Touring Tune-Up

An actor getting ready for a major tour—or any long stage run—is like an athlete prepping for the playoffs. You must be in top physical and vocal shape if you're to have any hope of success. Vocal coach Ron Anderson may be the man more stars turn to than any other. His client list extends literally from the Metropolitan Opera to Neil Diamond to Guns n' Roses.

Coming Out of Hibernation

Many major performers have long breaks between tours or projects. "A lot of the rock groups I work with are coming out of seclusion and haven't sung for three or four years," Anderson says. Often he has less than a month to get them ready. "I have them work daily, vocalizing two to three times a day, an hour at a time, allowing three to four hours in between."

Anderson has very specific ways he works the voice. "In the morning, I always have them start from the top of the voice and work down, never from the bottom up," he says. "That way the muscles become corrected immediately without grabbing weight. In a male voice,
I might start in the middle voice at E above middle C. It's especially important when artists are doing a lot of morning shows, such as TV and radio."

Just Breathe

Anderson insists that to build strength, the breath is paramount. "If the breath is not right, nothing is right," he says. One myth he dispels is the idea of singing from the diaphragm: "The diaphragm is not a support mechanism; that was proven 50 years ago. The intercostal muscles and the rib cage are what support the sound, not the diaphragm." He warns that losing this support will cause excess air to hit the vocal cords: "The second you start pushing air against the cords, they lock immediately. It takes a smaller, thinner air column—that's where all the high notes are. You've got to take the air away from the cords."

Good Vibrations

After breathing, Anderson works on placement, focus, and sound. "I make them become aware of their body, because that's where your placement is," he says. "It's like learning how to aim a gun. You can't aim a gun unless you know where the sights are." He will have singers place their hands on their throat or head and ask them what they feel: "They will feel the resonances from the throat, and I tell them that's the adduction of the sound, but that's not where the power comes from."

Anderson teaches that power comes from the back of the head, a complete mix of resonances all the way through. "That's the old bel canto style," he says. "Once they start feeling the registrations, they're learning how to read their body and how to work it as a unit instead of against itself."

Fixing Vocal Issues

There are times when a singer comes to Anderson with severe vocal issues, such as nodules. That's when he goes into therapy mode. "I work with the singer to elongate the pharynx area and the back of the larynx, as well as the cords, so it starts to smooth the nodule out," he says. "I've been written up twice in medical journals for getting rid of hard nodules."

One example of Anderson's ability to fix the voice involved a famous hard-rock singer. "When I got the call from the doctor, there was a fifth of the voice missing," he says. There had been a cyst on the singer's vocal cord, which was removed, but it left a divot in the cord. "From D to G-sharp was missing—the entire middle voice. I worked him technically with the breath and the structure of his muscles in order to coordinate everything. By the end of the second week, it started to phonate and I knew I could fix it. We got the cords elongating more, and he now sings D above high C every night."

On the Road Again

Sometimes performers need additional help while on tour. Anderson has developed a unique way to interact with them during performances. "I went out on the road with a major star to fix a nodule," he says. "I would speak to him while he was singing through his in-ear monitors." Anderson has worked this way with many performers, spending quite a bit of time on the road himself. "I talk them through the songs if they start going off. One night the guys from Guns n' Roses were backstage and thought I was singing backup."

Eat, Sleep, and Don't Be Merry

Anderson insists that personal discipline has to be first and foremost: "Sleep, eat correctly, no booze. If you do drink, then have beer or wine, which is the least offensive."

It is also important to get enough sleep and protein. "I recommend at least six to 10 hours of sleep per night," he says, "especially when you're a major group and your show is an hour and 45 minutes to two hours. The only thing that truly rejuvenates the voice is sleep. We can technically rejuvenate them to a certain degree, taking the thickness out and thinning the cords in the old bel canto style, but sleep is paramount."