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how do you prepare to sing?

15 Aug 03 - 10:34 AM (#1002695)
Subject: how do you prepare to sing?
From: Leo Condie

when you're gigging or recording, whats your approach to getting your voice ready? stretches and water or whisky and cigarettes? personally I always fill up on water and never warm my voice up enough.

15 Aug 03 - 10:38 AM (#1002698)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: GUEST,MMario

open mouth - sing.

15 Aug 03 - 10:41 AM (#1002700)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: songs2play

I always find a couple of swallows of the establishment,s finest, does the trick. Healthily topped up as the evening progresses.

15 Aug 03 - 10:42 AM (#1002701)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: harvey andrews

Warm water and a Vocalzone.

15 Aug 03 - 11:06 AM (#1002719)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: Blackcatter

scotch - sipped slowly over 10 years.

I've been thinking about those "singers" throat lozenges though - anyone use them? Any suggestions?

15 Aug 03 - 11:07 AM (#1002722)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: greg stephens

Beer and Golden Virginia I regret to say

15 Aug 03 - 11:14 AM (#1002728)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: Steve Parkes

Well, I gave up the ciggies a good many years ago (Old Holborn -- never liked GV), and stopped drinking a couple of years back, as it fires up my heartburn. I usually warm up gently in the car with one or two easy songs; ifI can't do that, I make sure my first "real" one isn't too energetic.


15 Aug 03 - 11:18 AM (#1002733)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: Leo Condie

ahhh vocalzone, how could I forget my darling vocalzone?

15 Aug 03 - 11:32 AM (#1002742)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: Peterr

Spingo, Mellow Virginia, and dont shout the figures too loud at morris if we're having a sing afterwards.

15 Aug 03 - 12:00 PM (#1002764)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: Sooz

Fisherman's Friends (Aniseed)

15 Aug 03 - 12:09 PM (#1002767)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: GUEST,Len Wallace

Hi folks,

Here's my experience.

Things to NOT do:
1) Do not drink coffee
2) Do not drink beer
3) Do not drink hard alcohol
4) Do not take aspirin
All the above strip the vocal chords.

Things you can do:
1) Drink Gatorade or juices to keep your blood sugar up, replace electrolytes so that your energy is up. Good energy, better voice. DON'T drink grapefruit juice! Ariel Rogers (I didn't recognise her at the time) gave that to me before my first main stage at Summerfolk years ago and I wanted to curse her (cramps).
I often drink Coca-Cola when I can't get juice (oops . . . well...Cola of some sort. Coca-cola is being boycotted because some of their plant workers in South America who have been trying to organise unions have been shot by death squads to prevent unionization). Ginger Ale is better.
2) A "temporary" fixer upper if your voice is indeed rough - Drambuie, Irish Mist. The thickness coats your vocal chords. The solution is only temporary though.
3) Do "mouth" exercises. Open your mouth all the way and stick out your tongue as far as it can go several times. Do a minute or two of "rolling R's" with your tongue. Do a minute of "brrrrrr" using your lips
4) Do a few minutes of arpeggios using your voice. La-la-la-la (actually sing out "Eee-eee-eee" rather than "la-la" from the lowest and then up the scale to hit the highest you can possibly reach. Do the scales from as low as you can go to as high as you can go;
5) Sing using your diaghram rather than falsetto (except to reach those unreachable notes)

You may want to consider this technique. Singing at home and practicing is different than being on stage or in a studio with an actual microphone in front of you. If you have a sound system, or even just a microphone, set it up and practice singing into the mic. The microphone is what ends up taking all your focus when performing and it can be intimidating. Learn in the process your "relationship" to the mic.

Finally, the more you practice and sing the stronger the voice gets.

For music that never noices (and hopefully a voice that never die),

Len Wallace

15 Aug 03 - 12:18 PM (#1002772)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: Leo Condie

good tips, Len.

one thing ive found a few times; there's a few soft drinks that seriously seriously seriously hamper the vocal chords. must be a certain chemical in them, but i've especially found after drinking 'Oasis' that anything remotely high becomes a croak. so there must be something very mingin in that stuff. haven't touched it since.

15 Aug 03 - 12:28 PM (#1002781)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: Chief Chaos

Warming up the vocal chords is necessary if you want to keep them in the best shape for the longest time. It also helps to extend your range if done daily.

