Before You Sing
Before you sing it pays to prepare as much as possible. There are so many aspects of performing that we just can’t control. However, for those things that we can control, why not do everything in our power to make sure we get ahead of the game?
The goal of this post is to provide a quick checklist that you can work on in the 24 hours before a performance. Don’t forget to check out the links to other posts that explore certain topics in more depth.
I cannot stress enough how important sleep is to your singing performance. Aside from providing energy, sleep actually allows the muscles involved in voice to engage better, resulting in more vocal flexibility and stamina. Basically this means that singing feels easier. In my experience, singing a high note when well-rested compared to singing the same note when not well-rested is a world away. It’s almost like drunk driving! 🙂 You just can’t rely on your voice to do what you want. When your drunk, your sense of perception and judgment just doesn’t work properly, which is why driving is a bad idea. To read more about singing & sleep, check out this post.
While we’re on the subject of alcohol, lets talk about drinks.
Water, water, & water. Did I mention water? Water is essential for your voice. It’s like engine oil for a car. Without it, you cannot properly hydrate your chords. I don’t care if you don’t like it, if you want to sing well you’ve just got to drink it!
If you have a sore throat, try chamomile tea with honey. It’s anti-inflammatory properties combined with the soothing sensation of honey can really help. But you still need to drink water.
We also want to avoid things that dry out the voice. Alcohol, coffee, etc. If you need energy, get it from sleep and nutrition. (I’m always fascinated by our society’s substitution of coffee for adequate sleep! It works for office jobs, but in singing you won’t be able to cheat your body. Better get some actual sleep!)
For a super-detailed post of food and drink, read this post.
Being well nourished goes hand-in-hand with getting sleep. You want to maximize your energy levels so you can focus on your performance and not feel drained after each set/scene/act.
The key is eating food that is going to release energy slowly and not make you feel stuffed. You’ll want to avoid foods that give you big energy spikes and drops as this will make it harder to sing when your energy levels wane.
Protein and Carbs are the two types of foods you need to eat. Here are some ideas:
Complex Carbs – e.g. Bread, Pasta, Rice, Potatoes
Protein – e.g. Fish, Meat, Eggs, Soy/Tofu products
Avoid Oily or Spicy foods. For a full list of what not to eat, read this post.
Stretch your Voice (?!)
What on earth does that mean? We’re not athletes!
Hang on, we kind of are…We want to warm up without overdoing it. We need to get the voice awake and supple without tiring ourselves out before we get up to perform. So we are a bit like athletes. How do we do this?
NB: All the exercises here are written with the Tenor Voice in mind. If you are not a Tenor, that’s ok. The goal is to translate what is considered high/low/middle for a Tenor to what is considered high for your voice type (Baritone/Bass if male, Mezzo, Soprano, Contralto if female.) Each exercise clearly explains the goal and range, which should allow you to figure it out. Any questions about how to do this? Please ask below in the comments!
Perform these exercises in the following order:
Falsetto Octaves. Do it from the lower end of your falsetto range through to the top. E.g. for a Tenor, A3 > A4, B3 – > B4, C4 -> C5, etc. This can be done on the Ah vowel or Eee vowel. Or you can combine. Switch it up for some variety. This opens up the chambers for placement/resonance in the face. But you still haven’t used your ‘full’ chords yet; on to the next exercise.
Simple, sustained 3 note scales from the middle of your voice to the beginning part of the upper register. E.g. ‘Eh’ vowel (as in ‘bread’ ) on C4, D4, E4, D4, C4. ‘Ei’ Vowel (as in ‘day’) on the same notes. Then ‘Eee’ Vowel on the same notes again. Perform it in one stream. So:
‘Eh’: C4, D4, E4, D4,
‘Ei’: C4, D4, E4, D4,
‘Eee’ C4, D4, E4, D4, C4.
The goal here is to gently ease into the full voice without testing the extreme ranges (high and low). That’s why we start in the middle of the voice and work our way up to the beginnings of the upper ranges.
Finally, let’s test the waters of the extreme ends of the range! We definitely don’t want to sustain anything too long as we can fatigue the voice.
