Newsletter Update!!

Calling All Singers!

Its been a while but I have finally gotten round to sorting out my newsletter!! Keep your eyes peeled as I will be sending out my most tried and tested vocal tips and tricks, vocal health advice and general singing stuff, as well as upcoming professional training opportunities, freebies and competitions! So don’t be worried if you get a thank you for subscribing email (when you might have subscribed a while ago!) its just my mail servers making sure their sending my posts out to everyone as they set up.

If your not yet subscribed click here to get involved

Stay Tuned!

Sally x

How to get your voice “Gig Ready” in the run up to a big performance

Ok so it’s only days until your big show, I know you want to be the best you can be so here are a few of my quick tips and tricks for getting your voice on top form for the big day!!

Drink plenty of water

It’s a pretty obvious one our body needs water to function the way it’s supposed to and our vocal cords need water to stay flexible and hydrated! We don’t want any tickly coughs when we get up on stage. Its recommended that you drink 2-3litres of water a day – Not all at once mind you! You don’t want to keep nipping off to the loo! Sip regularly throughout the day, and in the days leading up to the show 🙂 

Steam

If you want a little bit of extra hydration and a little bit of soothing for your voice (particularly if you have a scratchy tickly cough) I always recommend steaming with a Steam Inhaler, you can get two types – a plastic cup one (kind of like a Sippy cup) which you pour hot water into and breathe in the steam, or an electric steamer which plugs into the electric and creates steam for you (the electric ones are very good but do get quite hot)

PLEASE!!! BE VERY CAREFUL! You should treat your steamer the way you would treat a hot cup of tea! It’s very hot water so please be careful! I always recommend to my younger students to check with their parents / guardians before using it to make sure it’s safe!

If you are going to bring your steamer to the gig remember to put your name on it, last year at the Big Annual UVG gig we had about 15 steamers backstage with no names on them!! Don’t get yours confused with someone else’s – Gross!

Warm up before singing!

Do you warm up? It’s important for your voice to be ready for singing, even humming a few gentle scales or sirens (singing a low note to a higher note and back again) are helpful to get your voice into singing gear – just try not to go in too high, too low or too loud before your voice is ready!

Keep humming

Your voice is a muscle and ideally, we want to keep it flexible and relaxed! Humming gently keeps your vocal cords moving without too much pressure and can help to relax a tired voice. If you think you’ve over done it try humming low and quietly. You can try humming from low to high and back down again to help stretch your voice!

Do the Bottle and Straw Exercises

For those of you unfamiliar with the bottle and straw exercises they are fantastic at helping to relax the voice! Take a simple water bottle and fill a third way with water, use a straw to blow ‘bubbles’ into the water.

By blowing into the water we create a good pressure back into the throat and onto the vocal cords. It helps to help stretch and relax the voice as well as release and help bring back your voice and range when you’ve sung a bit too much. First try blowing into the bottle, feel the pressure build up. Next try singing as you blow, it will feel odd at first but persevere with this exercise as its one of my favourites for poorly voices or singers who want to keep their voices healthy, and I’m sure it will be yours too!

Know your set / vocal part and practice your lyrics

Hopefully by now you know your parts and have been practicing as much as you can – By at least the week before we want to be sure on our lyrics and vocal parts. But if you still feel a bit wobbly on some them try and give yourself some time to practice even if it’s a quick run through a few days before or even a gentle run through on the day – it helps to set our mind at ease that we know what we’re doing, or at the very least highlights areas we know which needs work!

Don’t get too carried away!

Its’ very easy to get carried away with practicing at home, but are you allowing your voice time to recover? Does your voice feel tired or sore when you’re finished? It’s important that you feel prepared and know your parts but don’t push your voice when its best to let it rest! You can still listen to the tracks and brush up on your lyrics without needing to sing. Don’t tire out your voice before you even get to the show!!

Eat well and get plenty of sleep

Singing takes a lot of energy and focus, if were tired we can expect our voices to be also! Try to take it easy the few days before the gig, eat well and don’t push your voice or stay up too late. Try to get as much rest as possible.

Find out where you need to be and when

It’s pretty simple but you won’t believe how many people don’t find out what time sound check or where they need to meet on the day of a gig! Find out where you need to be and for what time before the big day!

Don’t panic! Go and Have FUN!!

