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Thursday, 29 September 2011

It Ain't Broke -- The Vocal Disconnect

Many times students ask why their voice cracks when they sing higher.  They always want an easy answer or a quick fix. This problem is often called "the break". I really dislike that term, as your voice is not broken, it just is not strong or agile enough to complete the task you are asking.  When you attend the gym, on your first attempts at lifting weights, you would not contest that your arms were broken because you couldn't lift 300lb.  You also wouldn't bemoan the fact that you couldn't contort yourself into a pretzel your first time in a gymnastics class.  Why should you do this then when learning to sing?  This kind of thinking leads to mental blocks which are often far more difficult to overcome than the vocal disconnect present. All that has happened really is that you've reached a spot in your voice where resonation must shift from one area of your body to the next. Your vocal folds are not coordinated enough to stay adducted through the passage, the "crack" or "break" you are experiencing is a disconnection from your middle voice into falsetto.  Reaching for higher notes to avoid 'breaking' will only exacerbate the problem since this blasts even more air through the vocal folds while attempting to stretch them beyond what is healthy for them at this time. Imagine that your voice is a car. Leaving your car in 1st gear without ever changing gears, eventually blow the engine. Similarly, pulling your chest voice up can eventually lead to a host of vocal problems such as vocal strain, hoarseness, nodules, and even the permanent loss of your upper range altogether. A high price to pay to belt out a few high notes! Approaching your high notes through your head voice is of utmost importance for your long term vocal health.

To Rid yourself of this break, you must work with your vocal coach and practice developing a mixed voice which blends your middle voice to your falsetto.  Ridding yourself of your "break" is much like learning to use your clutch when driving a manual transmission. If you practice, your vocal cords will learn to coordinate the amount of air required to keep them vibrating and adducted so there is no audible shift in resonation. You should feel this transition smoothly within your body, however, there should be no outward indication to your audience.  They should only hear a full beautiful connected sound.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Get the Part you Deserve -- The Awesome Audition

Preparing for your audition should be fun for you; it's a chance to show how good you really are and remember the people you are auditioning for have been in the same place you are standing.
When entering an audition be in good voice, if you haven’t sung or practiced in a days, you can’t expect to go into an audition and perform well. Singing every day is crucial for a healthy and strong voice. It’s a great idea to look over the score, watch the movie or listen to the music online. In musical theatre, there’s no excuse for not being familiar with the show when you enter an audition.  If you choose to watch the movie of a musical, bear in mind that the stage version is often quite different, however, if you keep that in mind, there’s no reason not to enjoy the movie. It will give you a basic idea of what the show’s all about.

If you’re so sick you have a fever, and can hardly sing, don’t go to your audition, try to reschedule for when you are well if possible. If you just have a cold or allergies, you may decide to audition anyway, If you choose to continue with your audition you may tell the director once that you are sick, don't go about announcing it like it should be on the front cover of People Magazine. Don't use your sickness as an excuse, that is a sure way not to be cast in the show.

It is very important to prepare for your audition. If you are asked to prepare a song and or monologue, and you don't have one currently memorized, find one ASAP.   Don't wait until a week or two before the audition, your audition will only be as good as the effort you put into learning your material. 

The audition song, should not be something from the show you’re auditioning for, unless you’re specifically asked to sing a particular number. Directors don't want to hear the same songs over and over again, and often have very specific ideas about how they want songs from the show sung; if you have a different interpretation, you may never be given the chance to try the directors interpretation. Choose a song that's similar in style and range to the character for whom you’re auditioning.

Rehearse with a pianist; it is important not to  rely on a recording of your song, since that version may be considerably different from the sheet music you have and will make you seem like you are ill-prepared.

Never audition without sheet music!  It is better to bring an original copy if at all possible. You look unprofessional if you are breaking copy-right laws. Do not bring a lead sheet and expect the accompanist to make it up as they go along. If you make a mistake while singing, do not stop, an audition is a performance; do not let your face or body language reveal the fact that you’ve made a mistake. Don't try to blame your mistakes on the pianist, don't give them dirty looks, it’s difficult to sight read, and they are doing the best they can. The musical director will be able to tell if the fault is yours. Don't choose a song that's very difficult for a pianist to play, it will reflect poorly on you, not the accompanist.  It is also important that your song be memorized.  If you can't memorize your audition piece, how can the director trust that you will memorize your material for the show.

