Heather's Happy Voice blog

Follow this page for articles, updates and ideas to help you enjoy your voice!

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Vocal Health tips for community theatre show week

Recently, I have enjoyed coaching the Crouch End Players community theatre in preparation for their musical play "Sea Airs" - a love story set in my native Cornwall, featuring Sea Shanties and traditional methodist hymns, as well as songs from the 1980s.

As opening night approached, the cast have been beset with seasonal colds, coughs and the usual Autumn term lurgy!  Under these circumstances there is a lot of well-meaning advice given to amateur performers, some helpful and some downright destructive! But finding the right advice can be a minefield, particularly relating to amateur performers who have to work all day and perform in the evening, and who don't get much rest!

I remember when I was studying at Trinity College of Music (now Trinity Laban) in the 1980s, we were lucky enough to have a lecture from the eminent throat specialist, Mr David Garfield Davies, to educate the singers about vocal health and hygiene. Mr Davies is laryngologist to the RSC and the Royal Opera House, so he knows a thing or two about the voice!

One of the most shocking things I remember was when he asked how many of us singers had been advised to "gargle with soluble aspirin" by GPs and well-wishers for a sore throat.  Nearly every hand shot up.  Mr Garfield Davies then played  some video of some bleeding vocal cords - the result of the gargled aspirin,  to a shocked lecture theatre of us young opera singers.  
A  gory sight that horrified us. I have never forgotten it!   

Alas, people are still given such advice, so I decided to write a checklist of tips I use and advise my singing clients.

Break a leg!

Heathers Top Tips for Vocal Health for colds in Show Week!

1. Rest your vocal cords. Refrain from talking as much as you can 

2. Don’t whisper. This has more impact on the cords than talking

3. Stay hydrated by taking regular small sips of water throughout the day. 

4. Keep the voice warm by doing gentle, relaxed humming or siren low in the range throughout the day here and there. It can be very quiet- Nothing dramatic, just so the voice is ticking over regularly

5. Don’t eat food or drink at extreme temperatures- eg avoid ice cream ( sorry!)

6. Although it is widely recommended, never gargle with soluble aspirin. It makes the cords bleed.

7. A spoonful of honey slowly taken is the best soother. Don’t overdo lozenges or their impact is diminished 

8. Fresh pineapple is the secret weapon of opera singers. It contains the enzyme Bromelain which is ant inflammatory and is a natural decongestant. (Don’t overdose in case it upsets your tummy!)

9. Honey dissolved in warm water is good as a soothing drink. Lemon can be astringent so use sparingly.

10. Throat-Clearing: Throat clearing is traumatic to the vocal cords, leading to wear and tear. When you need to clear your throat try this instead: swallow, sip water, and clear your throat silently without allowing your vocal cords to touch.

11. A facial steam is very soothing and cab unblock the airways

12. Cut down ( don’t have to exclude entirely!) on anything that dries the cords, (I’m afraid the list includes tea, coffee and alcohol!) Everything in moderation!

13. Drop your shoulders and relax the neck. Think happy thoughts!

14. When it comes to performance stay relaxed and don’t be afraid to sing out. Breathe properly and keep the throat open. 

Worry can cause tension which impacts the cords. 
Let it go and enjoy yourself!

For a regular vocal workout you can download my vocal workout "Free Your Voice" here

For my classes and singing groups enrolling now click here

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Podcast - Coming soon!

I will be producing a series of Podcasts starting in 2019. 

The content will be based on my 25 years coaching experience, research and exploration of ideas around people's relationship with their voice, on a professional, personal and emotional level.

I will also be in conversation with voice practitioners, singers, speakers, healers, thinkers and inviting people to tell their vocal stories

I wanted to share some of my early ideas and notes, below, with this in mind:

Podcast notes 18:4:018

Our relationship with voice, spoken and sung, is one that we don't tend to explore or challenge unless we have a particular interest in singing or public speaking.

Everyone has a voice, but so many people, when asked, say they "dislike" or even "hate" their voice for one reason or another. They say they "can't sing" or they describe their spoken voice in a derogatory way.

The root of this ambivalence is often, although not exclusively, the result of a hurtful remark, an impression or an event resulting in shame or embarrassment.

This can form a habit of thinking that goes unchallenged, to avoid further pain.

Our low vocal confidence can have an impact on our wider confidence, particularly in communicating. All stemming from this thought habit.

Most people never begin to try to make a vocal change - ("...why would I spend time, energy and expense on something so embarrassing that's so awful - and where would I start anyway?") they just accept the voice they are "stuck" with.

But transforming our relationship with the voice, as well as the sound can be very simple, practical and painless!

It can be useful to begin to notice thoughts (feelings) and insights that occur to you when you use your voice, listen to others etc.... try to notice your reactions dispassionately, possibly explore where that thought/feeling originated.

Is it true? Or is it just a thought?

...from this point you can start looking in the direction of influencing changes, developing techniques and strategies.

Your approach to developing vocal control can be the same as learning a new sport. Skills and techniques can be practical and physical, gradually altering your ability to choose to control and produce your sound, improving your confidence and transforming your relationship with your voice...

...no stress...

