Friday, April 12, 2013

The Experts Weigh In: A Singer's Secret Arsenal

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Before I became a professional singer and actress, I read a lot about the topic of protecting your voice. I wanted to have a clear throat for recording, and for my acting, I desired the ability to get my words out without stumbling. I quickly learned the obvious tricks, such as drinking herbal tea (to warm up the throat) and having throat sweets when I got a bit 'croaky'. But while I did all these things, I lacked a good strategy for dealing with stress, which can negatively affect the voice. I'll admit it - I'm one of the many victims of IBS, and extra stress can cause my IBS to play havoc on my life if I don't keep it under control. I have to be extra careful to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, while avoiding white bread, pasta, rice and other typical foods that make IBS symptoms flare up.

However, as a singer, I found that spicy foods cleared up my throat effectively. Much to the dismay of my IBS, I happen to be quite a fan of Mexican food, especially snacks like chips and salsa (Tori Amos used to eat salsa and blue corn chips before recording, so it seemed like quite a good habit to adopt). Although eating these things can be really effective for clearing my throat and sinuses, it wreaks havoc on my tummy. The stress of going into the studio, knowing I'm spending £25 an hour to get the vocals recorded on a song, will push me over the edge if I eat spicy food as well. Thankfully, if I need the same throat-clearing effect of spicy foods, I can opt for hot tea with ginger (fresh ginger is always much preferable to lemon and ginger tea bags). Ginger is kind to my stomach, leaving me with little to worry about in the studio.

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Some of my clients worry about their voice 'giving out on them' if they have several gigs (or a long series of audio books to record). Even for those who don't sing or act, voice preservation can be a concern when delivering a series of presentations over a few days. Honestly, I think the worry of losing your voice makes everything ten times worse. From personal experience, it isn't going to happen unless you purposely go against recommended advice. The most basic things you can do to preserve your voice include avoiding dairy products (yes, that means chocolate) and drinking plenty of herbal tea or water. But remember, it's also important to manage your stress levels.

Now let's talk about smoking. One of my clients recently asked if it was absolutely necessary to give up smoking. This one's a no brainer - yes, yes and yes! Smoking is the worst thing you can do! It sabotages your breath control, limits your lung capacity and reduces your range for singing. There's no two ways about it. Unfortunately, where I live in the Czech Republic (and in many other places in Europe apart from the UK), there is still no ban on smoking indoors. If you live in a place like this, you need to avoid hanging out in smoky bars, especially if you're likely to get caught up in a fascinating conversation that requires you to yell above the din of the music and chatter - you'll be breathing in huge lung-fulls of smoke this way.

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Lastly, regular exercise is enormously beneficial to anyone needing to speak in public or sing. I exercise three times a week with sessions of 30 minutes of Pilates followed by 30 minutes of aerobics, which involve me leaping about to my favourite pop songs (Kylie Minogue and Madonna time!). This has helped me in so many ways, so much so that I can't do without it now. Firstly, it keeps my energy levels up overall, and secondly, it helps to improve my circulation, which, judging by my Mum's constantly cold hands and feet, would be getting even worse now if I didn't work out. And thirdly, it helps in dealing with stress because I can literally punch and high kick my way to feeling strong and in control, and that in turn keeps the worst of my IBS at bay.

Exercising also has great mental health benefits. That feeling of energy and strength (and giving Kylie Minogue a run for her money as I half dance, half leap about through a series of her songs) makes me feel like anything else I have to tackle in my life is simple compared to the energy needed for aerobics. It also gives me the added bonus of doing a bit of singing while out of breath, which is really good practice for any pressured situation (like an audition or performance in front of a big crowd of people) because you learn to make the best of a really difficult situation. There's definitely something important about keeping to those three slots per week as non-negotiable time for me. I block it out on my calendar and stick to it. I'm prioritising my health, and I think that's vital. It reminds me that above all else, despite however many clients I may be coaching that week, my health comes first. Exercising improves my breath control and helps my voice directly in that way, but it's also a crucial form of self-care. Above all else, it's fun. And fun is the perfect antidote to stress!

Rowen Bridler is a singer-songwriter, actress and voice coach. A native of the UK, she now lives in Prague, though if she had it her way, she would be a nomad, travelling across the US and Europe. She works with clients from both an acting and/or musical background to help build their confidence and enable them to best use their voices for either singing or voice over work. She is currently working on a couple of films, one of which is the Danish production '1864', where she plays Johanna von Bismarck. She has also established a 'mini-songs' series containing snippets of her own songs performed in front of her Macbook. In her spare time, of which she has almost none, she can be found wearing Cookie Monster t-shirts with her pearls, working out to girly pop songs and reading old copies of Vogue.

To read more about Rowen, visit her at and

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