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?

 

 

The Vocal Fix Series – Breathing

Breathing in singing is one of the most talked about issues for singers and their teachers. As we head for a big note or a tough section we’re always told to take a deeper breath and work harder. Unfortunately, so many people fail with their breath work before they even begin. Mainly because they don’t understand the mechanics of breathing for singing, or because they have been misled with old wives’ tales of when you need to hit a higher or harder note you need more air! The truth is the complete opposite, what you need is no more than the amount of air it takes you to speak. Take a deep breath in now – what’s the first thing you want to do with it? My bet is you want to let it go and take another breath. What you need to know is it’s not how much air you have but what you do with it.

Now the following post is written with an aim to guide my students and singers in their exploration of breathing technique, I always wish to make clear that any online article or video instructing vocal training will never give you the instruction you personally need, each singer is different, their genetics, accent, speaking habits and lifestyle play a great role in voice production and it’s because of this I always recommend studying (one to one and in person) with a vocal teacher who has the experience and knowledge in technique and vocal health to help you find your voice. There really is no replacement for a teacher who can see you face to face and who can tailor their lessons to your specific needs. You may not be aware, following general advice which may be untested – may only be detrimental to your voice and you may never unlock your true potential by reading online and watching videos alone. That being said – that’s not going to stop you from looking things like this up! So please read this carefully and if any questions, concerns or issues come up get in contact with me here.

Breathing in Singing.

So breathing is quite a serious issue for singers, if it’s not right we can limit our range, run out of breath before the end of a line, struggle with more complex passages and more seriously – we can damage our voice! Now as singers running out of breath during a phrase or singing with a breathy tone can be a real problem, losing breath usually causes us to tense, strain and push the voice whilst a breathy tone in itself can prevent the vocal folds from closing properly leaving them at risk of getting battered in the process!

So does this affect you? You may not realise that you have a breathy tone, you may have been told its just your natural voice – that may be true, but breath in the voice which you haven’t purposely put there is just a sign of an untrained and potentially unhealthy voice. If you can’t control your breath flow how can you ever be able to achieve everything you would like to in your voice? Remember we have the capability to change our voice to be whatever we want it to be with the right technique so ask yourself this – Do you want to limit yourself or become the singer you always wanted to be? If it’s the second – Then breath comes first!

How to Identify a breathy voice:

  • (It’s an obvious one!) You sound breathy!
  • You may lack volume, power or strength in tone
  • You may run out of breath easily when you sing or feel breathless when you sing
  • You may have a husky tone
  • You may get a dry throat or mouth when you sing
  • Your ribcage or belly may rush inwards suddenly when you sing
  • Singing can be tiring and may sometimes cause sore throats
  • You may feel like the voice “slips” or “catches” when you sing sometimes resulting in coughing.
  • You may feel thirstier than normal when you sing.
  • You may have a limited range or struggle with pitch out of your comfort zone

Now if you identify with any of the above I know you will definitely benefit from working on clearing up your vocal tone. So many vocal problems start with breath including much nastier problems such as vocal strain or nodules, and there are so many benefits to getting your breath under control, benefits such as:

  • Increased volume
  • It allows you to sing longer phrases
  • Increases stamina
  • Is safer on the voice
  • Helps to reduce tension in the chest / shoulders / neck / face
  • Helps to create a better tone
  • Helps to increase range
  • Allows for better control

So how do we get there? First we need to understand more about our body and the way it works, here comes the sciency bit:

The diaphragm is definitely a word that gets thrown about quite a lot! In fact, most people have heard the term diaphragm in relation to singing but many do not actually know what it is. The diaphragm is a concave muscle which extends across the bottom of the ribcage separating (amongst other things) the lungs and the heart, from stomach, liver and kidneys. When we inhale we usually feel the diaphragm contract and expand as it moves downward in the body. Breathe from the diaphragm and support are such confusing terms which don’t actually mean much, if you’re working with a teacher be careful when you hear people throwing these terms around, ask them exactly what they mean by support or breathing from the diaphragm. It’s important you understand what is needed from you.

I personally do recognise why there is so much focus on this muscle as it gives those starting out a more physical feedback that we are doing something technical and potentially helpful in singing – but it most certainly is not the be all and end all in voice production!

So how do we breathe?

The respiration system works when the intercostal muscles contract, expanding the ribcage, the diaphragm contracts and moves downwards – the effort of this increases the volume in the chest and the changing pressure sucks air into the lungs. When we breath in, the pressure raises in the chest to the point where we feel the urge to exhale which triggers the intercostal muscles to relax allowing the ribcage to return to its resting position, the diaphragm relaxes and moves upwards forcing the air out of the lungs. The air then moves up through the wind pipe across the vocal folds, which when we speak creates a resistance, causing the vocal folds to vibrate which results in sound. The important thing to remember here is we are never actually breathing from the diaphragm, we cannot control the diaphragm directly rather the intercostal and abdominal muscles power this reaction. If you’d like a more visual description here’s a link to a YouTube video which may be of help!

