Taking care of your vocal cords and larynx is very important for singers as they use their voice at a much more extended time than most people. The vocal cords are made up of very delicate tissue and can easily be damaged. This can end careers for many professional singers. It is crucial that a singer understand how to take care of their own voice but the truth is that many singers don’t really understand how to. So I’ve written this article especially for professionals and amateurs to understand what is harmful for their voice and what they should be doing on a daily basis to have a more consistent sound.
Below Are 10 Steps That EVERY Singer and Professional Voice User Must Follow!
1) Quit Smoking – smoking causes redness, increased mucous production(making it harder to hit high notes), thickening of the mucosa and even damages the mucosa. As a result the vocal cords become swollen, fatigued, stiff, loss of flexibility, can cause reflux laryngitis, cancer of throat or larynx and impaired lung function. Your lungs are very important for singing, in order to hit high notes you need well-balanced breathing. Smoking will greatly decrease your vocal range and even deepen your voice. Permanent damage can result from smoking as it dries the from hydration which takes away moisture in the vocal cords almost instantly. I highly suggest you quit smoking if your a singer or to cut down if it’s to hard to quit. Once you quite smoking you will improve your voice, add some notes to your range and you voice will benefit a lot more from training.
2) Drinking Alcohol – you should avoid alcoholic beverages prior to singing as it takes a lot of water from the body to metabolize alcohol, which would dehydrate the vocal cords. In fact it can cause a hoarse voice in just a few minutes because of dehydration. Alcohol doesn’t necessarily damage the voice however it causes impaired control of your vocal coordinations and depletes the body’ s water. If your an alcoholic, I suggest you don’t drink to the point where you lose control over your voice and to make sure you drink more water to compensate it’s dehydrating effects. On the other hand it may relax you a bit from stage fright.
3) Hormones – certain hormones will affect the voice. Steroid(testosterone) will excessively enlarge the vocal cords which will result in a VERY deep pitch, decrease vocal range and cause breaks within the voice. I highly recommend you don’t abuse steroids for bodybuilding. If your a women on birth control pills please let your doctor know that your a singer and you’d like to be prescribed birth control pills without progestin which deepen the voice, decrease vocal range and cause breaks just like steroids. Also women may want to take a little rest during their menstrual period as progestin usually rises and thickens the vocal cords. If your a teenager going through puberty, I highly suggest you do some voice training as you most likely will get breaks in your voice & the sooner you take care of the problem the better.
4) Drugs – marijuana, cocaine, heroin, estcacy, narcotics and even something as aspirin can damage the voice. Marijuana irritates the vocal cords and damages the lungs at least 10x times more than cigarettes alone. Cocaine can damage your sinus and nasal passage which can jeopardize your voice. Heroin and ecstasy put a great amount of stress on the voice with it’s endorphin effects. If your taking aspirin for headache, periods etc, I don’t recommend you sing as it thins your blood which can cause tinnitus and vocal cord hemorrhage.
5) Diet – their are certain foods that you must avoid prior to singing or performing. Avoid dairy products such as milk, ice cream, pizza and chocolate as it cause phlegm to build up which makes it harder for the vocal cords to zip up and thus harder to sing higher notes. Dairy products aren’t “bad” for the voice but they cause phlegm to build up so avoid them 2-3 hrs prior to singing. Orange and citrus juices can affect the lubrication in the voice but it isn’t as bad as caffiene drinks such as coffee. Coffee dries the vocal cords and even makes you a lot tired afterwards which can cause edema (swollen vocal cords). You should especially avoid those so called energy drinks such as Red Bull which is loaded with caffeine and terrible for your voice. Reduce intake of refined sugars, too much salt and junk food. Before singing or vocalizing, I recommend you don’t eat, you can eat just a tad bit if your hungry. But overeating prior to singing will make it harder to control your breath and digestion takes up energy. You need energy to sing!
6) Speech Habits – They way you use your voice on a daily basis at school, work or at social events will affect your singing voice. Just as how you sing will also affect your speaking voice. It is important that you don’t speak louder than is necessary and it’s important you take at the very least a 20 minute break of silence after speaking for a long period of time. But make sure you warm down before taking a rest. That muscles that control your vocal cords need to cool down and stretched before being rested. Otherwise your voice will be very tense afterwards. To warm down start from the very top of your vocal range with the vowel “Ah”. Then slowly slide down until you reach your lowest note in vocal fry. Repeat this several times for 7-10 minutes. Just as warming down is important so is warming up. Before singing or performing, sing the vowel “E” in a siren type of sound with your voice going high and low like a police siren. If you follow this warm up for 5 minutes, your voice will be able to sing for longer period of time. When doing the warm up and warm down, make sure you don’t sing that you can comfortably.
7) Vocal Hydration – drinking enough water is extremely important for singers. The vocal cords need to be properly hydrated to vibrate efficiently. Make sure you drink room temperature water throughout the day. It takes time for the water to absorb to your vocal cords and drinking water at the last minute will NOT help. If you smoke, drink or take caffeine, make sure you drink enough water to counteract their drying effects.
8) Stress – stress will cause your voice to tense and stiffen. It depletes your energy levels which is needed to sing. Many causes of stress are simply not enough sleep, empty stomach, unhealthy diet and too much office work. Make sure you get at least 8 hrs of good sleep, otherwise your may get swollen cords. Excersice for at least 15 minutes when you feel stressed. Brett Manning in fact also makes his students excersice a little bit before a voice lesson. Eating fruits and vegetable as well as vitamins B6 and B12 greatly reduce stress. By the way, Brett Manning is currently writing a book called “If your not healthy, you can’t sing!” So make sure your in good overall health.
9) Environment – Air conditioning can cause dryness and sickness. So if your prone to “air conditioning sickness” at least try to lower it’s speed during hot summer days. Heating is very drying and can easily take away moisture in the body. You should try not to put the heat too high during winter, just moderately. Air pollutants, dust, second-hand smoke and toxics all effect the voice so avoid such areas.
10) Cold & Viral Infections – what ever you do, don’t sing if you’re sick, have a sore throat or have a cold. I recommend you take a rest, avoid coughing as this irritates the vocal cords and drink plenty of water. I suggest you take vitamin C, Zinc and Echinacea. On a last note, DO NOT take those over the counter cough medicines, they simply numb your vocal cords and suppress them from coughing. In fact many of those cough medicines contain ingredients used to make narcotics and the FDA has also pulled many of those cough meds off the shelves. I suggest you use Entertainer’ s Secret Throat Spray whenever your sick.
If you follow all the 10 steps I’ve listed above, your voice will have twice as much stamina, consistency and will benefit more from training.
Vocal health is crucial and if you don’t take the time to care for your voice, training will do NOTHING for you. In fact, many ENT specialists claim that 80% of their patients could have avoided their voice problems from simply drinking more water! Think about that…. 80% of patients have started their vocal troubles simply from a lack of drinking more water!