Hydration Help!

It's no surprise to anyone that knows me that I'm all about hydration. I think it must run in the family because my baby brother is currently starting his own hydration supplement company, which is awesome. I'm all about this because constant hydration is really necessary to keep your vocal folds vibrating efficiently. As soon as your folds are dry, you need more air pressure to get them moving, which can lead to problems if you're constantly pushing to get your folds in action. Also, the body has a bit of a hierarchy for hydration and your vocal folds are unfortunately pretty low on that priority list. Little things like, oh, the brain, lungs, and heart are at the top of the list! Once you mix in the dry winter air with the very dry heat from your heater, you have a recipe for a hydration disaster! Hydration is always important, but it's even more so in the winter months. Here are some of my favorite hydration, humidification, and steaming tips, along with the products that I recommend to make your hydration easier.

Hydrate
Nothing beats drinking water. I recommend a reusable water bottle that you take with you everyday. Refill it as often as possible. Favorites: I love my Hydroflask because it keeps my water cool, but literally any bottle out there that holds water will do.

Have trouble drinking enough water in a day or curious about how much you actually drink? Download an app to help track your intake.
Favorites: Plant Nanny becuase there are cute plants you get to water! Having a bottle and an app not enough? Consider the Hidrate Spark. It's a reusable water bottle that syncs to an app and not only keeps track of how much you physically drink, but the bottle glows when it's been too long without water. This is next level hydration!

Do you sweat a lot? Consider supplementing your water with electrolyte supplements. This helps your body recover faster after activity. There’s no research about these and the vocal folds, but if you’re sweating a lot in a show or at the gym, your body will thank you! Favorites: MyHy, Nuun Tablets

Humidification
During the winter, I can't tell you how many people come to me and say, "I'm not sick, but I wake up with a sore throat every morning." This, my darlings, is from lack of humidification. If you're sleeping in dry winter air mixed with heat (especially NYC radiators), then you're breathing in dry air all night. This leads to dryness and often a scratchy throat. You need a humidifier running anytime you're spending time in your room, and definitely while you're sleeping. You can buy them for as little as about $30 at your local pharmacy. However, it's important to note that the cheaper they are, the more maintenance they usually require. If you can avoid it, don't buy a humidifier that requires a replaceable filter. The filter just sits in water and creates mold. That's nasty. If you're traveling, consider a small travel humidifier that uses a water bottle as the tank. Favorites: I love the brand Pure Guardian. The tanks are treated and don't need to be cleaned. They have multiple sizes and many of them do both warm and cool mist. These humidifiers are my jam!

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Steamers
People often don't realize that humidifiers and steamers are different things and that they're both needed. The humidifier moistens the air, while steamers are meant for direct inhalation. This is the only way to directly moisten the vocal folds. I've tried a lot of different steamers and created a pros and cons list for you.


Option 1: You can get a Vicks steamer or equivalent store brand from your local pharmacy and it works well. I used one for years and enjoyed it.

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Pros:
-It’s affordable and accessible-you can get it at most stores.
-You can use any type of water in the device.

Cons:
-It uses boiling water, which can be dangerous and isn’t as effective as mist.
-You have to set it on a table and bend over to use it.
-It has to be plugged in.


Option 2: The Mypurmist corded steamer. This steamer is top notch and makes a huge difference when you are super congested or have chronic allergy and sinus issues. It's pretty popular amongst singers for how effective it is.

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Pros:
-It uses mist, which has finer particles and penetrates deeper than steam-this is a game changer for allergies, asthma, and sinus issues.
-You can control the level of heat and mist that comes out of it.
-It has a strap that allows you to steam without holding the device.

Cons:
-You have to use distilled water ONLY in the device. It will break if you use other water. Luckily, distilled water is easy to find at grocery stores and pharmacies.
-It has to be plugged in.
-Price. It runs between $125 and $150
-I’ve had two break, BUT the company replaced them bother right away, no questions asked.


Option 3: Cordless Mypurmist. This is the cordless version of the above steamer. It’s similar, except that it has no cord.

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Pros:
-Same as the corded Mypurmist-it uses mist and you can control the amount of mist that comes out
-Cordless so you can take it with you and steam anywhere.
-There is also a strap for hands free use.

Cons:
-You have to use special water pods that can only be purchased from Mypurmist. To me, this is a huge bummer that makes this product pretty unaccessible.
-It’s cordless, but not small. This means you can travel with it, but it still takes up space.
-It’s even pricier than the corded version at about $180.


Option 4: The mypocketmist steamer. This is a portable steamer that is truly portable. It’s handheld and can be literally put in your pocket.

