Category Archives: Singers

Motivation Monday – The Case for Musicianship

For today’s video, I talk about all things #musicianship and why they hold the key to true musical success. Many students are focused on the more sexy topics in music, like technique (who doesn’t want to sing high notes or play flashy piano runs?) or repertoire (song selection is an obsessive topic among educators), but for many, working on their foundational understanding of pitch and rhythm is much more important.
Which brings me to the EXCITING ANNOUNCEMENT! The new course is called…Crash Course in Solfege: The Bundle!
I have bundled my bestselling courses Crash Course in Solfege: Major Edition and Crash Course in Solfege: Minor Edition and added a ton of BONUS material. There is a new section on The Chromatic Scale, two complete voice lessons (one sung by me and one sung by jazz wunderkind Dylan Pramuk) plus a deep dive into a bunch of creative ways to use Solfege in your life. Want to learn how to play by ear? Get your sight singing in tip top shape?
This is a great course for students, and also amazing for music teachers, who have been wanting to teach this to their students but haven’t known exactly how.
Stay tuned for news on the presale. Coming soon….

You can LEARN to play by ear!

Have you ever met one of those people who can sit down and play a song by ear? The can just do it without even looking at the music – and they were just BORN THAT WAY. (Infuriating, right?). What if I told you that you can LEARN to PLAY BY EAR? Not only CAN you, but I am going to show you exactly what steps you need to take to be able to do it. It doesn’t take any special tools or skills – it’s just a matter of sitting down and following my easy steps.

This is how I learned to play by ear, how I taught my 9 year old son to play by ear and how I have taught hundreds of other people to do it too. It’s super fun and will make your whole life more musical!

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Allergies be gone! An Interview with my allergist Dr. Michael Lewin

Required listening…Allergies by Barenaked Ladies

It’s April in NYC and just we’re getting excited to finally put away our heavy coats and observe the buds on the trees and the blooming of flowers, a great many of us allergy sufferers knows what this means.  It’s time for the sniffling, sneezing, watery eyes nightmare that is spring.  And if you’re a singer, this may be a worse time of year for you than even cold and flu season. Continue reading

New Classical Singer Magazine Blog Post!!

I’m super excited that Classical Singer Magazine asked me to write another guest blog post!  Here, you can get into the specific building blogs I use to teach singers how to play piano.  (Yes, I cover all of this in my wildly popular online courses Piano Skills for Singers!)

In my last article, I discussed my extensive experience teaching singers to play piano and how traditional methods have not proved effective at preparing them for professional work. I have created my own method teaching functional piano to singers, which firsts asks the question “What Piano Skills Do Singers Need?”   continue reading…

Random Songs I Like #8 – Midnight Sky

For this series, I will be posting a new song every week from every imaginable style and genre.  The only criteria is that I need to like it!

Another song in my #RandomSongsILike series, this is such an addictive song to listen to.  Miley was heavily inspired by the Stevie Nicks song “Edge of Seventeen”, which is another awesomely addictive song.  I wanted to try some piano fireworks on this one to match the crazy intensity of the song and all the vocal belting.  Let me know if you dig it!

PS – Can you take a quick minute and subscribe to my Youtube channel?  It helps get more eyeballs on my work!

Random Songs I Like #7 – Your Smiling Face

For this series, I will be posting a new song every week from every imaginable style and genre.  The only criteria is that I need to like it!

Happy Valentine’s Day!!  This song is extra special to me, since it was the first dance at our wedding.  This song spoke to us because it embodies how happy we are just being together.  XOXOXO

PS – Can you take a quick minute and subscribe to my Youtube channel?  It helps get more eyeballs on my work!

Random Songs I Like #6 – Steel Rail Blues

For this series, I will be posting a new song every week from every imaginable style and genre.  The only criteria is that I need to like it!

