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Posts Tagged ‘vocal care’

Good afternoon! It’s a bit of a smoggy day out there, with lots of dramatic headlines in the papers about pollution in the UK so I hope you are all staying safe out there, especially anyone with asthma or lung disease…

I have a gig this evening – one that in the midst of all the viral goo, I nearly forgot I had! So today is a day of all my normal day to day jobs plus gig prep. There are five things I always do in preparation for a gig, that generally mean I can then relax and enjoy the gig and I thought I’d share them today. In no particular order, they are:

GATHER AND CHECK MY GEAR

How many times do people arrive at a gig and find out their jack lead doesn’t work? Quite often, from what I’ve seen. I try to do this step before lunchtime, so that if something needs replacing or repairing, I have time to do it. I check my keys are working including the power supply, check the pedal, pack the working jack lead and a second, spare, working jack lead. I usually also bring my own microphone, spare batteries and spare clips. Just in case. I’ve also added in tightening and checking the keyboard stand, because as it’s getting older, it’s getting looser. It may sound anally retentive, but if I’ve double checked everything, I’ve massively reduced the chance of problems, which means I can focus on the performance. And plus, it’s just professional!

INCREASE MY WATER UPTAKE

 I usually try to start this 24-48 hours before the gig, but sometimes I forget. Nevertheless, on the day of the gig, starting from rising, I drink a lot of water. The more hydrated I am the better it is for my voice and the better the performance will be. I try to avoid too much caffeine, fizzy stuff and dairy, to minimise the dreaded “clag” and if I’m feeling particularly dry I run a humidifier in the studio all day.

WARM MY VOICE AND HANDS UP THOROUGHLY

Starting with humming, “sirening” and trills first thing, and working up to full songs by the afternoon, I usually run my set list twice, once early with some of it hummed, and once later as a proper rehearsal. I try not to over-rehearse on the day because in my experience that can cause problems for the actual show. I’ll also play through, starting with some basic scales, and up to songs at full speed in the afternoon, to get my hands warm. If it’s cold outside, I’ll generally make sure I’m wearing a scarf and gloves to travel to the venue so I don’t undo all the work of warming up.

PREPARE AND PACK PROMOTIONAL MATERIAL AND MERCHANDISE

I’ll pack a box of CDs, making sure I have a poster or label with the price and my web address clearly marked. I also pack business cards to put out on tables, a sheet for a mailing list, some badges, some postcards and a float so I can give people change. I tend to mention my web address during my set but because my name has an unusual spelling, I find it helps to use cards too as people can take those away with them for later reference.

REST

Sounds counterintuitive with all the things I need to do to prepare but a key part of the day is a period of rest. It can be a nap in the afternoon, or an hour with a good book, or a long soak in the bath, but I make sure I take some time to regroup, gather my thoughts and quietly prepare. I’ve learned from experience that without this step, the day can rapidly become very stressful, and I never perform as well if I’m frazzled with nerves and tension. The rest period doesn’t have to be long, but it does have to be there.

So there you have it, my personal tips for ways to prepare. Of course, your mileage may vary. I also swear by Fruit Pastilles to help with dry voice, which I’m fairly sure would make some singing teachers weep… What do you do to prepare for gigs and presentations? Share your hints and tips in the comments. Cheerio until next time!

 

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Hello – a happy (or at least bearable!) Monday to you all! To commemorate the week in which I have formally started to offer singing lessons here, I thought I’d do a wee post about 11 ways to help keep your voice healthy. This is particularly relevent to anyone who uses their voice professionally – as a teacher, public speaker or singer – but will hopefully hold some interest for everyone 🙂

1) Warm up your voice before use

If you are anything like me, you probably wake up croaky and hoarse. My voice is definitely clearer in the afternoons and evenings, after I’ve had some time to use it. A gentle warm up of the muscles in your jaw, neck and shoulders, and some easy humming up and down through scales, will do a lot to alleviate this, and to help prevent straining of your voice.

2) Stop smoking or don’t start!

