Today I listened to a bit of funk, including 'Work it Out' by Beyonce. The song title triggered the the content for this post, as it got me to thinking when I feel at my vocal best, most relaxed when singing and how putting myself outside of my comfort zone, gets the adrenaline pumping.
I'm at my vocal best when I'm using my voice the most - usually when I've been rehearsing for a period of time or doing lots of performance. It really is that simple. When students are with me in the studio I'm often reminding them this is 'their gym'; an opportunity to give the vocal chords a good 'work out' - this is why when you have coaching, the voice tends to develop in areas such as tone, strength and range.
Being relaxed has a massive impact. If, like me you're one of the many people who take their stress into the upper body (neck, shoulders, etc...), take note; this is the area that can have the most impact on your voice as it's closest to the vocal chords - this can be a problem right down into the hands: just make a really tight fist and see how far up the arms that tension travels, then try and sing a song like it and you'll most certainly notice the impact it has. In order to ensure a positive connection between the voice and the body your singing warm up should also include a physical element, particularly during stressful periods.
Once I'm vocally exercised and relaxed, putting myself out of the comfort zone is important in triggering an uncomfortable level of adrenaline. This may seem like a contradiction to the second point, however the most skilled performers will use this to their advantage: learning to channel it is an important skill in calming nerves and using overwhelming emotions, both of which can help give a performance like no other. The most common negative effect causes shallow breathing - breathing deeply is a large part of the vocalists instrument, therefore activities that are centred around breathing relaxation techniques such as meditation or yoga, are really good to use prior to any performance.
All three of these pointers are why I encourage students to perform publicly wherever possible - here they can truly start to learn their craft by understanding how they feel performing.