The Straw Ain’t the Whole Toolbox

We ALL want THE thing that’s going to solve ALL the problems. Tumeric anyone?

The toolbox analogy is a great way to think of any set of skills for fixing things. Including voice inefficiencies.

We love the straw and straw phonation for voice, but you would no more pack your toolbox exclusively with hammers than you would ONLY use a straw for voice exercise.

Tools are made for specific purposes. Think of the straw as a specialized tool that counters fatigue, creates more efficient resonance or “ring” in the middle of the vocal range, helps visualize airflow, gets the vocal folds into the best position and thickness for singing, and helps you look silly in public.

Did you know that there lots of reasons NOT to use a straw for vocal exercise?

Straws can cause someone to feel like their voice is out of control or highlight imbalances that cannot be overcome in a few minutes. It can cause too much back pressure and be difficult to do! In some ways the straw can be considered a refining tool, something to polish the sound. Sometimes we need more weight on the barbell, not more frosting on the cake.

You have permission to make all the sounds and collect all voice tools you want. Some tools are more powerful than others, and over time you may get all Marie Kondo on your vocal toolbox, but please stop looking for a magic cure for all your voice woes.

My preference is to travel light and carry a few but very powerful tools, then learn to use them like a ninja. The straw will go with me forever, but it doesn’t travel alone.

Have fun out there experimenting with sound. It’ll never end and what works for someone else may not work for you. Your toolbox will be your own.

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The Other G Spot

Years ago Oprah Winfrey talked a lot about her gratitude journal.  She would write down 5 things she was grateful for, then simmer in the emotion of gratitude.  Every day.

Compounded over time, these small, daily moments of gratitude practice were said to make a positive difference in attitude and emotional stability. Powerful programming for a better outlook, they said.

Fast forward to 2019, and the publication of a book called No Self, No Problem by Chris Niebauer. Dr. Niebauer explains that there is a specific region in the right hemisphere of the brain that increases in size through the practice of . . . gratitude.  With a only cursory search online we found several articles describing research on gratitude and the brain. One researcher said “when participants [in our study] reported those grateful feelings, their brains showed activity in a set of regions located in the medial pre-frontal cortex, an area in the frontal lobes of the brain where the two hemispheres meet.” (Fox, 2019,, link below)

In other words, neurologists can now measure gratitude in a physical structure of the brain.  The other G spot.

I don’t know why, but when I learn about some aspect of brain function, as in:  it is possible to increase activity in a specific portion of the brain through practicing gratitude, I feel motivated to do the work!  (Ahem, this is why I like to talk voice science so much – it helps us know why and how to do the these crazy voice exercises!)

…better understanding the physiology of gratitude can help pinpoint strategies for harnessing its health benefits and help people understand the importance of fostering this powerful emotion.

(Fox, 2019, – link below)

So, if you feel inspired to practice gratitude based the above information, rest assured you are changing your brain for the better.  Oprah let alone countless spiritual teachers before her knew it.  And now neuroscience knows it too.

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Making Music from the Present Moment

Next week I’m teaching a class at the Nashville Jazz Workshop called Soul Song: Setting your Inner Musician Free.

The purpose of the class is to explore the blockages that keep us from practicing and playing/singing from a place of pure joy.  Once those roadblocks are known, they begin to let go of us.

Kenny Werner has a magnificent book on the subject called Effortless Mastery, and this text, along with Victor Wooten’s The Music Lesson, will be our texts for the class.

I also add music exercises involving visualization of the keyboard from Marianne Ploger’s work, and some of Byron Katie’s self inquiry process called “The Work.”

It seems that the most pressing issue we have as a collective species is the matter of evolving into a more mature consciousness.

With the world experiencing so many manifestations of escalating chaos, it might be more imperative than ever to take responsibility for our internal states of mind.  As musicians I believe we have the opportunity to experience presence through the performance of music – because music can only be experienced in the present moment.

Think of music as something that we channel.  If our channel is not clear, or rather we are resisting the flow of the present moment, we cannot fully experience music. Or, share it with others.

When we go back and remember why we started playing music in the first place, we find clues about our BEING which is the foundation of literally everything.  Including music.

In a mind-bending blog post by Leo Babauta at Zen Habits, I’m reminded that instead of trying to reach goals we could just do things out of the love for doing them.  Would Kenny Werner agree with this perspective as it pertains to playing and singing?

Just because you don’t have goals doesn’t mean you do nothing – you can create, you can produce, you can follow your passion. -Leo Babauta

Click here for Leo’s full post called: the best goal is no goal

If you play music of any kind, you are welcome to join the Soul Song class.  Even if you can’t make the class, please enjoy Kenny Werner and Victor Wooten’s books. 

Here’s to more allowing, especially as we play and sing music.


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What is Vocal Health?

We talk about vocal health a lot, but what does that mean, exactly?

Since the vocal instrument is the body, vocal health in large part addresses physical health.

Is a singer getting proper amounts of . . .

  • Sleep?
  • Water?
  • Nutrition?
  • Peace of mind?
  • Exercise?
  • Medical attention?

Think basics of decent physical health, and you can deduce much of what you need for “vocal” health as well.  For example, fatigue or lack of sleep is a huge factor in vocal function.

Didn’t sleep last night? 
The voice may fatigue more quickly than usual, and tonight’s gig might not feel as easy to sing.

To me, vocal health also encompasses how the voice is engaged or exercised, and special considerations for singers based on how the voice functions.  This “vocal health” topic is endless, so please use the following ideas as a jumping off place to do more research for yourself.

1. The Vocal Folds and Anything You Inhale

The vocal folds, or vocal cords, sit on top of the trachea acting as a cap to the airway down below.

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Listening to Your Voice: 3 Ways to Get Instant Audio Feedback

There are arguments for and against listening to the sound of one’s own voice.  The biggest argument against listening to how we sound is the innate tendency to dislike our own voices.

Do you remember the first time you heard your voice on a recording?

If you are like most people, it was a strange experience and not altogether believable or pleasant.

For now, let’s assume a healthy, balanced perspective on listening to the voice, and discuss how learning to hear your own voice “in the room” can make a difference in your training goals.

Why listen in the first place?

Since the voice sounds very, very different inside our skulls than “in the room,” it is important to both become comfortable with the sounds we are producing and to realize what sounds we are actually making.

Audio feedback mechanisms are like mirrors for the voice.  Sometimes it helps to look at what we are doing so we can make adjustments faster and with more precision.

3 Voice Feedback Tools

1. The Smartphone

Most smartphones have a voice memo app.  These built-in apps capture great sound and don’t require much memory.  Use your app to sample a few seconds of singing or speaking and then listen back with an open mind.  You will most likely hear all kinds of interesting things, and you can also re-investigate to your heart’s content.

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