Q&A: What’s up with these crackly high notes?

Question:

I’ve been practicing the trills and “MUMs” and don’t think there is necessarily anything wrong (hopefully) but sometimes when I get past like an A [5], it gets crackly and I’ve noticed my voice sometimes will ever overshoot to whistle tones (which I don’t even know how that’s possible).

Was just wondering if you had any recommendations for practicing…I really have never had a voice teacher that vocalized me this high consistently so maybe its just uncharted territory and discovering how to sing up there, but thought I’d reach out! Maybe its something I’m eating or doing? I rarely drink or smoke so I know that isn’t the problem. Do you recommend that I get scoped just for safety?

Answer:

First off, I think what you’re experiencing sounds pretty normal, especially because you are new to using this part of your voice on a regular basis. That A5 is your third passage- it’s a very common spot for things to “fall apart” for a time while you work on connecting your chest and middle voice to your true soprano head voice. I’ve worked with many women who break into their Mariah Carey notes before they get it put together. So for now, don’t fear!

There’s a few things I’d recommend trying out over the next few days. First- have you tried vocalizing through a straw? I love this because it really does require very little air flow and keeps your cords together (adducted) as you vocalize. Try blowing through a straw into a cup of water. See here, and here.

I’d also try vocalizing on an NG (like the word SINGGGG), have we done this together?

Give it another week and see how you feel. I’m a huge fan of going to get scoped, so if you have the time and $$ to do it, please do. It’s always a good idea. Here’s who I recommend:

Lucian Sulica, may be difficult to get into see on short notice:
https://voice.weill.cornell.edu/about-us/lucian-sulica-md

Paul Kwak, Laryngologist at NYU:
http://nyulangone.org/doctors/1184937914/paul-e-kwak

Keep me posted, and see you soon!

Q&A: Singing With A Cold

Welcome to my new Q&A series, featuring real questions I receive from students via email

QUESTION

Hi Chelsea!
A couple of the “Annie” cast members and I came down with a nasty chest cold last week, and doing the show has been a struggle. I lost my voice last Friday, due to all the coughing on top of singing, and went on vocal rest for a few days. My voice has since come back, but it still just does not quite feel strong enough to sing Star to Be. I have been flipping into my head voice to sing the song, and mouthing the words to the ensemble songs so that I don’t blow my voice back out. I’m still coughing a lot, which I think is putting a lot of stress on my cords. My voice does feel almost 100% normal, but I still want to take it easy. I was wondering if you have any tips as to how I can ease my way back into singing the song full out without hurting myself.
Best,
Isabella

 

ANSWER

Yuck! I’m so sorry, I hate how those things end up going around an entire cast. Good for you for being careful and cautious, that is so important when trying to recover while still having to perform.

The first thing I’d suggest is to do a vocal check-in every morning and see how the swelling is before warming up. This is a great video that talks about that: https://youtu.be/zit6I7EPMto

Then I’d spent lots of time warming up with semi-occluded sounds like the lip buzz, or even better, vocalizing through a straw into a cup of water: https://youtu.be/0xYDvwvmBIM

I’d then sing the song on some of the exercises we use like NAY or NUH/MUM, substituting those for the words. That will be easier on your voice then just blasting into the actual lyrics and hopefully set you up for good vocal balance once you do end up singing the lyrics.

Hydrate, hydrate, sleep lots, and cool down after your show with the straw again.

Good luck! Keep me posted. If you want to do a little lesson/check in via FaceTime soon, lmk! Otherwise, you got this! I hope you’re through the worst of it 👍🏻

Student Spotlight: What Paola learned from THE WOLVES

Being in a successful Off-Broadway play for a few months is equally exciting and tiring, but then add the fact that you are playing a teenage soccer player- yelling, running and stretching all over the stage and you have a recipe for utter exhaustion! Amazingly though, Paola handled it all with ease and grace. Check out what CWVS student Paola Abreu learned from her experience in the cast of THE WOLVES at Lincoln Center.

What did you learn about yourself and what your body needs over the course of rehearsals and performances?

It’s funny.  I think that every time I do a show I relearn preparation skills.  So I’d say that I was reminded that every day is different; some days my body felt warm already, and all I needed was a quick foam rollout and lip trills and I was ready to go, other days I would need a solid 20 minutes to reset, breath, and get juicy.  But everyday asked me to tune in to what was necessary to be present for the work to be done. Same goes with the cool-down (which we performers often forget to do).  After some shows, icing and self massage was super necessary, some shows a hot tea and a warm bath, some shows I just needed to go out and dance.  