Please contact me on social media or email with any insights or comments you may like to share
©Heather Maîr Thomas 2018

Saturday, 10 December 2016

It's Your Voice

I have been moved by many background stories from my singing clients lately, and wanted to share the following.
A shocking number of people never sing, or never enjoy singing because of what I call "negative vocal beliefs".
Usually, at some point in their lives, they were ridiculed, teased or humiliated by a remark about their voice, and the pleasure and joy of singing withered on the vine. These beliefs stick, and they affect our confidence. They shut us down.
Understanding the root of the belief and acknowledging those feelings and emotions in a safe context can be the first step to reclaiming your right to sing.
It is your voice. It is nobody else's business!

You don't have to be a soloist or an entertainer, but you have a right to use your own voice without judgement or criticism.
And, whatever stage you are at, you can learn to be in better control of the sound you produce.
Learning technique and getting into a simple routine of practice can make an enormous difference. Either one to one or in a supportive group. You can begin to challenge your negative vocal beliefs and reclaim the joy of singing!
Our methods include simplified vocal technique, relaxation, breath work, Hypnotherapy and Life coaching with a lot of humour thrown in!

Let me know if you would like to talk to me about your vocal experience. ...and breathe!

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Advice for Scared Singers!

A young woman I teach went off to sing her first professional "session" today. I have no doubt it will be the first of many!

Although she is an accomplished and confident singer,  she was shocked how her nerves played havoc with her body and mind, before she even left the house. 

She called to ask me what to do. I thought I would share my advice...

Firstly - Understand what's going on:

Nerves, adrenaline, butterflies, nausea, shakiness, wobbly knees, shallow breathing, needing a wee.. 

These (charming!) symptoms are all natural responses to fear, excitement or other emotional arousal. 

They are part of the body's primitive "fight, flight or freeze" response to danger, signalled by the amygdala in the brain. 

Oxygen pumps to your muscles, so you're ready to run and react in super-fast time.

Great for saving you from a stampeding woolly mammoth, but singing a jingle for a TV commercial? Not so much.

(Alas, the amygdala doesn't know the difference!)  

Don't Fight It

It may seem counter-intuitive, but just surrender!

Getting nervous about feeling nervous sets up a cycle of anxiety. 

Resistance will just trigger more adrenaline, keeping you in the fear. 

Accept that your body is doing what it thinks is best, and let it go. 

Think thoughts like "...this is natural, it's ok to feel like this. It will pass..."


You need to re-boot your breathing!

Calm down and re-set the oxygen flow back into the lungs.

Try Square Breathing ( 4 equal sides)

Breathe in ..1...2...3...4...
Hold it for ...1...2...3...4...
Breathe out.1...2...3...4...
Hold it for ...1...2...3...4...

it can help to draw a square in the air in front of you with your finger as you practice this

Relax your body

Start by thinking of  pasta! 
Tense  all the muscles in your body up so it feels stiff like uncooked spaghetti.
Hold it a few seconds
Then, imagine a plate of floppy, cooked spaghetti  and let go all the tension
Feel the difference?
You can do this one body part at a time or all at once. It's all good.

Think happy thoughts

Fear may be making your mind race with doubt, but don't believe everything you think! 

Be your own best friend and give yourself some positive encouragement.

Visualise yourself after the event, smiling, relaxing and proud of your achievement.  See these images clearly in your mind and feel those feelings of happiness.

Be Prepared!

Gently warm up your voice. Humming and sirening will get things started, and will help the breathing to settle down.

Make sure you are comfortably dressed. Wear clothes you can breathe and move in and shoes you can stand in.

Make sure you have water to keep you hydrated. Nerves can make the mouth dry, so take regular sips

Go through your music/lyrics and plan your breaths and phrases. This way you will stay in control and keep relaxed!

When you get there

Be happy! Enjoy yourself. 

Have a fantastic session, and call me when you get out!

Heather xxx

PS .... she just called me. She said she felt fine within ten minutes of arriving, the session went brilliantly and they want to hire her again!

©Heather Maîr Thomas 2016

Friday, 26 February 2016

Heather's Blog

 It's lovely to get into singing as an adult. It helps us relax and express ourselves, while providing those well-earned endorphins!

Singing is a fabulous stress-buster as it  gets us breathing properly, helps the energy to flow and gets those feelings out! Many people feel as if singing gives them a therapeutic experience. The more  your  singing technique improves, the more control you gain and confidence grows as a result.

Also, singing is such an individual form of expression, and everyone has their own relationship with their voice. 

As well as being a singing teacher, I am also a qualified life coach, and use those skills to help people identify singing/creative goals. I try to  work with everyone in a way that suits them, towards achieving those goals, whatever they may be.

Some people have instant access to their voices and  seem to sing effortlessly . Others need to develop an awareness of how the voice works, and  build up technique and methods using a combination of skills, instincts and experiences.

I find that developing a fundamental knowledge of technique, and building a workable, enjoyable routine of practice into ones life (even if only a few minutes) can help development surprisingly quickly. 

Often, people who believe they "can't" sing,  simply aren't used to the sound of their own voice and have no idea of  the  keys and ranges that suit them.  

With individual lessons, many of these things can be improved very quickly, and I have never (yet!) come across a totally "lost cause" - a lot depends on what goals you set!

Everyone's experience of their voice is different, so it helps to find a method that works for you.

You may find you only need a few tips to get you started, or it may be a longer journey, and you find you really want to develop and take it seriously, in which case, like a sport, the more you put in the more you get out!

I'm always very happy to have a chat with people thinking of exploring their voice. 

You can contact me via social media (links on the right) or via the website form.