Please make sure your sheet music is written out in the right key, it is unfair to expect someone to transpose at sight for you, and that any tempo changes, repeats, codas, etc. are all marked clearly. Never give a pianist sheet music in a plain book, as this make page turns too difficult.  Photocopy your song, and tape the edges together, accordion fashion and tape it carefully to the first page in your original. This takes care of the problem of page turns and doesn't break copy-right law. When you hand the pianist your music, make sure you smile and say hello. You should give the accompanist a good idea of the tempo by singing a few bars quietly for them. If there are tempo changes, codas, or other important things he should know about, point them out before you begin, this way nobody get confused.  Whatever you do, never Snap your fingers or clap your hands at the pianist. Most accompanists would be very offended by this behaviour even if you are just trying to be helpful.

It is important to enter the stage or audition room with confidence. The way you walk on stage can either make a great impression on the director, or a very bad one so keep good posture, your chin at a natural level, and look ahead not down. It is important to look confident, even when you’re scared out of your mind. Never apologize for your performance.  Don't tell them you don't know the song well or that you are sick or you didn't have time to warm-up or your dog died etc etc etc  That really says to the director that you didn't care enough about their show to properly prepare.

Dressing for an audition is like dressing for a nice date. Please avoid jeans and sweatshirts, but don't overdress either. Wear clothing that fits well and is comfortable and make sure your shoes fit well. A clothing malfunction is the last thing you want to worry about when you are already under stress. Please don't come in costume, although it isn't a bad idea to dress the part. If you’re auditioning for the sweet young leading lady, dress modestly, but attractively, and don’t wear a corset and fishnet stockings. Whatever you do, make sure you turn off your cellphone.  If you get 12 text messages and a phone call during your audition, I guarantee you won't get a callback even if you are Johnny Depp.

For the dance audition, make sure you have appropriate shoes and are wearing something in which you can move.  If you’re not sure whether there will be a dance audition, call ahead of time and find out. Also make sure to find out if you will have a chance to change and govern your attire accordingly.

If you get a callback, wear the same outfit you wore the first day, and wear your hair and makeup the same way also.  If they liked what they saw, then show it to them again. Also, if may people are called back, wearing the same outfit also makes it easier for the director to remember you.

 It is important to be friendly, don't talk too much, but you shouldn’t be antisocial, either remember to smile and be personable. The director wants to know the cast will be people that are easy to get along with. Although you want to be friendly with the other people who are auditioning, it is often better to avoid conversation as to not get so engrossed  that you end up having no time to prepare yourself and concentrate before your audition. Plus excess noise can disrupt auditions and anger the director.  You do not want to be associated with an angry moment during auditions.

When you sing, just sing, don't do choreography or blocking  to accompany your song and please don't move around. Only use hand and arm movements if they are natural otherwise they detract from your performance and could be detrimental to your chances of being cast. Sing out like you were performing for a thousand people, feel your character because good acting walks hand in hand with good singing. Remember to be flexible, if the director asks you to try a different song, or asks for changes to your character, take a moment to think about how to effectively accomplish this task and then do it.  They aren't expecting perfection, they are looking for effort.

Audition as often as you can. The more you practice auditioning, the better you will become, and the less stress it will cause.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Believe Theatre: Vitamins for Vocal Health

Believe Theatre: Vitamins for Vocal Health: Singers must take care of their voices, much like athletes care for their bodies. The larynx is surprisingly small, about the size of a dim...

Vitamins for Vocal Health

Singers must  take care of their voices, much like athletes care for their bodies. The larynx is surprisingly small, about the size of a dime in a woman and the size of a nickel in the average man, to keep them healthy, eat plenty of nuts, fruits and vegetables that contain vitamins A, E and C and drink plenty of water.