Stay away from milk!

15 Aug 03 - 12:36 PM (#1002787)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: Marje

It pains me to say this, but I avoid chocolate before singing. It seems to make my throat hoarse and froggy.

Alcohol is a bit of a two-edged weapon - a bit helps me relax, but too much and I forget the words or the key or what I was going to sing.

Lots of water is always good. Chewing-gum will do if water's not available - it keeps the saliva flowing, especially if your mouth gets a bit dry when you're nervous.

The best tonic for a rough throat, I find, is any herbal tea with ginger in it.

15 Aug 03 - 12:53 PM (#1002797)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: Leo Condie

chocolate is very mucusy, and yes, should be avoided at all costs.

15 Aug 03 - 01:08 PM (#1002805)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: Mark Clark

Mostly I use MMario's technique but when I actually prepare I warm up in the car en route. I start by singing something that requires some expression but that consists mostly of lower tones. Then I'll also make some relaxed sounds that sound like a cross between clearing my throat and the Awesome Voice of Tibetan monks. This seems to release the tension that prevents tone production. Finally, I'll work up to songs with some higher notes and end by trying to make that high train whistle sound where two falsetto notes are made at the same time. I'm not very good at making the train whistle sound but I've discovered that the excersice of trying to make it (only for a very short period of time) helps get that end of the voice working; well, working as well as it's going to anyway.

Bill Monroe always stayed away from alcohol and sucked on half a lemon before going on stage.

      - Mark

15 Aug 03 - 01:17 PM (#1002812)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: GUEST,Alice in MT without cookie

Sing every day to keep your range and tone in good shape. Sing scales and arpeggios that take you from the lowest part of your range to the highest.

Warm up by humming then singing Ah or La scales, then one of the songs you plan to perform.

I agree with Len's avoid list, but for some people, especially in dry climates like the one where I live, milk is a GOOD thing for your throat. Milk can help keep the tissues from drying out too much. If your throat feels dry or you are in a place where the air is drying, drink a little milk while you are exercising your voice.

Alice Flynn

15 Aug 03 - 01:27 PM (#1002817)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: GUEST,Kim C no cookie

Prepare? ;-)

Actually I have found that my singing has improved a great deal since I started exercising regularly about four years ago. Good breathing puts less stress on the throat.

As for preparing.... I drink lots of water and try not to sing on a full stomach. Sometimes at banquet gigs that's not possible, they want to feed you first.

My little trick is, singing easy songs early in the gig and saving the more challenging ones for later.

15 Aug 03 - 01:37 PM (#1002830)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: GUEST,MMario

THAT explains it!

My throat dehydrates at the drop of a hat - and I have found milk HELPS my singing - and always wondered why when everyone I know says "Don't drink it!" before a performance...

15 Aug 03 - 01:47 PM (#1002842)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: SeanM

For me, I usually try to warm up on the way to rehearsal/gig by popping one of our CDs (or another with vocals that either are in or are easily transposed to the bass range) in and gradually warming up with the songs we'll be doing. I keep a 1.5liter water with me for warming up, and usually hit it fairly frequently until everything feels "right".


15 Aug 03 - 03:47 PM (#1002891)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: Alice

Kim gave good advice on starting with easier songs. Think of the muscles and vocal folds like any other muscle you use, like in running... when you warm up first, the circulation and stretching helps you to perform better without injury. Using your voice is a physical activity like any other, and there are techniques that help you use it in an optimum way. By the end of your gig, your voice should be better than at the beginning. If it is declining, then you would benefit by learning good vocal technique.

Go to the collection of "Threads on the Singing Voice" that I compiled. There is more there on this topic.

Alice Flynn

15 Aug 03 - 04:11 PM (#1002898)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: NicoleC

Sugary drinks dehydrate the tissues just like alcohol or caffeine will. Since most sodas have both high amounts of sugar AND caffeine, sodas are probably better left off the menu.

Beer is the worst for me -- but half a glass of red wine (no more than that) really loosens things up in the throat. Finish the glass and it gets all tight.

15 Aug 03 - 04:43 PM (#1002908)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: GUEST,guest tony

A sip of nelsons blood never did me any harm.

