Thursday, 17 November 2011

Exercise and the Voice

This week while doing my reading, I stumbled upon this amazing article b Dr. Claudia Friedlander.  Instead of remaking the wheel, I have decided to post her article here for all of you to enjoy.

How exercise can support your vocal technique

Claudia Friedlander, DMus, CPT

If you are a classical singer, you are an elite athlete. Your art requires exceptional coordination, endurance and grace, exquisitely fine motor control, total mind/body integration, and the ability to perform highly skilled maneuvers in real time. You must remain calm but energized while delivering peak performances, often in competitive situations. You must maintain optimum physical health. The careers of singers and athletes have far more similarities than they have differences.
Articles abound recommending exercise to singers for stress reduction, weight management and overall wellness. However, we are usually encouraged to exercise only as a remedial process in our vocal training, rather than an essential part of it. We know that proper alignment is a prerequisite for full breathing and neck mobility, yet our techniques for achieving it are limited to verbal cues and a referral to an Alexander or Feldenkreis teacher. The ability to take a full breath and release air steadily is central to singing technique, but we lack practical means for creating flexibility in the ribcage and stabilizing the muscles of respiration. As a voice teacher, I was frustrated by my inability to help students just stand up straight and take a deep breath. I knew from personal experience that Alexander lessons improve alignment and breathing, but I also knew that without constant reinforcement the old problematic patterns of use would eventually return. So two years ago, I became certified as a personal trainer, with the goal of learning how to create the optimal physical foundation for meeting the demands of classical vocal technique.

Athletic trainers study human anatomy and physiology in great detail. They understand how the body responds to various stimuli and learns new motor skills. They know that the skeletal, muscular, and nervous systems are completely interdependent and that problems in one of these systems causes problems for the whole. And they know the importance of training fundamental movement skills before training the highly specialized skills of a given sport; for example, a golf player who can execute a spectacular drive but can’t stabilize his spine, hips and legs while rotating his torso risks injuring his lower back.
This knowledge is of immense potential benefit to singers. Bringing our teaching and practice strategies in line with the way the brain learns new motor skills can accelerate technical progress. If we know how the various systems of the body and mind support one another, we will better appreciate the impact of alignment on vocal technique and the effect that breathing has on phonation and stamina. We will be able to trace most extraneous movement, unstable breath support and jaw tension back to deficits in the fundamental movement patterns that form the foundation for any athletic pursuit.
However, generations of voice professionals have warned singers against vigorous exercise. P. Mario Marafioti, Enrico Caruso’s laryngologist, wrote that “While it is urgent for a boxer or a fencer to keep his muscles in continual training, it is hardly necessary for a thinker, a writer, or anybody who is devoted to a purely intellectual form of activity to overtax his physical strength. As singing belongs to this latter class of activities, all books and methods advocating physical training for singers seem to consider singing more as a muscular action than as an intellectual achievement...We would suggest that singers take care of their health just by following the normal rules of all intelligent people, without exerting themselves in any form of physical training.”1 Richard Miller assents to athletic activities that “ensure excellent, general physical

