Music Teacher's Helper Blog

The Body IS the Instrument

Why should I exercise and eat a healthy diet?

Health matters.  As a singer, the body IS the instrument. If the muscles are weak, if energy is low, then the voice doesn’t have a chance.

Increasingly, I have found myself telling my students that taking the time to exercise is as important as practice time. In fact, I’ve told them that if they only have 10 minutes a day, they should spend that time working out rather than practicing.

Photoxpress_14457724Take time for cardio.  Work the abs. Even more, work the BACK strength.  Especially in singing, the abs should be strong, but if the back muscles are weak, the abs collapse from lack of resistance.  Strong leg muscles support the torso, creating a balanced body.  A balanced body frees up the abdominal muscles to support the breath.  Strong intercostal and oblique rib muscles, created through twisting exercises, allow for increased control of the descent of the diaphragm.

I have heard many excuses (including from myself):

  • “I’m too tired to exercise.” My response: Take 30 minutes of sleep time and exercise.  You’ll have more energy than if you sleep an extra hour.
  • “I can’t do the workout I want.” My response: Start slow.  The Wii Fit Plus is a GREAT place to begin.  Try an easy yoga workout for stability and stretching.  Then, as you get stronger, continue to challenge yourself in your workout.  Don’t get complacent.
  • “I don’t have the time.” My response: Take the time.  If you truly want to be a singer, you need to exercise and have a strong body. How much TV do you watch? Do you get up & move around during the commercials? How much time do you spend on Facebook?  Take 20-30 minutes DAILY for cardio. Yes, it’ll come from somewhere else, but how much do you want it?
  • “Exercise doesn’t really make a difference.” My response: Yes. It does. Your body is your instrument. EVERYTHING you do to your body, you do to your voice.  Singers are athletes as much as those who participate in sports. A singer must be able to control the muscles in the body in the same way an elite athlete can – the smallest bit counts.

Second, what you EAT matters.  The days of “the fat lady” singers have come to an end. The best singers in the business exercise on a daily basis. Because we use our epigastric muscles so much in breath support, singers are more likely to have acid reflux caused by weakening of the esophageal sphincter (we’re pressing on it every time we engage our support muscles).  Acid reflux is a contributing factor in MANY voice disorders. Laryngeal Pharyngeal Reflux Disease (LPRD) frequently has NO felt symptoms and is only diagnosable via videostroboscopy. Yet, LPRD can take out your range and drastically decrease your vocal stamina, while increasing your susceptibility to vocal disorders.  The timing of your food, what kinds of food, and the amount of food can affect reflux.  Also, those who carry more weight have more “stuff” pressing on the esophageal sphincter, increasing the probability of reflux.

GET HEALTHY.  I have previously written on my journey with vocal disorders. I am now 21.8 pounds lighter, exercising DAILY (30+ minutes) and I am singing better than I have in years.  My voice is 100% reliable, even when I’ve had too little sleep, and I am able to warm up very quickly. I am doing my best to practice what I preach and be an example for my students.

Here is my challenge: 30-days, 900 minutes of exercise.  That’s 30 minutes a day.  Who’s up for it?

About the Author

Rachel Velarde
I began my music career in Bloomington, Indiana. After receiving my B.A. in Music from Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts, I earned two Master of Music degrees at Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona. Luminaries I have worked with include Vernon Hartman, James Caraher, Lorenzo Malfatti, Shirlee Emmons, Mary Sue Hyatt, John Sikora, David Jones, David Britton, and Carol Smith.

I offer ... [Read more]

6 Comments

  1. Zorbs

    if I could like this a million times, I would. In high school and university, I was a total slug. Practicing was the only “workout” I did. Then in university, I got even MORE sedentary, and my shoulder would seize up after 30 minutes or so.

    Fast forward 10 years, and I have spent these years since graduation totally immersed in the world of fitness (which has a LOT in common with music). I’ve run 4 marathons and training for my 5th. The mental aspect of toughing out a run helps with the mental aspect of performance. Being physically fit helps so much with breath control and endurance. I can now play for hours on end without fatigue. I once taught a flute student who had such poor breath control that she had to breathe practically every bar – my suggestion was that she start doing some cardio, and she looked at me like I had 3 heads.

  2. Rachel Velarde

    Thank you! Yes, it’s not just singers who need to exercise. All breath-related instruments (brass, woodwinds) benefit from cardio and working out. Even non-breath related instruments benefit from physical strength in minimizing injury and maximizing potential. Congratulations and keep up the good work! Feel free to spread the word that other teachers are really emphasizing the need to be fit, as well. 😀
    Happy Music Making!
    Rachel

  3. ELAINE

    As senior citizen singer, I firmly believe that fitness and good health will keep you singing, and leading a happier life.
    It doesn’t take a lot of time, just a change in attitude.

  4. Mendel Markel, Tenor

    Thanks for posting,
    Couldn’t agree with you more. I am generally in decent muscular shape, but when I took the plunge from pop singing to Bel Canto, I was in for a surprise. Of course one of the first things covered with my teacher was proper posture and muscle control. My abs had never worked so hard in my life. Great post, thanks again!

  5. Rachel Velarde

    Hi Mendel – Sorry it took me so long to reply. Thank you for your comment and telling of your experience. Being in good physical shape IS very important, and you can’t do it as well with abs that aren’t strong. Happy singing!
    Rachel

  6. Rachel Velarde

    Thanks Elaine! Keep singing and stay healthy. 😀
    Rachel

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