INTERVIEW: Eric Maisel - Ten Zen Seconds

I recently had the opportunity to interview author and creativity coach Eric Maisel, Ph.D., about his new book, Ten Zen Seconds. Here he tells us how singers can use two of the the incantations (phrases, similar to affirmations, that do a particular kind of inner work) from his book in preparation for practice and performance.

KP: I often tell the singers I teach that awareness of breathing is foundational to building a healthy, powerful, flexible voice. How might a busy singer, with limited time to prepare, incorporate Ten Zen Seconds techniques into a regular practice routine, which already includes stretches, breathing and vocal exercises, plus preparation of repertoire?

EM: The first step is always to go through the twelve incantations, slowly and mindfully, and find the one or two that feel most useful and resonant. It is very difficult, verging on impossible, to incorporate all twelve in a regular way into your life, but it isn’t hard at all to incorporate one, two, or even three.

For a singer—for all performers—incantation 6, "I embrace this moment," is a very important and powerful one, because many performers are, because of performance anxiety, actually "wanting to be elsewhere" and wishing they were elsewhere, and incantation 6 helps remind them to surrender to the fact that they are where that they are and that they might even experience the moment as joyful!—especially if they add on incantation 9, "I am open to joy," to remind themselves of that possibility.

To read the complete interview focusing on Ten Zen Seconds for creative people with busy lives CLICK HERE.

To read an extended interview giving an thorough overview of Ten Zen Seconds CLICK HERE.

©2007 Kay Pere ~ Effusive Muse Publishing

Adult Beginners: Ellen Burstyn

In her memoir, "Lessons in Becoming Myself," Oscar-winning actress, Ellen Burstyn, writes about learning to sing again as an adult for her starring role as Alice in the movie Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore.

"One of the tasks of adulthood, in my view, is to look at what has been laid down in our brains early on and decide whether we want to keep that as a part of our worldview. Certainly anything that got programmed as a limitation of our possibilities needs to be examined and consciously kept or ejected.

"For instance, I was in the glee club as a schoolgirl and was often asked to sing solos. When I was around 12, I decided I'd like to take lessons and perhaps pursue singing as a career. I told this to my mother, who said, 'Let me hear you sing.' I went to the piano in the dining room and opened the sheet music for 'If I Loved You' [from the musical, Carousel]. I played the opening chords and sang the first line. From the kitchen came my mother's voice: 'Awful!' "

"That was it. I couldn't carry a tune after that. My ear went dead."

"One of the things I wanted to accomplish in Alice was to reawaken my ability to sing. I didn't have to be great. Alice wasn't a great singer. I just wanted to be able to stay on key and deliver the song as best I could. I worked on it for months. The final recordings were a patch job of different takes of my own singing and piano playing. I did it with a lot of help and augmentation. But I did it."

Stage Presence: Renee Fleming

"Opera is famous for grand entrances made by dazzling sopranos in glorious costumes. After playing roles like Manon and Violetta, I've learned to radiate a sense of adventure and the joy of being in the moment. That's the magnetic calling card. Be yourself, comfortable in your clothes, in your skin. And be gracious . . . Be direct and give your full attention to the person you're talking to. The more interested you are in other people, the more interesting you will be to them."

~ Renee Fleming, soprano

Vocal Health: Hydration


Proper hydration is important for physical health, and especially important for singers and other professionals who rely heavily on their voices during the course of their work. Water is the primary lubricant for the vocal tract. Lubrication of the vocal folds is necessary for efficient vibration when speaking or singing.


The primary component of the human body is water. Water is involved in transport of the body's nutrients, elimination of waste products, lubrication of moving parts, and maintenance of moisture on body surfaces that come into contact with air. Water is important for nearly all natural chemical processes within the body.

Water constitutes 65% (for women) to 72% (for men) of an average adult's body mass. According to some estimates, the human brain in nearly 85% water!


If you are a singer or other vocal professional who uses the voice heavily, special care should be taken to keep your body and the air you breath well hydrated. Damage and wear take place at a much greater rate when the body is dehydrated.

