Monday, August 8, 2016

Finding Fulfillment


This past weekend in New York, I had the chance to work with a number of wonderful performers. We sang, we laughed, and had some great conversations. Thank you Cristian for recording our time together, and for sharing this piece that was meaningful for you in your search to discover ‘who you are’ and ‘what you want to do’. And for your willingness to share it with others in the hopes it inspires them as well.


"Coming full circle to what I was saying about being older than you and the 'wisdom' that comes with it… it’s funny when I look back on myself when I was 20, like you, I feel like I was the exact same person as I am today.  Any differences are less about being smarter or better, and more about simply having had more years on the planet and the perspective that comes from that. So I’ll just offer this perspective to you.

People have an idea of what a career is supposed to look like.  For example, if you say you want to be a performer, it’s as if you should do that one thing until you’re 60. But you grow and change, we want different things. I was a professional singer for years, I teach, I write books, I’m a mom, I want to work with orphans and foster kids, I want to do millions of things. 

Rather than following what you feel, and the journey of life and it’s winding roads, I think that the world tries to say that who you are, your identity, is That One Label: a singer, a performer.  A lawyer, a doctor, a scientist.  

For me, what I’ve learned is that it’s not what you’re ‘called’ or ‘what you do’ that matters, whether it’s one thing or many throughout your life. It’s what you bring. 

If I bring all of who I am and my passion and heart as a singer and teacher, if I bring that to being a mom, to working with orphans, to being a wife and a friend, and a writer, then I am fulfilled. It doesn’t matter what ‘the thing I’m doing’ is or is called. I could mop floors and be fulfilled. If I am loving the people who live in that house, if I am making a difference for them, if I am giving all I have to serving, then I am at peace and fulfilled. I’m fully alive in that moment. 

There are people I know and have worked with, famous singers, who miss this entirely.  Not only can they not imagine being fulfilled doing anything but singing and being successful, they don’t enjoy even that. One bad review, one wrong note, and they lose it… their composure, their power, their peace. 

They’re missing it. They’re missing it. The opportunity to be alive in this and every moment.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t be intelligent, or self-reflective… I can look at a book I’ve written or a performance I've given and think, I’ll do better next time. It also doesn't mean that you shouldn't follow your dreams and passions. Of course you should. 

Rather, it means that fundamentally, existentially, it doesn't matter what you do or what you call yourself. In order to disappear your fears and concerns so that you can be fully alive, you have to be willing to be present in the moment and serve, whatever it is that you are doing.  You have to take away the meaning of what society says is important, including about yourself, in order to do anything with joy and peace. And by taking away that meaning, you find meaning in your work, in your life, in yourself."



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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Tips For Singers


I was recently jotting some post-session notes for one of my classical singers and thought you all might benefit from them too. Great things to remember, whatever your genre or voice type:

A reminder of things to focus on: 

- In general, use more energy. Not in terms of 'pushing air' or being louder necessarily, but by using diction. Not only will your singing and performances seem more energized- at whatever volume- doing so will help you to connect more powerfully with your support.

- Pay attention to your speaking voice- healthy and lovely- which is in your chest voice. Vocalize now and again in the lower regions of your voice to keep everything limber and used. Remember, the chest voice isn't wrong, and it doesn't have to be belting or strenuous.

- Watch out for 'preparing your breath' and lifting. Preparing to breathe and engage is fine. You just don't want to 'lock in' to a fixed place. Instead, you want to create a relaxed and ready space where your body can optimally engage in a way that's appropriate for each note, phrase and song.

- Re. low energy / tension on runs: use a consonant at the beginning of every note to help you connect and stay connected with your support. For many people, 'D' seems to be a good one. Start with every note, "Da, da, da, da, da" and then start to stretch out the space between: "Da-a, da-a, da-a" and then to every three, and so on.

- Lastly, remember: you are your own best teacher. You know your voice better than anyone. That doesn't mean other people can't help you immensely, or see things you don't. It means to be confident and to trust yourself. And when something doesn't make sense or feel right, speak up!

Happy practicing!

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Friday, May 13, 2016

Pre-nodules, Acid Reflux and Vocal Care, Part 2


A number of years ago, I wrote an article on ways to recognize and deal with nodules and acid reflux. Since then, I’ve received many great questions all about these important and all too common issues. Here are my answers and additional thoughts about them, including seven tips to help you deal with and heal acid reflux.

