The Human Connection · Vocal Health

Do Re Mi: Vocal Health and Hygiene

An eight show week is no easy feat. Anyone I’ve interviewed for this blog, no matter their role in a production will tell you so. As audience members, we see one performance of a production, usually not an entire eight show week. Reader, you’re probably asking about why I’m going on about a performance schedule, and I’ll tell you. Even with training, lessons, and appropriate care, acting and singing for 2-3 hours a day with such intensity and passion can cause damage to even the healthiest of vocalists. This is often overlooked by us audience members, but rarely if ever by the performers.

Caissie Levy recently tweeted about having a vocal fold cyst removed ten years ago.

caissie

Her colleagues, Eva Noblezada, Josh Lamon, Lesli Margherita, Nikki M James, and George Salazar among others, all shared their own stories of vocal injuries they’ve incurred during their careers.  In professions like performing, where using your voice beyond typical speaking is your livelihood, vocal injuries are prevalent. I find it surprising that it’s not more commonly discussed between the following communities: actors, singers, athletes, coaches, cheerleaders, teachers, and doctors. When you use your voice for a living in degrees that exceed conversational use or do not get enough breaks to rest during the day, a variety of vocal issues can occur. These are professionals who know and care for their voices daily, know how to modify when and where they can, and know how to support their singing and speaking with their breath. I would be happy to speak with any of these people at any time about their vocal healthcare and the role it plays in their job. For now, I’m going to leave you with some of my own vocal health tips.

  • Find YOUR voice.
    Everyone’s voice is unique to them. The anatomical structure of your larynx and vocal folds is different from everyone else’s. We all love our favorite singers, but if I tried to belt like Idina Menzel or sing as high as Laura Benanti, I would seriously damage my voice. Sing and speak where it is best suited for you–where you feel comfortable and it is as easy as possible. Which leads me to my next tip….
  • Just breathe.
    It’s not just a song from In The Heights. Breath support. I cannot stress the importance of proper breath technique enough. Breathing low, so that your abdomen extends, supports how you speak and sing, ensuring adequate amounts of air so you can do so healthily. If you find you’re chest or shoulders are moving when you inhale instead of your abdomen, you’re not inhaling enough air.
  • Stay hydrated.
    Water is your friend. Your vocal folds have to be hydrated in order to stay functional and healthy. As much as we all love our caffeine, coffee, tea, and soda can dry out our voices, adn plenty of juices have acids that can cause the edges of the volds to become dry. This can lead to hoarseness and laryngitis. Water is your friend and will keep your chords happy.
  • Vocal rest.
    This doesn’t necessarily mean you cannot use your voice. This means you should really rest your voice periodically throughout the day. These breaks allow your vocal folds to rest, since they expand, stretch, and contract when we use them to sing or speak. Just like an athlete needs to rest between games and practice, we need to rest our voices.
  • Warming up and cooling down.
    These are key elements to making sure your voice is ready to do whatever you’re about to ask of it. Your voice is dependent on a muscle group that has to be warmed up sufficiently before it can perform. You should also take some time to bring it down after an extended period of speaking or singing. Going straight to silence isn’t always the answer, but coming back to your normal speaking voice in shorter sentences or phrases can help your vocal hygiene.
  • Do not whisper.
    Whispering is not good for your voice. When you whisper, since you’re not producing sound, you’re simply allowing your vocal folds to slam together as air passes through your larynx. This is how cysts, polyps, nodules, and calluses can form. If you can’t speak, don’t. Allow your muscles to rest.

These are tips anyone can use, and I encourage you to do so. If you have any tips, please share them in comments. If you suspect you may have vocal damage or injury of any kind, I would suggest seeing your physician, an ENT, or Speech-Language Pathologist about evaluation and treatment options that are right for you. I challenge you to take quiet time for yourself this week and give yourself some vocal rest.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP

Improv · Inclusion · Performances · Pragmatics and Social Skills · Summer Speech · The Human Connection

Comedy Tonight: Freestyle Love Supreme

Hi readers! If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I had the opportunity to see the unbelievable improv musical comedy crew Freestyle Love Supreme in DC. If you’re not familiar with Freestyle Love Supreme, here’s how their website describes them:

FLS is a freestyle (hence the name), improvisational, hip-hop comedy show. Every night the performers take suggestions from the audience and spin them into instantaneous riffs and full-length musical numbers. Every night is different: no two shows are the same. We don’t know what we’re rapping about until YOU tell us!”

