Do you consider yourself an active singer? Are you currently taking voice lessons or looking into increasing your knowledge on the subject? Do you feel stuck in a rut when it comes to your musical progress? These tips for singers should help.
As a professional singer and voice teacher whose musical journey has had its fair share of ups and downs, I’ve discovered a set of guidelines that have been immensely useful for both my musical and personal development. My goal in composing these tips for singers is to help any vocalist set the stage for his or her most successful singing through approachable changes, changes that can be implemented immediately and only require a few minutes of self-reflection.
Self-Care: Your Body is Your Instrument
For better or for worse, as singers, our ability to perform our absolute best heavily relies on our health. No amount of practice or preparation can counteract an unhealthy instrument. Before a singer can even think about improving his or her voice, attention must be paid to the following three areas:
The first of my tips for singers may seem like a no-brainer, but that doesn’t mean the idea shouldn’t be emphasized. Everyone needs sleep to function well in everyday life. Likewise, every singer must make sleep a priority in order to produce his or her best possible singing. A tired body represents a tired voice, and a tired voice leads to vocal strain and even vocal injury. The easiest way to improve any level of singing is simply a good night’s sleep.
Hydration & Caffeine
Keeping the body hydrated by sipping water consistently throughout the day helps maintain a healthy and balanced body. Caffeine, on the other hand, counteracts that hydration. Caffeine (specifically, coffee) and its relationship to singing has long been the subject of debate throughout the music community, and I’m not here to tell you to put down the cup of coffee (especially when I’m on my second cup of coffee as I type this article). I’m here to tell you, instead, that coffee drinkers can continue to drink freely as coffee typically causes no direct hindrance to a singer’s vocal ability as long as the singer stays hydrated in the process. Try implementing this simple rule: for every cup of coffee, both precede and follow it with a glass of water.
On a more serious note, if you experience symptoms of Acid Reflux when you consume caffeine, I would highly recommend limiting or eliminating it if possible as Acid Reflux can negatively affect your ability to sing. For more information on how Acid Reflux affects the voice, please visit: this site.
Singing is an athletic experience—beginner voice students are often caught off guard by how athletic that first hour of instruction proved to be—so by scheduling regular physical activity into your daily routine, you’ll begin to notice improvements to your singing almost immediately. Any level of activity is beneficial, whether it be 30 minutes of running, an hour of yoga, or simply taking 10 minutes to stretch before a vocal practice session. To illustrate, here’s an outline of an exercise schedule that works effectively for my singing:
Cardio – two or three days a week, usually on long singing days as cardio immediately improves lung expansion and breath control.
Yoga/ Pilates – two times a week, usually on non-singing days. These exercises help improve posture but require some strength training, and a fatigued body can sometimes lead to a fatigued voice and bodily tension.
Stretching – before any practice session. A few minutes of gentle stretching calms and focuses the mind, and physically warming up the body before singing makes the vocal warm up process more swift and seamless.
A Singer is Always a Student
One of the largest misconceptions about learning an instrument is that music is a skill that can be mastered over the course of several diligent years of study. Once your study is complete, you require no further education or training. Unfortunately, learning an instrument is nothing like learning to ride a bicycle—a skill that requires little to no maintenance once learned. The bicyclist can simply enjoy the ride with the confidence of knowing that the muscle memory is ingrained. A singer is always a student, and one of the biggest tips for singers is to understand that maintaining your best vocal technique requires consistent attention and practice.
If you’ve been actively singing for five or more years, then I’m sure you’ve noticed some changes in your singing voice. As the body grows and matures, the voice also matures and goes through periodic shifts. Though more often than not these vocal changes are minor, seeking out a teacher who can help navigate these changes healthfully will be both beneficial and will keep you on track with your progress.
“Board of Advisors”
While pursuing my Master’s Degree, I was first introduced to the idea of maintaining a “Board of Advisors” in a class titled, “Business of the (Opera) Business.” Though the class was designed for young professional opera singers, the idea of creating a Board of Advisors could be of great value for any singer, regardless of your current stage of study. A singer’s Board of Advisors is a group of three to five individuals who know the singer’s capabilities, potential in the field (of music), and work ethic. The purpose of this group of trusted individuals is to provide honest feedback and guidance that any singer will continue to utilize and need unquestionably throughout his or her musical journey. For example, my Board includes my current voice teacher, a director who I worked with on several productions, and my college professor/ mentor.
Seek Cultured Experiences and Educate Yourself
Back to School
Professional musicians must wear many hats in order to succeed in the music industry. For instance, a singer must not only feel confident in his or her singing ability but also feel competent as an actor, public speaker, researcher, businessman or woman, and teacher. While a career in music may not be every singer’s goal, pursuing the elements of the well-rounded education needed for such a career will set up any singer for immense success not only in singing but also in other parts of life as well. Try these tips for singer: indulge in an acting class, a business class, an anatomy class, or a historical seminar. Educate yourself even if for no reason other than personal growth. Singing is a deeply personal art form, so seek out anything that helps you connect to the music. In an age where seemingly any class subject is accessible over the Internet, there’s no excuse for delaying your education.
Life and Art—The Human Experience
Chances are that the majority of songs you choose to sing contain lyrics that are not directly applicable to your living circumstances, relationships, happiness, or even age. As musicians, singers must be able to illustrate life outside of their own persona through their singing, and the easiest way to experience life is by observing the lives and artistic creations of others. Visit your local art museum, dare to sit alone at a coffee shop and witness those around you, leave your headphones at home the next time you ride the subway or bus, go see a live performance of a genre of music with which you’re unfamiliar. Take advantage of the many ways humans choose to express their lifestyles, ideals, and beliefs.
If you are a classical singer or foresee a classical education in your future, one of the largest favors you can do for yourself is to start learning languages. Specifically, Italian, French, and German will cover the bulk of Western classical repertoire (followed by Spanish, Czech, and Russian if you’re feeling brave!). A basic understanding of these languages is not only necessary, but will save you hours of practice time down the road. Though these tips for singers only directly affects classical singers, why limit yourself to learning music in just one language when so much technology exists to help? Bonus tip: try out the app, “Duolingo.”
Find Your Inspiration
All singers will periodically experience moments of frustration, discouragement, lack of motivation, and burnout. These moments do NOT determine whether you’re cut out for singing, but rather are just human experiences anyone learning a skill goes through. As the last of my tips for singers, consider the following: whenever you’re feeling discouraged and find yourself questioning why you’re learning to sing, take a moment to reflect back on what occurrence first sparked your interest in music. Did a performance by a famous musician motivate you? Did you fall in love with singing in your school or church choir? Do you feel that words put to music best suits you as a creative outlet? Whatever the reason, seek out that original source of inspiration. More often than not, that’s all the motivation a singer needs to pick him or herself back up again.
No matter where you currently are on your musical journey, these tips for singers are meant to serve as a guideline for self-assessment that will provide all singers with a clear idea of how to succeed and sing his or her absolute best. With just a few steps, you will undeniably be on the way to fulfilling your musical goals.