A Guide To Protecting The Voice
From A Singer's Perspective
June 1st, 2019
Here are some of my favourite tips!
Sip water regularly. Drink at least 8 glasses of water daily depending on your body weight. If you are dehydrated it takes a few days to get your hydration levels right. Keep in mind last minute drinking isn’t going to hydrate your vocal folds, it takes time. If your throat is dehydrated it is more vulnerable to injury, can lead to sore throats and cause irritation. Note: Coffee, tea, (green tea included) alcohol and some medications, all dry out the throat.
Avoid singing & talking when you are tired. Especially if your voice is tired.
Never sing above or below what is comfortable for your voice. Choose songs you are comfortable with and allow for key changes to give you more choices. Singing in an uncomfortable range whether too high or too low has the potential to cause injury.
Listen to what your voice is telling you. If it becomes difficult to sing, throat feels sore or irritated, get a tickle, sounds croaky, suddenly turns husky, suddenly seems deeper, the voice needs a rest. If you feel a tickle or irritation in your throat while singing (unless sick or suffering allergies) you are more than likely doing something wrong. This is your body giving you a warning sign so listen to it. Always let your voice instructor know if you get a tickle or irritation in your lesson. Any time you feel yourself straining or frustrated when singing, STOP. Take at least a 15-minute break and go do something relaxing and go back later. If there are changes in your voice lasting more than a couple of weeks, see your doctor who can refer you to an ENT or Speech Therapist.
Excessive talking is a no no. The larynx muscles become tired and you’re more likely to strain you voice. Pause between sentences, slow down your speaking and vary your pitch. Listen more and let others talk. Careful when talking over loud noise, simply don’t try to talk over the noise as that means you are shouting. Have silent periods during the day.
Don’t yell to sound more powerful. Power comes from years of training. You are hurting your voice when you shout to sound powerful. If you are been told constantly to sing louder and louder to a point where you are shouting this is not good. If you need to yell to get the main part, it just simply isn’t worth it. Technique & training brings power, not shouting.
Relax your jaw. Think of ‘softening’ your jaw. A stiff jaw will create tension, which we don’t want. The tongue should stay behind the lower teeth and you should think of softening the tongue.
Do not sing or talk with a tight, constricted voice. If you feel stressed out this can impact the voice. Meditation can help as well as relaxing music. There are some great breathing exercises that can help also.
Do not shout. Be careful during cheering at sporting events or any event for that matter. Cheer in a gentle speaking voice rather than a yelling voice. Be sure not to cheer for long periods. If needing to speak to someone far away, stop and move closer. If you must talk to them cup your hands. If you are teaching use a microphone and clap your hands to get attention.
Do not sing when you are sick especially with a sore throat or laryngitis. If you have a sore throat or laryngitis, avoid talking and singing. DO NOT whisper, it is more tiring on the voice than speaking as it engages more muscles. A cough is upsetting the voice already we do not need to add to that. If in a group class just let the teacher know and watch. Cancel private lessons & shows, your vocal health should be your priority. If you must sing (as we all know that sometimes we have no choice) warm up extra gently and if possible lower the key to your songs or choose an easier song. This is not always possible of course, it will depend on the show. Remember that voice injury is more likely when we are unwell. Ask yourself would I run on a swollen ankle? Just because you can’t see your vocal cords it doesn’t make it any different.
Warm up before singing and cool down after. Remember that warm ups are to be done gently. When doing group singing a 2-minute warm up, while better than nothing, is not enough. As a singer it is your responsibility to ensure you are warmed up. Lip trills and humming in the car on the way to your classes are great.
Avoid harsh singing very early in the morning. It takes a while for our voice to wake up in the morning. As you’ll notice when we wake up we are often croaky, this is not the time to sing. It needs to wake up gently.
Talking and singing over long periods. For me Saturdays can be the worst as I teach all day, then I go out at night with family or friends. This means I have sang all day and then on an already tired voice, I am faced with speaking all night. We must as singers be careful of what we do when our voice is tired. If you have to sing for long periods, avoid talking afterwards and do a cool down. If you are feeling hoarse treat the voice with extra care. Humidifiers, steaming and gargling lukewarm salt water work well for me as they help reduce the swelling.
Rehearsals on the same day as a live show. Be clever if rehearsing on the day of your show. Do not sing in full voice over a long period, the voice may get tired for your actual performance. Singers are not superheros, our voices get tired just like everyone else’s.
Smoke, cigarettes & air-conditioning irritate the voice. Avoid it where possible. Go get some fresh air outside (providing it’s not too cold) and try not to talk as much. Go to the open windows in the room if the weather permits.
Try to avoid clearing the throat and coughing. This slams the vocal cords together. It takes away the natural moisture covering the vocal folds leaving them vulnerable. Try swallowing instead of throat clearing and push air through to avoid the tickle feeling. There are other great ways too.
Puberty. During puberty our larynx grows just like our body grows. Even girl’s voices change. You must allow for the changes and not put pressure on yourself. Be careful with song choices and allow for key changes when necessary.
Ignore. Others may claim you are being over the top when you have quiet time, warm up before singing or have vocal rest. They do not have the vocal demands of a singer and so they have no idea what a singer needs.
This is not a substitute for medical advice. If you are having voice issues see your doctor.
When we are going through puberty, sick, tired and overusing the voice, is when we are most vulnerable to hurting our voice. Rest the voice and your body and make a scarf your new winter accessory. A singer is a vocal athlete and has to respect their voice more than the average person. So remember to respect & nurture your voice - it is gift!