I’ve been a professional vocalist for over a decade and a vocal coach for most of that time. I’ve toured the nation singing everything from 6-part vocal jazz to 80s rock. Vocal health is a necessary part of my life. However, the time I spent as a telemarketer is when I really learned the value of a healthy, energized voice. Whether you’re a teacher, motivational speaker, singer, or just like to talk, here are a few things I’ve learned along the way to keep your voice running on all cylinders.
1. A Good Night’s Sleep
Everyone knows the pains of waking up after 3 hours of sleep. You’re slow, you’re groggy, your head hurts. Obviously sleep is an important part of how we function as humans. Your voice will be hit hard by a lack of sleep. So if you know you’re going to need to talk the next day (and who doesn’t), hunker down for a solid 8 hours of sleep.
2. Get The Blood Flowing
Take a moment after waking up from your restful night’s sleep to stretch. Doing some basic stretches after waking up can really get your blood moving and shoot all that healthy oxygen where it needs to go. Your voice is produced by muscles in your throat. You stretch before using other muscles, the voice should be no different.
3. Ditch The Joe
Coffee has always been my go-to friend. Always there when I need it. But as a vocalist I’ve needed to learn when to keep a healthy distance. Coffee causes a whole slew of problems related to the voice. It can dehydrate you and take away some of the precious lubrication on your vocal folds. Moreover, if you suffer from acid reflux in any way, the acid in coffee can excite these conditions and cause stomach acid to rest on your vocal cords. If you need that morning caffeine, grab a green tea with some honey and lemon - your voice will thank you.
You don’t just throw your shoes on and run a 5k. You need to take a few minutes to warm up properly first. There are an infinite number of warm-ups you can do to get your voice working properly.
5. Support That Voice
Proper breath support can’t be overstated. I could write a blog or ten just on proper techniques for breathing and supporting your voice, but I’ll try to succinctly explain it here. You should breathe low (from your diaphragm) and use the muscles in your lower core to support your voice. The muscles in your lower core are abundant and strong. If you’re not supporting low, you’re probably supporting from your chest and neck where the muscles are much weaker and more easily worn out. If you can feel your lower ribs in your back expand you’re on the right track. Keep all of that space expanded and engaged while using your voice. I like to think that I should be able to take a light punch to the gut at all times while I’m singing.
6. Water, Water, Water!
Again, something I cannot overstress. Drink it! Take a bottle with you wherever you go. As a race, we are chronically dehydrated. Keeping the voice (and body) lubricated will keep it running in a healthy way for a long time. Dry vocal folds will get damaged faster and not heal as quickly. Be careful with really cold or really hot water though… your voice is sensitive. If you have a hard time drinking all that water try adding a little lemon or cucumber to it to make it enticing!
7. Use, Not Abuse
Your voice is a very delicate instrument. If you take care of it it will give you many long years of joy. If you mistreat it it will leave you high and dry. Yelling is a quick way to ruin your voice. Slamming your vocal cords together, like slamming most anything else together, will cause damage. Smoking may look cool in your head, but your voice will disagree. Sucking fiery smoke past the skin of your vocal cords will cause obvious damage aside from the potential for life-ending side-effects. Treat your voice with the proper care it deserves and it will stay healthy when you need it.
There are many tips and tricks to tending to your voice. The right lozenges and sprays. The proper full-body techniques of getting the most out of your voice. Perhaps for another blog. This list should just be used as a jumping-off point to get you going in a healthy direction with your voice… however you need to use it. Happy vocalizing!
Jeff Bratz is a professional singer and actor in LA. He writes for the San Francisco-based company GlobeIn - a social enterprise working to help artisans around the world sell their work online.