Anyone who grew up in Canada was inevitably steeped in the music of Gordon Lightfoot.  His music was a staple of my CBC listening as a child and even though I might have rolled my eyes at it as a teen, it is something that I have grown to love as an adult.  In my version, I try to reproduce his lauded finger-picking guitar style on the piano.  Enjoy!

PS – Can you take a quick minute and subscribe to my Youtube channel?  It helps get more eyeballs on my work!

My Reflux Mystery Solved: A Singer with SIBO

**This article is not meant to provide medical advice. 

Please see your doctor for medical treatment.**

As a professional singer I can say that one of the most frequently discussed topics amidst my singer friends is something many of us suffer from:  Reflux.  Not only can it be uncomfortable and even painful, but it can cause a lot of issues with the voice.  When stomach acid and vapors makes their way up your throat, it can lead to huskiness, hoarseness and even complete loss of voice.

Like many singers, I have struggled for much of my adult life with reflux.  Once particularly bad period of reflux even led me to develop vocal fold nodules, which I describe in my blog post “I had nodules, and this is what I learned.”

Whenever I have a flare up, I use a reflux protocol that I have developed over the years that includes taking several supplements, including DGL, aloe vera juice, papaya enzymes and probiotics, plus dietary changing like cutting back on coffee, acidic foods and high fat foods.  When it gets really bad, I will even pop a couple of antacids just to calm it down.   This protocol has been effective for me for years, usually eliminating the reflux in a few days or a week at the most.

In June of 2018, I woke up with reflux that just wouldn’t go away.  After four weeks of my usual remedies, I was absolutely miserable:  my throat was raw, I had a terrible lump in my throat sensation (globus) and I had heartburn nearly 24/7.  My speaking voice was totally hoarse and singing was almost impossible.  The reflux was making it difficult to sleep and I was experiencing some of the worst anxiety of my life.

An endoscopy performed by my Gastroenterologist showed I had a pretty substantial hiatal hernia.  He sent me home with a prescription for a PPI (Protein Pump Inhibitor – a drug often used to treat reflux) and told me not to eat spicy foods.

I then went to my Laryngologist who performed a video stroboscopy to have a look at my vocal folds, which were quite inflamed.  My throat was quite red and I had a lot of mucus around my vocal folds.  Knowing that I didn’t want to take PPIs, he sent me home with an H2 blocker and advised me go on a reflux diet for a few weeks (no coffee, spicy or acidic foods).  More weeks went by and I had no relief.  I had eliminated all the usual triggers from my diet, was taking all the medication and I was getting sicker.

I went to two other Gastroenterologists, one of whom told me that I would never get better: that I would always have reflux and need to be on PPIs for the rest of my life.  Since PPIs can cause long-term health issues, I was unwilling to go down this road unless it had to be this way.

       So many things didn’t add up for me:  What caused the reflux?  How did I get a hiatal hernia?  Could there be something else going on?

Around that time I started working with Sara Kahn, a registered dietician who focuses on functional nutrition and is well known for her work with people suffering with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome).  In my work with her, I learned about a condition I have never even heard of:  SIBO.

SIBO stands for Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth and occurs when bacteria from your large intestine migrate into your small intestine.  The small intestine, where most of the absorption of nutrients occurs, is located between your stomach and your large intestine (colon) and is meant to be almost sterile of bacteria.  When the bacteria overgrow in the small intestine, they digest your food and release gas into your system.  This can cause gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation and even malabsorption of nutrients.  SIBO is present in 80% of people with IBS and can show up with people with autoimmune issues.

SIBO is still a relatively new diagnosis and a lot of medical practitioners don’t know about it, which can make it very difficult to address.  To test for SIBO, you do a Lactulose Breath test.  After a partial fast for 24 hours, you blow air into a a test tube, drink a lactulose solution and then blow air into 9 more test tubes every 15 minutes.  I sent in the testing kit and two weeks later I had my diagnosis: my hydrogen levels were very high and my methane levels were astronomical.  I had SIBO.