In my experience, stress– and our inability to manage it effectively– is the number one cause of GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). Food, genetic and physiological issues, tight clothing, caffeine, exercise, sleep habits, and other often cited factors can certainly cause problems, but I find that they tend to exacerbate symptoms rather than trigger the reflux itself. (The exceptions to this rule are a) birth control pills– the hormones in which cause the loosening of the esophageal sphincter and b) an overabundance of yeast, which probiotics can help significantly).

Therefore, the first question I ask when a client develops reflux, particularly when it seems to come out of the blue is: what has changed in your life or lifestyle recently? Have you moved? Taken on a new personal, professional, or performance opportunity? Even a seemingly small transition in your life– music related or otherwise– can have an impact. These questions also pertain to the development of pre-nodules; while they tend to be more voice-use related, reflux can certainly help to exacerbate, and even cause, irritation and lesions on the cords.

It also doesn’t have to be a real, ‘in the world’ change for the body to react. Our thoughts and emotions can be­ just as powerful in creating reflux as travel, issues in our personal lives, and impending performances. While we may be aware of the difference between thoughts and reality, our bodies aren’t.

Tip #1:
My first tip is to therefore recognize and deal with whatever stress you may be under. A healthy, balanced schedule, plenty of sleep and rest, time in the sun and nature, nutritious food, clean water, and nourishing relationships are all critical. If your schedule is particularly hectic, you’re grappling with challenging personal or professional issues, or you tend toward the stressed out, learning to find peace through acceptance, responsibility, and forgiveness will help you relate to your circumstances and yourself more powerfully. (Click on the links in the last sentence to read some articles that might help you in these areas.)

Tip #2:  Whether or not you have reflux, it’s important to drink a good amount of room temperature (not cold) water. Water not only helps to keep your organs hydrated, flushed, and more healthy and efficient, it helps to thin and drain the mucous in your nose and throat, which becomes particularly thick after the onset of reflux. The thinner the mucous, the less inclined we are to clear our throats and cough– two habits that are a good idea to break, as they often cause irritation and additional swelling.

Tip #3: When it comes to singing with reflux, my favorite expression is: No Compensating! Your voice may feel thick, slow, and rigid, but resist all temptation to push through and ‘fix’ these sensations.

Imagine you have a knot in your shoulder. Banging on it won’t help matters; slow, repeated massage will help to loosen its grip. The same is true when dealing with reflux. Be gentle, and be patient. Begin to speak and gently use your singing voice as soon as you wake up, and plan for a much longer warm up prior to a performance, rehearsal, or training session.

While your throat is indeed red and irritated where the acid has come back up through the vocal tract, save for few exceptions, it is safe to sing with reflux so long as you don’t push. It’s akin to being a bit tight after a particularly hard workout the day before; you just need to take extra care stretching and easing into the next workout to prevent injury. If you’re patient and hydrated, your voice will come around and you should be able to sing– and sound– as you usually do.

Tip #4:  On a similar note, when you have reflux it’s also critical to stop focusing on how you sound. A challenge indeed, but the only way to get your voice to sound normal is to stop fixating on trying to make it so.

When warming up, it’s therefore a good idea to initially avoid ‘singing-sounding’ and vocally challenging exercises (runs, riffs, and normally tight and tricky areas of the voice), which will help to reduce the intellectual and ego temptation to push in order to sound good. Lots of easy slides through your range and registers with little thought to sound will help to get your voice moving and healthily warmed up, at which point you can bring back the focus on sound and performance specifics. Also, consider hopping into the shower; not only will the steam further help to loosen things up and get the juices flowing, you’ll likely find it easier to ignore that initial mucous rattle.

Tip #5: Whether or not we sing, everyone has opinion about what we should and shouldn’t eat. Obviously food is a personal choice and you need to find what works for you. That said, when it comes to treating and preventing reflux, I recommend limiting or cutting out sugar, wheat, pasta, and other processed, complex carbs (fruits, veggies, and sprouted or ancient grains like quinoa are OK), which tend to quickly raise blood sugar levels and increase inflammation. Many people find that removing dairy and caffeine help too, though I consume both without issue. It’s also a good idea to limit your water intake right around and during mealtimes, so that the stomach acids can process the food more effectively and without dilution. The same goes for just before performances; the powerful engagement of support can often encourage a full belly– of water or food– to reflux.