The term “Diaphragmatic Breathing” to a lot of teachers who are working within modern scientifically researched methods is slowly becoming either obsolete or at least thought of as a misinformed term. What is becoming apparent is the focus is no longer on how much air we can fit into our lungs, rather the focus is on getting the air, tension and pressure as far away from the vocal folds as possible. What we really want to achieve is: When we inhale, the lungs fill naturally to a comfortable “neutral” position where we feel neither the urge to breath in or breath out. Remember if we breath in too deep we trigger the urge to release the air when we come to sing, and as soon as the air rushes away – that’s when we get the breathy tone!

Many leading teachers are now focusing on the importance of the valve of the lungs – the Larynx or more specifically the closing of the vocal folds. It has been proven that if the vocal folds are not making an effective closure then the air will leak through, creating a breathy tone and resulting in the feeling of running out of breath. For me in my private teaching – where at one time I would spend the first sessions with a student focusing on breathing exercises and diaphragmatic / belly breathing I now focus first on creating a good vocal fold / cord closure – where is the point in struggling to control the air flow by contracting and holding on to the abdominal muscles when a simple vocal exercise could more than half the effort levels of singing! It has been proven that if you can’t control the airflow where it escapes you will never hold onto adequate breath for singing.

If you are a breathy singer – chances are you’re either taking in too much breath, you’re contracting too much in the abdominal area which forces the air out or, more likely –  you haven’t trained your voice to connect in the way it should. A clear tone is a strong tone – we know that in order to get more volume we need to get more contact in the vocal folds, any breath which gets in the way of the vocal folds touching will always result in a quieter tone.

So how do we fix it?

It sounds silly but sometimes by just being aware of being breathy some people are able to just tell themselves not to be breathy! I have a few students who I have mentioned their breath control to and without instruction of how to, they manage to stop the unnecessary air flow. But for those who need a step by step guide, this is how I work with students:

First make sure you are not taking too much air in – lay on your back with one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly, just below your belly button. Take a slow breath in, do you feel the air travel to your chest? your belly? or both? If it’s both then you are most certainly taking on too much air. If it’s to your chest, then you need to try and refocus the breath to the lower part of your abdomen – relax breath in and out a few times to reset your natural breathing. This time take a slow breath through your nose, without actively forcing your body to hold still, try to encourage the breath lower and resist the urge to let your shoulders and chest raise. If you’re still struggling, you can try by getting onto your hands and knees allowing your belly to relax and fall forward, try focusing the breath lower again. It will take a little practice but in time by relaxing your abdominal wall with each breath you will notice your belly moving in and out.

The thing to remember is that you’re never actually breathing into your diaphragm or into your belly, it is just the reaction of focusing the breath lower that the abdominal wall releases, the diaphragm contracts and the action moves everything down and out!

It’s important to spend some time focusing the breath lower into the body, to stop the chest from rising too high and adding to and avoidable tension and constriction in the neck. It’s usually at this point as singers we are left with this task but told no more on what to do with the breath now it’s here! It’s the next steps that actually matter! You aim now is to maintain the right pressure and not allow your breath to escape!

First place your hand onto your abdomen below the belly button. Take a low comfortable breath allowing the belly to move forward naturally. Now on a comfortable mid ranged note sing “Ah” does the belly rush in? Does it stay in place? Is there a breathy tone?

If your belly rushes inwards and your voice is breathy then that shows us we are either driving the air by compressing the muscles in the abdomen or our ‘valve’ the vocal folds aren’t closing the way, we would want them to.

Remember with singing it’s all about visualisation, let’s try something. Take another low abdominal breath, and sing on “ah” again. This time focus on not letting the air rush away so suddenly, can we control the air flow? It is something we really need to practice and maintain.

Next we can focus on the “valve” as said before the vocal folds are incredibly important in maintaining air flow. We want to try and perfect a good cord closure (when the folds/cords close well and no air escapes) first we can start with gentle glottal stops try by saying ‘uh oh’ you should feel the sensation where your folds connect. Give it reasonable effort, we want to create a good sound but we don’t want to force it. Other methods which are helpful in creating a good glottal sound are usually what I call “aggravated vowels” where you say ‘ii’ or ‘ee’ or ‘uh’ with an annoyed or mildly angry or aggravated tone, (think of how you may hear someone telling their dog off ‘uh uh uh’) the effort is on getting the folds to touch well and it creates a clearer and crisper sound. (If you’re having any difficulty making a clearer sound or are confused by the instructions above get in contact and I will try my best to help!)