Try this (upper range for Tenor):
Ah -> Eh: C3 – > G3, D3 -> A4, E3 – > B4
And this (lower range for Tenor):
Ah – > Ei: A3 – > E3, Ab# ->Eb3, G3 -> D3, etc.
You should just touch the first note for a half-second and then sustain the second note for 2 or 3 seconds. The goal is to just get a feel for the extreme ends of the range. It also serves as a kind of dry-run for confidence boosting. You know you can sing in your vocal warm-up/stretch, so you know your voice is good today!
Smile and Pysch Yourself Up
After you have demonstrated to yourself that your voice (and your body) is in good shape, you now need to do a mental exercise to boost your confidence and get pumped for your gig.
First up, are you feeling nervous? Read this. LINK
Now you have the nerves out of the way, we are going to do 2 things to get you mentally in shape.
#1 Visual Walkthrough
Close your eyes. Imagine walking onto the stage/set/wherever you are preforming. Visualize you full of confidence and engaging with audience with positive energy. The band/orchestra/backing track starts. You come in, singing with gusto. You’re at your best; The high note comes and you nail it. The audience cheers and starts going mental. You are rocking it! Or, in a more sedate venue, they are clapping or smiling ogr whatever. The point is, it’s going well. You feel it. They feel it. You are on top of the world.
Look in the mirror. Smile. Sing the favorite part of your song. Just once, please (no overdoing it). You rock. Internalize that. Tell yourself that. That’s basically it. Your brain is firing positivity and energy. You are going to be great.
#3 Chill Out
After all that hype, you might be feeling pretty upbeat and hyper. That’s great, but you don’t want to burn out five minutes into your performance! Let’s do some breathing techniques, which can be found here. Check out the section on Breath control. It’s near the bottom of the post.
This allows you to control your positive energy and be the master of when you give more and give less during your performance. Stamina is key. Too much too soon will destroy your performance.
We all have a heck of a lot to do before any performance. Travel, showering, changing clothes, rehearsals, sound checks, etc. I’m sure there are also some other little items need to get done before we even think about our voice. The goal here is to condense down all your vocal preps into an easy-to-remember formula so at least you don’t have to stress out about your voice.
R est – the importance of sleep
D rinks – the absolute need for hydration
F ood – the necessity of nutrition and energy
S tretch – the need to wake up and get the voice moving
M ental – mental focus to boost our vibe and confidence
Which can be expressed in an easy-to-recall acronym:
Really Driven Focused Singing Machine
I hope you like it. Even if you don’t, that’s what you’ll become if you consistently do these 5 things before any performance.
The importance of Preparation
A critical factor in achieving these 5 things before you sing is preparation for these 5 things. You simply cannot get all/any of them done properly an hour before you go on stage. In fact, you need 24 hours…
To get adequate rest, you have to arrange things the day before so you can get an early night. Especially if you are travelling, you have to figure out a way where you can come to your performance not harried and overtired.
Drinks and Food need preparation. Grabbing greasy fast food 2 hours before will do your voice no favors. Same goes with grabbing coffee or unhealthy carbonated drinks. Make sure you have bottled water and healthy, (preferably home-cooked) nutritious meals that will power you for hours.
It sounds obvious, but if you don’t have a warm up room, you just won’t be able to warm up. It’s really hard to warm up in front of other people, singers or not. It’s annoying for you and them. Even if you are on the road, you must try and find a good practice area. Why? See this. It’s a hallowed space where you can really do the physical and mental exercises that can make or break your performance. And yeah, try doing all that positive self-talk in front of other people. Not going to go down too well and you will look nuts ;).
Take it from me – I know this stuff works
It might sound cheesy, but by doing these 5 things before you sing, I guarantee you will sing better than if you had not. In fact I challenge you to prove me wrong. (Leave a comment below!) I always suffer when one of these five are missing from my preps!
It might not be cool or spontaneous to get an early night, but it will transform how your voice works the next day. It’s always true that sickness or other unforeseen circumstances can scupper your plans, but our goal is to focus on what we can control, not what we can’t. Let’s do these 5 and nail our performances.
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