Here are a few guidelines:*
  • Drink 7-10 8 oz. glasses of water daily (assuming normal kidney function)
  • Room temperature water is preferable.
  • Drinking cold water before singing may slow the responsiveness of the muscles of the throat.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol, which can contribute to dehydration.
  • Decaf and herbal teas can be beneficial to the voice, by providing warmth, hydration, and humidity without the drying effects of caffeinated drinks. Throat Coat tea is especially good for singers.
  • If you chose not to give up caffeinated and alcoholic beverages, offset losses due to their diuretic effects by refilling the cup, mug, glass or container with water and drinking it all.
  • Avoid dairy products, which can increase mucous production
  • Minimize salty and sugary foods and beverages, which can contribute to dehydration
  • Avoid carbonated beverages, which can lead to acid reflux.

Twelve 8 oz. bottles of water are shown in the photo above. If you drink water from plastic bottles, please, recycle!

Indoor Humidity

  • Healthy indoor humidity is 40-60%.
  • Body moisture is lost though breathing in low humidity climates, i.e., air conditioned or heated rooms (routinely 10-20% moisture), cars, buses, airplanes, etc.
  • Use a humidifier in dry weather, or year round if you live in a dry climate.
  • Humidity is measured by a hygrometer. Basic indoor hygrometers are available for $20-40 from many online retailers.
  • Maintaining healthy indoor humidity also reduces the presence of allergens such as dust mites, mold and mildew. Even someone without allergies may experience vocal fold irritation if these are present in their living environment.
  • Keep your humidifier clean to avoid spreading mold and mildew into the air.


  • Avoid singing with a dry throat.
  • Inhale through your nose rather than your mouth. The nose warms and moistens the air before is passes over your vocal folds.
  • Don't smoke
  • Avoid smoky environments
  • Wash your hands frequently to avoid becoming ill


  • Increased hydration to aid in healing
  • Thin mucus by increasing your water intake
  • If you have a cold, use a humidifier if the climate is dry
  • Avoid heavy voice use if your throat is inflamed or sore
  • Get sufficient rest
  • Rest your voice when it is tired

Some prescriptions and over the counter medications can lead to dehydration.

  • Antihistamines and decongestants can contribute to dehydration of the vocal folds.
  • Some pain relievers, such as Anacin and Excedrin, contain caffeine, which can lead to dehydration. Read labels carefully.
  • Diuretics increase urine production. It is necessary to offset this loss by increasing water intake.
  • If necessary, thick mucus can be thinned by using expectorants such as Robitussin.

See NCVS Prescribed Medications and Their Effects on Voice and Speech to determine whether the medication you take may have an adverse effect on your vocal system.

Water in the Body
Wikipedia - Body Water

*[NOTE: The contents of this site are not meant to be interpreted as medical advice. Consult your doctor if you plan to make significant changes to your daily health routine.]

©2007 Kay Pere ~ Effusive Muse Publishing

Why Sing - Students' Reasons

These are actual reasons given by people who contact me about taking voice lessons:

  • I love to sing and sing all the time
  • I want to learn to sing better
  • I love to be on stage
  • I want to expand my range
  • I want to learn better breath support
  • My voice cracks when I go for high notes
  • I want to audition for shows (school, community theater, Broadway, opera)
  • I’ve got an audition coming up and want help getting ready
  • I lose my voice after our shows. What am I doing wrong?
  • I write songs and I want to be comfortable enough with my voice to be able to perform them for an audience
  • I want to be able to sing with more feeling and meaning
  • I want to learn to read music
  • I've been told I have a good voice and should take lessons
  • I've been told I'm singing wrong and should take lessons
  • I was told I was tone deaf as a child but I really want to sing. Do you think I can learn? (99.99% of the time the answer is "Yes!")
  • I have something important to say though my music, but don't know how to start
  • I've been told nobody can't understand the words I'm singing. Can you help? (Yes!)
  • I’ve never sung but I’ve always wondered if I could
  • I'm getting married and I want to be able to sing a special song at the reception
  • My husband knows I like to sing, so he bought me this gift certificate for a month of lessons
  • I've been going through some tough times lately and wanted to do something for myself
  • I want to be able to sing lullabys to my grandsons
  • They really like me at the karaoke bar
  • I want to be famous
  • I was flipping through the new phonebook and saw your ad
  • I was watching American Idol and thought, I can do that. I just wanted to find out if I really can.
  • I've been taking guitar lessons and want to be able to sing while I play
  • I’ve always wanted to join the church choir/community choir but I’m shy about my voice
  • I got a part in a show and I want extra coaching
  • I’m in a band and we’re getting ready to record our next CD
  • I want to be an really excellent singer and performer
  • Learning to sing is on my list of “100 Things to Do Before I Die”

