All posts by Idelle Nissila

Change Your Life: Trust the Process and Make the Practice Habit Stick

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“You’ll never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success or happiness is found in your daily routine.”  – John C. Maxwell

We are a goal-driven, results-oriented culture here in the United States. The list of “shoulds” in our lives seems to grow by the day, written down in some virtual rule book that I don’t remember co-authoring! Who in society decided  this stuff anyway? With the constant information glut and background noise going on, it can be difficult to hear the still small voice inside us whispering — “May I have a moment? Practice your music because it makes you happy.”

Don’t get me wrong. It’s fine to dream big.  Write that dream down and then file it away.  Focus on the day-to-day work that will make your goal a reality.   The rewards will not be immediate.  You have to put in the time, and trust.  Give the neural pathways time to develop.

How do you make a habit stick?

“The whole idea of motivation is a trap…Just do it … without motivation. After you start doing the thing, that’s when the motivation comes and makes it easy for you to keep doing it. ” – John C. Maxwell

A common meme is that it takes 21 consecutive days of repetition to establish a habit. This is an over-simplification. Research undertaken by Phillippa
Lally, et al.,  published in the European Journal of Social Psychology found that a habit can take from 18 to 254 days to become ingrained. I wager that it takes at least  three months to establish a significant lifestyle change.  Three months, or more. Accept that you must be patient with yourself, and don’t give up. Give the neural pathways time to strengthen.   Even if your progress is sometimes derailed by life events, you will by then miss the rewards of small achievements along the way, and find it much easier to get back on track.  In a sense, you are building a positive kind of addiction.

Please check out Jonathan Harnum’s excellent book The Practice of Practice: How to Get Better Faster. There are so many good ideas in this book that I wish I could give it more than five stars.  I guarantee you will be inspired and have a lot of fun with your practice.

http://www.amazon.com/The-Practice-Get-Better-Faster/dp/145640797X

The Courage to be Authentic

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Several years ago, I worked with an inspired musical theater coach and all-around delightful wildman, Marc Malamed. Sadly, he departed this earthly life in his prime, but his favorite quote still rings in my ears: “To avoid risk is to ensure failure.” He exhorted his students to go out on a limb, delve deep into their emotions, and bring something personal, raw and alive into the light. He encouraged a playful attitude too, a willingness to make outrageous choices and mistakes, and look silly during the learning process in order to connect with personal truth.

No matter what genre of music you sing, gut level connection is what your audience wants to hear from you.  And whether or not you are consciously aware of it, the need for deep communication is one of the reasons you sing. It’s creative, challenging, and a bit frightening — but ultimately liberating.

How do you go about achieving an authentic, memorable performance? Start taking risks, and manage those risks from day one.

1. REPERTOIRE CHOICE:  Your audience doesn’t want to see you work hard technically. This is uncomfortable for them. They want to enjoy your artistry and connect with you,  the performer. Choose  lyrics that resonate with you, and music that complements your personal sound and technical level. Make sure it’s in a good key, or transpose it to a better one. Let your teacher or coach suggest appropriate material. Songs that aren’t good choices now may be fine later on as you develop, so don’t despair if you can’t do your favorites right away. Dazzling technique has to look and sound easy in order to be enjoyable.

2. THOROUGH PREPARATION: Live with your songs for awhile and make them part of you. Work with only a few at once. Read your lyrics as poetry, without the music. Read them out loud many times, and feel the meaning and rhythm of the words. Does the line you’re reading remind you of something? Connect these words with images from your own life.

Listen to versions by as many different artists as you can. Your wonderful subconscious mind will take in and store away all their interpretations. They will become your musical vocabulary and  source of artistic nutrition. As you learn and memorize your music, start incorporating your mental images. During coaching, go deep and don’t be afraid if you start to choke up, cry or get angry.  You’re clearing a channel for communication.  Once these feelings are released, they will become easier to manage. When you’ve learned your piece, sing for family, friends, your pet, or even an imaginary audience. The more you sing for others the easier it will get, and the more freedom you will feel.

3.  ATTITUDE: You’ve prepared well. Manage your nerves pre-performance using your favorite techniques, then let go and communicate to your audience! It’s all about giving energy to them now. If you’ve done your groundwork, the result will be a satisfying performance.  One day, if the conditions are right, you may have a magical, in-the-zone  experience where you, your fellow performers and your audience are in total sync. That’s the Holy Grail. That’s the ultimate gift.

Eight things to do to get rid of thick mucous on your vocal cords

This winter has been a challenging one for vocal health. Despite their best predictions, flu vaccine developers were not able to cover all strains this season, and many  people are falling ill and suffering stubborn residual symptoms even after they feel much better. Of course, other non-flu upper respiratory illnesses are making the rounds as well. One of the realities of being a singer is exposure to a lot of airborne pathogens, in public places, on transit, and from singing in ensembles. But we don’t turn down gigs just because of this, right? We learn to deal with it.

