The sun finally decided to show itself this year here in Guernsey, where I live, so I decided it was a good day to get back into running. I started running back in September after I was cast in a production of ‘Anything Goes’ as Reno Sweeney, and quickly realised that, although I could sing it, act it, and dance it, my physical stamina was not up to scratch in order to do all three at once! In the lead up to Christmas I got to a point where I was running 3 times a week for up to 30 minutes at a time, and my overall health vastly improved. But then Christmas happened, schedule became insane, the weather was terrible and I had to fend several off winter illnesses. Finally going for that first run after a 10 week break was a sharp slap of reality as I realised just how rapidly my stamina had deteriorated – I felt like a novice runner again! But, in that first run as I felt like my lungs were exploding, I got to thinking about how running and singing are actually very similar.
In my vocal studio, I often use a lot of metaphors to help singers better understand certain technical concepts, and I’ve found myself using a lot of sports based metaphors. Let’s take running for example; people will often say, “I’m a runner”, but we rarely follow that up with asking, “what type of runner?” If you’ve ever watched the olympics, you’ll know there’s many types of runner you could be!
You could be:
- A Sprinter: this requires a strong and well-built physique, quick reaction times, and explosive power.
- A Middle Distance Runner: this also requires a strong physique, but doesn’t need to be as well-built as a sprinter. Power is also needed, but it needs to be more sustainable.
- A Long Distance Runner: this requires a much leaner physique, and a huge amount of stamina and longevity.
There are also variations that you could add to these basic running types:
- Hurdling: which can be done in any type of running, and essentially means adding additional co-ordination and agility into your chosen style.
- Cross country: means adding huge amounts of ever-changing surface areas and obstacles to your long distance running!
- Relay: which is running…. but in teams!
All these types of running are very different, requiring different physiques, physical demands and skill-sets – but really, at the end of the day, they’re all running! And because they’re all running, they all require the same basic fundamentals; co-ordination, strength, flexibility, and overall excellent health (both physical and mental). This is just like singing when you really think about it. There are many different styles of singing which all require their own particular physiques and technical demands: You could be a belter (high energy, powerful), or a classical choral singer (more flexible, with great sustainability and team-work), or perhaps a jack-of-all-trades (able to showcase power, stamina and agility in equal measure, and tailored to the occasion). Each style has its own requirements, but the fundamentals are still the same: excellent support, breath control, strength, flexibility, overall health, and an understanding of how this all applies to you and your voice.
There’s a lot of preconceived notions out there that some people are just ‘born to sing’, or that, ‘singing doesn’t need to be trained’. In reality, because the voice is made up of muscles, just like the rest of your body, it can be trained to be better, stronger, or more flexible, regardless of where you are starting from.
“But why should I bother, I’ll never be a professional singer!”
….. So what? Are you passionate about it? Do you enjoy it? Let’s be honest, I am never going to be an elite runner, but I’m still learning to run because I enjoy it, and it actually makes me feel good! Yes, it is true that there are people whose voices are naturally built to do certain things, like being able to belt effortlessly, or having a huge vocal range, but this is also true in running! Certain people, with their unique physiology will be better suited to different types of running. Your voice is unique to you, and it will have its own natural strengths and weaknesses, and half the fun of learning to sing is finding your own personal style and excelling at that. And, as with everything, there’s always those people who break the mould. Take Usain Bolt for example, who doesn’t look like your typical sprinter; he’s much taller than everyone else, leaner in physique, but because of his height he also weighs more than the average sprinter…. but he’s still the fastest man in the world. Why? Because he learned how to use his strengths AND his weaknesses to his advantage, and he trained for it. So don’t worry if vocally you don’t necessarily fit into other people’s expectations of you and your voice – you just figure out a way to make everything work in your favour.
So, go for a ‘vocal run’, and find out what your voice can really do, and regardless of which style of singing you end up preferring, remember: