Tag Archives: benefits of singing

Why I Love Teaching Adults

Man singingI wrote a post a few weeks ago about why I like teaching kids, and there are a lot of reasons. Now, it’s time to tell you why I love teaching adults!

 

Adult voices are settled and ready for intensive training

Once you’re in your mid-twenties, your body has settled into it’s adult state. This means that adult voices are more stable, and can be trained more intensively. That voice is also the one that adults will have for the rest of their lives, so it’s much easier to work into developing that persons’ particular vocal range and colour to develop a repertoire that will last a lifetime. As a wise blogger recently said, a true soprano prodigy is about 24, not 12 – adult singers are in the best vocal form of their lives!

Adults are more regular practisers

Most adults don’t take up music because their mum or dad thought they would be good at it. They take it up because they chose to invest their own hard-earned cash in a new hobby. When you make the choice to spend your own money on something, your work ethic goes up massively. Even students who work in very demanding jobs seem to find far more time for practice than kids who finish school at half-past three and have only a few scraps of homework to do.

Adults ask great questions

I love the conversations I have with my adult students. We can start off on one topic and end up somewhere completely different. I rarely explain the science of harmonic sequences to kids, but adults love to know not only what is right, but why aspects of music theory work.

Adults constantly push themselves

Kids rarely have any idea of where they’re going with music, and although some get frustrated with their progress, most of them are happy to just enjoy the journey. Adults, however, tend to have goals in mind and are constantly measuring themselves against other people, and their own existing achievements. In music, this means the best adult students are always pushing themselves to do better. It’s actually really nice to sit down for a lesson with an adult student and find that they have made startling progress, or to be able to praise them for their hard work (rather than nag them because they’re not getting better!).

Adults are partners in their lessons

The adult students that really are a joy to teach are the ones I have who are partners in the lesson. They invest in their learning by coming up with ideas, asking questions and sharing their insights. Kids see their music teacher as an authority figure, and either obey or play up. Adults are much more likely to view their music teacher as a mentor, guiding them rather than leading them.

Adults are often more rewarding to teach than kids because of their higher personal investment levels, but I love teaching all my students, no matter what their age or stage.

Are you an adult thinking about taking up music? If you’re thinking about it, why not contact me to arrange a consultation lesson? It’s never too late to take up music!

Why I Love Teaching Kids

I love teaching, partly because each and every student is unique. You never know what you’re going to get. Both kids and adults come with their own special joys that make them very different to work with. This is what I love about teaching music to kids.

Kids are unpredictable

You can be fairly sure that most adult lessons will more or less be similar every week. The late ones will be late, the hardworking ones will have worked hard, and the forgetful ones will have forgotten something! Part of being an adult is learning and developing consistency of character and behaviour. Kids haven’t got there yet. Some days, they’re bouncing off the ceiling, others they’re tired and unmotivated. Even when they’re fairly average, you never know when they’re going to turn around and say something totally bizarre, or incredibly insightful. Lessons with kids are never the same twice!

Kids are ambitious and take challenge in their stride

Most kids don’t really have much experience of failure, and none of them have learned the life-lesson of adulthood that ambitions have to be tempered with realism. Kids want to be actors, pop stars, astronauts and superheroes – they have no idea about gas bills and council tax. This means kids tend to take all the challenges of music like taking exams in their stride. Everything in their life is about learning, so they just take learning music as normal. It’s delightful to see them go forward with a level of confidence adults rarely exhibit. Give kids a challenge and they’ll almost always rise to it.

Kids are endlessly inventive

Adult life tends to crush creativity. We’re so busy keeping afloat and doing what we have to, that creativity is often squeezed into small portions of time, or applied to very practical problems. Kids don’t have this issue – so they’re always coming up with new ideas and thoughts. I always find I learn new ways of looking at music from the kids I teach because they just think in a more creative way than I do.

Kids are full of potential

With adults, you usually know where their musical journey is headed. Sometimes, one will surprise you, but most of them enjoy music as a hobby, or are already working professionally (or have ambitions to). Kids aren’t even close to a career plan, so you never know where their musical journey could take them. Some will go on to study music at university or conservatoire, and others will take non-academic routes to a music career. Many will find a non-musical career, but hopefully, they’ll take both the primary and secondary skills learned from music lessons into those careers and succeed at them. The delightful thing is, when you start the journey of music lessons with kids, you have no idea where they’re going to end up in the end.

Those are just a few of the reasons I love teaching kids!

If you have a child who is interested in singing lessons and you live in the Edinburgh area, why not arrange a trial lesson for them with me? I offer specialist tuition for primary aged children which develops all-round musicianship and develops vocal technique in a safe way for young voices. High school aged children are able to take formal singing lessons.

Five Reasons to Take Up Music

… And none of them are “It makes you smarter”!

1. Learning music is fun!

I never have so much fun in the week as during music lessons. Demonstrating techniques in singing often involves doing really silly things, and this means lots of laughter. Once you get going, you can also enjoy making experimental music, playing great games to learn music theory and even the very act of playing can be fun and joyful!

