5 Ways to Maintain Vocal Hygiene

I recently had a discussion with a speech therapist who suggested that a lot of singers don’t actually know what their voices look like.  Sometimes, it’s only when they are at a visit with the ENT or SLP that they finally get to see the vocal folds on a screen upon examination.  She also made me further aware of how important it is that singers are educated in how the voice works and especially how to care for it, after all, it is their instrument.  Preventing injuries and voice disorders can be challenging especially considering the crazy scheduling demands on professional singers these days.  However, I agree that it’s crucial singers are educated on the importance of maintaining vocal hygiene because by doing so it can minimize the risk of vocal health issues later.  Not only that, it can ensure longevity in their career.

So what is ‘vocal hygiene’ anyway and what steps can we take to make it happen?  Vocal hygiene is the practice of maintaining and caring for your instrument both on and off stage.  A lot of times we as singers are more focused on the music, the songwriting, the performance, the audience, the rehearsals…the list goes on and on.  Those are all very important aspects to the art of singing.  But equally important are steps we can take to maintain our instrument.  Here are just some of the ways to keep your vocal hygiene in check:

Maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle.  Simply put, if the body is healthy, the voice is healthy.  Ensuring you get restorative sleep nightly, and maintaining a nutritious diet are both contributing factors to vocal hygiene.  With nutrition it is all about researching what works best for you.  If you suffer from acid reflux or allergies (which can effect the vocal folds) seek advice from a medical professional.  Whatever you put in your body affects the voice, so avoid toxic substances.  Physical exercise can help increase your lung capacity and can contribute to better stamina when singing on stage.  Plus it gives you more energy and awareness of posture which is important in singing. So taking steps towards a healthy lifestyle definitely counts towards vocal health.

Commit to overall hydration.  Vocal folds work much better and don’t fatigue as fast with moisture.  Hydration doesn’t mean chugging down huge amounts of water the day of your performance or lesson.  Rather, experts suggest that a commitment to overall hydration (daily intake of water) is much more efficient.  You want to keep your vocal cords moist all the time.  If you live in a dry environment, or suffer from dry throat, steaming the voice has been recommended by vocal professionals as a way of keeping the area moist.

Exercise your voice daily.  Daily vocalizing sessions to warm up the voice are so important.  But also vocal development and honing in on the areas of the voice that are challenging to develop on your own. For example areas above the chest area (as we refer to as the “mix” area or even head voice) can be difficult to sing into without any training.  A qualified voice teacher will be able to assign you specific exercises to warm up the voice but also increase your vocal balance in those difficult areas.

Work on your speaking voice.  How you use your speaking voice on a day to day basis counts towards vocal hygiene.  If you are speaking aggressively or shouting excessively, or using it way too much, you are more likely to fatigue your voice.  If your occupation requires you to speak for long periods of time, ensure you are speaking with enough pitch inflections.  Moving your voice in pitch will allow it to not just stay in the same position all day. (Imagine just standing in the same position all day long and not moving around much). Vocal cords needs to be stretched a little here and there and using more than just one pitch to speak on will allow more movement.

Take time for vocal rest.  If you use your voice frequently throughout the day in your occupation, or for singing or public speaking, be sure to take time out of your day to rest your voice.

The process of keeping your voice healthy requires awareness and commitment and can be quite challenging.  Start today to make small changes in keeping vocal hygiene in check.  Your voice will thank you for it!

 Alida is a professional voice teacher based in Vancouver, Canada.  A graduate of UBC School of Music, Alida is also an Advanced IVA singing teacher.   www.alidavocalstudio.com

6 Steps to Learning Riffs

Are you a singer who really wants to get better at singing riffs? A riff (sometimes called ‘run’) is a pattern of descending or ascending notes on one syllable at rapid pace.  Riffs have their origin in gospel and jazz and can be found in R&B, country, rock, dance, pop and even more recently contemporary musical theatre.  Find an easy and short riff pattern to start and follow these tips:

Step 1:  Pick an easy riff with not too many notes, from a song you like.  Play the riff on piano or guitar to make sure you have all the right notes.

