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