Vocal Coaches Chris and Carole Beatty
Musician's Health would like to thank Chris and Carole Beatty for contributing their excellent articles on vocal coaching and vocal health to our site. Please click on the link above to enter their site.
And..... Check out this great material from Vocal Coach Jamie Vendera
WHO WANTS TO HEAR YOUR GIFT OF SINGING? (c) 2007 Chris Beatty
The word gift is a noun. It means something that is given to somebody, often to give pleasure or show gratitude. It can also refer to a talent or skill that someone appears to have been born with.
You and I were given a free gift called the voice. As children we all made up sounds and songs. Why? Just because we could. Also, because it felt good and we enjoyed the sounds. And, whether we were technically accurate or not, there were always those who loved our songs.
Wešve just left the season of Thanksgiving and are entering into the season of Advent leading up to Christmas. I can think of no better time than to use our free gift, the voice, to give a gift back to the One who thought of, created and designed us all. "But," you might say, "I'm not really a singer." Ah, but you are! We all are. You can't help it, and here's the key to your freedom: Singing isn't primarily for performance; it's for personal expression, with or without a human audience.
Don't get me wrong. Singing in a chorus, choir, on a worship team or in the congregation is great. That's what I train people for. But thatšs the structured, organized kind of singing. Im talking about the "sing it out anywhere, any time" kind of singing.
Why does singing feel so good? One, it's as natural as breathing. And speaking of breathing, singing causes wonderful, low breathing and that is so good for your mind and body. Also, the vibrations it causes in the chest, neck, oral cavity, face, sinuses, nasal passages and more are nothing short of stimulating. Literally. That's why babies, children, teens and adults all naturally sing.
Finally, who do you think most wants to hear your songs? The One who created you, and song. And don't worry about musical accuracy. He is listening to your heart.
Merry Christmas from Chris & Carole Beatty, and Vocal Coach
Feature Article: How Dry I Am! What to do about dry throat
(c) 2007 Chris Beatty - www.vocalcoach.com
SETTING THE STAGE
To be a great singer today you have to be more than just well-trained, and a good musician. You also have to be a monitor, and control non-musical influences that affect your physical voice, like dryness. It's the only way to maximize your abilities and have longevity. Why? Because what we call "the voice," is actually a complex combination of physical, mechanical and acoustical elements.
Consider this: While athletes are jumping higher, running faster and hitting and throwing further, singers are not singing better. Vocal range, agility and longevity haven't improved at all. In fact, quite the reverse may be true due to all the help we get from electronics. I wouldn't be surprised if most of today's pop singers would be out of business were it not for these helps. We are so dependent on electronics to help projection, tone and even pitch control that without them, most singers simply could not pull off a convincing and pleasing performance.
That being said, the Vocal Coach voice training studio, in Brentwood TN, is loaded with electronics and computers. Why? Because I love working with these tools, and it's part of producing today's music. However, my goal for singers is that they would not NEED the electronics to sing a convincing, live concert. Their voices should be free, flexible and efficient vocal instruments. I use electronics to take the performance farther, not to add elements that aren't there in the first place.
DANGERS OF A DRY VOICE
When the larynx, sinuses and nasal passages are not moist and lubricated, several things happen. First, the leading edges of the vibrating vocal folds become inefficient and irritated. This can promote any number of problems including pre-nodules, frank vocal nodules and more. When most singers feel this dryness they try to compensate by forcing more air through the larynx. This just compounds the problem. It's a self-destructive cycle.
Then, there's the limited sound sensation felt in the mask of the face and head caused by dryness. In other words, if you are dry you won't physically feel the vibrating sensations of the voice, probably causing you to push and force the voice. When the vocal tract is moist and lubricated the singer sings more easily, and naturally. So, dryness can ruin your day whether you are a singer, speaker, teacher, pastor, coach or telemarketer.
SOME CAUSES OF DRYNESS
Having established the seriousness of a dry larynx let?s look at some of the causes.
The most obvious, and easily fixed, is simple lack of systemic hydration. In other words, not drinking enough water throughout the day. Several days of drinking about half your weight in ounces (150 pounds = 75 ounces of water) should start to reverse that problem if, and that's a big IF, there are no compounding issues. (Note: If you are one of those who has a water bottle on stage during a concert, don't take lots of little sips as that doesn't re-hydrate you. It will actually cause surface dryness since you are continually washing away whatever topical moisture is there. When you take a drink, take enough to make it count.)