The important thing to remember is that with a better cord closure there will be a higher resistance to the breath flow – which will result in a higher breath pressure (or subglottic pressure) it is here that we need to make sure that we are giving the body enough energy to control the building pressure underneath the vocal cords. If we allow the pressure to build to a point we can no longer withstand it – the air will burst through the folds, resulting in a breathy tone and sometimes can catch in the throat and be quite unpleasant and in some cases dangerous.

Some ways in which to control this pressure are to first make sure you are not driving or squeezing from the belly or allowing the belly to rush in as we sing. If we need more help in supporting the breath flow we can activate certain muscles to help us maintain the breath flow, try pushing down into your feet (if standing) or into your chair (if sitting) it should only need slight changes in effort. If that’s not enough or you are working on more powerful notes you may need to anchor – which is where you activate muscle groups to control the intercostal muscles and prevent the lungs from allowing the air to flow. The aim is to prevent the abdominal muscles pulling up and inwards forcing away the air. One teacher once told me to imagine I had oranges under my arms and to squeeze them inwards to my ribs. The resulting feeling is of the muscles around the back of the ribcage contracting, this effort helps to keep the ribcage expanded and diaphragm in place, you should then maintain the effort until you have finished singing that particular word or phrase. The idea is to activate these muscles when a bit more “support” is needed. (Again this is a very brief description of a very intricate technique – I always advise working with a trained teacher who understands the correct methods of anchoring safely) Remember our aim is to create a controlled airflow not restricting or stopping the breath.

One thing to bear in mind is if we anchor too much we stand the chance of making things worse! So think of your support system like you would when using the break in a car, we don’t suddenly put the foot down on the break if we just want to slow down a little – the support must be adequate to the singing. Remember forcing the air will only end in pressured tones lacking quality resonance which can be damaging. This is where a bit of patience and practice really help!

So here are some key points to remember:

  1. Focus on a lower abdominal breath to reduce tension in chest cavity and entire vocal mechanism.
  2. Create and maintain a good vocal fold/cord closure.
  3. Maintain a steady breath flow.
  4. Support and anchor the breath/voice when necessary – make sure your effort is adequate for the singing.
  5. Be careful of the Subglottic pressure building, any sudden changes in pressure or effort can cause the air to rush through the folds blowing them apart.
  6. Whatever effort it takes to get you to a note is the effort needed to keep you there, don’t let your support drop until you have finished your line!

I think every teacher I have worked with has had their own method of how to breathe and support the voice – you need to bear in mind that what works for one may not work for others, and so many teachers develop their own method. But one thing that is for sure, incorrect breath work is one of the main culprits for so many singing problems and unfortunately the worst of all- vocal damage.

You need to remember we need to work with the body’s natural function – we don’t want to stop the airflow unnecessarily it’s not about holding the breath, but maintaining a steady flow. The thing to remember is when training in any new technique the body may at first see this as unnatural – it is important to realise the difference between unnatural and painful, if something just feels a bit weird sometimes it just takes a bit of time to get used to it. But if you are feeling adverse effects then something definitely isn’t right.

This is just the beginning, the primary basics of breathing in singing, there is so much more to explore, different anchoring techniques different breathing methods for different styles and vocal qualities, but for more in depth knowledge this is where you need to find yourself someone trained and who has the knowledge of training these specific techniques and the understanding of vocal health and the consequences of bad breath management. If your local to the Portsmouth / Havant / Waterlooville area and would like further training in this area contact me through Facebook or my online contact form.

 

 

 

The Importance of staying hydrated – The Vocal Health Pages

Its probably one of the most common problems for everyone not just singers – most of us are not taking on enough water! I myself am guilty of taking a bottle of water out with me with every intention of getting my 2-3 litres of water a day and get home to find I’ve barely made a dent in it!

As we know there are so many important health related reasons to keep hydrated, but for singers it can be the difference between keeping your voice in shape or suffering on stage. Regular singing, excessive voice use, smoking, and working in dry environments all can wear away at the essential mucosal layers of the vocal folds.

The truth is if you don’t keep your body hydrated your voice will not cope, one of the ways I explain to my students about dehydration is by getting them to rub their hands together, after a while you should begin to feel the friction and as a result the heat that comes with it, now if you were to go and do that with your hands submerged in water, your hands would pass freely against each other and the affects of friction would be much less, and it is the same for your vocal folds.

Our vocal folds are incredibly delicate, they are covered in a mucosal membrane which protects them from the friction of rubbing together. When we are dehydrated or ill this membrane loses the ability to do its job affectively. Too much friction can start to damage this mucosal membrane and can result in swelling of the vocal folds, which in itself can lead to much more serious injuries.