Step 2:  Sing the riff with a consonant on each note, such as “buh, buh, buh, buh buh” or “nuh nuh nuh”.  Take vibrato out and sing it on a straight tone only so there is more clarity on the notes.

Step 3:  Take the consonant out and put a gentle glottal stop on each note (such as “ah. ah. ah.” or try it on “m. m. m.“ to get your voice to feel that separation between each of the notes within the pattern.

Step 4:  Take the glottal stop out and just use a pure vowel such as “uh”, “oh” or “ay”.

Step 5:  Start to speed up the riff, slowly increasing the tempo until the notes are all clean.  Don’t merge any of the notes, if you have done that, then you have sung it too fast.  Try not to push too much air while singing the riff.  (This will help you keep that resistance of air pressure to be able to sing several notes in succession at a quick pace)

Step 6:  Repeat the riff many times until you have it smooth.  Repetition of the riff pattern will also build muscle memory on how to move from one note to the next with a clear separation of the notes. (versus clumping the notes altogether)

To get better at riffs, practice riff scales on a regular basis.  Voice Tutor app has an amazing ‘riff and run’ section.   Or download “Funky Vocal Licks” by John Fluker on iTunes.  Natalie Weiss’ web series “Breaking Down the Riffs” is also super fun!  Keep listening to Gospel, mowtown, R&B, Jazz and artists who riff quite a bit.  (Callie Day, Karen Clark Sheard, Smokie Norful, Steve Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Usher and Tori Kelly just to name a few)   Even if you are a country, pop or musical theatre singer, listening to Gospel or R&B will help you gain a better ‘ear’ for riff patterns.  Before you know it, you willl be riffing effortlessly!

 

Alida is a singer and vocal coach based in Vancouver, Canada.  A graduate of UBC School of Music, Alida holds an IVA Advanced Certificate in voice teaching.  She is also certified in Speech Level Singing and is a member of NATS (National Association of Teachers of Singing).  Alida has been teaching voice for 9 years to clients from the Lower Mainland as well as across Canada and worldwide.

8 Ways to Improve Your Singing

We still tend to believe that someone is a great singer because they were born singing great or they have ‘natural talent.’ (There’s a term that’s thrown around a lot.)   But that isn’t true, it takes work, training and also effective coaching.  Here are just some of the ways we can improve our singing:

Find a vocal coach:

Work with a qualified voice teacher frequently to make sure you are on the right track with your voice.  At the end of your lessons be sure to ask your voice coach what to work on specifically in your practices.

Practice Smarter:

Keep your practices short, focused and productive.  Following along with your lesson recording is generally a good way to start.  Then taking sections of a song and working through the challenging bits.  If you are doing too much all at once your voice may get tired.  So it’s a good idea to make your practice regime shorter and more frequently throughout the week. Technique should come first, especially if you are still trying to build a balanced voice and are the beginning stages of vocal development.

Listen to great singers:

Don’t be afraid to listen to genius singers, in fact, build a playlist of them!  Singers from all genres of music and not necessarily mainstream artists.  Consult with a professional on which singers would be a great reference or inspiring for you to listen to.  While listening, take note as to how they are singing. What is their vibrato like? What is their range like?

Keep your voice healthy:

Vocal rest, hydration, sleep, vocal technique are all proven ways to make sure your voice is in healthy shape.  If you aren’t sure if your voice is healthy, consult with a voice therapist or medical professional.

“When people say artists are born with talent, you’re not. You have to really learn and really practice.” – Ed Sheeran on Jonathan Ross Show (2014)

Change your mindset:

Focus on the milestones you have achieved with your voice, take note of how and what you have improved on – then you are more likely to head in the right direction with your voice.  Constructive criticism is best, so work with a qualified vocal coach to ensure you are getting the right feedback.  Don’t let your ‘inner critic’ take control over your vocal progress.

