It is easy to think that a great singer can just walk on stage and deliver the performance of a lifetime. But the truth is that all singers spend countless hours preparing for their performance, particularly in the week before. I have therefore written this guide for singers so they know exactly what they should be doing in the days, hours and minutes before they walk on stage.
In the week leading up to a singing performance, you should be exercising and protecting your voice, practising your performance and getting 8-10 hours of sleep each night. On the day of the performance, you should warm up your voice, revise the song, eat the right foods, and stay hydrated and calm.
Below is a more comprehensive guide for you to follow, starting the week before the performance. There are even things you can do right before you walk on stage that can help in your singing, which I have included.
Preparing the Week Before a Performance
The week before your performance, you should get yourself into a daily routine of preparing your voice. This includes the following practices.
Regular Vocal Exercises
You should be doing daily vocal exercises for 15-20 minutes to keep your voice flexible. You do not want to lose any of your vocal range or allow the muscles involved in controlling your voice to become weak and unpredictable.
There is a large range of exercises you can choose from, but you should try to have a variety that exercises different muscles. Take a look at the exercises listed in this article as a good example of variety. The exercises should involve different sounds and stretch your voice to its limits (comfortably).
By different sounds, I mean including different vowel sounds and consonants. For example, you should be using 'na', 'ga', 'la', 'za', 'ta', 'nga' (as in ring-a-round). You should then use these same consonants with 'oh', 'oo', 'ee' and 'eh', such as 'goo'.
Revising the Song
You should know your song back-to-front. When nerves get in the way, you will need to rely on previous memorisation of the lyrics, melody and phrasing. This week is the time to really concrete these things into your brain.
Listen to the song in the car. Sing it in the shower. Practise singing it in front of friends and family - or your pets! This is particularly important if your are singing a song in a foreign language. The more practise you do, the more you will start to recognise which areas you need to work on.
Over time, you will be able to target your practise to particular parts of the song where you struggle, such as a high note or a fast paces phrase that takes your breath away.
Practicing your Performance
Once you know you are able to sing the song well, you then need to practise performing that song. Singing a song and performing a song have some key differences.
When practising your performance, you should be focussing on your expressions and movements. This is why it is a good idea to perform in front of a mirror or record yourself. It's hard to know what your body is doing when you are focussed on singing a song.
In my experience, most singers look back at their performance (usually a recording) and discover that they look expressionless and motionless. Or if they do have motion, it look repetitive and robotic.
Even if you think you are moving and expressing yourself, these movements feel much bigger to you than they look to someone sitting in the back of the audience. Chances are that what you think is over-exaggerated movement looks perfect from the audience's perspective.
So in this week, make sure you try moving in different ways and use your facial expressions to their full potential. You never know what you're capable of until you try.
Get Enough Sleep Every Night
This is a no-brainer. You need your sleep so that you're not tired on the day of your performance. Even if you have a good night sleep the night before, a whole week of going to bed late is going to develop what is known as a sleep debt.
A bad sleep debt can take days, or sometimes weeks of good sleeping habits to wear off. It is also hard to force yourself to go to sleep at a decent time if your body is used to going to bed much later. So in the week leading up to your performance, make sure you are getting 8-10 hours of sleep every night.
Take Care of Your Voice
Finally, you should be taking good care of your voice. Make sure you don't push your voice to the point of straining it. This is particularly important if you are in an environment at home or work that requires you to raise your voice often.
You should also avoid air pollutants. This includes smoke (whether from cigarettes or an open fire) or smog. Living in a congested city makes it difficult to avoid smog, but you can always try to stay indoors or wear a filtered mask when outdoors.
Even dry ice machines should be avoided. These can be found in night clubs or in the venue where you will be performing. Dry ice is a common effect used on stage to expose beams of light.
Resting the Day Before a Performance
On the day before, you should have done most of your preparing. That is why this is a good day to rest. Try to take your mind off the performance by doing something that you love, provided that it won't affect your voice.
This can range from having a nice day out with friends and family to relaxing on the couch watching Netflix. Either way, you want to make sure you have fun. Just remember to have a good night sleep when the day is done.
What to Do on the Day of the Performance
The day of the performance is critical to how your voice will handle the performance. For this reason, below is a more strict guide to what you should be doing.
You should ideally be sipping water every 30 minutes on the day of the performance. This should be at least half a cup of water each time you drink. You also need to keep in mind that it takes around three hours for the water you drink to reach the cells in your vocal cords.
If you have a late performance, this will be fine. If you have an early performance, make sure you are awake and drinking plenty of water at least three hours beforehand.
Eat the Right Food
What you eat also makes a difference to your voice. For a more comprehensive guide to what you should avoid, click here. However, in general, you should be sticking to water and healthy dairy-free foods.
Revise the Song
For the sake of boosting your confidence, you should have a look at your song one more time. Make sure you have warmed up your voice if you want to run through the song properly.
But at least going over the lyrics, particularly the first line of each verse, is enough to remind yourself that you know what you're doing. All that work in the week leading up to the performance should start to kick in.
Warm up Your Voice
As I mentioned, you should warm up your voice before attempting any practise of your song. These exercises should be no more than 15-20 minutes long to prevent overusing your voice.
Generally, it is safe to warm up your voice on the morning of your performance, and then again 30 minutes before. This will keep your voice flexible throughout the day to avoid straining it.
You can also warm up your voice using a vocal steamer. This is a device that produces steam from clean water for you to breathe in. The warm moist air helps prepare your voice for singing. Click here for some more tips about ways other than warming up your voice that will help your performance.
Stretch your Muscles
You should also stretch other muscles in your body. As I mentioned earlier in this article, you will be using facial expressions and body movements to deliver a great performance for the audience. It makes sense that you should also be warming up these muscles too.
By no means should warming up the rest of your body compromise the preparation of your voice, but simple things like stretching your back and neck muscles can help loosen you up. It will also encourage smoother movements.
Stretching the face in preparation for facial expressions involves scrunching up your face as tight as you can and then opening it up. In simpler terms, hold an angry pout for about five seconds and then hold an exaggerated look of surprise for five seconds. You can then repeat this 3-4 times.
Things to Remember While Waiting to Go On Stage
In the moments leading up to walking on-stage, all your preparation should be done. So now is the time to keep calm by breathing deeply and thinking of things other than the performance. Sometimes stopping to enjoy the other performers is a good distraction.
Keeping warm is also essential. Try to stay away from fans or air conditioners if you find the temperature is cold where you are. Drape a blanket or coat over you if you can while you wait.
You should also keep your throat warm. You can do this by gently humming to yourself and even throwing in a few puppy-dog whimpers if you can. You can time these with audience applause.
But once you step onto that stage, just enjoy the moment. How blessed you are to be able to say that you've performed on-stage in front of an audience! Everyone loves a show, so you may as well give them one.