How did your vocal and physical training/preparation support you in the run of THE WOLVES?

Oh well vocal and physical training is acting training.  There is no way that I would have been able to efficiently, wholly, and generously tell this story without the gifts training taught me.  The voice and body work together.  After all, your voice is in your body!  When your body is warm and ready, often so is your voice.  Learning how to tune in and bring myself to relaxed, attentive openness allowed me to be a vessel for the words and the story to come through me, rather than forcing things to happen the way I think they should.  If you have been blessed with a solid piece of writing, the way that Sarah DeLappe blessed this script, then the work is already done.  You just need to be able to get your body, heart, and brain to a place where the work can easily move through you and shape you throughout the rehearsal process.  Then when the play starts running, the rest of the work is being present, open, generous, and trusting that the story already lives in you, and nothing more need be done.  

 

Read the review of THE WOLVES here.

The Case for High Notes

Are you trying to get in shape? Lose a few pounds perhaps? Feel a bit more svelte and slim? I’ve got the perfect workout plan for you!

Squats.

Yep, squats! Just that. No need for any other exercises or cardio, just squats!

Just kidding. You knew I was kidding, right?

While squats are GREAT for you, if you’re looking for a total body makeover and improved health, squats are only going to get you so far. Same thing if you only ever did bicep curls and ignored the triceps on the opposite side of your arm. Likely you’ll look and feel quite unbalanced.

Guess where I’m going with this- it’s the same with your voice. I’ve met a fair amount of singers who only want, or really ‘need’, to sing in quite a small range, perhaps an octave and a half. For men, this means they could quite possibly stay in chest voice that entire time. And when that’s the case, issues arise.

That’s because our voice is made up of two major muscle groups, chest voice muscles that keep our vocal folds thick and short, and head voice muscles that stretch and thin our folds*. The thinning and stretching process allows our voices to ascend in pitch. At any given time, both of these muscle groups are working to some degree (otherwise we couldn’t change pitch at all) but often one group is doing most of the work.

If you get stuck in the mentality that you only sing low notes and therefore only need to exercise low notes, you are doing your voice a total disservice and may even cause unnecessary harm and distress. Just like the rest of our body, our voices are made up of opposing muscle groups- both need to be worked to have a HEALTHY voice! Without weekly, nay, DAILY working of both low and high registers, you will be left struggling to transition from chest to head voice, with funky bumps in the road all the way up and down. Your sound may even completely cut out or be very breathy in your middle or top registers. And I promise even your low notes will lack the vibrancy and flexibility that you could achieve with daily work in your upper register.

What to do? Get studying with a voice teacher who encourages you to sing through two+ octaves if you are a male (a high C is a VERY reasonable goal to vocalize to!) and three+ octaves if you are female. On your own, try semi-occluded vocal exercises like a tongue or lip trill on longer scales throughout your range. Try some headier vowels like EE and OO. You may need to take some time just stretching our your head voice before you can start blending it with your chest. That’s fine, but move towards connecting the registers as quickly as possible. Isolating one register or another is not a good long-term goal.

GET SINGING! And singing HIGH!

 

*If you want to get science-y, those muscles are called the thyroarytenoid and cricothyroid, respectively.

Who’s On Your Team? Find an ENT!

Want to be a professional singer? It’s time to get the right professionals on your team. In addition to working regularly with a voice teacher, I recommend developing a relationship with a Laryngologist – an Ear Nose and Throat doctor who specializes in the voice. I recommend going in and getting a ‘base-line’ scope- the doctor will take video and pictures of your vocal folds ideally when you are feeling your most healthy. Then, if any future vocal issues arise, you and your doctor can refer back to your ‘base-line’ exam and really see what the difference is.

Shouldn’t a voice teacher be able to fix anything that’s wrong in my voice? My friend and mentor, Guy Babusek, shared the following thoughts:

“I have witnessed voice teachers in the past saying things like “I don’t hear any nodules, so you’re fine,” “I can give you some therapeutic exercises that will heal your vocal damage,” or “My diagnosis is you have a polyp and need some vocal rest.” These kinds of comments are always quite concerning to me.