15 Aug 03 - 04:51 PM (#1002911)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: Deckman

This is a good subject and once again demonstrates the value of MUDCAT. Thanks again Max, and everyone else who helps out.

There's some fine suggestions here. I also vocalize prior to performing. How you vocalize depending upon your training. My first vocal coach was an operatic tenor, so I do some of his descending scales to loosen up. My next coach was a basso profundo, So I do some of his throat rattling rumbles. By the way, these REALLY loosen up my sinuses and help me to project.

One thing that I haven't seen emphized too much is the need to prepare your breathing. Breath is the support system for the voice ... well duh! There are several breathing exercises I do to focus myself. These are both physical as well as mental.

It always helps when you have a "green room" available, but that's rare in my performing circles. So getting and staying mentally focused is also large part of my preparation.

If possible, on the day of my evening performance, I will hide. By this I mean I speak to almost no one. "Bride Judy" understands this and is very supportive. I don't need to blow my voice by answering the phone and yelling at some stupid telemarketer, do I?

I think I would add one final comment: I view my performance as an obligation. I take it very, very seriously. Sure, I cut up and have a lot of fun on stage, and that usually comes across well. But it's my duty to present my voice, my guitar, my songs, my music in the best way possible. If I do all my homework: my material, my introductions, my guitar playing, my vocalizing, my diction, my elocution, my research, my rest ... well, then I think I have a right to collect my fee.

It's called being a proffessional.

15 Aug 03 - 06:19 PM (#1002946)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: rodentred

Obviously some people have voices that work from the word go and others need some preparation, both physical and mental. All of the coaches I have heard from have proposed exercises - nod gently whilst turning head from extreme right to left (or vice versa) and try some scales before singing (not easy in a folk club when you are on next and someone else is singing). I also recommend self-massage (or better still someone else doing it) of the back of the neck. Ideally you want to shake your whole body and relax it all but you'll look pretty stupid in the clubs I go to (!!) but good if you are waiting in the wings of a stage.

When I was younger I avoided crisps (chips!) before singing but these days think I was perhaps being over-particular. Key thing is to talk to the audience before striking a note to get a feel for the accoustics of the venue which is so essential for pitching correctly if unnacompanied.

The other great tip I had was imagine you are enormous and filling the venue with your spirit. The people in the back row are right next to you and you are singing in their ears. Its all part of not feeling intimidated and letting your voice be itself and not some squeaky imitation. Like many activities - 'its all in the mind' at the end of the day.

Finally - as with sex, alcohol enhances the desire (perception of capability here) but detracts from the performance. Just enough relaxes but getting the organiser to get you on stage before you have too much doesn't always work as planned in my experience.

15 Aug 03 - 06:39 PM (#1002952)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: Deckman

Rodentred ... I thought your comments about ..." feeling like you are enormous ... and the people in the back row are next to you ... and you are singing in their years" is very good advice. It's largely about attitude and projection. One technique I stumbled on, years ago, is this: the larger the concert hall, the noiser the crowd, the quieter my opening song. Unless beer bottles are flying around and the sirens are screaming, a very soft, controlled opening song will always work for me. Usually within two chords, I've got the audience's attention and under controll. But, I also do not sing anymore where booze is served. CHEERS, Bob

15 Aug 03 - 07:09 PM (#1002965)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: harvey andrews

also, ask for a smoke free atmosphere!!!

15 Aug 03 - 07:43 PM (#1002981)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: Marc

A joint and a couple beers and I'm ready to sing.

16 Aug 03 - 04:36 PM (#1003301)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: Don Firth

At my advanced age of 72 (inside every old geezer is a teenager wondering, "What the hell happened!??") my voice still feels strong, and as far as I can tell, still sounds pretty good (at least, I haven't noticed too many people edging toward the door when I sing). I want to keep it that way for as long as I can.

A big inspiration to me came a year or so ago while watching the Classic Arts Showcase channel. They played a film clip of Russian bass Mark Reizen singing Prince Gremin's aria in a full production of Tchaikovski's Eugene Onegin. At the time this was filmed, Reizen was ninety years old. And he sounded magnificent. His voice was still full and rich. Like dark chocolate.