Stop the comparing:

Since no two voices are alike, it’s impossible to sound like another singer.  It’s wonderful to listen to great singers and get a reference for what they are doing vocally.  But at the end of the day, it’s about finding your own voice.  Comparing isn’t constructive, it only confirms that you ‘can’t’ do what the other person is doing. Instead take baby steps towards improving your own voice and choose songs that challenge you, but that are not overly difficult at first.  Then work towards more difficult material once you have had enough training and guidance.

Perform:

Test out what you have learned – find an open mic, or if someone asks you to sing, SING!  Test out the waters and see if you can trust what you have learned and practiced!

Try out group singing:

In addition to working on your voice in a solo capacity, group singing is a wonderful way to connect with others but not only that, you can improve your musicianship.  Learning new songs, and harmonies, having to blend with other singers are just some of the ways that make group singing fun.

 

Alida is a singer, vocal coach and music educator based in Vancouver, Canada.  A graduate of UBC School of Music, Alida holds an IVA Advanced Certificate in voice teaching. Alida has been teaching voice for over 9 years to clients from the Lower Mainland as well as across Canada and worldwide.  To book a lesson with Alida click here

 

Scholarship for Musical Theatre Singers

We are so pleased to offer a new scholarship opportunity to study singing with Alida Vocal Studio.

This scholarship is for 2 new students of Musical Theatre who haven’t had any previous voice lessons with Alida Vocal Studio.

The Singing Student Scholarship is open to singers who are:

  • intermediate or advanced level
  • ages 19-35
  • singing in the Musical Theatre genre
  • have had 1 or more years of previous singing lessons
  • not currently studying voice with any other teacher
  • active in performing arts or would like to get back into performing
  • Musical Theatre performance experience (locally or nationally)
  • have completed a college or university program in musical theatre (not mandatory)
  • Offer is valid for 4 –  30 minute lessons (two of the lessons can be combined to make one full hour followed by two half hours)
  • To apply for the scholarship, please send an email outlining your vocal history, vocal goals and mentioning your experience with the criteria above to: lessons@alidavocalstudio.com
  • If you have met the criteria, we will then add your name into a draw
  • Winners of the scholarship will be announced on Dec. 15th, 2017!

Student Showcase Nov. 25th, 2017

In celebration of the hard work that Alida Vocal Studio’s clients have accomplished, we are pleased to present an afternoon of singing students from all styles of music! Come out and relax and enjoy! Bring friends and family along!

If you are a student of Alida Vocal Studio and you would like to sign up to sing, please email: lessons@alidavocalstudio.com

When: Saturday Nov. 25th, 3:30pm

Where:  One Thousand Rivers 54 East 4th Ave 2nd floor  (plenty of parking in the area and very close to transit)

The event is free, but please click here to register.

A Note on Vocal Rest

Vocal rest is crucial for optimal voice function and longevity and should be an active part of your life as a vocalist.  It is not often prescribed until the singer or speaker ends up with vocal conditions that prevent them from pursing their next venture.

Short-term vocal rest is taking a breather for a minute or two, to help prevent your voice from fatiguing during rehearsals or vocalizing sessions.  If you have been practicing for a good amount of time, let’s say 15 minutes, pause and silently go through the challenging phrase in your head while you rest your folds.  Or simply walk away from the music in front of you and then return after a few minutes.  You will probably be shocked at the result.  Studies show that with physical exercise, it is the rest period between reps that the muscles get the most benefit, growth and repair.  Just like with any other muscle group, when we take time to rest the voice we are giving the vocal folds a break from their active or vibrating state and they are literally gaining their strength back and recovering, plus your brain is processing the muscle memory that you just practiced.

“Vocal cords needs rest.  They benefit from small rest breaks here and there and longer stretches of silence after heavy use…even five minutes of rest helps the vocal cells recover from the pressure and vibrations of speech.”

– Joanna Cazden – Everyday Voice Care

Long-term vocal rest is usually recommended after a long run of a show, tour or especially when there has been a diagnosis of a vocal health condition.  This doesn’t mean you totally neglect the voice, in fact sometimes vocal rehab would be prescribed as part of the ‘rest’ period.  You may feel a little out of vocal shape after a long hiatus, but the good news is you can bounce back with regular lessons and vocalizing.

