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Thursday, 20 October 2011

PMS and the Voice

Studies have reported that the vocal abilities of female singers can be adversely affected just prior to the time of menstruation. In act, there have been cases of alterations in the appearance of the vocal folds of singers just prior to menstruation. Some professional singers actually have it written into their contracts that they will not perform on those days.

The human larynx is a hormonal target organ, meaning, when hormone levels change, many women may find that their vocal production changes, this particularly matters to singers, teachers and other women who speak often.  Vocal changes happen during the premenstrual and menstrual phase of the cycle.
Estrogen levels drop prior to menstruation, water-retention levels rise in the body causing increased blood supply to your vocal folds. Vocal hoarseness can result due to the increase of thyroid gland activity. Other changes that estrogen cause include  an increase in the secretion of glandular cells causing lots of mucus production. Progesterone production causes mucus changes in viscosity and the acidity of mucus increases, while the  amount of the secretions is reduced causing dryness of the vocal folds and sticky mucus that is hard to clear.
Other effects singers can experience during premenstrual and menstrual stages include difficulty singing in their higher range, vocal fatigue, huskiness, decreased volume, difficulty with engaging the support mechanism causing breathy quality, and occasionally intonation problems. Fatigue is a huge issue for singers, and sleeplessness caused by PMS can cause a number of issues.  Always remember, the larynx is especially sensitive and vulnerable to fatigue.
Remember, these vocal changes can be individually different, and may change monthly dependent on hormone levels.  It is important to be aware of how your voice changes.  Some things that may help include limiting intake of caffeine, refined sugar, salt, and alcohol. Continuing on your vocal vitamin regime increasing your honey intake, exercising, getting plenty of sleep, and drinking extra water are your best plan of defense.   Over the counter medications containing aspirin should be avoided as studies have shown it to increase the instance of vocal hemorrhage.
If you find that your vocal changes are more than you can handle or change drastically from month to month, than as with any medical condition, you should consult a medical professional.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Key Elements to Vocal Health

It’s a common myth that some people can sing and others can’t. I’ve heard many people in the past tell me that they’ve never been able to sing or someone in their childhood told them they were no good. The fact is, unless you have serious health issues with your throat anyone can learn to sing, in as much as they have the ability to learn any instrument.
The difference between those who can naturally sing and those who can’t is that some people are born naturally innervated and the others must devote more time to practicing in order to  develop their voice initially. However, even the most beautiful natural voice requires proper vocal training and technique.
I have had many students who started out in very poor condition, the more work they are willing to put forth in lessons and practice, the faster their voice improves. Unless you take care of your voice, treat your vocal chords well and keep practicing regularly, things  just don’t magically come together. Just like anything else worthwhile in life, you get out of it, what you put in.

Every singer always needs a good vocal warm up before they sing, whether practicing or performing, a good warm up is vital. I suggest warming up for the day in the morning as a singer risks doing permanent damage to their vocal chords because they either couldn’t be bothered, or are unaware of the importance of doing a warm up before they sing.
Your vocal chords are muscles and need to be treated with respect to avoid damage. Damaging them can be extremely painful and even a minor injury to your vocal chords may stop you singing for a long time and sometimes may stop you singing altogether.  Really not worth the risk, for a few moments a day of warming up.
After a prolonged period of time, abuse can cause nodules to form on the vocal chords due to the excessive strain of  beating your voice without properly warming up.
If you were an athlete, you wouldn’t consider running a race without warming up first. You might get away with it for a while but sooner or later you are likely to pull a leg muscle or do permanent damage to your ligaments. The same goes for your throat and vocal chords.
You should spend a minimum of 10 minutes in daily warm-up although 15-20mins is better!
It is also important to practice properly, please read our post about practicing.
Lots of famous  stars are considered to be great singers, but actually, many aren’t quite as good as they may seem. Many successful artists have relatively limited vocal ranges and tend to stay within the same octave or two throughout their careers.
When you stop smoking it seriously reduces the chances of developing lung cancer, throat cancer, mouth cancer, gum disease, heart attacks, strokes and emphysema. You will feel healthier and able to conquer any vocal challenge.
Save yourself from yellow teeth, smelly breath, premature ageing and countless throat infections, colds and flu you might catch throughout the year. It is well known that cigarettes practically nullify all the vitamin C supplies in your body every time you smoke, so your body in no longer able to fight infection.
You don’t have to ruin your social life completely, but just tone it down a bit. Alcohol is extremely drying, and therefore is not a good performance enhancer.  It takes several glasses of water to account for every ounce of alcohol.
Hydration – Water
Keep fully hydrated at all times by drinking water. Your body will have all the water it needs to keep it’s organs and muscles working well and efficiently. As well as keeping your vocal chords fully lubricated you will find you have a greater sense of well being, general alertness and more energy than before. Try to drink at least two litres of water a day. Although your body gets enough water from the food you eat, keeping yourself well hydrated will help keep your vocal chords in good condition. Don’t attack vocal chords with freezing cold water when you’re trying to sing. Keep your water bottle at room temperature at least.
Foods to Avoid
 Coffee and tea are very drying because they both contain caffeine. Caffeine has a negative effect on the vocal chords, dehydrates your throat and stimulates the production of phlegm, especially coffee. Try not to drink either just before you sing. If you do, remember, for every cup of caffeinated beverage, you must drink 2 cups of water to re-hydrate.
Dairy products like milk and cheese coat your throat and the mucus membrane of your vocal chords, affecting your voice and making it much harder to sing. Make sure you limit them for a few hours before you sing.  It is also a good idea to avoid extreme spice prior to performance.
Take Care of your Body
It is important that everyone gets enough sleep.  Try and get 7 – 8 hours a night to keep your voice and the rest of your body healthy. Also, cardiovascular exercises like running and swimming will improve your lungs and breathing ability, enabling you to sing better.   Please remember to read Vitamins for Vocal Health
Be Clean
Brush your teeth 2 – 3 times a day, floss and upkeep them well. Clear but don’t rinse your mouth out after you have brushed your teeth. You will wash away all the protective barriers and fluorine in your toothpaste.
Taking off your shoes and washing your hands when you enter your house will effectively kill 90% of the germs you’ve picked up throughout the day and prevent you bringing them into your home.
They say a cash machine has more germs than a toilet seat, so do door handles, push buttons, and money.  Imagine how many public things you touch each day and how many other people with flu’s, colds and infections have been touching. Alcohol hand gels are handy and help kill bacteria.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Find your Fach: The Importance of Vocal Classification in Repertoire Selection

