The voice is the only instrument that lives inside our bodies.
As singers, we can’t just take our instrument out of its case when we want to play it, put it back when we’re done, and expect it to be in perfect condition each time. If we want to use our instrument to make a living, or even if we are just hobby singers, we have to be dedicated to our vocal health and taking care of our voices 24/7.
When I was gigging regularly, I lived somewhat of a monkish existence on gig days: minimal talking, extra sleep, no dairy, no alcohol, plenty of steam treatments, and calculated warm ups. Calculated warmups mean that after many years of trial and error, I had specific times of day and specific vocal exercises that I would do based on the nature and time of day of the performance. I advise my students to experiment themselves with different warm-up strategies to find which routines work best for them.
I also had a special gargle concoction that I would use throughout the day to soothe my throat when it was tired.
Here is a great gargle recipe:
2 tsp. of salt, 1 tsp. of baking soda, 1 tsp. of clear corn syrup, 6-8 drops of lemon or lime concentrate and 1 qt. of warm water. Gargle quietly and gently for two minutes. Do not rinse and use throughout the day
There are many vocal health techniques singers can do regularly to care for their voices:
- Stay hydrated!! The vocal folds need to be lubricated to function properly. Drink water all day.
- Stay away from coffee and alcohol. They are diuretics and pull water from your system. Alcohol can also impair your judgment about how loud you’re singing which can lead to unnecessary strain.
- Don’t smoke! ANY kind of smoke irritates your vocal folds. Second-hand smoke can irritate them as well, so stay clear of smoky areas, particularly at a performance.
- Avoid yelling
- Avoid throat clearing. Many times throat clearing is a nervous habit that one can learn to control. Oftentimes the cause for throat clearing is mucus that hangs out on or below the vocal folds. When you clear your throat, you not only remove the mucus, you also irritate the edges of the vocal cords which just produces more mucus! The safest way to clear mucus is by using a gentle, breathy cough where there is high airflow with little sound. This can be achieved by using the following strategy: take in as deep a breath as possible, momentarily hold your breath, and produce a sharp, silent “H” sound while you expel the air.
- Exercise regularly. The physical body informs and exists alongside vocal production. Singing involves your whole body and mind- Exercise enhances both.
- Eat well-balanced meals and eat lightly before performances.
Taking care of your vocal health will make singing teachers like me very happy, and will ensure longevity in your vocal career.