Monday, April 16, 2012

30 Minutes to a Better You!

Sometimes in this crazy life, you might be lucky to get thirty minutes to yourself in a day. But, sometimes that is really all you need to make some significant strides on your musical goals.

Recently, I've been experimenting around with a business idea that has to do with goal-setting. In the process, I've been trying out different methods to help me achieve some of my personal musical goals. The first idea I had was to declare the month of April, "Make More Music Month". I know that sounds a little silly, being that my full-time job as a choral director involves singing and piano and when I'm not at school, I'm usually at church making music there. Really, though, my whole purpose for "Make More Music Month" was to focus my effort on some of my personal music goals and to be more present and aware when I am engaging in a musical activity.

Once I decided on "Make More Music Month", I came up with some key goals I wanted to accomplish. I wanted to spend more time working on some of my original songs that weren't completely finished. Also, I wanted to get some good practice time on some piano music I needed to learn to site read quickly.

Next came the practical application: how could I implement these goals in an already jam-packed schedule? I am reading this great little book I picked up on goal-setting, and out of it, I got the idea to schedule 30 minute increments into my weekdays for the specific purpose of working on my music. I even went so far as to set my iPad timer for 30 minutes and work until the timer beeped at me.

The first night I tried this , I confess I was concerned that I would get bored or would hit a creative block. And it did take me about 10 minutes to get into a good flow. But once I got there, I had no problem working until the timer went off. The next few times I used the 30 minute technique, time flew by so quickly, I ended up spending almost an extra hour in my music room because I had become so engrossed in the task at hand.

The result so far has been minimum effort on my part (I can do anything for 30 minutes), but maximum creativity and drive. By working against my self-imposed deadline, I am subconsciously priming myself to be more productive. And on those nights when I have only 30 minutes to spare, I don't feel guilty for quitting when the timer goes off. I've still logged my time for the day. As a result of this method, I can already say that "Make More Music Month" is a success. I have finished writing of one of my new original songs, written choral parts for it, and laid down a scratch recording. I have also made great strides in a piano piece I will be playing for one of my high school groups at State MPA. And I've had a lot of fun in the process doing what I'm most passionate about.

I believe this method can be valuable for any goal, but maybe it could serve as just the method you need to kick-start your own musical projects. Need to learn a new song? Employ the 30 minute rule for the next three days, and you'll probably come away knowing the song inside and out quicker than you thought. Want to study a new vocal technique or research new vocal warm-ups? Try the 30 minute rule. Set the timer and see how much information you can dig up online before the timer goes off. The 30 minute rule can even be great for a practice vocal session. Thirty minutes is the perfect amount of time to get in a great vocal workout or lesson.

I hope this method gives you great success and increases your productivity! Here's to becoming a better singer/ musician... thirty minutes at a time!

Monday, March 26, 2012

New Experiences

(The live recording of The MOVE, November 2011)

New experiences are scary, but always necessary to keep moving forward in life. This I am finding out first-hand.

It has officially been one month since my last blog post; however, the break in between writings has been packed with a fist-full of musical firsts for me! It's been exhilarating! It's been terrifying.

The first new experience for me was directing my first ever Choral MPA (shorthand for Music Performance Assessment) at the beginning of this month. It was a scary experience stepping onto a large stage with 60 of my high school choral students and conducting six pieces of classical music. I took a conducting class in college, but only because I was required to for my major (secretly knowing I would never use it in the future-ha!). Then several weeks ago, I found myself dusting off the old skill and employing it with all the vigor I could conjure up, while secretly hoping my backside didn't appear overly large to the audience. The experience was so scary to me because I had never conducted choirs before in front of professional classically-trained vocalists. But, I have to give props to the my students who got me through the emotionally-charged day and sang very well in the process. And now I can say I've done it and I know what to expect for next year; that is half the battle!

