Increase your energy for a great singing performance with these 5 exercises – says Juliet Russell
Being a performer has parallels with being an athlete.
Both careers involve preparation and training, which culminate in a key moment of performance by which you are judged.
Giving a great performance requires greater energy levels than you need for most daily tasks, which is partly why so many performers keep in great physical shape.
The following exercises will help you to prepare for peak performance:
1. Breathing for energy
As you know, effective breath support is a crucial element of voice production.
Breathing exercises can also help us to raise our energy levels, increasing oxygenation of the blood and heart activity.
Try This. A great exercise is to stand with feet hip distance apart, with knees bent. Keeping the knees soft, breathe in through the mouth and in a fluid motion raise your hands above your head. Without stopping, exhale and bring the arms down. Swing the arms up as you breathe in and down as you breathe out. The bend in the knees may lessen as you bring the arms up. This is fine, just don’t straighten completely. You only need to do this exercise for a couple of minutes. Stop if you feel at all light headed!
2. Physical preparation
As part of your physical warm up, include some self-massage.
Try This. Using a fist shape, gently pummel up the inside of your left arm and down the outside. Repeat a few times then change sides. Then move onto the legs. With both hands gently pummel up the inside of the leg and down the outside. You can do this quite vigorously. Then pummel the fleshy part of the hips at the sides, just below the hip bones. This exercise helps to enliven your body and warm up some key muscle groups in the limbs.
As part of mental preparation, it can help to remind yourself why you are actually performing. Sometimes it is easy to lose sight of the reason, but when you are clear about this, it can help you to stay motivated and energized.
Try This: Here are some questions that you may want to ask yourself. If any apply to you, that’s great, but feel free to define your motivation in your own way. Do you want to give your audience a great experience? Do you want to make your family proud? Do you have a message to share with the world? Do you want to inspire other people? Do your songs have something new or interesting to say? Does your unique voice need to be heard?
Whatever your motivation, never lose sight of the reason why you perform. It can make a real difference to how to positively approach performing.
Our brain is a powerful tool and mental preparation is an important aspect of a great performance.
Try This: To get yourself in the zone, recall a time when you have really sung and performed to a great standard or the best that you know you can. Try to bring this memory back as strongly as you can. See yourself. Remember how you felt. Can you feel it in your body? What emotion best describes it? Emotional recall can be very useful as a performer. It can help us tap into feelings that we want to share with our audience. Another trick is to play music that makes you feel energetic. Learn to feel anticipation and excitement before performing. The energy that you have will transmit to your audience.
Always plan adequate rehearsal time for yourself to practice your songs and work on mastering difficult passages. Once you are technically secure, this leaves you free to concentrate on putting your physical performance skills into action. You can try these out at band rehearsals. It is much easier to let go and take more chances with your stage performance when you know your vocal is consistent and strong.
Try This: video your rehearsals and performances so you know what’s working well and what to focus on in your next rehearsal. Keep moving forward.
Develop your own performance style and learn what works for you so that you can always give your best on stage and in the studio.
My Reactions to This Week’s Peer Review Vids
Chloe Smith – “Feeling Good” (Mashup of Cover)
This is a confident performance, which draws the viewer in. You have a lovely purity of tone, which is a strong point and I like your moments of almost folky agility. They add nice individual touches. You have lots of potential and it is great to see you so focussed and commanding on stage. I’d like you to work on two specific areas. The first is thinking more about your vocal phrasing. One of the amazing aspects of Nina Simone’s version is the incredible variation, yet consistency in her delivery. It all adds to the emotional quality. I appreciate that this is your version, and that you have individualised it, but you can still experiment with phrasing while keeping it true to you. The other thing is to experiment with different parts of your voice, especially as your voice will start to get more depth in the next couple of years. Don’t lose that lovely purity, but explore the range of vocal expression available to you. It’s very positive that you are writing your own material too. Keep going. You’re doing great.
Andrew Nicholson – “Power of Love” (Cover)
This is an interesting one, as most people sing with accompaniment and you’ve chosen to sing a cappella (unaccompanied). Singing a cappella is a skill in its own right as there is no beat to keep us in time and no external pitch reference. Generally, you keep the pitch centre pretty well so well done. There is a nice brightness to your tone and when you are supporting the sound well, you hit some really good notes, but you need to build consistency. I like that you went for the big note at the end. In terms of timing, it’s really important to keep the pulse of the song consistent. Even when there is no actual beat to sing to, we have to develop our own internal clock or metronome to ensure the musical pulse is always present. This is the main thing I want you to work on. The second is vocal agility. Start by singing scales or vocal patterns slowly and once you have mastered them accurately, slowly start to build up speed, never sacrificing accuracy for speed. Practice with and without music so that you can develop both skills.
Zoe Constantinou – “Begin Again” by Taylor Swift (Cover)
You give a lovely, natural performance and you engage well with the audience through the camera, with very good eye contact. You have a nice, easy vibrato too, which suits the style of the song. Technically there are two main things I’d like you to think about. The first is how to to reach the low “do” from “I do” in the verse. It’s sometimes either sharp (first time) or loses strength. Interestingly, when explaining how many takes you’ve done before you sing, when you say the word “wrong”, the sound is low and has depth and strength. Try a similar technique when singing; emphasise the speech quality. You will still be singing, but see if you can find a more secure tone. If it still feels too low, just move the song up a semi-tone or tone, as you’re not struggling with high notes at all. The second is, I want you to choose where you go into head voice. In Taylor Swift’s version, she moves into head voice on e.g. “kid” and “did” and it feels like a very clear technical choice for lyrical emphasis. I’m not saying you should do it in the same way, as it’s always good to personalise songs, but make sure it’s a choice. Experiment with where to change and explore what works best. Generally you sing it nicely so these are just additional tips!
Juliet Russell is a coach on BBC1’s The Voice, and has coached Grammy award winners, Brit nominees and X-factor finalists. She is passionate about developing artists and working with individuals and communities to develop their voices and creativity. As a performer she has sung with Damon Albarn, Paloma Faith, Imogen Heap, Yoko Ono, Alt-J, Seal and Ringo Starr, and has composed music for film, TV and radio. She runs Expressive Voice courses for singers wanting to explore their voices creatively, grounded in knowledge of vocal anatomy. Juliet holds a Masters degree in Music Performance and is also a vocal arranger and choral director..
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