Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog: July 2015

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!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

How Singing Is Like Kefir



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I have recently begun a science project which is now perpetually brewing two of the most healthful drinks in the world on my kitchen counter! It's not only holistically good for your voice, I find that making it bears many similarities to singing. Let me introduce you to: Kefir!

Kefir is a powerful probiotic, nutrient and enzyme-rich drink made from either fermented water or milk. Water and milk kefir starter cultures are two different types of beneficial yeast+bacteria clusters which are called grains, though they have no plant grain components. Water kefir grains are used to ferment sugar water, milk kefir grains are used to ferment milk. When fermenting is completed, the strained liquid is the actual water or milk kefir, and then you reuse the grains for the next batch of kefir.

Here are some parallels between making kefir and singing:

IT'S ALIVE

  • You can't artificially create or manufacture live kefir culture, OR emotionally compelling singing. 
  • Yes, you can find manufactured kefir milk on grocery shelve, but not the grains that ferment the kefir. And the probiotic count is are either far less in the commercial than homemade brew, or pasturized out of existence. 
  • Yes, you can create machinistic vocal sounds with gear, but it lacks the nuanced human ability to create vocal sounds with emotion.

THERE'S MORE THAN ONE KIND

  • Kefir exists as water kefir and milk kefir. People can have a taste for one or the other, or both. Most of the lactose in milk kefir is digested by the fermentation process, but for those with milk allergies or severe lactose digestion problems, water kefir would be the way to do. It's an individual thing. Drink what works for you.
  • Singing comes in all kinds of styles, genres and languages. There are many reasons people prefer some styles to others. For instance, classical singing or metal rock can make some people feel great, and make others feel depressed. It's an individual thing. Sing and listen to what works for you.

IT GROWS ON YOU

  • Unlike yogurt, which can add transient bacteria and create conditions favorable to good bugs in your gut, kefir can actually colonize your intestines! (This is a symbiotic good thing).
  • Singing grows on both the singer and the listener. Vocal sounds embed and become a part of us  - a part of our emotional memories. I bet you can name a song right now that will conjure up a memory in your life. There are many fascinating studies that find even patients with late stage dementia can recall memories when singing songs and listening to songs!  

PURE HYDRATION AND FOOD ARE VITAL

  • Kefir grains, like my aquarium fish, can be killed by placing them in water or milk with chlorine or other impurities. They will also die without being fed! Water grains do best in filtered water with raw, turbino or coconut type sugar and a little extra shot of minerals such as a drop of blackstrap molasses or a few raisins. Milk grains do best in whole milk not ultrapasturized (regular pasturization is fine).
  • The voice absolutely requires pure water and high quality foods. Without adequate hydration, the condition of the mucosal layer of your vocal cords will be sabotaged. Pollution and toxins from tobacco and alcohol, as well as drying effects of too much caffeine and mineral depleting excess sugar consumption are going to lower your short term and long term vocal ability. A donut before an important gig or recording session is NOT enough for best vocal performance! 

USE IT OR LOSE IT

  • You can rest kefir grains in the fridge for a week or 10 days, but if you leave them much longer without being able to cycle and ferment food, they will die and disappear. When you take resting grains out to room temp again, they are sometimes sluggish for a cycle or two, possibly taking a few more hours to complete fermentation then when they are regularly working.
  • You can rest your voice without a problem for a while, but unless you use it properly, your vocal ability will go down. You have to start back carefully, not 0 to 60, in order to nudge the voice back to full stamina.  

TIMING IS IMPORTANT

  • There is a rhythm to making kefir. For water kefir, I let the grains ferment the sugar water for 24 hours. I strain the grains and put them into a fresh sugar water solution to ferment again in a 24 hour cycle. With the strained kefir liquid, I do a second ferment with fresh fruit. The results is fizzy water to die for! What I don't drink right away I put in the fridge. Milk kefir is simpler... just put the grains in whole milk for 18 to 24 hours. Strain and refrigerate the fermented liquid, put the grains in fresh milk and repeat the cycle.
  • Singing requires a sense of rhythm. If this sense is weak, it helps to take percussion or dance lessons. Feeling the beat needs to be developed deeply. Singing also benefits greatly by internalizing vocal technique by memorizing the 'dance of the melody'.

IT CREATES ENDORPHINS AND OTHER BENEFITS

  • Kefir literally translates to 'feel good' in Turkish, the land of its origin. Among a ton of other beneficial things it contains GABA, and contributes to the creation of serotonin. I can tell you from my experience, I actually feel better from drinking both milk and water kefir.
  • Singers can experience 'singer's high'! It has been documented both scientifically as well as personal experiential observation that singing creates endorphins and lessens stress. Listening to singing also creates this feel good phenomena!

IT'S SHAREABLE

  • Well nourished and cared for kefir grains will grow and expand exponentially. This makes it very easy to divide and share the abundance of this powerful natural probiotic.
  • Singing is made for sharing. It's contagious; start singing something in a car or on a walk with friends and see how quickly your voice will be joined by others. Listening to singing instigates singing along. The better and healthier the singing, the more contageous it is.  

IT NEVER RUNS OUT

  • Kefir originates from an ancient source. No one really knows it's origins, but we do know that when well cared for, it can keep going infinitely. 
  • Singing is something that can keep going not only from childhood throughout life, but beyond. That is the power of singing... it lingers and lasts, etched in recordings and in memories of listeners. 