If you train consistently with periods of vocal rest your going to achieve vocal strength and balance which leads to much more success in your songs and performances.

 

Alida is a voice and music educator based in Vancouver, Canada.  A graduate of UBC School of Music, Alida holds an IVA Advanced Certificate in voice teaching. Alida has been teaching voice for 9 years to clients from the Lower Mainland as well as across Canada and worldwide on Skype.

 

Smart Practice Tips for Singers

Learning to sing amazingly well is like learning any other skill.  It requires our fullest attention, patience, time, effective and regular instruction and of course regular practiceBut it’s HOW we practice that makes a difference in seeing results.  If you are new to the process or have build up a lot of bad vocal habits that aren’t going away, here are some helpful hints to keep in mind when practicing voice:

Follow along with your lesson recording:

As hard as it is to hear our voices on a recording be sure to record your lesson anyway so you have a guide as to what to do in your practice.   Follow along with the recorded tools that were assigned and take into account what was said during your lesson so you can apply it throughout the week until your next lesson.

Practice shorter:

It’s not the length of time that matters, it’s the quality of practice that makes a difference to your progress.  In fact studies indicate that shorter and mindful practice sessions are more effective for the brain to actually create muscle memory.  If you are in the development stages of vocal training, try a 10 -15 minute practice daily.  If you have been working with an instructor for a while, step it up to 30 minutes daily.  Be sure to be present and mindful during the session.  Don’t go too long and fatigue your voice.  Take 2-3 minute breaks in your practice sessions so you can give your vocal folds a rest.

“If you aren’t feeling seeing or hearing any vocal progress after a while, it is most likely because you may need to reevaluate your practice strategy.  Booking regular voice lessons in the beginning phases of vocal development is crucial to ensure you are practicing right and being given the right exercises to make your way towards vocal success.”

Practice don’t play…yet:  

It can be fun and a good stress reliever to sing our cares away, but that isn’t productive practice and in fact you could be reinforcing poor vocal habits.  If you really want to take your voice to the next level, you may need to break down your song into sections.  Instead of singing the entire song from beginning to end, take little phrases and work them repetitively and slowly.  Take the lyrics out and work on the melody with some vowel/consonant combinations that were assigned to you in your vocalizing.

Check yourself in the mirror: 

Working in front of a mirror can be a wonderful way to highlight your habits.  Some of us don’t like to look at ourselves as we are highly critical.  Instead use the mirror as a way to constructively observe yourself as your sing.  What to look for?  Look for postural changes, facial strain or jaw tension, vowel formation.  Is your chin lifting up for those high notes?  The entire body should balanced, relaxed and in proper alignment.  When the body is involved in making the sound (for example lifting your chin during a high note) you are heading toward vocal strain and more prone to vocal injury over time.

Is it ‘taking too long’?  

Don’t panic if you don’t hear any automatic changes.  Also you may need to put up with not sounding so good in the beginning.  You are training an unused muscle to be able to meet the demands of challenging songs.  Learning to sing with proper balance and sounding amazing can be a long process.  Stay patient, go slowly and with daily practice you will start to notice your voice strengthening.  If you aren’t feeling seeing or hearing any vocal progress after a while, it is most likely because you may need to reevaluate your practice strategy.  Booking regular voice lessons in the beginning phases of vocal development is crucial to ensure you are practicing right and being given the right exercises to make your way towards vocal success.  After all, if you don’t use it, you lose it.

Alida is a voice and music educator based in Vancouver, Canada.  A graduate of UBC School of Music, Alida holds an IVA Advanced Certificate in voice teaching. Alida has been teaching voice for 9 years to clients from the Lower Mainland as well as across Canada and worldwide on Skype.

