If you want to make a breakthrough in your singing, consider living the Singer’s Lifestyle. Your voice is a finely-tuned machine that responds to every aspect of your physical and emotional life. Every single thing that goes into your body, everything you eat and drink, affects your voice. Your posture, body alignment, and lung capacity are all part of the body’s singing mechanism. Your emotions can cause involuntary physical reactions that interfere with or enhance the natural action of your vocal cords and diaphragm. Taking stock of these factors can help bring about a powerful revolution in the way you sing. Below I will outline 6 principles that you can use as a lifestyle guide. Try it for 8 weeks and be amazed at your improvement:
Regular Vocal Exercise: strengthening the body requires regular weight-bearing exercise and daily stretching. Your vocal cords are not made of muscle tissue, but like your muscles they can get stronger and more flexible if you exercise them regularly. Take some voice lessons and learn good vocal warm-ups and breathing techniques that are tailor made for you by your teacher. Singing scales, interval exercises, and staccato jumps will work wonders on your pitch and breath control. Practice them daily, taking care not to push beyond your personal “strain threshold”. Never strain, always (breath) support: slow and steady wins the race.
Diet/Nutrition: We’ve all heard the expression, “you are what you eat”. A singer knows that “you sing what you eat”. If you are a regular consumer of dairy products, then you’re singing behind a curtain of phlegm that covers your vocal cords and interferes with their natural action (to relieve the phlegmy sensation you’ll clear your throat again and again, which scrapes your vocal cords together and irritates them). Eliminate dairy products completely and observe how much clearer and smoother your singing is. Other dietary factors that affect the vocal cords are foods (and drink) that promote excessive acid. Too much acidity upsets the delicate PH balance in your throat and can cause rasping, hoarseness, and loss of voice, especially if you experience heartburn. Keep your diet low in acidic foods and don’t drink more than 2 cups of coffee per day (try to keep it to one cup, or consider switching to oolong tea). Observe your body’s reaction to everything you consume, and pay particular attention to any changes in your voice after eating. Is your voice weaker, lower, or hoarse? Do you have to keep clearing your throat for the rest of the day? Eliminate from your diet what doesn’t feel right in your voice.
Exercise: just 30 minutes of focused daily cardio can work wonders on your lungs. Get outside (or on an elliptical) and walk, run, or climb until you’re sweaty and breathless. Your lungs will burn at first but they’ll quickly adjust. It may take a few weeks, but you’ll notice a deeper, more satisfying action when you take a breath to sing. Your connection to the all-important diaphragm muscle will also grow stronger, and you’ll be able to hold a note longer and with more control.
Posture/Alignment: many of us have terrible posture from sitting too long, hunched over screens (and have you heard of “tech neck”?). When we sing we need to stand upright in a relaxed but perfectly aligned posture. Generally this means that our feet should be hips-width apart, our knees slightly bent, our pelvis tucked under a bit, and our sternum lifted. Our shoulders should be back a little, and our head should float up, lifting our neck slightly and elongating our entire body. Warning: don’t hold this posture in a rigid way or you’ll tire easily and end up aching. Think of your body alignment as a fluid motion that is constantly adjusting and re-adjusting to your body’s personal challenges. The whole purpose of this alignment is to create a nice feeling of space for the diaphragm muscle to contract and expand as you inhale and exhale, and to keep the head and neck free so that the vocal cords can operate without strain.
Mental Clarity: 21st century science has become fascinated with something called “mindfulness”. Turns out that the Buddha was right when he presented meditation practice as a gift to all humanity: meditation can put us in a miraculous brain state that tames the cortisol reflex, lowers cholesterol, and increases mental clarity and focus. Many of us carry around a belief that creativity arises out of chaos, but current science shows that it’s our “resting” phases (during which we are quiet, still, and focused, as in meditation) that enable our brains to make vital connections which later manifest as spontaneous bursts of creative genius. Singing is a creative act that deserves everything we’ve got. Harness the power of your mind and you’re halfway there.
Immunity: colds, flu, allergies, bronchitis, pneumonia… the list of vocal saboteurs is long (see my post about items that can help preserve and protect your vocal health). Any of these can wreak long-term havoc on your voice. Invest in prevention and you’ll avoid setbacks. Try boosting your immunity with 500mg Vitamin C per day, regular exercise, and a good sleep schedule. Stay well hydrated. Dress warmly when it’s cold outside, and always carry a hat and scarf with you during winter months. Scarves are a singer’s secret weapon.