Written on September 15, 2015 by Rebecca Lam
Singers, we all have our rules, tools, and rituals. You may use a throat spray or an all-natural lozenge religiously. Maybe you avoid dairy at all costs; perhaps the real culprit is coffee!
The reality is a healthy voice regimen can be a simple one. In fact, it can be so simple that when we boil it down to the essentials, it may seem trivial and redundant. It isn’t.
Whether you are a beginner singer or a busy professional, follow these 3 essential principles to cultivate a consistently healthy voice.
1. Sleep & Rest Well
A healthy voice can only thrive in a healthy body. To sing with our full capacity for expression, we must first balance rest.
Sleep plays a major role in any singer’s performance. Studies have shown that sleep deprivation increases levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Lack of sleep leads to fatigue and stress, which tends to result in excess tension and inefficient use of the voice. Stress also inhibits our ability to multitask.
Singers must manage breath, pitch, intonation, pronunciation, style and performance simultaneously. When one is lacking sleep, juggling all these elements becomes exponentially harder. Make sure you are getting a minimum of 7-8 hours of sleep regularly to prevent stress and fatigue and to encourage mental agility and focus for multitasking the elements of a balanced voice.
Now, what if you are getting 7-8 hours of sleep every night but still feel vocally tired? Let’s look at how you are practicing and how much vocal rest you are getting.
Let’s say you aren’t a professional singer. You study voice regularly with a solid teacher. You practice and maybe even perform occasionally, and you are often feeling fatigued when you sing. If this is sounds like you, you could be over-practicing and/or practicing inefficiently. When you are a beginner or intermediate and working towards a healthier balance, you are also undoing bad habits, which can quickly wear out the voice.
For beginners and intermediates, I recommend that you vocalize for only 15-30 minutes per day (if you don’t know what I mean by vocalizing, keep reading…). Practice at a medium volume and aim for accuracy of pitch, evenness in tone, and pure vowels to keep your practice sessions effective and sustainable.
Are you a busy, professional singer? Busy, working singers are just that–busy working! And when you must take gigs to pay the bills, it’s easy to spiral into a cycle of vocal fatigue. Often, professional singers become so used to a swollen and tired voice that this becomes their new normal.
To prevent this, as best as you can, choose your gigs wisely. Take opportunities in which you are:
1. Developing your musicality 2. Getting paid fairly 3. Networking with people who may contribute to you developing your musicality and/or being paid fairly!
Schedule in vocal rest days (i.e., minimal talking, no singing) so that the body can release and recover. SCHEDULE IT IN! (Right now.) Limit yourself from talking too much before or after gigs (especially in loud clubs) to prevent further wear and tear on your voice.
If you are a busy, professional singer, you must relate to your voice as if you are a professional athlete. Pro athletes take rest days to prevent injury and to keep their bodies functioning optimally.
2. Stay Hydrated
The vocal folds need to be lubricated with a thin layer of mucus to vibrate efficiently. Optimal lubrication is achieved by staying well hydrated.
Stay hydrated by always keeping a water bottle with you. The body can only intake so much water at a time, so sipping water throughout the day is the best approach. Aim to drink at least 2 litres of water a day!
Coffee isn’t the worst thing unless you have an allergy, intolerance or sensitivity to caffeine and the corresponding dairy/soy products that tend to go with it. Some research has shown that caffeine and alcohol pull water out of your system, which depletes the vocal folds of healthy lubrication. Be sure to drink an equivalent amount of water to counteract any dehydrating effects of caffeinated or alcoholic beverages.
A dry environment can also affect your hydration. This includes environments with heating units, air conditioners and climates with a low amount of moisture in the air. Using a humidifier can help to counteract the dryness.
3. Vocalize in the Entirety of Your Range
I can’t stress this one enough! Technique is where many singers are lacking in the health department. You can get an adequate amount of sleep, be properly hydrated, and still have an unhealthy voice without good technique. If you are trashing your voice every time you sing, no matter how much you rest or hydrate, your voice will always be tired, swollen, and limited.
All healthy singers must vocalize in the entirety of their range. If you are unsure of what your range is, I highly recommend seeing a voice teacher to discover your range and voice type.
You must vocalize to teach the vocal folds to engage with airflow in a balanced way throughout your vocal registers, commonly referred to as chest, middle and head voice. Even if your style of music only puts you in the low register (chest voice), you must stretch to and strengthen the high register (head voice). Without doing so, your voice will function improperly, becoming stiff and weak.
Scales and drills that encourage balanced function specific to your voice type will help to diversify your strengths and improve on your weaknesses. It is important to study with a qualified voice teacher who can tailor a set of vocal exercises to your voice and habits. Without the guidance of a knowledgeable and experienced vocal technician, teaching yourself by pulling vocalises from a book or the internet may actually hinder your progress.
Proper rest and hydration make for a healthy instrument. Good technique makes for the balanced function of the instrument, resulting in a whole and expressive voice. Follow these 3 essential principles, and you will be singing healthfully for many years to come.