Your New Year's Inspiration for 2016
Thursday, December 31, 2015 by Michele Thomas | Inspirational
by Michele Thomas
Music is such a powerful force in the world. And anyone who participates in it...whether it's patronizing the arts through seeing live concerts or buying CD's (yes people still do that! ;)), or taking private lessons or a class to develop musical skills...we all benefit from the energy that music brings into our lives. Seriously. It's not just a trite notion. I truly do believe that music has the power to transform lives - which is why I am sharing this article with you for the New Year...
When I saw this article I was blown away; not only because it's about my high school choral teacher, a man who mentored me into the world of music from my early years, but because I never knew his story. And to now understand what he overcame to pursue his deep passion for music...he has kind of changed my life all over again.
Read and watch for a story that is guaranteed to inspire you. And raise a glass in the New Year for Mr. Norman Malone! #NeverGiveUp
The Good, The Bad, And The "Mucus-y" - A Seasonal Allergy Guide For Singers
Wednesday, April 2, 2014 by Michele Thomas | Vocal Health
Now a days, just about everyone who walks into my voice studio suffers from seasonal allergies and/or chronic upper respiratory conditions. Reactions to pollen, dander, dust as a result of asthma, allergies and sinusitis are commonplace; with symptoms running any where from mild to very severe.
But for singers, any one of these issues can affect the functioning of our voice as they can have a negative impact on our vocal cords, vocal membranes and our ease of breathing.
Why? Because the inside of vocal mechanism requires a certain type of environment to run optimally. Here's the least you need to know about that environment and how to best keep it working for you.
THE GOOD - Moisture In The Throat
Your voice needs moisture! Seems pretty obvious, right? But moisture within the throat requires more than an occasional glass of water to "wet the whistle". If the body is dehydrated, then the vocal cords and vocal muscles are dehydrated. Hydration is what provides an ongoing state of moisture within the throat and promotes supple and flexible vocal muscles, which are best for singing and speaking at an optimal level. In other words, you must fully hydrated well before you sing in order to ensure that your vocal muscles are in a good state to perform. Ideally, singers need to keep hydrating their bodies whether or not they are singing.
What's some great ways to get hydrated and stay hydrated?
Water, water, water! (Duh!)
But there are other hidden tricks to staying hydrated that make it easy to do. Water packed foods such as cucumbers, lettuce, melons, pineapples, grapes and berries up your liquid intake big time. Make it even easier by including water packed foods in meals that you can eat readily such as smoothies, juices (from juicers) and salads.
But also consider the foods and beverages that can sometimes inhibit hydration such as salt and caffeine. In and of themselves, salt and caffeine aren't horrible, but too much of these substances (and it really doesn't take very much) and you can defeat your efforts to stay in a hydrated state; so keep them to a bare minimum for the sake of your voice.
THE BAD - Excess Dryness & Mucus In The Throat
Even with proper hydration, we can encounter other problems within the environment of our throats that are due to outside factors; many of which may be out of our control. It goes without saying that changes in the seasons and extreme weather conditions affect our immediate environment - both outside in nature and inside the shelter of our homes and buildings. Singers not only face potential allergens both outdoors and indoors, but extreme temperature changes coming from air conditioners or dry heat affect our coming and going all year round. Singers can be in a constant state of influx as they breathe in dry air from any given environment. Dryness will leave the delicate vocal cords and vocal membranes in a weakened state and even more susceptible to inflammation that can cause irritation and strain while singing.
And then let's not forget the issue of mucus. (Yes, it's a gross but necessary subject!)
Mucus can be good for the body. And when it's good, we hardly notice it because it's thin, "liquid-y" and readily helping to protect our immune system. But when it's bad, it's thick and slow moving due to the fact that it's in overdrive as it's fighting something in our bodies that is already out of balance. (i.e., dehydration, allergies and/or illness)… For singers, the result is too much mucus or phlegm weighing down the vocal folds and obstructing the vocal tract, causing increased strain of the muscles and more static in the tone production. Also, like dryness, mucus can cause irritation and strain while singing.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
Singers have to be vigilant about the causes of irritation and strain in the their voices. Our throats and bodies are often vulnerable to our outer environment which can leave even the best trained singer susceptible to illness, vocal fatigue, hoarseness and even loss of voice by laryngitis. So it's smart to equip ourselves with a few extra tools to help our voices in times of need.
