performance tips for singers

Performance tips for singers: My three day plan

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If you follow the performance tips for singers included in this Three Day Plan, you’ll be prepared for every gig and you’ll never look back!

Through my work coaching professional singers in New York City over the past three decades, I’ve developed a “Three Day Plan” – a magic formula I use with my private clients with tips for what vocalists need to do – and stay away from – for three days before a performance. Ideally, to ensure you sound your best, you will do these things for longer, but I suggest three days as minimum preparation. If you follow the performance tips for singers included in this Three Day Plan, you’ll never look back!

1. Drink 8-10 glasses of water every day
You already know this one. Water moisturizes the vocal folds and acts like a lubricant. It keeps your voice flexible and resilient and you’ll hit higher notes with ease and clarity.

2. Eat extra fruits and vegetables
Foods with high water content, particularly watermelon and melon, help hydration and are an excellent energy source. Since melon is especially hydrating to the muscles of the throat, putting pieces of melon in your water is a creative way to hydrate to the max (I love this!).

3. Eat light on the day of your performance – and the day before
Eating light will improve your energy. Stay away from heavy foods like red meat or rich sauces in the days leading up to a show. Foods like chicken, turkey, fish, tofu, and beans will provide quality protein and are easy to digest. Fresh organic juices are another great source of energy. Apple with a touch of ginger is my favorite fresh juice, but I also love carrot, celery, beet, parsley, and kale – yes kale is a great source of protein. Avoid orange juice, as it can cause acid reflux, and take your vitamins too!

4. Gargle with warm salt water
Gargle with warm salt water for 30 seconds before every rehearsal, singing lesson, performance, and recording. Even better, make a cup of Throat Coat tea, pour a bit into another cup, add some salt, and gargle with that! The salt moisturizes like nothing else and the Throat Coat diminishes inflammation and gives an extra coating of moisture to your vocal cords.

5. Use a salt water spray
If you have nasal congestion, use a salt-water spray for your nose in the morning and at night for three days leading up to a show. Or try D-Hist natural antihistamine and avoid side effects and ingesting unwanted chemicals and toxins. If you have mucous the day of a performance, try gargling with Alkalol – it gets rid of mucus for up to three hours, and you can find it at most drugstores or online.

6. Drink organic Throat Coat tea every day
You will find Throat Coat tea at most health food stores or online. This tea moisturizes your throat. I also use Vocal Eze throat spray (it has some similar ingredients to the tea) the days before and of a performance.

7. Avoid dairy products
This means no milk, cheese, or yogurt! Dairy causes phlegm and interferes with singing.

8. No caffeine
Caffeine, in whatever form, is dehydrating. That means no coffee, black or green tea, Coca-Cola, chocolate, or hot chocolate.

9. Avoid everything that can cause acid reflux
Sodas, alcohol, cooked tomatoes (e.g. marinara sauce), citrus, caffeine, chocolate, and peppermint (tea or gum) can all cause acid reflux, which burns the mucous membrane of the vocal cords, resulting in irritated and inflamed vocal cords which translates to raspiness, hoarseness, and a compromised vocal range. If you’ve been losing your voice for more than three months and have lost a good portion of your range, go see an ENT who specializes in singers voices for diagnosis and treatment.

10. Avoid eating spicy foods
For some people, spicy foods can also cause acid reflux, which burns the vocal cords and leaves them dry and chaffed. This will cause problems with hitting your high notes, and shifting registers will be bumpy, too. Your voice may even cut out when you go to hit a note, which is quite disconcerting. Over time, reflux can cause vocal nodules, so you definitely want to eliminate anything that can contribute to getting them. Personally, I have found that light-to-moderate spicy foods like jalapeno or cayenne pepper are fine, but that’ll be a case-by-case situation. You just don’t want to eat super spicy!

11. Avoid eating late at night
Eating late at night also causes acid reflux, regardless of what food you eat, so try to allow three hours after eating before bedtime. If you do eat late, prop yourself up with one or two pillows – avoid lying flat. This will help keep your stomach acids from washing up onto your vocal cords.

12. Always stay away from antihistamines
Prescription antihistamines are severely drying to your voice, which causes various problems to you as a singer. You never want to sing over dry cords. If you suffer from allergies, first get tested by an allergist, then get on a treatment program that does not include antihistamines. There are many alternatives, including herbal tinctures, Chinese medicine, dietary changes, and D-Hist. Many people who suffer from allergies are allergic to wheat and dairy, and once those food groups are eliminated, their allergies cease.

13. Avoid drinking alcohol
Alcohol is dehydrating, so try to avoid it in the days leading up to your performance. A beer or a glass of wine won’t destroy your vocal abilities, but they won’t help. I will advise you drink absolutely NO hard liquor. Rum, tequila, vodka, gin, and whiskey are extremely drying. The bottom line is it’s best to just stay away from alcohol in the days prior to a show.

14. No smoking, period
Listen, if you are a singer, you shouldn’t be smoking. It’s as simple as that. Smoking makes singing so much harder and can cause polyps, hemorrhages, and other vocal problems. When you smoke, your vocal cords are in a constant state of dryness and irritation. This causes friction, which can cause nodules or polyps and vocal hemorrhages. I advise you stay away from second-hand smoke as well, particularly in the days before a performance. If you are a pot smoker, using a vaporizer is less damaging to your vocal cords and health than smoking from a pipe or a joint.

15. Get a good night’s sleep every night
Sleep is the best remedy for so many things, and adequate rest is certainly among my performance tips for singers. For anyone who has trouble sleeping, try herbal teas (especially chamomile) or consider something like 500 milligrams of calcium an hour before bed. Check out Travel Wellness for her natural sleep aides for performers too.

16. If your voice is hoarse
Try Roxalia, a homeopathic remedy that reduces swelling of the vocal folds. Take for three days prior and the day of singing.

17. Take a steam
Put 4-5 drops of essential oils of lavender and eucalyptus in a pot, add steaming water from a kettle, put a towel over your head, and breathe in the steam. This helps loosen mucous and hydrates your vocal cords at the same time. If you don’t have the oils, steam with plain water, or take a long hot shower and breathe deep. You can even make a cup of Throat Coat tea and inhale the steam from that.

Do you have any tricks you want to add?

CariCari Cole is a celebrity vocal coach, artist development expert, and new music biz mentor. She has over 25 years’ experience working with independent artists and A-list performers. Her website offers tools and materials for serious vocalists, bands and singer-songwriters, and her “Standing in the Spotlight” blog is a great resource for vocal and music industry info.


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9 thoughts on “Performance tips for singers: My three day plan

  1. I find that getting in a regular cardio workout boosts lung capacity, increases energy level, reduces stress, and helps me sleep better — all of which lead to better singing as well. Be sure to hit the gym or the trail in the days leading up to a performance (but not the day of, except for maybe a light session just to work off excess nerves and get the blood flowing).

  2. I just take a hot tea with lemon and honey and some echanacea for a little boost works for me to sip on the way to practice and do my warm ups. I didn’t use to do this but some of the above just go without saying “get lots of rest, stay hydrated, etc.” it’s a little hard to stay away from Coffee in the morning or some alcohol for days on end.

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