2. Learning music can be really satisfying

Especially as an adult, sometimes life can seem a bit flat. Music brings a gentle upwards trajectory of improvement that’s really satisfying once you’re away from school. For those still in education, it makes a really nice change from essay writing and maths, and doesn’t have the pressure of constant mandatory exams (although, exams are an option)

3. Music is a great stress reliever

Stressed out, but think yoga and meditation are for hippies? Learning a musical instrument can give you access to a space where you can let go of all your worries and focus on something else that’s calming. It’s quite similar to the effect of running (without the sweat, and the rain) or swimming (without the water and the chlorine), where your mind calms because you’re focussed. You don’t even have to have been playing more than a few weeks before this effect kicks in. Once you get better, playing your favourite angsty piece of music is also a great way to process painful feelings.

4. Music brings people together

Singers rehearsingThere’s nothing like music to build relationships. Whether it’s playing Christmas carols for your family over the Festive Season (and yes, that is looming large for us musicians already!), forming a band with your friends, or joining a choir/orchestra, music is something that bonds human beings into community. Music is an active demonstration of how we should live together, everyone taking different parts, but those parts make beautiful harmony together.

5. Music makes you happy

Music is fun, it brings people together, it’s satisfying and it relieves stress – of course, it makes us happier. There are numerous studies which link music to faster recovery times from physical illness [sources: LloydWiley-Blackwell], and improved mental health [sources: Parker-PopeBerger]. Anecdotal evidence from the many musicians I know corroborates this. I certainly find music makes me happier, and I always feel better for half an hour in my music studio playing the piano and/or singing.

And if this wasn’t enough, music does seem to correlate with better academic skills, and has side benefits such as developing creativity, concentration, focus, perseverance, non-verbal communication, problem solving, dedication and accountability.

If you want to discover how music can improve your life and are based in or near Edinburgh, why not book a trial singing lesson with me? 

How the Voice Works – A Guide for Singers

Following on from the post last week about how breathing works, here’s a quick guide to how the voice works.

There are four parts to the voice the air pressure system, the vibratory system, the resonating system, and the modifying system. Each of these works to create the sounds we make when speaking and singing.

Candle-flame-no-reflectionWe’ve already looked at the air pressure system – it’s the diaphragm and intercostal muscles that pull air into the lungs and then control the outflow of air. You can test it! Imagine there’s a candle in front of you or use the one on the right. With your first breath out, blow over the candle very gently so that you would make the flame flicker, but not go out. Now, with your next breath, blow a strong puff of air as though you’re going to blow the candle out. Manage it? Congratulations – you can modify the air pressure coming out of your lungs!

You can see how the lungs connect to the throat and mouth in this diagram:

So let’s look now at the vibratory system. This is what turns the air into sound – at this stage, it’s just any old sound, though. To create sound, your body has vocal folds (or vocal chords as they used to be called). These are flappy bits of flesh which are normally relaxed when you breathe in an out. When you choose to speak, your body uses muscles to create tension, and the air rushing past them makes them vibrate. The closest analogy in the musical world is the way in which blowing into the reed on a clarinet or an oboe produces sound. If you watch the video below, you can see the vocal folds vibrating as the poor person with the camera down their throat tries to sing for us…

balloon-squeakerOne way in which I demonstrate this for my students is by getting a balloon and blowing it up so it’s full of air. Then I pull the neck of the balloon taught and let the air out – it makes a very loud, but unfocused noise! Try it for yourself next time you are blowing up balloons for a party.

Singers learn to adjust the muscles around their vocal folds and the larynx that protects them so that the quality of the sound is clearer. Learning to sing also involves exercising these muscles to make them stronger and more flexible which increases the range. Because we can’t normally feel these muscles, it can involve some creative exercises and lots of imagination!

Now the body has made sound, we need to make the sound louder. The noise made by vocal folds is quite small, so the body has a resonating system to amplify the sound. Many instruments have a resonating system – for example, the body of a violin or acoustic guitar, or the long length of the tube on a trombone.

In humans, our resonating system is our mouth and nose, or “oral and nasal cavities”. Just as the body of a string instrument allows sound waves to bounce around and get bigger inside it, so the space in our mouth and nose allows the sound from our vocal folds to get larger. You can feel the effect a little if you hum single note in the lower half of your voice. As you hum, relax your lips until you can feel them vibrating. That vibration is the effect of your mouth magnifying the sound into much larger waves.

Part of singing training is making use of this resonance to not only amplify the sound but to modify it’s quality so that it has a lovely tone. We can do this by adjusting the shape of our mouths – lowering the tongue, and raising the soft palate, for example. We might also want to limit the nasal resonance of sound for classical singing – though if we’re singing a country song, some of that nasal sound can be useful!

Last of all, the human body is designed to be able to shape the sound we make into distinct forms that allow us to form words.This is the modifying system. Every time you form a word, you use your lips, tongue and teeth to form and pronounce different phonics. Babies are born with the capacity to make all the sounds used in all the languages in the world, but they very quickly copy adults to learn what sounds they need to be able to use to communicate in the language their family speaks. Young children will start to sound like their parents, not just in language, but in accent because they copy the sounds around them. That’s why teens are so easily mistaken for their parents on the phone!

Here’s a labelled diagram showing all the parts of the resonating and modifying systems:

Head and cavities

You can experiment very easily with this modifying system by comparing the letter P and T. P, when pronounced as “puh” uses the lips to control the sound. T, when pronounced as “tuh” uses the tongue at the roof of the mouth. We also use our soft palate (the soft part of the roof of your mouth at the back) and the glottis (the flap that closes the airway when we swallow) to form different sounds.

Singing lessons help singers to learn to form letters in a way that still allows the sound of their voice to resonate properly, and doesn’t change the air pressure or vibrations of their vocal fold. This can involve learning to modify vowels, for example, to make the mouth and throat more open on a high note. Compare singing the sound “ah” to the sound “ee” for an example.

Each exercise a singer practices aims to develop control over different parts of these systems. Great singers have developed excellent control over these systems so that their lungs produce well controlled pressure, their vocal folds vibrate free from strain that might damage them, they can direct sound to the places of best resonance and then modify it to communicate not only sound but words to the audience. A good teacher will develop all of these skills in their students.

Want to know more about how to make the most of these vocal systems? Why not take singing lessons? Discover Singing provides lessons based in Leith, Edinburgh.

Asthma and Singing

As someone who was diagnosed with asthma around the age of 7, it’s been my life longer than singing has. My symptoms are generally mild, and I’ve never been hospitalised, but my diagnosis does still affect my day to day functioning.

Asthma InhalersA few years ago, I went to my routine asthma appointment and discussed my medication as usual. As a result of the appointment, my asthma nurse transitioned me onto a new daily inhaler. The new inhaler helped with my symptoms as expect, but it also had the effect of almost instantly improving my top range! I gained three or four extra notes almost overnight.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, firstly, because if you suffer from asthma, getting the right medical treatment can make a huge difference to your singing. Secondly, I genuinely believe that my singing lessons have helped improve my asthma.

Asthmatic Singers: Getting the Right Medication

If you are diagnosed as asthmatic, when did you last see your asthma nurse? In the UK, all asthmatics should see the asthma nurse at their local GP surgery at least once a year. For under 16s, that should be every six months. If you’ve not seen anyone about your asthma in more than a year, the first thing is to give your GP a call, and see your nurse. It takes 15 minutes a year, and could save your life.

Asthma UK LogoAsthma UK has a short test they’ve called “The Triple A Test” which can help you determine if you are at a high risk of an asthma attack. However, if you find yourself struggling to breathe, or getting wheezing or coughing symptoms, you should make an appointment to see the asthma nurse or your GP rather than waiting until your routine checkup.

Singers use their lungs as the “power” for their sound, and so all singers need to take good care of their lungs. I’m a big advocate of the important of a healthy lifestyle as part of good singing practice. For asthmatics, this means we need to be on the right medication.

As singers, it’s also important to pay attention to your breath control. If you are struggling to sing through phrases, or need to snatch breaths more often, it is worth making an appointment to see your GP/asthma nurse. If you are newly diagnosed, tell your GP that you sing. If you’ve just taken up singing lessons, let your asthma nurse know at your next appointment. Part of the care you should get at an asthma check-up is a personalised asthma management plan, and your singing should be considered when making that plan.

Why Singing Can Help With Asthma

One of the core things singing lessons focus on is breathing. Part of learning to sing is learning to control the muscles that help us breath, and to build strength in our lungs. This is really important for asthmatics as it improves general lung health.

Singers rehearsingMany singers also find that practicing breathing helps when they feel that first indication of their asthma “flaring up”. While singing techniques are unlikely to help in a full-blown asthma attack, they can help to slow down the cycle of panic which can worsen asthma symptoms. Deeper breathing also helps to get more oxygen into the lungs, which means less gasping for breath.

Although there’s been little research directly into what Asthma UK calls “complimentary therapies”, they do say that “some people with asthma find that some complementary therapies and treatments help to relieve stress which can be a trigger for asthma. Others have been shown to help reduce asthma symptoms, such as breathlessness.” Singing is likely to fall under both of these categories. I have certainly found that using singing breathing techniques have been helpful, both to keep me calm, and to help my symptoms pass (alongside using my inhaler).

Of course, singing lessons are not designed to replace medical treatment, and singers should never stop taking their asthma medication without being told to by their GP or asthma nurse. However, if you’re asthmatic, don’t be afraid that your diagnosis might prevent you from succeeding at singing. It’s far more likely that singing will benefit your asthma.

If you want to know more about controlling and manging asthma, please visit Asthma UK’s website, or call their asthma nurse helpline on 0800 121 62 55.

For international readers, a simple google search will usually bring up your local organisation, but here are links for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, The Asthma Society of Canada and the National Asthma Council Australia, all of whom have advice on getting treatment and managing the condition.