Medications and Vitamins
Then there are the effects of medications and vitamins, and here is where it gets really scary for a singer. Did you know that most medications, whether prescription or over-the-counter, have a side-effect of drying? Even some vitamins. Between prescriptions and self-medications we are drying out our bodies. For the average person this may not be a big issue. But, for a singer, it is.
It is absolutely critical that you take responsibility to understand the side-affects of any meds you are taking, prescribed or not, including the drying potential. Let your local pharmacist or doctor guide you so you don?t compound the drying to a dangerous level. And while you shouldn't be afraid to take medications when you need them you do need to be informed. Combining multiple sources of drying can be a big problem. Again, a good pharmacist can really help you here.
Examples: Most allergy, anti-anxiety, birth control and cholesterol medications are drying. Even our old friend, vitamin C, in extreme amounts, can thin the blood and have the potential of contributing to vocal fold hemorrhage. Vitamin C also has a diuretic side-effect, possibly leaving your vocal folds dry.
Another potential contributor to a dangerously dry voice is our living environments. And, they affect a lot more than our voices, including our lungs, skin, eyes . . . everything. Consider these environments:
Our Homes. Cooling air conditioning in the summer, and heated air in the winter both produce dry air. Anything below 40% humidity is too low, especially when combined with other issues. Even a central humidifier may not do the job during cold winters. Many people have either heat or cooling on every day of the year. The resulting dry air is a constant threat to a healthy body.
Our Cars. Unless you have the windows open or the top down (assuming a convertible, of course) you probably condition your car air in much the same way as you do your home air. For many, that means they are in a too-dry environment most of their lives.
Places of Work. Unless you work outside, you are probably facing the same dry-air conditions at least during part of the year.
Airplanes. For over 15 years, Carole and I flew commercial flights up to six times each week, for 10 months out of the year. Several pilots got so used to seeing us they warned us of the dangers of that many hours in an airplane. Pilots aren't allowed to fly as much as we did. (But fly we did, since driving to places like Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand and Europe didn't seem practical.) Flyers should add at least 8 ounces of water, per hour of flying time, to their daily intake. Singers should also limit their talking on planes as well as in noisy cars and buses. Competing with loud engine or road noise can be very fatiguing to the voice.
Stress, and the pace of life today, is another issue. The average person today has little or no real down time. Even family and vacation times are seldom truly relaxing due to schedules, and the ever-present cell phones, laptops, Internet and up-to-the-minute news, most of it negative. If you work on a church staff, Sunday is often the busiest day of the week, and the word Sabbath is just an afterthought.
Singing as a career adds other issues. As with many jobs, the temptation for singers is to never rest because of what it takes to survive financially. The tendency is to take any and all jobs, no matter what the cost, just to keep climbing the ladder of success.
That's stressful, and takes a toll on the voice. Travel schedules are grueling, and management, booking and record companies seem more concerned with the bottom line today, than the singer's health tomorrow. Is this a drying problem? Yes. Living with constant tension leads to anxiety and adrenalin release, and that is physically drying to the throat.
In contrast to the furious pace of life today, in the early 1900's, when my great aunt, Louise Homer, was singing with Caruso, it would take a full week to go from New York City to San Francisco by train. They would arrive a week before the event to rest and acclimate. Today we make that same trip in five hours, do a sound check, sing and return home the next day. That's great use of time, but the body, including the voice, can't keep up with it over the long haul. We weren't built to.
Caffeine is a potential hazard to singers and speakers if used in excess. One cup of coffee in the morning, or one 8 ounce glass of a soft drink isn't a problem, but who has just one? If the coffee is there, we drink it, and fast-food restaurants don't have 8 oz cups. More like 12, 16, 24 and even 32 oz. . . . with free refills that none of us can turn down. So, take control! It's your voice, not Starbuck's or McDonald's.
REMEMBER: IT'S CUMULATIVE.
