Sunday, August 28, 2016

Musical Monday - What Foods are Good for Singers?

This is a hotly debated subject.  I had always been told not to have milk products before singing so I didn't.  I also don't drink a lot of water because I just don't like how it feels.  I do drink lots of tea.  That hasn't bothered my voice.  I seldom eat before a performance even when conducting.  I just don't feel like it.  
Bottom line it seems to me is to do what works for you.  However, here are my rules and they have more to do with my fellow performers than me. 

1. Don't eat garlic, onions or other smelly foods before a performance.  Save it for the day ahead or after.  The resulting odoriferous-ness (is that a word?) could be deadly.  Read between the lines here.
2. Don't drink alcohol before rehearsals or performances.  Aside from the obvious alcoholic smell, your behaviour and ability to concentrate could be impaired.  And we haven't even touched on the drive there and back if you don't have transit available. 
3. If you need to sip water or suck a candy then have a discreet cup from which you can sip quietly or have candy UNWRAPPED and don't choose to do either in the middle of the quietest part.

Here is an article by Kristie Knickerbocker about the myths and legends of eating and drinking and the voice.  It seems as if it is all in our head and our vocal folds don't really care.

When I was younger, I was petrified that eating before a performance would screw it all up.
I can remember vividly, sitting at a Texas Music Educators Association competition as a kid near me consumed an entire slice of pepperoni pizza before disappearing into his audition room.
He leaned over and smiled, “It’s always good luck for me.”
I was aghast, and I hope my face did not reflect what was going on in my head. Food? I thought. Before singing? NEVER!
But, why did I believe so strongly that the voice gods would shun me if I ate a bite of anything? Should superstitions be revered? Is it really all in my head?
He obviously thought that the pizza was his golden ticket for the American Idol of Texas choir competitions.

The Power of A Placebo?

Some performers believe licorice before a gig helps improve vocal range – a placebo effect?
Some performers believe licorice before a gig helps improve vocal range. One singer would consume an entire bag of licorice prior to a performance. Is this a placebo?
After discussing, he stopped and the range remained the same. Hmm…. What about those singers that tell you eating Lays potato chips will lubricate their throats? Is this only in Nashville?
What you eat and drink will not touch your vocal folds; it only touches the tongue, soft palate, throat walls and esophagus.
If it is touching your vocal folds, you are aspirating!
A recent post on a professional voice teaching thread inquired about what teachers advised singers to drink to lubricate their cords.
Home remedies included vinegar, garlic, ginger, olive oil, sugar, and even aloe vera. None of these have scientific evidence that they are harmful to the voice, so if you think it helps, then by all means.
Nothing really lubricates the cords from the outside, but drinking hydrating beverages lubricates from the inside, so this is kind of true…kind of…Just make sure you don’t become a yummy snack for your speech therapist if you come in smelling like an Italian dish.

Bottom Line: HydrationHydrationHydration. There is no scientific evidence that certain foods or beverages will improve or hinder your performance.
Water will always benefit the friction and heat created by your vocal folds by lubricating them on a cellular level.

Kristie Knickerbocker, MS, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist and singing voice specialist in Fort Worth, Texas. She provides voice, swallowing and speech therapy in her own private practice, a tempo Voice Center, LLC. She also lectures on the singing voice to area choirs and students. She belongs to ASHA’s Special Interest Group 3-Voice and Voice Disorders. She keeps a blog on her website at

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Musical Monday - What's In It For Me?

