I frequently meet singers of all levels who want to know how to get better singing voices. Many people think that singing lessons and regular practice are all you need, but a good voice starts with good vocal health. Here are 5 ways to help keep your voice in shape.
1. Give up smoking and alcohol
Some might argue that rock musicians just wouldn’t rock without these substances, but for singers they are a duet of vocal cord poison.
Smoking forms plaque on the vocal cords and dries them out, making the voice sound rougher. Plaque cannot be removed by surgery, and the more you smoke, the more it builds up.
Alcohol dries and irritates the vocal cords, making them less pliable when singing. To counteract this effect, many singers push harder to achieve a better sound. This can further damage the voice and cause burst blood vessels and polyps on the cords.
In short, you’ll need to ditch the cigs and the bottle if you’re serious about your vocal health.
2. Stay hydrated by drinking water
By the time you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated. Water provides the body with lubrication. To keep the vocal cords from becoming dry, singers need to be consistently drinking water throughout the day.
It can take 2 hours for the body to rehydrate after drinking water, so a drink just before you jump on stage may not do much until after your performance is over. Take a water bottle with you wherever you go, and try to drink a couple of litres throughout the day.
3. Don’t sleep with a fan or air-conditioning blowing on you
On those hot summer nights it might be hard to avoid, but sleeping under a fan or air-conditioning vent can dry you out, making your voice feel and sound scratchy when you sing.
Recirculated air-conditioning is also best avoided as it could make you more susceptible to other people’s germs (think about how often travellers get colds after flights). If you’re anywhere near a performance date and need catch a plane or public transport, a paper face mask could be an option to consider, especially during ‘flu season. Ok, I agree that paper face masks can look a bit weird, but cancelling performances is a big deal. Weigh up the consequences of getting sick.
4. AAAAARRRRGHH! NO SCREAMING!
Straining your vocal cords by screaming for your team, yelling at the dog, or otherwise raising your voice above a holler does nothing to help your singing voice. It puts a strain on your vocal cords, can temporarily make you sound hoarse, and in the longer term can damage your vocal cords if you do it regularly. If the kids can’t hear you when you call them in for dinner, invest in a megaphone.
5. Warm up before you sing
You wouldn’t run a marathon without stretching first, so don’t launch into the Queen of the Night aria without at least a few warm up scales first. Vocal cords are muscles, just like those in any other part of your body, and like your hamstrings they should be warmed up and stretched out before you launch into anything particularly vigourous.
The take home message is this: Treat your vocal cords with respect and they’ll reward you with a lifetime of great singing.