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Pros:
-It’s super small and very travel friendly. It is truly a portable steamer that you can keep in your backpack, purse, dance bag, pocket, etc.
-It uses bottled water or boiled tap water, both of which are easy to come by. It needs the mineral content to work, so distilled water is out. If you travel with it, you can easily by a bottle of water at the airport and then steam on the plane. If you're at home you can just boil some water to use.
-It comes with both a mouthpiece and a mask so you can steam just into the mouth or both through the mouth and nose.
-It’s more affordable at $85

Cons:
-It’s cool mist, which some people don’t find as effective.
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The mist stream isn’t as strong as the more powerful mypurmist devices, although you do still get 10 minutes of steaming.
-There is no strap so you have to hold it while steaming.
-$85 is cheaper than the mypurmist cordless, but still not cheap.




So what's the best option??
I think everyone should have a sturdy home steamer that works really well (Vicks or the Mypurmist options) and then if you travel a lot or need steaming on the go, invest in an additional travel steamer that fits your needs (cordless Mypurmist or Mypocketmist). I have the corded Mypurmist at home and use the Mypocketmist on the go. That works really well for me. At home I have my Pure Guardian humidifier and when I travel I use my travel humidifier for my hotel room. And of course I always have my Hydroflask filled with water everywhere I go, because…duh.

Happy Hydrating!





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Touring Tips

I've spent the past 8 months as the Vocal Consultant for TheatreworksUSA primarily working with their touring casts. Part of my work involves preparing the actors for tour, as well as helping them when they're out on the road and encounter trouble. I have a lot of clients headed out on tours soon, so I wanted to share some of the tips I've compiled to help you stay healthy on the road. Be sure and head over to the My Favorite Things page to see links to purchase many of the items you'll see here.

Hydration
  • Drink water consistently, not just pre-performance or pre-travel. Your body has a hierarchy of hydration needs and the vocal folds are pretty low on that list so you need to be hydrating consistently in order for the folds to get a real benefit.
  • Use a travel humidifier in your hotel room and your dressing station. This keeps you from drying out over night or during a show.
  • Use a steamer daily. You can never steam too much.
  • Consider adding electrolyte supplements to your water to increase your body's overall hydration. These are especially great pre, during, and post activity like a show or a workout, as well as when you've been in other sweaty situations such as hiking in the sun. (They are also great after a night of drinking. Electrolyte supplements=hangover cure!)
  • The Humidiflyer is essential for traveling. It's a mask that you wear while on a plane that keeps you from breathing in dry air. It's a game changer for frequent traveling and singing.
  • Nasal irrigation is great for dry nasal passages. A neti-pot, saline spray, and nasal gel are all great.
  • Lozenges can help keep your mouth moist when traveling and performing.
  • Scroll down for an old post on hydration for more tips.

Rest
  • Sleep is essential to allow your body and voice time to recover between shows. Aim for 7-9 hours each night.
  • Try and control your bedtime, especially if you have early morning press events, shows, or other obligations.

Moderation of Voice Use
  • Monitor the amount of speaking and singing you do offstage. Remember that the vocal folds don't know if you're on stage or not. Voice use is voice use.
  • Avoid loud bars and other places with loud background noises, especially when you're already fatigued after a show.
  • Rest physically and vocally when you're tired.
  • Take vocal naps during the day when needed. If you're tired or feeling strained, have lunch by yourself with a book instead of meeting up with friends. Allow your voice some quiet time.

Moderation of Life Style
  • Always balance your booze with water. For every pint of beer, glass of wine, or cocktail, drink a pint of water. This helps you stay hydrated.
  • Don't smoke.
  • If you have reflux or general heartburn, try not to eat or drink anything at least 2 hours before bed. If you have to eat, consider a bed wedge to prop up the mattress.
  • Avoid any unnecessary drug use. It's especially important to avoid NSAIDS (ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen) when performing. They increase bleeding, so if you suffer a vocal fold hemorrhage, the bleeding will be increased. Try Acetomenophen when you have a headache or cramps. If you must take an NSAID for a physical injury or other issue, try and take it in the morning well before a performance or rehearsal.
  • Visit this website to see how any drugs you take may impact the voice: www.ncvs.org/rx

Physical Hygiene
  • Your physical health will impact your vocal health, so be sure and prioritize workouts, stretching, meditation, and other forms of physical fitness that keep you well-balanced. This can be hard on the road, but can help you find consistency in your day from city to city.
  • Try and stay ahead of any illness by taking care of your body. Consider medications, minerals, vitamins, herbs, oils, etc. that can promote a strong immune system.
  • Remember that we're all different, so something that works for someone might not work for you, and vice versa. Always speak with a doctor or pharmacist before trying new medication or supplements.

