How Singers with Day Jobs Take Care of Their Voice

stretching at desk
A full-time job that involves lots of talking can be challenging for a heavy singing schedule. Try these 7 techniques – says Rachel Bennett

Many of my private students are working full time and arranging gigs for weekends and sometimes mid week.

Over time we work together to help them develop a lifestyle that allows them to survive this demanding schedule; I have outlined some of the most popular and useful tips here:

1. Eat Like a Singer

If you’re working a day job and performing at night – you’re going to have little time for sitting down to eat a full meal.

Singing on a full stomach isn’t a good plan as your diaphragm will be squashed by your intestines! This will limit your ability to fully expand and allow a good breath into your lungs – your breath will feel shorter and you’ll have less control over those long notes!

If you’re buzzing around from A to B you’re likely to feel like reaching out for hot, sugary or salty carbohydrates.

But what you need to do is to ensure you get the right amount of starch, fruit and vegetables as opposed to sugary foods.

Sugar will send your energy levels soaring but you may not have consumed enough actual fuel in the food so you will be running on empty.

This can cause muscle fatigue and some of our muscle groups are in our larynx – and we use those especially when we are singing!

Tips: have a very good breakfast; lots of fruit is great! If you’re a person who can’t face breakfast, then, eat a good lunch – greens and carbs and protein. Consider healthy snacks when your energy lags – bananas are great for energy.

2. Drink Like a Singer

Drink water steadily through the day and, if possible at least one isotonic drink too.

Good sports drinks with a sensible amount of added sugars and salts can boost the system by replacing glycogen when you are extra tired or busy.

Note that consistent fluid to the blood stream is better for your vocal muscle groups than drinking too much closer to the performance.

If you have air con at work, you’ll need to hydrate more than the average. Try to step outside of your work place for breaks to get real air.

Request for periods of low air con flow or even switch off time could work with a more sympathetic boss – you can always show them this article about effects of air con on the general human hydration system!

While we’re on the topic of drinking, take care with any lunchtime or after work beers or wine before your evening gig.

Drinking alcohol can relax you but an overly relaxed tongue and set of vocal muscles can lead to a less than accurate performance and sometimes even causes strain; your blood stream has slowed down and your vocal muscle groups aren’t getting the blood they need or a strong and safe performance.

Also, your brain is working more slowly, so you won’t necessarily “pitch” well and if you’re working with a band, your sense of time and energy may not be the same as theirs.

I always request that my band leave their ‘good time’ drink till after the gig!

3. Be Creative with Your Daily Practice

If you drive, then a practice “tape” in the car is ideal – but keep in mind that there is ambient car noise, so don’t push your voice.

Marking the songs and singing simple scales that you know well is a good idea as they are already in your muscle memory and you’ll be less likely to “push” over the ambient car noise.

If you use public transport, then listening is useful – even just to use as a reminder of your lyrics and melodies.

I’ve seen and heard plenty of singers go through their repertoire on the underground/subway!

Singer on a coffee break drinking a decorated latte
Thinking through a song during a coffee break

Use your coffee breaks and perhaps 15 minutes of your lunch to go through a song; avoid cramming – it’ll do you much more good to run a scale or two and perhaps run through your opening song – or the song that you find most challenging.

(Consider explaining to your work mates what you are doing so they give you space)

On “off days” make sure you rest, but for your “on days” set up a practice schedule for an hour (in addition to any band rehearsal time).

Make it your practice to focus on detail in the songs and work to improve your technique on those high tones!

4. Get Fit

General fitness is great for any busy life but its vital for singers!

You need to maintain a good respiratory system and a general state of relaxed flexibility so as to avoid unwanted tension.

A weekly yoga class is a sound idea – then you can do a short personal session at home two or three evenings (or mornings if you’re an early bird) in the week.

Alternatively a relaxing swim a couple of times a week is also great for total stretch and it’s great for breath control.

Tips: If you have a choice between the stairs or the elevator/lift – take the elevator. Consider cycling to work or just power-walking. Sweat a bit and change into a fresh blouse or shirt at work!

5. Warm Up AND Cool Down

Many performers fall into a really ‘poor habit’ of using their first song of the set for their warm up.

Whilst you can definitely “kick in” with your energy levels on track one, it’s not the time to say “hello” to your vocal folds!

Spend a good 15 minutes minimum (30 minutes max) doing breath work, sirens, trills, tongue stretches, scales and arpeggios.

This will bring blood to the singing muscles and relax them, allowing them to stretch and work more fluidly for you.

You’ll feel the ease with which your voice arrives, especially on those higher tones

After the gig, just stretch your neck muscles and spine, siren softly and maybe do a few minutes of “creaking”.

6. Get Some Sleep

Sleep is essential for a healthy voice.

You may be excited after a gig and find it hard to sleep, so work to set up a ritual that calms you once you get inside your front door!

Lavender essence, soft music, a little yoga shoulder stand … all of these are good to encourage relaxation – and sleep.

I recently realised that a heavy blanket (weight) can help me sleep when I feel restless – worth a try!

If you had a poor night, see if you can find a quiet space for 40 winks in the broom cupboard at work … or nap at home on the sofa as performing on a tired voice is not ideal!

7. Attend Regular Workshops and Classes

You’ll really be inspired by attending special events that focus on the voice.

You’ll hear tips and new approaches to warming up, improve your audio know-how, and just network and feel like you’re not really ‘crazy’ to be so into the voice!

You’ll meet a lot of other souls like you – who just want to sing!

Here in London I notice that the kinds of events that inspire singers are those weekend workshops in community theatre and community arts settings such as The Tricycle in Kilburn, The Albany in Deptford or The Oval near Camberwell.

You can find an open class or evening class at the music departments inside universities such as Goldsmiths or East 15.

There are community choirs popping up everywhere. Consider complimenting your own gigs with a local choir performance- it’s a great way to keep up your vocal health routine!

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