All Things Vocal Blog & Podcast by Judy Rodman: December 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. Download All Things Vocal podcast on your fav app!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Review of David Aaron Katz’ book “Superior Vocal Health”

For today's post, very much in keeping with the "All Things Vocal" theme of this blog, I want to review an important book for you. David Aaron Katz’ book “Superior Vocal Health” should be on the shelf of every serious singer, public speaker, vocal coach or director. In fact, it really should be kept as a reference source for anyone interested in alternative remedies for good health. As singer, speaker and vocal coach I will keep this book close because, as David Katz succinctly states in his introduction; “We as voice professionals cannot afford to have any vocal or throat issues.”

Katz begins with his own personal journey from chronic illness/weak voice to consistent wellness/strong voice… a story actually mirroring my own in many respects. Though medical science saved my life, complete physical healing and vocal reclamation was accomplished with alternative health practices and remedies. Katz, who is himself an accomplished vocalist, has researched the field of herbs, supplements and diet for himself and us.

The book continues with a comprehensive description of individual healing herbs with suggested applications, appropriate warnings and contraindications. The next chapter offers herbal formulas and the corresponding conditions these combinations can help. A section on sinus health contains instructions for using herbs to netipot additives and more. I have done my share of herbal therapy but there are a ton of things I didn’t know in this guide!

A list of prescription medications and drugs and their negative effects on the throat and voice is next – and quite illuminating.  Katz then lists corresponding herbal remedies that have been shown to work for the respective conditions without the detrimental side effects of the medications. Tips to boost the immune system are also included.

A very helpful chapter suggests a big list of ‘on the run’ foods for busy voice professionals. Again, I found a ton of ideas here that I’ll be using and recommending for all road warriors.  The next chapter explains how to even out the acid/alkaline balance in the body, which is something I believe to be a core health concept.

Katz ends with several ‘what if” scenarios, nicely bringing it all home in a very practical way. When the voice must work but doesn’t feel like it, readers of this book will have some holistic, gentle but powerful natural options to quickly get the body and the voice back up to performance-ready status. I highly recommend you get it and keep it at eye level on your bookshelf.  (And/or gift it to someone you love who values their voice!)

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Sunday, December 1, 2013

Think You Have a Tight Diaphragm? Think Again


I've been in a fascinating conversation about the diaphragm at a Linkedin group for NATS (National Association of Teachers of Singing).

What is it?

The diaphragm is a very large and thin dome-shaped muscle group that separates the upper and lower torso. The edges of it are attached to the bottom of the ribcage, all the way around. The heart and lungs sit on top of the diaphragm's dome, which contracts/flattens out to draw in the inhale and lengthens/rises for the exhale. It is the major organ of the breath, but is operated by the automatic nervous system. For the voice, you help it control itself by widening it's footing... the bottom of the ribcage.

The problem:

I had a student some years ago who was told by a doctor that his vocal problems were due to a tight diaphragm. I never believed it, but he would not believe me and try the things I asked, and therefore I couldn't help him relax and control his breathing. Next time I want to be better equipped to debunk what is most probably this faultty medical diagnosis crippling a singer. So... I started the discussion by asking:
Anyone else encountered a student comes in who is convinced that they have a 'tight diaphragm'? Only if they trust me when I tell them it's a self-induced issue have I been able to help. Thoughts? 

The NATS discussion is no longer on the internet, but here's the gist of it:

  • The unfortunate suggestion to 'sing from the diaphragm' is one of the most ridiculous and misinformed statements a teacher can make. Why?
  • The causative factor(s) is almost NEVER the diaphragm itself, but instead lies with tightness at anatomical points where the diaphragm is connected... primarily the bottom of the ribcage. A tight ribcage will cause all kind of vocal problems due to breathing limitations and lack of control.
  • Therefore the first thing to do with someone coming in thinking they have a tight diaphrabm is to ferret out why there is tightness in the ribcage. There can be many causes, from simple slumped posture, tight chest wall microfacia or valsalva manoever (6-pack muscles) to complex vertebral or neural dysfunction. 
  • There is a rare issue with the Vagus nerve which can actually harden and tighten the diaphragm itself. But this should be a last, not first, conclusion when trying to get to the bottom of the tightness.
  • Like voodoo,  fear and anxiety can create the tight diaphragm if you believe in it... sort of the 'which came first, chicken or the egg' syndrome. The belief that one must keep the belly flat to look good can also create this tightness.

Techniques & therapies that can help include working with (and trusting) an instructor who can...

  • teach a basic understanding of anatomy as concerns the diaphragm and its connections and actions to dispel faulty beliefs.
  • correct counterproductive posture.
  • re-train breathing techniques including widening the ribcage and lowering the sensation of where the breath comes from (I like to think of the voice's breath power centered in the pelvic floor)
  • suggest physical therapy, therapeutic massage, yoga.
  • suggest listening to calming music to relax the mind and body.
  • help you reform your understanding of what performance is to deal with and conquer fear.
  • refer you to a voice clinic that understands the rarity of the truly tight diaphragm. When all else is tried and fails, this kind of medical expert can check for the very rare neural issue possibilities.

Some cool resources:

I would like to thank the following teachers who contributed to this discussion:

Roberta Prada, Solomon Epstein, Janice Jarrett, Kevin Richards, Mairead Sheerin, David Wilson, Beatriz Kelly-Serrato, Jo Debenham, Mark Bonito, Pat H. Wilson, Evan Bortnick, Eileen Moss, Hugo Naessens, Evelyn Czaja.

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