The crew has a rotating cast of characters, but I was fortunate enough to see Anthony Veneziale aka Two-Touch, Chris Sullivan aka Shockwave (whom I have interviewed about beatboxing here), Andrew Bancroft aka Jelly Donut, Ian Weinberger aka Burger Time, and Chris Jackson aka C-Jack.

FLS
Photo Credit: FreestyleLoveSupreme.com

You might be wondering why a blog with a focus on speech pathology and Broadway is writing about her night at an improv comedy show. This group of talented performers put together an experience that is founded on trust, the power of yes, and open communication. If I could take my students working on social pragmatics to see anything, it would be this. The performers were entertaining each other as much as they were making the audience laugh. The audience was as much a part of the show as the people on stage.

If you’re familiar with this group you know that the entire evening is built on the relationship between the performers and the audience members. How is that different from any other performance I’ve seen? Great question reader–this show only works if the audience and performers can work together. It was the coolest experience I’ve had of an audience being fully present and actively engaging with the folks onstage. There was no fourth wall, everyone was there to have a good time, especially the performers, and it was such a relaxed atmosphere, you felt like you were in a room full of people you already knew. Unlike a scripted show, each performance in completely unique to its audience.

This got me thinking about conversational speech and pragmatics, and how they are unique to the people participating in them. Sure, you can tell someone about a conversation you had with a friends, but it’s never the same as being there. That was exemplified by the friendship between the performers and by how inclusive they were with the audience and between one another. The exchanges are quick but meaningful, funny without picking on anyone, and easy to follow but entertaining. This is what I want all of my students to know about interpersonal skills and conversing with one another. There is no room for ego in this group, and all topics and ideas get treated equally, the same way they should in any conversation. The transitions were logical and smooth, which many of my students are also working towards. I couldn’t help but notice all of these parallels and had to share them with my readers.

The best news I can share with you? Freestyle Love Supreme is going to broadway for 16 weeks beginning September 13, 2019, and you can get tickets at FreestyleLoveSupreme.com. I cannot encourage you to see this enough if you’re able. If not, there are some episodes of this crew doing what they do best on Amazon Prime, but be in that room and feel a part of the community of the audience if you can–there’s nothing like it. This week, I challenge you to engage in a conversation and stay in it–no distractions, no tech, no interruptions. Stay as in tune and present with your conversational partner as possible, and just have fun.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP

Inclusion · The Human Connection

Fundamental Truths: My Basics For Speech

Hi all! I’m spending my summer teaching summer school and taking continuing education courses. As I’ve been going through both of these activities, I’ve been able to reflect on my practices and beliefs that I hold in all of my speech groups. As different as each individual student is, I have the same foundational beliefs and expectations for them all. I thought I would share them with you readers here.

You are capable.

Every single one of my students is capable of achieving his or her goals. Each one learns in his or her own way, but each student, through whatever method of learning, is capable of achieving not only their IEP goals, but also those of personal interest, or goals they’ve created within their classroom.

You belong here.

I strive to make my space a safe space for all of my students. They know that I am there to help and support them. They also know that I create my groups in a manner in which the students feel accepted and equal to their peers. I am sure to always point out successes and valiant efforts in my speech room, be they for stamina, risk-taking, or progress towards a goal, personal or academic. All of this helps my students to feel that they belong.

You and your best are enough.

Unfortunately, there are circumstances in which my students are made to feel “other,” or as though they are “that kid” in the class. My students are themselves, and they are enough as they are. I only ask of them to try their best, and that their personal best will always be exactly enough for me. I stress that they are not in competition with each other or even themselves, and that we all (myself included) working on something in this space.

It’s okay to make mistakes.