Singing and Kefir. I highly recommend creating both!

Your comments most welcome!

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Thursday, July 9, 2015

Top 10 Terrible Vocal Training Tips


In honor of David Letterman's last year on television, I thought I'd do my own Top Ten List. These terrible ideas are things I've personally heard said by singers, music professionals or others who don't know better! Ready?

10. Singers shouldn't do too many ab exercises.

Oh my gosh, this is nuts. Singers need core strength! I have yet to have a vocal student whose abs were so tight they couldn't expand their ribcage... and I've trained the voices of many a body-builder, dancer, athlete and other sports enthusiast. So go ahead... do those crunches! Then power your ribcage open by singing from your (well-toned) butt/pelvic floor, not your abs!

9. Keep your face still when you sing.

There's a simple way to disprove this. Try singing a song with your face perfectly still. Then sing with very active facial language... over-do it for this test. Which way sounds/feels better? Move your face or you'll limit your range, tighten your throat and numb your performance ... unless you want to sound like a robot!

8. Just relax your body and let your voice float out of you.

You know I actually could agree... to a certain point ...with this directive, which can be helpful when a student is especially tense. However, when you get right down to performance, something has got to power your voice. Powering from pelvic floor/butt allows all the flexibility you need above the waist. If you don't power from anywhere, you'll end up coming from your ribcage, which creates all kinds of problems and limitations. You need to be flexibly relaxed WITH FOCUS... like a boxer or badminton player at the ready before the action. Then like a ballet dancer, your voice can feel and sound almost effortless with that strong engine supporting from below.

7. Keep your hands and arms still.

AAAAHHH. One of my pet peeves. Your hands and arms are eventually attached to your spine and ribcage. They don't need to act like rib-anchors. Even if they hang down rather quietly (for certain choir and other situations), put life in their stillness and don't let them be dead weight. Why do you think people talk and sing with their hands and arms? It's not just for show.

6. If you can sing classical style, you can sing anything.

Actually... sometimes classical singers have a very hard time switching to contemporary singing. They are used to bringing head voice lower than sounds right in popular songs because of the hooty, dark, hollow element. Then many times they throw the baby out with the bath water and try to sing high chest voice with no mix, flattening the soft palate to prevent what they think is classical vowel shaping. They have to train to allow a new kind of mixed voice to be created, so the chest voice is influenced by the head voice. On the other hand, classical singing strengthens the head voice and that is very good for the contemporary voice. I love singing Italian Art songs as part of my warmup. But head voice vocalises can work just as well. What works best in my experience is starting with contemporary singing and then taking classical voice... unless you want to only sing classical music.

5. If you're too nasal, stop singing from your nose.

Nope. Think about it; when you have a stuffy nose from a cold you sound... NASAL! You need to actually open your nose and let your voice travel through it to transform excessive nasality into richly resonant, masky tone. Try saying a word with your nose closed, then try saying it with nose open.

4. Your Adam's (or Eve's) apple shouldn't move when you sing.

This is so, so wrong, and is a overthinking and misunderstanding of SLS, or speech level vocal training, a method some other vocal coaches use. The larynx, when operating freely, tilts in the neck. When it does, the point of the thyroid cartilage, which is the adams apple, will move. This doesn't mean the larynx is over-lifting- which will create a strangled sound. If you don't feel tight, then you can trust your Adam's apple to move as directed by the automatic nervous system.

3. Vocal training could change your style and kill your commercial success.

Only if you have the wrong voice teacher! Successful artists often hold superstitious fears about changing anything about the voice, afraid to mess with success. But when tightness threatens the health of their instrument, the right kind of vocal training can just free up and heal the voice without changing style at all. Even with subtle tone changes, the uniqueness and familiarity of the star's voice will still be there, better than ever. The fact is... when a singer's voice feels better, the fan LIKES it better, because tight voices tighten listeners! The other option is of course, to wait til you need vocal surgery (a serious career break, and ridiculously prevalent these days).

2. Some people are just born with a husky voice.

Buy this myth at your peril. A young student came to see me who had a raspy, husky voice that I knew wasn't normal. Her mom told me that she had been told by her drama coach that her daughter's voice was just naturally that way. When I couldn't help her NOT make the husky sound or get her into her head voice very far, I stopped the lesson and recommended she get scoped at Vanderbilt Voice Clinic. She had such a bad case of nodes they told her to immediately go on full voice rest and stop singing for months. I'm not sure she ever started back. Yes, you can sing with a rasp just like you can scream... with good technique that minimizes vocal strain for that sound. But if you talk or sing with a raspy or husky sound because you can't not, go to the doctor to rule out serious damage or illness!

And the number 1 terrible vocal training tip is: 

1. Sing from your diaphragm.

First of all, most people don't even know exactly where the diaphragm is. It's a thin, parachute-shaped muscle fiber with edges attached at the bottom of the ribcage. DON'T power your voice from the bottom of your ribcage! You'll sabotage your breath control! Your diaphragm needs to be stretched to control air, and wide ribs are the only way that happens. Power your voice from your pelvic floor. Just remember, sing your butt off so you don't sing your throat out!

Did I miss one? Do you have a favorite false fable you heard about the voice? Let us know! Leave your thoughts in the comments below the post.

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