Germ Spreading
  • Tours are close quarters, so be sure and wash your hands often and well.
  • Keep hand sanitizer or anti-bacterial wipes with you as well as at your dressing station to prevent germs from spreading.
  • If you're contagious and have a swing or an understudy, call out. Don't bring your germs into the theatre to spread amongst the cast and crew.

Warming Up
  • Warming up is essential before a vocal task. Research has shown that warming up produces acoustic changes in the voice as well perceptual changes in the sound. Essentially, your voice will sound and feel better if you warm up in the most effective manner for your voice and the task at hand.
  • The most important part of warming up is understanding how your voice is functioning in that given moment. You must observe what is working well and what needs more focus. You want to know what parts of your show you're going to need to focus on vocally and what parts you're going to be able to sit back and let happen. This can change daily, and that's ok. You won't know whats going on without a warm up though.
  • Ask your voice teacher to create a warm up track for you before you head out on the road. This will give you an organized routine each show. This will also make sure that you don't over warm up before a show.
  • If you're worried about warming up in a hotel or with others around, consider purchasing a Belt Box or using a straw.

Cooling Down
  • The benefit of a cool down is that it allows you to leave your show behind and reclaim your everyday voice. This is especially important if you are using extreme voices or excessive singing.
  • Try cooling down by working in the opposite direction of where you've been singing. Also add in some speaking voice work to make sure your speaking voice returns to your default.
  • As with the warm up track, as your voice teacher to record a cool down track for you to use after each show.
  • You can also bring that straw back for your cool down.

Daily Vocal Routine
  • This is your opportunity to get your voice up and running each day and is not your show warm up. This is the chance to touch base with your voice each morning so that as you go about your day, you are using your voice in a productive way.
  • Try some easy lip trills through your range, some easy sirens and sighs on an "oh" as in "show", and some humms in your speaking range to get your speaking voice ready to go.
  • This is your DVR that assures that your speaking voice is ready to order coffee at Starbucks, call your mom on the phone, and then do that interview for the local paper in the afternoon.
  • On a day with little vocal obligations, consider doing these exercises gradually throughout the day.

What To Do If Something Goes Wrong?
  • First of all, don't panic.
  • Talk to stage management immediately. If you noticed any vocal change during a show, fill out an accident report form. Don't wait on this. It's hard enough to get worker's comp to pay for voice related injuries, so be swift and fill it out even if you aren't sure there's something wrong.
  • Increase rest, hydration, and steaming as a precaution.
  • Contact your voice teacher and talk through what's going on and see if they have suggestions on what to do. It's important to keep your voice team (laryngologist, voice therapist, and voice teacher) in the loop with what's going on on the road. Don't wait on this. The earlier your team knows what's happening, the faster they can help you.
  • Communicate with your MD. If you need to mark something, have a line reassigned, or need a vocal line changed, your MD can be helpful in making those changes for you. Don't ever make a change to any part of a show without approval from stage management and the music director.
  • If you are sick, see a doctor. Remember that it's normal to lose your voice with an upper respiratory infection for about 7-10 days. Anything longer than that needs the attention of a laryngologist who can scope you. When you're performing, you don't have 7-10 days to recover, so seeking the assistance of a fellowship trained laryngologist who understands the needs of singers is essential.
  • If you are far enough away from home that you can't see your laryngologist, call their office, speak with your doctor about your current issue, and ask for recommendations in the area that you are in. You can also reach out to your voice teacher or voice therapist for recommendations. Teachers, therapists, and doctors who are well-connected can help you get seen quickly by great doctors all around the world, so keep your team back home in the loop.

Hopefully these tips will help you as you head out on the road. None of this information is designed to replace medical advice, it's just here to try and steer you in the right direction. Try and purchase any of the items you want before you leave so you can be sure and have room in your suitcases. It's amazing how quickly those bags fill up!

And now for the most important tip from my personal experience:
Always be the last one on the bus to the airport. This puts your luggage on the outside, which means that you'll be the first one off the bus and in line to check your bags and get in the security line. Makes for a much better travel day :)
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4 Tips for Healthy Warm-Ups

This summer I had the pleasure of presenting a workshop for the Broadway Teaching Group. The workshop was for a group of music directors who wanted to learn more about working with young, developing voices. It was a lot of fun and I learned a ton from them! So many music directors and choir teachers are so eager to learn more about how to help their young singers sing in efficient, healthy ways and I was happy to help them.

