You've practiced and prepared for months, and finally, the show has arrived - time to take your moment in the spotlight. But what's that dry, scratchy feeling in your throat? Why are you struggling to hit those notes you so effortlessly sang in rehearsal?
So many times I've taken part in shows where the leading roles have started to lose their voice during a show week, and of course, that's when the old hot honey and lemon begin making an appearance. But what can we do to prevent losing our voice when we need it most?
I've been chatting to vocal coach to the stars, Sally Rivers, to find out her top tips for looking after your voice during shows.
1. Warming up
An obvious way to look after your voice and prepare it for the show ahead is by making sure you warm up your voice beforehand, but are you warming it up correctly?
'One of the most common mistakes singers make is wearing themselves out with the wrong warm-up - I'm very wary of the exercises you see on Youtube. Your warm-up should always be about a mind and body connection. It needs to be performed with technical expertise; otherwise, you will do more harm than good, unfortunately. I agree it's good to warm up but would prefer a coach to check your warm up over before you start doing it regularly. I've known so many singers do group warm-ups and told me they mime, so they don't have to do it. Keep your warm-up short and technically beautiful - ideally no more than 15 minutes.
Vocalize for flexibility and avoid putting too much volume behind higher notes if you need to sing that high in your upcoming performance. Ideally, get a warm-up written for you and for your needs.'
Don't forget to include a warm down in your routine as well following the performance. It's much like taking part in a sport; if you were to run a marathon you wouldn't go in cold without warming up, and you certainly wouldn't finish without cooling down with some stretches. The vocal cords are a muscle and need to be treated in the same way. Sally definitely approves of gentle humming to cool down at the end of a show.
2. Looking after your voice in-between shows
Of course the natural go-to is a drink of warm honey and lemon, but that isn't always the best solution.
'Technique is everything, along with not talking over loud sounds, avoiding excessive talking on show days and drinking lots of water to keep your vocal cords hydrated. Water should be room temperature as it's better for hydration. Take vocal naps when you can and avoid eating close to bedtime. Voice, mind, and body need to be beautifully connected.'
Of course, the weather can add a whole new bunch of challenges into the mix.
'In the summer, hayfever can cause real issues and needs tackling head-on. I'm a big fan of humidifiers - it's great to keep one in your dressing room for pre-show and interval relief. I also keep manuka honey in my medicine chest. Its antiviral and antibacterial properties can reduce inflammation and attack the bacteria that cause pain. Take just half a teaspoon (don't water it down) when your throat feels dry or sore, particularly at bedtime. Don't eat or drink anything for 20 minutes after, then it's amazing magical properties will get to work.'
In the winter, make sure you wrap up properly when outside, especially after a show. It's natural when you're feeling hot to want to go outside to cool down, but those rapid changes in temperature can end up making you ill as your body gets confused trying to regulate your temperature. Get that coat on and wrap that scarf around you before you leave the building!
3. Looking after your voice during shows
Aside from grabbing yourself a pot of manuka honey on your way to the theatre, many performers swear by vocal zones during shows. But what does Sally recommend?
'Vocalzones are okay but shouldn't be overused. With knowledge, you can have everything you need to be the singer you want to be and deliver the performance you want to deliver. You are in control at all times - how amazing do you want to be?
Singers are settling for less because they don't realize how simple it is to bring about incredible changes in stamina, range, and power. When you have these things in place, you can sing without compromise. Before this happens, yes you will need to pace yourself during the show and take vocal rest in-between, but no singer should be losing their voice because of how they are singing.'
Sally Rivers has been coaching stars of studio, stage, and screen for over 30 years and has the great privilege of being endorsed by Sennheiser. She works with singers, actors, public speakers, TV presenters and many more from all around the world, and is available in person or via Skype (Skype lessons work really well)!
'I offer dedicated technical assessments, as well as technical lessons, trouble-shooting, performance coaching, industry advice, and, as an NLP practitioner, I offer specialist confidence coaching with instant results.
Finding a great coach should be life-changing. Seeing singers going from one gig a week to five gigs a week is a blessing. Seeing singers recover so fast from reflux and gaining incredible stamina in just an hour lesson is a gift - I'm incredibly thankful to do what I do for a living.'
If you'd like to find out more about Sally Rivers, you can visit her website or Facebook pages below.