Today’s post is a video blog where I’ll discuss vocal coaches who list celebrities among their list of clients. Often these vocal coaches are quite a bit more expensive to study with than many others. In this video I’ll tell you about a student of mine who went to see one and the conversation we had afterward.[youtube KdOyA13kSgQ]
In this, the 3rd and final installment in what I’ll call the “singer’s diet” series, we’ll focus on beverages. If you’ve been paying attention and playing along on your board games at home, you know that I’ve taken a rather general approach to these articles rather than give you a hard and fast list of food items to go by. Why, because everyone is different and different foods and beverages affect everyone different ways. No sooner than I tell you to absolutely avoid something, someone will come along and tell you they have it all the time with no problem.
So instead, let’s start with a short list of general guidelines to consider when choosing something to drink:
1. Anything really cold should be avoided. Constricts the throat muscles
2. Caffeine should generally be avoided. Caffeine is a diuretic, so caffeinated drinks will dry out your throat. These drinks also dehydrate you, and make you go more often; which you don’t want to be worried about when you’re on stage. Include in this category all of the artificial sugars and sweeteners. Avoid those as well.
3. Acidic drinks (anything high in acid) should generally be avoided for pretty-much the same reasons. Acid can sort of “burn off” some of the protective coatings that keep you cords lubricated. And yup, we’re talking about acidic juices like orange juice and lemon juice.
4. Carbonated drinks like sodas should be avoided . Aside from the caffeine, there’s the carbonate. Which tends to bloat you and make you gassy and belchy (yes, I made that up, lol). Not something you want to be doing on stage.
5. Alcohol should be avoided. Besides the fact that you don’t want to be toasted while you’re up trying to perform, alcohol has many of the same effects as caffeine. It will dehydrate you and dry you out.
So if you’re thinking “well geeze, what does that leave me?!” Well, pretty-much anything you want that’s not one of those things. And there are always exceptions. For example, some say lemmon juice is nice to drink when you have a lot of phlegm, because it helps cut through it. You may, however, be helping one problem and causing another one with that scenario.
If you really want to simplify your life, drink room temperature water. Simple as that. But in order for water to really benefit you, you have to be drinking it on a regular basis. DO NOT load up on a ton of water right before going on stage, unless you want to be running for the bathroom halfway through your second song. Rather, you should sip on it to keep your mouth from becoming dry.
But in order to reap all of the many benefits of drinking water, you must try to stay hydrated as a general rule. Drink water on a regular basis. Your vocal cords will be moist, excess mucus from colds will be much thinner, and your voice overall will be cleaner and more crisp.
At the end of the day though guys, you really do have to become a student of your own body and your own instrument here. There are hundreds of people who will disagree with every point in this blog simply because they personally have never had a problem with it. Use this as a general guideline of all the common things that are true for most people. Then tailor your routine to what works best for you. Don’t make it so strict that you don’t even enjoy singing anymore. Singing isn’t supposed to be that way.
Enjoy your life! Just remember, not only your voice but your whole body is your instrument. Try not to take it for granted.
When it comes to what a singer should and shouldn’t eat or drink, advice will always be as varied as the number of people you ask. I’m pretty sure that’s because people have a tendency to dismiss something as the gospel truth or completely wrong based only on their own experience with it. But the human voice is the most complex and individually unique musical instrument that exists. It’s the only instrument in the world fashioned by the very hand of God. Our vocal instrument is our entire body, not just our voice. So, you have to expect that foods will react differently from person to person.
But as I mentioned in my recent blog about milk, there are some things that are pretty-much universally accepted as just good practice for singers. I’m going to share that kind of common-sense information with you in today’s blog.
So, you have an engagement coming up in the near future. What should you be doing to put yourself in the best possible position to insure your performance is as good as it can be? Aside from regular vocal training, your diet is definitely something very important to think about. When, what and how you eat before a singing engagement can all affect your ability to perform at your best. Let’s briefly look at all three.
When you eat-specifically how soon before your engagement- is critical. Let’s first make it very clear that you do need to eat something. Singing is a very physical thing that really involves your whole body. You need some energy to have the stamina to finish your gig. However, it’s important that you don’t eat right before you sing. The main reason is that if you do, the energy won’t be available to you when you need it. In order to benefit from the food you should really eat about 2 hours before a singing engagement.
Another huge benefit of doing that though, is that if you eat too soon before the gig, your body will be diverting energy towards digesting the meal. This will make you tired and less focused. Especially if you ate a heavy meal; which brings us to :
One thing you never want to do right before singing is eat a heavy, full meal. Aside from the the aforementioned zap of energy, you’ll also have a much harder time breathing for singing. That’s because when your stomach is full, it’s bloated and pushing against your diaphragm. So you can’t breath properly. The easiest way to avoid that is to stop eating about 2 hours before the gig. By then, unless you’ve really stuffed yourself to the gills with a bunch of heavy, empty calories, your body should have most of what you ate digested and providing energy to your system.