I work with many singers who’s vocal habits and lifestyle habits make them more susceptible to vocal fold swelling which is a real issue. If your folds cannot create a good closure (where the folds touch to make a sound) then air is likely to escape, causing even further drying and an unstable technique.

Its important to remember that whenever we drink any fluid it never actually reaches the vocal folds, if it did we would choke. We have a little flap of elastic cartilage tissue called the epiglottis which protects the airways from anything we eat or drink. This is why steaming is so very important to help relieve any dryness in the folds, its the only way of getting direct hydration to them – Click Here for more info on steaming. It can take anywhere from 20 minutes to a few hours to hydrate your vocal folds through the fluids you drink – which is why planning is essential. Don’t just drink when you sing, drink in preparation, you should be sipping water regularly through the day – it is important that you don’t just suddenly flood the body when you remember you should have been drinking! There are so many ideas on how much water someone should be drinking – some say 2 litres, some say 2-3 litres, others say its dependent on your size, weight and how much you are doing in the day, is it hot? are you sweating or working out? any water you loose you would need to replace! The one thing everyone seems to agree on is the “Pee Clear” theory. It is said that if your urine is clear then you are hydrated, if it is yellow then you need to up your water intake.

Its important to bare in mind that there are many things that can affect your hydration levels, things such as caffeine and alcohol which are diuretics (make you pass water), heaters and air conditioners as they affect the air that you breathe which in turn can dry your throat, and medications such as antihistamines and decongestants as they work by drying up the mucous, if you are exposed to any of the above you might need to up your water intake!

If you’ve done any research into things that can affect your voice you know there is a long list of things that can potentially hinder your vocal ability, its good to remember that its not always necessary to be a way of life but something to bare in mind if you feel your voice is suffering.  I dont always cut everything out which could affect my singing voice – lifes to short to be so strict with yourself but if your voice needs a little TLC then watching what your eating and drinking may help.

For more info on what foods and drinks may affect your singing click here

So what are the signs of vocal dehydration?

As a professional voice user I am constantly aware of how my voice is feeling and it is vital that I always keep on top of my vocal health. Which is why paying attention to the little signs is essential, If I feel any issues coming on in my voice I can work quickly to limit any long term problems or damage, after all this is my career and a week out of teaching or singing is a week out of work! the following are some  of the things to look out for:

Dark Urine: Remember “Pee Clear” If you have dark urine you may need to up your water intake.

Needing to clear your throat often: When we are dehydrated the mucous that our body produces is much thicker, if you are struggling to clear your throat make sure you’re drink plenty and steaming often this can help to loosen the mucous to make it easier to clear. Remember excessive clearing of the throat can cause the vocal folds to slam together which in turn will encourage more mucous production as it is there to protect them!

Being thirsty or having a dry tickle in the throat: Its a pretty obvious one, if you feel thirsty drink more! however if you feel a tickle in your throat it may be that where you feel the tickle is more on vocal fold level rather than in the back of the throat, remember our vocal folds are protected by the epiglottis which prevent food and fluid from getting into the wind pipe, If thats the case you would need to steam to help get rid of the aggravation.

As always these are just some guidelines that I have found helpful for myself and my students, fluid intake is different person to person and dependant on activity and voice use. The key focus is to keep your fluids up to keep your voice up. In time you will find the correct balance that your individual voice needs.

#VocalTipsTuesday – Warm Up

#VocalTipsTuesday – Warm Up

#VocalTipsTuesday – Do you warm up everyday? It is essential to building a strong voice that is prepared for the everyday wear and tear on the voice. By warming up regularly you are training to body to connect with the voice as well as building an understanding of where your voice is at, by knowing your voice and how it reacts will help you to take notice when it stops responding how it normally would, allowing you to keep a better handle on your vocal health.

#VocalTipsTuesday – Break It Down

#VocalTipsTuesday – Break It Down

#VocalTipsTuesday – So many singers rush their practice – they find the basics boring and always rush ahead to more complicated and therefore ‘interesting’ techniques. You need to build a foundation when learning to sing, take simple exercises and perfect them, if its a more complex exercise and your struggling to get it right, break it down. The body needs time to process these techniques to make it muscle memory, only when you can sing and perform without having to focus on making something happen – is when you really get the best from your voice.

#VocalTipsTuesday – Loud Environments

#VocalTipsTuesday – Loud Environments

#VocalTipsTuesday – Its easy to get carried away with raising your voice in loud environments, whether its singing with bad monitoring or talking over music on a night out. The problem comes when we feel the need to push to be heard, this is when we don’t always feel how much pressure we are putting on our voice, Always make sure you put the effort into relaxing the throat and supporting the breath well to prevent too much subglottic pressure which can effectively damage the voice!

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.

 

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