Taking care of one's voice is important. Not just at the moment, but if you want to be able to keep singing. Pete Seeger had a great voice for the kinds of things he did, but now his voice is, as he says, "shot." When Pete sang, I could often hear a touch of strain in his voice. To my ear, he always sang a bit "tight." I don't know if he ever had any vocal instruction, but my guess is that he didn't, or at least he didn't do some of the little preparatory things that could possibly have kept him singing even now. Folk singers, including some of the better ones, are often a bit cavalier about taking good care of their voices. As if it's "sissy" or something.

I try to warm my voice up a bit every day, starting with bit of deep breathing. Breathing from the diaphragm is especially important, and trying to sing with any volume or reaching for the high notes without good breath support puts a heck of a strain on the vocal apparatus. Loosening the jaw and getting the mouth open is also important. Yawn a couple of times. Then, five words are good ones for getting the mouth open and working—need, booed, bad, awed, hard—wildly exaggerating lip and mouth movements. Stretch your mouth and open your jaw. When I start to vocalize, at first I keep it fairly soft and in my mid-range. Easy stuff, to warm up the vocal folds. I hum for a bit, then sing—mah, may, mee, mow, moo—all on one pitch, dragging each one out a bit. Then "mah may mee mow moo" up and down the scale: e.g., mah on C, may on D, mee on E, mow on F, moo on G, then back down the scale (I usually start on G an octave and a fourth below middle C and take it up to the D a fifth above, but then I'm a bass). Then take it up a half-step and do it again. Then another half-step. Go up and down throughout your range, but don't take it as far up or as far down as you can go until you are thoroughly warmed up and feeling no strain or tension. The idea of using syllables starting with "M" is that this puts your voice into the "mask." You should feel the front of your face vibrating. Nasal resonance, opening your mouth, and maintaining good breath support gives you projection (you want to be able to bounce your voice off the back wall without feeling like you're pushing). But don't confuse nasal resonance with sounding "nasal." That's a no-no. Once I'm warmed up, I'm sing up and down scales and chords and try to cover my whole range, occasionally nudging my top and bottom a bit. But never beyond the point where it starts to feel tight or uncomfortable.

I have a whole stock of vocal exercises that were given to me by three teachers I've had over the years: Edna Bianchi, George Hotchkiss Street, and Mahlon Schanzenbach. There are whole books full of vocal exercises, but here is a bunch for free that I have found pretty useful. It's a PDF file and it takes for bloody ever to download, but download it and print it off. It's got a lot of good stuff in the way of exercises and how to do them. Get it. BLICKY!

I try to do some of these every day, for a half-hour or so, or until I feel warmed up and the singin' is easy. I do the same thing on days when I know I'm going to be singing in front of other people, whether it's a paid performance, or for fun at a party. A few days before the performance or party, I decide what I want to sing, then go over the songs until I know I have them down solid (even if I've sung them 3,000 times in the past). On the day I will be singing, I warm up thoroughly, but then I don't sing much. I sing enough to stay warmed up, but I don't want to wear it out. [Luciano Pavarotti says "On the morning of the day you will be performing, sing for about five minutes. If it goes well, stop. If it doesn't go well, stop!" Well, I dunno. . . .]

Same kind of routine with the guitar. Warm up the fingers a bit every day, do some exercises, play a few things, and maybe try something that I haven't played before. Push the envelope a bit.

Do I actually do all of this every day? No, not every day. But I try to, and I feel guilty if I don't.

Bob is right. Professionalism. Even if you're not getting paid, even if it's just a party or a hoot, if you're taking up people's time and attention, you owe them something. You owe it to them (and to yourself) to give them the best you have.

Don Firth

16 Aug 03 - 05:06 PM (#1003311)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: Don Firth

Sorry! Goofed up the link to the vocal exercise site. Lemme try it again:—


There. Now it should work.

Don Firth

16 Aug 03 - 11:50 PM (#1003450)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: Bert

Like Kim C, I avoid eating before I sing.

I used to have a beer or two but I learned from Marti Rogers that it is best not to do that.

Of cours If it happens that I've had a beer or two, it doesn't stop me singing.

17 Aug 03 - 12:29 AM (#1003460)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: GUEST,Neighmond, the cookieless (poor me!)

Avoid Aspertame (sp?) which is a sugar pretender you'll find in many soft drinks. I have many singing friends that swear it's the anti-Christ of the soft drink world because all of the negitive things it can do to you.


