Myths and rituals abound at a mere mention of singing. Open your mouth wide, not too wide, no hot beverages, imagine you’re filled with white light.
Confused? I was. Eventually I shut it out and stuck to what worked. Spoiler alert, that’s the crux of this blog, do what works for you. Even if it’s white light in the solar plexus. Hey, to quote Sheryl Crow, if it makes you happy it can’t be that bad. Nevertheless it’s fun to giggle at some of these persistent superstitions.
Lemon and Honey
Let’s start with the main offender. What frigging moron concocted this revolting tooth decay recipe?
The idea is the honey coats the throat, thus lubricating it. Supposedly it relaxes everything. Which is exactly what you want, a relaxed throat for singing, or, you know, just generally in life.
I’m unclear as to what functional capacity the lemon holds. Never understood this ritual mainly because honey, and I can’t be alone here, makes my throat insanely itchy. Which is what you don’t want for singing, or life in general.
Wide Open Mouth
This one’s a personal choice matter. But special mention must go to the “two fingers in mouth” guideline malarkey.
The idea is you place two fingers in your mouth and this indicates the ideal opening you need adhere to in order to achieve optimum projection, look a total twat and feel like one too. To be fair this is a useful and relevant technique. But it’s not for everyone, and certainly isn’t a golden standard.
The wonderful Minnie Ripperton sang with a very closed mouth, especially her signature whistle register notes. Despite not opening her mouth very wide her diction and control is second to none.
Always Stand While Singing
Hold the frigging phones. Every vocal I have ever released to the public was/is sung sitting down. Because I play the frigging piano!
Who made this a rule? What about every MTV unplugged thing ever? What about people in wheelchairs? This has to be the dumbest singing myth of all.
Thankfully this one seems to be fading out with time. But when I was learning, in the dark ages of the early 90’s, it was talked about a lot. Personally I feel it’s a relic from those variety shows our grandparents watched. You know the ones with Mr. Clean singing his bit with a carnation in the lapel. Queue the cross fades and soft focus.
To be fair there is a difference between singing standing and singing sitting. Things get a bit squished when you’re sat. But there’s no reason you can’t adapt to it, as many do. It’s absolutely not a hindrance.
No Hot Beverages
Not as dumb as the last one, but a hot beverage relaxes everything. It bears mentioning by hot I don’t mean scolding, or too hot, but just right Goldilocks hot.
I really don’t understand where this myth sprung from but it’s been around for donkeys. I always have a hot cuppa when I sing and so do many others. Perhaps this myth comes from the opposite; no cold drinks. That’s good advice, the throat will tense up when cold. If you want a cold drink, go for room temperature, or not ice cold at least.
But a hot cuppa, I’ll drink to that.
Apparently it coats the throat and that’s a bad thing.
The idea is dairy creates mucus which can be heard in the performance. There’s a lot of truth to this, so not strictly a myth. However, personally I’m a fan of vocal imperfections, they add character, interest and overall soulfulness.
I take milk in my tea and refuse to get precious about it. So far the earth hasn’t opened up.
If you think smoking is healthy you must be from the 1950’s. If you think smoking improves your singing think again.
The reason I’ve included this as a myth is because some people let smoking hold them back. Like it or not, most of the great rock singers are heavy smokers at some point. Some, like Joe Cocker and Tom Waits, owe their signature sound to smoking. However, the gravelly sound can be achieved without smoking too. But in their case it’s the cigs.
Others, like Kate Bush, don’t sound gravelly at all, but were heavy smokers at some point or another and sound just as fab as ever, regardless.
There’s no advantage to your singing if you smoke. But if you do, or if you have in the past, don’t let it stop you from singing. In reality quitting the cigs, or cutting down at least, improves everything. Plus every moment you’re singing is another moment you’re not smoking. So it’s win win.
Being Drunk Helps Your Performance
A roll of the eyes is definitely in order because this myth won’t go away.
I’d include an explanation of how it works, but it doesn’t work. Instead here’s a pertinent rock story.
Aerosmith used to get so blotto they started playing the same set list at every gig. Error prevention by routine was their idea. Their inebriate condition proved bothersome enough to come up with, what they must have considered, a sensible solution.
One evening, for reasons unknown, they played their same set list in reverse order. That night Steve Tyler was particularly out of it. Thinking he was facing the front of the stage he played the first song facing the band. After the first song he thought the gig was over and, still with his back to the audience, said goodnight, turned around and fell off the stage.
Let’s take a moment to soak in the brilliance of that. If Steve Tyler did it for the lols he succeed admirably. But something tells me he was just really drunk and it didn’t help his performance.
Copious Vocal Warmups
Warm ups are absolutely a good idea and a must. But there’s no one size fits all. Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses and this should reflect in a warmup.
There’s endless vocal warmups out there and some are very odd. But it really doesn’t matter how bizarre a vocal warmup exercise is, as long as you’re getting something good out of it.
The myth here lies in the idea that all warmups work. Truth is no warmup methods are better than others because we’re all different and have our own unique set of skills and struggles which need attention. So try out as many warmup exercises as you can, then focus on the ones that make sense to you and your voice.
The other misconception here is you needn’t run through fifty plus exercises at a time, or spend half an hour warming up. Five to ten minutes is fine. But when you’re starting out vocal warmups, and breathing techniques, are all it’s about.
Imagine you are suspended from the ceiling from an invisible string. What..?
I bloody love visualisation techniques and use them all the time for just about everything. However, they’re still a singing myth in my book because, you guessed it, they’re not for everyone.
So, if imagining you’re a tree doesn’t do it for you, don’t bother. Simple as that.
Take a deep breath. If it sounds bogus to you, do something else. That goes for anything really, not just singing.