We’ve already established that it’s a good idea to stay away from big meals full of heavy foods. But we also pointed out that you do need to eat, and you do need some energy to sing well. The best types of foods to eat then, are foods that are light and yet provide you a lot of energy. Foods high in protein are great to eat an hour or two before an engagement. Things like chicken, almonds, eggs and fish are all good foods to eat. They provide you with plenty of protein and yet, if eaten in moderation, will keep your hunger at bay without having to stuff yourself.
As I said before, every singer is different because every person’s body is different. The best thing to do is try to keep an eye on what your’e eating leading up to an engagement. That way if you have an off night you can go back and take a look at what you ate and identify anything that may have caused some of it. Look for trends, or things that tend to happen every time you eat a certain food. While I’ve offered some good common sense guidelines here, remember that at the end of the day which specific foods you eat is usually a lot less important than when and how.
You probably know however, that eating and drinking everything you should at just the right right time you should do it still won’t protect your voice from wear and damage from years of bad technique. To do that you must train your voice with professional vocal lessons. But vocal lessons can be expensive and a real hassle to fit into your busy life.
Although most singers never think about this at all ( and we all should) occasionally someone at one of my vocal lessons will ask me what’s good and what’s NOT good for a singer to eat/drink. Because every singer is different and affected different ways, it’s hard to come up with a definitive list. Something that bothers one person won’t bother someone else’s voice.
Even so, however, There are some food that are almost universally identified as wise to steer clear of for singers. If I could only choose one to get rid of from that list I’d choose:
Simply put gang, milk does NOT do a body good, despite the very popular and ingeniusly crafted campaigns. There’s a whole lot of very interesting things I’ve learned about milk that really blew my mind. This is not the place nor the forum to discuss them, but consider this:
No doubt, if you grew up in the Black church, you’ve heard the saying “You can sing a lie just as well as you can tell a lie”. It’s a saying that’s been around probably as long as the church has been around. And while it comes from a place of good intent and well meaning, I think it bears taking a look at in a less literal way.
As Gospel and Christian singers, we sing music that goes far beyond entertainment. Inspirational music has the power to up-lift, encourage, heal and restore. In order to have effective ministry, Gospel singers must be able to reach people through the ministry of music whose story may not be their own. Imagine for a moment if you could only sing songs with lyrics that describe something you’ve been through personally. Only songs that are your personal experience.
It would be nearly impossible, wouldn’t it? Even in a song that does describe some personal experience of yours there is bound to be some parts that in fact don’t speak to a personal experience of yours. Jesus used parables almost exclusively in His ministry. Yet none of them were actual stories based on His own life or personal experience. They were simply stories He used to illustrate a point. In much the same way, Gospel singers often need to sing a song about something that may not be their own personal experience in order to bless someone in the audience that God has placed there to hear it.
Though I haven’t spoken to her personally, I think it’s safe to say that there’s no such person as “shouting John” in Shirly Ceasar’s famous “Hold My Mule”. I could give several such examples, but the point is that often the message in a song isn’t for us, but for people in the audience. To tell a story about, for example, over-coming something that we ourselves may not have been through, is not “singing a lie”. It’s singing a message about something someone else has been through. The fact that I personally may not have gone through it doesn’t make it any less true for someone.
So how do you handle singing a song that isn’t your personal testimony? Simple. You have to first understand that as Gospel singers God uses us to bless others. The song we sing is seldom for us, but for someone else. You must find your own truth in every song. Your own personal spiritual connection. The beauty of Gospel music is that there is truth for every believer in every Gospel song that has it’s focus centered in Christ. So even when it’s not your personal story, you can connect with it spiritually and sing it with the conviction of truth, knowing that even if it’s not your story, to tell that story in song for someone else that they may be blessed, is not “singing a lie” any more than the parables told by Jesus was a lie for Him.
Like most vocal coaches, I get a lot of questions. And, understandably, when someone is considering booking vocal lessons with me they often ask questions about things they want to achieve as singers. But there’s one particular question that my answer to tends to lose me potential clients. Granted, I don’t get the question very often. But when I do the singer doesn’t tend to like my answer.
The question is “can you help me with my runs”, or “can you teach me how to do riffs?” While my answer to that question is seldom just a flat out “NO”, it’s definitely not usually a yes either. What gets me into trouble is when I start asking the person why they want to learn them and work on them. Why are they so important to you? Tough questions to answer when it’s put to you that way.