Category Archives: Singers

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!

VIDEO: 7 Reasons you should improvise at the piano

Improvisation is not just for jazz musicians! Improvisation is an incredible tool to build and expand your skills at the piano, while exploring your own creative voice.

 

Want to learn to improvise?  Check out my new online course Piano Improvisation for Everyone!

VIDEO: Learn to play a blues in record time!

Learning to play on the blues is a lot of fun and is a wonderful gateway into jazz improvisation. The Blues is a style of African American music that came into popularity in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Some important figures are Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, John Lee Hooker as well as Buddy Guy and B. B. King. Singing and playing the blues is very expressive, as the style was created to express sad and frustrating feelings through music.

The blues shows up heavily in jazz and is widely known to have been the precursor to rock and roll and R&B. Understanding the blues not only gives you a snapshot into this important musical style, but it also provides a structure for deeply satisfying improvisations. In this quick tutorial you will learn:

  1. The 12 bar blues form
  2. How to play the chords
  3. How to walk a bass line
  4. How to improvise on a blues

Easy to understand and addictively fun to play – and you learned it in under 15 minutes!

Check out the video!  (Don’t forget to hit subscribe and leave a comment below)

 

Want to continue learning jazz piano?  Check out my online course Jazz Piano Accompaniment and build authentic jazz skills in a fun and easy way!

Introducing…Piano Improvisation for Everyone!

Drumroll please….I am excited to announce the launch of my brand new online course called Piano Improvisation for Everyone!

Piano Improvisation for Everyone! is a course designed to get you improvising satisfying music at the piano. In this unique curriculum, you will learn a variety of techniques to get started improvising exciting music at the keyboard. Learn how to explore different harmonic material, melodic ideas, accompaniment techniques and started points for creating improvisation compositions. In addition, we cover how to improvise pop piano solos and jam on the blues!

This course is perfect from pianists of any level, from experienced beginner too advanced. Piano teachers will also get some great ideas and exercises to work on with their students. Discover the enjoyment of developing your technique, harmony and rhythm in a creative environment. Experiment with new sounds and ideas to apply to your songwriting or composing. The exercises are structured, but open ended enough that you could take the work in whatever direction you want to go.

Check out the course HERE!

Video: What is your why? Strategies for Success

It is easy to get bogged down with lists of things you have to do, but before that you need to identify your “why”. Why do you want to learn piano? Leave your comments below…

Want to know more about my work?  Check out my suite of unique online  piano courses  –     Piano and Voice With Brenda. Find out why hundreds of people worldwide are raving about this work!

Video: How to establish a practice routine

Here are tips and solutions to the “how the heck am I supposed to practice” problem. As a longtime teacher, I have 25+ years of helping people to achieve their musical goals and gain much-needed piano skills. Make sure to check out my mom-hack where I share how I get my son to practice every day! (Don’t forget to hit subscribe and leave a comment below.)

 

Enjoying this information?  Check out Piano and Voice With Brenda – my suite of unique online courses that will take your piano playing to the next level!

Which Piano Skills for Singers course is right for me?

Now that there are FOUR courses live at Piano Skills for Singers, 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!

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

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

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

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.

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!

What Piano Skills Do Singers Need?

As a follow up to my blog post “How does piano training fail singers?”, I wanted to make a clear list of the actual skills that singers need in order to be successful.   Let’s face it:  many of us are going to need to be employed in a range of different ways in order to piece together a living.  Many of the job opportunities available to singers require strong keyboard skills.  Here is my master list of skills singers need.

All singers should be able to:

  • Play voice exercises in 12 keys hands separately
  • Play major and minor triads in 12 keys hands separately
  • Play melodies in the right hand with decent fingerings
  • Create simple accompaniments using chords (“faking”)

This basic skill set will enable a singer to practice on their own, accompany themselves, teach voice lessons, work as a section leader of a chorus, direct a community chorus and lead a singalong with children or adults.

In addition to these above skills, here are a list of piano skills that singers in different genres need.

Pop singers should be able to:

  • Play seventh chords and sus chords in 12 keys
  • Create simple accompaniments that include a bass line in the left hand
  • Play different rhythmic grooves in good time

Jazz singers should be able to:

  • Play seventh chords in 12 keys
  • Play from a lead sheet
  • Walk a bass line in the left hand, while comping rhythms in the right hand
  • Play jazz chord voicings
  • Play a Bossa Nova and other Latin grooves

Music Theatre singers should be able to:

  • Play voice exercises in 12 keys hands separately
  • Play major and minor triads in 12 keys hands separately
  • Play melodies in the right hand, while playing bass notes or chords in the left hand
  • Fake accompaniments of a variety of styles

Classical singers should be able to:

  • Play melodies in the right hand with correct articulation
  • Do simple chord analysis of scores, jotting in chord symbols
  • Play classical style accompaniments like Alberti bass and rolled adagio styles
  • Play at least 2 parts at a time of SATB choral music

Choral Conductors should be able to:

  • Play 2, 3 and 4 parts at a time of SATB choral music
  • Play a wide range of accompaniments for vocal warm-ups
  • Conduct from the piano, while playing exerpts of the score

General Music teachers should be able to:

  • Play simple accompaniments and sing at the same time
  • Play accompaniments for vocal warm-ups
  • Play interpretive music for movement and interpretation

Early Childhood Music Teachers should be able to:

  • Lead a singalong while creating simple accompaniments on the piano
  • Play and sing without looking at the keyboard (looking at student’s faces instead)
  • Play interpretive music for movement and interpretation

I have had the luxury of being employed in every single role I have listed here and these skills have been wildly helpful in my being successful in each position.

Have I overlooked any skills on this list?  Leave a reply above!

Are you missing any of these skills?  Don’t fret!  It is possible to learn each of these skills quickly, easily and inexpensively, with some work and consistency.  Check out Piano Skills for Singers – the only online piano course for singers, created by a singer.