I've had health problems. For the last two years, I've had trouble breathing. Serious allergies have affected all aspects of my health, and I found I had no energy. My singing, playing and writing were affected. All I wanted to do was sleep.
It took me five months to admit I wasn't going to get better on my own and see a doctor. It took six more months to get me on an oxygen machine, another four months to get a diagnosis and prescription, and four more months to find a medication I wasn't allergic to.
My recovery started 19 months after the onset of my first symptoms, and I'm not back all the way. There are days when I can't take a deep breath, can't hear out of my right ear, can't use my left hand (due to a series of accidents), and shake so badly I can't eat soup, let alone sing. I could have given up music. I could stay home and write songs, poems, and a book. And I did, while I worked on getting better.
But I like performing. I have bandmates I love performing with, and I love sharing my songs and poems with people and seeing their reactions. People like my songs and poems and encourage me to talk on stage.
I have seen performers who were long past the time they should have retired. But, performing is part of who they are, and a substantial part of their income. I have a friend who was a fabulous performers. Due to his health, he is unable to get back the skills he once had. It's painful to watch him and listen to him try to perform.
As much as I'd like to perform, I don't want to be one of those people.
So, I've done a lot of therapy on my hand and simplified my bass lines and guitar parts. I even got an autoharp (which I played well a long time ago) for those days when my left hand simply doesn't work right.
And, I've taken breathing lessons. Really.
I found out I never knew how to breathe properly. I also found out I was chronically dehydrated. I learned to drink a lot more water. Getting a high-quality water filter helped with that. And, my meds help me breathe.
But breathing lessons helped raise my oxygen levels about 5% without using the oxygen machine.
And, the person who does the breathing lessons, does voice lessons. So, at 65, I'm taking voice lessons.
I have an operatic high voice and a deep chest voice, and no notes in the middle. I now do exercises that tie in the deep breathing and strengthen the notes between the two voices, helping me learn to blend my high and low voices for the first time. It's a lot of work to find out that it's really easy to do it right.
I don't claim to be a voice teacher so I won't tell you how to strengthen your voice. Instead, I will quote from articles that have been emailed to me.
Vocal Health Basics – How to Properly Care for Your Voice
by KEITH HATSCHEK on JANUARY 9, 201, from DiscMakers
- Dr. Lynelle Wiens, Professor of Voice at the University of the Pacific Conservatory of Music in Stockton, CA, said, “It’s essential to drink lots of water before, during, and after performances. It’s also very important to get plenty of rest and exercise and eat properly between performances. To the extent that is possible, try to avoid noisy places where you will have to shout to be heard.”
- Dr. Wiens also said, "Throat clearing, yelling or screaming, singing too loudly for an extended period of time, singing a song that is pitched too high or too low, or putting too much pressure on your voice, all increase the strain on it. If it hurts, you’re doing something wrong. Listen to what your voice is telling you.”
- Dr. Wiens advises that a singer should seek a professional if they have a concern about their own vocal health. “If there is a sudden change in your voice from what is normal, or if you experience persistent hoarseness and/or vocal fatigue for more than two weeks, I would suggest you see an otolaryngologist (Ear, Nose and Throat doctor) who is experienced in caring for singers. Be sure to ask for a strobovideolaryngoscopic examination in order to get the most thorough assessment of the health of your voice.”
Singing tips for vocalists in any genre
by DISC MAKERS on MAY 8, 2014
- Daniel Ebbers, voice instructor at the Conservatory of Music at University of the Pacific, shares vocal exercises to use for warm-ups on YouTube.
The Vocalists Guide to Recording, Rehearsing and Performing: Care and Maintenance for Singer in Every Genre
DISC MAKERS on MAY 18, 2014
- Taking voice lessons and studying with a vocal coach obviously costs money, notoriously something a lot of musicians aren’t blessed with, but if you want to be challenged, learn how to sing properly, and preserve your “one instrument,” vocal lessons are worth investing in.
- If you sing without warming up, you can encounter all sorts of problems. Warming up is very much about relaxing and prepar- ing the muscles and mechanisms for what they are about to do, and it is also about getting your mind and body into the flow of breathing correctly.
- Diaphragmatic breathing: When you breathe correctly while sing- ing, your rib cage will lift and your stomach expands.
- Lip roll: Take your big diaphragmatic breath, and then hum scales (“me me me me me me me”) rolling your lips, like the sound you might make when you’re exasperated.
- Relax your throat, face, and mouth: Opening your mouth to it’s widest, inciting a big yawn, sticking out your tongue, opening and closing your jaw, doing tongue twisters — even loosening your jaw by massaging the muscles in your jaw and face — can all help to relax your muscles and prepare your instrument for singing.
- Hum: Without opening your mouth and keeping all the muscles you’ve just warmed up relaxed, sing a “zzz” then “eee” then “ahhh.” Test the top and lower part of your range, never straining, and starting with a comfortable volume. As you warm up, increase your volume.
- Sing scales: Using a piano (or a recording of a vocal lesson or piano scales), sing scales from the middle of your range (you can start at middle C) going down to the lowest part of your range, and then go higher and higher to the top of your range.
- Stopping immediately after a performance can result in a collection of blood in the larynx, and speaking or sing- ing while the folds are swollen can aggravate the cords. A gentle, relaxed version of the humming warm-up routine can be an easy way to alleviate this situation.
- Fixing problems before a show
- Warming and lubricating your vocal cords is one obvious remedy, which could include a steamy shower or a few minutes over a sink running with hot water and a towel over your head.
- Warm tea with honey and lemon is also a go-to remedy to help coax a tired throat back to normal.
- Keeping warm, your throat and entire body, is also a good idea, as is eating healthy and staying hydrated.
- Vocal exercises done throughout the day, lightly and never pushing beyond what’s comfortable, can also bring your instrument back to operational by performance time.
Stop Shredding Your Vocal Cords
by CARI COLE on OCTOBER 17, 2013
- Avoid coughing. Coughing shreds your cords.
- Don’t glottal. Glottals occur when the edges of the vocal cords bang together in over-closure most always on a word that begins with a vowel.
- Get your voice out of your throat. Speaking low in your throat, or in a monotone can cause vocal problems like hoarseness, vocal fatigue, nodules, cysts or granulomas.
- Stop talking so loud! Don’t yell or talk excessively for long periods of time (or speak over loud music regularly – bartenders beware).
- Study vocal and breathing technique. Find a great (not just a good) professional vocal coach who specializes in fixing vocal problems and knows a thing or two about how to speed you back to health.
Some of these tips show exercises and techniques I've learned from my teacher. This column has been a good refresher for me.
And as good as the articles and videos are, nothing beats a good voice coach who can spot what you need, and tailor exercises specifically to help you.
I hope this column helps you get moving in the right direction so you won't be that performer who should have quit a long time ago.
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