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BWW Blog: Bob Marks - Care and Feeding of Your Vocal Instrument


The same principles that lead to sound vocal hygiene also promote a clear mind, better energy, and enhanced overall quality of life. Proper care of your voice doesn't require you to live much differently than you would for a normal, healthy lifestyle, with a balanced and holistic approach.

Make sure you drink plenty of water. Keeping the throat moist will help minimize coughing and throat clearing by thinning out the mucous covering your vocal folds. You need this mucous to make your cords slippery and resistant to overuse, but sometimes this layer also becomes unusually thick or viscous due to other factors, such as allergies, dietary sensitivities, or hormonal shifts in your body. Chat with your doctor if you are not sure how much water to drink, as this can be affected by your age, activity level, and the climate that you live in. Remember, too, your "inside environment" can also effect hydration levels; be sure to take extra care if you live and work in overly heated or air conditioned spaces, and if you fly often.

Get enough rest. This includes both getting quality sleep and getting enough vocal and physical downtime to allow muscles and tissues to repair themselves. When you are not getting enough rest to recover from daily stresses, your voice will pay the price.

Your diet can be even trickier to sort out. You must experiment and learn what healthy eating is for you, which may be very different from your family, friends, or even your voice teacher. Your body has a dynamic response to foods, and you might find that foods you could once handle now have strange effects on your body and voice at different times in your life. Practice dietary mindfulness, and hold your body's unique reaction to foods much more seriously than "rules" other singers pass on to you, such as to never eat dairy before singing.

Some questions to consider:

  • Are you prone to acid reflux (usual suspects: vinegars, citric acid, carbonation, caffeine, citrus, tomato, chocolate, alcohol, peppermint, very fatty or spicy foods) or have known allergies, sensitivities, or inflammatory responses to certain foods (common triggers: soy, gluten, corn, dairy, eggs, sugar, chocolate, peanuts, tree nuts)?
  • Do certain foods or additives, like caffeine, sugar or MSG, cause you anxiety, or make it harder for you to focus?
  • Which foods are truly "easy on your digestion," and which should you avoid before singing on the basis of how you feel?
  • How does the timing of your meals affect your voice? Does eating or drinking late at night (within 3 hours of bed) exacerbate reflux symptoms for you?
  • How soon should you eat before an important audition or rehearsal to perform at your best? How much and how often do you need to eat and drink to feel optimally fueled?
  • What eating habits lend to you being at the healthiest weight and lean body mass for your physical frame?

Of course, you should always talk to your doctor before making major changes. However, you can safely observe how your regular diet affects your performance at any time, and err for the healthier option whenever given a choice.

Noted vocal coach Bob Marks specializes in helping singers showcase their talents to their best possible advantage. He is in the process of writing a new book (with Elizabeth Gerbi) about auditioning for musical theatre. Until the book is published, is pleased to offer weekly bits of audition advice. Please feel free to submit any specific questions you'd like to have answered in these blogs.

Bob Marks maintains a busy vocal studio in New York City, working with performers of all ages and levels of experience. He also teaches performance workshops throughout the US and Europe. He was a pianist with the original Broadway production of Annie, and spent two seasons as the Associate Conductor of the St. Louis Muny Opera. For several years, he was the host and musical director of the acclaimed Youngstars performances of professional children in New York City. His well-known clients have included cast members of almost every current musical on Broadway, and stars such as Ariana Grande, Lea Michele, Natalie Portman, Laura Bell Bundy, Constantine Maroules, Britney Spears, Ashley Tisdale, Debbie Gibson, and Sarah Jessica Parker. He holds a degree in speech pathology, and has taught at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, the Professional Development Program for the New York Singing Teachers' Association, and at Nashville's Belmont University as a special guest artist. As a vocal coach, his clientele ranges from beginners to Broadway cast members, as well as singers of cabaret and pop music. He is an expert in helping performers present themselves to their best advantage in auditions and onstage.

Elizabeth Gerbi, currently a Visiting Lecturer of Music Theater at American University in Washington D.C., is well known across the Northeast as a singing teacher, voice coach, choral conductor, and music director/pianist (150+ productions). As a singer-actor, she has appeared in regional productions ranging from Annie Get Your Gun to I Pagliacci to The Kenny Rogers Christmas Tour. Recent projects include musical directing The Chris Betz Show at Rose's Turn and The Sage Theatre in NYC, Side Show and Tommy at Westchester Broadway Theatre, The Sound of Music at the Wagon Wheel Theatre of Warsaw, Indiana, conducting Dreamgirls and Seussical at Debaun Auditorium in Hoboken, NJ, adapting Starmites 2000 with Broadway composer Barry Keating, and accompanying master classes for Broadway veterans Ken Jennings, Lindsay Mendez, and Lisa Howard. She is also a former consultant for the Rodgers and Hammerstein Music Library, and currently serves as a both New York State School Music Association Solo Adjudicator and a respondent for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. She attended Ithaca College (Bachelor's of Music in Voice Performance and Music Education) is a Level-III graduate in Somatic Voicework: The LoVetri Methodô, and completed a Master's in Music Education from Boston University.

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