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How to avoid vocal fatigue while performing

Speaking from experience, there have been countless occasions during performances in which the energy got so high that I stopped singing, and started to yell and shout in timeout of excitement in the moment. Needless to say, my vocal cords got tired very quickly after I made the unconscious switch from good vocal technique to shouting with excitement. I would say that the silver lining about these situations would be the audience’s enjoyment as they matched the excitement I felt from their applause as they rose to their feet to dance with the music. A satisfying yet uncomfortable trade-off.

Having performed many genres of music from classical to R&B to jazz and even rock, I can say that each genre presents it’s own set of challenges in terms of vocal endurance if one does not approach either of these styles correctly. So, how do you match the intensity of the music without blowing your voice out? I’m glad that you asked:

For this entry I will only speak about the genres I have performed professionally being R&B, soul, and jazz. I find that the majority of male R&B singers from over the years have been tenors. Having to sing in my high register as often as I do, I am sure to always warm up my voice properly so that I will not vocally fatigued after, or even during a long performance. When I lived in Michigan, the band I played music with was required to do four 45min sets of relentless funk and soul for the purpose of getting the people present to dance. No matter how you look at it that is a long time to sing for anyone so, a few things you can do to guard against experience vocal fatigue during a performance are:

1. Warmup
2. Adjust the keys of your songs to your vocal capability
3. Sing lightly and close to the microphone
4. Stay hydrated
5. Keep your technique in tact

Warm up: One should always warm up their vocal apparatus as singing is a physical activity. It involves a certain group of muscles and spaces from the bottom of the abdomen to the top of the head, working together simultaneously that will respond better if warmed up. As an athlete warms up their body before engaging in a sport to avoid injury, so should a vocalist warm-up their voice to avoid vocal fatigue.

Tailor selections to your vocal ability: I am an advocate of learning how to perform a song in it’s original key so that the song stays “bright” to the ear, and doesn’t begin to sound too dark by lowering it too many half steps. However, in the case where a woman wants to sing a song originally done by a man the original key tends to jump a Perfect 4th or 5th to fit the woman’s voice. This happens very often in the jazz genre as instrumentalists usually ask singers which key they sing any given selection in. In popular music, unless it’s a special request singers tend to choose to cover selections and artists partial to their own vocal style and personality.

Sing softer and closer to your microphone: This is a technique that I’ve discovered for myself just recently in order to simply sing a song that went to the stratosphere quite often. I’ve found that if I sing at a lower volume and get as close to my microphone without my lips touching the microphone, or slightly touching since it is my mic and only I use it. This change in approach allows me to sing with a coordinated tone with less effort, and allows me to hear myself better in the monitor as I become more present in the mix.

Stay Hydrated: There are very few things worse than opening your mouth to sing, only to realize how difficult it is to actually open your mouth due to how dry it is. A couple things worse that I could think of would be choking on your own spit going down the wrong way due to a quick inhale, and the 2nd being the most undesired occurrence of drawing a complete blank when it is time to sing. That would make my top three worst things to happen when opening your mouth to sing.

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