How to look after your voice when singing
In this article we break down how to look after your voice when singing, as well as share some tips on how to maintain a healthy singing voice.
Whether you’re a professional singer or just love to sing in the shower, your voice is an important instrument. But like any other part of your body, it can get tired and even hurt if you don’t take care of it properly.
In this article we’ll explain why your voice needs a little TLC, as well as share some tips on how to maintain a healthy singing voice.
Why you need to take care of your voice
You might think that your voice is as simple as saying a few words and making sound, but in reality it’s a very complex process. Your voice is actually made up of two parts: the vocal folds and the larynx (or voice box).
The vocal folds are shaped like an inverted V and they vibrate when air flows through them, creating sound waves that travel through the bones of your skull to create speech. The vocal cords are incredibly delicate and can easily get damaged by excessive vocal fry, or belting, for example.
- Adele had a vocal haemorrhage and had to cancel her tour and undergo surgery
- Julie Andrews had vocal nodules and had surgery to remove them. The surgery damaged her voice and ended her singing career
- Celine Dion suffered with weakness in her vocal cords as a result of a viral illness
- John Mayer had vocal granuloma and had to have a two year break from performing
- Frank Sinatra had vocal nodules and took a month long vow of silence
Signs your voice is not healthy
If you’ve been getting hoarse, this is a sign that your vocal cords may be infected and inflamed. If you’re experiencing laryngitis, it can take up to two weeks for your voice to heal.
Vocal fatigue occurs when the muscles in your neck and chest are strained from using them too often when singing or speaking aloud for long periods of time without rest.
Vocal cord nodules are small growths on the surface of your voice box which can cause pain when singing because they rub against each other as air passes through them.
How to look after your vocal health
To help become a better singer, prevent vocal misuse and risk damaging your instrument, here are 11 tips to help take care of your voice:
1. Avoid prolonged voice use
The voice is a muscle and like any other muscle in the body, can be damaged if overworked. Singing or shouting too much can cause problems with your vocal cords, leading to inflammation and pain.
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2. Always warm up before singing
Before you start singing, you should always warm up. This is the best way to ensure that your voice is in good shape and ready for a performance. There are lots of different ways to warm up, some simple ones include vocal exercises, humming, and lip trills:
- Vocal exercises will help you control the sound of your voice more efficiently and increase the range that you can sing in.
- Humming also helps with controlling your sound as it requires less effort than singing.
- Lip trills help strengthen the vocal muscles so they are ready for singing at higher volumes.
You should also try to warm up physically by doing gentle exercises such as neck rolls, arm swings and shoulder shrugs. This will help to relax the muscles in the neck and shoulders so they are not restricting the movement of the larynx (the cartilage box that contains your vocal cords).
3. Rest your singing voice
To keep your voice in tip-top shape, take regular breaks from singing. If you don’t let your voice rest, the muscles can become overworked and start to strain. You should try not to sing for more than an hour at a time – and that includes warm-ups!
Regular breaks to rest your voice will help prevent vocal strain and keep your voice healthy for longer.
4. Treat coughs and colds early
If you’re suffering from a cough or common cold, get plenty of rest and keep your fluid levels topped up. You should also avoid smoking (if you smoke) and eating foods that are high in fat and sugar content to help keep your throat moist.
Seek medical help if you have a cough that lasts longer than two weeks. You should also seek medical attention if your voice becomes hoarse for no apparent reason, regardless of how long it has been this way for.
5. Quit smoking
Smoking is dangerous to your health. It can cause lung cancer, heart disease and throat cancer. But did you know smoking has a negative effect on the quality of your voice too?
Smoking dries out your throat and damages the vocal cords, making them less pliable, meaning it’s harder for singers to hit higher notes and create a more robust sound.
You might want to try and get anyone who smokes around you to quit too, because second hand smoke can be just as damaging to your vocal cords.
6. Drink plenty of water
A healthy voice needs to be kept hydrated. As a singer, your vocal cords can become dry, sore and tired if they’re not hydrated properly. Drinking water helps keep them moist and lubricated so that you can sing with ease.
Your vocal cords are made up mostly of muscle, so they’re very sensitive to dehydration. Dehydration causes your vocal cords to become dry and stiff, which makes it harder for you to talk or sing.
A good rule of thumb is to drink 1-2 litres per day as well as eating plenty of fruits and vegetables that contain lots of moisture like watermelon or cucumber slices. Avoid caffeine if possible – tea or coffee is fine in moderation, but too much may make your throat feel dry.
Another way to keep the vocal cords moist is to use a humidifier at night when sleeping – these devices will help keep air moist so that you aren’t waking up with a dry throat every morning.
7. Eat a healthy diet
The best foods to ensure good vocal health are:
- Fruits and vegetables – especially those high in vitamin C, which helps keep the immune system strong and wards off colds that can cause inflammation of the vocal cords.
- Foods rich in zinc – this nutrient helps produce mucus that coats the vocal cords and keeps them moist, preventing damage due to dryness or irritation.
- Magnesium-rich foods – these include nuts, seeds and whole grains. Magnesium helps regulate calcium levels within the body; if you find yourself having a mineral imbalance it could be affecting your voice production.
8. Practice after-singing care
After you sing, give your voice a break. Taking care of your voice after a singing session can help you avoid damaging it and reduce fatigue so that you can get back to singing faster.
Here are some things you can do:
- Drink plenty of water before, during, and after your performance. Water helps keep mucous membranes moist, which is especially important with regard to the vocal cords.
- Use a warm compress on your throat—it may help reduce swelling and improve circulation in the area.
- Take a break for at least 10 minutes after you finish singing. This will give your muscles a chance to relax.
- Massage your neck and shoulders. There are many nerves connecting these areas so massaging them can have positive effects on vocal quality as well as relieve tension.
9. Avoid alcohol before singing
Avoid alcohol before singing performances if possible (although this obviously depends on the type of gig). Alcohol can cause inflammation in the body which will affect how your voice sounds, as well as make it harder for you to stay focused on the music.
Alcohol also dehydrates you, so if there’s ever an occasion where drinking before performing is unavoidable, try drinking lots of water after consuming any alcohol so that you won’t feel too dry while singing.
10. Don’t over-sing and damage vocal cords
To maintain healthy vocal cords, don’t over sing. Over-singing is when you sing too many songs of a certain vocal range or style, for example light classical songs, that are high in pitch.
Singers often get caught up in the excitement of being able to hit higher notes than normal, or take on a new role and find themselves singing more frequently than usual, sometimes even multiple times a day. This can lead to vocal fatigue which manifests itself as hoarseness, or other vocal problems such as reduced vocal ranges.
11. Seek medical advice early about vocal health
If you have a sore throat, hoarseness or pain, difficulty swallowing, trouble breathing or fever, see a doctor. In most cases the advice will be to rest your voice for a few days and then reassess.
If your symptoms are persistent or getting worse (for example if there’s no improvement after three days of rest), make an appointment with your GP.
Sing better with Elevate
Voice maintenance is an essential part of singing. Even if your voice is in perfect health, there are still things you can do to maintain its quality and protect it against damage.
The most obvious solution is regular warm-ups and cool-downs before and after singing, as well as vocal exercises throughout the day (and evening). This allows your vocal cords to remain agile and flexible so that they don’t become strained or damaged when using them too much.
The greatest instrument you’ll ever own is the one you already have, your voice is crucial to a long and successful music career. Discover how to look after your voice when singing, elevate your sound and find your place in the music industry by honing your skills with our extensive range of online music courses.