4 Ways Singing Makes Us Happier

We’ve all heard it before, regular exercise, good nutrition, adequate sleep and talk therapy are just some of the more constructive ways to beat the winter blues.  But it is also a known fact that music and creative arts of any kind are very beneficial to our overall health and wellness.  Singing is just one of those art forms that is easily accessible.  If you have a voice and you can speak, then you can sing!  Here are 4 ways singing can make us happier and more fulfilled and you can get started today!

It’s good for the brain.  And whatever is good for the brain, is good for our overall health.  Singing boosts serotonin and it can improve our mood and cognitive function.  It uses both hemispheres of the brain, both the left and right side so your brain is getting a workout.

“What has not been understood until recently is that singing in groups triggers the communal release of serotonin and oxytocin, the bonding hormone, and even synchronizes our heart beats.”- Cassandra Sheppard, The Neuroscience of Singing

It makes us present.  It’s literally a type of mediation because you are required to be present the whole time you are singing a song.  You can finally put your thinking mind to rest and focus on the lyrics and melody.  Singing may not make stressful situations change, but it can help prepare you to have a healthier reaction to stress because you have practiced being present.

It’s a form of creative expression.  Creativity is essential to our overall wellness.  Singing is another art form that allows us to express ourselves creatively.  And if the excuse is “I just can’t sing”  Check out this awesome quote:

“Just because some people can do something with little or no training, it doesn’t mean that others can’t do it (and sometimes do it even better) with training.” – Carol S. Dweck, PhD. (Mindset: The New Psychology of Success)

It’s an opportunity for self growth.  You don’t have to be a good singer to sing.  All you need is the willingness to use your voice and step outside your comfort zone.  You can improve your voice through working with a qualified instructor.  Joining a choir and singing with others can also be a wonderful way to test out your courage in using your voice.  Open yourself up to singing more today, even if it’s not perfect, take that courageous step and your body will thank you for it!


Alida is a singer and vocal coach based in Vancouver, Canada.  A graduate of UBC School of Music, Alida holds an IVA Advanced Certificate in voice teaching.  She is also certified in Speech Level Singing and is a member of NATS (National Association of Teachers of Singing).  Alida has been teaching voice for over 9 years to clients from the Lower Mainland as well as across Canada and worldwide.  To book a voice lesson with Alida click here.

Dealing with Nerves in Performance

When it comes to using our voices publicly, whether singing or public speaking, a lot of us experience pre-performance jitters which can very well get the best of us. We approach the stage as if we are up against a ferocious lion, so naturally our survival instincts kick in.  Our bodies go into what the psychology world calls fight/flight mode.  But does fear have to overtake us, and are there strategies that can help us enjoy the art of public performance?  I was recently interviewed for a colleague’s video blog (see below) and was asked the question, how should a singer deal with nerves?   I think really comes down to one seemingly obvious word:  preparation.  There are two main components of preparation need to be focused on in order to achieve a successful performance.

Prepare your voice:

First off, prepare your voice for the demands of the performance.  Work with a qualified voice teacher to help you get to where you need to be vocally so you don’t have to think about how you’re going to get that high note in a power ballad, or how you are going to be able to  better project your voice for a dynamic speech.  Build a secure foundation of vocal muscle memory, so your voice is capable of meeting the demands of being on stage.  Strength train those vocal folds daily in a healthy balanced way through repetition of vocal technique exercises assigned by your voice teacher.   Also, keeping vocal hygiene a priority will make a big difference in the quality of your voice.

Prepare the rest of your body:

The second important aspect of preparation is preparing your body to work with the nerves.  Nerves can very well lead to anxiety and anxiety is our body’s way of telling us there is a potential threat.  However, our bodies don’t actually know the difference between an actual threatening situation and a thought.  We can change our thoughts regarding the situation and try to look at the aspect of performing as a positive experience – that there’s no threat involved.  Mindfulness meditation as well as visualization techniques have been used by professionals to help people achieve better awareness when it comes to controlling performance anxiety.  Dr. Noa Kageyama is a psychologist who specializes in performance anxiety and works with musicians.  On his website Bullet Proof Musician  he gets more in depth on the subject of performance anxiety and explains the different kinds of anxiety.  He also recommends helpful ways of preparing for performance.

