for the study of brain function in creativity.

Divergent thinking occurs in a spontaneous, free-flowing, ‘non-linear’ manner. It does not move from ‘a’ to ‘b’ to ‘c.’

It prefers to zig when everyone else is zagging. It thrives in solitude, uncertainty and the imagination. It makes useful connections among unrelated pieces of information. The manner in which divergent thinking takes place is unique to everyone and everyone has to discover their own ways to develop and allow it.

“Convergent thinking”, on the other hand, is the ability to apply rules to arrive at a single ‘correct’ solution to a problem, such as an answer to an IQ test question. This process is systematic and linear.  Both styles of thinking are important and are meant to work together.

Psychomotor Domain

1. Somatic Re-Education of the Body and establishing the realization that your body carries its own wisdom!

This connection has been severed in our culture, but has revived among singers, dancers, actors, athletes, healers and physical therapists because our art is the stuff of which this connection is made.  The reason I place such fundamental importance on learning through somatic re-education is that western culture is still imbued with the notion that all worthy learning takes place in the brain and “higher realms.”

Oh my goodness, no. no no no! The physical body learns and holds information too, and is an equal with the brain and heart center. Sometimes the heart needs to heal before the body can heal. Sometimes the body needs to heal before the brain can work well. Somatic Education helps us reestablish how our bodies and minds are meant to function together, and is especially important as we age.

Alexander Technique, Feldenkreis, Yoga, Rolfing, Nutrition etc., and other modalities are all methods of somatic re-education.  But the effect it has on you is directly related to the kind of teaching you receive.

Affective Learning

1. Development of Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence can be a natural gift which seems to be more hard-wired in women that in men.  But it can be developed in anyone. It is the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. E.I. is now being taught in business schools like Wharton and Case Western Reserve as a necessary tool in what is called “Resonant Leadership.”

Other ways of developing this part of Affective Learning are through counseling and modeling behavior of other emotionally intelligent people.  Time Magazine published a recent article which, at the end of an article on drugs and depression, lists drug-free ways that have all been scientifically proven to have transformative effects on emotions and in handling interpersonal relationships well: Exercise, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Behavioral-Activation Therapy, Mindfulness Training and Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation.

(I totally understand the need for the right drugs in the right doses, monitored by a health care professional.)

Conclusion to a long blog post…

These aspects  of turning information into something useful are true for anyone in any field.  Many life-long learners and some of your favorite teachers are using these steps to teach, even though they may not be consciously aware that Learning Theory has names for the processes.

Are there any Vocal Pedagogy graduate programs out there including Bloom’s theories in the coursework? The steps can be cultivated and are incredibly rewarding. Those EUREKA moments and connections are the stuff of ecstasy!

Life is about experiencing ALL the aspects of learning, not just running around devouring and acquiring new information and others’ ideas. And don’t panic. You have Time to realize learning is life long and no one is ever finished.  I started teaching music when I was 13 years old, had my first paid singing gig at 18, and am now 61. It sure did not happen all at once and is on-going.

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

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Also check out this video by Sir Ken Robinson