Fit to Sing

Vocal health is about mind and body as well as voice!

Whatever your style of singing and whatever your repertoire, you should take a holistic approach to your practising and performing. Here are a few tried-and-tested tips for you to keep in mind at all times.

  1. Always warm up physically before you sing. In particular, stretch and loosen up your neck, shoulders, and upper back. This doesn’t have to take a long time but should be before your vocal warm-up. Repeat this after singing, to allow cooling down.
  2. Ensure your technique is sound – poor technical habits may lead to tension and muscular strain. We strongly recommend that you seek professional advice, whatever your level of experience.
  3. Check your posture when singing, using a mirror, or, better still, a video camera. Look at the overall balance of your body, and for signs of tension around your neck and shoulders. If you regularly sit to sing, use a chair that is as comfortable as possible, that supports your lower back and is at the right height for your body build.
  4. Where is your music? If on a stand, check the stand height and sight-lines, e.g. to your accompanist. If you are holding the music, feel its weight and consider a stand if it is heavy or bulky.
  5. Vision and hearing can affect your neck and upper body posture, have them checked periodically. If you need glasses or lenses to see the music or the conductor, use them!
  6. Plan your practice sessions to allow frequent short breaks in singing. The biggest risk factor for a breakdown in your vocal health is a sudden increase in the quantity or quality of practice, e.g. in the run-up to a concert or audition. If something starts to ache, stop and loosen up. Use a kitchen timer to remind you if a break is due – every 20 minutes or so.
  7. Your overall health, physical build, and voice type may make some repertoire more uncomfortable for you. Respect your limitations.
  8. If you have a cold or a sore throat, remember VOCAL REST AND HYDRATION. Vocal rest does not necessarily mean no singing: it means no shouting, no whispering, no force, and limit your phone calls. Hydration means water, not tea/coffee or alcohol! Also, avoid atmospheric pollutants such as cigarette smoke and over-heated or air-conditioned rooms.
  9. Your general lifestyle can affect your singing: make sure you are eating and sleeping properly.
  10. A mixture of regular exercise (e.g. swimming or sport) and relaxation will help maximize your potential and maintain your vocal health. Performing is stressful and tension can cause pain and stiffness. Find something that you enjoy, it’s more likely to help!
  11. Remember that you are a musical athlete and your performance depends on you taking good care of yourself. Think twice about attending a party or going to a noisy pub in the days before a concert. Watch out for accidents: take care of dangerous sports and DIY.
  12. There is a world outside music! Keep your hobbies and outside interests going to avoid getting over-focused on your singing.

PREVENTATIVE CARE ON THE ROAD

When you are on tour as a live musician (or indeed any other kind of performer), there are times when you don’t have the chance to go to the gym or keep up with good exercise routines. Here are some of the things you can do when you are on the road and in the air.

  1. Use the stairs rather than the lift, and walk up and down escalators rather than standing still.
  2. If you’re a musician with heavy instruments or equipment, carrying them will be a form of exercise. Make sure you’re doing it properly though! Bend at the knees when lifting, and wear straps to distribute the weight properly. Help your drummer or bassist with their gear, so you get the exercise and they get a break!
  3. If you need some thinking time, take a walk around the block –it clears your head and gets you some exercise.
  4. If you’re in an unfamiliar venue, take some time to check out what’s there and what’s not. There should be drinking water, at the very least. Consider organizing a healthier rider (a list of dietary/drink requirements).
  5. Opt for fruit and nuts rather than biscuits, crisps or pastries for backstage snacks. Try to drink more water and less coffee or tea and cut down on the sugary drinks.
  6. Try to get the management to sort out decent meals, either at the hotel or venue – or use your per diems wisely to make sure you’re eating a balanced diet.
  7. Do quick stretching throughout the day –it helps relieve stress and exercises your muscles.
  8. Persuade a fellow band member to be your activity buddy and arrange to exercise together; neither of you will want to let the other down. Go for runs together while on tour.
  9. Even if you’re not wanting to be super fit, you still need to keep healthy, so you can do various exercises in your hotel room and even a brisk 10-15 minute walk in the fresh air can help.
  10. Give yourself reasons to take regular breaks, say if you and/or your band members are just not getting that middle eight or fast refrain.
  11. Start wearing a pedometer. You’ll be surprised how motivated you can become to increase your daily step total. Aim for 10,000 steps – you’ll probably total those up simply by jumping around on stage!
  12. Issue a fitness challenge to another band such as the number of steps walked in a week.
  13. Make sure someone in the band (usually the manager) has health and safety responsibilities and makes sure that there is an adequately stocked first aid kit on the tour bus.
  14. Be sure to keep sufficiently hydrated when in an air-conditioned space – like a plane. This is especially important for singers, as the dehydrating effect of air-conditioning can make singing very difficult. Wrapping your throat up can also help prevent drying of the throat.
  15. While we’re talking about planes, take care not to force your voice against the noise of the engine, onboard equipment, etc. And don’t forget to keep your legs moving periodically, so you don’t develop blood clots which are potentially life-threatening. Some performers have been known to do exercises in the aisles! This can help with re-setting your body clock too.
  16. Time-zone changes can put considerable stresses on the body and fatigue can be a common problem. Try to get as much rest and rehydration as you can when travelling and re-adjust your body clock as quickly as you can. Flying a couple of days earlier for a gig at a distant venue would help counteract this problem. If you can’t fly in sooner and you’re just in for the gig and straight out again try to stay on ‘home-time’ by eating and sleeping at the times you would normally at home, if possible. You and your tour manager should plan your tour schedule in terms of sleep/body clock issues, in order to make it easier on yourself and the rest of the band.