When we play an instrument, we take care of it. We take it out it’s case and wipe it or shine it, make sure it’s in tune, tune strings, change bows, and treat it with care.
As singers, our instrument is our voice. We can’t see it in the same way as a guitar, but it’s still there. What do we do though? We shout, scream, smoke, drink and don’t think about the effect it might have on our instrument.
Obviously that’s a massive generalisation. I know not all of you do all of those things, but it’s important to remember our voices are precious and know what we can do to take the best care of them, so that they can give us the best sound when we sing.
Here’s 8 simple tips for great vocal health:
Drink water. I know, this one seems obvious right? It’s one of those things which we all know we should do and yet very few of us actually do it. Our mouths and throats get dry and dehydrated just like our skin – if you want to get the best sound from your singing – drink lots of water. It’s good for your mind and the rest of your body too – so just do it okay?
Cut down on caffeine. Now before you scream at me – I’m not telling you to completely starve yourself of tea or coffee (or chocolate, ahh!). I’m simply saying if you want to take the best care of your voice, cut down. There’s nothing wrong with a cup of tea in itself, but caffeine has a diuretic effect. This basically means that it causes you to pee, a lot. Even hours after you’ve had that coffee, and you’ve already lost the water you drank in it during your last bathroom trip, your body will still be reacting to the caffeine by ridding itself of even more water. As a rule, for every cup of tea or coffee you drink, you should drink the same amount in water to cancel it out. But then you need to remember to drink more water on top of that (see point 1). So basically you’ll be drinking and peeing all day – not ideal if you need to be on stage. Just enjoy your morning coffee and say no to the kettle until the next day 😉
Don’t smoke. I wince as i type this because I KNOW this one is easier said than done if you’re a smoker. But you know the damage it does to your throat and lungs, do I really need to reiterate it? If you’re serious about your singing, quit. You can do it. I believe in you.
Don’t drink excessively. A glass or two here and there is fine of course (as long as you’re not doing vocal gymnastics immediately afterwards), but if it becomes a more regular thing you really should think about cutting down. Alcohol has the same diuretic effect as caffeine (see point 2), but it also causes your muscles to relax which might cause you to THINK you’ve warmed up and can belt a top C. Doing this can cause so much damage to your voice if you’re not fully supporting the sound. Use your common sense. I love a bit of wine, but I’d save it for AFTER the show.
Stop shouting! I get that this is hard if you have young children like me. Sometimes you need to shout momentarily to stop them putting their hands in the fire, or pulling hair out of the cat. But generally – tone down that volume. This is even more important if you haven’t had any singing lessons because you might be pushing the sound from the throat instead of using your abdominals and proper support mechanism – which could lead to vocal fatigue in the short term and possibly long term vocal damage. I’ll say it again, stop shouting.
Stay warm. Yes I’m serious! Getting cold causes your muscles to constrict, and this includes the muscles in your throat. You then strain those muscles when you vocalise (especially if you don’t warm up first – see point 8), and you become more susceptible to coughs and colds and horrible germs. Invest in a swanky new scarf to keep that throat toasty and warm.
Cut out dairy before a performance. Did you know about this one? Dairy coats the throat with a mucus which is NOT helpful for singing. It makes you feel phlegmy. I think you just need to trust me on this one. Or try it if you like and you’ll know exactly what I mean!
ALWAYS warm up. Singing is a work out. It’s a physical exercise. Would an athlete run on the track without stretching and warming up first? Nope. Singing cold (without a warm up) can make your throat muscles tight, cause you to hold tension where you shouldn’t, run out of breath because you aren’t supporting the sound properly, and cause vocal damage if you’re not careful. Is it worth the risk to save 10 minutes warming up?
(Psst….know you should warm up but don’t know where to start?)
I created a warm up series just for you my friend! It’s free (because I want you to warm up, too), and it takes you through 3 warm up exercises I consider the BEST for preparing our voices for development and avoiding vocal damage. You don’t even need a keyboard for them. Memorise them and do them anywhere! Grab your free warm up series here:
There you have it. 8 things you can start doing (or stop doing) right away to take better care of your voice and improve your singing as a result.
I hope you found these useful friends, let me know if you have any more to add!