8 tips for singing
on an off day
Flashback. Back in the day, your girl was part of a female a capella group. (Yeah, I was pretty cool.) Seriously though, we were like the Pentatonix of the Netherlands (in our minds). I’ve had some of my best moments of my life with these girls.
And one of the worst.
I remember it well, unfortunately. We were singing at a wedding ceremony, which I always loved because A) the audience is really present, and B) there is extra pressure – under which I tend to perform very well – because this is someone’s MOST SPECIAL DAY.
Just keep that in mind for a sec, as I continue this story.
My ladies and I walked to the middle of the stage, ready for the grand opening. All eyes on us. (Ok, there was also a gorgeous bride walking down the aisle, I guess she got some of the attention, too.) The girls started their sweet-sounding bed of vocals, inviting me to start my impressive solo. As I started verse 1 of Natural Woman, I noticed I wasn’t really blending that well. I just…couldn’t really get it right. No big deal, it happens. I figured I’d redeem myself later in the song.
But then…the chorus.
Now, if you need a reminder of how the chorus of Natural Woman goes again: It’s a collection of beautiful high notes, that you belt out in the most soulful way possible.
This is not what I did, though.
I took a swing, landed on the wrong note in the most throaty way imaginable. Tried again on the second line, miserably failed again. Flustered and desperate, I pushed my third endeavour out way too loud and uncontrolled. It sounded…aggressive. People turned their heads AWAY FROM THE BRIDE to look at who was making these weird noises over that dulcet harmony. And we were only at chorus 1. Two more to go. Longest 3 minutes of my life.
I told the cringeworthy story to my singing teacher Jan, who just listened quietly with big eyes and a hand over his open mouth. Then, he asked: So…were you on your period?
YES I WAS! This was not a male chauvinist pig kinda question. Apparently, when a woman’s on her period, her vocal cords SWELL UP! Really, nature? As if that time of the month isn’t challenging enough?
We all have off days, even when we’re not on our periods. Our voices are affected by all kinds of things: hormones, food, (lack of) sleep, dehydration, emotions and thoughts.
When we singers have a bad day: How do we make the most of it?
First things first. Tune in with yourself, and instead of beating yourself up (yup, I’m onto you, darling), ask yourself what you need right now. The answer may be simple: a glass of water, a hug, a nap, a good cry, a slightly hysterical dance session in your kitchen. Or it may be slightly more complicated, maybe you need to deal with an argument or finish a task you’ve been procrastinating on. Your body will tell you what it needs, and so will your emotional core. Just listen.
Change your state
If you’re a little grumpy or angry or annoyed, simply change your state. And yes, it IS that simple. Think of that hilarious cat video that makes you laugh. Or something that makes you incredibly proud. Or someone you love deeply. Find a way to give your heavy emotion less power.
Example: one of my dear students has been working on her fear of making mistakes. So, *especially* on her off days, I’ll encourage her to make mistakes ON PURPOSE. I’ll tell her sing to sing wildly off pitch, or make up a completely different melody that doesn’t even come CLOSE to the original. We get a laugh out of it every time, changing her state from paralyzing perfectionism to playfulness. Then, when we go back to the original melody, her voice sounds infinitely more free.
A vocal off day is usually linked to an emotional off day. You might feel overwhelmed, unbalanced, down, bored. Just…low energy. Just one of those days? Guess again. Imagine getting a call right now, saying: Beyoncé wants to do a duet with you TONIGHT. Would you still sound bored and annoyed? Didn’t think so! Think of an example of your own, something insanely awesome that would instantly put you in a state of enthusiasm. Feel it in your depths of your core, and try singing that way. Feels and sounds significantly better, right?
If you’re in your own head too much, what is the thought or question that keeps looping in your brain? ‘I don’t have what it takes’, ‘I hate the sound of my voice’, ‘I’m not a good belter’? Write them all down, and find a way to counter them. For instance: ‘Singing is hard for me’ could be replaced by ‘Singing is easy when I align myself’ or ‘Singing is easy when I focus on the emotion’. Whatever resonates with YOU. And even if you don’t believe it yet, you will after repeating it enough times.
Singing is basically making your body resonant by controlling and relaxing certain muscles. The more control you have over that balance, the better you sound. When you are stressed, sad, anxious, angry, you name it, your muscles will react to those emotions…and you will lose control. Scan your body, feel where there is tension and do what you can to reduce it. It can be as simple as a quick neck and shoulder roll or a hot bath. A good massage or spa day helps too 🙂 And the winner of them all: reframing your thoughts and emotions works like magic. Forgiveness, understanding, acceptance. Loving (others and yourself) harder when you don’t feel like it. Flip that switch and watch miracles happen.
Back to basics
As my dad says: Challenging situations are opportunities, not threats. Why not take this day as an opportunity to go back to basics. Your throat is in the way today. Your glottal attack is probably too hard and your projection is minimal. Build in some extra warm up time today to open up your nasal cavities, your throat cavity (relax that larynx!), your chest cavity. Open up your whole upper body. Say ‘woohoo!’ as if you’re 14 years old and just got a free ticket to see Justin Bieber. Then, when you’ve properly opened up, maximize your support system: engage your core muscles, lower back muscles and – especially as you get further out of your comfort zone – even your upper leg and booty muscles. Exaggerate everything!
This is AS if not more effective than physical practice. Simply imagine singing a song easily and EXACTLY how you want to sing it. If you do this enough times, your muscles are going to understand better and better what to do. If you don’t believe me, ask any athlete.
Why so serious?
Laugh a little bit about the situation. The world is not gonna end. Ok, except if you have an important performance, then the world is DEFINITELY gonna end.
JK. I’m still here, and the bride even thanked me with tears in her eyes for such a heartfelt, unique version of Natural Woman.
Your mind, body & voice work in their own unique way. Want to find out how YOU can become a star performer? Check out our online Vocal Psychology® course or book a private online Strategy Session with Maru
Disclaimer: Vocal Psychology® coaching is in no way to be construed or substituted as psychological counseling or any other type of therapy or medical advice. I will at all times exercise my best professional efforts, skills and care. However, I cannot guarantee the outcome of coaching efforts and/or recommendations on my website/blog/email series and my comments about the outcome are expressions of opinion only. I cannot make any guarantees other than to deliver the coaching services purchased as described.