I’m sure you have worked hard preparing for this gig and it’s important to just go out there and enjoy yourselves!! Even the most prepared singers face hiccups on stage so go out there with the aim to just do your best and have fun!

What to do on the day

  • Warm up gently
  • Bring plenty to eat and drink
  • Get plenty of sleep the night before
  • Go easy on the screaming and shouting and general talking – I know you’re bound to be excited but remember you only have a certain amount of voice a day! Don’t tire it out before you get on stage!

Things to avoid

You’ve probably all heard not to eat chocolate when you sing but there are a few other things which MAY affect your mouth / throat / vocal cords and lungs when you sing – here are a couple of things most singers try to avoid:

  • Dairy / cheese / milk can affect your voice by building up gunk in your throat
  • Caffeine (found in tea / coffee / coke etc.) can dehydrate you
  • Perfumes / Hair Sprays / Aerosols / Room Sprays / Scented Candles / Smoke / Dry Ice – Can dry out / aggravate your throat
  • It’s important to know also that alcohol and smoking can inflame the vocal cords and alcohol numbs the throat (which can cause you to push and potentially damage the vocal cords) try and limit this as much as possible the few days before!

And finally – DON’T SELF MEDICATE!

The worst thing you can do for your voice is take throat numbing sprays, decongestants and throat pastilles designed to “help bring back your voice” most of these medicines work by drying out the top layers of the vocal cords, the gunk in the throat and the nose. Effectively dehydrating your voice! Be very careful of throat numbing sprays – if you are numbing your throat you can’t always tell what pressure you are putting on your voice! I’ve known many singers to “blow” their voices during sets by taking numbing sprays or numbing sweets. The best thing to do if your voice is tired – hum, steam and hydrate!

Good Luck!! I hope you have a wonderful gig!!! If you have any worries don’t hesitate to get in touch!!

If you have any concerns about your vocal health check out The Vocal Health Pages Here

 

Building blocks – Learning to Sing Step By Step

Did you know singing well isn’t all about learning to breathe from the diaphragm and opening your mouth wider? As new students join me to learn how to improve their voices the one thing that always seems to shock them – just how much more is possible when learning to sing. Especially those who have already had lessons! Some people believe the voice they have now is the voice they will always have. The truth is some singers study with a singing teacher for some time and see no drastic improvement and some people believe that singing through songs and talking about the emotion or lyrics behind the song is all there is to singing lessons. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

When my students study with me, they learn about the voice and how it works, they study genre appropriate techniques that helps them stay true to their style whilst getting the sound they want, and it is possible to sing a rock song one minute then change to a soul song then move to a classical song, you shouldn’t be defined or ruled by what your teacher sings – you should be able to explore any style or technique you want to! Some styles have specific techniques to help you sound a certain way and some cross over – I call all my individual techniques that I train ‘Building Blocks’ you start with one technique then layer with another, in time you can build a voice that’s strong, powerful and true to you!

So these building blocks, they cover a wide spectrum of everything from breath to specific vocal fold closures and postures. If I were to pick a common goal for the majority of singers joining me, it would be that they want to learn how to sing more powerfully or even belt. Anyone potentially should be able to achieve any vocal task they set their mind to with the right steps. There is a process for everything! For example for a more powerful sound there are quite a few disciplines we need to master, each person is different but the following areas may be a starting point.

  • Control Breath Flow
  • Get a good vocal fold closure
  • Understand and know when to utilise Twang
  • Understand and control placement
  • Learn how to support / anchor
  • Posture
  • Build stamina and control
  • Eliminate excess tension
  • Good vocal health awareness

Now that may seem like a lot to learn to sing more powerfully, but the beauty of learning to sing with technique is once you get it, you theoretically should be able to incorporate it into your singing forever across all genres and vocal styles. Silly sounds, regular practice and a little bit of effort can get you everything you want in your voice, complete vocal control with Range, Balanced Tone, Strength, Stamina, Flexibility, Volume, Power and Projection. But I’m not going to lie you will have to put some work in. But trust me it will be totally worth it!

I guess what I am trying to say is there really is no reason for there to be any limits to your voice!!

So where can I start? 

We may be getting into more personalised training and may need someone to guide us from here – but see if there is anything which you can get started with.

The most essential step to building a better voice Listen! 