The issue isn't one aspect of your life, it's all the aspects combined. It's cumulative. Medications plus vitamins, plus dry house, plus poor hydration, plus caffeine and on and on. THAT is the problem.
WHAT'S TO BE DONE?
1. Take an inventory of your potential drying-factors. Include water intake, medications, home/car/work air, daily caffeine intake etc.
2. Make a to-do list of things you can change. Be specific and realistic. For example, you probably can't change the air in your car or you place of work, but you can severely limit caffeine, check with the pharmacist on drying side-effects in your meds and increase your water intake.
3. Topical moisturizing can also help lubricate critical areas when you are dry. That's why Vocal Coach sells ENTERTAINER'S SECRET THROAT RELIEF SPRAY. ( www.vocalcoach.com/store ) Several sprays in the mouth, while inhaling or better yet, in the nose, and you feel instant moisture. And, while it doesn't replace drinking water, it is an extremely effective way to take away that tickle that often comes with dryness. Entertainer's Secret was formulated by a Nashville ENT (doctor who specializes with ear-nose-throat issues) and is widely used by singers of all styles of music as well as professional speakers.
4. Warm up carefully, using the lip-trill or lip-buzz. This child-like sound helps create an efficient lubrication (mucosal viscosity) for the larynx.
Most importantly, be aware. Do your homework. You are the responsible party when it comes to your voice's health.
Chris Beatty - www.vocalcoach.com
COMPARING SINGERS TO MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL (c) 2007 Chris Beatty
Playing major league baseball is like any professional sport in at least one significant way: I could never do it. I do not have the ability, skills, experience or even desire, and it takes all four. Carole and I just returned from New York Yankee Spring Training. (All 15 home games in Tampa!!) As the weeks went by, a number of important principles were driven home (no pun intended) with each game. They could be summed up as this: Proven routines and practices are necessary to succeed in almost anything, including baseball and singing, any shortcuts you take will likely limit that success.
We arrived at the games two or three hours early to watch the players doing final workouts on the practice field. We would also watch the grounds crew meticulously shape the playing surface. Talk about detail! When the white lines were put down it was with a surveyor's precision and measurements. When preparing home plate they used a metal template to assure exacting measurements. Nothing was left to chance.
As the physical field was being prepared, players would drift out onto the field and begin some exhaustive (and to me painful-looking) stretches. And guess who came out the earliest? The strongest players! Catcher, Jorge Posada followed by Short Stop Derek Jeter, Left Fielder Hideki Matsui, Third Baseman Alex Rodriguez . . . and then the rest. Sometimes trainers would assist, but usually the guys were on their own. The goal? To be sure they get the most out of their bodies, without injury.
And, as I look back over my 40 years as a professional coach and performer, I see many parallels between professional athletics and excellent singers. First, singers are vocal athletes and require careful, systematic warm-ups. In my experience the best, and most consistent singers are the ones who spend the most time in preparation. It's the hot-shots who just show up and often pull it off . . . but aren't around next year. They are also generally the least consistent and often plagued with vocal problems. Getting the best results, with minimal vocal injuries is a matter of knowing what to do and doing it faithfully. That takes education, dedication and discipline. Those are three words some singers don't like to hear, but proper preparation prevents poor performance. It always has; always will, and that's why we at Vocal Coach continue to provide training, warm-up and workout tools for all levels of singers.
And remember how I said that it was not only the players, but also the facility that was being prepared with great care. For us that might compare to the instumetns, sound system and sound check, fresh batteries in the wireless mics, appropriate temperature levels in the building etc.
Finally, I was very aware of the visual state of each player. They LOOKED ready to play and win. Nothing, absolutely nothing was left to chance. And though they may not win every game, they will give it their best, having prepared as fully as they know how. Let's do the same for the Lord, and for those who listen to us.
DEVOTIONAL: TRUTH DECAY CAN BE HAZARDOUS TO YOU . . . AND YOUR VOICE by Chris Beatty
Have you ever wondered why Christians read the Bible and take communion more than once? We are commanded to, and that's because we forget things! It's the same reason many professions require their members to re-qualify regularly. It's to show they have retained the information and skills necessary to do the job right. How would you like to go to a medical doctor, or fly with a pilot who wasn't current with his testing? I wouldn't.
