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Things That Improved My Teaching

Improved My Teaching - The Vocal Tract

Joining a Soul Band 

Remembering I’m a singer has really improved my teaching.

Hopwood Junction

I joined a soul band.  I think it was during the Autumn of 2022.

I got spotted singing karaoke at a local fundraiser and was headhunted.  Which felt very cool. 

We rehearsed more Fridays than not for a year.  The band had two saxophones and a lot of piano solos.  I didn’t think I’d ever be able to remember either the lyrics or how many solos there were in each song.*  

We did one mini gig and two full gigs.  It was sweaty and exhausting and a lot of fun.  I realised that singing two long sets is a lot for me nowadays.  I can do it but I need time to recover afterwards. 

It also turned out I love being on stage with a band, (and got a lot of compliments). Remembering being on stage, in a fun covers band improved my teaching as I also remembered the desire to push yourself, the desire to give too much.  The first gig exhausted me for a week but in the second one I took it a bit easier and wasn’t anywhere near as fatigued afterwards.

There was an issue though. I loved pretended to be Joe Cocker. I had found my growl and I was loving using it. 

Then the bass player left, (he also did all of the arrangements), and the band disintegrated after 25+ years.  Which was really sad but also fortuitous as…

I had a few Vocal Problems

I had noticed changes in my voice after starting work teaching 1-2-1 singing at Performers College in October 2022.  

It was a subtle change but my belted notes had become “noisy”.  Like I was being Joe Cocker when I didn’t mean to be.

I always advise my students to get seen at the voice clinic if they’ve noticed changes in their voice for more than 3 weeks, (and they are well), but I didn’t follow my own advice for months.  I assumed I’d repeatedly caught repeated bugs at work but these issues were still with me several months later.   

In Feb 2023 I had several phone calls with my GP when I repeatedly told him that I don’t need to see ENT but I did need to be seen by a voice specialist who runs a clinic with video stroboscopy.  I told him repeatedly that I’m a director of the British Voice Association and know what the proper process is but I still had to argue my case. This made me realise how difficult it is for the singers I work with to get the help they need when they need it.

After three phone calls the GP made the referral.  I was then called to be advised that I would be waiting over a year to be seen.   They asked, again, if I wanted to go to ENT rather than wait.  

This would have put off someone who was less confident in the next right steps. 

Luckily I know someone at the Professional Voice Clinic at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and I was given an appointment in April 2023.  

At the appointment I expected to be told that I had Muscle Tension Dysphonia, (MTD), which is what patients are told when there is nothing wrong but there is lot of tension in and around the larynx. 

That wasn’t the case. We noticed a visible blood vessel on my vocal fold.  It wasn’t just MTD.  It really freaked me out although I was advised it was nothing to worry about.  At least I was pleased to learn I don’t have reflux.  

Improved My Teaching - The Vocal Tract

Rehab with Linda 

I had a few rehab sessions with Linda Hutchison who is, (I think), the first Vocal Rehabilitation Coach in the UK.

She told me I was over trying and encouraged me to be a slob. Which always made me laugh as she is incredibly glamorous and I am, relative to most people, quite a slob. However she is very chilled out and that’s not really my forte.  I worked on increasing my slobbishness. 

Then a few months later, in October 2023, at a routine check up we saw that I had a vocal fold haemorrhage.   

I was really surprised as I thought I had a cold but no idea I would see that hideous bleed on my vocal fold.  All I knew was that I was struggling to find my upper register, but weirdly my whistle register was fine.  I had a gig that night with my original material.

I was lucky enough to have support from lots of amazing voice specialists and was given a lot of different advice.  I followed the most stringent advice and managed, (almost), total voice rest for 7 days.  

Then my kids came back to me, (after a week at their dad’s), and I realised that my kids refuse to pay proper attention and look at my mouth and I had to use my voice with them.   So vocal rest stopped abruptly, but I did work really hard to not push my voice. This involved telephoning my eldest to come down for dinner as I’m not allowing myself up to shout to him like I used to.

I had my follow up appointment in Feb 2024 which showed the haemorrhage had gone. Thank goodness! (It would be very odd to have a bruise for that long but it was still a relief). 

I have no idea if the issues, (the blood vessel and the haemorrhage),  were from something I caught at work or from my kids, from pushing it in the band, (lesson learned), from the meds I’m taking for MS, peri-menopause (because once you hit mid 40’s everyone says everything is peri-menopause) or something else.  

I suppose it doesn’t matter why but I have to own that my voice is more sensitive now. 

The recovery and rehab journey I’ve been on has improved my teaching no end.   

I still focus on safety, longevity and flexibility as a teacher but I now focus even more on looking at the minimum effort required for whatever the singer wants to achieve. 

I’ve learned first had what it’s like when your voice doesn’t do what you want it to do.  

I’ve learned what it’s like to go on total voice rest.  

I’ve also learned how the limits of what we can do with our voices change over time, becoming more or less flexible and tiring more or less quickly. 

The experience has been upsetting and useful but I would say that overall the experience has really improved my teaching.

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*Turns out you don’t have to learn that as you can clip your tablet onto the mic stand and no one knows – shhh.

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