I purposefully point out when I make mistakes around my students. The pressure to be perfect and high achieving is overwhelming to my students and many others. I encourage making mistakes. It means my students are learning. When I show them that I make multiple mistakes a day, they learn to understand that mistakes are a part of not only life, but lifelong learning.

Practice with me, practice with everyone. 

One of my favorite things to tell students and families is that the wonderful thing about speech is that it can be practiced anywhere and with anyone. Are you playing with your friends? You’re working on expressive and receptive language. Playing video games? That’s executive functioning and following multi-step directions. Having a conversation at the dinner table? That’s social skills and turn-taking. Speech is not restricted to the speech room by any means.

I hope you’ve found something useful or interesting in my fundamental truths. Do you share any of them with me? Have any you’d like me to adopt? Share them in comments below–I look forward to learning from you. My challenge to you this week is to identify your fundamental truths in any aspect of your life, and examine why those truths are foundational in that area of your life.
Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP

Articulation · Grammar · Language Comprehension · Pragmatics and Social Skills · Summer Speech · Vocabulary

And If We Gain Our Independence: Fourth of July Speech and Language Activities

Hey all! I hope all of my readers are enjoying the beginnings of their summer. I just got back from vacation and will shortly begin doing summer speech. This post will be on the shorter side, but I thought I’d share some Fourth of July themed speech activities involving little to no prep, and can be some solid family fun, not just summer practice.

  • Descriptive day journal

    This is a fun activity that engages all of the senses, encourages language expansion, and some writing practice. In a notebook or on a piece of paper, write about your experiences through sensory experience. For example, “I saw bright, sparkly blue fireworks. I heard loud music and booming fireworks. I felt the soft grass under my blanket. I tasted sweet red, white, and blue popsicles. I smelled hot dogs cooking on the grill.” This is an activity that can be adjusted to fit your day and allow for more details and encourage family discussion and sharing, turn taking, and active listening skills.

  • Menu sequencing

    Planning for a special meal on this holiday? Ask your child what could be included on the menu. After you’ve done that, have the child explain why that food should be included, and how to prepare it. This allows for asking and answering questions to be practiced, sequencing of food prep, and for the child to take on a leadership role in helping plan the meal. Going to a party instead? Ask for predictions of what will be on the menu, and why your child thinks that way.

  • Research the day

    Why not dig deeper and do some investigating on the founding of the United States? I like to do this with my younger students, and it’s a good break inside on a hot day. Using books or the computer, I have the student answer who, what, when, where, why, and how questions for the day by using kid-friendly research sites. After that, I let them research whatever they’re interested in learning about regarding the holiday. This works on asking and answering questions, language comprehension, expanding utterance length and turn taking skills.

  • Patriotic I Spy

    What can you spot that’s red white and blue? Can you spot something patriotic using your speech sound? This is an easy game to play anywhere to target articulation, expressive language and pragmatic language. You can use the holiday as your theme, or play the game as originally intended.

What are your go-to Fourth of July activities? Are there any in this list you’ll be trying? Let me know in comments–sharing your ideas expands everyone’s activity toolbox. This week, I challenge you to spend time with others, unplugged from technology. That’s how I intend to spend my holiday, and I hope you have a great week!

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP

Grammar · Language Comprehension · Pragmatics and Social Skills · Summer Speech · The Human Connection · Vocabulary