One of the effects of this winter’s bevy of upper respiratory bugs is thick mucous that just doesn’t want to leave.  Here’s my checklist for dealing with the pesky stuff.

1. Hydrate enough.  Drink a glass of water upon getting up. You’ve been asleep, and are therefore dehydrated. Drink water before imbibing any other liquids.  Also drink water before going to sleep. This is a good thing to do all the time, not only when you are sick.

2. As much as possible, avoid caffeine and alcohol. Well, I understand if you can’t.  If you  need a bit if caffeine to start your day or enjoy moderate intake of alcohol on occasion, drink extra water to counteract the drying effect of these beverages.

3. Drink lots of hot liquids.  Herbal tea is great, as is hot water with lemon juice in it. Lemon is great for cutting the gunk.

4.  Breathe steam.  Boil a pot of water, then breathe the steam.  I sometimes put aromatic spices in the water, set the pot on a trivet or cutting board,  and drape a towel over my head to get more out of the steam.  Tincture of Benzoin Compound, also called Balsam of Peru, is great to add to steaming water. It has an odd odor but is very soothing to your mucous membranes. Just make sure to use an old can for this mixture – Balsam of Peru will coat your pots and is hard to clean up.  I boil the water in a tea kettle, then pour it into a coffee can and add a capful of Balsam of Peru.

5. Clear your nose regularly, whether or not it appears to need it.  Sometimes drainage is hard to detect, and you don’t want it drizzling down onto your larynx.

6. Gargle warm salt water.  After you’re done, remember to gargle clear water to clear the salt.

7. Mix honey with ginger powder, and take a spoonful every few hours, as needed.

8. Avoid dairy, excess sugar and too many carbohydrates.  Eat fresh vegetables and fruits.

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Low Energy, and Breath Not Engaging? Try This.

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We’ve all had days when we’re tired, but we need to practice, perform, or attend an ensemble. Wake up your breathing with the Bellows Breathing exercise.

This exercise should only be done by persons in good health, who already know how to do abdominal breathing. Bellows Breathing should not be practiced by persons with the following health concerns: High blood pressure, heart trouble, stroke, epilepsy, vertigo, detached retina, hernia, or gastric ulcers. Persons with asthma should consult their doctors first, and of course if there is any question at all about any health condition, please consult a doctor.

Directions for Bellows Breathing

1.  Sit in a chair, with your back straight and feet flat on the floor.

2. With your mouth gently closed (no jaw clenching!) swiftly inhale and exhale through your nose, aiming for 2-3 breaths per second. These breaths are very short and noisy, and should make your abdomen bounce. Do only as many as can be done in 15 seconds.

3. Stop for at least 15 seconds.

4. Repeat the process.

5. At the end of the cycle, take one deep abdominal breath through the nose, and then exhale.

This exercise can make you light-headed if you aren’t used to it, so don’t overdo it in the beginning. You can gradually build up the amount of time by 5 seconds each time, but do not exceed one minute.

Breath techniques to help with anxiety, focus and low energy

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There are many breathing techniques practiced by singers, wind instrument players, and practitioners of yoga and martial arts. Not only are they useful for your voice, they are also enormously beneficial to your  general health.  Important:  Always inhale through your nose.  This increases your Nitric Oxide levels, which dilates your blood vessels, opens your lungs and increases oxygen saturation.  High oxygen saturation is important for maintaining energy and an alert, calm mind.  Here are two of my favorite breathing exercises.

Square Breathing: This is easy to remember and can be done anywhere without anyone even knowing you’re doing it. This one will calm anxiety and lower your stress level.

1. Inhale through your nose for four counts
2. Hold your breath for four counts
3. Exhale for four counts
4. Hold your “empty lungs” state for four counts.

Repeat several times.

Alternate Nostril Breathing: This technique is called Nadhi Sodana by yogis. One of your nostrils will always be taking in more air than the other.   Throughout the day, they alternate in dominance approximately every two hours.  If  one side stays dominant for too long, nervousness or fatigue can result, as well as the potential for illness. Alternate Nostril Breathing balances brain hemisphere activity.

1. With your right thumb, press the right side of your nose to completely close your right nostril.

2. Inhale through your left nostril for  four counts.

3. Immediately press your left ring finger against the left side of your nose, blocking the left nostril completely.  Immediately remove your thumb from your right nostril.

4. Exhale through your right nostril for eight counts. (The cycle is now half completed.)

5. Now close your left nostril with your left thumb

6.  Inhale through your right nostril for  four counts.

7. Immediately press your right ring finger against the right nostril, and release the left nostril.

8. Exhale through your left nostril for eight counts.

The cycle is now complete.  Repeat the cycle no more than 3 times.  If you want, you can slowly build up, adding one cycle per day until you can do 7 cycles.