Preserve Your Singing Voice and Sing Better for Longer
So you woke up with a scratchy throat and a headache. But you need your voice to be 100% tonight. Here are some good old fashioned remedies:
- Gargling with saltwater helps loosen up the gunk and soothes your throat. Adding some honey or lemon can help a bit more.
- Inhaling steam can help — find a small bathroom, close the door, and run hot water in the shower. It’s a poor man’s sauna.
- Sinus rinse — If you have a lot of sinus drainage, a sinus rinse with a neti pot can help alleviate congestion and clear some mucous, if you can tolerate it. But be aware that doing this too much can make things worse by causing additional irritation.
- There are no “miracle mixes” out there that are better than good clean water. Keep water with you at all times and take a drink whenever you can.
- Consider installing a humidifier in your home, especially if you live in a dry climate. Even a small humidifier in your room or hotel at night can be really helpful. Clean it often.
- Don’t underestimate the power of getting enough sleep. Erratic gig schedules, meetings, rehearsals, and the demands of life chip away at time needed for rest. Try to carve out at least 7–8 hours for sleep every night. A power nap in the afternoon can make a huge difference — 20 minutes is the sweet spot according to studies. If you go longer, you risk dropping into a deeper sleep and may wake up feeling groggy and tired.
- Take care what you eat! Garbage in = garbage out. Avoid carb-heavy and processed foods and typical fast-food fare. Pack healthy snacks to grab when you’re too busy for a good meal. Avoid large meals after late gigs — going to bed on a full stomach increases weight gain.
- Avoid speaking loudly or shouting/yelling — it stresses your throat and vocal cords. Whispering is likewise unhealthy; you’re better off not talking at all.
- Beware that certain medications can cause dryness. You can find exhaustive lists online, but the most common culprits are decongestants and antihistamines.
- Be aware how travel can affect your voice. Flying in dry airplane cabins, hopping across time zones, changing climates, going in and out of air-conditioning, and following crazy schedules all conspire to throw off your routine and affect how well you are hydrating, sleeping, and eating.
- Never skip on good vocal warm-up. Singers are vocal athletes whose throat musculature requires conditioning. Take it seriously. Work with a vocal coach to develop a warm-up routine tailored to your genre and singing style and to work through bad habits. Once you’re warmed up, avoid straining your voice when singing — learn to use the microphone to your advantage, and stay relaxed. Learn to recognize when your voice is fatigued (limited range, swallowing and/or clearing your throat more often). Be aware that performing in a poor acoustic environment will cause you to over-sing; collaborate with your sound engineer and adjust accordingly. Keeping your neck warm with a scarf can help keep your neck muscles loose.
- Minimize tobacco use — smoking affects voice and lung capacity. Find a way to quit. Avoid second-hand smoke as much as possible; a simple concept but tough to execute, for sure. Minimize caffeine and alcohol before and during your gig. Caffeine can have a drying effect, and alcohol can affect vocal control and increase the risk of vocal strain.
- Avoid clearing your throat often as it stresses your vocal cords. Try taking a sip of water instead of clearing your throat. If you feel you have to do this often, see your doctor.