........ the VoiceMaestro's singing lesson number One .....

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Lesson One:
Your Body Is Your Instrument

    No Carrying Case Required

    Handle with Care or Hey, You Wanna Buy a New One?

    Not Your Average Flute
    The Head Bone's Connected to the Neck Bone...

    Voice Playing 101

    Care and Feeding



    No Carrying Case Required

    The nice thing about having your body as your instrument is you don't have anything extra to carry. Instrumentalists have to lug around awkward cases for their precious instruments. You get to lug around -- well -- just your own self. Instrumentalists sometimes forget their instruments. Your precious vocal instrument is always with you. You can't leave it behind because of absentmindedness. It's ready to perform at a moment's notice. You don't ever have to tighten screws or shave reeds or restring your voice. It's easily transported -- but don't take it for granted.

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    Handle with Care or Hey, You Wanna Buy a New One?

    One advantage instrumentalists have over vocalists is if they ruin an instrument, they can get another. Not so with voices. We only get one per person. Your vocal instrument must be treated carefully. You can't buy a new one for a million bucks. Not even from a skilled surgeon. Just ask Julie Andrews, whose vocal surgery didn't take, silencing a lovely voice. An instrumentalist takes care of his instrument. She lavishes it with maintenance and adjustments and love. You must take care of your voice in much the same way.

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    Use and Abuse

    Have you ever screamed yourself hoarse? That's vocal abuse. Have you ever talked all night in a noisy bar so your voice felt strained and your throat hurt? That's abuse. Have you ever continued a vocal behavior even after it began to hurt? More abuse.

    With your voice, it's not cool to "play with pain." Athletes are often encouraged to play despite injury. Some regret it later. Don't take a chance on permanently damaging your voice. Stop and rest at the first sign of pain. There are no wheelchairs for the voice.

    Not all abuse hurts. Pain, though, is a good indicator that something's not right. If something hurts, by all means pay attention. Stop doing whatever caused the pain. Immediately. Be aware of your body. Find out why it hurts. Ask a doctor. Ask a voice teacher. Or discover causes by yourself. This can be risky and take longer, but experience can be a good teacher. Unforgiving, but thorough. If you're listening.

    You can build your vocal muscles. Maybe tomorrow you can do more than your voice allowed you to do today. Be patient. Be gentle. Use your voice intelligently as your strength and stamina gradually increase.

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    Not Your Average Flute

    Compare your voice to an instrument -- say, the average flute.

    A flute is made of dead metal in a factory somewhere. It is almost exactly like the others made that day. It rolls off the line a permanently fixed size. It is inflexible. It sometimes needs its moving parts adjusted in the shop. Its pitch changes from variations in heat and cold. You can trade it in for a more expensive model.

    But it never fights its player. It doesn't pout. It's always ready to make music. It can be played beautifully by a master one minute or horribly by a novice the next. If you blow too hard, it screeches, but is not damaged. It feels no pain. It doesn't get embarrassed or proud either way. It feels nothing.

    You, however, are a unique. A wonderful hunk of flesh and blood, mind and emotions. You ARE your instrument. Your instrument takes 18 years to grow to its physical size and another 10 or more to fully mature. No one can play your instrument but you. You can't hold it in your hand. You can't even see your instrument. You can't upgrade to a finer model.

    But you can think. You can feel. You have intelligence and flexibility. You can learn to "play" your instrument better from noting how something feels and sounds and making changes. You can change your instrument's shape. You can make instant adjustments.

    Like the flute, which usually sounds like a flute, you are going to sound like you.
    Like the flute, your instrument's sound displays the skill level of the player.

    But you are not a flute.

    Unlike the flute, which is inflexible, you can learn to vary your instrument's shape.
    Unlike the flute, which has no control over its player, you are master of your voice.
    Unlike the flute, which does not get wiser, you can learn to make the best tone possible with your instrument.
    Unlike the flute, which has no will, you can choose to overcome obstacles.
    Or, unlike the flute, which feels nothing, you can choose to let fears and doubts stop the music.

    Choose well.

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    The Head Bone's Connected to the Neck Bone...

    Everything is connected. Everything affects something else. Since your body is your instrument, anything affecting your body affects your singing.

    You sound different when you wake up compared with the end of the day. You may have noticed a difference in your voice when you're tired. Monthly cycles affect the voice. Emotions affect your sound. Body tension changes a clear-ringing tone to a harsh honk. Had too much to eat just now? Have dairy product-induced mucous formation? Have a fever? Are you scared? In love? Angry? Depressed? Energetic? Excited?

    Your body knows. It responds. Be aware of your typical response patterns. Recognizing your patterns lets you intentionally adapt.

