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If you know me, you know that I love music and singing. Even if you don’t know me, there’s a good chance you’ve still picked up on that fact…. All my life I have enjoyed singing, and I sing all.the.time. My family thinks it gets old. When I’m cooking, I usually have choral music blaring loudly (just imagine an ice cream churn plugging away, Oasis Chorale turned waaayy up, and me screeching along).
My music journey has been trucking along at breakneck speed for the past year. Since this time last year, I survived a week of music camp (June 2015), applied and did not make it into Hope Singers for the summer 2016 tour, took 6 months of private voice lessons, applied and was accepted for Laudate Mennonite Ensemble (August 2016), applied and did not make it into Oasis Chorale 2016, applied and was accepted for SCMC Music Camp and Chamber Choir (happening in exactly one month!), and applied and was accepted for the Rivertree and Friends debut of Dan Forrest’s new setting of Jubilate Deo (in 8 languages…) two weeks after I get back from music camp. Needless to say, music has been a huge part of my life in the past year. I am so thankful for God’s leading and strength through all of this. He’s brought so many amazing people and opportunities into my life. My life feels extremely full at present (no surprise once you add all the music stuff + cookbook + blog + personal life), but I would do it over again because I have learned so much in the past year. I’m thinking that things should slow down a little bit once the end of June rolls around…at least that’s what I keep telling people. We’ll see if it actually comes to fruition or not. 😛
Since I love hearing other people’s music tips, I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve found to be most important to my own musical success. I really really really want to hear any music tips that you would like to share with me, so please post away in the comments section!
1) Sleep a lot.
Do not underestimate the effects of lack of sleep on your voice! A few weeks ago, I couldn’t figure out why I was experiencing some vocal fatigue even though I was being careful not to strain my voice. Well, my whole body was in a constant state of tension and self-preservation because of my hectic schedule and lack of sleep. It took me awhile to make the connection between improved vocal performance and adequate sleep, but once I realized the damage I was doing to my body and my voice by not resting enough, I’ve been making a conscious effort to do better. The results are almost instantaneous.
2) Drink a lot.
I cannot emphasize just how important this is. Proper hydration is critical to keeping your vocal folds in good working order. It’s not just important to drink while you’re in the middle of practicing, though. In order to actually achieve good results, you need to start drinking water hours before you start singing. If you sing a lot, just get used to keeping a glass of water handy at all times. Once it becomes a habit, it’s very easy to do and you won’t feel right if you’re not half water-logged on a regular basis.
In case you haven’t figured this out yet, three of the most helpful things for singing (sleep, hydration, and exercise) also happen to be three of the most helpful things you can do for weight loss. Funny how that works. I started running a few months ago to try to trim up a little. To my surprise, I found that I could sing so much better after running. Which is a good thing because I stopped running for weight loss benefits long ago. I’m lazy like that. Running (or any cardio exercise) improves singing because it wakes up your breath and gets the diaphragm engaged.
4) Warm up in the shower.
There are two main benefits to warming up your voice in the shower: 1) showers have good acoustics so you’ll naturally go easier on your voice while warming up than you would in a room with not-so-good acoustics, and 2) the steam is good for your voice.
Stretch every part of you to get rid of tension before singing. This doesn’t have to take long, but it’s so helpful! If you have tension in any part of your body, you are likely to have tension in your throat, face, and vocal folds, which 1) doesn’t sound good and 2) can be damaging to your voice.
6) Wake up your breath.
Breath is key to pretty much everything. When you warm up, get your diaphragm activated before worrying about anything else. Focusing on this all-important point first will help prevent vocal strain.
7) Don’t overdo.
I used to warm up for about 20 minutes and practice for an hour. With time, I’ve found that singing for an hour or more 6 days a week isn’t good for my voice, at least not at this point in my life when I have a lot of things going on and not a lot of time for rest and relaxation. With some recent breath breakthroughs I’ve made, I’ve found that a 5 minute warm up is sufficient (provided that I sing several times a week). I then start my practice with some of my least strenuous pieces of music, work on the most demanding pieces toward the middle of my practice, and “cool down” my voice with some less demanding pieces of music, finishing off with some humming. All together, I try to keep my practice sessions to 30-40 minutes these days. I’ve found this to be helpful in keeping my voice in tip-top shape. With some strategic planning, that time has been sufficient for me to learn pieces for voice lessons + Chamber Choir + Laudate. Of course this time does not include the amount of time I spend listening to recordings of the music I’m working on, storing it away in my brain for when I sing it during my practices.
8) Take some complete vocal rest.
If you feel your voice getting fatigued, take at least a day of vocal rest. No singing (it’s hard!!). If you’re really dedicated, keep talking to a minimum as well. I personally take one day, usually Sundays, off from practice each week. If I have a particularly strenuous vocal session during the week for some reason, sometimes I take another day off as well. Be in tune (haha) with your voice and if it’s telling you to back off, take the hint!
9) Get feedback from others.
Because none of us sound as good as we think we do. 😛 Voice lessons are a great way to get consistent feedback from a professional. Friends and family can be good feedback as well. Speaking from experience, family are often brutally honest, which I think is a very good thing and very helpful. Be willing to take criticism and don’t take feedback as a personal insult. You don’t have to agree with everything people tell you, but everyone’s opinion is worth consideration. Aside from getting feedback from others, a good way to get constructive criticism is to listen to recordings of yourself. Hearing a recording of yourself versus hearing yourself in real-time can help you more easily hear technical issues that need fixing.
10) Put some soul into it!
What is music? It’s a means to glorify God. It’s a very effective method of communication. If you want to worship God and communicate through music, you have to put a little soul behind your singing! This should be portrayed musically as well as physically. Sing in phrases; connect things; crescendo and decrescendo to highlight important points in the text you are singing. Have an expressive face (a pleasant “inner smile” with “open” eyes is a good resonance tool); don’t be afraid to move, but let all movement be voluntarily, not subconscious.
Do you have any tips to add to my list? Are you participating in any music endeavors this summer? I’d love to hear all about it! Comment below and share.