3 essential principles for a consistently healthy voice
Singers, we all have our rules, tools, and rituals. You may use a throat spray religiously or an all natural lozenge. Maybe you avoid dairy at all costs; or the real sin 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 this regimen down to the essentials, it may seem trivial and redundant. It isn’t.
Whether you are a beginner hobby singer or a busy, gigging professional, follow these 3 essential principles for a consistently healthy voice.
1. Sleep & Rest Well
A healthy voice can only thrive in a healthy body. In order to sing with our full capacity for expression, one 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. Simply put, 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 have to manage breath, pitch, intonation, pronunciation, style and performance simultaneously. When one is lacking sleep, multitasking all of these elements becomes exponentially harder.
Make sure you are getting a minimum of 7-8 hours of sleep on a regular basis to prevent stress and fatigue and to encourage a sharp mind for multitasking the elements of a balanced voice.
Now, what if you are getting 7-8 hours of sleep every night and still feeling vocally tired? Let’s take a look at how you are practicing and how much vocal rest you are getting
Let’s say you aren’t a professional singer. You regularly study voice with a solid teacher. You practice and maybe even perform once in awhile 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? Working singers are just that—busy working! And when you have to take gigs to pay the bills, it’s easy to spiral into a cycle of vocal fatigue. More often than not, 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. being 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 in order to vibrate efficiently. Optimal lubrication is achieved by staying well hydrated.
Stay consistently hydrated by keeping a water bottle with you at all times. The body can only intake so much water at a time, so sipping water throughout the day is the best approach. Drink until you pee pale!
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 compensate for the dryness.
3. Vocalize your entire range
I can’t stress this one enough. Technique is where many singers are lacking in the health department. You can get the proper amount of sleep and be properly hydrated and still, without good technique, your voice will suffer. 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 an IVA certified voice teacher to discover your range and voice type (see below for contact information).
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, mix 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. F or this step, it is important to study with a qualified voice teacher who can tailor a set of exercises to your voice and habits. Without the help 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 makes for a healthy instrument. Good technique makes for the balanced function of said instrument, resulting in a whole and expressive voice altogether. Follow these 3 essential principles, and you will be singing healthfully for many years to come.