Yoga For Vocalists

HABITUAL RITUAL: 6 Simple Habits to Improve Your Voice in 2018 

 

 

Our voices are unique to any other instrument, in that we carry them with us all day, every day. It is as much affected by study and practice as it is by the spectrum of the human experience. Emotions, environment, health, sleep (or lack thereof), focus, and so forth, all factor into the condition of our voices on a daily basis. Progression within the voice is not always linear. There are peaks and valleys which mirror the overall condition of our bodies, mentality, and spirit.  

We often think that in order to achieve improvement we need to devote grand amounts of time to the endeavor. But when it comes to self-practice and positive habit formation, it’s more about consistency rather than quantity of time.  

One of the biggest concerns from all my students, beginner to advanced is,  “How do I fit healthy vocal habits into my hectic schedule? 

If you can devote the amount of time it takes to brush your teeth to engage in self-practice daily, you will see your awareness, focus, and skill dramatically improve.  At the start of a new year, we typically set lofty goals for ourselves and abandon ship at the sign of the first slip. I encourage you to let the outlook be more causal: 

Try ONE of the below exercises at a time. Then try a few in combination. Try building up to doing all in a daily practice. Then take a break and come back.  Don’t judge yourself if you fall off course. Just pick up and begin and begin and begin again… 

 

AWAKE AND SPEAK! 

Most of us go from the silence of sleep right into full talking (or screaming) mode. It is important to transition the voice out of its quiet mindfully.  

 • BEFORE leaving bed, looking at your devices, or engaging with another person, take a few moments upon waking to silently express awareness and gratitude.  

 • As you proceed in your typical morning routine, incorporate light humming, hissing, buzzing, or lip trills to being the process of sound-making.  

 • Do a series of light sighs moving throughout the vowels: A E I O U  

  “Aaaaaayyy… Eeeeeeeee….Iiiiiiiiiiii…Oooooooooh….Uuuuuuuuuu…” 

 • Increase the volume slightly, add an “H” to the sighs:

  “Haaaaaayy….Heeeeeee….Hiiiiiiiiii…Hoooooooo…..Huuuuuu…” 

 • Try quietly reading aloud a small portion of a book, poem, article, or affirmation you are currently interested in. Repeat it again at a slightly louder volume. 

 • When engaging with your roommate, partner, or children in the morning, have consciousness regarding your volume, stress, sensations, and emotions. See if you can be more mindful of your voice in different spoken situations.  

 

BREATHE, CHILD 

PRANAYAMA (Conscious Breath Practice)  

There are so many wonderful exercises to engage/enhance your conscious breath practice. YOGA JOURNAL has a great resource HERE

But for the start of a new year, it’s nice to have a meat ’n taters, no-frills, go-to method that you can practice whenever/wherever. Here’s one to try:  

 

INHALE on a 5 count 

HOLD BREATH for 1 count 

EXHALE on a 5 count 

 

Repeat and increase the length of the HELD breath +1 each round until you reach five  

Then repeat and decrease the HELD breath from 5 until you reach 1 again  

(There will be 10 rounds of breath total) 

 

LISTEN UP 

 • Begin to compile awareness and dissect the sound of human voices around you, both spoken and sung. Pay attention to volume, accent, pitch, tonality, and what part of their voice is being utilized (chest voice, head voice, mix). 

 • Listen to the voices of loved ones, friends, colleagues, and strangers.  

 • Listen and observe other artists practicing or performing their craft:  speaking voices, voiceover, animation/character, singers etc. Do so with objectivity, not with preference to only pleasing sounds and voices.  

 • Play with exploration and mimicry in your own voice. Without strain, play with sound-making as more recreational that practical. Have fun with mirroring sounds and voices. It may seem paradoxical, but when done experimentally (not in performance), this exercise can actually help one’s true vocal identity to emerge or solidify.  

 

KEEP IT TO YOURSELF 

Learning to sing quietly helps prevent the push of over vocalization and teaches you about specificity and placement. Make sure to be aware of breath control, relaxation in the throat and neck, otherwise it becomes difficult to make the tones sound.  

 • Sing softly to yourself in public or private places where you don’t want to be actively heard by others. Study the control-relaxation ratio it takes to sustain tone, pitch, and emotional connection while singing at your lowest volume (stay ABOVE a whisper!)  

 

SING OUT, LOUISE!  

• WITHOUT STRAIN, TENSION, OR PUSHING, increase your singing volume in places where you are comfortable and have privacy: home alone, in the shower, on a lone hike, in the car… 

 • Try letting your physical body mirror the freedom of your volume. Use bigger gestures, swing the arms, let the direction of your body navigate the sound of your voice (Let’s NOT try this one in the car, mmkay?)  

 • Now, try letting your physical body do the opposite of what the voice is doing.  When you are hitting high notes, bend knees, point downward. When you are hitting low notes, feel light airy, point upward. 

 • Observe and document what worked and what was challenging.   

 

GOODNITE, SWEETHEART, GOODNITE 

Preparation for and quality of sleep is of utmost importance to a vocalist. Make the bedroom a sanctuary. Try not to do anything work related or stress-inducing in the bedroom. Create an environment that is restorative and healing so you can prepare your self and soul upon waking the next day.  

 • Buy a cool-air humidifier or oil-diffuser 

The humidifier keeps your throat and cords hydrated and essential oils are amazing for relaxation and respiratory health.   

 • If noise is an issue, try a sound machine or app: 

This app was a saving grace for me while dealing with everlasting construction outside my apartment building:  

SIMPLY NOISE:  (I use the “brown noise” setting for sleep.) 

   

GRATITUDE:

End the day the same way you begin it, with active gratitude for all things you hold dear.  