condition and if they are not strenuously carried out past the age when physical exercise should be cut back,” but comments that “Even in the prime years, it is questionable that muscular development, including those muscles directly related to singing, need attain special dimensions for singing.”2 Barbara Doscher and Meribeth Bunch agree that light forms of exercise, particularly swimming, are beneficial, but heavy weight lifting should be discouraged. Pedagogy books typically include an entire chapter on the singer’s formant but devote a mere paragraph to exercise, and the tone is usually cautionary.
The truth is that the singer who exercises with good form will help, not hurt, the voice. Activities that improve alignment, coordination, and stamina are just as vital to our success as the things we do to train a clean onset and clear vowel definition. Our approach to singing technique should consider the needs of the whole body.
Exercise & Alignment
Proper alignment depends on optimal length/tension relationships between the muscle groups that operate each joint. An imbalance in any of these relationships will result in a postural distortion, which will have some sort of limiting impact on the voice - for example, by interfering with breathing or entangling the muscles that affect the head and neck.
Joints rely on their surrounding muscles for stability and movement. Consider the muscles that affect the elbow, a simple hinge joint. We flex, or bend the elbow by contracting the biceps, on the inside of the arm, and allowing the muscles on the outside of the arm - the triceps - to relax and lengthen. We extend, or straighten out the elbow by contracting the triceps and allowing the biceps to relax and lengthen. If the strength and flexibility in our biceps and triceps are well
balanced, then these muscles enjoy a good length/tension relationship. Our elbow will be stable and capable of a full range of motion. If, however, we have strong, inflexible biceps and weak, overstretched triceps, it will be difficult to straighten out our elbows and they will be slightly bent when at rest. The elbow is an easier joint to analyze than the complicated joints that determine overall alignment, like the hips and shoulders, but well-balanced length/tension relationships are even more important for the muscle groups surrounding these joints. A singer whose shoulders round forward and whose chest collapses as they exhale demonstrates an imbalance that probably includes tight chest muscles and weak back muscles. This is an over- simplification, as the joint and muscle relationships that create good alignment and movement through the torso are quite complex, but this is an example of how good posture depends on bringing these muscle groups into balanced relationships.
The only way to restore balance is to strengthen the weak muscles and stretch the tight ones. The whole-body movements required for swimming and yoga can move you towards this goal, but it may take a while because there is no way to focus on a specific imbalance for which you’ve been compensating for years. An Alexander teacher can stimulate the neuromuscular system to restore healthy joint function by releasing chronically contracted muscles, but while it is wonderfully liberating to feel these muscles lengthen this is only half of the equation. We must strengthen the weak, underused partner muscles whose job it is to help the newly released muscles maintain their length and mobility. A program of resistance and flexibility training tailored to an individual singer’s body can retrain patterns of movement so that optimal alignment is established and reinforced daily.
Exercise & Breathing
All breathing strategies rely on the ability to inhale a substantial quantity of air and release it steadily. Singers may be concerned that building abdominal strength will restrict breath capacity and reinforce a tendency to “push” with the breath, so I would like to address both these concerns and discuss the ways that a well-designed exercise program promotes good breathing.
First, abdominal strength will not diminish breath capacity if it develops in a balanced fashion. As with the postural muscles, you need to build strength and flexibility throughout the torso so that your abs do not become chronically tight. Overstretched abs that let your belly pooch out do not help breath technique; on the contrary, excessive weakness in the abs leads to excessive tightness in the muscles of the spine and lower ribs, which will cause you to arch your lower back and restrict rib movement - and this will significantly decrease your breath capacity and create a plethora of other problems.