         SIBO can be caused by poor diet, digestion issues, a stomach virus, food poisoning or anatomical issues like adhesions.  We think that mine may have been caused by the 5 courses of antibiotics I had to take in 2018 for a series of strep infections I got.  I had no idea that this could do so much damage to my system and I thought that taking probiotics would keep my system in check.  Turns out, the antibiotics killed the strep and also knocked out most of the good bacteria in my system, leaving a perfect place for bacteria to overgrow.  (Ironically, the treatment for SIBO is often antibiotics.)

Sara Kahn says:

        We specialize in IBS and SIBO so most of our clients have one these or some sort of         digestive condition.   I can talk about the symptoms and the diagnoses we see…

         Many of our clients present with gas, bloating, diarrhea or constipation (or both).  Some will have acid reflux, in addition to these symptoms.  Some clients have been diagnosed with IBS but with further investigation and testing, learn that they have SIBO or other forms of dysbiosis (unbalanced gut bacteria).  And some clients have already been diagnosed with SIBO when they start working with us.  In both cases, we use diet, supplements and lifestyle changes to help improve digestive function and reduce symptoms.  

The first step was to address my diet, first with the Fast Tract Diet and finally with the Low FODMAP diet, both which limit fermentable carbohydrates that encourage the growth of bacteria in the gut.  Sara gave me great guidance as I completely overhauled what I ate and she recommended several supplements to support better gut function.

I then found an excellent Chinese medicine doctor named Dr. Beth Hooper. who specializes in treating people with SIBO.  Her expertise in treating SIBO came from her young daughter’s diagnosis.

Dr. Hooper says:

SIBO occurs when commensal bacteria from the large intestine migrates to the small intestine.  While the large intestine is colonated with many bacteria, the small intestine is meant to be relatively bacteria free.  When bacteria finds its way into the small intestine, where there is an endless source of food, it can rapidly overgrow causing many unpleasant symptoms.  For many people that overgrowth produces hydrogen gasses, disrupts digestion, impairs nutrient absorption and causes abdominal pain, diarrhea and exhaustion.  For others, the overgrowth produces both hydrogen and methane gases.  This also disrupts digestion, impairs nutrient absorption and causes abdominal pain, but it also causes severe constipation, acid reflux and burping.  In both cases SIBO will cause gastritis, damaging the lining of the small intestine.  This damaged lining or leaky gut allows larger molecules of food to enter the bloodstream and can trigger food sensitivities and possibly even trigger autoimmune diseases.

Modern medicine treats SIBO with antibiotics.  This is a double edged sword as the antibiotics will clear up the bacterial overgrowth, but at the expense of bacterial diversity in the gut microbiome.  In Chinese Medicine we use a range of herbs with antibacterial properties that help heal the gut lining and preserve its microbiome.

Dr. Hooper put me on a course of herbal antimicrobials like allicin and berberine, which kill off the overgrowth.  She also got me on a regiment of additional supplements which helped to build up my stomach acid and aid in motility.  She treated me with acupuncture and helped me make some significant lifestyle changes.  I needed to work on sleeping better, reducing the mammoth stress I was under and moving my body in a more deliberate way.

Within a couple of weeks I felt so much better.  The globus sensation went away, as did the 24/7 heartburn.  My motility improved, the bloating went away and I no longer had mucus in my throat all the time.  Most importantly, my voice was clear and singing felt and sounded good again.   

Like magic, my hiatal hernia went away too, as confirmed by an endoscopy I had about six months later.  It turns out the bloating and pressure in my abdomen had pushed up so hard that it popped my hiatus up, causing a lack of closure in the valve.  Once the pressure in my gut was reduced, it allowed my stomach to be guided back into the right place.

Once my system calmed down, I was able to finally feel healthy and well again.  I ended up having a few more SIBO flareup, which caused Dr. Hooper to recommend I be tested for food allergies and sensitivities.  In those tests, I discovered a list of foods that were possible triggers to my system.  I felt an immediate difference.