17 Aug 03 - 08:02 AM (#1003550)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: shiny

I avoid chocolate, I always choke on it slightly and then cough endlessly. avoiding smoke is good, and we have a bit of green ginger wine before we perform (not a lot) and a soft sing thru'of the beginnings of each number. seems to work..

17 Aug 03 - 09:36 AM (#1003566)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: Deckman

Geeze! I'm surprised that no one has mentioned sexual abstinence! Bob

17 Aug 03 - 11:42 AM (#1003590)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: Mary Humphreys

I never drink orange squash or any similar drink. It seems to coat the vocal chords with something akin to glue.Eating does the same.
Like Harvey Andrews - I can really only sing well in a smoke-free atmosphere. The first hint of tobacco smoke and my voice goes on strike. I do like to have a pint of tap-water on hand to help lubricate the old throat. A beer is a relaxant but should not be relied upon to improve performance!
Also, I have learnt from experience that if PA is offered, NEVER turn it down. Many of my songs require a lot of diaphragm effort that can also take its toll of the vocal chords. PA makes it possible to sing these songs without the detrimental effect.
Mary Humphreys

17 Aug 03 - 09:50 PM (#1003813)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: Alice

Opera singers sing without microphones above the sound of a full orchestra. They have learned to support their voices with correct breath control and to float the sound on a stream of air. By the end of a three hour performance, you can hear that the best of them are stronger by the end, not weaker. That well-learned and practiced technique is the mark of a professional. Knowing good classical technique does not mean you sing folk songs like they are opera, but it does mean that you can sing without a microphone and not fatigue your voice.


17 Aug 03 - 09:51 PM (#1003815)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: Deckman

Alice ... you are quite correct ... of course! CHEERS, Bob

17 Aug 03 - 11:08 PM (#1003835)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: Celtic Soul

I do what I can to relax. Nothing will hurt your sound more immediately than a tight throat. I do believe that cigarettes and alcohol can harm your voice, but even if you don't imbibe, muscle tightness can make you sound like crap.

So, warming up *and* taking a moment to relax emotionally is my best advice.

18 Aug 03 - 12:06 AM (#1003841)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: Liz the Squeak

Deckman - that explains a lot..... Obviously I must be sounding like Maria Callas by now!

Warm ups are vital if you are doing a gig. For a session, singing along with everyone else is usually enough to start off with.

I find if I keep the lower register stuff out of a set until the end of the evening (or weekend), I can last longer. I've got volume in my lower register, but it's very wearing and nothing will knacker me quicker than singing the wrong songs at the beginning of the session/weekend. So I use my upper and middle registers until they are showing signs of overuse and then switch to the lower.

Warm ups, suitable lubrication and guage your set carefully. Usually though,I just open me gob and sing!


18 Aug 03 - 03:29 AM (#1003870)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: treewind

Alice, I hope Dick Gaughan won't mind me quoting this, which he posted to recently:

Opera singers sing in concert halls which are generally
acoustically superb, not rooms with thick carpetted floors, heavy
drape curtains and thick flock wallpaper. And I don't know of any
who do 200+ solo gigs per year where they sing non-stop for around
two hours per night, getting straight up from the floor to perform
cold, without any dressing room facilities to exercise in and do
vocal warm up routines. The rider to an opera singer's contract
would make any folk club organiser have a heart attack - it would
cost more than most folk professionals' entire fee.

So provide me with the average opera singer's working conditions
and environment and I'll sing without PA too.

Anahata (quoting DG)

18 Aug 03 - 01:32 PM (#1004121)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: Don Firth

Treewind, Dick Gaughan is not entirely accurate. Some opera singers do sing as many as 200 performances a year. And more, especially when you take into consideration that singing in operas on stage is not all the singing that they do.

