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  • Writer's pictureAllen Swank

Singing in the Strain

The crowd has arrived, the stage is set, the band is pumped. Meanwhile, behind the facade of the confident singer, nerves have begun to come unhinged. He/She has tried to down a couple drinks to relax and started doing some much needed warmups. To no avail they still just can not find that comfort zone. What to do.....

Nerves can get the best of any good singer and make them appear less of the vocal god that they really are. Here are a few tips to help get that confidence up and reduce the urgency to blow out your vocals in the first 3 songs of your set.

PROBLEM: Can't relax and produce clean notes in your higher range.

Here are several ideas for you that have proven effective for me. 1st the obvious. STRETCH. Relax everything. Try raising your shoulders and then while doing tail up and tail down vowels let them drop. Be sure to take very deep breaths and do this for about 3 minutes.

YAAAWWWWNNNN! Yawning is one of the best relaxation exercises for a singer. It allows your throat to open and your larynx to drop.

EAT! Not nachos and cheese or jalapeno bites from the bar. STAY AWAY FROM DAIRY! Try to eat something that is going to make you chew. The chewing motion will help open everything up and make your throat relax. It has to do so in order to allow you to swallow. I would suggest a hard fruit like apples. You can also try celery and peanut butter. The peanut butter will provide you with energy for your show as well. Remember the point in this is to chew, not just to get it in your stomach.


Nothing like having cotton mouth just before you are supposed to perform. Ways to combat this? Well there are a thousand ways to do this but my advice is water. Stay away from alcohol. Not only will your body be hydrating to replace all the sweat that will pour out of your body during your show, but it will continue that swallowing action.You can also try sour candies to get that saliva flowing.

PROBLEM: I lose my voice halfway through our set.

If you are in a rock band with high energy shows, this is most likely something you have experienced. Sometimes this can be caused just by being too pumped up and screaming to the back of the room for the first few songs. At that point you have probably started to rip those chords. It is just downhill from here. Keep reading.

Another reason could be that you are simply out of breath. You know.... it takes air to make those notes. The less air we have the harder we push, the harder we push the more we strain, the more we strain the more we scream, the more we scream the less we sing.

Simple solution.... CALM DOWN!

As much as a stage show matters, it is not worth making your band look bad. Think of it from this perspective. If you were playing a ballad and you were in the midst of this super smooth light part and then your guitarist comes in full blown distortion with strings just out of tune. It wouldn't really matter that he was pretty good about keeping it in the road, bending certain strings that he thinks are flat trying to make the chord sound whole. It would absolutely ruin that moment. That is what we do as singers when we push too hard for lack of air. Straining and sounding more like Chewbacca than the guy on the CD.

We can make ourselves believe that coming out running across the stage for the big "WE ARE HERE" intro. Eh... I would rather see someone actually have something left for the song. 30 seconds of BOOM is so not worth 30 minutes of UGH.

Try doing some deep breathing exercises before you hit the stage. Stretch your lungs. Stretch your arms out straight above your head and take in as much air as possible. SLOWLY exhale.. repeat.

Draw a mental road map of your show. Keep to it. If you find yourself getting off course pull it back in. Remember big, slow gestures are worth as much as the pogo stick bounce that grinds you down. You can also get your band to fill a little between songs to give you a chance to get a drink and recoup.

Remember this one point and it will help keep perspective. Fans come to see you play the songs they know. Your friends and family will always be way more forgiving than someone seeing you for the 1st time, having no idea what you should sound like. Some people like to see people fail. No matter what the reason is for those people to have shown up, you want them to remember you for your gift not the crash.

Give it a shot, put on a great show and CALM DOWN! It will make a huge difference in your performance and you may find your confidence and ability has not quite left the building.

My name is Allen Swank and I play in the band Indie LAgone. I have been performing for more than half of my life and love to share the knowledge I have gained along the way.

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