 

MEDITATION:

Again, many options here, but a great everyday meditation is to do a full scan of the breath (noticing rhythms, patterns, emphasis), the physical body (addressing tension, then actively releasing it), mentality (letting thoughts arise, then actively releasing them), and spirituality (letting emotions emerge, then letting them settle).  

There are also several wonderful meditation websites/apps, if you’d prefer something assisted. 

 

For more information on lessons, meditation, voice, or yoga, contact me at abbyahmad@gmail.com

 

REHEARSAL ANXIETY REVERSAL 

 

This one comes by special request. Many of my singer/musician peers have voiced distress regarding the rehearsal process. The communing of creative people for the sake of art-making is a matter of chemistry. Differing personalities, experiences, musical schools of thought, and work styles can converge into the perfect match OR the match that triggers an explosion. I offer the below suggestions (through personal trial and much error) to help buffer the suffer of rehearsal woes.  

 

TAKE CARE AND PREPARE 

 

MORNING GLORY 

Regardless of the time of day you’ve booked your rehearsal, start your morning off right. It may be the only opportunity you have to settle your brain and body. Before you get out of bed and before you bury yourself in devices, emails, social media, etc., engage in a brief meditation.  Start with gratitude, beginning with easy stuff. “I am grateful for my bed, my pillow, my breakfast…” Move on to more rooted matters. “I am thankful for my relationships, my talent, my opportunities to practice my craft.” Then, stay in that state and breathe in meditation for 5 minutes, noticing thoughts and sensations as they arise.  

 

WARM IT UP 

Engage in light vocal warm ups. Begin with speaking-based and sound-making exercises, rather than diving right into scale work. Especially if you’re warming up in the morning, it is important to let the voice acclimate from all your silence during sleep. And remember that most rehearsals typically last 2-3 hours, THAT’S A WHOLE LOTTA SINGING! Allow the warm ups to be the appetizer and the rehearsal itself be the entree.  

 

PACK IT UP 

Make lists in advance of everything you need for rehearsal. Assemble all your musical gear: sheet music, lyrics, iPad, paper, writing utensils, strings, capos, picks, etc. Make a Snack Attack Pack containing a refillable water bottle, non-caffeinated tea, fruit, and protein bar (low sugar to prevent crash). Be aware of any food allergies or food preferences of your band mates/colleagues. You don’t want to bring something into a contained room that makes someone sick or uncomfortable. If you’re a coffee drinker, make sure you up the water intake to keep yourself hydrated and stave off the edginess.  

 

CULT OF PUNCTUALITY  

This one has been and continues to be my Achilles’ heel. You’ve probably heard the saying, “If you’re on time, you’re late.” There is deep truth in this. Delays, hiccups, and travel snafus are a given (especially for us New Yorkers). However, if you prepare with enough time, or dare I say it, IN ADVANCE, you can prevent the awkwardness and stress of a late arrival. There is nothing more taxing on the voice than active stress. For the sake of your sanity and your serenade, allow enough time to arrive a bit early.  

 

 

IT’S MY PARTY (REHEARSING YOUR MUSIC WITH OTHERS) 

 

KNOW THY SELF 

Know your songs inside and out! Whether rehearsing original or cover songs, new or revived relics, you must familiarize yourself with them BEFORE rehearsal. Stumbling through song structures at your own rehearsal is a major time suck and energy deflater. Alleviate tension by arriving prepared.  

 

TIME IS ON MY SIDE 

Budgeting time is extremely important in rehearsal settings. You cannot expect to get 20 songs fully arranged and rehearsed in a two-hour window of time. Set realistic goals based on your finances, gig length, and musician availability. Getting music to bandmates in advance is ALWAYS useful. Try to deliver the files altogether, instead of linking to 10 separate youtube vids. Organization yields efficiency.  

 

BALANCING ACT 

When it comes to arrangements and parts, find balance between being overly causal and extremely rigid. Getting too specific with parts/ideas before playing may prevent something organic and exciting from happening. Have musical ideas established, but be flexible and trust the nature and instincts of the musicians you’ve hired. Musical collaboration is indeed symbiosis. Over-specification kills morale and energy. Under-specification causes delays and frustration. Be open to suggestions and deviations, but stay true to yourself when it’s an idea you firmly believe in.  

 

 

WELCOME TO THE PARTY (REHEARSING OTHER PEOPLE’S MUSIC) 

 

TEST THE WATER 

You may have a great suggestion or amendment for an arrangement to offer. Express your opinion once as a barometer for the environment. You will quickly be able to assess the mindset of the artist you’re working with. They will either be open to the suggestion or make it clear that they’re not interested in collaboration. Whichever the case, act respectfully. Not everyone’s process is the same. And there are great benefits in learning to accommodate your professionalism in a variety of situations.  

 

EBB & FLOW 

Be aware of your listening to speaking ratio in a rehearsal. Take time to process what a bandleader is expressing and then take a breath before responding. Reactivity can spark misunderstanding. Use your ears and words thoughtfully.  

 

 

PARTY RULES!

 

ME, MYSELF, AND I  

  • No outward self-deprecation
  • Don't point out your own mistakes
  • Don’t spiral into self-criticism. Allow compassion to be a shock absorber to your artistic challenges. 

 

MIND YOUR MANNERS  

  • Curb excess riffing or noodling between songs or when others are figuring out parts
  • No extraneous cell phone usage 
  • Prevent overt displays of frustration - BREATHE! 

 

PERFECT IS POINTLESS 

Strive for progression, not perfection. Even if you have a flawless rehearsal it does not necessarily mean it will translate to performance. Manage your expectations by aiming for collaboration, exploration, and discovery. It’s much more fun that way! 