Also consider giving up carbonated beverages, and if you smoke, please stop. In general, moderation is a great tool, yet I’ve only ever seen these two cause problems. 

Finally, consider eating smaller meals more frequently, and when you do, eat slowly and chew your food. Mindfulness– in eating and in all areas of life– helps to calm down our minds as well as our bodies.  I’ve seen this tip alone halt reflux after years of suffering in a number of my singers.

Tip #6: Use medications sparingly. I know they can help, and sometimes they’re necessary to prevent damage. But in the long run, you have to find and deal with the cause of the reflux, not just treat the symptoms. This is critical because reliance on reflux medications will eventually backfire; in time, they all stop working as the body finds ways to create the acid it needs to digest the food you eat. I'm reminded of what Benjamin Franklin once said: "he is the best physician that knows the worthlessness of most medicines." 

Tip #7: Also, beware of surgeries purporting to solve the reflux problem. In my early 20s, after having used every reflux medication on the market, I had surgery to tighten my lower esophageal sphincter to prevent acid from refluxing into my throat and damaging my vocal folds. Physiologically, the surgery was successful, but wouldn’t you know, six months later as I prepared to return to my singing engagements, the reflux was back!

The moral of the story is that when you’re stressed out, medication– and even surgery– won’t stop the body from reacting. Sure enough, once I learned to manage my stress, the reflux subsided, never to return again. 

No matter what vocal challenges you may dealing with, and particularly when reflux is diagnosed or suspected, be sure to take a holistic look at issues in both your singing and personal life. Many of the clues to resolving the former can be found in the latter.

I hope you find these tips helpful. If you have more questions about reflux and other issues regarding vocal health, please send them in and we’ll continue the conversation!



JENNIFER HAMADY is a voice coach and board-certified therapist specializing in technical and emotional issues that interfere with self-expression. Her new book, The Art of Singing Onstage and in the Studio explores the technology and relationships in performing and recording. Her first book The Art of Singing: Discovering and Developing Your True Voice has been heralded as a breakthrough in the psychology of musical and personal performance and remains a top seller in the field. www.JenniferHamady.com


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Monday, April 11, 2016

My New Book!

I'm so excited to share my new book, "The Art of Singing Onstage and in the Studio" with you all!  The second "Art of Singing" is also published by the wonderful Hal Leonard, and has been such a labor of love... 5+ years in the writing.  And great news... we've already hit #1 in Amazon New Releases!

Can't wait to hear what you think!  






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Thursday, March 31, 2016

First, Do The Work


A while back, I had a great conversation with a bartender at a local jazz club. Like so many New Yorkers, he's a trained actor and singer working in the restaurant industry to pay his bills while focusing on his dream.  And like so many in New York and beyond, he feels he needs to be actively taking voice lessons before going out for the big auditions. 
So I asked him what he wanted to accomplish in these lessons.
"Oh, you know… to really find and develop my voice."
"OK.  And how often are you singing now?"
"Not much."
"Ah..."

This is a conversation I have again and again with singers– even professionals– who come to me with the hope of studying.  And while it's not necessarily good for business to turn people away, it makes no sense for us to start working together unless they're already putting in a great deal of effort on their own.

That's not to say that an outside perspective can't be helpful before an audition or while getting into (or back into) vocal shape. Yet weekly lessons won't compensate for the hours upon hours of singing you need to be doing daily to properly prepare for either.  There is just no substitute for time and effort when it comes to getting to know and nurturing your instrument– and the mind that runs it– so that you can recognize and receive the proper guidance.

This is true beyond the realm of singing. How often do we ask for help without doing the work that would allow us to optimally integrate what we discover?  And more than that... how often do we set out to accomplish our goals without being willing to put in the effort that it takes to actually achieve them?

I can't tell you how many singers I hear from and work with whose biggest obstacle is that they simply haven't done the work.  Take it from me: there's no point in spending hundreds of dollars on coaching you may not yet be able to integrate. First, become prepared to the best of your ability. When you know what you're bringing to the table, as well as what you really need, coaching is not only vastly more effective, but more enjoyable and personally empowering as well.