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    Exercise Suggestion 1:

    Keep track of your energy, emotion and general health states for a month. Make a graph to record the rises and falls by time of day and date in your notebook. Let 10 be high or wonderful and 0 be comatose or wretched. Check every couple hours (or as often as possible) and write down your observations. You may be surprised at what the graphs will show you over time.

    If you notice patterns, use this knowledge to plan ahead. You can compensate for your low times, especially if you can predict them.

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    Voice Playing 101

    OK, fine and good so far. But where's the good stuff? How do I learn to sing better? Let's get on with it already!

    Great idea.

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    Exercise Suggestion 2:

    Reach your arms straight up as high as you comfortably can. Do a big stretch! Notice your breath. Did it stop while you stretched?

    Stretch again and try to make a sighing noise while you hold the stretch. Did it sound beautiful? No?!

    Now do it once more and let the noise continue as you stretch and release. How did the sound change from stretch to release? Less strained? Yup.

    Tension in the throat and jaw gets in the way of good singing. So relax!

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      It takes your Body, Mind and Spirit working together to sing well.

      How? The Body supplies the mechanics of singing. The Mind tells the body what to do and creates music out of a collection of notes and words. The Spirit connects the singer to the listener. Each is essential for wonderful singing.

    Body Mechanics

    How did you make that sighing sound, anyway? Crickets rub their legs to sing. Beavers thump their tails. How do people make sounds?

    Inside your throat is a little container called a larynx. Made by Tupperware, I think, but I could be wrong on that. Inside your larynx (aka "Adam's Apple") are two teeny, tiny mucous membranes called vocal folds or vocal cords. They live together side by side like two happy sardines. When air breathes through your larynx, these happy sardines fan themselves in silence in separated hammocks. As it were. But when you want to make a sound, they touch gently and the air flow makes them vibrate against each other to make beautiful music together.

    Muscles attached to the sardines, OK, vocal cords, either pull them short and tight to make high-pitched sounds or allow them to go long and loose for lower sounds. Even though you can't watch the muscles inside your neck that move the vocal cords, they work just fine just by reading your mind. The sound then bounces up and around in your neck (pharynx), checks to see if your internal nose door is open or closed, dances through your mouth and comes out as talking or singing or sighing or moaning or whatever. You get the idea.

    Pretty simple, yes? Well, maybe not so simple in practice. Practice. A great word. To improve your voice you will need to practice making sounds properly.

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    Exercise Suggestion 3:

    Gently put your fingers on the front of your neck. Find the lump called your Adam's Apple or larynx. Say "Mmmmmmm-hmmmmmmm" as if you really agree with something. Can you feel vibration? Say hello to the sardines. Try making higher and lower pitched sounds while feeling your larynx. Do the vibrations feel different? Does your larynx move?

    Play around. Make loud sounds. Soft sounds. Sweet sounds. Gruff sounds. Write down what you notice about your larynx and the vibrations.

    Go easy on those baby sardines. If your gruff or loud sounds hurt you, stop them immediately. Rest. When the pain is gone try more sounds.

    Your body is your instrument. Play it properly.

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    Mind Games

    Your mind does not live only in your brain. Your mind is part of your body and your body is part of your mind. The amount we don't yet know about the mind/body connection will fill volumes. But for the sake of convenience, let's use the old separate-components theory and focus on the mind.

    The Mind enables you to get knowledge, develop understanding, remember the past and relate it to the present. Knowledge is what you get when you learn from what you experience. Understanding is what you get when you connect the dots of your experience in such a way that you see recognizable patterns and relationships. Memory is the mind scheme that allows you to recall experiences and words and how-tos on demand.

    You need knowledge of techniques to allow your voice more freedom to express what you feel and think. Job for the mind. (More knowledge to come in next lessons.) You need understanding to know which technique to use when to communicate what you intend. Paging: Your Mind. Your Mind, please pick up the white courtesy phone and connect the dots. Your memory allows you to remember the words of your song and how to repeat the good stuff.

    When your body mechanics are operating properly, and your mind guides those mechanics knowledgeably and intelligently, you get wonderful music.

    Your body is your instrument. Play it intelligently.

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    Spirit Fire

    Your Spirit is the usual way you interact with people and things and ideas and mystery. Your Spirit habitually sparkles or is a wet blanket. It attracts or repels others. It creates an exciting performance or a halfway attempt. Your Spirit shows through your eyes, face, voice, posture, energy level and actions. Your body is your instrument.

