13Oct/20

Why Is My Throat Tired? – Healthy Speaking Habits In a Virtual and Masked World

You’re working or studying virtually, and maybe you’re doing some hybrid school and work now. Maybe you’re working in person, but in a mask. Inexplicably, your throat feels tired, or the muscles feel sore at the end of the day. What’s happening? And how do you fix it? Let’s begin with the cause(s) of the problem.

Increasing Speech Volume:

Whether you’re speaking through a virtual format or through a mask, you may feel the need to increase your volume in order to be heard. You are probably increasing the air pressure on your vocal folds, which tires them more quickly. 

The great news is that there are less draining ways to help yourself to be heard! You can use many of the techniques used in singing to achieve your communication goals safely. Here are some of my favorite strategies:

  1. Annunciation- Using our voices requires a balance of exhalation and phonation. By “voicing” more consonants (i.e. increasing phonation), we can clarify our speech. Make sure all of your consonants are clearly pronounced.
  2. Legato- This is a musical term which indicates a connected or sustained sound. When we fully pronounce and lengthen our vowels, we increase our sound by reducing silent spaces within words. We “throw away” syllables quite often in American English. Have you ever heard someone speak Italian? Did you notice how all their words were connected through vowel usage? That’s speaking with legato! 
  3. Resonance- This refers to creating the ideal acoustic space for your voice to allow it to amplify without excessive air pressure. Can you squeal “NOOO!!” or “MOM!” like a child might? Chances are, you engaged your face, which adjusted your resonance to increase your volume. See if you can engage the same muscles in regular speech.
  4. Managing Exhalation- When you squealed in the above exercise, you also may have noticed more core engagement. Did you know that healthy speech and singing require “whole body engagement”? When you engage your core, you manage your rate of exhalation more efficiently, allowing your vocal folds complete closure and resulting in a clearer sound. 

Tense Throat Muscles:

Let’s not pretend that changing our lifestyles, trying to stay healthy, and trying to stay productive isn’t stressful. It is. Stress can create physical tension. When our shoulders and neck are tense, our throat can become tense too. Everything is connected. Muscle tension can also arise from poor posture. Here are some strategies to help reduce tension:

  1. Reduce Forward Head Posture- Try to maintain a straight neck while sitting at the computer or checking your phone. If you find yourself moving your face closer to your screen in order to see better, talk with your eye doctor about whether glasses might help.
  2. Choose Posture Supportive Seating- Try an exercise ball or a chair which encourages good posture. Make sure your core is engaged to prevent slouching. If your shoulders are asked to support your rib cage in lieu of your core, you will feel tension in your neck and throat. 
  3. Stretch Often- Take breaks to stretch so that you don’t suffer from stiffness later!
  4. 4-7-8 Breathing- Dr. Benjamin Middaugh taught me this breathing exercise many years ago as part of my vocal training. It also helps tremendously with stress management and will help you to relax your neck and throat muscles.
  1. Practice taking a low, slow, warm breath in through your nose. You should feel expansion through your lower back, sides, and belly. This means you have filled your lungs. If your chest rises, you have taken a shallow breath, which has tightened your neck and throat. If you are having trouble, try it lying on your back. 
  2. Inhale through your nose for 4 counts.
  3. Maintain, neither inhaling nor exhaling, for 7 counts.
  4. Exhale through your mouth in an “ooo” shape (like you are using a straw) for 8 counts. 
  5. Repeat as many times as needed, counting as slowly as you can. 

In addition to these techniques, doing your best to stay rested and hydrated will also make a big difference. To protect your voice from injury even more effectively, you can also warm up your voice muscles by humming through a straw. This will help to prime them for their best, safest work. Of course, if your voice is consistently sore, tired, or hoarse, you should see your ENT or a Laryngologist to rule out any injuries which may need treatment or rehabilitation. 

Written by Kaitlin Fron – Voice/Piano Faculty @ American Music Institute

16Apr/19

How long and how frequent should singing lessons be?

Basically, singing lessons should be as long and as frequent as you can afford them!

This is true for singers, whether you’re a beginner or a touring musician.

Wait, does that mean I need to have multiple lessons every week?

No, I’m not suggesting you should have a singing lesson every day – that’s a bit much! But a lesson at least once a week is beneficial for 99% of our students.

Normally, students benefit most from a 60 minute lesson every week to work in-depth on their voice and take a look at a song at the same time. This gives the teacher, and you as the student, an idea of how well you’re practicing and progressing.

But if 60 minutes a week is not financially viable for you, it’s better to have a 30 or 45 minute lesson every week.

When you’re training your voice, frequency is much better than duration – you don’t want to form any unhealthy or bad habits!

So, let’s put that in perspective

If you’re training for a marathon, you need to go running more than once a week, don’t you? You aren’t just going to go for a 15 mile run on a Monday and not do anything for the rest of the week – any bets you’ll go for 3 or 4 runs across the week rather than do it all in one go. Marathon training requires lots of regular training with scheduled rest days; singing is the same.

So, why do you break it down into small sessions?

The more you do it, the better your stamina gets, so you can increase the pace/distance/terrain of your run each time. In between sessions you refine your technique to get a better time, protect yourself from injury and increase your endurance levels.