Image result for clip art choirThe Benefits of Singing in the Choir

Singing in a choir is a unique and fun experience.  As I have mentioned before, you need to check out the choirs in your area to find one that fits YOUR needs.  
1.  If you are a classically trained singer who wants constant challenge, you may want to explore choirs that require an audition and want you to be able to read and sight sing and do much of the learning of your parts on your own.
2.  If you are more relaxed and want to learn the major part of your learning at practice and are willing to work with the choir and your director to learn bit by bit, a community choir may be more your style. 
3.  There are still some churches that have some fine choirs and again if that style of music is your favourite then send your talent and time in that direction. 
No matter what type of choir you end up choosing, here are some of the rewards I feel you gain. 
  • You increase your listening skills.  Firstly you have to actually listen to what the director is saying.  (Directors please note:  Please take a page out of my book and learn to talk less and sing more!!)  Those directions are important to at least one person in the choir and if you aren't listening then you may be interrupting others' ability to listen. You also have to listen so that your voice blends with the voice of the person next to you, as well as with the sounds of the particular type of song you’re singing. Listening well takes a great deal of energy. A good director will recognize that and help you learn those skills.
  • You learn more about reading music.  Even if you are a trained musician, there are always some ways of interpreting the written music you may not have experienced in the past.  As in any art, there are different styles.  You will get to begin to create or hone your very own style.
  • You learn more about using your ears to know correct sound.  Picking out your part when the other voices of the choir are surrounding you is a good workout for your ear. You develop the ability to know when your part fits into the others without slipping into the tune or another part being sung close to you. 
  • You get a chance to work on your social skills. In choirs, you often find people who like you are inspired by beautiful music. Being around other people enjoying the process of learning and making great sounds, is a joy not to be missed.  You really have to be there. 
  • You may get to travel with the choir. A choir I belonged to years ago, toured England, Scotland, and Wales singing and interacting all the way.  It was an amazing trip I wouldn't have experienced without that choir.  Our ETS stay closer to home but we still travel to new areas and have met some really wonderful people along the way.
  • You may become a more self-assured person.  Anytime you learn new skills and do things that may otherwise have been outside of your comfort zone, you grow more confident.  When you gain confidence then you can share that with others around you.  
Singing is a wonderful release and opportunity to express yourself through music and singing. You just won't know until you try.  Find a singing group and see how it goes.  Commit to one season and find what you can learn and then grow from the experiences.  Most importantly, have fun!  It is the key to everything. 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Musical Monday - What is this Choir Thing About & Is It for Me?

Here are some words from Gareth Malone on thinking about singing in a choir.

"If you’re reading this, congratulations, as you have either already taken that first step and joined a choir or you are thinking about it. Singing is not only a lot of fun but also gives you confidence and is great exercise for your heart and lungs which in turn gets the brain working. Performing with others in a choir is a great way to start singing and singing at work with your colleagues has benefits too. It can improve communication and teamwork plus it’s a great stress-buster. Singing is good for you!"

1. Firstly, you must get the courage to show up for a choir.  Yes your voice is good enough if you really want to sing.  You won't know if it will work for you until you try.  Some choir require an audition.  That means you sing a song you know in front of at least the director so that your voice can be assessed.  I would suggest that if this is your first choir attempt, you may want to try a community choir that does not audition.  Ask about how practices work and whether you are expected to learn music on your own or if the skills are taught during rehearsals. Then, commit to coming out to 4 or 5 practices and then you can all decide whether it is a fit.

2. Be willing to learn.  Gareth Malone expects people in his choirs to do some work on their own.  I expect our choir members to keep singing.  We do recordings for extra practising.  Here is a link to Gareth's suggestions for working toward your singing best.

3. Keep the vision of yourself as a singer.  Use YouTube to find choirs you love to watch.  See yourself there.  It will give you the motivation to keep on because we all have our up and down times.
Check out this video of these young people.  Young boys with changing voices are often reticent to sing but I know from experience that once they find success in a supportive environment, they really enjoy themselves.  Watch the faces as they make some pretty impressive sounds.
Check out the choirs in your area.  Choose one or two that sound like they match your vision and go to practice.  If you aren't sure, just tell the leader you are not committing just yet.  Any director worth his/her salt will be happy to accommodate.  Most of all HAVE FUN!!

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Musical Monday - What Voice Do I Have?

You have probably been singing the tune of most songs all this time.  You will have noticed that some songs are easy to sing and others just are not working for you.  Well that is easily explained.  Every singer has an optimum range or low to high number of sounds that are the most comfortable.  You will unconsciously choose songs that are most comfortable for you.

The great news is that once you join a choir, the director will be able to tell you where your voice will fit best.  Yes, your speaking voice will give that away.  So you don't have to know that ahead of time.  If you have never sung harmony that is notes that are not the tune, then you will learn.  Don't be hard on yourself.  Be patient.  All in good time.

Here is a fun video that will give you some pointers about singing harmony.  I love his explanation of harmony being a number of melodies sung at the same time.  Enjoy.  See it isn't nearly as scary as one might think.