The Bare Essentials by Dr Daniel K. Robinson


Time for a quick confession...I was a boy Scout!

OK. That’s enough sniggering. Despite their current-day ‘nerdy’ reputation, I enjoyed my time in the boy Scouts. Sure, we had to learn all the “Dib, dib, dob, dobs” (don’t ask) and countless ways to tie a knot (I remember how to do a couple), but my time in the boy Scouts did give me the opportunity to develop some fantastic life skills like resilience and leadership.

Another life skill that I developed, thanks to Scouts, was the capacity to “always be prepared.” For what? Well...for anything! A simple example might be to take a warm coat with you as you leave the house – why...because there might be a cold change in the weather and if you have taken a coat you’ll be prepared! Of course one can take this too far. Obviously you can’t be prepared for every conceivable change in weather. To do so would require you to take an umbrella, hat, sunscreen, snowboots, a change of clothes, bathing togs (in case you need to have a swim to cool off), beach towel, deodorant...well you get the picture.

One must be prepared, but you need to do it in such a way as to use the bare essentials. So how does a professional vocalist prepare their voice for the rigors of the gigging scene? What are the bare essentials that a skilled singer should not leave home without?

HYDRATION: Firstly, the singer needs to remain hydrated. It’s no secret that most of us don’t drink enough water. Recent studies have shown that whilst we obtain about 1ltr of fluid from our food, we need another 2ltrs of liquid (water) to maintain healthy body function. Most importantly for a singer, the vocal folds, sometimes called vocal cords, need to remain lubricated in order to remain supple, agile and healthy. Get into the habit of taking a water bottle everywhere.

ALCOHOL: You’re not going to like me much for saying, “singin’ and dinkin’ don’t mix!” Alcohol has three detrimental effects on the singer: dehydration, it lowers neurological function, and it lowers inhibitions. We’ve just explored the importance of hydration...what about the other two. Well they’re kind of linked. Everyone who has consumed alcohol, even in moderation, has experienced the ‘numbing’ of perception and physical coordination. Singing is a high-end fine motor cortex skill. You need your brain to be firing all synapses – but alcohol interrupts brain function. It also reduces inhibition. Dutch courage might work in getting you on to stage in a relaxed fashion, but it will seriously undermine your ability to perform well; reducing your ability to know whether the notes you are singing are accurate. My advice – have a drink or two after the gig!

SMOKING: We’ve all heard the saying, “If you drink and drive you’re a bloody idiot!” Well, “if you smoke and sing... “ Why? Singers who smoke run a heightened risk of laryngeal cancer due to the heavy loads that the voice carries. Essentially, professional vocal folds have a higher risk of the carcinogenic effect of the tobacco taking hold and mutating the cells. All of us can name a singer that smokes – that doesn’t make it right or even smart to copy their bad habit. Have you ever wondered how much better that singer might be at their craft if they didn’t smoke? Incidentally, marijuana should also be avoided (not just because its possession and consumption is illegal) because it burns at a very high temperature which sears the surfaces of the vocal folds – again, not a smart thing for a pro vocal to do!

VOCAL WARM-UPS: This is a must, not a maybe! There is a funny line in the movie Evolution, “There’s always time for lubricant.” Connotations aside, there is always time for vocal warm-ups. We know that athletes should warm and stretch their muscles for optimal performance. Singers are vocal athletes. If you want to sing at your best you need to warm and stretch the laryngeal muscles for use. I recommend a 15-20min rehearsed warm-up session before every gig – and that does not include the sound check with the band. Warm-ups when done routinely extend vocal stamina, increase vocal agility and improve fatigue rates.

VOCAL REST: This one is often overlooked. You must balance your vocal load with vocal rest. If you are gigging three to four nights a week, you better make sure you have scheduled some quiet time in amongst the gigs. If you don’t you heighten the risk of vocal wear & tear which can leave the voice susceptible to damage.

VOICE LESSONS: Finally and probably not surprisingly given my profession as a voice coach, singing lessons are a must ‘bare essential’ for all singers who want to perform at their optimum. Some people incorrectly think that singing lessons are only for the ‘beginner singer’. Wrong. The best athletes all have coaches. So do the best singers!

As I indicated at the beginning of this article, these are only the bare essential items that every singer should not leave home without. Sure, sometimes you’re not going to feel like you need the warm-up or even the vocal rest – but there will come a time when you had wished that you hadn’t left home without them.

A link to the original article (and many more that delve deeper into the world of vocal care) can be found here, courtesy of Dr.Dan: www.djarts.com.au/articles/the-bare-essentials/


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