Tips from the Teacher
The day of a big performance is coming up. You've been working so hard.... aaaaand when the performance comes, you don't sing your best because your voice is just so tired! This is the worst! If this happens to you, don't fret. I'm about to give you some tips to avoid vocal fatigue and keep your voice in tip-top shape.
1. Use Good Technique!!!
Maybe this goes without saying, maybe it needs to be said more often. Using good technique is essential for avoiding vocal fatigue! When you use the natural resonating cavities of your head to build your sound, properly raise your soft palate and modify vowels when necessary, and use your breath to create your sound, you have a much better chance of avoiding vocal fatigue than if you don't do these things. Good. Technique. Is. Essential. This cannot be said enough! A soft palate that is not properly raised when necessary and poor breath support are common culprits of vocal fatigue.
2. Don't Over-Sing and Do Take Breaks!
Like any part of your body, you can over-use your vocal folds! So, don't. If you're not accustomed to singing for many hours a day, don't do so suddenly. If you know you have a festival or other event coming up in which you'll be required to sing for much longer than normal, begin early to condition your voice to prepare. If you normally sing for one hour a day, bump it up to an hour and a half, then two, two and a half, etc. Make sure your voice is used to singing for a certain number of hours in the day before increasing the time. Take breaks whenever you need them. Don't sing for three hours straight. Your vocal folds need rest, just like any other part of your body does! Breaks are your friends. When you're taking vocal breaks, rest your voice completely by not talking or talking very little during the breaks, if possible. These breaks could be a ten minute break between two half hours of singing or could be a three hour break between two hours of singing. Find the breaks that work for you and love them!
3. Always Warm Up Your Voice! Always!
Your vocal folds (cords) are like any other part of your body- if you're going to use them a lot you HAVE TO warm them up gently and gradually or else they can get fatigued, sore, or even injured. Lip trills are my favorite way to warm up my voice because they're gentle on the vocal folds and help me connect to my breath.
4. Keep Your Voice Well-Hydrated
Water is a singer's best friend. Actually, it should really be everyone's best friend. Depending on your weight, you should actually be drinking between approximately 64- 100 ounces of water each day (8-12 ish cups). Well-hydrated vocal folds are happy vocal folds. When you sing, your vocal folds come together and apart very quickly- sometimes hundreds of times a second! This can dry them out, so keeping them well-hydrated is super helpful in avoiding vocal fatigue!
5. Sing in a Space that is Big Enough for Your Voice
When we practice in tiny practice rooms our voices tend to work harder than they have to in order to create the amount of sound we're used to hearing ourselves produce. If you have the option, choose to warm up and practice in a bigger rather than smaller space. The ring of the bigger room will help you get the sound you want without having to push your voice.
6. Don't Push Your Voice
Everyone's voice is unique because all of our bodies and personalities are unique! This also means that two people may not necessarily naturally produce the same volume of sound. This is okay and good! If your voice is naturally on the softer side, don't try to make your voice perform like a dramatic voice! This can quickly cause fatigue and over time can cause real damage to the vocal folds. The purpose of singing is not to make the most amount of sound possible, though today, many people believe this and strive for this. There is value and beauty in all sorts of voices. Don't push your voice. Please.
7. Don't Try Too Hard to Blend
Of course, blending in an ensemble is important for overall ensemble sound quality. However, if blending comes at the expense of your voice it is absolutely not worth it! Some singers, especially developing singers, have a hard time blending their voices in the extreme parts of their ranges. Don't force the blending. The director of the ensemble can move your position in the ensemble to change the ensemble blend. You can also mouth the words without singing them if there are certain spots in the music in which you find particular difficulty blending. There is no shame in this. I have done this plenty of times! Trying too hard to blend by sacrificing your technique will absolutely cause vocal fatigue.
Take care of your voice, and your voice will take care of you! As you implement these tips, you will have greater vocal stamina and will be able to perform at your best! Plus, when you sing it will feel good because of the resonance you create and you will hear that you sound so good!
