Four Vocal Exercises for the Adolescent Singer

Adolescence is a time of great change, both, physical and emotional. The adolescent singer is especially vulnerable when his or her voice changes seemingly overnight. As the young singer approaches and pushes through puberty, his voice may drop an entire octave. This puts him in an awkward and self-conscious position when participating in voice lessons or choir. Rather than shy away from participating, it is best to take the challenge of strengthening his voice through the change so that he comes forth from this temporary phase even better equipped than before.

Here are four strengthening vocal exercises that can help power a male or female adolescent singer through those difficult puberty years.

Sirens. This exercise is a staple in building the chest, midrange, and head voices. A siren can be done at the beginning of each voice lesson, in each of the student’s ranges, including their low, middle, and high range. The siren in head voice is especially helpful for young men to help strengthen their falsetto.

Fifth Descending Passages. I find fifth descending passages to be an effective exercise to strengthen the developing voice. Starting on “do” then jumping to a long “sol— fa-mi-re-do” gives the adolescent singer a solid foundation in their chest or midrange voice to sustain their breath up to and past the new break in their voice. This exercise allows the singer to power through the register bridges as the adolescent voice adjusts to its new sound.

Octave Jumps. Octave jumps are an exercise in diaphragmatic breathing, accuracy of notes, and confidence. As the young singer learns to take in a breath that will sustain a large jump into the high register, they notice the confidence it takes to aim for accuracy. Most young singers will have just enough air to squeak out the octave but not enough to sustain the jump back down. The exercise is begun on an A3 or A below middle C to A4 sung twice, then back down to A3 sung twice, with the following syllabic enunciation: “YAH–AH-AHH–AH-AHH.” Continue this exercise ascending chromatically until the student has achieved their desired range.

Staccato Do-Mi-Sol-Mi-Do. As the adolescent singer works through their register bridge, accuracy is difficult to achieve. Staccato exercises are helpful in coordinating epiglottis opening and closing, forcing the young singer to listen carefully to guide the voice in the right direction. As Do-Mi-Sol-Mi-Do is a simple melodic line, focus can also remain on vowel and tonal quality in addition to accuracy. This exercise furnishes the adolescent singer with the tools to sing with greater flexibility, as is necessary for the maturing voice.

A special word of note: Adolescent voices are constantly changing. Whatever exercise works one week, may not work the next week. Persistent practice will be the key in developing the student’s voice, as singing is a “use it or lose it” skill. The more frequently the adolescent singer practices, the greater chance that they will emerge from their teenage years with a round, healthy, well-developed singing voice.

Sound Off: What exercises helped get you through your adolescent singing years? Is there a technique you are willing to share that worked for you?

References:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/02/everyone-can-sing/385340/?utm_source=SFTwitter

http://blog.musikalessons.com/2013/05/the-best-age-to-start-singing-lessons/

http://www.leedberg.com/voice/pages/handle.html

http://www.vocaltechnique.info/adolescent-voice-change.html

http://www.robertedwinstudio.com/supplemental-singing-exercises.php

http://www.voice-talk.net/2013/04/staccato.html

 

The Keys to Effective Piano Practice

Piano practice is essential in maximizing the investment you’ve made in your child’s music education. Without practicing, improvement is stunted, you and your child get frustrated, and the teacher has hit a brick wall.

As the saying goes, “Practice makes perfect.” No, not quite.

Rather, persistent practice makes progress.

Persistent practice will strengthen your child’s will to learn, build confidence, and enhance their curiosity and interest in music. Keep the guide below handy for children when implementing an effective practice process.

Pledge commitment to their music education. Children respond quite well to verbal affirmations of commitment. Recall the children’s book, “The Little Engine That Could,” and the persistent, optimistic mantra of “I think I can” as he chugs to pull a train over a mountain. Just like that little engine, our children need to say, “I can do this” as a verbal reminder that with hard work and determination, they can achieve their goals.