 

 

FALLING ON DEAF EARS 

Not being able to hear yourself/others is a common complaint in rehearsal environments. Pack a pair of foam earplugs and use both (or alternate one ear at a time) in the event that the monitor situation is bad. This will prevent overuse and strain of the voice as you can more clearly hear your internally resonating vocals this way.  

A lack of privacy can also cause stress. Try to book rehearsals in a space where you feel free to create without constraint, complaint, or judgement from outsiders.  

Find balance between over-singing and under-singing. Your collaborators want to hear the songs as they were meant to be performed: with emotion and purpose. Don’t mumble through or change vocal melodies. However, be wary not to over-emote and push the vocals. Find the middle ground where there is evocation without aggravation.  

 

 

GIMME A BREAK 

Breaks are crucial in a rehearsal setting. Our brains get overloaded with the spewing of non-stop information. Taking short respites allow the songs and parts to sink in and personal relationships to blossom. This is a win-win. The bond becomes tauter and and the band becomes tighter. Just make sure to regulate the length of break time clearly so there isn’t too much lingering and loitering. I’ve lost minutes into hours of precious rehearsal time while joyously chatting it up.  

 

 

THE RE-HASH CRASH 

I find that the time anxiety strikes most unforgivingly is in the AFTERMATH of a rehearsal. The brain floods with instant replays, dissecting every discussion, suggestion, criticism, debate, and moment of awkwardness. Remember, art-making is a communal and intimate experience. In the effort behind the creation of music, there will be moments of strangeness, vulnerability, and balance of ego. As long as respect and boundaries remain intact, artistic discomfort can often yield musical breakthrough. Allow yourself to be challenged and to challenge. But do it with courtesy.   

 

PREVENTING THE POST-JAM SLUMP

  • Start a rehearsal log/journal documenting (and dating) a list of things that were successful and a separate list of things that need improvement. Do this first with general comments/observations and then again on a song-by-song basis. 

 

  • Try compassion affirmations. Starting with the self and then spreading to your bandmates/colleagues. 

 

“I have compassion for myself, my uniqueness, tendencies, judgements, and communication.” 

“I have compassion for ___ , his/her uniqueness, tendencies, judgements, and communication.” 

 

  • Do a short, seated, mediation. Allow the thoughts and sensations around your discomfort to arise. Notice where the tension shows up in your physical body. Allow your breath to fill those spaces and then release away from them. Silently speak the words, “I am” on the inhale and “letting go” on the exhale.

SONIC SELFIE: DOCUMENTING THE VOICE 

 

For those of us old enough to remember the age of the answering machine, we also remember the awkward horror of hearing our own recorded speaking voice on the outgoing message. It was a cringeworthy sonic mirror revealing the “true” nature of our “annoying” “raspy” “high-pitched” “mumbled” or “nasal” voices. “DO I REALLY SOUND LIKE THAT?!!” 

Our recorded voice sounds distinctly different than our own voice that we hear when we speak or sing. This is due to the fact that we hear our own voices two different ways simultaneously. The first is the same way we hear other people’s voices: vibrating sound waves hitting the eardrum. The second, is the vibration resonating inside our own skull that is triggered by our vocal chords which adds additional vibrations that hit the eardrum. This often adds a false sense of bass, which is why on a recording, our voices sound higher-pitched.  

Once we can traverse the initial discomfort of hearing back our recorded voices, we realize that documentation is an important component in our progression as vocalists. While we look to vocal teachers/coaches, producers, directors, songwriting partners, etc. to give us input and helpful critique regarding our voices, our own self-assessment is vital. It is important to have that proverbial mirror we can hold up to ourselves to discover and play with both the negative and positive attributes of our voice. How can we curb a bad habit without even realizing that it exists? It is hard to have objectivity with our own voice while we’re using it. We call upon technique, focus, and emotion in performance and practice. There is not space or time for analysis. Analysis is actually kryptonite to a connected performance! However, listening back to a performance or practice session after its completion can be a truly ear-opening experience.  

 

VOICE MEMOS 

While most modern phones now come equipped with a Voice Memo app, it is helpful to dig a little deeper and see if there is one better suited for your needs. I’ve found that I have so many different vocal projects I’m documenting (songs, vocal exercises, theatre pieces, songwriting co-writes, commercial songwriting, etc.) it helps to have an app that has individual folders to keep things organized and the ability to make comments or bookmark sections on the recording. I recommend the RecApp for the iPhone. Or if you want to use your phone’s default recorder, just make sure that you backup often on a computer and sort/organize there for easy reference. Have a journal or digital method to take notes upon listening back to the recordings.  

 

PRACTICE MAKES PROGRESS 

Documenting practice sessions, rehearsals, and lessons is extremely useful. Solo practice sessions give us introspection as to how our voices sound without anyone around to influence or induce nerves. Sound amazing in the shower? Record it! (Just keep your device out of water/steam range.) Or set up your phone at a slight distance when you’re noodling around with a new riff or song idea, accompanied or acapella. Listening back will not only give you insight in terms of vocals and expression, but it may help you steer the creative concept of your song.  

Band rehearsals are important to document because it provides perspective into how our voices handle non-ideal set-ups (which in my experience, most rehearsals include). How do you sound when you are struggling to hear yourself or other instruments? Or when performing a new song?  A harmony vocal? Does your comfort level (or lack there of) exacerbate certain habits/defaults in the voice? 

If you are currently taking vocal lessons, ask your teacher/coach if they would be comfortable with you recording the lesson or portion of it. This creates an archive of tools and suggestions from your teacher that you can access without relying on memory.   