“Many make the mistake of putting too much emphasis on trying not to be nervous. Focus instead on developing a more effective response to the inevitable nerves. Spend more time practicing performing, rather than practicing practicing.” – Dr. Noa Kageyama

Performance anxiety exercise:

One excellent tool Dr. Noa recommends, (which I have used with my own clients with excellent results), is rehearsing with an elevated heart rate – getting your heart rate up by running on the spot and then practicing the song or practicing the talk.  You may be out of breath, but doing this will get you used to the sensation of singing with a rapid heart rate.  After rehearsing that way you can become somewhat de-sensitized to the feeling of being nervous.

Need a quick confidence booster?

If you need a confidence boost, try pre-performance ‘power posing’ (hands on your hips or hands above your head) as outlined in Amy Cuddy’s book Presence.

To boost your confidence during your performance, try fixing your posture, which will also help you to get access to proper breathing.  Prior to going on stage, you can also try slowing down your breathing to calm your nervous system down.  (elongate your inhales and exhales)

Whenever you get the opportunity to use your voice publicly, remember to enjoy the process.  Yes prepare well, and then let go.  Take it all in.  Before your know it the performance is over and you may just find yourself wanting to do more!

Headshot for websiteAlida is a voice and music educator based in Vancouver, Canada.  A graduate of UBC School of Music, Alida holds an IVA Advanced Certificate in voice teaching.   www.alidavocalstudio.com

6 Tips to Tackling High Notes in Song

Whether you are beginner singer, or have been singing for years, let’s face it, high notes can be intimidating and a great challenge.  As a voice teacher for the last 8 years, I very often get asked the question “how can I sing those high notes with power?”  Of course it comes down to training and practice, but here are a few hints to keep in mind and help you get started.

1) Vocalize higher than the note in the phrase.  Try a lip trill or tongue trill so you are getting use to going in and out of the head register area.  You have to make sure you ‘stretch and thin’ the vocal cords and the only way to do that is to ‘warm-up’ into that area and above.   Then you can hone in on that particular note in the phrase by using an arpeggio scale, so you are getting used to approaching the note.  Try an arpeggio scale on “wee” or “gee” or “mum”.  If your tendency is to go breathy on higher notes, try using an edgy “m.m.m” on the phrase to get use to resisting the air pressure.

2) Work the melody without the lyrics.  Instead use a vowel consonant combination such as “nay” or “gee” to help get comfortable singing on that note with a consonant and a vowel.

3) Try the lyrics now.  Ensure you are pronouncing the lyrics – both vowels and consonants clearly.

4) Check-in with your volume.  You don’t want to shout the high notes, that being said, you also need to ensure that you have an adequate amount of air pressure (or volume) on the onset of the note.

5) Check your posture.  If you are a ‘reacher’, meaning you are aiming for the note with your chin, ensure proper body alignment and posture in front of a mirror.  Keep your chin from moving up or down and ‘helping’ the note to come out.  If you are a ‘clencher’, ensure that your jaw is ‘un-clenched’ to allow for enough space in your instrument.  (this will from keeping your swallowing muscles involved in getting the high notes)

6) Don’t psyche yourself out.  If the brain gets too involved and you are overthinking this process, you may need to take a step back and approach it with ease and mindfulness.  Ensure that you are in the right space mentally and that there is no frustration, stress or strain present during your practice of the phrase.  If you need to, take a break and come back to it later on.

It’s important non to judge the sound quality just yet, remember get your voice to function well first before working on style and tone.  It make take a few days or week of practice before you can achieve proper balance.  If your voice is in balance, (not just all muscle or not just breathy) very often your tone will naturally improve.  Working with a qualified voice instructor can also help give you the tools to practice so that you you know what to specifically work on in your practice.

AlidaAlida Headshot 2015 is a singer and pianist based in Vancouver, Canada.  A graduate of UBC Music, Alida is also an Advanced Certified IVA singing teacher.   www.alidavocalstudio.com