10 Tips for Keeping Your Voice Strong and Healthy
Because your voice is a part of your body rather than an external instrument (those lucky guitar players...), it is vital that you keep yourself healthy in order to consistently sing at your best. If your voice is "broken" you unfortunately can't go out and purchase another!
I have put the tips below together after years of singing and testing out what feels good and what doesn't. Everyone is different however, so please don't think you have to religiously follow every idea to the letter.
Life should be fun and entertaining, so don't feel as though you can't go out dancing because you need to have a long steam session! Just be extra careful before a performance or audition and listen to your body and what it is telling you. You know yourself best.
Some of the tips below may be so obvious that you want to roll your eyes, but sometimes just because something is obvious doesn't mean we actually take it on board.
#1 . Quit smoking
Sorry smokers, I know you'll definitely be rolling your eyes at this one. As much as you'd like to believe this isn't the case, you are doing your vocal cords damage by smoking.
Your breath capacity is significantly less than a non-smoker and sustaining notes is therefore much harder. You also tend to cough more often, putting unnecessary pressure on your cords and throat muscles.
I'm not going to go all holier-than-thou on you and force you to stop, but why not give it a go and see what impact it has on your performing..?
#2 . Warm that voice up
Every time, no exceptions. You wouldn't start sprinting without warming up your leg muscles first - same thing with your voice. Gently stretch your vocal cords before you start practising or performing with some light humming, lip rolls, simple scales and sirens.
Check out this post if you want more info on why this is so important and how you should be warming up.
#3 . Stay hydrated
The vocal cords work best when they are kept moist, so the best thing you can do is up your water intake. Juice and tea work well too, but you can't beat water. Room temperature or warm is best as icy cold water constricts the throat muscles slightly.
Water doesn't actually touch the cords so won't hydrate it directly, so make sure you drink hours before a performance so that it hydrates your whole body.
#4 . Make caffeine and alcohol sometimes friends
This is related to the above point. Caffeine and alcoholic drinks will dehydrate you.
Now I am a huge coffee fan and Pinot Noir is also a good pal of mine, but in the lead up to a performance I will stay off the liquor and limit myself to one small coffee (hey, we all need some joy in life right?).
If your vocal cords are too dry, it may cause irritation when they vibrate during singing. You might also like to steer clear of soft drinks as they add air to the stomach.
#5 . Avoid air conditioning when possible
Air conditioning tends to dehydrate you without you even realising it. Same thing with cold medication that dries up your sniffly nose (tricky when you have to perform with a cold, I know).
If you're sweating up a storm in the middle of summer and need relief, don't feel as though you can't enjoy the sweet cooling support of an air conditioner, but make sure you smash that water back!
#6 . Skip the dairy and the chilli
Dairy stimulates the production of mucus in the nose and throat (gross huh?), which makes for an uncomfortable singing experience and a desire to clear the throat repetitively (please don't do this, it makes me cringe when I hear it!). Spicy foods can also irritate the throat.
Again, you might find that these foods don't have a huge impact on your voice and choose to only leave them alone in the lead up to a gig or recording - cool beans. Each to their own, dude.
#7 . Go on a steaming adventure
Inhaling steam relaxes the vocal cords and throat while adding moisture. Boil water and pour into a bowl. Cover your head with a towel and lean over the bowl, inhaling deeply for 5 - 10 minutes.
You may feel silly but no pain no gain right? Some singers like to add a drop or two of eucalyptus oil into the bowl, particularly if they have to perform when sick with a cold or flu to clear their nasal passages.
#8 . Ease up on the shouting/raising your voice
Pfft, who am I preaching the obvious to you? You know yelling isn't good for your singing voice dontcha?
Whenever you are putting pressure on your voice you are running the risk of vocal fatigue and swollen vocal cords. The cords need TLC at all times!
#9 . Get flexy with your shoulder and neck muscles
The muscles in the shoulders and neck impact on our throats and any tightness or tension you have there can lead to tension in your throat.
Simple daily stretches will help release this tension (or indulge yourself and get a brilliant massage).
#10 . Sleep it up!
I love sleep. I am a much nicer person and performer when I have had a bucketload of sleep. You'll know how much sleep makes you feel well rested, now make sure you get it!
Especially make sure that you get a great night's sleep before a performance in order to guarantee high energy levels and alertness. Your immune system will also thank you.