Most people sing all the time but never really listen to themselves, what do you hear? Are you breathy? Tight? Pitchy? Quiet? – If you can’t hear yourself well whilst singing try recording and listening back (yes you may hate the sound – I’m yet to find one person who doesn’t cringe when hearing themselves but give it a go!)

Try to pin point one problem area, its not about beating yourself up its about thinking logically – if you have a problem lets fix it! After all our voice is the way it is because of our past experiences, our genetics, our accents, our previous training, etc, they all encourage specific habits into our voice.

Did you know sometimes its as basic as just telling yourself to do something, Are you breathy? Can you stop? are you straining? Can you relax? Its not always so easy and sometimes we need a technique to fix it but its a good place to start!

There is a reason and resolution for everything we don’t like within our voice, the tricky part is figuring out what needs to change and how to change it. That’s usually where someone like me comes in, but I always like to encourage my students to figure out what they want to do better, and to actively listen to what their voices are up to!

Singers it may be a long road, but myself and my students for the most part (Minus occasional frustrations at themselves) – love every minute of it!

What about you? What would you like to do better? Are there any specific problem areas that you know you’d like to improve?

 

 

Singers Survival Kit

All voices need a little rescuing some times, it comes with the territory of long rehearsals, regular gigs, late nights, ridiculous schedules.

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been doing it or how professional you think you are – even my most dedicated and well trained singers need to step back and think about their vocal health and well being every now and then.

This list isn’t just for when the voice is suffering its full of useful tools for the everyday developing of the voice – it may be helpful to keep the following on you and actually start using them.

Here’s a little list of my must haves in my singers survival kit!

Steam Inhaler

If you’ve read my blog on steaming you will already know why my favourite singers tool is the steam inhaler. It’s essential for poorly unhappy voices all the way up to those at the top of their game with a healthy voice – it’s just good practice!

Inhaling steam is the only way to get direct hydration to the vocal folds, so when you’re feeling a little dry, tickly or have over worked the voice this little lifesaver is well worth getting. For more info and advice on steaming check out my previous post on steaming here

Water

It’s pretty obvious to most of us really, but so many of us don’t take on enough water! The body needs water in order to run the way it should, especially the voice – our little vocal folds need to be fully hydrated to ensure they are working to their best ability, dehydration can restrict flexibility with that range, tone, and stamina plus so much more! Make sure your getting your 2-3 litres a day! To read more about keeping hydrated click here

Bottle and straw

The bottle and straw exercise is one of my favourites – it’s an all rounder from everyday use or for tired or unresponsive voices when they’re not quite up to the usual efforts on the voice. It can be helpful whether you’ve over used your voice, you can’t get a clear tone due to stressed cords, or are in need of general vocal help. It may even be helpful if your voice is perfectly fine but have trouble with breath in your singing, or are finding your top notes difficult in a particular song.

The bottle and straw exercises help to balance breath control and relive excess tension in singing, it’s a relatively safe way to use the voice when it’s tired and stressed and helps to get the folds touching in a healthy way whilst stretching out the vocal tract.

 If you would like to give it a go, take a simple water bottle and fill a third way with water, use a straw to blow ‘bubbles’ into the water. By blowing into the water we create a good pressure back into the vocal tract and onto the vocal folds. It has been proven to help stretch and relax the folds as well as release and help return tone and range to the singing voice. First try blowing into the bottle, feel the pressure build up. Next try singing as you blow, its important not to let the air escape through the mouth or nose, you want all the airflow to be through the straw and into the water. It will feel odd at first but persevere with this exercise as its one of my favourites for poorly voices, and I’m sure it will be yours too!

Now you’re going to need something to sing to with the bottle and straw! Which leads me to;

Sally’s Vocal CDs – Warm Ups & Cool Downs / Technical Top Ups Level One / TLC for Tired Voices

If you’re not warming up daily you really will not be seeing the benefits on your voice – yes that even means on days when your not singing.

We should warm up regularly to ensure we are ready to sing but also to protect the voice from every day strains – shouting or having to raise your voice? Doing lots of talking at work/school/college/uni? It all contributes to your vocal load.

Another important thing about warming up daily is the fact you are internalising the technique behind the discs, training the muscle memory and have a great way to monitor changes in your voice – suddenly unable to hit those top notes, voice sounding thinner? This is a great way to build awareness of your instrument and help you to keep on top of your vocal health!