The other very exciting experience was the release of a cd project from my church entitled The MOVE. This was a project that unexpectedly fell into my lap back in November when I was asked to be the vocal coach for the project. I readily agreed, and soon found myself not only coaching, but also getting to be a part of the live recording and the studio overdubs. It was an experience of a lifetime; one I'm so glad I said "yes" to. The most amazing part was holding the finished cd product in my hand several days ago and seeing my name in print for the first time on a cd sleeve. I will unashamedly admit I hope it's the first of many professional albums I get to work on. The MOVE should be available soon on iTunes. I will be sure to cite that information as soon as I have it.

So even though the new experiences have been scary, I can honestly say that I'm a better musician because of them. I also appreciate the fact that music is such an integral part of my existence. I'm so blessed to get to do what I love on a daily basis.

Here's to the new experiences that shape us and grow our lives in unexpected ways!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

7 Habits for the Healthy Singer

Right about this time in the school year, teachers in classrooms all over America would be wealthy if we had stock in Kleenex! I, for one, can't keep them in my own chorus classroom long enough before my students are begging me for more. The majority of my high school chorus students seem to be sick right now, and the culprits tend to be the changing seasons, allergies, and the rampant spreading of germs from one human to another.

I have been very lucky this school year in that I've only been sick once, and only had to miss work for one day while I was recovering. I've been told that first year teachers' immune systems are especially compromised that first year because our bodies are not used to coming in contact with the amount of germs that get passed around at schools. However, since I was anticipating this problem, and also because I am constantly trying to practice good health to be the best singer I can, I put together seven habits that I am consistent to follow, and so far, they are helping me to ward off those nasty germ-monsters lurking in every hall way and on every doorknob (fingers are currently crossed!).

These are really in no particular order and could most likely apply to any normal person in any profession, not just singers. Here are my Seven Healthy Singing Habits:

1. Water is your best friend! Oh, yes it is! Ok, so I know this is common knowledge to the whole wide world, but have you seriously ever stopped to think about what a miracle-worker water is? Your body depends upon it to thrive, and more importantly, to live and perform all functions necessary to a healthy body. Water flushes out bad toxins in your system. Aside from that, water is an incredible thirst-quencher with a whopping zero calories. You cannot do any better than room temperature water to hydrate your vocal cords when singing.

The downside to consuming the recommended amount of water (8 servings of 8 oz per day) is the initial onset of having to use the bathroom all the time, but I've been assured that your body will adjust over time.

The other downside would be the major use of plastic bottles (for those of you going green), but that is easily fixed with one of my favorite new products on the market, the Brita reusable water bottle with a filter built right in. Fountain water stood the test in my Brita bottle and tasted just as fresh as any bottled water.

So, not only should water be consumed as much as possible all the time, but even more so if you feel a cold coming on.

2. Invest in good vitamins! I learned this lesson the hard way because I just couldn't see shelling out my hard- earned money on a daily multi that cost more than $10. However, those $10 and under vitamins just weren't doing their part to get me through the grueling school day. So I finally invested in some GNC vitamins, and almost immediately noticed a difference in my energy level. The real shock came when I compared my new GNC vitamins to my old cheapies: the cheap ones didn't even come close to the GNC ones I was paying triple for. Experts also say that your body doesn't even process those cheap vitamins the same way it does a more expensive one. Take it from me: good vitamins are worth the investment, and I think they are the single smartest thing a health-conscious singer can take.

3. When you feel a cold coming on, fight back! There are definitely several different actions to take when you feel like you're getting sick. The first thing is to immediately go wash your hands and continue to wash them thoroughly throughout the day to stop the spread of even more germs. Guzzle water like it's the end of the world (see Habit 1), take your multi (Habit 2), and then have a nice glass of EmergenC (can be bought at any supermarket or drugstore). I like EmergenC better than Airborne because it comes in tons of yummy flavors and dissolves into water a lot easier. Finally, get some rest and see if that cold doesn't leave before it gets started!

4. Go easy on the medication when you have to sing. This is something that many of singers don't think about, but it is unwise to take a pain reliever before you have to do a lot of heavy singing. The reason being is that a pain reliever's primary job is to block nerve receptors from receiving the pain signal (thus doing its job by alleviating your headache, cramps, or whatever else), but it also causes you greater risk of over-singing because you can't tell when you're straining too much. Also, decongestants are great for their original purpose, but if you try to sing while on one, again you can risk over-singing, and also do damage to your cords because the decongestant has dried up all the mucus in your sinuses.