 

ALL THE WORLD’S A STAGE 

At a gig, recital, meeting, or conference, set up a device to record your performance. Make sure you suss out the room and find the best placement for well-balanced sound. Notice how adrenaline affects your voice. Does it make you thrive or swan dive? Notice what happens when a mistake occurs. Do you call attention to it or keep going? Does your control/confidence peak at the beginning, middle, or end of the performance? Does it vary? Write down both positive and negative aspects upon listening and reflecting. Ask yourself what attributes move you in successful performances by others. Notate them and make goals to work on them solo or with your teacher.  

 

CAN WE TALK?  

The next time you’re out with a friend, ask permission to record a conversation with them. Then start doing the same with other friends and family members until you’ve assembled a collection of conversations with different subjects and environments. Notice the timbre of your voice, your pacing, your pitches/range, the dynamics in contrasting conversations. All these differing attributes will give you knowledge of how you adopt your vocality in diverse situations. And it will also showcase that certain pitches or ranges are accessible in your spoken voice, though not in your sung voice…YET! 

Additionally, it is a great exercise to document the spoken voice performing text. Pick a favorite poem, speech, monologue, or article and record yourself. Notice how this performative context compares and contrasts to your every day speaking voice. It is more pronounced in diction or volume? Slower or quicker paced? 

 

VIDEO KILLED THE RADIO STAR 

Once you have gotten comfortable with audio documentation, up the ante by adding an element of video. Using either your phone, computer, or camera, film yourself in practice, performance, or play. This will take your self-assessment/analysis to the next level by becoming aware of physical attributes that may be contributing to limitation in the vocals. When the body is tense the voice is likely to follow. How does your physicality shift from practice to performance? Make notes and date them so you can follow your progression.  

 

PERFECT SCHMERFECT 

I had a student ask me recently in a lesson how long it took me to like the sound of my own voice. My answer (after 25 years as a vocalist) was,  “FINGERS CROSSED… ANY DAY NOW.”  We may never get the point of loving the sound of our recorded (or live) voice. However, we familiarize ourself with it to the point of gaining more objectivity. Learning to love ASPECTS while continuing the journey of stability and improvement. Also, remember that perfectionism is not a useful attribute when it comes to the voice. We are humans and part of what makes a voice compelling is when it is a truthful extension of that human being. Be honest and your voice will be affecting even if it’s not technically flawless. Tell the story and let the story be received and translated. I’ve made the mistake in the past of soiling an audience member’s positive experience by countering their compliment with a self-deprecation. Don’t let your desire for perfection hinder the importance of your progression. 

THE COURTSHIP OF CREATIVE IDEAS 

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Some “Dear Abby”-esque relationship guidance for all your creative suitors…

 

SEDUCING AN IDEA

Dressing the Part - You wouldn’t show up for a date in your pajamas, right? Working on creative projects deserves the same degree of gussying up. Shower, brush your teeth, get dressed. Then, set the scene. Create mood lighting with candles or open the shades for natural sunlight. Light incense or burn oils to get your senses stimulated. Let your work space be clean and clear, not cluttered with the contents of your distractive everyday life. Or, why not take yourself out on a date and do your work at a park, coffeeshop, or bar? Romance your realization! 

Foreplay - Begin to stimulate your idea with journaling and free-associative writing. Create a slam page. Highlight general thoughts on a subject with bullet points. Jot down every phrase or half-phrase that comes to mind. Make an adjective list that you can associate with your subject. Prime yourself for creativity by getting the juices stirring. And DON’T EDIT YOURSELF! Censorship, at this stage, is detrimental. Stockpile all your thoughts and sort them later. 

Press the Buttons - Record everything! Documenting the process is essential. Whatever your form, document ideas using multiple mediums. Utilize hand-written text, computer or typewriter, video, audio, photography, etc. (However, turn off email notifications and shut down social media on all devices to prevent being sucked into a vortex of distractions.) Research references that emphasize your themes. Make look-books, collages, and archives using images and quotes from your work or others’.

 


 

BURNING HOT / BURNING OUT

Steamy Start- So things are moving fast. You’ve got yourself firmly nestled around the hips of a great idea. The inspiration is flowing. Ride it wild. Do a ton of research. Immerse yourself in the process. Review your work as part of your morning routine and before you fall asleep. Let it seep into your subconscious and waking life. 

The Advice Column- To keep momentum moving, it is wise to extend the conversation. Engage in discussion with friends about their creative techniques and tricks. Get opinions and suggestions about other people’s work methods. Reach out to teachers, mentors, trusted peers. Everyone has a unique tool in their kit regarding the creative process. By sharing experiences, you may discover the impetus to your continued success and inspiration. Chat it up.  

Getting Rubbed The Wrong Way - There reaches a point in any new relationship where fantasy yields to reality. We will ultimately encounter struggle, misunderstanding, and road blocks along our path to guiding an idea into fruition. You may find that you have the endurance and passion to move through these hardships. You also may feel that a temporary break is needed for clarity. In some cases, the temporary break may showcase that permanent break is in order. Some ideas are just not ready for commitment. But ALL ideas, whether realized, stunted, or abandoned will influence new ideas to come. 

 


 

IN IT FOR THE LONG HAUL

Finding The One - So, you’ve found it. That creative love that continues to excite and expand. There may have been hiatuses from active involvement, but your desire never ceased. You may have broken up and gotten back together. Or maybe your relationship persisted without truncation. Remember that long-term love succeeds by consistent demolition and reconstruction. You may have to completely decimate an initial concept, impulse, line, or foundation in order to give way to an idea that creates long-lasting support to your vision. Try not to grasp too tightly to stability or expectation. Recognize that change is an essential component to longevity in art. You are constantly shifting and evolving. Allow your ideas to do the same. 