Second, abdominal strength will not by itself encourage “pushing”. Pushing results when the vocal folds are squeezed together with such force that only excessive breath pressure will get them to vibrate. If a singer tends to push, perhaps stronger abs will make it possible to push a little harder, but the increased neuromuscular control learned through exercise may give them the option not to engage the muscles involved in pushing. In my own teaching, I think of breath management as reactive; when the vocal folds are set to vibrate at the desired pitch and volume, a well-coordinated breathing system passively supplies precisely as much air as needed and there is no temptation to push additional breath through.
The more supple and resilient our muscles of respiration, the better they respond to the demands of singing. Core strength and stability is of tremendous benefit for breathing, as Pilates fans can testify. The muscles of the “core” go way beyond the the rectus abdominis, or “six pack”, that we usually think of when discussing abdominal exercise. The core encompasses all the musclesthat coordinate the joints of the lower spine, pelvis and hips and stabilize the lower torso, and most of these muscles also assist with respiration. Therefore, training the muscles involved in diaphragmatic or “low” breathing will also help singers maintain stability in the breathing mechanism during stage movement.
Establishing balanced length/tension relationships in the muscles of the upper body is also wonderful for breathing. When strength and flexibility is distributed appropriately among the chest, back, and shoulder muscles, the ribs are free to expand fully during inspiration and will be unlikely to collapse prematurely during expiration. The strength and coordination required to stabilize the shoulders for upper-body exercise usually removes any temptation to elevate the shoulders during inhalation, making strength training an effective way to cure a singer of clavicular breathing.
Oxygen Consumption & Vocal Stamina
“Cardiovascular fitness” means healthy heart and lungs - the efficient circulation of oxygen throughout the body and the ability to make good use of it. Cardiovascular training serves two major goals: higher “stroke volume” - the quantity of blood your heart pumps every time it beats - and increased oxygen consumption, because for average sedentary people, most of the oxygen we take in just gets exhaled again. If your heart pumps more blood, it won’t have to beat as frequently or work as hard, so you’ll feel more relaxed and calm. If you consume oxygen more efficiently, you’ll sleep soundly, feel more energetic, and enjoy a higher level of stamina. But the real benefit for your singing technique lies in the fact that if you consume oxygen more efficiently, you will be able to sustain longer phrases. If you’ve ever had the sensation that you were out of breath when there was still plenty of air in your lungs, this is why: you weren’t out of breath, but you used up all the oxygen you were capable of consuming from your last breath, so your body sent you a desperate signal to inhale.
While any activity that temporarily elevates your heart rate improves your cardiovascular fitness, a skilled trainer can help you employ strategies that cause your body to make these desirable adaptations faster. By setting a pace for exercise that systematically elevates your heart rate, allows for brief recovery, and then repeats the process within as challenging a range as you can safely manage, a trainer can help you increase your stroke volume. Oxygen consumption will increase both as a result of improved muscle tone and increased cardio fitness.
Exercise & Phonation
Free phonation also relies on balanced muscular development because tightness or over-activity in the chest and shoulders compromises mobility of the neck and larynx. Tension at the larynx creates resistance that requires “pushing” with the breath to create phonation, so strength training can indirectly help create a freer neck and larynx.
In Dynamics of the Singing Voice, Meribeth Bunch raises the concern that “Weightlifting could be detrimental because it tends to overdevelop the muscles of the neck and the adductors of the vocal folds. When closed the latter increase intra-thoracic pressure which is used to support the spine during initial phases of heavy lifting.”3 This leads to the stereotypical grunting associated with weight-lifting. In the gym, this is known as the valsalva maneuver: The glottis is forcibly held shut by the vocal folds, creating a build-up of subglottic pressure and preventing exhalation. It’s a quick and dirty way to stabilize the torso, and it gives weight-lifters some extra leverage. This wreaks havoc on the vocal folds, and trainers now know that it is extremely bad for the rest of the body as well. The build-up of pressure caused by