Many opera singers don't belong to companies like the Metropolitan, New York City Opera, or San Francisco Opera. And not all opera singers make $3,000 a performance. To make a living at it, the majority usually spend a lot of time on the road, singing five performances here, one performance there, and eight performances someplace else. In between, they spend time with a vocal coach working on new roles or polishing old ones. Add to this, consider that when a tenor, for example, finishes a gig at the San Francisco Opera singing the lead in Otello, then flies up to Seattle to do Manrico in Il Trovatore, he has to attend rehearsals and integrate himself with all the other singers he'll be working with. He may have never before sung with the soprano who is singing Leonora or the mezzo who is singing Azucena. He has duets with both of them and they can't just "wing it;" they have to practice together. And not all stagings of an opera are the same. The sets may be different, so he has to learn new blocking, attend costume fittings, and a whole bunch of other things that even a very busy folk singer doesn't have to do. In Il Trovatore, he has a duel scene with the baritone, which sometimes takes place off-stage, but some directors want it right there in front of the audience, so they have to choreograph and practice it so that one of them doesn't wind up with a sword up his nose. I don't know of any folk singer who has to do any of these things, even if he or she has gigs 365 days a year.

And although they are usually singing in acoustically good venues, not always. And dressing room facilities and other accommodations for the singers vary widely and wildly from one venue to the next. They may do five performances in a major opera house with superb acoustics and plush dressing rooms, and their next gig is in a recondition movie theater with no dressing rooms at all. And the next gig after that is at an outdoor music festival (complete with a tent for all the singers, complete with a Port-a-Potty). Often an opera singer will sing as many as three or four opera performances a week for many weeks in a row, then hit the roadagain—to do a tour of concerts and recitals.

As far as not having to sing non-stop for two hours a night, I've seen the entire Ring of the Nibelungs, and the bass-baritone who sings Wotan is on stage most of the time in these four four or five hour operas. In the third of these, Seigfried, I can't think of a time when the tenor who sings the title role is not of stage singing. And he has to kill a dragon, to boot. There are many operas where one or more of the lead singers are on stage for most or all of the entire performance.

Placido Domingo or Renée Fleming or Samuel Ramey can command top dollar for opera performances, concerts, and recitals. And they have sufficient clout to have stipulations in their contracts that ease some of the more rigorous demands of their professions. But not the vast majority of opera singers. Have you ever heard of Dennis Bailey? Carole Webber? Archie Drake? These are all superb singers who know dozens of opera roles and have had years of experience on stage and in recitals. But they have to keep working constantly to make a living at it. And they aren't "heavy" enough to be able to make contract demands for things like private dressing rooms or some of the other perks.

And while all of this is going on, the singer has to, somehow, keep his or her voice healthy and functioning. That's not exactly a walk through the park. Not everyone has the drive and the stamina—or the talent or the natural endowments—to do it. If they didn't love it, they wouldn't do it. It's a grueling life, even for the best known singers (e.g., a few years ago Luciano Pavarotti had to take some time out and treat his voice to a rest, not because of faulty vocal technique, but because his wall-to-wall schedule of operas, concerts, and television appearances was wearing him out, and even his voice was starting to show strain).

I don't mean to tread on the toes of somebody's idol, but I'm afraid Dick Gaughan doesn't know what he's talking about.

Don Firth

18 Aug 03 - 02:01 PM (#1004142)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: death by whisky

Lots of gigs

18 Aug 03 - 02:07 PM (#1004145)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: treewind

I still don't see what opera singing has to do with folk music.

If we were to judge folk guitarists by the same standards we would be roaring with laughter every time they used a capo to change key.


18 Aug 03 - 02:19 PM (#1004154)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: Mary Humphreys

Excuse me for reminding this forum that we are talking about folk song not opera.
Traditional folk singers such as my Welsh grandmother never had any classical training, so the comments, though worthy, posted above would have had no relevance to her. She never sang to a large audience , but only to her own friends and family. This was the norm for many folk musicians/ singers so they never had the need to look at vocal techniques to hit the back wall of the Festspielhaus Bayreuth for three hours at a stretch.
Many recordings of traditional singers were done in a pub sing-around    ( Percy Webb springs to mind ) or in singers' own homes by collectors. In pub sing-arounds the singers would do one or at most 2 songs and give way to another singer. Standing up for 45 minutes in a club and performing non-stop to a large audience is rather a new venture in folk-song terms ( bearing in mind that folk song has been around for hundreds of years....)
Mary Humphreys

18 Aug 03 - 03:36 PM (#1004181)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: Don Firth

Well, Treewind and Mary, the matter of opera singing was brought up, there was some misinformation posted, and I wanted to set the record straight.   