Keeping the Spark Alive - All successful long-term relationships need attention, respect, and spontaneity to keep the fire burning. Try to spice up your patterns. If you have a specific time/place that you tend to work, change the schedule. Or try an exercise where you flip the perspective. For example, if you are working on songs for an album, write something musical that is completely contrary to your theme. If you play bluegrass, write in the style of hip-hop. Shaking things up creatively is essential to staying fresh with perspective. Then when you return to the task at hand, there won’t be so much pressure attached.

 


 

POLYAMORY 

Wandering Eye - When your interests and creative inclinations cross mediums, it can seem difficult to get individualized goals achieved. Logical thought would suggest that we should focus on singular subjects and tasks in order reach our objectives. However, “crossing the streams” creatively is a wonderful way to stay stimulated across the board. Think of it as useful ADD. The moment your creative attention to a project wanes, hop over to a different interest. If you have reached capacity for the day learning lines for a play, take a break and doodle a drawing. Whatever your mixed mediums are, try devoting smaller chunks of time to ALL of them in a given work session. This way, your blossoms of thought receive equal watering, which yields a larger crop! 

Branching Out - Extend yourself into other creative disciplines that you are NOT actively interested in! Take up photography, poetry, pottery. You can gain insight in the most unexpected places. Keep stirring the pot and the flavors will broaden and explode. 

Keep Your Dates Straight - Buy separate journals and notebooks for all your individual creative subjects and ideas. Organize them in a way that feels helpful and fun. Give them the individualized attention they deserve. You can’t adore them equally if one is at the forefront and the others lie dormant. If you prefer digital to analog, use bright colors and photos to spice up your work files on the computer. 

 


 

THE CASUALTIES OF LOVE

In art, as in relationships, not everything survives. There will always be casualties of love. Whenever we put ourselves out there to romance an idea, whether it succeeds or fails, there is something to be learned. We can’t know what we want, how to evolve our ideas, or how to express ourselves without experiencing failure. Allow your defeats to inform and inspire new desires and dreams. 

“Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere. They’re in each other all along.” Jalaluddin Rumi

HEALING FROM CREATIVE SCARRING 

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Whether consciously or unconsciously, most humans have experienced some form of creative scarring. It may have been the art teacher in elementary school who questioned the shape of your sketch of a horse. Or a parent negating your dreams of becoming a musician. The theatre director who deemed that you would never be the right type to play the “ingenue role”. These comments and criticisms, whether benign or actively hurtful, have significant impact on our lives as creators. Words, memories, and criticisms cut deep and the scar tissue is lasting. I have known many who have completely abandoned all artistic/creative impulses due to being traumatized by the careless words of others. For creative professionals, these wounds can create growth blockages, preventing the artist from taking chances/risks necessary for evolution and continued expansion in their craft.

For vocalists, this creative scarring can be extremely detrimental. There is little place to hide within vocality. Our voices are a direct link to our emotional and mental state. By stifling the pain resulting from experiences with criticism, we are creating an active barrier between ourselves and our art. These memories can be painful to excavate, but with a careful and cautious approach, we can start to mend internally which allows our expression to flow without boundaries.


 

JOURNALING

Journaling is one of the most simple and effective ways to begin the creative healing process. The type of journaling that I encourage to begin is free-associative. A form of mental purging. Expunging all the contents of your brain onto the page. This can be, at times, as boring as it is exhilarating. Somedays, all I can muster to write down is, “I don’t feel like writing in this journal” over and over. This is the point of a free-associative journal. To document any and all emotions, thoughts, observations, no matter how mundane or how exciting. It is an enema for the brain. How do we get to the juicy center of our creative mind, with all the crusty crap of our psyche blocking the access? This journal is meant to be a cleanser. A means of contemplation and elimination. 

Now, that being said, you still need to hold this journal in high regard, or you will not be encouraged to utilize it. Go out and buy a NEW JOURNAL. Something aesthetically pleasing. Something that works with your lifestyle. Small and pocket-sized, if you don’t carry a bag most of the time. Or huge and leather bound, if that feels right! Make it yours, and make it feel good to write in it. Buy a new pen, one that feels good in a color you enjoy.

The key with journaling is CONSISTENCY. Some people find it easiest to journal in the morning, before they do anything else. Others find it cathartic to do it mid-day while on the train or a work break. Some find it helpful at night, as a means to document the day. Whatever your schedule, do it DAILY. Begin by doing one page back and front (or two pages if your journal is teeny.) While it may begin as a chore, you will quickly feel the benefits of this daily practice.

You may also begin to see little nuggets of creativity emerging in your everyday entries. From here, buy a SECOND JOURNAL. One that you can transfer more creative elements of your writing into. It is important to have this separation. We are attempting to organize our creative selves, by actively separating the curds and whey of our mind cheese! Believe you me, the results will be delicious.

 


 

ALTERNA-AFFIRMATION

The art of affirmation is particularly healing. However, I find that for most, effortlessly conjuring positive things to say about oneself is pretty far-fetched. This is especially true for those dealing with a traumatic history of being criticized or teased. It is much easier for our brains to go straight to the negative: the hurtful words from ourselves or others that have cycled through our brains non-stop for years or lifetimes. So let’s start there.

-Gather a piece of paper or a pen (you can also do this activity in your free-association journal)

-Set a timer for 1 minute.

-Actively write down every negative self-identification that emerges.

Example:

I AM LAZY.
I AM UNTALENTED.
I AM UGLY.
I AM USELESS.
I AM BORING.  

-At the end of the minute return to the top of your list.

-Taking your writing utensil, actively cross, scribble, Sharpie out the negative sentiment.

I AM LAZY.

-Immediately rewrite the phrase with the opposite.