5. Know when to stop singing. This is a big one! I wish I were Superwoman when it comes to singing, but I'm not. When my throat gets irritated or I've just done a ton of singing, I try to take some time off, even if it's just a couple of days, and I don't sing a word. It's really difficult to do, but worth the recovery time my body needs. My goal is to maintain a healthy voice all my life, so it's not worth blowing it out over any single thing.

Your body will usually tell you when it needs a break! Listen to it, take the break, and you'll be much better off in the long run, vocally and otherwise.

6. Exercise should be a priority. I see so many correlations to exercise and singing, but what I'm noticing more and more is that people who don't exercise or are overweight tend to sing flat and/or have trouble with breath support, which is a MAJOR component to being a healthy singer. When you do exercise, you are allowing more oxygen into your body on a regular basis, and your lungs love that air! You will notice as your endurance in exercise increases, your breath support also gets better. Also, I have to specifically recommend yoga just because the focus is on breathing, continuously inhaling and exhaling, and becoming more aware of the breath. This translates directly into singing and can help you become more adept at mastering control of your voice.

7. Minimize your stress. I'm kinda laughing at myself as I type this right now, because my life is just about as stressful as it's ever been. But, I realize that stress does have far-reaching, long-term effects on the body, and likewise on the voice. I do not sing as well when I'm stressed. So my solution is to employ my own ways of stress relief every single day so I don't allow myself to get too overwhelmed. I actually have a written list of things to turn to when I'm feeling blue. A few of my stress busters are taking a bubble bath, walking my yorkie outside, turning off the television and cracking open a book, and writing or journaling. All of those things tend to return me to a healthy, happy state of mind for the time being, so I use them often. If I can't alleviate a stressor, at least I can forget about it for a while. Make your own list of stress-busters and vow to do a couple things on the list every time you're feeling sub-par. Your body and your voice will thank you for it.

Well, that's my list of healthy habits! Hope you get a chance to try one or all of these and they help you gain your best voice ever! As always, happy (and healthy) singing!

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Voice Returns!

This past Sunday, February 5th saw the return of one of my favorite new shows, NBC's The Voice. Last year, I thoroughly enjoyed this entertaining fresh-breath-of-air music show that in my opinion far outweighs the tired concepts of American Idol and The Sing-Off.

What I love so much about this show is that so many of these singers remind me of myself. They love music so much that they can't not perform. It is in their blood. They feel like if they aren't able to do something with their music, they will face a fate worse than dying; they will face the reality of never having truly lived to their full potential.

I love the variety of the voices that appear on the show, especially this season. I have to give props to the classically-trained singer, Chris Mann who appeared on the show on Sunday and belted out a beautiful rendition of an Italian song. I loved what he said to the judges about being tired of trying to "shrink his voice", so he just decided for the show to sing with his true voice. I hope he goes a long way on the show!

I really enjoy the fact that all four vocal coaches are currently enjoying their own great careers outside of the show. None of them are "has beens"; they are all doing big things right now. It's fun to listen to their critiques of each of the singers and agree or disagree with them from the comfort of my couch.

If you haven't seen The Voice, I highly recommend that you tune in on Mondays at 8pm EST on NBC! This is entertainment at its best. Not to mention, there is much to be learned about the singing craft and its current trends. Happy watching!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Using Failure to Motivate New Success

A few days ago, I awoke suddenly from a nightmare about a past music failure I'd experienced back in high school. In real life, I was a sophomore and had signed up for a district music competition where I was performing an original song I had penned specifically for that event. I remember working so hard for weeks at my little Casio keyboard, writing furiously in my notebook to make the song exactly what I wanted it to be. When the day of the performance came around, I sang the song and gave it my all. Unfortunately, the judges didn't care for it and I didn't advance to Nationals that year.