holding the breath this way is dangerous  for your heart, and the valsalva maneuver is of limited use for strength training because it is far better for athletes to stabilize the torso by developing adequate strength in the muscles of the core. It may take constant harping for the first few weeks of training, but a responsible trainer will teach every client to lift without holding their breath like this. For singers, it is well worth taking the time to learn to stabilize the torso with the core muscles and not with the vocal folds because if this habit expresses itself in physical exercise, it is probably present in the studio as well; you may be stabilizing your voice by over-adducting your vocal folds rather than allowing a steady release of air modulated by the core musculature to do the work for you. If you over- adduct your vocal folds, you’ll have to push with the breath to get them to vibrate. So while it is true that working out with poor form can exacerbate a tendency to push, learning to exercise with perfect form can help eliminate this tendency.
Movement & The Singer
It is tricky enough to develop a singing technique that works reliably in the practice room. This technique must then be put to the test when you’re burdened by a heavy costume, climbing stairs, fencing, carrying a 50 lb. child, or bending at the waist and shuffling around with a Rigoletto hump for hours. We need a sense of overall balance and coordination that will enable us to work our technique and express ourselves while extraordinary physical requirements are placed upon us. This year, the Metropolitan Opera asked Andrew Robinson, a full-time member of their dance corps, to offer movement classes to singers in the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program. Andrew emphasizes how small adjustments to their habitual posture and style of walking can have a powerful impact on their comfort and confidence with stage movement. By guiding them through stretching exercises and simple dance phrases, he helps the singers “create a shorter distance between the brain and the body, a greater awareness of what the body is doing and a stronger concept of movement, how it goes from being an idea to getting the body to respond to that idea.” Andrew finds that singers frequently forget to breath when they begin to focus on movement patterns. Among his goals for them is the ability to perform even movements that might look ugly or feel strange without feeling self-conscious about it: “Self-consciousness has dramatic negative consequences for movement because it immediately makes everything tighten up!”
Because this is the first year that such classes have been offered to the Young Artists, it is too soon to predict the impact this training will have on their overall performance, but it may lead to benefits for their singing as well as for their movement skills. Training the body to be more coordinated stimulates the nervous system and enhances our ability to make fine movement changes with greater speed and specificity. Most of us have had the experience of figuring out how to do something years after a teacher first suggested it to us. It’s possible to understand a direction intellectually without having adequate neuromuscular control to put it into effect. Strength and coordination training improve your overall kinesthetic sense in a way that complements Alexander lessons. By becoming accustomed to making frequent global adaptations, the body and mind develop a greater sense of malleability. Like Andrew Robinson’s work with the Met Young Artists, athletic training enhances your ability to focus on physical movement and deepens your understanding of how new habits are formed and new skills mastered.
Enhanced physical coordination has a profound impact on vocal technical work. The skill of adaptation - the ability observe and analyze movement and establish a new movement pattern - is a primary skill of learning to sing. I believe that this is the single biggest reason that some singers make faster progress than others. This skill is independent of any natural vocal talent. It can be globally cultivated through athletic training and then accessed in the studio. Mastering large movement patterns that are easy to see and feel is a lot easier than mastering the fine adjustmentswe want to make with the aspects of our voice that are nearly impossible to monitor. Building skill in movement makes it easier to make those fine adjustments to the muscles that control the movement of our vocal folds and the shape of our resonating spaces.
The right exercise program can perfect our alignment, enhance our breath support and stamina, and improve our motor skills so that we learn technique faster - and it can also help us to feel and look our best.