    An attractive Spirit
    • Cares about others. It walks a mile in the other guy's shoes and shares another's pain or joy. It acts to make things better.
    • Accepts itself. Warts and all. It realizes no one is perfect. It works to become better, but without guilt because it's not already there.
    • Radiates energy. Calmly, like a newscaster or wildly, like a cheerleader. It acts to make things happen.
    • Has compassion. It understands differences can be wonderful. It embraces differences. It moves to heal.
    • Smiles. And laughs. Easily and often. Without ridicule.
    • Is passionate! It burns white-hot for something. It loves or hates something. It shows those feelings to anyone.
    • Thinks. It ponders the way things are. It has the courage to buck a trend. It energizes ideas.
    • Wonders about things. It asks, "What if...?" It wants to know. It learns from any teacher.
    • Creates. It combines this and that to make Wow! It also knows not every combination makes Wow. It takes chances.
    • Adapts. It readily changes when changing makes sense.
    • Displays humility. It realizes others do some things better. It accepts that it can't know everything.
    • Welcomes mystery. It welcomes magic. It treasures inexplicably wonderful moments. It searches for ways to recreate those moments.

    A repulsive Spirit
    • Doesn't care about others. The heck with anyone else. Who cares?
    • Doesn't care about itself.
    • Allows outside influences to dominate it. It is passive. WhatEVER!
    • Fears exposure. So it doesn't act.
    • Fears ridicule. So it doesn't risk anything.
    • Fears jealousy. So it doesn't try to excel.
    • Bores itself. And others. Why bother getting excited about anything?
    • Makes no effort to understand things different from it.
    • Makes fun of what it doesn't understand.
    • Makes no effort to learn new things.
    • Criticizes. Instead of helping, it is hostile.
    • Sucks. It sucks away other people's energy. It makes you tired to be around it.

    Probably we all have qualities from both lists. You choose daily which list better describes you.

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    Exercise Suggestion 4:

    Think about your usual way of interacting with the world. Write down your qualities (these or others) that attract or repel. Be fair to yourself. Not too critical, not overlooking flaws. You want an honest assessment. Examine your observations.

    If you dare, ask a trusted friend or two to critique your list. Without questioning their judgment, write down their comments. You may learn you're not as bad as you thought. Or you may learn of blind spots you can work to improve. Welcome both.

    Knowledge is not power. Knowledge offers power. Power comes from acting on knowledge.

    Your Spirit determines how people react to you. On the street or onstage. Singers less talented than others often win because of an attractive Spirit. Develop the most attractive Spirit you can. It will serve you well. Onstage. At work. At home. In love. In life.

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    A word or two on faking it

    If you feel you are faking an attractive Spirit, good. Any change will likely feel fake for a while. The more you practice something -- singing, dancing, poker playing, anything -- the more natural it becomes. Development follows action -- even uncomfortable action. Choose your course. Then, to borrow a Nike slogan, "Just do it!"

    Your body is your instrument. Play it with an attractive Spirit.

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    Care and Feeding

    Tips for taking care of your body/instrument.

    • Get enough rest. "Enough" varies from body to body. Singers may require more than average rest. Rest allows the body to relax. Get to know your body's requirements.
    • Eat right, drink right. You know this stuff. Eat enough, not too much. Consume healthy comestibles. Avoid unhealthy ones. Consult your newspaper for the latest fad on what's healthy or not. Use common sense.
    • Be gentle. We think of ourselves as invincible, indestructable. We're not. Go gently with your body and your voice.
    • Know thyself. Be aware of your voice and body. Do you hold tension in your muscles? Where? What makes your blood pressure rise? Could it be avoided? What allows you to relax? How does your voice feel when it's overextended? Are there foods or drinks that hinder your body/instrument's performance? Notice things. Remember them.
    • Explore. Try new things. Keep your curiosity sharp and active. Satisfying curiosities will lubricate your mind.
    • Use your support system. Inertia pulls you back when you begin a new course of action. Surround yourself with people who are pulling for your best interests. Maybe family, maybe not. Maybe friends. Maybe a teacher. Develop a network of supporters who will help you through hard times.

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    • Never yell too much. Yelling taxes your vocal folds to the maximum. They can only take a little -- maybe none -- before they croak. If it hurts, stop. Immediately.
    • Never clear your throat. When you clear your throat, you are slamming your delicate vocal folds together with great violence. You think this clears them of phlegm. Well it does, momentarily. But it also damages them in the same way your hands get blisters when doing manual labor without gloves. The body has a wonderful protective mechanism for damaged mucous membranes. When a mucous membrane gets damaged, the body coats it with a nice thick layer of -- guess what? -- phlegm! So you clear your throat again, it coats your cords again, you clear your throat... Break that vicious cycle. Drink the phlegm off. Sing it off. Swallow it off. Just don't machine gun it off by clearing your throat. (If you absolutely must clear your throat, first start a vocal tone, like humming. Then, slowly and gently, GENTLY, I SAID! vibrate your cords in the most soft throat-clearing effort ever. Don't do any more than necessary.) My official word is still, "Don't ever clear your throat."
    • Never sing when singing hurts. If anything vocal hurts, you're doing something wrong, too fast or too much. Stop that! Figure out why it hurts and avoid doing that ever again.
    • Never get thirsty. When you notice you're thirsty, you're already dehydrated. Dehydration is terrible for mucous membranes like your vocal cords. Drink enough clear, non-caffeinated liquids so you never get thirsty. Water is good. Hot, cold, whatever. Doesn't really matter. Follow your preference. Just drink.