Leaving aside the increased risk of cancer in the vocal folds and the lungs, smoking causes irritation in the airways which can lead to excess phlegm production and it also reduces lung capacity, affecting breath control.

3) Drink plenty of water

Staying hydrated is a fundamental rule for healthy vocal chords – water keeps the vocal folds moist, causing less irritation when they are used in song and speech. You are much less likely to experience a “crack” in your voice if you have hydrated appropriately. If you are about to perform, it is also a good idea to avoid alcohol or caffeine (both of which have a drying effect on your voice and also cause you to lose water through increased urination), milk (causes production of phlegm which interferes with vocal clarity) and fizzy or acidic drinks (which can cause a loss of control of the vocal muscles and also excess gas – a tiny bit embarassing mid-performance!). I favour room temperature water, as too much cold can cause constriction and tension in the muscles around the vocal chords. I save my beer until after I’ve performed 🙂

4) Be aware of tension

For years I couldn’t sing without my shoulders rising to somewhere around my ears. Singing is a full-body experience though, and any tension at all will affect the free movement of the voice, so keep good tabs on any tension. If you know you have a tendency to carry neck or shoulder tension, be conscious of it, and try to reduce it. Plenty of exercise is a good starting point, and also massage.  Consciously relaxing when you start to feel that “shoulder shrugging” sensation will help you to learn to manage it subconsciously. Now I rarely have trouble with it, but it took a little while of conscious management to fix.

5) Be aware of health issues that might affect your voice

The inhalers supplied to asthma or COPD sufferers can act to dry the voice significantly, so if you are taking these, discuss options with your doctor for reduced usage or other ways to mitigate the effects (for one of my inhalers, I was able to reduce usage to once a day, and I’ve noticed a significant improvement in vocal quality). Some options include increased water consumption, or managing the time that you take your medication so that it has less of an impact. Acid reflux is a common problem, particularly for opera singers, or singers who use their belt frequently. Again, this can be managed with some help from your doctor, and there are things you can do, from dietary changes, to raising the head of your bed, to help with these issues. In short, if you are having problems with persistent hoarseness, “clag” or dryness, it’s well worth popping to your GP for a chat about whether any of your medications or health problems could be influencing your voice.

6) Humidifiers are your friend

You might be spotting a theme here about how important it is to keep your vocal folds moist – you’d be right. So much so that I’d recommend using a humidifier when your environment is very dry, in winter (when central heating can act to dry out your voice) or if you have a cold or flu.

7) Avoid overusing your voice

Roughness, hoarseness or voice loss are most commonly caused by overuse of the voice and are a sign that you need to give your voice a break. If you start noticing these problems, take a break, and avoid using your voice unless you absolutely have to. Do not whisper – this actually places more stress on the vocal folds. Try to avoid clearing your throat for the same reason – this action slams your vocal chords together with a great deal of force and is not conducive to your voice healing. If you need to speak, speak calmly and quietly and only for minimum periods of time.

8) Learn to breathe

It sounds obvious – after all we’ve all been doing it since birth, but the first thing I teach new singing students about is the importance of breath. Speaking or singing from the throat is actually quite hard on the voice and lacks the full support of the breath.  Healthy vocal use involves breathing from the diaphragm and you’ll find if you can master that, singing and speaking will not tire your voice out as quickly and your overall stamina will improve.

9) Watch your diet

Spicy foods or foods which are too acidic can contribute to acid reflux, and dairy foods and chocolate can increase your phlegm production making your voice sound “claggy”. Also, be aware of when you eat, it is never a good idea to sing on a full stomach as your diaphragm will not have the room it needs to move freely as you breathe.

10) Look after yourself

Make sure that you are getting enough sleep, so that your voice gets a chance to rest, enough exercise to improve your muscle tone and reduce stress, and most importantly, if you are worried that you may have a voice problem please do go see your doctor or health care specialist.

Finally…

11) Don’t sing like this…!!

Thanks for reading! See you Thursday!

For more information about medical advice available for performers in the UK, please go to the British Association of Performing Arts Medicine 

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