Monday, February 15, 2016

Singing and Homeostasis

I never thought I'd get into science.  It was not my "thing" in school.  Dissecting frogs, learning the names of the bones of the body, trying to solve [impossible] chemistry equations--not my cup of tea!

However the older I get, the more I appreciate science because it actually has everything to do with singing well.  How do I know this?  I've experienced it firsthand.

This past weekend, I had my first performance of a song off my new album, Make Something Happen.  All day on Friday, leading up to the performance, I determined to practice so I would go into the performance feeling completely confident and fully warmed up.

Around noon, I was driving in my car and practicing the song along with the recording.  Only, my live performance was not coming out well.  I couldn't sustain the high notes, much less gather the energy to reach them in the first place.  I was a bit scared that I was having an "off" day with my voice, which is a totally normal thing, by the way.  I just didn't need to have one on a day I was performing solo.

Lo and behold, I found myself remembering a word from 6th grade science class: homeostasis.  I instantly realized what my issue was.  I stopped practicing because there was no use in frustrating myself even more and I arrived home and immediately made myself a sandwich and fruit for lunch.  The reason I wasn't singing well?  I was hungry.

Now, all the people who know me are laughing right now because they realize how true it is that I'm "off" when I'm hungry, but I have the science to prove it!

Wikipedia defines homeostasis as "the property of a system in which variables are regulated so that internal conditions remain stable and relatively constant".   In other words, the human body is constantly trying to balance itself to make it more efficient.  That's why you need so much food each day, but not too much food or you'll start to gain weight.  That's why you need so much sleep but not too much sleep to provide energy for your day.

Here's what happened after I ate.  I let my food settle and then went into my music room to resume practicing my song.  I practiced 4 times before the actual performance, and they were some of the best practices I'd had.  Before the show, I made sure I ate another nutritious meal, this time dinner, and then I had a cup of tea and honey and some water.  My performance turned out great!  I felt energized and my voice held up beautifully.

Here are some quick tips to think about if you're practicing for a performance and your voice is not holding up:

1.  If you feel faint, do you need to eat something?  Try eating a light meal and be sure to include some fruits or veggies, both of which contain vital water and nutrients.

2.  Are you completely satiated from your last meal?  Wait to practice singing for an hour or so to allow your food to settle.  Otherwise, you'd better practice alone because you'll be belching through the whole rehearsal.  Gross!

3.  Are you just worn out?  You may not have the luxury of a two hour afternoon nap (who does anyway?), but can you fit in a cat-nap?  My absolute favorite naps are between 15-30 minutes long.  They get me over the mid-day slump and I wake up much more energized and ready to take on my day.  If you don't think you'll wake up after half an hour, set a timer beforehand, then snooze away.

4.  Are you stressed?  In my book Ten Weeks to a Better Voice, I talk a little about the effect of stress on singing.  And yes, stress definitely affects singing.  One of my favorite ways to combat stress is to get some fresh air.  Lucky for me, I live in Florida and can usually get in a walk outside most days.  If you're not able to get outside, take a ten minute break from your music and walk inside.

All of these tips will help you reestablish homeostasis in your own body and hopefully help you practice and perform at your peak!

(Don't try to sing when you're hungry!  Go eat a quick snack or meal, then get back to practice.  Your body will thank you.)

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