How to design the ideal exercise regimen for your lifestyle and art
Claudia Friedlander, DMus, CPT
In Part 1 of this article, I described the many ways a well-planned exercise regimen contributes to vocal technique and help singers meet the demands of performance. A program of strength, flexibility, coordination and cardiovascular training can improve alignment, breath management, stamina, and phonation. Fitness programs that challenge the neuromuscular system can enhance fine motor control so that we acquire new vocal skills faster and learn stage movement with greater ease. In this part, I will discuss components of an exercise regimen, collaboration with a trainer, and aesthetic and dietary issues.
The First Step: Fitness Assessments and Goals
An effective exercise regimen begins with a complete assessment of your fitness and abilities and a detailed description of your goals. While everyone should assess general health and wellness before beginning an exercise program, the vocal athlete should monitor data related to the physical skills and qualities essential for singing. These assessments include:
Blood Pressure and Resting Heart Rate. If your blood pressure is excessively high or low, consult a physician to ensure your safety during exercise. Your resting heart rate is used to determine your target heart rate range to create an effective cardio program.
Body Composition. Assess your ratio of lean muscle mass to body fat every six weeks to track your progress. Your body fat percentage reveals more than your weight because muscle is much heavier than fat. A pound of fat takes up three times as much space as a pound of muscle! As your overall body fat drops by significant percentage points, you may lose inches and notice visible muscle definition but see little change in your weight.
VO2 Max. A trainer or a physician can measure your oxygen consumption and help set a goal for your VO2 Max. This is a crucial aspect of your exercise regimen, as oxygen consumption directly impacts your ability to sustain long phrases and perform energetic movements while singing.
Posture and Movement Screens. A comprehensive alignment analysis requires the assistance of an experienced athletic professional. Trainers vary in their methods and ability to assess alignment. I use a series of observations developed by the National Association of Sports Medicine (NASM) and a functional movement screen developed by physical therapist Gray Cook (see for more information). Alignment is dynamic, so while it is important to observe static posture, you should also assess basic movement patterns. An experienced trainer can analyze the length/tension relationships of your skeletal muscles and design a program of movement, stretches and exercises to bring everything into balance.
Use this data to establish measurable goals for blood pressure, body fat percentage, VO2 Max, and alignment. Set a date by which your goals can be attained and choose dates to re-assess performance along the way. Singers may enjoy this process of setting and working towards tangible fitness goals, as it can be much easier than setting goals for technical and career development! While vocal progress and performance careers sometimes develop along wildly unpredictable paths, you can collect data and monitor your progress in terms of these objective measurements. You are now ready to set up a cardio program that will enhance your oxygen consumption and a strength and flexibility program designed to perfect your alignment and stabilize your core. Your assessment data will also make it easy to incorporate general wellness and aesthetic goals into your program.
Sports-Specific Program Design
Athletes all need exercise regimens designed to help them accomplish the tasks specific to their sport, address their weaknesses, and build on their strengths. With this in mind, I consulted Rob Kram, a trainer with experience in sport-specific program design, to inquire what sort of regimen he would recommend for an opera singer. Currently Fitness Manager at the Reebok Club in New York City, Rob has designed exercise programs for Division I basketball players, as well as soccer, tennis, and baseball players. These athletes require a level of flexibility, power, balance and control far beyond the average person, qualities that are also essential for singers. To the best of my ability, I described the opera singer’s job in purely physiological terms and asked how he would design a program to prepare a singer’s body to meet the demands of our art form.
In sport-specific training of any kind, a program must be built upon the functional requirements of the sport. Rob expressed the importance of first-hand experience of a client’s sport: “I’d have to go to whatever you would consider practice or rehearsals and observe what you do and note the length of time, the voice exercises that you do and take that into consideration for whatever program I would design...if I’ve never even tried the vocal exercises, it takes away from my effectiveness. I would try to mimic what you’re doing to get the feeling of what is actually going on in my throat, what’s going on in my diaphragm, what’s going on with my core, how I am controlling that breath.”