©2007 Kay Pere ~ Effusive Muse Publishing

Why Sing - Reasons to Continue

This list of the reasons reasons people continue to take voice lessons is based on observations made during many years of teaching as well as things verbalized, occasionally, by students:
  • Singing is important to me so I find ways to make it happen
  • The joy of singing sustains me
  • Someone close to me is or has been supportive of my efforts
  • I have a mentor who I respect
  • I’ve learned that practice, preparation, patience and persistence bring positive results
  • I actively seek out ways to enjoy using my voice
  • I don’t take either praise or criticism too personally
  • I work to be my best, but know that I don't have to be perfect to bring enjoyment to myself or others through my voice
  • I’ve seen that disappointments happen to everyone
  • When I encounter setbacks, I know that other opportunities will come along
  • I believe there is a place for me and my abilities in the world

©2007 Kay Pere ~ Effusive Muse Publishing

Why Sing - Stopping Lessons

Life happens. Priorities change. Here are some of the reasons given by students who decided to stop taking voice lessons. There seem to be more reasons one can find to stop than to continue on. Even success requires new choices. I commend those who continue toward their goals despite obstacles.
  • I tried out for a show and made it. I’ll be busy with rehearsals
  • Baseball, basketball, ballet, soccer, whatever is starting next week
  • My band is going on tour
  • The girls at the karaoke bar tell me I’m great. What do you mean I’m not matching pitches?
  • My mom/dad/I got a new, demanding job and our schedule has changed
  • I’m not feeling strong enough to deal with constructive feedback right now
  • We’re moving to Hawaii in two weeks
  • My mom just had a baby
  • My dog just had puppies
  • I’m moving to New York City to be closer to the action
  • My successful audition helped me to get into the college of my choice
  • We’re buying a new house and won’t be able to afford lessons anymore
  • The price of groceries, rent, electricity and gas to fill the car keeps going up
  • My grandpa/grandma, dog/cat/pony died and I’m too sad right now to sing
  • Someone in my family is really sick
  • One of my parents lost their job
  • I want to spend more time with my friends
  • I need more time to play
  • I took 3 lessons and my voice isn’t starting to sound like my favorite singer’s yet
  • I'm only interested one style of music
  • I’m stressed out trying to get good grades
  • I'm stressed out just trying to keep up in school
  • I'm stressed out at work
  • There's too much fighting and noise at home
  • I didn’t plan time for practicing
  • I don’t want to do vocal exercises
  • I tried out for a show and didn’t make it. I’m giving up.
  • It irritates my dad if I practice after he gets home from work, but that’s the only time I have
  • I want to be famous and lessons aren't making it happen as quickly as I thought
  • I just need a break for a while
  • My car needs major repairs
  • I'm going back to school in the evenings so I can get a better job

Even if taking lessons is not possible, for one reason or another, I encourage everyone to continue singing whenever they get the chance. One does not need a teacher's guidance or permission to enjoy the expressive power of song. Turn up that radio! Dust off those old LPs, CDs, or your iPod, and sing along! Don't worry what the neighbors might think. Perhaps they will be inspired by your boldness to do some fearless singing of their own.

©2007 Kay Pere ~ Effusive Muse Publishing

Ready for lessons? (1. Developmental Factors)

I frequently receive phone calls from parents of young children (2-6 years old) who sing all the time and may have asked to take lessons. Often, a parent will go on to confide that he/she wants to find out if the child "has something."

What the child has is a love of singing and a natural curiosity about his or her voice. This, in itself, is precious.

For several reasons, formal individual voice instruction is usually not the best choice for a very young child.

