Singing is a very physical activity and the demands on all singers mean that you have to be in good health. This begins with an awareness of your body’s overall physical well being. Here are a few tips and tricks that can help look after your voice, help with breathing and pronunciation.
Illness and Singing
First and foremost, do not attend a rehearsal/concert if you have a throat, ear or chest infection. For one, the rest of the choir do not want to catch it. But also, it’s important that you rest your voice in order for it to recover. And resting your voice means exactly that. Do not talk (even in a forced whisper) take the necessary medication and stay in a warm but not too dry, atmosphere.
Listening and Pitch
Listening is one of the most important skills you, as a singer, should have. Tuning the ears, as well as the voice, is important to ensure that you produce vocal sounds that enhance the tonal quality of a song. Only by “listening” will you come to realise the sound you are trying to achieveThis is the ability to recognise by ear a particular note in isolation. This is not an essential skill in choral singing. The ability to recognise relative pitch, however, is essential. This is where you recognise the interval between one note and another. Both perfect and relative pitch can be learnt through practise, and relative pitch will improve through attending the Choir’s rehearsals and especially home practise with, for example, a piano.
Always check your posture throughout the performance. Poor alignment can produce problems especially for breath control whilst also introducing tension throuhout the body. Both will affect the quality of sound that you produce. Stand (sit) comfortably upright with relaxed tongue, jaw, neck, shoulders and stomach. Check each in turn by tensing and letting go.
Poor breathing and inappropriate support along with a closed throat will produce poor tonal quality in the voice. Breath from the diaphragm. Allow the air to flow evenly as you sing.
Here’s an exercise to practise doing this, and to expand your lung capacity: Take a controlled, even, maximum breath from the stomach. Allow the air to flow evenly out as you sing ‘Ah’. Keep this going for as long as possible. Over a few weeks you will increase the length of time you can do this, your control, your lung capacity – and you will improve your singing.
There’s no great secret to learning to sight read. To improve your site reading, just do it. Practise at rehearsals and practise with the music at home. Most choir members are better at it than they realise. In addition, take simple melodies (from the internet, for example) and sing them from sight, then check them out at a piano etc by yourself or with a friend.
Remember it’s good to make mistakes – even professional singers do. It’s how we improve.
Always take a pencil to rehearsals and note lightly on your score essential directions the conductor gives such as the mood of the piece, the dynamics, the repeats and so on.
As you rehearse over the weeks you will become more and more aware of the presence and singing of Choir members and the Choir as a whole (listen to hear) and how you best fit into it and enhance the quality of its sound.
To make the most of singing in a choir, get to know the words and music of the programme inside out. Aim for purity of vowels and clarity of consonants. Practise aloud each week between rehearsals by yourself, with a piano etc or with an audio recording of your part of the musical score. In particular, practise most, the bits you have some difficulty with – look at the bits you can do well, less often. If you can, you could make a tape of the bits you find most difficult.
Be aware of the dynamics of the music you are preparing to sing. Do not open your mouth too wide when singing loudly. This tends to tense the throat muscles and produce a poor tone. Create the volume by increasing the amount of air flow controlled from your diaphragm. When singing softly do not close the mouth too much as this tends to produce a poor tone. Create the sound with the appropriate amount of air flow controlled from the diaphragm.
To sing a very high note mentally aim ‘over the top’ of the note. Sopranos and tenors can improve their singing by ‘feeling’ their head and face are full of the sounds they are about to sing. Similarly, altos and basses will improve their tone by ‘feeling’ the sounds in their face and chest.
Before a Concert
It’s generally recommended that you eat lightly and ensure you’re hydrated – but not too much so.
Double check your music is in the right order.
Ensure you have clear lungs, throat and nose before ‘going on’. Dairy products can sometimes contribute to a ‘frog in the throat’.
Look professional throughout the performance and until the last member of the Choir has left the performance area and is out of sight.
Watch the conductor. If using music, hold it so you can glance at it as a prompt and take direction almost simultaneously.
Listen to the Choir and fit in.
Smile whenever appropriate and otherwise be interested and including of your section, the choir, conductor, accompanist/musicians and audience.
Above all else, enjoy the experience.