Singing is a physical activity—sometimes extremely demanding—especially as we grow older. In the following article, voice and performance coach Tamara Beatty reveals how to stay in shape to deliver powerful, nuanced performances.
When I was younger, I didn’t study singers, I studied athletes. I watched their movement, how they searched for efficiency, and how they trained strategically to get the strength, power, agility, flexibility, and expression that their bodies needed for their sport or discipline. I witnessed how they trained in order to progress steadily, not plateau, and not fatigue or injure over time.
As I got older and more invested in athletics myself, I had the luck and privilege of training with some of the best coaches in the world who prepared athletes for the Olympics and other World level competitions. They understood the art of finding the “right” training for each body and personality, the importance of specific practice, and the point of it. As a voice and performance coach, I’ve found that these same ideas apply to singing.
Whether I learned it from my athletic coaches, or just from years of training as an artist or voice coach myself, I’ve come to the conclusion that the point of practice is not just to gain more skill in order to execute more accurately or effectively. It is to help you be more free and more powerful (whatever powerful means for you in that moment), when it counts.
For singers, this means not only developing a capable physical voice (one that may be able to do things like sing consistently on pitch, craft a signature tone, or belt the high notes), it also means fostering the artist voice inside which fuels your physical voice. So that when you say something, or sing something, it means something. And if you want to be a compelling performer, it needs to mean something to both you and to your audience. This is the voice you want to train. Your voice is not “fit” unless you honor all of it.
So how do you Get Your “FIT” Together?
We begin by acknowledging three important things that will pave the foundation for your training.
Fitness is only ONE part of the equation. There is so much more to being an amazing singer and artist than how well you "execute." There’s your musicianship, your artistry, your songs, and your performance presence to name a few. But it’s surprising how much fitness matters for singers, especially at the pro level. If you’re on tour, for example, you need to keep up with the demands of all the singing, speaking, socializing, and stresses it involves. Many singers struggle with the added demands of touring, and, if they have a reduced fitness base, are more prone to experiencing voice issues due to overuse, misuse and illness (such as laryngitis). If taking prednisone to clear up inflammation during these states is the only option you’re aware of, please know there is so much more you can do to address these issues or prevent them in the first place. But that’s a whole other topic! Another overlooked application of fitness is when you’re trying to get noticed and it’s not quite happening for you. It’s very possible that your fitness level may be one of the things standing in the way of someone seeing and experiencing your magic. So, fitness (whatever that looks like for you) matters.
Fitness is not fully synonymous with technique. Of course, technique may be used in order to get more fitness, but technique in and of itself is not enough to get the results you’ll need as a singer or artist. In fact, for many, focusing solely on technique can sometimes be very confining, rigid, and difficult to translate practically into being on stage, on tour, or in the studio because it can lack context. Fitness, on the other hand, which will require a focus on technique or “form” at certain stages in order to get the best results, has clear context. Its ultimate goal is to help you do two things:
• Withstand the demands of your craft; allowing you to do what you do with more ease, less fatigue, and for longer periods of time
• Access your emotions and intensity on the spot without hesitation
The power of these two things combined cannot be underestimated.
Fitness is meant to be irrelevant. That’s the coolest thing about it. Once you get to the level of fitness that allows you to do these two things (above), you can move away from fitness training and move toward maintaining which requires much less time, effort, and energy. For best results, you want to be in the maintenance stage before you go on tour, go into the studio for a big or important stretch of recording, or have a string of performances lined up.
Here are three Quick Tips to help you Get Your “FIT” Together:
1. Apply the F.I.T.T. Principle. This is a common sport principle that states you can’t just practice every now and then to get results. You need the right Frequency, Intensity, Time, and Type of practice. To gain strength or stamina for example, aim to practice four times a week. To maintain, you can get away with three, sometimes two practice sessions a week.
2. Know Your “Target Training Tone.” This is the BEST WAY to get results from your training programs. Find a tone that has a nice amount of connection (something as loud or a bit louder than your speaking voice) and has a decent depth to it (not pinched, squished, or imposed too low). Do your exercises and sing through your songs with this tone even if it’s not quite the sound you usually use on stage or in-studio.
3. Mix it Up. Vary your practice (this is referred to as the Variation Principle in sport). Make sure it involves a balance between “thinking” and “doing” and tasks that involve both “artistry” and “fitness.”
Create a practice routine you want to do! If you cringe at the idea of using scales, try something else. But don’t let anything prevent you from getting the fitness you need in order access the greatness and magic within you.
It’s not too late to Get Your “FIT” Together.
TAMARA BEATTY is a highly regarded Voice and Performance Coach of 25 years who works with celebrities, emerging artists and even victims of abuse to train and reclaim their voices. She’s entering her 10th season as a Voice Coach Consultant on NBC’s The Voice and is the founder and owner of VOICEFIT ™––the first training of its kind for singers, rappers and performers. MC readers are invited to join her FREE 5 Minute Fall Fitness Challenge here: bit.ly/2wXFjcZ. Get E-news here: tamarabeatty.com/contact Follow @byTamaraBeatty