Protecting Your Voice in10 Simple Steps

It’s every singer’s worst fear – that their voice won’t be there for them when they need it most. Doing a very demanding musical show, gigging for 2-3 hours in an evening fronting multiple songs, or giving a long speech of an hour or more. Whatever the cause, there are several things you can do to protect your voice and ensure that it is a reliable old friend rather than a fickle “frienemy”.

1. Hydrate at least one day before your big gig. Realize that any water you drink will not reach your vocal chords directly, but must reach them through your blood stream. This takes time and most of us are chronically dehydrated most of the time anyway. Hydration is absolutely key for healthy vocal chord maintenance. Drinking warm water during your gig will also help. Avoid cold or icy drinks entirely. Steam your voice regularly. You can do this by closing the door in your bathroom when you shower and just running the hot water extra long when you come out, boiling water on the stove and carefully tenting with a heavy towel while breathing in deeply or investing in a low cost steamer with a face mask. All of these things will help keep your voice moist and healthy. I’m also a huge fan on the neti pot to keep the sinuses hydrated and to prevent viruses. Definitely one of the most important purchases a singer can make!

2. Avoid “C-Food”: cold drinks, creamy foods, candy, chocolate, coffee and colas as all of these will create mucus which will cause you to clear your throat more than normal. Clearing your throat causes friction between the vocal chords which will just add to the overall vocal strain. Caffeine is a diuretic which will dehydrate your voice and cause strain. If you suffer from acid reflux, don’t eat any earlier than 3 hours before bed as stomach acid can back up into the throat and play a role in deteriorating your vocal chords.

3. If you have any control over your song order at all, sing your harder songs earlier in the gig. You’ll strain less overall and can take it easier later on when your voice is more tired.

4. Warm up before your gig. At least 15 minutes of light warm up will stretch your vocal muscles and prepare your voice to work for you. Also, a very light cool down is recommended after you are finished for the evening.

5. Keep your neck and chest warm. Cold drafts will cause the muscles around your throat and chest to tighten which will cause extra strain on your voice. Keep your neck warm and your ears covered if it’s cold outside as warm muscles are more flexible muscles.

6. Don’t smoke. It is the single most damaging thing you can do to your voice short of standing on a corner and screaming for hours on end.

7. Rest your voice. After an extended singing session, plan to take it very easy on your voice the next day. If you have back to back shows, don’t talk much during the day. Resting your voice will allow the muscles time to recuperate.

8. Sing daily. It is important to keep your vocal chords in shape on a regular basis. How unrealistic would it be for a track and field athlete to expect to run a race with no preparation or training? The same holds true for your voice. It is a muscle and must be strengthened regularly so it will be there for you when you need it.

9. Gargle with apple cider vinegar and warm water before your gig. The vinegar will kill any bacteria in your throat and get rid of any excess mucous.

10. Avoid alcohol before and during your gig. Alcohol will ultimately dehydrate your voice and certain alcohols (sweet coolers, liquors and beer) will add to mucous production. Try not to drink too much after a gig either as anything more than 2 drinks will dry you out for the next day.

Most of these steps are pretty logical and straight forward. Remember, your voice is a muscle and needs to be treated with loving care and respect. Treat it right and it will be there to serve you well your entire life.

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    Voice Teacher Kelowna specializing in singing, public speaking, spoken word and acting coaching