This experience with SIBO, as horrible as it was, really helped me put the focus back on my health.  I have lost over 20 pounds, my skin is clear, I have tons of energy, my immune system has improved and so have my moods.  This health crisis gave me a huge wake up call to listen to my body and be proactive about taking care of it.  I walk 2-5 miles every day, do yoga, meditate and I have taken HUGE steps towards managing my stress.  As the mom to an 8 year old, who runs a business and has a performing career, it is not always easy to squeeze in self-care, but now I prioritize it every day.  I also know how to eat right to fuel my body and if I have a set back, I know how to handle it.

The biggest takeaway for me from all of this, was to take my health into my own hands.  I refused to accept that I would have to accept reflux as a daily part of my life.  I strongly recommend any fellow reflux-sufferers to investigate what might be the root cause.  It is worth taking care of your health.

My incredible practitioners:

Dr. Beth Hooper:  http://www.bethhooperhealth.com

Sara Kahn, MS, CNS, CDN:  https://sarakahnnutrition.com

Additional reading on SIBO:

From Johns Hopkins Medicine: Click here.

From the National Center for Biotechnology Information: Click here.

 

 

 

 

Getting Started: How to use the Teachable Platform

Welcome to the courses!  Here is a quick-and-dirty tutorial on how to utilize the Teachable Platform.  Teachable is such a user-friendly and intuitive platform, which is why I chose it as the home of my entire suite on online courses!  Check out this short tutorial to get oriented!

Want to check out the courses? 

CLICK THIS LINK to see the entire suite of online courses and get started learning piano TODAY!

Which Piano and Voice with Brenda online course is right for me?

Now that there are FOUR courses live at Piano And Voice With Brenda, I have been getting a lot of questions about which course to choose.  This quick little list should help you get started choosing the perfect course to help you get secure at the keyboard.  If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to email me at brenda(at) pianoandvoicewithbrenda (dot) com. I’m here to help!

Piano Skills for Singers Level 1 is for you if:

  • You have never played piano before
  • You haven’t taken piano lessons in a long time
  • You want a simple starting point
  • You want to get back into a practice routine and regain some technical fluidity

Piano Skills for Level 2 is for you if:

  • You have completed Level 1
  • You have piano experience, but there are a lot of gaps in your ability
  • You need to learn how to play chords
  • You need to learn how to create your own accompaniments
  • You need to learn how to play voice exercises in 12 keys easily

Do you have to be a singer to take Piano Skills for Singers?

Absolutely not!  Although these courses are geared towards singers, anyone would benefit from these well organized and easy-to-use courses.

Jazz Piano Accompaniment is for you if:

  • You have taken Level 2
  • You are a classically trained pianist and want to learn jazz
  • You want to learn how to play from a fake book
  • You can play chords and you want to play authentic jazz accompaniment

*If you can’t play chords fluidly, you can purchase the “Learn to Play Chords Symbols” course at a deep discount.

Piano Improvisation for Everyone! is for you if:

  • You are a classically trained pianist who wants to learn how to improvise
  • You are looking for a fresh new way to explore your creativity at the keyboard
  • You are a piano teacher looking for a new bag of tricks to share with your students
  • You want to develop your technical fluidity on the piano in a more creative way
  • You are a jazz player who wants to develop a deeper connection to improvisation
  • You are a circle singer or vocal improviser who is looking for a deeper toolkit
  • You are a songwriter or a composer looking for more inspiration

Private lessons are best for you if:

  • You are having technical difficulties, like tension, discomfort when you are playing, etc.
  • You have a specific set of concerns that are not covered by the courses
  • You prefer one-on-one instruction
  • You want to kick start your online course experience
  • You want to work on your singing (I teach that too!)
  • You have completed one or more of the courses and are keen to find the next step
  • You want to take occasional or regular lessons via Skype, FaceTime or Zoom

If you need help deciding which Piano Skills for Singers Course is right for you, please email me at brenda@pianoandvoicewithbrenda.com and I’ll help you!