While a voice teacher may have some medical knowledge, a voice teacher (unless otherwise licensed) is not a doctor, and therefore is not qualified to diagnose or treat any medical condition, including that of the voice.

While it’s true certain vocal exercises can have amazing therapeutic effects, I recognize I am not a therapist, I am a voice teacher. Only within the confines of the protocol a doctor has outlined, am I able to recommend vocal exercises to a student who has been suffering with a disorder of the voice.

Please remember, a voice teacher who suggests any type of diagnosis or treatment of a voice disorder is NOT qualified to do so (unless they happen to also be a licensed physician). Any student who is worried they have a disorder of the voice,  should get him or herself to a laryngologist’s office.” …read more here

Looking for an ENT in the NY area? Contact me- I have some great docs I highly recommend! Having issues with your speaking voice or need vocal therapy? I’d love to refer you to a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) I trust.

I’m Sick! Should I Cancel My lesson?

Last week I jumped on Facebook live to chat about what to do if you’re under the weather and feel like you should cancel your lesson. Hop on over to my Facebook page to see that in full. And we’ve already talked about sickness and singing here on the blog.

Just here for the highlights? Here’s what you need to remember if you’re thinking about cancelling your lesson.

  1. Know the cancellation policy and be prepared to pay for the lesson. For me and my studio, I send out my studio policies after your very first lesson- which includes my cancellation policy:

    For in-person lessons, if you make a cancellation within 48 hours of the lesson, you are responsible for paying the cost of the studio rental fee, which varies from $17 to $22 an hour. This also applies to re-scheduling.

    If you make a cancellation within 24 hours of the lesson, you are responsible for paying the total cost of the lesson.

    Sickness comes up, and I try to be as understanding as possible with my students as sickness arises. However, I hold all my students to this policy and appreciate their understanding of it. After all, they’ve known about it since day one!

  2. Feel something coming on? Cancel while you can. Back to the above- if you feel something coming on, chances are that stuffy nose will get worse before it gets better. Cancel before 48 hours and ensure you don’t have to pay any lesson fees. Be in communication with me- I want you to take care of yourself and get well!
  3. Have a show tonight? Audition tomorrow? Maybe don’t cancel. If you absolutely have to go on stage tonight or have an audition tomorrow that cannot be rescheduled, it may be useful for you to keep your lesson. I work with under the weather professionals often- it is valuable to learn how to warm up and cool down your voice specifically for when you are sick, and also how to get through a piece with congestion or slight swelling in your cords. *This is NOT a long term solution! Overusing your voice when you are not well can cause long term vocal damage. Some rare times, however, you may need to know how to sing when you are not at your best.
  4. There are other things we can do in a lesson besides sing! Come in and listen to and find new repertoire for your audition book. Let’s do a listening lesson, where we can analyze and assess other singer’s voices and find application for yourself. If you’ve already paid for the lesson, there are other valuable things we can do.
  5. You know your body- make the call for yourself. You are responsible for you and your voice- period! If you know you need time to rest and recover, please do. Be prepared to pay the full lesson fee if this is the case. If you have a stuffy nose, but your voice is unaffected, come on in and sing. It is your call and your voice! You only get one, so take care of it.

 

My TOP TWO Tips for Audition Preparation

Ready, Set, Audition Season!

Here are my TOP TWO most important tips for the weeks leading up to all your big auditions! Your confidence, preparation, and talent will score you parts and acceptance letters- but these two crucial self-care tips will play a big part in your performance at these critical auditions!

HYDRATEOB.10629.DIG

Imagine your voice is a potted plant, resting on your windowsill. You’re supposed to water it every day, right?  However, If you haven’t, by the time your plant is wilting and turning brown it is TOO LATE to water it! You may try, and the plant may be revived eventually, but it’s not going to perk up until DAYS after that first watering.

The lesson? Excessively water/hydrate yourself in the 3-5 days leading up to an audition! In fact, get in the habit of excessively hydrating yourself every day as your responsibility as a serious vocalist. All the water you drink on audition day won’t do a thing to hydrate and plump your vocal cords, so drink up days beforehand!

Avoid caffeine. I’m serious! AVOID it! Caffeine will dry out your voice, pretty much counteracting all the awesome hydrating you’re doing.

Know that nothing you drink is actually touching your vocal cords (if it did, our lungs would fill with fluid every time you drank something!). If you want the biggest bang for your buck in a pinch, steam. Take a long hot shower, lean over a boiling pot of water and inhale, or get yourself a fancy steamer like this one. Again, start this regiment days and weeks prior to your actual audition(s).