Practice, don’t just play. Children can slip into a habit of “playing” the piano instead of practicing. Unbeknownst to parents, the notes that are seemingly progressive in nature are actually the child avoiding hard parts. In order to fix this, students should follow the Three S’s Rule: Slowly, Separately, and Sections. According to Graham Fitch, pianist and teacher, dividing pieces into sections will help a child set attainable, but challenging goals. Playing those sections hands apart helps a student focus on technical and musical elements, one hand at a time. Finally, playing slowly will allow the brain to analyze the selected passage and increase note accuracy.

Practice problem spots first. After your child warms up, they should begin with their hardest pieces and most difficult sections. I typically circle or use brackets around these sections in my students’ music. Putting the energy and focus into these spots will allow for more effective use of practice time. Remember: it’s better to have short and sweet practice sessions, rather than lengthy, monotonous ones. By starting each session with problem spots, your child is guaranteed to make more noticeable progress.

Turn on Auto-pilot. There is no such thing as practicing too much. Cognitive psychologists have noted that the key to mastering a skill is not just to learn it, but to overlearn it. The neural connections in our brain are constantly firing with each repetition of a musical phrase. Overlearning a piece helps to free up the energy necessary to inject more musicality, emotion, and passion. This is when you know they’ve reached the “auto-pilot” stage of mastery. They can just play without a lot of thinking, giving them a real chance to connect with the music.

Have a pop performance. Teachers love to throw a surprise “pop quiz” on you during a class going over a concept you learned earlier that week. Pop performances are similar, in that when given the chance to perform, most music students, albeit hesitantly, will oblige. The adrenaline is just enough to put the child to the test. This is called the “audience effect,” and can lead to better performance. Call the elderly next door neighbor, invite the grandparents over for coffee, or have your child’s best friends over for a jam session. Giving your child a chance to show off a little will give them just the right amount of nerves and confidence to keep mastering the piano.

Sound off: What tips can you give a beginner piano student to make practicing more interesting? How long are your practice sessions? When did you find you were most motivated to practice?

References:

http://ideas.time.com/2013/08/20/dont-just-practice-over-practice/

http://oxfordindex.oup.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803095731503?rskey=syTmSW&result=4&q=

https://citizensketcher.wordpress.com/2015/01/22/persistence-the-only-technique-that-that-matters/

http://www.practisingthepiano.com/top-ten-tips-maximise-practice/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Little_Engine_That_Could

Four Reasons Music Lessons Benefit the Child Athlete

“Music lessons are not for my son, he is an athlete.”

“My daughter isn’t artsy enough to play music.”

“We are a football family, we aren’t musically-inclined.”

These are all phrases that come to mind when I talk about the benefits of learning and playing an instrument to parents of athletic children.  Athletics are essential to the physical and mental growth of children, but what can music lessons do for the athletic child? Let’s take a look:

Learning to play an instrument can increase the athletic child’s dedication to practice, commitment to learning and overcoming obstacles, and build confidence. The piano, for instance, has the challenges of learning to read music, remembering symbols, utilizing fine motor skills in the hands, wrists, and fingers, and controlling all of those on a keyboard of 88-keys! Imagine the mental and physical stimulation your child receives when taking piano lessons.  Transferring these into their chosen sport can positively influence their training.

Learning to play a wind instrument (clarinet, flute, saxophone, bassoon, trumpet, tuba, trombone, oboe, and others) can greatly enhance lung capacity and breath control. The connection here was recently discussed by Aaron Perdue, a professional flutist and endurance runner, on NPR and American Public Media’s Performance Today. There are many endurance athletes (triathletes, swimmers, runners, etc.) who are also wind instrument players, noting the benefits of conditioning, disciplined practice, and the ability to manipulate their bodies to achieve desired results as the greatest links between endurance athletics and playing an instrument.

Learning to play an instrument can help make the athletic child more patient and persistent to achieve desired results. Long-term goals are something that the athletic child is all too familiar. The long distance runner slowly but surely increases their distances over long periods of time to eventually reach their running goal. Patience and the ability to see past current challenges is essential in training and conditioning. Just as learning to play an instrument takes time to master, such is the time to become a good athlete.

Learning an instrument provides the athletic child an outlet for personal expression/emotional release.  Athletic children may be surrounded by a results-only environment for the majority of their day, without a dedicated way to express their emotions. Music lessons provide a way for these children to get in touch with their creative and expressive side, in a safe and controlled space. A study was recently published noting the positive effects of music lessons on attention skill, anxiety management and emotional control. By exposing your athletic child to  music lessons, you are training the brain to be emotionally mature.

