Now that I’ve competed in my first National Hollerin’ Contest, I feel adequately qualified to pen a first timer’s guide to hollerin’. As I see it, there are 10 basic steps to go from hollerin’ mess to hollerin’ success.

1. Respect your hollerin’ elders. When I first told people I was competing, many of them assumed that the hollerin’ contest is a shouting match. Far from it. Hollerin’ is possibly one of the oldest forms of communication in the world. Before telephones, hollerin’ was the only way to let your neighbors know that you were OK, or that you needed help, or to let your girlfriend know that you were half a mile from her house. Otherwise, she might not clean up for your arrival, and she’d stink of tobacco. So each holler is as different as the message it carries. Some hollers are as intricate as opera songs, so don’t show up simply expecting to scream, like some folks have in the past.

2. Buy the album Hollerin’. It’s going to be your hollerin’ bible. Without it’s nuggets of wisdom, you don’t stand a chance.

3. Listen to the album, lots. Listen to it in your car, at home, at work, wherever you can.

4. Practice, lots. Practice in your car, at home, at work, wherever you can. Learning some of the more complicated hollers takes time. And energy. And the patience of your spouse. Or roommate. Or neighbor. Or dog. You’re probably going to be really bad, at first. Hell, you might be really bad by the end of it, too, but you’re going to be really bad at first. Even if you’re a decent singer, learning some of the hollers is like learning a new language. To make it easier on myself, I broke one 45-second holler into seven smaller parts using an audio editor. Then I listed to one section at a time, over and over and over until each individual track sounded like static. In time, however, it all started to make sense.

5. Practice more.

6. Develop your routine. Once you’ve got a few weeks of practice under your belt, it’s time to start piecing together your routine. In the National Hollerin’ Contest, you’ve got 4 minutes. If you go longer, you’re disqualified. There seems to be no official standard that the judges are looking for, but you’ll be safe if you talk about the history of hollerin’ and throw in a hymn.

7. Practice your routine in front of a few trusted family members or friends. Performing for actual people is a lot different than performing in the car or the shower. Plus, your friends might be able to give you some helpful advice.

8. Congratulations! You’re nearly ready to compete in the National Hollerin’ Contest. But make sure you’ve got the following before leaving for the contest: giant sun umbrella, sunglasses, hat, chairs, cooler full of water, sunscreen. Summers in North Carolina are hot. And there’s no shade at the Hollerin’ Contest, so you should be prepared to battle the sun.

9. Keep practicing. Just because you’re already at the contest doesn’t mean you can’t practice a little more.

10. Have fun. If you’ve followed steps 1-9, then you’ve got a decent chance of making a respectable showing at the Hollerin’ Contest. Just don’t take yourself too seriously. You’re probably not going to win your first competition, so you might as well enjoy yourself. At least, as much as you can in 90-degree heat.