The Broadway Teaching Group asked me to contribute to their online content for their Broadway Choral Group. My first post was all about warming up and how to warm up your choir with function in mind. Thanks to the BCG for letting me share my thoughts!

http://broadwaychoralworkshops.tumblr.com/post/128603485728/4-tips-for-healthy-warm-ups
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Be Present, Be You

Wow! It’s been almost a year since I had the time to do some blogging! I’ve been so busy teaching that I got sidetracked. Please accept my apologies!

Anyway, we just wrapped up another excellent summer at CAP21 and this year, in addition to Vocal Technique class, I had the opportunity to teach Audition Technique to an amazing group of high school students. It was so much fun! I love helping young performers become more confident in the room. There was something that I kept coming back to though, and that was the idea of being present in the room.

This may seem cliche, but I can assure you that the students who took the time to center themselves outside the room fared way better than the students who did not. Every individual may have a slightly different centering or focus strategy, but what is important is that you find one that works for you. Taking the time to center or focus allows you to use your energy to your benefit. As nerves or excited energy begin to creep in, it’s important that we don’t allow that energy to take over our audition. We always want to be in control of our energy and focus.

Centering before walking in the room also helps you stay connected to your instincts. It allows you to move when the impulse hits you. It allows you to honestly connect to your other while you sing. It simply helps you
be more present in the room.

If you are looking for a centering strategy to try, I recommend Don Greene’s book “Performance Success.” It’s an excellent book for helping you achieve mental toughness in the difficult world of high pressure performing. He has a centering strategy that has proven very effective for myself and my students.
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Information Overload

How good are you at interpreting the slew of information that gets thrown at you on a daily basis in this industry? I’m talking about that director who just asked you to be “quirkier" in your reading, or that musical director who just said you needed to “sing bigger" or your crazy aunt who said that “you could really go somewhere if you could sing like that Sutton Foster girl." The business is filled with conflicting ideas, concepts, and opinions that can feel impossible to wade through at times. Here are some tips for dealing with processing information.

People want you to succeed. Don't lose sight of this. Every teacher, music director, vocal coach, director, choreographer, casting director, and crazy aunt want you to be successful and give a good performance and/or audition. Remember that that is why they are sharing their opinion or ideas with you. If you’re in an audition and they are taking the time to give you feedback, they see something they like and want to see if they can get more out of you.

Everyone speaks a different language. Hopefully we are starting with English, but beyond that everyone will use a different vocabulary to share their thoughts, ideas, techniques, or instruction. This can be difficult to interpret at times, but ask yourself these questions:
  • What are they asking me to do? Don’t be afraid to ask questions if their instruction is vague, particularly in an audition setting. Asking short, simple questions is ok.
  • What is the result they are looking for? Oftentimes people will speak in result language. They want you to evoke a certain quality in your reading or in your song. It’s your job to take the result language and ask yourself...
  • How can I work backwards from the result to find the process that I need? This is important. It’s essential to know your instrument well enough to be able to adjust things internally to get the external results they are looking for.
  • Stand up for yourself if you’re being pushed beyond your capabilities. This is the hardest of all, but it’s really important. If someone is asking you to do something that isn't comfortable vocally, speak up about it (I’m talking about physical discomfort with making a sound, not feeling vulnerable because of an acting adjustment). This might be a teacher, coach, or MD that asks you to do something vocally that you know is physically beyond your capabilities at the moment. Speak up. You are the owner of your instrument and you know when something feels right. Be willing to try new things, be spontaneous in an audition, and learn from others, but don't put yourself in harms way, especially if you are rehabbing your voice or are just learning how to use your voice efficiently. Learning to sing in a healthy way can be a process but not everyone in the business understands that. Musical Theatre is a results oriented business, but sometimes the best results take a little bit of patience. 

If you find yourself in a situation where you are being encouraged to sing or use your voice in ways that don’t feel in line with your training, ask yourself these questions:
  • Does it feel good or easy? There is nothing wrong with feeling fatigued after singing 8 shows a week or after a vocally demanding day, but there is still an inherent ease that comes with singing even the most demanding material properly.
  • Can I sing like this 8 times a week consistently? Well, can you?
  • Do I have a full range of dynamics and control of my voice singing in this way? Can I express myself or the character fully or am I limited in what I’m able to do vocally? It’s frustrating to only being able to belt loud or only being able to sing quietly in your lower register. You get the picture.
  • Does it conflict with something I've been told in the past? If so, ask more questions! The teacher or MD may be wanting the same things you've been taught, but might be using a different vocabulary. Open dialogue is always the best!

Keep exploring your voice and discovering how your instrument works in the most efficient way. It’s important in this business to never lose sight of who you are as a person, as an actor, and as a singer. You want to understand your voice (literally and figuratively!) so that you can take on the sea of information like a pro!
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