Sound off: Are you an athlete? Did you take music lessons when you were younger? What was your experience being an athlete and musician?

References:

http://www.linkedin.com/in/cjjaffe/en

http://www.wikihow.com/Increase-Your-Lung-Capacity

http://performancetoday.publicradio.org/display/web/2015/01/28/young-artist-in-residence-aaron-purdue

http://graphic.pepperdine.edu/sports/2005/2005-02-03-exploring.htm

http://www.underwateraudio.com/blog/hold-your-breath-surprising-tips-on-increasing-lung-capacity/

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2015/01/07/music-lessons-spur-emotional-and-behavioral-growth-in-children-new-study-says/

http://www.jaacap.com/article/S0890-8567%2814%2900578-4/abstract

Winter Recital 2015 | College Station Piano/Flute/Voice Teacher

Encore Music Studio put on a great show this weekend! Each student performed one or two musical selections, and worked through their nerves to perform for family, friends, and the residents at Bluebonnet Place, a local assisted living facility for the elderly.

Pieces included Ode to Joy, Sleigh Ride, Grandpa’s Clock, Kum-Ba-Yah, Away in a Manger, Silent Night, The Can-Can, Air from Overture in D Major, O Little Town of Bethlehem, Schumann’s Little Piece, Waltz from Sleeping Beauty, and Raindrop Prelude by Chopin.

Students each achieved their Encore performance credit for a successful recital. I look forward to their continued success in the months to come!

DSCF3302DSCF3300DSCF3295DSCF3294DSCF3291

Five Signs Your Child is Ready for Piano Lessons

This is one of the most frequent questions I receive from parents of potential students. Children ideally begin piano when they are in elementary school, but depending on the child, that can be early elementary school or later. See if your child is exhibiting the following signs to help guide your decision to enroll them in private piano lessons.

Fine Motor Dexterity: Learning to play the piano is like doing a workout for your hands, fingers, and wrists. Generally, if your child can write with a pencil, use a pair of scissors, or hold a spoon or fork well during meals they are physically ready to take on piano lessons.

Focused Cognitive and Attention Skills: Attention and cognition are interrelated when it comes to learning to play the piano. Holding attention for 20-30 minutes on a specific task will allow the child to utilize thought processes to learn various concepts at the piano. Cognition directly impacts learning, and the piano will help develop your child’s thinking skills.

Alphabet/Counting Skills: If your child can recite the alphabet and count to ten easily, then this is a sign they are ready for piano lessons. Learning to read music is like learning a new language. The musical staff is the sentence, and the notes are the letters. A musical phrase is like a putting together a word. Keeping a beat and rhythmic accuracy is like using math. The interrelationship between the alphabet and counting is critical to the success of a beginner piano student.

Respecting Teachers: Children who have been in a school setting, with teachers, teacher’s aides, and other adults in counseling/advising roles have an advantage at the piano. They understand that the teacher is a person to help guide them in their studies, advise them to work out new concepts and techniques, encourage them to commit to their learning, and respectfully challenge them in a judgement-free zone.

Teachers are the keys to doors of discovery. It is their mission to equip their students with the skills and desire to open these doors.

Interest in Music: Music is all around us. Children are especially attuned to picking up rhythms, melodies, and feeling the urge to sing and dance. Tap into this natural desire and cultivate their musical potential with piano lessons. By setting small, attainable,  but challenging goals in lessons, the confidence boost in achievement is a propeller into more lofty goals. Including music in the students’ favorite style is just as important as following a method book. Take advantage of your child’s enthusiasm and let them ignite their passion for music!

Sound Off: What have you found to be a sign you or your child was ready for lessons? Comment below!

References:

http://www.andnextcomesl.com/2014/06/starting-piano-lessons-when-is-child.html

http://www.wisegeekhealth.com/what-is-the-connection-between-attention-and-cognition.htm

https://brendamueller.wordpress.com/2015/01/20/giving-a-music-student-an-opportunity-to-shine/