As singers, it’s important to take preventative measures to not hurt our voice and throat and to protect them in the long run. Having worked with many students and observed many lessons and coachings, I have seen first-hand how easy it is for students of all abilities and skill sets to fall into harmful habits.
Healthy practices for taking care of your voice are often understated and rarely talked about as much as they should be. It’s very important to learn how to take care of your voice in order to sing more easily and naturally, and to avoid long-term damage.
As with any instrument, warming up is essential and is often taught at the very beginning of instruction. Vocalists, however, should be taking extra care to make sure they are fully warmed up before jumping straight into a practice session or performance.
Warming up is especially important for vocalists because for us, our bodies aren’t just controlling the instruments, our bodies are the instrument. Warming up is perhaps the easiest way to prepare our voice for a productive and safe practice session. It’s a controlled form of singing that doesn’t put stress on the vocal cords.
It’s similar to how an athlete would stretch before completing a workout. Without a proper warm-up, you could pull a muscle or get tendinitis. Singing scales, buzzing your lips, or sliding your voice up and down through your full range are great ways to warm up! If you need extra guidance, YouTube is a great source with tons of helpful videos and examples.
Use your diaphragm properly
When singing, it’s important to remember that the power and sound should be originating from your diaphragm. This can feel odd and unnatural at first if you’re not used to it, but believe me when I say that this will be a huge help to you in the long run.
Many singers will try to use their throat instead, which can lead to a hoarse and scratchy voice, and inflamed vocal cords. When your throat tightens in an attempt to create sound, the vocal cords constrict and aren’t conducive to a relaxed airflow.
If you have a hard time singing with your diaphragm consistently, it’s a good idea to focus on that when doing your warmups. After some time, you’ll learn to naturally sing without a constricted throat. You won’t have to make such a conscious effort, and your vocal cords will thank you.
This is a simple trick that can (and should) be done both in and out of the practice room. I’ve always carried a bottle of water with me—to every lesson, every practice session, every performance, and even in everyday life. Our bodies are made up of over 70% water, and hydration is necessary for every bodily function—especially singing.
Being dehydrated stretches so much further than just a dry mouth. There are so many small parts involved in singing from the lips and tongue all the way down to the diaphragm. All of these parts need to be in prime condition in order for the voice to function at its best, and lacking hydration is a common issue that can cause damage on many levels.
Some signs of dehydration include a scratchy or dry throat, excessive coughing or clearing of the throat, thirst, or a darker colored urine. You may even find that it required more effort to use your voice. The effects of dehydration vary, but they all prevent good and healthy singing. Keep a close eye out for these signs and if they occur, remember to hydrate a little extra.
It’s recommended to drink at least 8 eight-ounce glasses of water every day. Remember that things such as exercise, caffeine, and alcohol can also reduce your bodies fluids. Remember to adjust your water intake accordingly.
Avoid singing when you are sick
Sometimes, in cases of performances or important auditions, singing when sick is pretty unavoidable. If you, like I, have had to perform when feeling under the weather, you know how uncomfortable it can be. It really isn’t fun.
Singing when you’re sick is not only uncomfortable, but it can slow down your healing process and make it take longer until you feel better. Obviously, there are exceptions to the rule, as previously stated, but it’s important to rest your voice when sick whenever possible.
A scratchy or inflamed throat is not conducive to relaxed, natural singing, and can not only damage your vocal cords, but can also lead to the cementing of bad habits. You may find yourself adjusting your carefully-formed healthy and natural singing habits to try and make singing less painful or uncomfortable. This could lead to bad practices in the long-term that would then need to be fixed.
This rule is especially important if you find that singing is painful. Pain is our body’s way of telling us that something is wrong, and therefore we need to listen closely. If something doesn’t feel right, stop! Give your vocal cords a rest and try again another time.
Vocal rest involves not singing, minimal talking, and no whispering. Whispering is especially bad for your vocal cords and should be avoided. The less you use your voice, the more quickly it will be able to heal. Vocal rest can vary greatly in length, so do what feels right for you.
Get a good vocal coach or teacher
If you really want to make sure you are forming healthy habits to take care of your voice, it may be best to just hire an expert to help you out. Every singer and every voice is different, and therefore it is difficult to learn everything from a YouTube video or an article online.
A teacher would be able to watch and listen to you sing and point out the things that you are doing well and what things still need work. They also serve as a second pair of ears to make sure that your voice sounds natural and not tense. Finding a good teacher may just be the extra push you need to open up your body to the healthy habits that will help your voice prosper in the long run.
If you haven’t already noticed, there are many small things and habits that can be harmful to your voice, and there are many things that you can do to ensure that your voice stays in optimal shape over the course of your singing career. Properly taking care of your voice may not be easy at first, but with time and practice and patience, you’ll find that these “rules” become habits, and those habits will change your singing for the better. Be kind to your voice and your voice will be kind to you!