The dream was almost an exact retelling of the actual event. I woke up suddenly after getting the news that I hadn't advanced in the competition. My first conscious feeling was dread in my apparent and embarrassing failure in music, and then another thought occurred to me: but I'm a music teacher! Once I fully came to and realized that the event was actually in my past, I was able to comfort myself with the fact that that particular failure didn't seem to set me back in my musical career as much as it could have. In fact I hadn't even thought about it in a long time.

I do remember being devastated after the event and feeling that maybe I didn't cut it as a songwriter. I believe I took some time off, but not too much before I was back writing and singing my original material again.

The tendency seems to be that after we fail at something, it can be easy to give up or take a longer break than necessary from that particular thing. Why would you want to try something again that you've already failed at? Herein lies the lesson. Just because you've failed at something, even something that you have talent in, doesn't mean you shouldn't attempt it again for the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th time. Eventually, you'll have logged enough failures that you are bound to have some experience under you belt and are that much closer to success.

Please don't discount the life experience you gain from every failure. It will grow you as a musician, singer, or whatever else you are in life.

So, I issue a challenge today: think about something that you've tried in the past and failed at and have maybe been too scared to attempt since then. Now, I want you to try again! What if you fail again? So what? Dust yourself off and chalk it up as life experience. Been aching to audition for the local musical in town even though it scares the life out of you? Do it anyway! What if you succeed? What if it leads to greater opportunities than you ever thought possible?

Do me a favor: once you've tried this challenge, post a comment on this blog or on my facebook letting me know how it went. It really doesn't matter if you fail or succeed; as long as you try again. I think you'll be surprised at what you can do when you take a leap out of your comfort zone and allow your failures to catapult you to even greater successes!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Update! (Or, Where in the World Have I Been?)

Well, hello again, blog! I am sorry to say that as soon as I began getting ready for my new high school choral position, I completely stopped updating this blog! It's hard to believe it's already been a half a year! Here we are, already half-way through January of 2012! It's amazing how time flies when you're having fun.

I don't know if you're into New Year's Resolutions, but it's something I try to do each year, and I attempt to make them attainable things in different areas of my life that need work. Several of my musical goals I'll list here: one of them is to update my blog regularly (that is, at least once per month) and also to get some songwriting done this year. I didn't do a whole lot of writing in 2011, and I miss it! So in 2012, I hope to tap back into my creative side and write at least 5 songs.

Now onto the update. Since my last post, I have started my new choral job and have already completed the first half of the school year. All I can say is that the cliche is true: nothing can prepare you for teaching like your first year! It has been a whirlwind!

First of all, I have some really talented students. They have totally upped the stakes for me. What I used to spend minutes on checking before I would teach, now I'm sure to study out to make sure I really, really know what I'm talking about! High school students can sniff a fake or a lie in an instant! But I am amazed at my students' abilities to learn music. I have each of my choir students five days a week, and I wouldn't have it any other way. We can really dive into the material, learn it well, and have some fun while doing so.

I am also proud to say that once-foreign words to me like All-County, FVA, ACDA, and MPA are no longer a major source of confusion for me. My motto this year has been to take every thing one step and one day at a time, while learning along the way. I can't believe how much I've learned in such a short period of time!

My students had the opportunity to audition for Disney World's Candlelight Production, which is a spectacular Christmas program that runs from the end of November through New Years at Epcot. We started working on the audition pieces probably around the first week of school. We sent in our audition dvd, and received word that we'd been accepted! Then came the really hard part of learning fifteen songs for the show, all of them SATB scores including Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus". On December 5th, I accompanied 48 of my high school choral students to Disney World and got to hear them sing in Candlelight! It was one of the proudest moments of my life and one of the coolest things I've ever done in Florida!

Finally, while settling into my new job as chorus teacher, I was observed by another teacher at my school, and given the great honor of Teacher of the Month for December! It made me so proud to know that my hard work is paying off and someone else is taking notice that I am trying to make a lasting difference in the lives of my music students.

That is an update on my little world. I will be sure to address many exciting singing topics this year such as auditioning, taking criticism, finding your voice part, and song-writing! It's good to be back! Please remember, if you have a voice question or comment, you can always post it to this blog! Happy New Year!

(This is a pic of me posing with the Golden Apple Award, for receiving Teacher of the Month at my school in January!)