I Was Told There Would Be Tea: Do’s and Don’ts of Vocal Health

While the pop queens and kings make it look effortless, singing is work. The voice is an instrument that requires maintenance. Even the most experienced artist can fall victim to a malfunctioning instrument. Sometimes this is environmental (think: freezing temperatures in NYC on New Year’s) or behavioral (like smoking, straining or other unhealthy habits). Often we don’t even realize that we are subjecting our voice to stress until it's too late. Take a look at our do’s and don’ts of vocal health and learn how to keep your most valued instrument in tip-top condition.

DO Practice the physics of singing. Proper breathing technique is likely the first thing any qualified voice coach will teach you. Breathe...and make it deep. Breathing from the diaphragm allows singers to project their voices with little effort and less strain on the vocal cords and larynx. Concentrate your breath in the abdomen, not the chest. Keep the jaw and tongue relaxed and the soft palate raised. There are a lot of moving parts to this technique and while emitting sound from your throat may feel easier at first, shallow singing tires out your vocal cords quickly and makes your throat hoarse and sore. Take the time to master the technique and it will increase your range and keep your voice happy and healthy.

DON’T Belt with abandon. Yes, we all want to sing “I Will Always Love You” like we are channeling the queen herself but forcing your voice into a range that’s unnatural for you can damage your vocal cords. Hitting those Whitney-worthy notes requires training in breath control, pitch and relaxation techniques. Again, a voice teacher with specific training can assist you in reaching those goals safely.

DO Hydrate with plenty of water. Taking frequent sips of water throughout your studio session or before and after your performance lubricates your vocal folds and larynx, essential parts of what comprises the voice. Aim for 6-8 glasses daily and don’t make it too cold. Ice water can numb the throat. Go for room temperature instead.

DON’T Drink alcohol on or before the day of a performance. As tempting as it may be to take a shot of tequila to loosen your nerves, doing so can seriously dry out your vocal cords and irritate the mucous membranes that line your throat. Caffeinated and carbonated beverages such as that coffee you can’t do without are also drying agents. They pull water out of your system and deplete your vocal folds of necessary lubrication, which causes tightness and hinders range and endurance (albeit temporarily). Opt for caffeine-free tea with honey instead. If you must have coffee before a performance, follow it up with an extra glass of water.

DO Warm up. Jumping right into a song without warming up has the same effect as an athlete coming out of the blocks at full speed without so much as a stretch: expect injuries and a subpar performance. No matter how good you are or how long you've been singing, warm ups are essential to keeping your voice healthy. Incorporate vocal warm ups into every practice session and before each performance. Lip and tongue trills aid in loosening the throat and jaw and encourage relaxation of the vocal folds. Humming, five-note scales and tongue-twisters help with tension and articulation. After a proper warm up, your voice should feel relaxed and ready to work.

DON’T Smoke. The days of glamorizing cigarettes by placing one in the fancy hand of a cabaret singer are over. Not only is the habit generally unhealthy, smoking especially damages the most critical organs for singers. It increases mucus in the throat, which leads to coughing and irritation. It dries out the throat tissues, promotes acid reflux, and reduces lung capacity, resulting in a reduced vocal range and lower stamina. In order to sing at a wide range and sound good doing it, your vocal folds needs to be able to vibrate effectively. They can’t do this when they are swollen and weighed down from mucus, or when your lungs are congested with tar. Smoking is the leading cause of vocal fold and lung cancer, and we’ve lost enough legends already. Just say no, kids.

DO Rest your voice and relax your mind before a performance. We aren't suggesting you take a vow of silence for a day, just avoid unnecessary strain. Stress and anxiety contribute to physical tension in our bodies, especially in areas key to singing like the neck, throat and chest. This tension affects posture and proper breathing which often causes us to default to throat singing, leading to restriction, trauma and more stress. It’s a vicious cycle, so treat yourself kindly in order to avoid it.

DON’T Spend all day whispering. Not only is this kind of obnoxious unless you’re Ms. Jackson, it places unnecessary stress on your vocal cords and causes tightness. Speak softly and carry a water bottle.

Employ these tips and you’re sure to have a happy, healthy performance- whether in the booth or on the stage. And if you happen to be performing on New Year’s Eve in NYC, make sure they have your tea hot and ready.

Ready to flex your vocal muscles and show off your technique? Book your session at The Sound Machine ATL here.

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