All elite athletes need to begin by resolving postural distortions. In addition to structuring a strength training program around the requirements of good posture, Rob would also assign 15 to 30 minutes of daily stretches and exercises to be performed at home: “For someone for whom posture and appearance is important for their profession, this will be the most important aspect of their program. A few hours a week with a trainer isn’t going to fix anything - it will be better than nothing, but it will not correct postural deviations. It has to be an ongoing, every day thing with exercises in a specific order so that each day you’re building on progress from the day before.” While he would prescribe a cardio program around building breath endurance, he feels that Pilates sessions are ideal for the kind of breath work that singers need: “With its focus on the core, Pilates really gets you to feel the breath going to places where most people normally don’t feel it - into the lats, into the obliques, and this is where the singers are going to need it the most...The more conscious you become of moving the breath to all different parts of the body, the easier it becomes, and then you’re building muscle evenly in all the different muscle groups that impact the breath.” He also expressed the importance of addressing skills vital to different kinds of singers, in the same way that athletes who play different positions on a basketball team train in different ways. While yoga is extremely beneficial to develop breath control, a kundalini yoga class would be particularly useful for the vocal gestures that coloraturas must execute, while a deeper, slower form of yoga would be a better choice for dramatic voices.
For ideal overall program design, an opera singer’s training schedule would therefore be just as intense as the ones Rob laid out for his Division I athletes, comprising a five- or six-day weekly regimen including two to three sessions with a trainer; one or two sessions with a private Pilates instructor using their special apparati; yoga and cardio classes; and daily homework assignments to develop optimum alignment. “But that’s ideal, and not a lot of people will do that, so you start with ideal and then break it down to what the person can actually fit in with rehearsal schedule, family, travel, which may really cut down the ideal program to maybe two or three days a week. There will still be results, but it will extend the length of time that it will take to get those results.”
Choosing a Personal Trainer
Just like voice teachers, personal trainers vary in their qualifications and experience, and there is currently no federally regulated standard for personal training certification. As a result, certification programs range from extremely rigorous to some that are completed in a weekend. Your trainer should possess an excellent national personal training certification, current CPR certification and several years’ experience. Reputable certifications include the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM); the National Association of Sports Medicine (NASM); the International Sports Scientists Association (ISSA); the National Federation of Professional Trainers (NFPT); and the American Council on Exercise (ACE). The NASM paradigm is ideal for singers because it teaches alignment, balance and coordination before training strength and power and proposes a system of exercise progression adaptable to the specific requirements of any sport.
I asked Rob Kram what qualifications a singer should seek in a trainer. Under ideal circumstances, “The best thing to look for would be someone who has experience training singers. In an ideal world, I would give you a trainer that has a college degree in the field, has been a singer, knows what it takes to do the vocal exercises personally, obviously one of the better private trainer certifications, like NASM or ACSM, and real success in training a singer in the past as well as training themselves. You could get even more ideal by finding a trainer who has a Pilates or a yoga certification at the same time, along with the singing background.” While this would be difficult to find, you should at the very least seek a trainer who respects the athletic nature of our art form and is intrigued by the challenges of designing a sports-specific program or voice performance. Any trainer on Rob’s staff would want to observe a voice lesson and perhaps even take a lesson themselves prior to designing a singer’s exercise program, and we should seek this level of commitment. We need trainers with experience in sport-specific program design who are interested in our sport.
Trainers work as private contractors or as employees of a health club. If you hire a private trainer, they should provide proof of their credentials, references, and information about insurance coverage. All trainers should carry liability insurance against the unlikely event that a client is injured. Don’t feel bad about asking for this. Your trainer will also ask you to sign a waiver before you work together. If you prefer to work with a member of the training staff at your gym, meet with the fitness manager and ask their recommendation, but be clear about your goals and what you are looking for in a trainer, including the quality of their certification and years of experience. It might be a good idea to show them this article. While there will hopefully be someone staff who will meet your needs, some large gym franchises unfortunately experience a high level of turnover among the training staff and hire trainers without certification or experience. Try to engage a trainer who has been with the club for a while and looks like they will stick around. A more experienced member of their staff may charge a higher rate, but this is preferable to building a relationship with a less expensive trainer only to lose them after a month or two.
Exercise and the Beautiful Singer
Amidst the increasing pressure on opera singers to cultivate an attractive physique, I propose that we vocal athletes regard our physical appearance in much the same way that other athletes do: it will be the natural result of our training. Swimmers, basketball players and gymnasts develop their physiques as a natural consequence of their sport; while they train movements, not aesthetics, the result is often very beautiful. If we cultivate strength, coordination, flexibility and stamina in the service of our art form, the likely result is that the grace and beauty of our singing will be reflected in our physical appearance. An exercise regimen that promotes optimum alignment, dynamic breath management, ease of movement and vocal stamina will usually have the happy side effect of aesthetic weight management and muscle tone.
