Singing is athletic. And just as athletes have to take good care of their bodies, we too as singers need to take good care of our voices. I see many singers who are extremely passionate about their singing, which is, of course, wonderful. However, in their eagerness to improve quickly, they sometimes forget to listen to their voices. Just like you can only work out at the gym for so long before your body is done for the day, you can only sing for so long before you must give your voice a rest. Your body will give you all the signs you need, if you listen. I hope this article will serve as a gentle reminder for all of you singers out there to do all you can to keep your vocal cords in great shape!
Let’s start with hydration. I’m sure you have been told to stay well hydrated when singing, and there is good reason. Our vocal cords are covered with a thin layer of mucus, which they need to vibrate smoothly. The thinner this mucus on the cords, the better! If we become dehydrated, that mucus can thicken up, making it more difficult for the vocal cords to move against one another smoothly. Thick mucus can also cause the impulse to clear the throat, which is extremely damaging to the vocal cords. If you feel the urge to clear your throat, try to resist the urge and instead, drink some water, or do a gentle breathy cough to remove the phlegm. You can do your part to keep the mucus thin by drinking lots of water! If you don’t like water, try herbal tea, flavored water, or foods with high water content (watermelon, cucumbers, etc.) Beware of caffeinated and alcoholic beverages though, as they will dry out the cords instead of moistening them. There are also some great throat sprays out there that can help to keep your cords lubricated.
I also recommend having a humidifier in your room, especially while you are sleeping. It will increase the moisture content in the room, as the air is often very dry due to heaters and air conditioners. You will especially benefit from a humidifier if you sleep with your mouth open, as you are probably constantly breathing in dry air all night. If your throat feels dry when you wake up in the morning, that means that you need a humidifier.
Now that you know how to keep your vocal cords moist, let’s talk about usage. This is where I advise you to listen to your voice. As we sing, our vocal cords vibrate against one another to make different pitches. If you sing with improper technique or simply overuse your voice, the cords can begin to swell. Your body will let you know swelling has begun with warning signs such as a bit of a hoarse or breathy quality to the voice. As the cords get swollen, it becomes harder for them to make a tight seal, which is why the breathy quality comes in. The remedy for this is vocal rest, which means not speaking or even whispering. That is the most effective way to get the swelling to go down. Again, this is just listening to your body’s warning signs. If you just finished singing a show and you are feeling vocally tired, don’t go out and talk at a loud bar.
Proper technique can also prevent vocal swelling and damage. Make sure that you are learning how to mix your voice, as opposed to pushing the chest voice too high. Singing in chest voice is very athletic, and can be damaging if done incorrectly. Find a voice teacher in your area who can help you find your mix.
The way you use your speaking voice is also very important. I have noticed countless young women these days speaking with a lot of what is called “vocal fry.” This is a creaky sound that is used in the chest voice. It is the lowest vocal register, so the vocal cords are vibrating very slowly here. The vocal fry can be used in certain situations, in moderation, but should certainly never be a routine part of anyone’s speech patterns. It can become very damaging to the voice if used in everyday speech, and can lead to swelling or worse. You may not intentionally be using vocal fry in your speaking voice, but a lot of women have adopted the mannerism because they hear pop singers using it in songs, and other people speaking using it. The first step to fixing it is to become aware you are doing it. Then, try to speak using your resonators, and speak on the breath. As you exhale, let your words ride out on the air. And although not as many men are using vocal fry, men also must be conscious of their speaking voices. Again, make sure that the sound is resonating in the head. Better speaking will not only lead to better vocal health, but will improve your singing.
Keep up the great practicing and singing, but be sure to take the best care you can of your voice along the way. You will be sure to hear the difference!