Saturday, 10 December 2011

Vocal Preparation

The other night I was at a music practise. 
  We were preparing for a Christmas presentation and being a Thursday, everyone was nearing the end of a "full on" week.  We have busy lifestyles and I know that in my business things start to become manic at this time of year. Needless to say, I have had no time to even think about singing or practising outside of the designated commitments. 
It was interesting to hear out music director giving instructions to singers about voice conservation and preparation. 
So I thought I can feel a blogpost coming on. 

The importance of warming up

I have been a singer ever since I could string a row of words into a sentence. I remember my first big part, I guess I was about 6 or 7 years old and I had to audition for the part. In the end it was between me and this girl, and I got the gig.  The only other thing I remembered about my first brush with fame was that I swallowed in the middle of a line! … nerves… 
I have sung to congregations as small as a hand full and as large as 10,000. Every time I have done so has been a privilege. 

Because I was young and I sang constantly, I never saw the need to practise or warm up. The vocal warm ups to me back then seemed a little silly at best and a complete waste of time at worst. 
Of course, now that I am a little older, I have also become somewhat wiser... Or at least I'd like to think that. 
When you sing all the time, your vocal chords and throat muscles are constantly being stretched and exercised.  And like any muscle there are keys to keeping your throat and vocal chords in good shape. 
I want to share with you what I have learnt over the years. 

How to kill your voice

Some years ago, when my children were still in primary school, our family went to a large Christian convention. There we were among thousands of adoring followers, and pretty soon swept up with the proceedings. Everyone was excited. So was I. So excited in fact that I couldn't contain myself, and soon I too was screaming at the top of my lungs until something went' pop. That day I lost the top 1/3 of my vocal range. And it didn't come back For a long time. 

How not to kill your voice

This is my number one point; don't strain your voice. Don't abuse it by throwing your voice into compromising situations. Last week I sang Using a mike that was faulty. The result: voice strain. For the past few days I have had a rough throat. 
I have been sucking on vitamin C and drinking heaps of water.  

Learn how to be loud

Don't scream and shout. If you need to raise your voice, do it with your head voice. 
If you can yell high pitched ( bit like a siren) this should not affect your  voice. You need to exercise extreme caution at all times when raising your voice. Voice projection is a skill that can be learnt.


What goes past your gums is really important to the quality of your voice. 
I know that different people respond differently to each other but I have learnt that the majority of people are at least the same. 
High protein and low dairy are what I eat. Dairy gives me the gurgles. If I have anything like cheese, milk, yoghurt or ice-cream, I end up with that much phlegm I could start a collection service.  
I also think it's really important that you watch your food intake prior to singing. Personally I never sing on a full stomach. This means if I am leading worship on a Sunday morning, I fast until after the service. 
If I am doing an evening gig, I make sure there is at least 4-6 hours of no food intake before I sing. 
There are drinks we definitely should be staying away from before and during singing: like coffee, alcohol and milk drinks. I have already explained about dairy. Alcohol is to be avoided not least because of the altered state it can produce but also because it is a diuretic which can de-lubricate your voice. Coffee has the same effect. I love coffee, but can't drink it before I sing. 
Lastly it’s really important to lubricate your voice while singing. But here is a big important key: Don't drink sweet drinks, don’t drink coffee, don’t drink cold. The best thing is water at room temperature or slightly warm.

Vocal Warm ups.

There are a number of exercises that work really well as warm ups and stretches:
 I like sirens. This is a technique whereby you start low and wail like a siren, increasing pitch to the most comfortable pitch and then ease back down to the lowest you can go. Repeat this any number of times, gradually pushing your voice both higher and lower. You'll be amazed at the progress you make. 
Breathing is another good one. One singing teacher I had years ago would get us to fill our lungs with as much air as possible, and then in a very controlled manner pronouncing each letter accurately,  recite the alphabet as many times as possible. Again the more you do this the better you will become. Give each letter no more or less time than it takes to pronounce it properly. 
Another good beginning warm up is humming scales. 
The good thing with this exercise is that you don't have to do this at the top of your voice, so you don't annoy or scare anyone, especially at 6.00am. 
The humming exercise involves humming harmonic scales, increasing one semi-tone at a time until you reach your top register. 

Don't sing tired. 

I really want to encourage you to be conscious of your rest patterns. Like most other parts of your body, your voice involves the use of muscles, and these need to be well rested to be at the top of your game. 
If you are a singer, your voice is your instrument. You never heard of a violinist leaving his Stradivarius lying around e exposed to the elements, not being cared for?? Treat your voice like that Stradivarius! A good example is Celine Dion. Check out what she did and does  to preserve and protect her voice. 
You are blessed to be a blessing, use the God given gift to His Glory!

God bless you, 
Have a great week! 


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