So it’s been a lengthy week and let’s say you’ve sung for a long rehearsal on Thursday night, had a special “gig” on Friday night, then sang for services all weekend long and now your voice is SHOT. Whew. What to do?? Here are a few tips, hints, and ideas to help your singing voice make a rapid recovery. I’m sure I’ll also mention a few concepts that can help prevent serious vocal injury too.
Also – STOP talking. Let your voice have some true rest. I know this is pretty basic but sometimes we feel our singing and our talking voice is not the same thing or somehow not connected. Well, it is one and the same. Through much use and over-use, the muscles and ligaments controlling your vocal folds (“chords”) become very fatigued, and the folds (“chords”) themselves become very red, dry, and swollen. The only way for your physical vocal apparatus to rest is to NOT use it. So yes, this means no talking or singing for hours and days as needed. As in the case above – if you’ve sung all week and weekend give yourself until Tuesday to sing and limit your talking until then as well. Tip – when you need to talk try talking at a bit higher pitch. This can really help put less strain on your vocal folds. (Avoid the low vocal growl – I’m tired – my voice is fried – vocal fry register)
Essentially every time you choose to do this you are banging your vocal folds together and causing further irritation. This can actually cause a build up of more mucus – which you then feel you need to clear even more and a vicious cycle begins. Yuck. Try lightly coughing instead and drinking water to clear this away. You can also just sing through this phlegm until you are able to clear it effectively with a cough. After much singing your vocal folds are irritated and perhaps slightly swollen. This can make it feel like there is something you need to “clear” but really it’s just rest that is needed. For those of you who have a “clearing your throat habit,” be kind to your voice and try learning a different way to clear your throat or just let it be for a bit.
This is a recovery and preventing vocal injury tip. Are you drinking ½ your body weight in ounces per day? You can actually take in even more water than that because a lot of it is escaping through your mouth while you sing! If you are doing a lot of recording and/or have a typical week like the one listed above most weeks then try adding an occasional bottle of water with electrolytes too. There are several on the market – at health food and regular grocery stores. I do get teased for drinking Smartwater by Glacéau because it’s a “smart” choice for my voice but it’s better than “dumb” water which I haven’t seen marketed anywhere yet. J Tea is helpful in soothing irritated throats – not scalding hot though. Organic Lemon Echinacea Throat Coat by Traditional Medicinals is a nice tea that has throat coating herbs.
Sleep is a huge benefit to vocalists because we are finally truly resting our voices. The experts say that our bodies need 8 – 9 hours per night. This is the time all your muscles can relax around your throat area. Try getting some adequate rest during and after some of your busiest weeks and notice the difference. Plus as an added benefit – you will be mentally alert too and able to accomplish more!
there are many things that various singers do that may or may not help you individually. Some ideas: I’ve make use of a pot of boiling hot water with a towel over my head to breathe in some steam when fighting off an upper respiratory issue or cold. This helped to get moisture where I need it faster. Many singers regularly find relief using a Neti Pot or NeilMed sinus rinse system to clear out sinus passages. Others find throat sprays helpful to sooth sore or dry throats – although be careful to not use anything with alcohol (drying effect) or numbing agents in it.
TAKE a BREAK – After practicing or rehearsing before the service starts take a break. Let me suggest a 20 – 30 minutes after a rehearsal prior to starting a service or “gig”. This will give your voice a brief time to recover and rest. IF during this time you can LIMIT your talking, then this can be effective. This can also be used as a time to become mentally, spiritually, and/or physically prepared for the songs you are about to sing. Use this break time to drink more water and/or tea, have a light snack, and fix any music that keeps falling off the stand, etc.
RE-WARM-UP lightly before singing again. Take 5 minutes to do a few easy warm-up exercises. This could be humming up and down a short scale, doing the “lip-buzz” warm-up (see Basic Warm-ups. . . . for details), or other simple exercises with basic vowel sounds. By doing this, you get your voice ready for the workout that is about to happen on the stage/platform.
WATER – drink lots of it (see DRINK tip above). Your voice needs proper lubrication to function. Without adequate water your body is dehydrated and singing will only zap more water from the throat area where you need moisture the most. Drink water hours and days before you sing so it has time to work in your system.
TEA – drinking very warm tea (notice I did not say scalding hot) can help to sooth the throat and even help to reduce the buildup of unwanted extra mucus. I’ve known many singers to keep some warm tea with them on the platform/stage to sip as needed. Note – don’t spill drinks on the sound equipment as this tends to hurt the sound engineer’s feelings plus the equipment. :-)
THE BIG TIP – become a regular vocal exercise person. By this I mean develop a habit of always warming up 10 – 15 minutes before you endeavor to sing. Why? – Because you are warming up your voice. You are allowing your vocal folds time to gently stretch and relax. You are working on individual vowel sounds and getting their placement to sound correct. You are warming up your physical body as well, preparing your mouth to pronounce words correctly and your breathing to support your sound. As I’ve written about many times – this means having a routine and exercises that you utilize EVERY time before you practice, rehearse, minister, or perform. Here are two links if you want more info on warm-up exercises: Warm-up exercise (scroll down to last paragraph), Warm-up CD. I realize that I have yet to write an article on warming up and list several exercises to work with – perhaps next time.
Happy Vocal Recovery!
– Kris –