Below are some of my personal recommendations for vocal products according to the symptoms they address:
For throat irritation from dryness
For throat irritation from excess mucus
This is just a short list of products that are great for singing and speaking professionals. They are my own personal suggestions, as I myself have used these products to great satisfaction and feel very confident in their quality and effectiveness. However, as with all things in life, use your common sense. I am not a doctor, and none of these products are promised to be a fail-safe remedy or the ultimate cure to any disease, so if you are experiencing more serious vocal health issues or have a bad reaction to any of these products, immediately contact a health professional and go have yourself checked out.
If you have questions of which products might be best for you, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to get more personalized recommendations for your singing voice!
Classical vs. Non-Classical Voice Coaching, Pt. 1 - The Real Bottom Line
Sunday, February 2, 2014 by Michele Thomas | Vocal Technique
by Michele Thomas
This discussion is nothing new in many respects. But I notice that it is a discussion that’s rarely under the spotlight.
And though this subject is something I’ve talked a lot about over the years, yet never do I see enough being written about the matter. So, I’ve decided to do it. While there are an endless amount of articles about various singing techniques, few explain why these techniques exist in the first place and how experts determine “best” techniques. Over a series of posts I’ll explore the culture and attitudes surrounding the world of vocal coaching and what singing students should be aware of in their pursuit of vocal training and development.
The Unspoken Truth About The Common Voice Lesson
Some time ago I read a post on a music teacher's blog where an upset voice teacher wrote, "A few weeks ago, I had a young student be told by the music director of a local Children’s Theater group to stop studying with me as I was teaching her to be “too classical.”
Clearly this voice teacher had cause to be upset at the implications drawn from such comments. It was obvious the student had abruptly discontinued lessons after a long period of instruction. This left the teacher feeling discouraged and also created a gap in her studio roster, impacting her financially.
Regarding the music director's comments, however, I couldn't jump to the instant conclusion that his words were meant in malice or disrespect towards the voice teacher or her methods. Primarily because he presented a legitimate and underlying point, which is a conventional classical vocal technique should not be assumed to work for other genres of music. The long-standing theory that there is one basic technique (code word: classical) covering all genres has long since been debunked.
Research in vocal pedagogy over recent decades has proven that there are methods, which are better suited for non-classical, non-operatic singing styles. Additionally, these newer methods show that a safe, and natural approach to singing popular styles of music can be developed - even in the short-term – if guided effectively through instruction.
Yet given the current state of the vocal teaching community at large, it's obvious that many instructors, including myself at one time, remain uneducated or resistant to developments in vocal science. This is certainly true particularly as it relates to contemporary singing techniques.
Additionally, there is often a deeper issue of cultural bias and ethnocentric attitudes surrounding music outside of Western European classical traditions. These attitudes can fuel musical elitism that often shuns popular music in voice teaching culture. In that case, I think it's a fair assessment that many voice instructors may be unequipped to teach more contemporary singing styles.
I believe it's fair for students to ask the critical question, "Will the technique I'm taught work for the type of music I want to sing?" Ultimately, the training a student receives should be applicable to the kind of singing they do outside the studio versus reflecting their instructor’s personal musical tastes. Also, vocal instructors should be able to teach, in no uncertain terms, how to develop such techniques. A voice teacher shouldn’t assume their students must automatically default to their expertise as a voice teacher. On the contrary, teachers must earn credibility by producing clear and tangible results that the student experiences directly.
After a given time of instruction, if one of my students felt they weren’t progressing as they expected, I must re-evaluate their original goals AND examine my own teaching strategies to ensure that I'm giving them the tools that they actually need and want. Over the years I’ve taught, I’ve continued to evaluate my knowledge for vocal training and match it against current research and new developments in vocal pedagogy and science.
A great article exploring these ideas with great clarity and conviction is in the NATS Journal Of Singing called, "The Recovering Female Opera Singer" by Randy Buescher. Mr. Buescher is creator of the "Your True Voice" technique and a certified speech pathologist. He addresses what I believe to be the bigger ethical questions for voice teachers: do conventionally accepted teaching methods really meet the demands of our contemporary musical culture? If not, is it ethical to continue teaching those techniques?
These questions stir controversy in the vocal teaching community. But what about you? How would you answer this question? I would love to know! Share your comments or ask more questions below. I would love to hear from you!