Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog: July 2013

Training & insights for stage and studio singers, speakers, vocal coaches and producers from professional vocal coach and author of "Power, Path & Performance" vocal training method.

Monday, July 29, 2013

When Does A Child Need Vocal Lessons? Top 5 Reasons

My vocal lesson with amazing child performer Jordan Futch

Children start experimenting with singing quite early and naturally. Singing does so many good things for the psyche and the spirit, little ones seem to intuitively know this (as well as those blessed by hearing them). Many observant parents ask when they should start getting vocal training for their child.

First of all, group singing experiences can be wonderfully instructive in helping a kid grow a good ear for pitch and feel for sense of rhythm. Early acting in plays and musicals help a child learn to be fearless in communicating a message. Church and school choirs, community theater for children, even instrumental lessons (piano especially) - these are great places to nurture musical talent and the ability to read music and understand the language of musicians and composers. If the instructors and directors are good and caring, these experiences can also nurture the LOVE for music and singing in kids.

Secondly, there are times a child could especially benefit from singing lessons with an intuitive vocal coach. At what age should they start? As in "most things vocal", it depends. Here are the top 5 conditions where I would recommend booking a lesson:
  • When they are habitually singing too loud and abusively - when they 'shout-sing' to communicate passion. 

This includes anytime they are singing so loud it makes their voices tired. Yes, it's good to encourage a shy child to be confident and loud enough to be heard. BUT, be very careful not to coax them (or let them be directed) to sing so loud that afterwards their voices are tired or sore. You can usually tell in their attitudes; they don't like to sing as much as they used to.
  • When vocal damage is suspected (they can't stop being breathy or husky, their vocal range shortens instead of lengthens, or it hurts them to sing or speak.) 

After assessing your child's voice, a good vocal coach should be able to recommend whether or not to go on and get a doctor's appointment.
  • When they are getting ready for a special show or audition, especially if they are performing professionally. 

They may need to improve their technique to be able to do the job - and to protect their voices as they perform at the level required.
  • When they are serious and mature enough to want to sing better.

This drive should come as much from the child as from the parent.
  • When parents would like their child's voice assessed as to strengths and weaknesses.

Sometimes the parent and child just need one lesson to see where the child is.  
All that said, the most important thing for a child's singing voice is to continue to love singing! There must be a balance between honoring commitments to vocal training - and a break from it. Oh my. Parenting is an art, not a science, isn't it? 

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Thursday, July 25, 2013

How to Get Mucous Off Vocal Cords

I know... eww... right? 
If you're a singer, you have probably experienced the feeling: You start vocalizing and notice it's ominously more difficult than usual. It doesn't feel like your vocal cords (folds) are inflamed, sore or swollen.. it just feels like something is gunking them up. You, my friend, most probably have too much mucous (commonly known as phlegm) on your cords. And it needs to get thinned out before you challenge your voice in full voice practice or performance!

Signs of mucous-laden vocal cords:

You may have one or more of the following symptoms:
  • On the low end, you can't sing clearly... there is an uncontrolled buzz in the sound, sort of like when you leave a pick in the neck of a guitar and try to play it (ask me how I know!) 
  • In the middle of your range, your voice just doesn't seem to be able to get into that beautiful sweet spot 'mix' you know you're capable of, so you feel like you have to push harder to reach notes. 
  • You may notice some weird 'glitches' - certain notes that you can't seem to sing smoothly through. 
  • You have trouble in your head voice, too... you know it shouldn't be that hard to hit the top of your range. 
  • You cough a little, gunk shifts and clears somewhat, but you can't cough enough to stay clear. 
  • Trying to sustain a long note that is normally easy for you to float out there becomes as uncontrolled as if you were singing over speed bumps.  
  • Your tone isn't as bell-like and brilliant.. it's more like singing through a wet sock. 
  • Again, sounding your voice isn't painful (which might make you suspect vocal cord damage of some kind), it just doesn't work like you know it should.

Every voice needs a little 'phlegm'

The vocal cords need a thin, healthy layer of mucous to operate best. The movement of the cords (folds) which creates soundwaves is called the mucosal wave for heaven's sake! But when this layer gets too thick, it can interfere with the vibration and control of the vocal cords. AHHH ... what can you do???

Tips to thin out vocal cord mucous...

  • HYDRATE

First, up your water intake. Mucous is comprised partly of water, and if you add more water it will naturally get thinner.  Options:
    • My personal magical go-too for irritated cords is water with a little pineapple juice (1/4 pineapple juice + 3/4 water). 
    • Water with fresh lemon juice plus cayenne pepper (my sister calls this firewater). 
    • Ginger tea (steep grated or thinly sliced fresh ginger root in hot water, add lemon juice.) 
    • Try hot herbal teas, but avoid black or green tea or caffeinated drinks which can dehydrate.
Be sure to have these drinks available when you're rehearsing and performing.
Also hydrate yourself externally... inhale steam.