A student of mine just told me about this sweet app, Plant Nanny, that gives you reminders throughout the day to drink up! For iPhone and Android.

VOCALIZE

I don’t know many runners who have had much success starting their training the day before a marathon. The same goes for singers. If you’re not already stretching, exercising, and balancing your voice through purposeful, daily vocalizing (the kind of meaningful exercises I do with you in each of our voice lessons), then you will not be in peak condition on audition day!

Sure, you can vocalize just that morning and your voice may feel warmed up. But with daily practice (much more than just singing your songs!) days and weeks in advance of the audition, you will gain range, flexibility, and balance. And who doesn’t want more of all that on the big day?

Get into a daily regimen of vocalizing. Again, who would skip track practice the week before a big meet? NO ONE.simple-yoga-stretches-for-relieving-chronic-sciatica-pain

Start to think of yourself as the professional you aim to be, and get responsible for your voice! You are quite literally the only one who can give it what it needs—you can’t send it into the shop to be ‘tuned up’—you get to do that!

Why Should I Warm Up My Voice?

Singing is a physical activity, so why do so many singers not take the time to warm up properly before an audition, rehearsal, or performance?

I don’t know the answer to that. But to encourage you to get into your own warm-up routine, here are my TOP TWO reasons why you should take the time to warm up.

Avoid injury

Every single athlete takes the time to warm up their body before practice or competition. Our bodies need to prepare in order to perform our best. This is the same with our voices! You know how you feel in the morning when you first get out of bed? Do you really want to walk on stage sounding like that?

I didn’t think so.

Imagine a Usain Bolt rolling out of bed a few minutes before one of his Olympic sprints. He doesn’t take the time to stretch, work out his muscles, or mentally “get in the zone” for the race. Chances are, no matter how talented of an athlete he may be, he could incur an injury. Cold muscles= risk for injury.

It takes 5-20 minutes to warm up your voice. It can take days, weeks, or months to recover from a vocal injury. Do the math and do your warm-ups!

Find Vocal Balance

I was recently invited to sing four songs in a concert my friend Elisabeth was putting on. Two were duets, two were solos, and all four had a very different stylistic feel to them. Within these four pieces I needed to make a wide variety of sounds.

Warming up with intentional vocal exercises can help you find “home base,” or vocal balance. With my voice in good working order, I could springboard from one style to another because I took the time to find connection and balance. Without first finding vocal balance, your voice may feel squeezed, pushed, or overly breathy, none of which are feelings that will lead to a successful performance!  Find vocal balance and sing anything.

What is your warm up routine? If you don’t usually warm up, I’m curious- why not?

Singing with Sickness- What to Do?

Over the weekend I slept poorly, woke up having lost most of my voice, and then went to church to teach music to the children in our congregation for two hours. The result? Absolutely no voice the next day! I can’t remember the last time I lost my voice, and since I am hardly ever ill, I usually enjoy being in full voice all the time. But for those times when I/you ARE sick, what’s a singer to do!?

giphy.gif

  • There’s a difference between being sick, and feeling tired. Should you still come to your voice lesson when you are tired? YES! Because true professionals learn to manage their voices under less than ideal circumstances. Learning how to perform when you’re not feeling 100% is crucial to reducing anxiety and increasing your chances for success.
  • Should you vocalize when you are sick? It depends. With a serious illness like laryngitis or strep throat, absolutely not. If you have a cold that is living in your throat, take it easy. Your vocal cords are already inflamed; vocalizing may cause undue strain on them, risking even greater inflammation.
  • So when should I vocalize if I’m not feeling great? For me, when I woke up with less than my full voice, I worked through some easy exercises, i.e. the lip buzz, sirens on EE and OO, and I used a MM sound to try to re-connect to my chest voice. If you have mild allergies or a head cold, continue with your vocalizing practice.
  • Listen to your body! If something feels uncomfortable or straining, STOP!
  • Stay hydrated, drink herbal tea and honey, suck on some natural cough drops, and rest up! Get some more tips here.
  • Lastly, If you have a gig tonight, and you must sing, there are things you can do to get help. Call your ENT for an emergency prescription for a steroid. However know, that the day after, you will likely have lost your voice and need time to recover.