Saturday, November 3, 2007

Shoptalk: Staying in Tune

Music therapists working in the public school setting often see up to eight individuals or groups in one day. This type of schedule requires therapists to build up their physical and vocal stamina and use some tips to help them reduce the the physical strain, especially on their voices. I have a list of strategies that I share with the music therapists I supervise to help them maintain vocal and physical health. These tips are not new, but are easily forgotten in the day to day routine without reminders:

1. Maintain good posture: Try not to hunch over the guitar or lean on it for support. If you are standing up and wearing a guitar strap be very careful to stand up straight.
2. Practice good breath support: Activities during a music therapy session can move very fast and you need to take time to breathe.
3. Sing in the middle to higher part of your vocal range: For example, I am a tenor, so I usually capo up three frets on the guitar if I am playing in the key of D. Please stay aware, however, of the vocal range of your clients and try to find a happy medium so that you are all able to sing comfortably.
4. Use folder activities while singing a cappella: This provides some nice variety in a session and allows your hands to be free to help clients or perform actions to music. You can do clapping, snapping or other body percussion to jazz up the songs. Folder activities help you to vary your seating position since you can put the guitar down and stretch or stand up and move around.
5. Use your fingers to strum or pick the guitar. I suggest not using a guitar pick to help reduce the chance of vocal strain from trying to sing over a loud guitar sound.
6. Talk using a light voice with varying pitch. Do not talk in a monotone voice or in a low range with a "gravelly" tone. My voice teacher advised me to try and talk with a raised soft pallet, a little like the secretary on the Beverly Hillbillies. It is not necessary to sound silly, but talking can be very stressful on the vocal chords without proper attention to how you talk throughout the day.
7. Employ strategic group management. If you have 7-8 clients ins a group, do not try and talk over them if they are all playing instruments. I suggest providing instrument choices from quieter instruments or controlling the group as much as possible through gestures or other non-verbal cues.
8. Warm up! Use time in the car to sing and do your favorite vocal exercises. This can be especially helpful in the morning before the first music therapy session.
9. Drink plenty of water throughout the day!

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