I AM LAZY.                                I am driven.
I AM UNTALENTED.                 I am gifted.  
I AM UGLY.                               I am beautiful.
etc.

-When you have finished writing the opposites, return to the beginning of the list and read aloud your new set of affirmations.

 


 

These methods will assist the process of unraveling your history with critique, judgement, or even abuse. The exercises become a salve which will aid and mend your healing. The scar may always be faintly visible, but you can learn to let it encourage and fuel your artistic endeavors instead of inhibiting them. Here’s to you, brave creators!

THE IMPORTANCE OF HUMOR IN A SERIOUS VOCAL PRACTICE 

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“A well-developed sense of humor is the pole that adds balance to your steps as you walk the tightrope of life.”  - William Arthur Ward

 

The majority of devoted vocalists take their craft pretty seriously. We have dedicated countless hours, days, years, decades, LIFETIMES to the progression of our form. We make amendments to our sleep schedules, diets, and extra-curricular activities. We sacrifice finances, social life, and opportunities. We are consistently seeking improvement. We are constantly striving to evolve our skill set and enhance our potency as performers. But there reaches a point when the rigidity surrounding our goals/timelines for desired progression becomes counter-productive.

Levity is key when it comes to expression. There is a lightness of self that emerges through humor. We can simultaneously take our craft seriously without taking ourselves too seriously. When we grasp too tightly to results, we lose the opportunity to find nuances that are discovered through play. Engaging in silliness is the gateway to sanity and sustainability.

Try to pinpoint a memory from early childhood when you were being ridiculously playful. As young children, we lacked the innate bias that developed with experience. We didn’t care how we were perceived or received. We were captivated by our own joy. We were enamored by the freedom to express for the sake of expression, without judgement.

I have developed a series to help us return to that limitless feeling of play. Approach it with an open mind and heart. As jaded adults, it is common to experience unease in seeing, hearing, or feeling yourself be “silly”. Allow the judgmental thoughts to arise. Acknowledge their existence, Then release and resume the exercise. I know you can do it! SERIOUSLY!

 

For the following series, you’ll need:

A SPACE WHERE YOU HAVE PRIVACY
You’ll need to find space which facilitates the freedom to make faces, shapes, and sounds without embarrassment of being witnessed by others. (Unless you don’t care about that, which is even better!)

A MIRROR
Ideally a full-length mirror, but at least one that you do not need your hands to hold up.

A RUG OR YOGA MAT
We’re not going crazy with poses here, but you’ll need something to support yourself while sitting/lying on the floor.

A SENSE OF HUMOR
Say what? I mentioned that already? How SILLY of me!

 

THAT’S A STRETCH…

“The first step towards true enlightenment is to lighten up on yourself.” - Bashar

Facial stretching is a great way to loosen up and begin softening the muscles and mind. Here’s a few to try. Begin in a comfortable seated position:

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“O” FACE (um not THAT kind of “O” face, the literal one)

  • Open mouth wide open as if you’ve just been surprised (let the jaw release naturally, DON’T FORCE!)
  • Keeping the mouth in this open shape, pucker just the lips forward to make a small “O” shape
  • Release. repeat 5 times.

 

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LION FACE (Simhasana face)

  • open mouth and stick out tongue 
  • cross the eyes and roll them upward
  • inhale through the nose, then exhale aggressively out the mouth
  • repeat 3 times

 

 

MAN IN THE MIRROR / SILLY SELFIE

“It is a curious fact that people are never so trivial as when they take themselves seriously.” - Oscar Wilde

Mirror play is essential in learning how to take ourselves less seriously. Take a few minutes to find some of your most ridiculous, unattractive characters. Start with the face, and incorporate the whole body. The more mortifying, the better! Now, once you’ve developed your most monstrous/hilarious mugs, snap 3 selfies to keep on your phone. (Or send to a friend!) Whenever life hits you with a fierce punch, scan your camera roll and find these gems to remind you that the absurdity of life can also be amusing.

Here are my three most ludicrous. Please don’t blackmail me.

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STRIKE A POSE

“Comedy is acting out optimism.” - Robin Williams

 

Swaying Tree Pose: 

The Seal:

 

CACHINNATION MEDITATION

(Laughing Meditation)

“Humor is the affectionate communication of insight.” - Leo Rosten

  • Take a comfortable seat on your rug, mat, etc. 
  • Raise yourself up by placing an extra folded blanket under your seat
  • Take 3 rounds of mindful, slow inhales and exhales
  • Allow the corners of your mouth to curl upward forming a grin
  • Deepen your grin by letting your smile widen, allowing the teeth to show and the mouth to open slightly
  • Begin to chuckle lightly
  • Allow the laughter to deepen incorporating the muscles of the belly
  • Laugh for laughter’s sake, not attaching it to someone or something
  • Whatever emotion emerges through the exercise, see if you can laugh with it, not against it. Find levity in what is heavy. Find weightlessness in what is light.
  • Let your laughter authentically dissipate. Then sit in silence and stillness and observe your breath, body, and mind.

 

VOCAL EXERCISES

“Your obsession with being in control of your mind makes you so stiff all the times; that is why our egos are growing, and our sense of humor is shrinking.”   -Jazz Gill

 

The Blah Blah Blah:

The Ooh Wee Ooh:


 

Once you feel comfortable doing this series (or portion of the series) on your own, try incorporating a partner or small group. A shared experience of ridiculousness starts to break down the preciousness and fear of how we are perceived by others. Particularly, in this social media drenched existence of presenting our ideal selves, cracking the perception of perfection is so liberating! Till next time, clowns…


LET’S BE CLEAR: Breaking the Habit of Chronic Throat Clearing 

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As an asthmatic, allergenic, singer, actor, teacher, and ex-smoker (it’s true!), I know all too well the cyclical slippery slope that is chronic throat clearing. It starts with a tickle, a sensation of mucus blockage, or a bit of raspiness in speech. It feels so satisfying, gratifying, and useful to clear it all away with a strong, “AHEM!” But did you know that throat clearing is actually perpetuating the conditions you’re attempting to remedy?