CHECK YOUR DIET

Try avoiding mucous-promoting foods such as milk products, eggs, foods you have trouble digesting well and heavy meals in general. Up your intake of watery foods, fruits, non-starchy vegetables. Understand however that different people react differently to foods; keep a journal and NOTICE what tends to increase your phlegm.

DEAL WITH ALLERGIES

If it's allergies stirring up your mucous, you simply must address the root of your problems. Lots of the strategies for dealing with allergies can help with vocal cord phlegm.

DO LONGER VOCAL WARMUPS

With careful, correctly executed and gradually more strenuous vocal exercises, literally vibrate some mucous loose from your cords. This may mean your voice gets worse before it gets better at the end of your vocal warmup. You should take a little more time than usual to get your voice warmed up before singing full volume.

Move around physically, too... sometimes aerobic exercise can help move mucous on out.

IF IN DOUBT... CHECK IT OUT - WITH A DOCTOR!

 If you are blowing or coughing yellow or green or have any indications that your mucous formation could be due to a bacterial or fungal infection, make the appointment today - see a medical doctor. In persistent cases you might want to get your vocal cords scoped at a dedicated medical voice center.

TRY NATURAL REMEDIES

 Using a Neti Pot or other nasal irrigation device at bedtime and in the morning can really thin out and dilute mucous secretions from above your vocal cords, as well as soothe throat tissues. The important thing is to get the saline solution right, so follow directions! Also... be sure to use clean water.

There are herbs, essential oils and other alternative remedies for dealing with counterproductive amounts of mucous. As with medical doctors, I recommend going to a professional in the alternative health arena so you don't self-medicate without good information.

DO NOT... 

... cough hard or repeatedly. Coughing is a great way to get laryngitis!
... drink alcohol or smoke. Duh.
... don't abuse your already unhappy vocal cords in any way, whether speaking or singing!

OK what about you... ever feel like you are about to drown in phlegm? What worked/ didn't work?

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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Maybe You Should NOT Do Vocal Exercises

A bit of a rant here:

I am really sad that so many people end up hurting their voices with vocal exercises. I'm even sadder because without good vocal warmups, I don't believe a voice can be as good as it can otherwise be. It can also be more easily damaged, as vulnerable as any un-warmed muscle to strain from over-exertion.

I have three simple suggestions:
  1. If you don't know HOW to do vocal exercises with great form, DON'T DO THEM!
  2. If you can't do vocal exercises properly, at least start singing lightly, easily and gradually build up to full voice. Don't just go full bore without warming your voice up.
  3. If you're serious about being in your best voice or improving your ability altogether, get some vocal training and learn to do a good vocal exercise routine right! 
The core message of the Hippocratic Oath fits vocal training...
First, do no harm!


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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Singers on Stage: Don't Talk Til You Earn The Right!

Pick your spots so words don't turn into blahs!

Why say anything during a singing performance? It should be a strategy to endear and connect an artist to the audience. Yet one of the biggest turn-offs I see in amateur performers is when they do a long spoken introduction to the first song of their set! The crowd may politely listen, but trust me, you've shot yourself in the foot before you've sung your first word.

Great performers and major artists tend to start a show by plunging right into a riveting opening song. They may say hello and wave or something over the musical intro, but they make sure to earn the interest of the audience before they do any lengthy stage talking.

As with most of life, it's best to give before you expect to get. Give your music, get their attention, then offer a story about a song when it would add something to the show... but only when you can feel the audience in the palm of your hand. And... don't mess up a good thing by talking too long even then.

Learn to read the crowd. Are they starting to drift? Do you need to go straight into another song or do you need to break things up with some storytelling about how the next song came to be or why you chose it? Are you part of a multi-artist event where the last thing everyone wants to hear is a long talking spiel about... anything!? Or do you really need to allow the audience a more intimate connection with you in a short, authentic, in-the-moment chat?

Raise your antennas, become aware of what the audience wants from you. Do it enough and you'll intuitively know the best places to talk during your shows. Yes, sometimes it's magic to be spontaneous, but mark probable stage talk spots on your set list. It's a very a good idea to pre-plan so you have a more succinct idea of what to say instead of going on and on (and on and on)...

Don't get me wrong... stage talk well done can connect you with an audience at a deeper level. But leave them wanting more... for goodness sake don't leaven them wanting less!

I'd love to hear from you... do you have a positive or negative experience with stage talk as either performer or audience member?

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