Often I am asked "What kind of voice do I have?" "What sort of Repertoire should I sing?" or "Why shouldn't I sing this song for a festival, exam or competition?"".  Often the answer is that it isn't appropriate for your voice type, or classification. I even hear the question "Why can Michaella sing so loud and I have such a small voice?" Again the answer to that question lies in vocal classification you have different voices, therefore you are better at different things in singing and different repertoire showcases your voice.
 In classical music, we often refer to this at your Fach. The German Fach system is a method of classifying singers,  according to the range and colour of their voices.  A singer who is identified as being of a certain voice type will usually be asked to sing only roles or songs that belong to that Fach.  This prevents a singer from being asked to sing pieces he or she is incapable of performing well.

Your teacher understands vocal classification, and knows what repertoire suits you best.  It is a good idea to discuss your voice with your teacher and get a listening list from him or her, so you can better understand vocal classification.
Below find a list of some of the vocal classifications with Ranges and a short explanation.  Feel free to ask questions!

Lyric Coloratura Soprano
    •    Middle C to the F two-and-a-half octaves above middle C
    •    a light soprano with a high voice.  Able to do fast acrobatics with easy high notes and extreme high ranges.

Dramatic Coloratura Soprano
    •     Middle C to the F two-and-a-half octaves above middle C
    •    Able to do fast acrobatics with easy high notes and a more dramatic, rich voice. The voice  is often smoother and darker. This is a very rare vocal type, as  the physiology required to produce the large, dramatic notes usually lessens the flexibility and acrobatic abilities of the voice.

    •    Middle C to the C two octaves above middle C
   •    Beautiful, sweet light voice capable of singing vocally acrobatic passages similar to a coloratura. Usually a Soubrette lacks the extreme vocal range of the coloratura. Most sopranos start out as soubrettes, changing fach as they get older and their voice matures.

Lyric Soprano
    •    Range: From B below middle C to the C two octaves above middle C
    •    A more versatile soprano able to sing lovely legato segments with some agility; this voice type  has a more luscious soulful and sensuous quality.

Spinto Soprano
    •    •A below middle C to the C two octaves above middle C
    •    literally translated means pushed. A Spinto Soprano has a lyric instrument that can also create big sounds, cutting through an orchestral or choral climax.
Dramatic Soprano
    •    A below middle C to the C two octaves above middle C
    •    Rich, full sounding voice, able to project across large orchestras,because of their powerful sound. Dramatic sopranos have a darker fuller quality to the voice and have a substantial amount of volume and endurance.

Lyric Mezzo-soprano
    •    G below middle C to the B two octaves above middle C
    •    Like the Lyric Soprano with a lower range; the resulting sound is darker. The voices are similar, and many transition into singing soprano roles at some point in their careers.

Dramatic Mezzo-soprano
    •    G below middle C to the B two octaves above middle C
    •    Dramatic mezzo-sopranos are similar to dramatic sopranos the difference is in where the ease is in the voice. a mezzo will concentrate singing most of the time in her middle and low registers and will go up to notes like high B-flat only at the dramatic climax whereas a soprano will concentrate on middle and higher range.

Dramatic Contralto
    •    F below middle C to the F two octaves above
    •    A deep, penetrating low sensuous female voice. This is a very rare voice type with a darker, richer sound than that of a typical alto.

    •    G below middle C to the B two octaves above middle C
    •    male voice with a range equivalent to a mezzo-soprano.  This is a very rare voice type.

Lyric Tenor
    •    Low C to the C-F an octave above middle C (C to c')
    •    Characteristically like Like other Lyric voice types

Helden Tenor
    •    Low C to the C an octave above middle C (C to c')
    •    Bright Tenor voice Dramatic extended upper range

Lyric Baritone
    •    B below low C to the G above middle C (B to g')
    •    Sweet sounding baritone voice with beautiful line

Lyric Bass-Baritone
    •    G below low C to the F# above middle C (G to f#')
    •    Luscious baritone voice with extended low range.

    •    E below low C to the F above middle C (E to f')
    •    Bass voices are also available in Lyric, and Dramatic classifications

Please work together with your teacher to ensure that you are choosing repertoire that is suitable to your voice.  Please don't mouth-back to your teacher when he or she suggests a piece, sometimes repertoire is like medicine and we must learn it in order to get better and strengthen our technique.  More than likely once you practice the piece, and see how well it fits your voice, you will be in love.