Conversely, weight management or body-building undertaken for the sake of appearance without consideration for vocal health will have unexpected and possibly undesirable results for the voice. Men who develop massive chest and abdominal muscles without a balanced overall strength- training plan risk a lopsided development of the torso, compromising breath capacity and restricting range of motion of the strap muscles that anchor the larynx in the clavicles and sternum, a disastrous development for vocal technique. Woman who sculpt their arms and shoulders but do not train the large, less aesthetically interesting muscles of the chest, back and core can end up with debilitating low back and neck pain, leading to problems of breathing and phonation.
If you plan to lose a significant amount of weight, realize that this can affect your instrument in unpredictable ways. Achieving a healthy weight will do wonders for your level of energy and the longevity of your career - not to mention your life! - but great care must be taken. While the old myth that excess weight contributes to resonance has long been laid to rest, excessive abdominal weight plays a non-zero role in one’s overall technique and I believe this needs to be investigated more seriously. Because abdominal weight can exert a significant downward pull on the lower ribs and diaphragm, this mass is integrated into whatever strategy a singer uses to modulate the release of air. Eliminating this aspect of the functional breathing anatomy will have an impact. You should gradually compensate for the loss of abdominal weight by building core and abdominal strength. Weight loss should be undertaken slowly, carefully monitored by both your doctor and your voice teacher.
Nutrition and Exercise
Aesthetic weight loss or gain can be integrated into your training program, as both will result from improved body composition - the ratio of lean muscle mass to fat. Regardless of diet fads and trends, the rules governing weight management remain simple: weight loss results when you expend more calories than you consume. Personal training certifications require us to refer clients to FDA guidelines for creating a balanced diet, with calories well-distributed over the various food groups; the FDA food pyramid can be found at, and you can refer to “Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” a useful government-issued document, at Trainers generally recommend consumption of carbohydrates prior to working out and protein afterwards, as carbohydrates fuel exercise and protein assists with repair and enhancement of muscle. We also encourage “grazing”, or the consumption of frequent, smaller meals throughout the day to keep the metabolism stoked and prevent the intense hunger pangs that signal slowing down of the metabolism. Unless a personal trainer holds a nutrition degree or a related advanced certification, this is the limit of their nutrition expertise. Recommending dietary supplements or prescribing a diet plan that falls outside of FDA guidelines beyond the scope of our practice. Nevertheless, many health clubs sell supplements and enlist their trainers in this process. While I would never say that all supplements should be avoided, do consult a qualified medical professional before trying them out.
Trainers generally advise against following the Atkins diet or other extreme high protein, low carbohydrate diet plans. Sports nutritionists recommend that 55-65% of an athlete’s daily caloric intake come from carbohydrates. While we all know people who swear by these diets, a significant, peer-reviewed scientific study of their long-term effects has yet to be conducted. High protein diets create a sense of satiety that may keep you from eating as much as you normally would, but they can also make you extremely dehydrated. Water is retained in the muscle as part of the process of storing glycogen from carbohydrates, so eliminating carbohydrates will result in an immediate, extreme loss of water weight, which is thought to be the reason that people lose weight so quickly. However, you cannot participate well in an exercise program on a strict low-carb diet, because the glycogen stored in your muscles is the very fuel needed for strength training of any kind - not to mention the energy you need to sustain an opera role. Singers should obviously avoid diets that cause dehydration or compromise physical stamina. If you’re reluctant to give up your low-carb diet but want to start exercising, I recommend that you cheat a little bit and consume a good-sized portion of carbs before your workout.
In Conclusion -
A well-designed exercise program holds such immense potential benefit for classical singers that we really should avail ourselves of the means that athletes use to prepare their bodies for optimal performance. The athletic training paradigm could so easily be adapted to provide excellent training to singers as an integral component of a college voice curriculum, particularly at institutions that host Division I or II sports teams where outstanding faculty and resources are already in place. Many voice departments have already begun to support our physical needs by providing classes in movement and Alexander Technique, and the sport-specific conditioning I have described would be a fabulous addition to these programs. Meanwhile, the young singer who already feels financially overextended and pressed for leisure time may consider hiring a trainer and committing to an exercise program an unreasonable luxury, but this investment of time and money can lead to invaluable growth for your technique and career.
Most postural distortions can be completely resolved within six months. Massive improvements in oxygen consumption can be achieved with just two or three months of targeted cardio work. Optimal alignment, breath coordination, and stamina are essential components of a singer’s technique, and we can all benefit from the enhanced neuromuscular coordination, stress relief, and comfort of movement that exercise provides. I encourage all singers to take advantage of the knowledge and skills that athletic trainers possess for the achievement of these skills.

