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Back to Choral Singing? Top Tips To Combat Vocal Fatigue!!

vocal technique Sep 01, 2022

 It's September and with the new season approaching we are all looking forward to getting back to singing together again.

 
However, a word of caution - it is so important to remember that the vocal stamina we all had through years of weekly (and for some of us daily) singing will not just manifest because we are back to choir. A two hour rehearsal can be extremely tiring on the voice if we are not careful and we do not want to run the risk of injury or damage within the first couple of weeks.
 
 
 To help ease you back into building your vocal stamina gradually and easily I have put together some top tips and a really useful vocal warm up and cool down that you can use either on your own, or if you are a Choral Director with your choirs. Think of yourselves as vocal athletes. Just as you wouldn't begin to consider running a marathon straight after months of no running at all, it's worth considering that it would be foolish to expect that you'll be able to sing for two hours at full pelt. It will be a gradual process to build up that stamina again.
 
 
 So, how to get back to where you were and avoid the dreaded vocal fatigue..
 

1) Warm up your voice every day. This can take as little or as much time as you choose - even 2 minutes in the shower in the morning is helpful but little and often is the way to building (and re-building) vocal stamina

  • Start with an alignment check and begin with your favourite SOVT (Semi-Occluded Vocal Tract) exercise. Rolled R exercises are great or Lip Trills. Use the straw in water if you have done those exercises before or take a bottle of water and a straw to choir. This is a great way to remind you to keep your airflow in check!

  • Use some primal sounds (groan, moan, whimper, giggle etc) and fricatives (fff, zzz, kk etc) to check your airflow is properly supported and to remind you of the diamond of support.

  • Always keep in mind the careful balance between air flow and air pressure - aiming for an effort level of no more than 3/10 at any time.

  • Try a bit of sirening with a very low effort level to take you through your range.

  • Think about putting your tongue in the "sweet spot" and keeping the jaw relaxed while checking out your vowel sounds ieaou or using the "Sing" exercise.

If you then choose to practise your repertoire after the warm up, remember to use the warm up skills in your practice. If you have a lot of tiring phrases or high notes, try them through first phonating with the straw and water, or sing a phrase on a rolled R. If its feeling particularly difficult, is it because there is too much effort - can you try it with more air flow and less effort?

If the advice above looks like gobbldegook, don't worry - here is a short video for you with all the exercises on

2) In Choir rehearsals choose your times to sing full pelt. You may want to have a "good sing" the first time you sing through a phrase - but rehearsals often have a number of repeats in them and this is where you could then take your attention to the airflow/effort level or even sing phrases with an SOVT, this will help your voice to be properly supported.

3) Check your alignment and plot your Splats. In rehearsals it can be very easy to drop into a slouching position, don't do it - your voice will thank you for it! You can help yourself with any breathing issues by figuring out where you intend to breathe in a phrase and writing breath marks in - this will help you to be properly fuelled and not try singing phrases longer than you have breath for (which we know leads to tiring the voice).

4) Stick your Tongue out! Often in a long rehearsal we may find that we have been tightening the tongue whilst singing - ( tongue root tension) . We can check this by pressing our thumb up under the chin and if it's rigid or sensitive there may have been some tension, a good way to get rid of this is by stretching the tongue out or the "Thaaa" exercise - or Lizard tongue, which is very quickly sticking the tongue out as far as you can at certain moments in a phrase - practice this at home, you may not want to do it at choir!!!

5) Have fun with Primal Sounds. If you are singing a sad piece, imaging singing it on a sob. The Hallelujah Chorus can be sung on a shout for joy or what I call a sumo shout, many pieces can be sung with a whimper behind them. The primal sound encourages the support muscles to engage and when the body supports the sound, then fatigue can be staved away for longer (imagine the baby crying whose voice doesn't tire until they are fed!)

But I also mentioned a cool down. After an exciting and tiring rehearsal it can be extremely soothing to use an SOVT, or your straw and water to just do a few scales, wherever it feels comfortable to ease the voice back into speech mode. We know from Speech and Language therapists that SOVT exercises are used with tired and damaged voices to help soothe and restore. A minute or two in the car after rehearsal will pay dividends in your route back to full vocal stamina.

I, for one, can't wait to get back to my choirs. If you like the idea of joining a Choir which incorporates all of the above techniques please take a look at my choir Northwood Choral Society or if you feel you'd like to know more about vocal technique and explore your voice either online individually, in a small group, as part of a course or workshop please check out the online courses I am running this next term. 

 

Me with the Manwood Singers
 
 
 
 

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