When you clear the throat, an excessive amount of movement is wreaked on the vocal folds, causing them to slam together and create friction. This action exacerbates the situation, making you feel the need to continuously clear the throat to “soothe” the aggravation, when you are, in fact, worsening it.

Throat clearing is a symptom, not a diagnosis. It results from something affecting the throat or airways. It can be caused by something actually being stuck in the back of your throat, but often, we feel the tickle or sensation without anything actually being there.

This process can become habitual. Triggering and re-triggering to no end. This repeated cycle can induce long-term damage to the throat and vocal cords. Throat clearing is deemed “chronic” when symptoms last over three months. 




First thing you need to pinpoint is: Am I a physiological or psychological throat-clearer? OR A COMBINATION OF THE TWO?

PHYSIOLOGICAL

Does there feel as if you have a perpetual tickle in the throat/voice? Do you consistently feel a build up of mucus in your throat? Does this abundance of phlegm cause hoarseness or alteration to your voice?

Many things can be attributed to an excess of mucus/aggravation in the throat:

• allergies
• cold
• post-nasal drip
• asthma
• acid reflux - also know as gastroesophogeal reflux disorder (GERD)
• smoking
• excessive alcohol intake
• food allergies/inflammation
• side effects from blood pressure medication (ACE inhibitors)


WHEN TO SEE A DOCTOR: 

• Clearing your throat is disrupting sleep or altering speech

• The aggravation is resulting in persistent hoarseness or laryngitis

• You are having problems breathing and/or swallowing 


If your issue is physiological, here are some suggestions to reduce mucus/throat aggravation:

• stay hydrated

• drink warm liquids - hot water with lemon or decaf teas

• take small sips of water throughout the day

• suck on clove or cardamom after meals (natural mucus reducer/aids digestion)

• sinus irrigation (saline spray or Neti Pot)

• reduce intake of dairy, caffeine, and alcohol (increases mucus/dehydrates)

• use a personal steam inhaler/inhale shower steam

• purchase a cool-mist humidifier or essential oil diffuser (be sure to clean frequently - mold will make symptoms worse!)

• utilize warm compresses on sinuses, throat

• quit smoking! 

• do an elimination diet to track any food intolerances/allergies 

• gargle with salt water

• drink a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar diluted in water up to 3 times daily

• do not eat heavy meals before bed




PSYCHOLOGICAL

Psychological throat clearing is behavioral habituation triggered by:

• stress
• anxiety
• nerves
• habit/repetition
• discomfort in conversation, performance, or public speaking

When it comes to psychological throat clearing, the biggest tool is awareness. Monitor yourself in situations and observe how frequently you clear or have the urge to clear. Ask others to call you out when you do it.  Be mindful of what is triggering you. Do you feel stressed, awkward, uncomfortable, bored, authoritative, etc.?  




Throat Clearing Alternatives

Whatever the cause of your throat aggravation, you can utilize these alternatives to help break the cycle:

Dry Swallow - Swallowing saliva closes the vocal folds and can rid them of mucus.

Speaking Through The Aggravation -Talk through the mucus/raspiness. The natural vibration of the vocal folds may rid the folds of secretions.


See video below for examples of the following:

Silent Cough/Silent Throat Clear - Use your breath support to push air through the vocal folds. The strong airflow blows the mucus off the vocal folds.

Panting - Lightly pant with the mouth open and tongue out. Then swallow

Gentle Hum Series 

Gentle Laugh 

The “Woo-Woo”




If you do not garner any relief by incorporating these shifts/suggestions into your routine, be sure to consult with an ENT doctor who can help assess if there are deeper roots to the issue.  

May this help you CLEAR the path to a happier and healthier throat/voice and create consciousness and clarity in your communication! 




FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT LESSONS WITH ABBY, visit: 

http://www.abbyahmad.com/vocal-coaching

EXPRESS YOURSELF: Balancing The Throat Chakra 

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We all know and have employed myriad physical remedies to heal a sore throat/strained vocal cords. We’ve steamed and tea-ed and silenced our way back to health (or at least enough to squawk our way through a gig). But how often have you considered the impact of internal and spiritual balance when it comes to your vocal health and prowess? 

CHAKRAS are energy centers within the human body which regulate and stabilize its operations. They include organ processes, immunity, and our emotions. There are seven major chakras positioned from the base of the spine to the crown of the head, each representing foundations of our human experience and functionality. 

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Today, we’ll focus on the 5th Chakra: The Throat Chakra (Vishuddha) 

A balanced Throat Chakra will cultivate clear communication and creative expression within ourselves and to be received from others. Opening this delicate chakra will summon our inner truth and help that truth to be represented vocally.  

Signs of a weakened throat chakra include: shyness in speech, stuttering, nervous clearing of the throat, a sensation of choking back emotions, whispered speech, or perhaps eliminating vocality altogether. 

Signs of an hyperactive throat chakra include: chronic sore throat, laryngitis, rapid speech, self-deprecating speech, inability to listen, condescension/judgement and dominating conversation. 

Mudra for Throat Chakra

A mudra is a spiritual gesture that helps to summon specified energy. 

GRANTHITA MUDRA

Interlace your last three fingers (middle, ring and pinky) together inside of your hands. Interlock the index fingertips and thumbs to form two rings and hold this mudra in front of the base of your throat. Inhale and exhale through the nose for 4 rounds of breath. 