It is extremely important to drink plenty of water in order to keep our bodies well-hydrated and to also cleanse our bodies of the toxins that may build up in our tissues and cells. This keeps disease and infections at bay, and helps maintain our personal health.  Water hydrates the body, therefore water also keeps our vocal folds moist.  This is crucial for a healthy voice. When we sing, the vocal folds vibrate at an extremely fast speed, if they dry out they are prone to irritation, this may cause some pain and discomfort when singing. Keep a glass of room temperature water with you whenever you are singing or performing, ice water is not ideal while singing, as it shocks the muscles and causes contraction and tightening.  Keeping the tissue of your larynx and throat moist, will drastically reduce the risk of vocal damage.

Vitamin C
Vitamin C  taken daily is an important part of Vocal Health.  Eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables can help, but a chewable Vitamin C tablet can ensure you are getting enough of this vitamin. Vitamin C helps prevent the common cold and sore throat as well as improve immune functions of the body.

Vitamin E
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin found in many foods, fats, and oils. It is a powerful antioxidant. Antioxidants are substances that destroy free radicals -- harmful compounds in the body that damage DNA (genetic material) and even cause cell death. Free radicals are believed to contribute to aging as well as the development of a number of health problems, including heart disease and cancer. Antioxidants provide some protection against these conditions and also  reduce the damage caused by toxic chemicals and pollutants.  Vitamin E aids in muscle regeneration, protecings the cell membrane and keeping you strong.  This is a very important vitamin for singers so try to add as many of these foods to your balanced diet as you are able but remember Vitamin E should not exceed 400IU per day so a supplement shouldn't be necessary if your dietary needs are being met.
The richest source of vitamin E is wheat germ.
Other foods that contain a significant amount of vitamin E include:
    •    Liver
    •    Eggs
    •    Nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts)
    •    Sunflower seeds
    •    Corn-oil margarine
    •    Mayonnaise
    •    Cold-pressed vegetable oils, including olive, corn, safflower, soybean, cottonseed, and canola
    •    Dark green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale
    •    Greens (beet, collard, mustard, turnip) sweet potatoes
    •    Avocado
    •    Asparagus
    •    Yams

Vitamin A
Vitamin A helps cells regenerate normally and is abundant in foods such as apricots, broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, kale, liver, mangos, red peppers, spinach and sweet potatoes.  Vitamin A, also known as retinol, is a fat-soluble vitamin that occurs only in animal foods. Carotenoids serve as a great source of alpha-, beta- and gamma-carotene that our bodies are able to convert into Vitamin A.  Vitamin A is important for vocal heath as it converts to retinoic acid in our bodies and  effectively maintains healthy bones and teeth. Dentin, which also requires vitamin A, forms the hard layer of material within our teeth ensuring their strength. Vitamin A also plays an important role in replacing worn out or old tissue with newer tissue to ensure healthy bones and teeth and a healthy throat and larynx.

Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is an absolute must for any singer. It provides the body with much needed energy that we do not get if our diet is not well balanced. B12 helps with stress,  helping our nervous system to function at a more relaxed level. On performance days, a singer should consider taking 50% more B12 than on a regular day for extra support and energy as with this vitamin you will not be so anxious before performances or auditions.  Most people do not absorb the little amount of B12 that they get from diet especially if you are a vegetarian like me. B12 deficiency is a very serious issue and can lead to all kinds of problems including, memory loss, moodiness, depression, nervous system health, head aches, fatigue, dizziness, and sore tongue.  If you have any of these symptoms you may have a Vitamin B12 deficiency.

Honey has anti-microbial and antibiotic properties, meaning that bacteria and virus will find it hard to survive and reproduce in honey. For a sore throat or if you just feel some discomfort, have a spoonful of pure Honey. This will help to keep the bacteria away, and will also help a sore throat to heal faster. Honey is antiseptic and anti-inflammatory, it will help to prevent any infection from spreading, and will speed up the recovery. Many singers swear by honey being a wonderful remedy for sore throat as well as a great singing food for protecting our fragile vocal folds.  Local Honey taken daily will also help with seasonal allergies.

Remember, the best way to maintain a healthy voice is to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables and drink plenty of water daily.  As long as you are take a daily multivitamin containing these vitamins, you should not need to take additional vitamin A or E supplements, however, you should either choose a good B-Complex or B12 vitamin to supplement your vitamin regime. Overdosing on vitamin A or E can have serious consequences for your health because these vitamins are fat soluble and stay in your system longer than vitamin C, which is water soluble.   If you have questions about these or other supplements please contact your doctor or herbalist.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Perfect Practice for Perfect Performance

September is a time of new beginnings.  School starts and like clock work, students return to their weekly music lessons.  Sometimes I feel as though I should just record myself saying one sentence over and over again; "It is NOT the quantity of your practice so much as the QUALITY."  Most time this statement falls on deaf ears.

