You just finished your weekly singing lesson. Your voice is feeling in tune, vibrant and clear. You go about your day feeling like you could easily sing the most challenging songs. Your confidence is soaring. A couple of days go by and the clarity in your voice has been replaced by a tightened throat and your voice is exhibiting a growly kind of tone. What happened? Everything sounded amazing not too long ago. How could you possibly be out of tune already? Here is where Vocal Health comes into play.
You will often hear singing professionals talk about ‘their instrument’, and you probably wonder: what are they talking about? Well, much like guitars, violins and pianos, your voice produces sounds through the magic of strings. For singers, these ‘strings’ live inside our throats and are called ‘vocal chords’. Playing an instrument requires not only talent and knowledge, but dedication and care as well. Instruments must be properly cleaned, retuned and calibrated for them to produce quality sounds. Our vocal chords are no exception. So let’s talk a little bit about how to take care of your instrument.
I am going to give you some of my favorite tips to maintain vocal health, most of them require very little time and are all completely free!
Vocal rest: key for Vocal Health
The best way to take care of your voice is not to over use it. Even for professional singers, one of the main things we use our voices for is not precisely for singing, but for talking. Talking constantly, especially in loud environments like bars, clubs and busy restaurants, can be hugely detrimental to your voice. If you feel vocally tired on a certain day, try to minimize how much you talk. And, if possible, take a couple days a month of complete vocal rest. If you can practice this simple step, I promise your voice will thank you for it.
Singers’ MUST: Hydration
Proper hydration is key to achieve good vocal health. You’ll see most singers carrying a bottle of water with them when they’re performing or recording. But, is drinking lots of water enough? There are a few things we consume in our day to day lives that might be counteracting all the effort we’re putting in to drink the necessary amounts of water.
First of all: caffeine. Coffee and caffeinated soft drinks decrease your body’s ability to absorb water. This can lead to your voice sounding hoarse and dry. This is not only bad for your sound quality, but it can lead to actual vocal injuries. Caffeine is also not recommended for stressful situations like a performance as it can increase your breathing and heart rates. Not something you’d like to deal with on a live stage. A small dosage of coffee in the morning is, however, not something you should remove from your routine. Keep track of the amounts of caffeine you consume and maybe try to avoid it on performance days.
And last but not least: alcohol. Alcohol is highly dehydrating and can irritate the mucous membranes that line the throat, making your voice sound dry. This can, again, lead to vocal injuries, especially if you’re in a loud environment and straining your voice to speak loudly. Enjoying a nice drink once in a while is okay, but if you are pursuing a professional singing career we suggest checking with a medical professional and considerably lowering your alcohol intake.
Warm Up your voice in the morning!
You don’t need to go to your vocal coach every day to be able to warm up your voice. You don’t even need to have a keyboard in your house or dedicate an hour every day to this practice. Once you get to know your voice, your vocal coach will be able to recommend the best warmup exercises for you and they will quickly become second nature to you. You can use your phone to record your next lesson and then listen to the recording as you warmup on the next days.
Do your warmup a bit into the morning as the voice can be a bit sleepy during the first hours of the day. I find it good to practice while I’m preparing my breakfast or as I’m on my way to work. It should only take you 10/15 minutes, and you’ll quickly get used to the funny looks you might get from people as you stroll down the street doing your oohs and uuhms.
Check your tone when you speak
Contrary to popular belief, speaking or singing below your register is just as bad for your vocal health as trying to reach notes above your register, if not more. When our voice gets tired it starts sounding lower, grittier and heavier. Being conscious of our speaking voice’s tone and placement sounds a bit daunting at first, but believe me, it’s a super easy habit to incorporate. It’s just like with running, you are far more likely to twist your ankle walking down the street than you are at a professional race. We use our feet to walk every day, and we use our voice to speak every day. Soft tones and clear sounds while speaking will be your best friends, as well as the resonators in your cheek bones and head.
A little tip is trying to sound light and on a mid-level volume, not too loud or low. If you find yourself vibrating in your throat a lot when you speak, if you’re voice gets tired at the end of the day but you haven’t been out in loud bars or singing too much, if you find your voice getting growlier at the end of the day, it might be time to implement these changes.
Vocal health trick: Steam. Steam. Steam
I don’t go anywhere without my vocal steamer. But steaming as a vocal hack has been around long before the invention of electrical steamers. Steaming your chords will provide your throat with the hydration it needs and soothe it after the strains of daily usage. It’s pretty much like a quick rehab for the chords. A vocal spa day, let’s say. If you don’t want to invest in a steamer that’s totally fine, you don’t need to. Steaming with a steam inhaler does make it easier and safer and, most importantly, it helps to incorporate the practice into your regular routine.
However, there are ways to start steaming for free so you can see how you feel before you make the decision to purchase a steamer. An easy at home trick is to heat up some water in a pot close to the boiling point (preferably distilled or filtered water) and placing your face near the steam while covering your head with a towel to keep the steam in. Inhale the steam softly through your mouth and let it soothe your throat for about 5/10 minutes.
If you can steam a little bit every day, much better, but try not to over do it either. Balance is always key. Be careful not to expose your voice to incredibly cold weather straight after as it can be quite the shock and try not to speak or sing for 20 minutes after you’ve steamed either. However, I do recommend doing some light ‘mmms’ after steaming to keep the voice’s elasticity.
I hope these easy daily steps have helped you get a better sense of how to improve your vocal health. As with anything, practicing is the most important part. Keep learning and doing your research and you won’t believe the progress you’ll make! For more singing tips, recommendations and personalised attention head over to my Vocal Coaching website. We’re offering the first online consultation completely free of charge!