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Pranayama (Conscious Breath) for Throat Chakra

Inhale deeply though the nose. Open the mouth and exhale like you are fogging up glass. Repeat 4 times. 

Ujjāyī Prānāyāma:

The sensation of Ujjāyī breath will be similar to that of the glass fogging exercise, however the mouth remains closed.

Focus on the throat. Inhale and exhale deeply through the nose, while lightly constricting the back of the throat. The breath will have an oceanic effect, like that of waves crashing. It may feel similar to the sound of deep sleep breath. 

Continue for 2-5 minutes. 

 

Sound Healing for Throat Chakra

Find your “natural pitch”. That is a note in your range that feels comfortable and able to be held without strain. 

Inhale through the nose and chant the sound “HAM” (Haaaaaaahmmmmm) with your chosen pitch for the full length of your exhale. 

Repeat 8 times. Return to Ujjāyī Breath for a round of 4. Repeat chant 8 times.

 

Meditation for Throat Chakra

The color associated with the Vishuddha (Throat) Chakra is a sky blue. Vishuddha translates to “especially pure”. 

Envision a pure, crystal-blue light, streaming in like a spotlight to the center of your throat. As you inhale and exhale, see it fill the space and cleanse the entirety of your neck and throat. 

Expand the light to go deeper and purify the larynx, the vocal folds, the thyroid. Deepen the breath and resume your Ujjāyī Pranayama or chanting the sound “HAM” silently. 

Envision any toxins, impurities, and contradictions as black vapor separating from the blue light. Inhale deeply. Open the mouth, stick out the tongue, and exhale strongly on a fiery ‘HA” sounds letting all the breath drain out. Expunge the impurities as you repeat 3 times. 

Return to a natural set of inhales and exhales for 4 rounds.

 

Affirmation for Throat Chakra

“I am able to express myself with clarity and consciousness. I am able to receive communication with coherence and compassion.” 

Repeat out loud twice and another two times silently. 

 

Applying these exercises/incorporating them into your existing vocal warm up, will encourage equilibrium both internally and externally. Liberate yourself and let your true voice thrive! 

QUESTION YOUR DIRECTION 

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Healthy singing is achieved within the beautiful balance of technique and temperament. It is the push and pull of complete control and complete surrender.  For many of us, it is difficult not to be judgmental with our process and progress.  It is human nature to question and contemplate. However, in vocalization, this often works against us. Over-analyzing and mistrust encourages rigidity and strain in the body making it impossible to execute our voices in a fully-integrated manner. 

However, there are many helpful and even fun ways to encourage your think tank to work in your favor. It starts by questioning your direction. By accessing and assessing your innate bias, you can actively choose to flip that bitch!  


ENGAGING “THE GAZE”

When practicing exercises, warmups, or difficult vocal riffs, establishing “the gaze”, or drishti, is of utmost importance.  Sight is an extremely potent sense.  Our brains are constantly investigating and interpreting what we take in through our vision.  When the eyes are bopping about, it creates more opportunity for the brain to become unfocused and unsettled.  By establishing a focal point, we are encouraging the brain to prioritize the task at hand.  We can then establish more awareness of our habits, emotional triggers, and distractors, which affect our vocal capabilities and performance.  

Find a non-moving and somewhat uninteresting place to set your gaze upon.  (An imperfection/hole in the wall - GOOD!  Out the window or at a brightly colored painting - NOT SO GOOD.)  Allow the focal point to become a bit fuzzy.  Let your peripheral vision become sharper than the point of focus.  Do not squint or widen the eyes, just allow them to settle comfortably upon your focal point.  Take three smooth inhales and exhales through the nose.  Allow any rising thoughts to settle as you establish the rhythm of your breath in preparation for vocalization.   


OPPOSITES ATTRACT

One of the biggest commonalities amongst my students is the tendency to take their bodies along for the ride when it comes to hitting both higher and lower pitches.  When aiming for high notes, the eyes roll up inside the head and the neck muscles stretch uncomfortably toward the heavens, begging for assistance.  This creates stress and tension in the neck/shoulders and contradicts the openness necessary to execute higher pitches.  When attempting low notes, the chin seems to attach itself to the chest, nearly cutting off the resonators completely, making noise production very difficult. 

To negate these natural inclinations, try pulling a fast one on the ol’ psyche.  Consciously enable the opposite.  When singing higher pitches, actively think or even point downward with your finger.  When cultivating lower pitches, think forward and slightly up.  This bit of trickery allows a welcome distraction for the brain and lends itself to alleviating physical tension.  The body-mind becomes primed for proper execution.


“THE MUSKET THRUST”

I recently saw the revival of one of my favorite Broadway musicals, Les Misérables.  I noticed in the group numbers involving soldiers, almost every glorious sustained high note was accompanied by an intense thrust of a musket.  While it was probably a matter of choreography, it inspired me to experiment in my own practice and with my students. 

When practicing a particularly difficult note, I encouraged students to incorporate a powerful physical movement along with the vocalization. After a week of collective “musket thrusting”, I noticed that self-induced pressure seemed to subside and students were more effortlessly and gracefully executing the challenging notes! 

Our psyche is an incredibly dominant player when it comes to vocalizing. It can equally propel and paralyze us. By giving your physical body a specific task, the part of the brain which is over-analyzing/judging the vocal output relaxes slightly.  These healthy distractions enable us to soften our internal critic and fears of attempting a note and failing.

So, be it musket thrust, karate kick, jazz hands, or slow-rise wingspan arms, play around with getting out of the head and into the body.  Lightening the atmosphere encourages more faith and less falter when it comes to traversing the tricky terrain of your thinker.