Remember, your lesson time is the time that you show your teacher how you are doing at the moment, and the progress you have made since your last lesson.  Your teacher will tell you what you need to work on next, and how to work on it. You don't really have time to practice or improve during your lesson, only to get the insight into how to improve. Make notes, or record your lessons to get the most for your investment. If the only time you play your instrument is during your lesson, your progress will be extremely slow.  Rehearsals with a group such as band, orchestra, choir or other ensemble are for the improvement of the group and for practicing playing together.  This doesn't allow you to  actually work on learning the music or on the technique of becoming a better musician.  Performances are for letting everyone enjoy the progress you have made. They are times for you to enjoy making music and not times to have to be worried about the technical details of the music or your personal technique. These are not times for actual progress, so even if you show up for every lesson, rehearsal, and performance, your progress will be minimal.  Individual music practice is crucial if you want to become the best musician.  Your teacher can give you a guideline as to the amount of practice time they expect, and help you to set goals and circle areas that need improvement.

Students tend to be afraid of repetition, however, as unpopular as this may be repetition is the key to perfect practice.  Most teachers would be more pleased with a perfected section of a piece than hearing the entire song practiced poorly with many mistakes.  We as musicians do a great deal of repeating, in practice, we necessarily repeat material to refine our skills, assimilate compositions, interpret, and keep our repertoire strong.  Through methodical use of repetition, and attention to detail, we master material faster minimizing our errors and thereby minimize our need to repeat.  Errors should be embraced as the keys to our improvement, by spending more time in weaker areas being vigilant in our correctness, we improve, and do not ingrain mistake-ridden habits.  We solve problems our instead of making new ones.  With each repetition of a passage, we strive to grow and change, we might strive for something different each time; better support, cleaner diction, stronger connection, or to be stronger in our character.  Whatever the intention behind the repetition, it should be meaningful leading to more ease and greater musicianship.  Repetition should light a fire within as you hear the dynamic changes in each passage you focus on, and thereby add passion to your practice.  If practice is always drudgery, than you are doing something wrong. Please don't be afraid to focus on your mistakes, studies show less students quit because they're not practicing than because their practice time isn't spent in quality practice.  Don't become a statistic, become a musician!

Listening is also a key to good practice.  If possible, tape your teacher performing your repertoire, find a professional on YouTube, or download the album online from someplace like iTunes.  This is not for you to copy or learn to emulate the  sounds you are hearing, but instead to get a better feeling for the mood and flow of the piece.  However, singing or playing along with a recording of a piece is NOT good practice, and should be avoided.

Please warm-up before practicing, you wouldn't consider running the block without stretching, so why would you play without giving your body the best chance to prepare.  Also, through our warm-up, we improve our technique, and technique is the key principal to good musicianship.

  • Try to practice at least once a day for a total 30 minutes. Every day you don't practice sets you back two day, so even if you can't spare 30 minutes, do something every day.
  • Always be aware of what your body is telling you. Practice in front of a mirror because Posture is an important part of technique and must be practiced.
  • If a section is frustrating, don't abandon it, that will only ingrain it as a problem spot, and make conquering it much more difficult. With methodical repetition you will overcome any problem. We practice things we already do well and avoid the things we find difficult. Force yourself work on the things that you can't do well and your progress will be faster and more difficult things will be a welcome challenge.
  • If you are learning a fast piece of music, first practice it slowly until you know the notes very well. Avoid the temptation to speed up easier sections, as that will lead to tempo mistakes and difficulties later. Increase speed little by little perfecting it in small pieces measure by measure.
  • Listen to yourself as you practice! It is so easy to get caught up in technical aspects of the music that we forget the Art. The Art cannot be lost in your practice, so express yourself and have fun.
Remember, nobody can force you to practice well, however, you will only see improvement through solid individual practice. Only you can do this, but without it, you will never become a good musician.