In other words, just because you did something correctly at one time doesn't mean you still are.
For singers, it's the same truth: Just because you sang correctly and efficiently at one time doesn't mean you still are. May I challenge you to critically evaluate where you are in your singing skills. Then, do what you need to do to get them back. And remember, Teaching the Singers of Today and Tomorrow is what Vocal Coach does. We have free vocal tips, personal training, workshops and dozens of CD's that can help you accomplish your goals. Just visit us at www.vocalcoach.com
THE MISSING LINK BETWEEN SINGING, COMMUNICATING AND ... BUBBLE GUM Have you ever heard two singers sing the same song only to have one sound like a musical robot, and the other a gifted communicator? The answer is probably, yes. If no recent example comes to mind, just think of a child, teenager or novice singing a well-known song made famous by a skilled artist.
What is the difference between the two performers? The novice simply sings words on assigned pitches. The mature communicator takes words and thoughts and integrates them into the music. This results in an audio and, if live performance, visual message. The goal of any singer should be the movement of the message from singer . . . to listener.
What are some steps you can take to be the best communicator you can be? Try these:
1. Build relationship with the song. You need to "get inside" the lyric and develop some degree of relationship with the message of the song. I suggest you begin by carefully studying the lyrics. Discover what you think the writer is saying and write these thoughts down. Next, write a brief summary of each verse and chorus in your own words. Add your personal thoughts, feelings and observations along the way. In other words, create your personal, "amplified version" of the song. As you move back to the original lyric you will have a fuller and deeper understanding of the writer's intended message. You and the song will have developed a relationship.
2. With the accompaniment playing, speak the words in very loose and approximate rhythm trying to stay more conversational, and talky than "singy." This helps you to color outside the lines a bit and experiment with different ways of saying/singing the same thing. In the process, you may discover some things. For instance, you may decide to start some phrases late, after the beat. Or, you may decide to anticipate the expected entrance and come in early because it just seems to make sense. You might also decide that holding out some words, even if you have to rush the words that follow, makes the message clearer. Some of the best song interpretations can be discovered quite by accident while experimenting with the song. Then, when you listen to gifted artists, you will recognize that some of these freedoms are what make their renditions the best. As you develop this process, you will be a more interesting singer and a better communicator.
3. Where you breathe can make or break the song. The way you phrase the words by pausing . . . or not, breathing . . . or not can also help make the song yours. Obviously you need to breathe, but not necessarily where everybody assumes you will. Sometimes, connecting the end of one phrase to the beginning of the next, just makes the message clearer. A dramatic pause after just the right word can be equally powerful. Spend time really listening to some accomplished singers then experiment, experiment, experiment.
4. Use volume dynamics meaningfully. Have you even had to listen to someone speak who is absolutely monotone, boring and uninteresting? It all sounds the same, and the result is they lose their listener. The same can happen with singers. If everything is loud, then loud doesn't mean anything. In addition, the listener will suffer what is called ear fatigue, and everything will become all but meaningless. If everything is soft, then soft doesn't mean anything. It's all relative. Be interesting, and not always predictable. It will keep the listener's interest and be more fun for you.
5. Why is Double-Bubble gum pink? (Stay with me here!) I recently read that the person who invented the highly successful Double-Bubble gum discovered it quite by mistake. He did work for a chewing gum company, but there was no such thing as bubble gum. One day while experimenting at home (like you should be with your songs) he came across a mixture that allowed big bubbles, and was easy to peal off the face. But, it was clear in color, so he added the only food coloring he had in the house . . . pink. Double-Bubble is the most popular bubble gum to this day, and most all bubble gum is pink . . . and it was an "accident." Isn't it interesting how many good "accidents," and how much "good luck" happens to people who keep working at something? Hmm.
COMPLETE PERFORMANCE AT YOUR FINGER TIPS
The Vocal Coach Complete Performance CD doesn't contain bubble gum (see feature article), but it does teach the principles and exercises that can take you from being just a singer to being an effective communicator. Topics like Communicating the Message, Choosing Songs, Selecting the Kay, Facial Expressions and Physical Gestures, Dealing with Sound Systems, Sound Checks and more. Check it out at www.vocalcoach.com/store and click on CD's.