If all you do is sing while doing the dishes, or croon lullabies to the kiddies, or shout out a chain-gang song while chopping firewood, or sing a few drinking song in the pub with your buddies, then that's fine. That's genuine folk music in its natural habitat. I don't think anyone really needs to prepare to sing, if that's the extent of it.

But the subject of this thread is "how do you prepare to sing?" The assumption of that question seems to be that the questioner has more that just a casual interest in singing, is singing regularly, is quite possibly singing professionally, and is naturally interested in singing well and preserving their voice over a whole evening's singing (not getting hoarse), and preserving their voice over an entire lifetime of singing (not eventually losing their singing voice entirely).

Whether it's an opera singer or a folk singer, singing is singing, hoarseness is hoarseness, laryngitis is laryngitis, and a shot voice is a shot voice. Opera singing is so rigorous and demanding that a singer who doesn't warm his or her voice up carefully before a gig won't have a very long career. The same holds for a singer of any kind of music. If you want to sing professionally (i.e., get paid to sing—even folk songs), then you would be wise to look at how singers who do the hardest kind of singing there is preserve their voices. I think it's stupid not to. Find out how the experts do it. Why try to reinvent the wheel?

And once again, taking a few voice lessons and doing some regular warm-up exercises before you sing are not going to make you sound like an opera singer. There are hordes of wannabe opera singers in music schools and going to voice teachers all over the world who wish that was all there was too it. If you weren't born with a larynx like Marilyn Horne's or Bryn Terfel's, you will never sound like them, no matter how many voice lessons you take or how diligently you practice.

Especially if you want to sing professionally, it's kind of counter-productive not to learn to use your musical instrument (your voice) in a manner that will allow you to sing the way you want to sing, sing easily, and sing for the rest of your life. And if you like to sing, but all you want to do is sing for fun, well, it's still not a bad idea. At least there will be less of a chance that you'll lose you voice later on. It depends on what you want to do.

I have no ax to grind. It's up to you. After all, it's your voice.

Don Firth

18 Aug 03 - 03:44 PM (#1004187)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: Leo Condie

the emphasis in my folk title was meant to be "how do YOU prepare to sing?" but i suppose the meaning's the same. the input is fascinating.

18 Aug 03 - 05:22 PM (#1004215)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: Mary Humphreys

Don is quite right about the preparation care and preservation of the voice. I have no problem with anything that he has said because I certainly want to be singing when I get to be an old lady. I do make sure that my vocal apparatus is warmed up as best it can be ( singing in the car on the way, joining in choruses prior to the set, avoiding smoky atmospheres ) for the very reasons that he has stated.
But I take issue with those who think that using PA may be indicative of poor vocal technique. Given the poor acoustic ambience at many folk clubs, PA can make it possible to sing a quiet highly ornamented lyrical piece without worrying about whether those people on the back row can hear every note and syllable above the police sirens, aircraft and general city traffic noise.

18 Aug 03 - 05:53 PM (#1004230)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: Don Firth

Egad, if there's a PA system there, use it! Believe me, opera singers do when they have the chance. Actually, if your voice is coming through a good PA system, the audience can hear the subtleties and nuances you put into it a lot more clearly. They can also hear all the flaws, goofs, wheezes, and bobbles. So it's kind of a mixed blessing.

Don Firth

18 Aug 03 - 06:28 PM (#1004250)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: Mark Clark

I get really enthusiastic about these threads on singing. Not that I'm good at it or anything like that but it's great to see the information. I can't really contribute anything of value but I can learn a great deal. Thanks to Alice and Don (and their ilk) we have a collection of threads on vocal technique to go along with the threads on instrumental technique.

Still, I have a question. Isn't the formal training given classically trained singers analogous to formal study at Juilliard or Berklee for guitarists? If so, is there a coherent subset of classical training that might be useful for folk singers just as folk/country/blues guitarists often lack classical training? Have session players and studio musicians all been classically trained on their instruments. Do folk/country/blues performers regularly perform needed warm up exercises on their instruments prior to a performance?

Those of us who admire traditional music and sources love to listen to field recordings of singers lauded in their own communities for the percieved quality of their singing. Often these singers are dismissed and even reviled by educated musicians but they may be the very role models some of us would like to emulate; maybe not all the time but at least sometimes. Have any of the folk scholars documented the vocal preparation these original sources make for a performance or the sort of training they were given when learning their arcane styles?