You just started lessons and you're so excited to practice your new instrument! But, do you know how to properly care for your instrument so that it stays in pristine condition? Do you know what regular maintenance it needs? If not, do not fear! I will tell you all you need to know!
Don't leave your instrument in really hot or cold places. Your instrument likes to live in room temperature areas. This is especially important if you're traveling. Don't leave it in a car that's not running (aka room temperature inside) for a long period of time. It will likely be much too hot or cold.
Do keep your instrument in a temperature-regulated space that is neither too dry nor too humid, as humidity or dryness can cause cracks in the wood. When you're traveling, bring your instrument with you when you leave the car, unless it's for a very short period of time (like 15 minutes). Make sure to keep an eye on it so that you don't leave it somewhere accidentally!
Do have a name tag with contact information on your instrument so that it may be returned to you if you somehow lose track of it. (The best plan, though, is to always know where it is!)
Don't let your instrument into the hands of people who don't know how to play it, particularly young children. This is how accidents happen.
Do keep your instrument away from pets. I have before had a student tell me that his dog damaged his violin.
Don't allow chemicals or substances to touch your instrument. This includes food, hair products, cleaners, and others. Wash your hands before you play. And, don't let little brother touch the bow with peanut butter on his hands (based on a true story...).
Do make sure that you have a case that will protect your instrument. Hard cases are great, even the hard cases with canvas-like material on the outside.
Do wipe the rosin off of the strings as you put your instrument away after each time you practice. This helps the strings last longer. You can use an old (but clean!) sock or piece of a t-shirt, microfiber cloth, or flannel cloth.
Don't use a tissue or paper towel to clean the rosin off of the strings as it may shred and fall into the instrument, which would affect the sound.
Do loosen your bow before you put it away each time. This lessons the tension of the stick, which helps your bow stay healthy.
Do change out your strings at least once a year. I advise my students to use Dominant strings or Pirastro strings.
Do get your bow re-haired about once a year, or more often if needed. The bow will gradually lose hair through use and may accumulate dust, dirt, and finger oils. Re-hairing your bow when needed helps you to always sound your best!
Don't try to fix your instrument yourself if something happens to it! String instruments are delicate and their repair requires much skill. Take it to an expert so that you don't risk permanently damaging your instrument. (Don't be the parent that super-glues the bridge to the face of the instrument if it falls off!)
Do these things and your instrument will stay in tip-top shape and you'll be able to play to your heart's content!
So, your student comes home from lessons and says that he needs to practice with a metronome this week. "Oh boy," you think, "What's a metronome, how much does it cost, and what is he supposed to do with it?". Don't panic! I've got you covered!
What is a metronome?
A metronome is a tool that keeps a steady beat. Musicians practice with a metronome to help them keep their music at a steady tempo or work up to a certain tempo (more on that soon).
For a long time, they used to look like this:
Then they looked like this:
And now, they usually look like this:
Luckily for us, they now cost next-to-nothing and many of the apps are free!
My favorite metronome app is Tonal Energy. It costs $3.99 and its AMAZING!
How does one practice with a metronome?
If a musician wants to keep her music at a steady tempo, the process is very simple! All she has to do is choose at how many bpm (beats per minute) she wants to perform, set the metronome for that number, and then play it through several times with the sound of the metronome guiding her.
The process is also simple if a musician wants to get their music up to a faster tempo. Here are the steps:
1. Set the metronome to just a little bit slower than you can play it comfortably. For example, at 60 bpm. Play the passage through until you can play it 3x in a row without mistakes.
2. Now, increase the tempo on the metronome by 5 bpm, so in our example, set the metronome to 65 bpm. Once again at this tempo, practice the passage until you can do it 3x without mistakes.
3. Now repeat step 2 until you reach your desired tempo, for example 90 bpm, always increasing the bpm by 5 each time.
This may seem tedious, but it really isn't that tedious. And let me tell you- this method gets RESULTS! After all, the saying goes:
"Don't practice until you get something right; practice until you can't get something wrong."