Singing is pretty much the same – yes, you are working with your voice rather than your body, but the basic way of training is the same. The more you can train and refine your technique, the stronger and more developed your voice becomes.

Think of each singing lesson as touching base with your teacher. They’re going to assess your progression between lessons, and will give you the correct tools to help you to continue to progress quickly and easily.

Another benefit of regular lessons is that any problems in your practise are caught quickly. Imagine if you have one lesson a month and practised the exercise wrong every day for 4 weeks. That’s now a new problem to fix, and one that you have started to assimilate as a habit in that time.

Now think of the same scenario, but its only 6 days until your next lesson, so chances are we’ll catch it before it becomes a bigger issue.

But, I’ve got a gig/concert/tour coming up, I need more than one session a week!

Trying to schedule more than once a week would be ideal. If you’re a practicing musician; for example if you have several residencies or go busking every day, then it stands that the more frequently you have lessons, the better it’s going to be for you.

Olympic athletes train with their trainers every single day to ensure they are progressing and building results and professional singers are the same.

Many singers going on tour will consult a singing teacher daily for weeks before the tour, and regularly touch base with them during the tour as well for a tune up or to address problems that came up during a gig.

Remember, it’s down to you as well

In your lesson, your teacher can only do so much to help you progress. It’s up to you to practice in between your lessons and develop that stamina and vocal coordination you’ll need to maintain your vocal health.

The more frequently you practice, the better your technique and stamina gets, so the quicker you’ll be able to master that tricky song you’ve been working on!

But, be aware!

For a vocalist, too much practicing can also damage your vocal chords. Make sure you discuss your aims and goals, as a good teacher will help you plan to achieve those goals.

The plan should not only center around the teachers scope, but a combined beneficial plan that is centers around your goals as well. Having a couple of lessons a week depending on your needs as a singer is good, but if you feel it’s not necessary, then scaling back to once a week will be advised.

So remember, singing lessons should be as long and as frequent as you can afford them – but remember that frequency is better than duration! If in doubt, consult your teacher and discuss your thoughts and concerns. A good teacher will give you advice similar to what’s outlined above, and will always have your best interests at heart.

30Aug/17

10 Reasons Why Flute is an Incredible Instrument

Image result for flute playing10 Reasons Why The Flute Is An Incredible Instrument

I began playing the flute when I was 10 years old, mostly because I wanted to play in the school band, and the flute didn’t look as intimidating as the clarinet or saxophone (too many keys for my 10 year old brain to handle). When I was that young, I never would have dreamed about where the flute would take me in the years ever since. I have met so many amazing people and seen some incredible places. I’ve had the chance to perform alongside friends for audiences of a thousand and more. And with the power and accessibility of the Internet, I have been able to reach hundreds of thousands of people with my music. All of this has happened because of the instrument in my hands: the flute.

With this in mind, I decided to compose a list of 10 of the most salient reasons why the flute rocks my world, and why it can be a joy for anyone to learn!

The flute is one of the oldest instruments around, and one of the most diverse. It is virtually ubiquitous in every culture of the world. Learning the flute means learning how to take care of the body. Among many health benefits, it notably promotes good posture, proper and healthy breathing, core strengthand control, and finger dexterity.
Flute requires a high degree of patience and discipline, which happen to be necessary attributes for academic excellence and good work ethic.

The flute is NOT just an instrument for the orchestra. It is found quite frequently in jazz, folk, and world music. It can be used effectively in settings ranging anywhere from a church service to a home recital to a rock concert (yes, I have played in all 3 of those settings). Not a performer? Not a problem! The flute is the perfect way to step away from work to unwind and make music for yourself. Flute can get you scholarship money for college! Most university marching bands offer stipends to members, and third-party scholarships are often awarded to those with a diversity of skills, experiences, and talents.

The flute is easy to maintain and transport. You don’t have to worry about reeds,
temperature, or humidity. Simply put it together and go. Also, if you’re traveling with it,
you don’t have to buy it an extra seat on a plane! Many will say the violin sounds the most like a human voice, but the flute is the closest to the voice when it comes to how sound is produced. Flutists breathe exactly how vocalists breathe, and require the same type of air support to create good sounds (I’ll save defining “air support” for another day.). Many other details and facets of flute playing closely mirror the way vocalists train their voices. Music has been proven to increase cognitive and perceptual skills, aka more brain power. Don’t believe me? Check out this video (https://youtu.be/R0JKCYZ8hng), and if you’re really intrigued by the topic, read ‘This Is Your Brain’ on Music by Daniel J. Levitin.

The flute is the perfect way to give your brain a workout! Though the flute doesn’t have as much music written for it as the violin or the piano, it’s been making a big comeback since the turn of the 20th century. When a German guy named Theobald Boehm figured out how to make the flute out of silver, it revolutionized how the flute sounded, and composers started to take notice. Today, the flute is on the cutting edge of avant-garde techniques, and has been crucial to the progression of
classical music throughout the last century. It’s become one of the dominant solo
instruments in classical music today. I can teach you how to do this: https://youtu.be/QNG9gSJKbAo.

It is an immense privilege for me to be able to pick up and play this amazing instrument every day! I love playing it, listening to it, and teaching people how to play it. I hope to see you or your child at AMI to experience the joys of flute playing together!

Drew Powell
Flute Teacher – American Music Institute