The technical top ups CDs is important for those looking to train the voice and keep it improving, if you’re serious about getting your voice to be the best it can be then you should be regularly exercising your instrument.

My TLC disc is designed for voices that need a little bit of attention, the aims of these exercises are to help get the vocal folds touching in the right way with little pressure and a clear tone, if I’m feeling really rotten I start with singing the exercises with the bottle and straw before moving onto the sounds on the disc.

Vitamin C

When your feeling run down most vocal teachers suggest you reach for vitamin c, as its been said to fight the common cold, sore throats and helps to improve the overall immune system. Whether you will feel the benefits or not that’s for you to judge but it can’t do any harm to try!

Dyna band / yoga / exercise bands

If you’re going for those high notes or need a bit more support in your singing the exercise band is fantastic for those big notes that you keep pushing to hard for. The bands help you to activate the anchoring muscles in the back to help you support the voice, hold the band in each hand about waist height – on notes that need more effort pull on the band – you should feel a stretch around the mid back (just below the bra line for ladies!) the main effort is to take the pressure out of the throat and channel it to the effort in the band. Be careful though as you can anchor too much which will feel like a sudden clamping in the throat. Think of the bands as your breaks only use them when needed and with only as much energy as the piece needs!

Ear Plugs

How many times have you walked out of a gig with ringing ears? how many times have you woken up the next day and your hearing still isn’t quite right? For me a loud gig can be the difference between the following day being a good singing day or a bad singing day, If I dont protect my hearing I know it can affect my teaching and my singing.

I’d suggest to invest in a pair of earplugs, I use “musicians earplugs” the standard “tree or three tiered” style which aim to reduce the sound whilst allowing you to still hear the details of the music, they are however not the best on the market, they were a cheap pair I picked up when I was at college and they have served me well ever since. I will eventually get round to getting the molded super duper musicians earplugs which are specifically for singers in loud environments, these can be found at local hearing centers and some opticians also supply them. As singers we find it difficult wearing earplugs, some struggle to pitch and some find it affects their placement. But I have to say it is essential, especially if your spending any amount of time in loud environments – be it gigs, rehearsal rooms, nightclubs or pubs!

Tyrozets

When things are really bad and I think I’m getting a sore throat due to illness I will go on vocal rest from everyday singing (I keep talking humming/ singing with my sos disc)  and take tyrozets throat lozenges, these have both anaesthetic and antiseptic which means it will attack the bacteria in the throat but be careful with the anaesthetic – you shouldn’t sing with these as you will not always be able to tell how much you are pushing the voice. This is usually my last resort when I know something is attacking my throat – I would never take these for over singing / vocal fatigue. I do though try to avoid taking anything for my throat as I firmly believe you should never rely on medication for singing.

Scarf

So we’re singers and we don’t keep our instrument warm? Sounds about right – When I was at college studying music – I remember standing outside of the rehearsal room trying to cool down (the rooms would always get so hot with 5 band members playing) even in the middle of winter we’d be trying to cool down in our strappy tops outside – this is usually the perfect opportunity to stress out and shock the vocal folds with the cold air – but I didn’t notice (or being a teenager who was yet to loose her voice – maybe I didn’t care or see how serious it was either?) Now my one to one teacher also taught at my college in a different music department had something to say about that, I remember on many occasions she would catch me outside with not much on trying to cool down during rehearsals – she would always scold me and tell me to put a scarf on. I am now that teacher – seeing my gigging students popping outside to give tickets to late comers / getting some air / or worse having a cigarette! we spend so much time warming up the voice to then walk out in the cold and undo all our hard work, keep it smart people – if its chilly out wear a scarf.

I no doubt will keep adding to this list, it is in no way a complete list but a good place to start, some students ask me if there is anything they need to invest in when they start singing lessons with me- my advice is to make sure you get your steamer, bottle and straw and your exercise CD’s.

 

Sally’s New Website!

Very excited to unveil my shiney new website, I hope you enjoy finding your way around it, theres plenty to read – find out more about me and my lessons as well as my new and updated tips and tricks section where you can read up about vocal technique and vocal health. Check it out here

A big thank you to Ash Lyndhurst Design for his hard work putting this together for me – If any of you are in need of a new website be sure to get in contact with him!