So, busy parent, I hope this puts your mind at ease and informs how you help your student to practice. And here's my best tip: students shouldn't wait for their teacher to tell them to practice with a metronome. Students should get into the habit of practicing with the metronome regularly.
Aaaaand like all things regarding practicing, if you treat practicing with the metronome as something fun your student gets to do, chances are that your student will be excited to do so!
Lessons start! Mary is so excited to practice her violin and she loves to play "Hot Cross Buns" for everyone who comes over to the house. No kid has ever been this excited to play the violin, it seems. She's enthusiastic in her practicing and is always begging you to let her get out her violin to play.
A few months roll by. Mary still enjoys playing the violin, this you know, but somehow you can't seem to encourage her to practice anymore. She argues with you and would much rather do anything than practice.
Sound all too familiar?
Mary is just like most children. Once the novelty of the new lessons wears off, motivation wanes, even though you both know that she likes her lessons and performing music.
So, what can you do to help your child enjoy their practicing and realize their full musical potential?
The key is to help them LOVE to practice! I'll say it again: Kids can love to practice! Yes, it's true! This happens when kids are SELF-MOTIVATED to practice. There are lots of things that parents can do to help children develop self-motivation and love for practicing.
1) Don't treat practicing like a chore or punishment. Just don't. Please.
Try not to treat practicing as a chore or something the child “has to do”. When you speak about practicing to your student, speak of it positively as if it’s something exciting that they get to do rather than have to do. This makes a big difference in the way that your child perceives practicing.
2) Help them notice the natural (and good!) instant gratification that comes from practicing.
As they practice, praise them for the things they are doing well. When you notice improvement, point it out! Help them understand that by practicing, they are receiving rewards of being able to play certain passages better and of being a better musician. This is the good kind of instant gratification! As they practice, small things will improve. Help them love their small improvements.
3) Motivate them with performance opportunities.
Young students, especially, may be motivated by small performance opportunities at home. When Grandma comes over, ask your student if they would like to perform a song for her. Grandma will love it and your child will love performing for her. Some students have natural performance anxiety. If this is the case, do not force your child to perform, as this may link unpleasant feelings/memories with making music.
4) Help them to not feel overwhelmed by their practicing.
If twenty minutes of practice seems like too much in your kiddo's mind, break it up into segments. Instead of twenty minutes all in a row, try three segments of approximately six minutes, or two segments of ten minutes. Some kids will really get into the math and some will just be excited about the shorter, more manageable chunks of time. Remember that some practicing is always better than no practicing.
5) Help them to feel in charge of their practicing.
Allow your child to choose when he practices. Perhaps you give him three options: right after school, right before dinner, or right after dinner. When he feels that he is more in charge of his practicing, he will be more excited to do it.
6) Let them teach you.
Kids love reversing roles and getting to be the teacher. Ask your child why she is playing something a certain way or why the notes on the page look how they do. What's the meaning of that funny Italian word on the music? Make sure not to ask in a condescending tone, but in a way that allows her to teach you. Likely, she will love the opportunity to demonstrate her knowledge!
7) Be careful with reward systems.
Reward systems sometimes work well, though nothing too elaborate should be used. Maybe the student can bake cookies if they practiced for at least the minimum amount of time during a given week. Maybe the student gets a sticker each day they practice all of their songs. We really want to be careful that students don't get too fixated on artificial rewards and instead we want to help students see and be motivated by the natural rewards of practicing- becoming a better musician!
8) Switch up activities.
If your child seems bored with their current instrument after a few years, offer them the opportunity to switch instruments if they want to. Trying something new brings back the spark of excitement and helps students feel more in charge of their music education. Just make sure that your student has had a chance to really give their instrument a good try before trying something new.
Implement these strategies at home and your child will come to value music-making for its inherent rewards. I once was like Mary, never excited to practice even though I loved making music. Thankfully, my parents were patient and helped me see the rewards of practicing and making music. Eventually, I became self-motivated to practice. I promise there is hope and that your kid will find that spark, too.