Summertime And The Livin’ Is Easy

As you amazing readers are viewing this post, I am enjoying my summer break. It was my first year juggling multiple schools, learning new age groups and programs, and learning to respect and be educated by new students and colleagues. It certainly wasn’t an easy year, but definitely one that was worthwhile.
My students are beyond ready and excited for summer, whether they have no plans or a packed summer schedule. Some are attending camps, both recreational and academic, others are enjoying time with their families. While I don’t send home structured homework or practice for my students over the summer, I always recommend a few things to my students and my families. I’ll be sharing those with you today.
  • Keep Reading!
There is a clear connection between language and literacy, language comprehension, vocabulary, grammatical knowledge, etc. I encourage my students to complete whatever summer reading they may be required to do in addition to reading for pleasure. I still learn all sorts of new vocabulary and turns of phrase from the books I read year-round. I encourage them to ask questions about what they’re reading to enrich their understanding and encourage advocacy on their part.
  • Speak Up!
Talk to your family and friends. Engage in conversation on subjects you find interesting and subjects that are new to you. Educate others on what you know, and ask questions about what’s new to you. Learn and understand new perspectives, and share your own. Involve your families, friends, and folks in your lives across generations. The more you ask of people outside of your immediate perspective, the broader your worldview will become. Participating in these conversations increases length of utterance, encourages clarity in asking questions and increasing language comprehension, involves vocabulary building, and social skills interactions.
  • Go Play! 
Make your own games. Get creative. Learn your friends and family member’s favorite games. Pretend play is a great way to practice expressive language, turn-taking, social skills, perspective taking, language comprehension, and individual creativity.I loved making up my own dramatic play as a kid and have used such strategies in my own therapeutic sessions when appropriate. This also encourages the human connection and allows for so much interpersonal growth.
Those are some of my summer recommendations. I’m sure I’ll be expanding on these as the summer goes on. Let me know which you plan to try and what your summer plans are in comments.
Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP
Backstage · Broadway · Inclusion · Performances · The Human Connection · Tony Awards

I Am What I Am: Tony Awards Musings

In my speech room, I ask all of my students to strive for their best. I do my best to teach them it’s not about winning, but about how you show up and put in the work. I believe that this is also the case for theatre. With the Tony Awards only a week away, I can’t help but think that it’s us, the audience members, who are the real winners.

Every individual involved in theatre, onstage, backstage, production, front of house is doing an amazing job every night to make sure the audience has the best experience possible. It’s easy to forget that those roles are in fact work and are by no means easy.

This is a world in which we escape into theatre to find ourselves. No award adequately expresses the magic found in a theatre. It can’t express the memories, emotions, or connections felt in that space. So as the Tony Awards air on television next Sunday, which I will certainly be watching, keep in mind there are more “losers” than “winners,” and it’s the theatre-goers who are the true winners. Theatre is designed to bring community together, and I challenge you all to keep that in mind as awards are handed out. How will you bring community together in your own way? Share in comments, I can’t wait to read them.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP

Better Speech and Hearing Month · The Human Connection

If Only You Would Listen: Hearing Health

As a school-based speech pathologist, most of my job focuses on articulation, fluency, language expression and comprehension and pragmatic skills. There is a key component to Better Speech and Hearing Month, and it’s healthy hearing practices. Speech pathologists can be just as involved as audiologists in this area. I personally find audiology and hearing fascinating. Here are a few tips to protect your hearing that you can implement on a regular basis.

Plug In.

No, not your headphones–we’ll get to those shortly. Earplugs. Earplugs are your friend in loud spaces. This could be a sporting event, concert, or even your job. Most professional performers have custom-made earplugs to protect their hearing, as well as people who work in contruction, but any earplugs will do. Can’t stand the feeling of earplugs? Try noise-cancelling headphones to muffle the loud surroundings.

Turn it down!

Most people turn the volume up on all devices far louder than they need to be. Televisions, cell phones, earbuds–turn it down! Your neighbors will probably appreciate this too. If you’re using earbuds with the volume up, you can damage your inner ear fairly quickly. For television, turn the volume down. If you find you can’t understand what’s going on, try watching with subtitles. I do this regularly and pick up on more details in the show this way!

Say no to cotton swabs!

Cotton swabs are not meant for ears! Please do not use these to clean your ears. If used incorrectly, you can actually puncture your eardrum. Check the box and allow your ears to clean themselves. The wax inside them is designed to protect and keep the inner ear clean. Removing it can be harmful to your auditory health.

Face the music.

Having trouble understanding what’s being said? Face the music, or the person you’re speaking with! Watching your conversational partner’s face helps you to understand what’s being said. Really hear what’s being said, and your conversational skills could improve too. Take time to process what you’re hearing so you can really process everything being shared with you.

These are just a few tips I teach my students and have picked up through my ongoing education. Feel free to ask questions or share your own tips in comments. My challenge is for you to apply one of these tips to your daily activities and let me know how they impact your day-to-day life.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!

–Stef the StageSLP