Dr. Friedlander maintains a voice studio and personal training practice in New York City. She welcomes questions relating to exercise and singing.
1. P. Mario Marafioti, Caruso’s Method of Voice Production (New York: Dover Publications, 1922), 305-306.
2. Richard Miller, The Structure of Singing: System and Art in Vocal Technique (New York: Schirmer Books, 1996), 238.
3. Meribeth Bunch, Dynamics of the Singing Voice, 4th ed. (New York: Springer-Verlag, 1997), 124.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Singer Solutions for Sickness

As Cold Season Rolls around, I find myself being asked on a daily basis for singer's home remedies for Sore throat and Colds, so here are some of my favourites!

At the first sign of a sore throat, suck on a Zinc Lozenge, preferably 20mg or more per lozenge.   Use one lozenge every 4 hours or as directed.

Post-Nasal Drip
A sore throat is usually the result of post-nasal drip, meaning an abundance of mucus accumulated in your sinuses, dripping slowly down the back of your throat.  Treating the sinus issues, you can often get rid of the cause of the sore throat.  Try a Neti Pot.  Gross but it works really well!

What can I do? I've lost my voice! LARYNGITIS
Make your own Citron Beverage without drugs that numb your throat.
3 tablespoons liquid honey
2 ounces of lemon juice (pure)
2 teasponns of granulated sugar
1 Xtra large cup
Drink as much and as often as you like

Apple Cider Vinegar
A mixture of Apple Cider Vinegar and honey is a great treatment for laryngitis.  Drink two teaspoons of apple cider vinegar, mixture with one tablespoon honey in a medium glass of hot water.  Repeat 3 times per day until voice returns.

Salt Water
Salt water can be very soothing, but avoid over use due to the drying properties of Salt. Gargle with a strong mixture of iodized salt and warm water.

Ginger is a natural anti-inflammatory. It can help reduce swelling in your body and your throat. I like to make ginger tea. Buy fresh ginger root at the grocery store. Slice off several thin slices of the root, put it in your mug, and pour boiling water over it or boil it on the stove for a stronger flavour. Add honey and lemon if you like for antibiotic and Vitamin C. Let it steep for a while and drink it. It's delicious and very soothing.

You can also try a tea like Throat tea or Breathe Easy tea.

If You Have a Cough
A wonderful natural solution to a cough is garlic (or onion) and honey.  Chop up an entire bulb of garlic (or onion) and put it in a bowl.  Cover the garlic (or onion) with honey and let the mixture sit overnight.  In the morning, remove the garlic and/or onion and take two teaspoons of the honey mixture.  The honey is instantly soothing to the throat, and the garlic (or onion) has wonderful immune-boosting powers.  It really smells!  You can also mix honey with Turmeric, and let it go slowly down your throat.  This works nicely for sore throat too.

If you are coming down with a Cold
At the first sign of a cold, try Airborne, available at drug stores. It is an herbal supplement that will help fight off infection.
As well, there's a great herbal formula available at most health food stores called Echinalin or Cold FX. Start taking this right away. It's got dozens of good herbs (Echinacea, Goldenseal, etc.) as well as garlic, so it's kind of stinky, but very effective.
Everyone knows about Echinacea, as natural immune booster.  But you should know that if you take it for too long, your body will develop a tolerance to it and it will no longer be effective.   However, if you take it for 6 days and not on the 7th, it may help you get over your cold.
Goldenseal is a natural antibiotic, so taken with Echinacea, it can help you feel better faster.  Goldenseal should not be taken excessively, and never on a regular basis.
And don't forget the Vitamin C!

Most Importantly, Wash your hands, use hand sanitizer, take your vitamins, eat right and exercise.  Prevention is the best cure!

As with all medical issues, if your conditions worsens, or persists more than one week, consult your medical professional.

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.

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.