      - Mark

18 Aug 03 - 06:33 PM (#1004251)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: Deckman

Mark ... darned good question! Bob

19 Aug 03 - 01:01 AM (#1004443)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: Liz the Squeak

Mark - yes - the training given to opera and other formal singers is extensive and if I knew what they did at Berklee or Juillard to guitarists, it would probably be the same; although, do guitarists get made to play whilst lying at full stretch along a bench with their heads hanging down over the end or curled up in a ball and expected to be audible? I've been made to do those exercises and that was just for what is basically a church choir!

As for your other question about arcane styles - it is very much a matter of fashion. If you put Bob Dylan on Pop Idol (terrible programme where wannabe pop singers are put through auditions and ritual public humiliation), do you honestly think he would get through? His recordings, to us now, sound rough, ill trained, harsh and quite often not on pitch. 40 years or so ago, it was something different, a primeaval (well, evil anyway) sound that matched the mood of the times. He disappeared from the general public eye in the 1980's because all the general populace wanted then was the perfect sound, highly processed and smooth. We are so used to the 'perfect' studio recordings we can buy quite cheaply now, that we no longer want to hear the rough, artisan style that is what folk music started out as. If you produced a CD of some old people singing in a noisy pub, it would probably go down like a lead balloon to all but the most hardened 'finger in the ear' folkie. It's the difference between Brussels pate and Ardennes pate. Some likes it smooth and some likes the lumps in it, but it's all pate.


19 Aug 03 - 01:22 AM (#1004448)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: Max

I pop on some Robert Johnson and sing really loud along to "If I Had Possession Over Judgement Day" before a gig. He sings so high, and I sing so low, that it really stretches out my vocal chords nicely. My first song is usually "32-20" also by Robert Johnson, which seems to really loosen up my voice and me (maybe more important). My usual gig is always very smokey, so I have to deal with that, and I usually sip Sprite during the night.

19 Aug 03 - 03:04 PM (#1004807)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: Merritt

All sorts of methods to learn from here.

Like others I try to sing everyday as much as possible to maximize range and tone. A one-hour round-trip between home and the office helps with this.

I very rarely sing enough to start a gig feeling really ready and in full voice. To deal with this, early tunes in the first set tend to be ones that are in my mid-range and that stretch both low and high ends of the mid-range - Any Old Time (C), St. James Infirmary (Fm), Key to the Highway (E), etc. I perform solo about half the time and play in a guitar/vocal duo the other half, so it's often necessary to negotiate my voice preparation needs with my unindicted musical co-conspirator.

I drink anything from water to ice tea to beer to whiskey depending on what feels right.

After two full hours of singing at a gig I feel like my voice is just hitting it's stride. Am also just moving into that mode where my voice feels equally relaxed and controlled (if you know what I mean). Unless I have a cold, the longer I sing, the better I feel and sound. Unfortunately most gigs last only 3 to 4 hours; some only 2.

- Merritt

19 Aug 03 - 03:40 PM (#1004816)
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
From: Deckman

Merritt ... I appreciate your comments, especially regarding what I call "vocal stamina." I know excatly what you mean when you mention that sometimes after two or three hours, you feel your voice is just starting to "hit it's stride." I know that feeling and it's very good when it happens. As has been well and frequently mentioned on this thread, reguliar vocal workouts are what prepare you for the long haul.

Here's another focus on the subject, unfortunatly somewhat negative, but true.

Over the last 6 years, I have spend countless hundreds (thousands?) of hours caring for my elderly parents. At times, the strain on me was horrible and impossible to describe. Bride Judy helped me through it, as did many of my friends.

During those years, I was trying to keep up with my singing obligations, and I fell short. I would start a program that should have lasted an hour, or an hour and a half, and barely 30 minutes into it, my voice would start to fail. Of course, I knew the reason.

I simply wasn't able to get enough rest. I wasn't able to get enough preparation time, especially the MENTAL preparation that was required.
Stress takes a terrible toll on us. And my voice and throat problems are usually the first sign of strain for me.

So, for me, the bottom line is, I can only give a good performance when my head and my body are well rested.

... Just another part of the equation ... CHEERS, Bob