Diary of a singer

Wow, what a busy weekend.  Three singing bookings plus Sunday morning church equals 4 plus 2 plus 4 plus 2 hours of singing between Friday evening and Sunday morning…..and I must say I pulled it off without a hitch.

But, not without a lot of planning, vocalizing, and careful monitoring. Sure enough, I made it look like a breeze. My audience’s feedback was everything from “your voice is like butter” to “Wow, how do you do that with your voice?”

So, here is how it happened.

Friday morning I woke up with a tickle from the dry air caused by having the furnace on for the night. It quickly reminded me to get out the humidifier for Friday night’s sleep. But in the meantime, I had a full weekend of singing scheduled, so I carefully had to set my course.

As always, I started with my head voice, narrow vowels and a volume less than that of regular speech. I did lip rolls and woos endlessly to get the blood flowing. I always vocalize at a low volume. This helps me balance my air flow first, and send signals to the rest of my body that if I want to have any power later on, I had better work for it now. This means engaging my entire body in the process of breath control. My stomach is involved, my ribs are involved, my back is involved….you get the drift….my entire being is engaged. This is slow and methodical, all the while testing and re-adjusting the attack of my consonants, and tone of my vowels on exhale. It’s not easy work, but it’s a sensation I am all-too-familiar with. It’s a balancing act of pressure inside my lungs versus pressure outside my lungs.

By 3 pm I’m ready to load my gear, shower and dress for my show. I keep in touch with my body and it’s direct energy that is connected to my breath control. I know this is what I will need to do for the entire evening if I am going to be at my best.

And I was. I was still able to sing as well at 1:00 am as I did when I started at 9:00 pm.

Saturday morning ritual started similarly, but I was tired. I had a shower and relaxed in a hot bath. I spent some time focusing on deep breathing and releasing narrow vowels on a continuous smooth breath of air. I didn’t push it. My body slowly started to gain more energy and strength. Within two more hours I had the stamina and consistency to continue my vocalizing. Again, mixing well at a low volume. I paid special attention to my ability to create the exactness and smallness of my “cry” which is crucial for good vocal cord closure.

My Saturday afternoon gig was basically like a warm-up for the evening gig. This is because the venue was smaller with a more intimate audience. This was great because it made me work hard to sing intensely and beautifully in a small environment. I set the volume of my speaker system loud enough so that I could get a bass boost on my voice when I had the microphone touching my lips.  This is a great technique for singing the verse of ballads, and when you want an intimate and conversational style. Then, for variations in intensity and texture on my voice, I would “dance” with my microphone allowing for immense control of dynamics. I was able to pull back just enough from the mic on high notes to allow my chest voice to mix nicely from the bottom up giving the illusion of “big”.  Because I have what is considered a “small” voice, the microphone added a wonderful depth and texture to my tone. With the microphone taken away, my audience could have still heard me sing, just as one would hear you sing in an open-concept large living room. The point here is that without the microphone I would have been inclined to sing a lot louder. But, in this case, the microphone, and my to-die-for monitor system, allowed me to sing with superb awareness and subtlety at a balanced and controlled volume.

I sang again into the evening from 9:00 pm to 1:00 am with sheer confidence, and a slight bit more extremeness than the night before. Knowing I could push the envelop ever-so-slightly made my belting songs such as Cabaret, I Will Always Love You, My Heart Will Go On (etc), just a bit more dramatic. Then and only then did I blow a little bit harder than was actually necessary to accomplish the task.

So, what should you take from this post?

IMHO, singing is very physical work. It is exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. Learning how to pay attention to your body and its’ ability to do wondrous things for your voice is an intense and personal journey. This is something that is not easily taught. No one taught me how hard I would have to work to sing so well. I have learned from years of experience, there is only one person you can count on…….and that is yourself.

So, how hard did you work today?


Just Do It!

I can’t get over it when students come back week after week saying they didn’t have time to practise much during the previous 7 days. I think to myself, my gosh, you are carrying around your instrument inside your throat everyday, how can you not find time to practise it? I remind them they do not need their recorded lesson in order to practise. I show them how to exercise their voice without any background scale.

Sometimes what I hear is, “oh yes, I sing everyday”. Then when I get them to clarify what they mean, they say “I sing to the radio, or in the shower, or at karaoke, or with their band”. Again, I remind them that that doesn’t count. Practising/vocalizing means doing the exercises that have specifically been assigned for your voice to get better. I remind them that singing songs as usual can, in fact, do the exact OPPOSITE of vocalizing properly…..it reinforces your usual coordination that we are trying to improve!

I stress this because so many singers, (and not just kids and teenagers) seem to forget, day in and out, that if a better voice is truly what you want, then you need to follow the disciplines assigned to get there.

Learning to play the piano or guitar well doesn’t just happen without daily practise and attention to detail, and learning how to sing better is no different….except in one very important area….you can’t carry your piano around in your throat!

Taking It Easy….

OK, so I haven’t literally “been on the road” with a band. Most nights I was actually able to crawl into my own bed around 3 or 4 am. I had worked tirelessly for years at three and four-night weekend gigs, most of them requiring significant travelling before and after…anywhere from 1/2 hour to two hours each way. When I was younger I didn’t think about how taxing this lifestyle was on my body. I was having fun….doing what I love. I had the best job in the world.

However, as the years went by I began to notice the effects these gigs were having on my voice. I was growing more aware of the trouble I was having singing my “big” songs at the end of the night, and I noticed my throat was often sore. When I had a cold I would sing anyway, and almost welcome the hoarseness because it gave me a husky sound that I couldn’t otherwise accomplish. I would wake up in the morning with severe broken-up sound quality due to “pushing” through the hoarseness the previous night.

It took almost ten years to realize that my voice had gone downhill. Songs that once came easy with “big” notes were now a constant concern as to whether I could “push” them out.

My life changed when I started studying my voice…..and got a nice “little” house gig in a lounge. These two changes complimented each other nicely. My voice has since grown “bigger” than it ever was.

There is no more ideal way to learn how to sing better than to simply know about your instrument…how it works, how to take care of it, and how to exercise it so it will last you a lifetime!