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Saturday, February 27, 2016

New Book, Website, and Articles


Happy 2016 everyone!  It had been over a year since I sent out a newsletter, and as one of my wonderful clients reminded me, not everyone is on Facebook or Twitter. I truly apologize for dropping the ball!  I'm reposting here in the event you missed my latest updates online or in your inbox.  As always, please don't hesitate to reach out, let me know how you're doing, and share how I can help to support you in all things Voice and Self-Expression! (And if you'd like to sign up for my newsletter, Click Here.  I promise to keep you updated on a more regular basis!) 


My New Book!

FINALLY!  My next installment for Hal Leonard Publishing will be out by May 15! The Art of Singing Onstage and in the Studio has been a true labor of love, and I'm thrilled to get it into your hands and to hear your thoughts. My dear friend Rachel Kice has painted the cover (the amazing Randy Hasson did the artwork for AOS) and it's an honor once again to combine a friend's artistry and art with my words.  

Here's the publishers blurb about the book: 

To be a great singer, talent and technique are obviously important, as are having excellent songs and being able to move an audience. But there's more to it than that, including two critical skills that are rarely, if ever, addressed in vocal training: managing the technology on stage and in the studio, and interacting with the people who run it. No matter how fantastic your voice is or how much money is behind you, if you don't know how to work with performing and recording technology, you're in for a tough ride. Countless phenomenal singers stagnate professionally and even leave the business because they can't figure out how to deliver when using studio headphones and stage monitors, or how to communicate their needs to producers and engineers. And many less-capable singers get ahead because they can. The Art of Singing Onstage and in the Studio is the only book that comprehensively addresses these critical issues in an easy-to-read, accessible style. Starting with a discussion of the evolution of technology and the voice in our culture, it also explores the root causes of anxiety-related performance issues and, more importantly, how to overcome them. Singers, performers, producers, and engineers will all come away from this book more knowledgeable about the origins of their fields, empowered in the tools of their trade, and clearer on how to best communicate with one another.


Website Overhaul! 

Now that the book is done, I'm getting ready to redo my website, with the main goal that it be in greater service to YOU with exercises, online courses, packages and programs, and more master classes and workshops here on the east coast and around the country and world. I would LOVE to hear about the kinds of content you're looking for, as well as any ideas or thoughts you all might have about how I can best support you, singers, speakers, and others looking to find your voices. Just reply to this email or reach out to me on Facebook or Twitter. I'm all ears!  


My Latest Articles

As you know, discovering your voice involves discovering YOU.  As such, my articles have always run the gamut topic-wise… I hope some of them will hit the mark in terms of what you're dealing with and what you need. 

Psychology Today

Making the Choice to Care: Self-sacrifice and self-fulfillment need not be opposites.  In the right frame of mind, they become one and the same, and a gateway to a life truly well lived.  

The Importance of RestGetting adequate rest has become a priority in our household. Because without proper sleep, we are unable to be our best in our work, for each other, and most importantly, for our precious son.

The Gift of Acceptance: Accepting what has happened in the past is the key to peace of mind and success in every area of our lives. Unfortunately, many of us refuse to do so.

ForgivenessRefusing to forgive someone is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to get sick.



The Huffington Post

Being Mindful Versus Being Careful: I recently read an article in Business Insider about how often women overuse the word 'just'. In it, the author points out that it has become a 'permission word' that dilutes our message and weakens us when we speak. I've certainly found this to be the case: not...

My Secret to Losing 20 Pounds: Five months ago, my husband and I made a decision to lose 20 pounds in 20 weeks. For both of us, having a child had taken its toll. We were beyond pretending that the dryer was shrinking all of our clothes... beyond kidding ourselves that the camera was being enormously...

To Your HealthPatient: "Doctor, I don't feel well, and I'm not sure why."  Doctor: "I want you to meditate for 20 minutes twice a day, exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, avoid processed foods, eat plenty of organic fruits and vegetables, spend more time in nature and less indoors...


Seeing the Unseen:   We recently relocated to the Washington, D.C. area and are still in the process of getting settled in– a process that takes a bit longer with a 15-month-old running around. We therefore welcomed a neighbor's recommendation of two women who have been cleaning and organizing his home for years... 


From My Blog

On one level, singers are master preparers. A tremendous amount of time is spent training and practicing, and in the case of many recording artists, songwriting as well. In fact, singers are often virtually non-stop in their physical and mental preparation for success, whether or not any performance or recording dates are on the imminent horizon...


