How To Build Vocal Stamina
Camille van Niekerk
In many ways, singers are vocal athletes. Like other kinds of athletes, singers:
-Train their bodies
-Learn new skills
-Practice specific coordinations
-Warm up before an event
-Stretch (both their vocal folds and large muscle groups)
-Establish a daily routine
-Care for their physical health (with good sleep, hydration, and a healthy diet)
-Work with a coach when they need to perform at a high level
Voice teachers often use this “singer to athlete” analogy when explaining the importance of practice to beginning singers. Just as someone might be a “born singer” or a “born runner”, both singing and running are skills that can be learned and improved upon with dedicated practice. But there’s one major area in which the “singer as athlete” comparison breaks down, and that’s in the way we approach strength and stamina.
Speech & language pathologist Carrie Garrett explains it this way:
“A body builder who wishes to build muscle will do so by aiming for their muscles to hypertrophy (increase in size) through lifting weights. Growth of the muscle is thought to happen as [muscle] fibers repair from damage due to overuse. Put simply, overusing particular muscles causes body builder’s muscles to become stronger.”
Singers, however, cannot approach their training this way because the laryngeal muscles function differently. Garrett explains:
“Research into laryngealmuscle fibers is patchy, but what research does show confirms we cannot grow strength in our laryngeal muscles as the muscle fibers are built for short spurts of high speed and power, fatiguing more rapidly than the slow twitch muscles in our body, such as those used for postural maintenance” (source: https://carriegarrettvocals.wordpress.com/2016/05/24/how-can-i-improve-my-vocal-stamina/).
If we can’t bulk up our laryngeal muscles, how do we build stamina? Read on for 5 tips on building vocal stamina safely.
1. Gradually increase the length of your vocal practice over time.
This is crucial for beginners! As a beginning singer, you’re still learning what healthy technique is. As you learn and implement more elements of good technique, you can steadily increase your practice time. Beginners: start with 15-20 minutes of daily practice, and gradually increase to a longer session of 30-60 minutes. Keep in mind that your singing doesn’t need to be continuous. Take breaks, incorporate listening into your practice, and always stay hydrated.
2. Rely on your support muscles more + more.
Those laryngeal muscles are tiny -but they’re not the only muscles involved in singing. Your intercostal, abdominal, and pelvic floor muscles all play an important role in managing your exhale, resisting air pressure, and supplying power (without squeezing + locking up your laryngeal muscles to do so). For beginners, a few easy exercises to feel proper body engagement include (1) taking a relaxed belly breath through the mouth and exhaling on a hiss, (2) singing on a lip trill, and (3) “suspending” your breath by inhaling, then stopping your inhale without closing your throat.
3. “Reset” periodically with an SOVT during your practice or performance.
Even pro singers don’t sing with perfect technique. They may let some muscle tension creep in; they might “push” for a note rather than supporting it; and they could also be “breaking the rules” of healthy technique to achieve a specific effect. You can “reset” your voice and remind it how to produce sound in the gentlest, most efficient way by periodically vocalizing on a semi occluded vocal tract exercise. See https://www.voicescienceworks.org/sovt-exercises.html for examples and exercise ideas!
4. Rest and recover.
As the result of prolonged use (and overuse), the vocal folds swell. Your vocal folds might be swollen if you find it difficult to sing quietly, sing in head voice, or sustain even comfortable pitches without cracking. Singing on swollen folds puts you in danger of vocal damage -and that’s a precarious situation that singers do their best to avoid. Be mindful of your voice usage over all and take frequent breaks. If you’re experiencing signs of swelling or vocal fatigue, go on complete vocal rest if you can (no singing or speaking). See here ( https://www.30daysinger.com/blog/vocal-nodules-preventing-injuries ) for a longer discussion on vocal health and preventing injury.
5. Understand your voice’s limits.
With time and experience, you will get to know yourvoice very well. You’ll learn what vowel modifications to make, how much breath to take for any given phrase, how much volume or compression to use, and many other small adjustments that, when compounded, can make a huge difference in your level of vocal fatigue.Additionally, you’ll know when you need to sing “full out” and when you can “mark” by singing with lower volume and lighter coordination. You may have a conscientious director or conductor giving you that option; but that certainly won’t always be the case. As the master of your own instrument, it’s up to YOU to know your limits and make choices to preserve your voice.
More great articles on vocal stamina: