A voice teaching colleague of mine asked me what could be done for a singing student who was suffering vocal and health issues.. She knew it would be beneficial not only for his singing, but for his overall health. Lifestyle changes can be encouraged in anyone that is not taking care of themselves and putting their health at risk, for example someone who smokes, someone who eats carelessly and suffers from acid reflux or obesity, someone who lacks sleep.
So what can you do when you see someone that definitely needs a lifestyle change? It’s a touchy subject. Many people who are in this condition are already probably feeling low self-esteem on some level. We can’t really know what’s going on in their heads. And voice teachers are often not qualified to help, at the same time it is our job to get them to sing at their full potential. At some point, the truth is that the behaviour may be harming them.
The first thing is to let your student know that her body is her instrument and that it needs to be taken care of to reach it’s full potential. Now some people are just not ready to let this message sink in. They can be like three year olds being told to eat their veggies and sticking their fingers in their ears to not hear. Repeat the message often and gently, eventually the fingers will come out of her ears and she will be ready to listen. (This can also apply to peers or loved ones you feel may need some gentle nudging).
Any singing teacher will have experienced this with messages on practice habits, technique, etc. seemingly falling on deaf ears. Repetition is essential. What may seem like a breakthrough is actually the readiness of the person to accept the message.
Behaviour change is usually classified in five stages:
The situation I’ve been describing is a person in the stage of Precontemplation.
What you can do: Your part is to increase the awareness of the importance to change, stressing the benefits. Do some research into the problem. You can make a list of pros and cons of exercise and nutrition, and discuss health risks. Provide education through print and electronic media (such as The Fit Singer site or Facebook page).
You can also discuss myths and fears of exercise and nutrition (For example, many singers do fear that losing weight will negatively impact their voices similar to what happened to Maria Callas. This just is not true if it is undertaken in a healthy manner.). Find out what’s holding them back – lack of belief of benefits, lack of self-esteem (“I could never change my eating habits”), lack of money, lack of support?
Find out what her priorities are.
The following stage is Contemplation. Here the person is starting to think about changing behaviour and may even have a course of action in mind.
What you can do: Continue with education and discussion of benefits. This may be a good time to invite them to join The Fit Singer’s Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice Club or the VBVV Healthy Eating Challenge. It’s a good time for you to show your support and help them increase self-confidence.
Next is Preparation. In this stage the person is already making plans for behaviour change and may have already made some minor changes. This is where they may be ready for a program. It could be through a gym, working with a personal trainer or The Total Singer Program. Or, depending on the issue, with some other health care professional.
What you can do: Your role at this point is support. You can offer a referral if they need it. The Fit Singer offers customized support programs.
Action is the first 6 months of undertaking a program of change. At this point most of the guidance, motivation, support and accountability will come from the professional be it physician, therapist, coach, trainer or nutritionist.
What you can do: You can also provide motivation and support. Having a community of supportive people is very important for the person undergoing change. Relapses are a very real possibility at this stage and your support is important in managing them.
The final stage is Maintenance. This is after 6 months of successful adherence to a program of change. Again the health/fitness professional will be helping to revise programs, prevent relapses, and provide support.
What you can do: Your role remains the same as for Action – be supportive and encouraging.
If you are a voice teacher working with a student going through the Action and Maintenance stages of someone making weight loss or fitness changes, you may have to start readjusting the support and breathing practices, which will be most affected by the change. You may also need to help them re-adjust posture as they begin to hold themselves differently.
Whether you are dealing with a student, a peer or a loved one, YOUR support through ALL stages will be one of the biggest factors in providing motivation and success!