Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Be a Tree!

Well, it's back to school week for me and many of my fellow teachers in Florida.  And because this year I am teaching elementary music and also about to have my own bambino, I seem to have rediscovered my inner child.  I am having a blast getting very creative with my teaching.  If anything, I want my students to understand good singing by explaining it in simple terms that they can easily recall.

So in honor of back to school, I invite you to take a trip with me to the elementary music classroom today where we will learn about the importance of full-body singing.

This lesson is called "Be a Tree".  It is one that I have been using to help 2nd-5th graders understand stretching and singing, but I think it will be equally effective to an adult singer with any hint of an imagination.

Imagine you are a tree.  Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and one slightly in front of the other.

(At this point, I would ask the students what their feet and legs represent as part of a tree.  The response varies, but as you can probably guess, the answers I'm looking for are "roots" and "trunk".)

By imagining that your feet are the roots of a tree, you can firmly plant them in the ground and anchor yourself for proper singing.  Then, as I would remind my students, you can remember that singing starts at the very tip of your big toe and goes all the way up through the top of your head.  Hence, singing is a full-body experience.  It should not originate from your throat.

(Now I would ask my students what their hands might represent as part of the tree.  They usually answer the "branches".)

Imagine your hands are the branches.  They are an extension of the tree and cannot move in and of themselves.  They need wind (energy) to cause them to move.  Standing in tree pose, take a deep inhale and lift your hands high above your head as if the wind is pushing them up.  Bring them gently back down as you exhale.  Repeat this breathing sequence three more times.

Even though the students don't know this, what they are doing is practicing a yoga stretch that is extremely helpful in connecting the breath to full-body singing.  All they know is that they are "being a tree", and they know exactly how to relate this to good posture and stance when singing.

Now obviously, I don't want you to wave your "branches" up and down as you perform a song.  But, remembering to "be a tree" with your hands relaxed at your sides and your feet shoulder-width apart, one slightly in front of the other will give you a great start to mastering a perfect and comfortable singing posture.

I hope you enjoyed our little trip back in time to elementary school!  See how fun it is?  I give you an "A" today for effort and for rediscovering your imagination!

Happy Singing!  Remember to be a tree!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Q & A: Warming Up Every Day?

Last week, one of my voice students asked me if it was ok or advisable to warm-up her voice on a daily basis.  She also asked me about my personal warm-up schedule since I do a lot of performing throughout the week.

Here is my answer:  Yes, it is ok to warm-up daily.  As long as your vocal warm-ups are not too strenuous and don't last too long (15-30 minutes is ideal).  In the same way that it's ok to do some type of physical exercise each day, it's ok to warm the voice up.  However, you might benefit from a day or two off as well.

As for my personal schedule, since I am on summer break from teaching, I currently warm-up on the days that I teach lessons, lead choir rehearsal, and on Sundays before singing in church.  That adds up to 4-5 days per week.  The other days I'm usually not singing, so I choose to rest my voice on those days.  When school starts up again in a few weeks, I will warm-up Monday-Friday along with my students (efficiently killing two birds with one stone!) and perform a more strenuous warm-up on Sundays before church.

The purpose of a warm-up is two fold: it should ease and prepare your voice for heavier singing and it should help you practice good vocal technique.  Use these guidelines when deciding which warm-ups to practice.  You don't want something that is so difficult to perform that it causes any strain whatsoever to your voice.  That, in my opinion is not a true warm-up.  My students always comment that their voices feel and sound freer after performing warm-ups.  That is what your voice should feel like after a gentle warm-up session.

Three to five warm-ups per day is usually a good number to perform before diving into heavy singing or practicing your repertoire.
Proper warm-ups will keep you from sounding like a frog!