It is important to recognize that the structure required for singing in lessons, the need for physical and intellectual self-awareness, and the kind of practicing necessary for a student to benefit from lessons may run counter to a very young child's natural developmental stages. Pushing a child beyond that which he or she is developmentally ready to do will only result in frustration for parent and child.

For a young child who sings, that singing is play. By experimenting with her voice the child is learning and practicing in a way that is developmentally appropriate, using a process similar in many ways to the natural trial-and-error pre-toddlers employ as they learn to talk and walk.

Because a singer IS the musical instrument, formal vocal instruction requires a level of self-awareness not developmentally accessible in early childhood. Learning to sing in lessons requires body awareness, the ability to reflect upon what one has done and would like to do, and a willingness to accept and retain complex instructions.

To benefit from formal lessons a student needs to be mature enough to practice teacher specified material independently at home while maintaining the joy that originally motivated the desire to take lessons. Practicing requires self-discipline. If the student is not able to tolerate the repetition and sometimes frustration involved in practicing, then it is advisable to wait until he/she is older. While parental praise and positive guidance go a long way toward developing good practice habits, forcing discipline on a child will not encourage a love of music.

While it is best if a child is able to read and memorize lyrics, it is possible to work around reading difficulties if the child has a strong auditory memory and the self-motivation needed to work through challenges.

Music programs designed for young children who are not yet reading are often taught in parent/child groups, with songs integrating repetition and movement. Many important musical concepts can be taught in such contexts. They are also a wonderful opportunity for parent/child bonding.

I feel it is important for a parent to avoid focusing on the young child's love of singing as a possible ticket to fame. When the time comes for the child to test will, skill and ability in pursuit of competitive musical opportunities, it will be the playful joy of singing that sustains such efforts and provides lasting satisfaction. Public recognition is a pale shadow by comparison.

When I receive a call from a parent, as described above, I usually recommend that the parent continue to nurture the child's natural curiosity and developing voice by providing:

  • group and family singing experiences, such as Kindermusik or Music Together classes available in many areas;
  • sing-along recordings that feature other children's voices as models;
  • participation in a children's choir, if one is available at a local church or school.

I accept students 10 years of age or older for private vocal instruction.

©2007 Kay Pere ~ Effusive Muse Publishing

Turandot & Humanity

I went to see an Eastern European touring production of Turandot last night at a local theater, an opera I'd not seen before. I waited until the last minute to decide whether to go, knowing that it wouldn't be difficult to get a seat on a Thursday night.

At this theater, a ticket for an orchestra seat may mean you'll be sitting *with* the orchestra. My seat was off to one side, only a few rows back from the front and less than 6 feet from the double basses. They had been exiled (ex-aisled?) from the rest of the orchestra to sit along a side wall. I could almost read their music, could have helped to turn pages if they'd asked. My sight-lines allowed me a view back stage where I could see the actors and chorus during the opera as they prepared to come on. This is a stage where I also have performed.

Some of the voices in the lead roles were very good. The lyric soprano who played Liu was stirringly artful, technically brilliant. Visually and dramatically, however, the rest of the performance was lacking. They offered scuffed sets, tired costumes, uneasy movement by the opera chorus, and side conversations on stage during solos. There were some in the chorus who seemed not to know their words. I pictured the passionless romantic tenor lead, Calaf, back-stage growling, "I make opera for you", then flashing the same forced, perfunctorily toothy grin he bestowed upon the audience at the end of a recitative.

During the first intermission, as the orchestra began to return, one double bassists sat down to relax at the end of my row, just a few seats away, exuding an odor stale cigarettes. He and the other bassist chatted for a while in clipped, guttural syllables, glancing around disdainfully.

Thankfully, the aria, "Nessun dorma" (listen / buy) in Act III, Scene 1, has one of the most beautiful melodies ever written by Puccini. What a contrast between that glorious soaring theme of transcendent love and the road-weary humanity on display last night! Experiencing that one unexpected moment of juxtaposition was, for me, worth the cost of my orchestra seat.

:-), Kay

©2007 ~ Effusive Music Publishing


In this space you will find articles on vocal development, goal setting, performance and recording studio techniques for singers, and reflections on my experiences working with a wide variety of singers in workshops and private lessons.