Steve Ericson’s Tips for Singers (Part V – Surviving Concerts)

ChoirSinger.com – Surviving the Long Concert

Republished with Permission

 

One of the best Basses I've ever had the privilege to sing with and a good friend.

One of the best Basses I’ve ever had the privilege to sing with and a good friend.

Most choir directors know better, but every once in a while they go a little crazy and put together a program that has the choir members singing at the extremes of their vocal capacity, both in terms of range and dynamics.

As a singer, how do you cope with the fatigue? What can you do to have enough voice to finish the concert? Today I hope to answer these questions, at least enough so you stand a fighting chance.

First things first: You know how long this concert is going to be because you have been rehearsing the music for several weeks. Sometime early in the process you found yourself going home with a tired voice, and you realized this was going to be one of those concerts. Time to start getting in shape to handle the load.

The sooner you start preparing, the more likely it is you’ll survive the experience, so once you’ve had that revelation don’t wait to start gearing up to handle it. Begin by spending more time practicing the music on your own, paying attention to dynamics and phrasing. Remember, dynamics are relative, so if you can sing the soft passages very softly you won’t have to sing the loud ones quite as loudly to compensate. Of course, if the performance involves something like Verdi’s Requiem or Orff’s Carmina Burana you have a rather large orchestra to contend with, but the principal still applies.

Proper support for your tone is vital in this situation, so whatever you need to do to get those neglected abdominal muscles in to better shape is strongly advised. If the abs are soft you’ll use your neck and throat muscles to compensate, and you’ll run out of juice around intermission.

Pay attention to posture, too. If your back gets tired from holding your rib cage high you need to work on it. Build up the stamina so you can make it to the end. If you use music on stage and hold it in a folder, then start practicing with the music in the folders at least four weeks before the performance. You’ll want your shoulder muscles to get used to the weight.

Beyond the physical conditioning you need, don’t forget to exercise your voice so it’s in the best shape possible. Practice the music using the dynamic markings as soon as possible, so the whole package is in your muscle memory, not just the notes. Practice the passages with sudden or frequent dynamic changes on your own so they don’t come as a surprize at show time. Few things are more embarrassing than being the only one still singing fortissimo when everyone else has observered a subito piano.

Make sure you start getting plenty of water at least two weeks before performance time. The vocal mechanism needs to stay moist, and if you’re underhydrated you’ll end up fighting a dry, scratchy throat. Proper rest is important, too. We all have a life to live, but the social part of it won’t suffer too badly if you spend a couple of weeks going to bed early.

Finally, on the day of the performance pace yourself. Don’t let the excitement of the moment steal away your preparation and cause you to over sing. Save some of it for the end of the concert. You want the finale to be grand, don’t you?

 

ChoirSinger.com – Keep your voice healthy

All too often singers develop problems with their voices which could have been prevented by a little knowledge applied at the right time.

Today I’m going to try to provide a few simple guidelines that I hope will help spare some of you the frustration of having your voice go out on you at a bad time.

One of the most important things you can do for your voice is to stay healthy. I know, not all illnesses can be avoided, but if you are serious about keeping your voice in shape you should make an extra effort to stay healthy. Ear muffs in colder climates can help prevent numerous ear and throat infections by keeping the inner ear passages warm. Washing your hands before touching your face or after contact with people who have the sniffles can help you avoid many forms of the common cold. Getting plenty of rest can help your body’s immune system resist the ‘bug’ that’s going around. A healthy diet will also help.

Beyond such obvious steps to maintaining your health, there are a few things you can do specifically to keep your voice at its best.

Drink plenty of water. It not only is good for you, it helps keep the vocal mechanism lubricated.

Moderate your alcohol intake, especially for a few days prior to any planned performances. Alcohol dries out your throat and can cause unnecessary strain on the vocal cords.

If you smoke, quit. The husky lounge singer sound belongs in a smoke-filled bar, not in the choir. You know all the health reasons to stop, so I’ll just add that it’s possibly the worst thing you can do to your voice.

Reduce your use of dairy products. They increase mucous production and aare generally not good for your voice. If you don’t believe they affect your voice, take this challenge: cut out ALL dairy products for a month, preferably the month before a scheduled performance. After the performance, resume your normal dairy intake and see what it does to your voice (and the rest of you).

Get plenty of exercise, too. However, avoid doing much exercise that involves heavy lifting. Many voice coaches teach that this type of activity can put excessive strain on the neck and throat, affecting the vocal mechanism.

Another thing: be aware of how tired your voice is. If you are tired, your voice is probably tired, and you shouldn’t strain it by trying to sing too loud. Once you have had a chance to rest, and to rest your voice, then you can use it with strength.

Here’s to healthy singing!

 

ChoirSinger.com – Glossary of vocal physiology

The following is a brief glossary of the parts of the body involved in vocal production. It is not a comprehensive list, but does explain somewhat how the parts fit together to produce a good vocal sound.

Abdomen – area below the ribs containing the digestive organs.

Cartilages – The framework of the larynx. The largest cartilage is the Thyroid Cartilage, whose bulge creates the Adam’s Apple. The Circoid Cartilage is a structural part of the larynx, and is attached to the trachea. The Arytenoids Cartilages are responsible for adjusting tension and the amount of separation of the vocal cords. The vocal cords are attached to the Arytenoids Cartilages at the back and to the Thyroid Cartilage at the front.

Clavicle – collarbone.

Clavicular Breathing – breathing from the top of the chest.

Costal – pertaining to the ribs.

Costal Breathing – breathing with the ribs, above the diaphragm.

Diaphragm – flexible partition of miscles and tendons separating the chest and abdominal cavities.

Diaphragmatic Breathing – breathing by relaxing the abdomen, forcing the diaphragm to drop and the lungs to expand.

Epiglottis – cartilage at the root of the tongue which covers the vocal cords during swallowing, protecting them.

Glottis – space between the vocal cords.

Hyoid Bone – the bone at the base of the tongue. Both the tongue and the larynx are attached to the Hyoid Bone.

Larynx – voice box. The cavity holding the vocal cords.

Palate – roof of the mouth. The front is called the hard palate. The back is called the soft palate.

Pharynx – throat. The cavity connecting the nose, mouth, and larynx.

Sinuses – small cavities in the skull behind the eyes and nose. this is where most vocal resonance occurs.

Sternum – breastbone. The front of the upper ribs are attached to the sternum.

Thorax – upper part of the body between the neck and the abdomen. Separated from the abdomen by the diaphragm.

Trachea – windpipe. The air passage leading into the larynx from below.

Uvula – fleshy hanging projection at the back of the soft palate.

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