By Stefanie August
In my numerous years of working as a nightclub and theater vocalist, I always had to keep my voice strong and focused. We singers must be able to keep from sounding winded while singing, especially if we are dancing or playing an instrument. Below are some best practices for strengthening one’s voice while doing just that.
Warm up with deep breathing
Let’s face it, being nervous or excited before performances happens! I have always been a fan of deep breathing as a technique for getting ready to showcase my best singing work before an audience. It calms me down and helps me focus my attention on my singing.
I encourage you to stand before a mirror, place your hand on your diaphragm (the muscle that controls the voice) and breathe through your nose to inflate it as if it were a balloon. Hold the breath as long as you can then slowly release, allowing your “balloon belly” to deflate gently. Repeat this exercise several times. If you become lightheaded, sit in a chair and relax. You can also do this lying down if it’s more comfortable. It’s a practice I do daily.
Vocalize before performances
Vocalizing before performances is a terrific way to prepare to sing for extended periods. Begin by humming tones gently in any key that comes to you naturally. Allow the humming to resonate up from your balloon belly into your closed mouth, letting the sound “buzz” against the back of your teeth. Purse your lips while doing so, to make the buzzing sound forward and focused.
After you have gone through a series of hums up and down any scale, release the sound into vowels such as ah, oh, oo, ee, and ii. Do this for about 15 minutes to ensure the voice is warmed-up. If your jaw feels tight, allow stretch it open and stick your tongue out to relax the jaw and facial muscles. Over-vocalizing is not recommended – save the rest for performing.
Keep the body upright and relaxed during performance
In being aware of our posture on stage we can offer our audiences our best vocal sounds. This requires that we keep our bodies upright yet relaxed as we move around the stage or play an instrument.
I suggest that during warmup you stretch your body as if you were going to do a workout. This could incorporate some light standing yoga postures or general stretches to open up the chest, hips, back, and legs for optimal stamina on stage. Allow yourself to imagine being connected to a large cord through the top of your head while you plant your feet firmly on the ground. This imagery helps to keep you standing up straight as you move around the stage. I liken it to moving as if you are a giant marionette supported by this chord, relaxed and upright to keep your chest from sitting on your diaphragm muscle. Breathing naturally with supportive breath under your tones as you sing using this imagery helps you project and keeps you from becoming winded as you move through your performance.
Take time away from the audience during intermissions to regroup
This is a must-do, not just for your mental well-being, but it is also good for your body and vocal cords. It also gives you time to get refreshed for another set if you are a nightclub performer or act if you are a traditional theater actor. Drink liquids that are refreshing and give you stamina. This means saving alcoholic beverages for after the show. Your audience, bandmates, fellow actors, voice, and body will thank you for it! Speaking of which:
Exercise, eat well, and get plenty of rest
Our bodies and voices must be primed for the rigors of working in musical theater or nightclubs. A healthy diet, rest, and exercise will keep us at our best.
Take voice lessons to keep your voice well-tuned
I practice singing all day while doing chores and other daily activities. It reminds me that I have a gift to keep fresh and allows me to test my stamina. Combining this tactic with good vocal training as you can afford it is also a necessity. I suggest at least two times per month if you are a professional and one time per week if you are a beginner. Your vocal coach is your ally and friend, so take advantage of the time you have to study with him/her.
Here’s to your best performance work ever.