Janelle Laarakker from VibrantVocals.com recently reached out to me with some thought-provoking questions about how we can best find vocal strength, ease, and freedom.  I loved our conversation, and hope you find my answers helpful. As always, feel free to share your thoughts!


"I expected something powerful from you, but I was really taken by the beauty of what you wrote. Thanks for letting me throw a haystack at you so you could sift through it. I completely agree that some of my personal issues are affecting my singing. I hadn't put that together before. I was looking strictly at my singing experiences for clues while I probably would have been better off looking more holistically at things. I loved your letter and I think that it is full of the right kind of keys to unlock this reserved demeanor that has taken over me."




The Art of Singing




Thanks to all of you, The Art of Singing continues to be a Hal Leonard Bestseller!  What's more, I just learned that AOS is now required reading at Clemson University and Anderson University, and has just been added to the bookstore of NAMM's Museum of Making Music, alongside incredible authors (and friends) Dan Levitin and Victor Wooten!  Thanks so much for all of your feedback, and for continuing to share the good word!


And Last but NOT Least. . . 

My most important creation. . . :) 

Thank you all so much for continuing to ask about (not so little!) Lucas.  He's now 2 and a half, and just incredible (she says, gushing!) I had no way of knowing what this journey of motherhood would entail, but it has indeed been a wild, wonderful ride that I wouldn't trade for the world.  

Here's John, Lucas and me recently enjoying some SERIOUS snow! 




As always, much love and Happy Singing!
Jennifer
www.JenniferHamady.com

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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Being Mindful Versus Being Careful


I recently read an article in 
Business Insider about how often women overuse the word 'just'. In it, the author points out that it has become a 'permission word' that dilutes our message and weakens us when we speak. I've certainly found this to be the case: not only in our words, but in our voices, energy, and body language, we often apologize for what it is we say, as well as for ourselves saying it.
Nothing has highlighted the importance of how I speak and the words I choose more than having a child. Our awareness as adults doesn't begin to compare with the carefulness of children's listening and their diligent observation.
Thanks to Lucas, I've recognized and cleaned up some of my own less effective speaking and listening habits. For example, statements that sound even the slightest bit like questions (tonally turning up at the end), invite disagreement. This is fine when we're exploring, learning and having a discussion, but not when something's closed for debate. "It's time to go to bed, OK?" just doesn't cut it.
Similarly, my certainty about an outcome is as powerful- if not more so- than the words I use about what I want to happen. If I don't know that Lucas will go to bed at 8pm- or return a toy to a friend, or stop at the street corner- he is less likely to do so... regardless of what I say.
Interestingly, one of my biggest communication lessons has involved a single word choice. As Lucas entered toddlerhood and became more active, I noticed that my admonition to 'be careful' didn't feel good- to either of us- no matter how I said it. Implicit in the words were a fear and heaviness I rarely felt until after I said them; my choice of language was suggesting an emotional state that then became reality.
I therefore replaced 'careful' with the word 'mindful' and immediately noticed a change. Gone were the heaviness and fear; in their place emerged a sense of thoughtfulness as well as a calm awareness of self, others, and objects in both myself and Lucas. As with the women who removed the word 'just' from their vocabularies, this simple shift had a profound and positive impact.
It's funny that I should be surprised by the power of language, given that in my work I place tremendous importance on the words we choose when speaking about our instruments and ourselves. Even common words like 'high' and 'low' can adversely influence how singers perceive and attempt to engage with certain pitches, regardless of how well trained they are. It's therefore critical for them- and all of us- to carefully select language that empowers and enables us, rather than default to words that impair our performance and sense of wellbeing.
Following my 'careful versus mindful' discovery, I spent a few days looking deliberately at my words and communication habits- in every area of my life- and was fascinated to see, unbeknownst to me, how many ineffective ones had crept in (including an all too frequent occurrence of that pesky 'just').
Consider taking on this 'word watching' project yourself for a day or two. Some of you may even want to keep a journal and jot down ways of speaking that surprise you, for better and worse. Once we become more conscious of the language we choose to use and the way we speak, we not only become more effective communicators. The quality of our relationships improves dramatically as well, including the ones we have with our children and ourselves.




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