      Alcohol doesn't count as a liquid! In fact, for every ounce of alcohol, coffee or caffeinated beverages you drink, you need to drink double that amount of clear, non-caffeinated liquid just to keep up. Alcohol and caffeine tend to deplete your body of liquid.

      How much clear, non-caffeinated liquid? A rule of thumb is drink one fluid ounce per day for every two pounds of body weight. An easy way to remember this is to divide your weight in pounds by two. That's how many ounces per day you need. A 100-pound woman will need 50 ounces per day. A 220-pound man will need 110 ounces. Worried about trips to the relief facilities? Don't. This is your body/instrument's health we're talking about here. Deal with it.

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    • Ask for feedback. Get an outside perspective on vocal progress. Get opinions on general health. Let others help.
    • Push the limits. Find out where your safe edges are. Work to expand them when you're feeling secure and strong.
    • Take chances. Try things you are afraid to do. Let your feelings show. Totally expose your soul while interpreting a song. Risk ridicule. Go for it. When you notice you've survived, do it again another time.

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    Habits define us. Habits direct how we respond to any common situation. A habit is something you do without consciously having to decide how to do it. A habit is a tremendous time saver. It lets your body automatically do something so you don't have to think about it.

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    Good Habits

    Good habits help us walk. They keep us breathing. (More on that in the next lesson.) They allow contemplation while brushing teeth. Good habits let us expend conscious energy on things that need immediate attention instead of common stuff. Good habits let us concentrate on the art rather than the craft.

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    Bad Habits

    Bad habits get in the way. We may have chosen the bad habits or fallen into them, but they do not serve our goals. They are in some way destructive. They are broken only with concerted effort.

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    Intentional Habits

    Habits get formed by accident or intentionally. We fall into a pattern that becomes a habit, or we decide to go a particular direction. Accidental. Intentional. Developing intentional habits is a key to success in life. So how do you develop a habit intentionally?

    Common knowledge says it takes at least 21 days to break an old habit. That's 21 days of not doing something you used to do automatically. But it's not quite that simple. To truly break an old habit, you must replace it with something you choose intentionally. Otherwise, you'll naturally slip back into the old pattern.

    Decide what you want to do. Maybe you want to practice singing. Maybe you want go to bed earlier. Maybe you want to replace a bad habit with something more desireable. Maybe you want to hit free throws. Whatever. Decide.

    Every time you catch yourself doing the old pattern, immediately replace the old pattern with your chosen one. Give yourself many opportunities to choose the new pattern. Practice a bunch. Shoot lots of free throws. If you miss or forget or slip up, don't beat yourself up about it. Just do the new pattern more intentionally next time.

    After 21 days, you'll find it much easier than at the beginning. Then keep up the good work until it's automatic. Maybe some things will never become easily automatic. But persistently training the body/mind/instrument automatically to do what you want will speed you on your way to Nirvana. Or wherever it was you were going. Maybe learning to sing.

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    Singing Lesson One Summary

    • Your body is your instrument. It goes where you go. Take care of it, especially the voice part. It's irreplaceable.
    • Don't abuse your voice. Don't play with pain.
    • Be patient while building your voice; it happens gradually.
    • As a living intrument, you have advantages over inanimate instruments.
    • Everything affects everything.
    • Recognize and notice your body patterns.
    • Relax.
    • Practice proper mechanics of singing.
    • Go easy.
    • Play your voice properly. Play it intelligently. Play with fire.
    • Develop attractive qualities. Shed repulsive qualities.
    • Power comes from wise action.
    • Fake it until it becomes natural.
    • Be gentle with yourself.
    • Avoid vocal violence.
    • Stay hydrated.
    • Take chances wisely.
    • Habits define us. Good habits are useful. Bad habits are destructive. Choose your habits intentionally.

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    Call the VoiceMaestro if you'd like individual help. 817.498-6454. His rates are reasonable. He loves helping!

    Stan Yoder Voice Studio
    Where you bloom, grow your voice and love it!
    Haltom City, Texas

Disclaimer: All information in this site is for general educational purposes only. No medical or individualized professional advice is to be inferred from this information. The VoiceMaestro, Stan Yoder, and the Stan Yoder Voice Studio claim no responsibility for abuse, misuse or misunderstanding of this information. You accept full responsibility for your state of mind, body and health and for the actions you take as a result of the information provided herein. If you understand and agree, please proceed and enjoy.
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