A version of this article originally appeared on Cari Cole's Standing in the Spotlight blog.
The three-day rule is my magic formula I’ve used with my private clients over the past three decades of coaching professionals in New York City. It’s a list of tips for exactly what you need to do and stay away from for three days before a show to ensure a solid vocal performance. You may want to do longer than three days, but at least three days as a minimum preparation. Once you follow the three-day rule, you’ll never look back! Works like a charm.
1. Drink eight to 10 glasses of water a day
No kidding. Water moisturizes the vocal folds and acts like a lubricant. It makes your voice flexible and resilient, and you’ll hit higher notes with more ease and clarity.
2. Eat extra fruits and veggies
Foods with high water content help hydration and are an energy source. Watermelon and melon in general are particularly hydrating to the muscles of the throat. Put pieces of melon in your water (love this!).
3. Eat lightly the day before and the day of your performance
No heavy foods like red meat or rich sauces. Eating light will improve your energy. Chicken, turkey, fish, and tofu/beans are the best sources of protein that are easy to digest. Fresh organic juices (no orange juice – causes acid reflux). Juices are great sources of energy: carrot, celery, beet, kale, parsley, apple with a smidge of ginger is my favorite fresh juice, chock full of vitamins and protein – yes, kale is a little-known source of protein. Take your vitamins, too! (Organic please!)
4. Gargle with warm saltwater
For 30 seconds before every rehearsal, singing lesson, performance, and recording, gargle with warm saltwater. Even better, make a cup of Throat Coat tea and pour a bit into another cup, add some salt, and gargle with that! The salt moisturizes like no tomorrow and the Throat Coat diminishes any inflammation and gives an extra coating of moisture to the vocal cords.
5. Clear nasal congestion
Use a saltwater spray for your nose morning and night for three days prior, or try D-Hist natural antihistamine and avoid side effects and ingesting unwanted chemicals and toxins.
If you have mucous the day of performance, gargle with Alkalol. Will get rid of mucous for up to three hours (you can find Alkalol at most drugstores or online).
6. Drink organic Throat Coat tea daily
You will find Throat Coat tea at most health food stores or on Amazon. This tea moisturizes your throat. I also use Vocal Eze throat spray (some similar ingredients) the day before and day of performance. (Find it at travelwellness.com, Guitar Center, or my studio.)
7. Skip the dairy
That means no milk, no cheese, and no yogurt! Dairy causes phlegm and interferes with singing.
8. Lay off the caffeine
That means no coffee, black or green tea, Coca-Cola, chocolate, or hot chocolate. Caffeine in any form is dehydrating.
9. Stay away from foods that cause acid reflux, like sodas
Sodas, alcohol, cooked tomatoes like marinara sauce, citrus fruits or juice, caffeine, chocolate, and peppermint tea or gum all cause acid reflux that burns the mucous membrane of the vocal cords. The result is irritated and inflamed vocal cords, which translate into raspiness/hoarseness and a compromised vocal range. If you have these issues, schedule a Cole Power Hour, and I can troubleshoot your issues (and often solve the problem in one hour and set you up with a plan for your return to health). If you’ve been losing your voice for more than three months and have lost a good portion of your range, go see an ENT who specializes in singers' voices. In NYC, consult the fabulous ENT Dr. Scott Kessler at 212-496-9300 for diagnosis and treatment and visit http://www.texasvoicecenter.com/advice.html for more info. In Nashville, go see the Vanderbilt Voice Center for treatment.
10. Avoid spicy foods
For some people, spicy foods can also cause acid reflux, which burns the vocal cords and leaves them dry and chafed. This will cause problems with high notes and shifting registers will be bumpy. Your voice may cut out when you go to hit a note (quite disconcerting!). Reflux over time can also cause a vocal nodule, so you want to eliminate anything that can contribute to one. However, I've found that light to moderate spicy foods like jalapeno or cayenne pepper are fine. You just don’t want to eat super spicy!
11. Avoid eating late
Eating late also causes acid reflux regardless of what food you eat. Leave three hours after eating before bedtime. If you eat late, don't lie flat. Prop yourself up with one or two pillows. Position the pillow under your shoulders so your neck isn't strained. This will help keep the stomach acids from washing up on to your vocal cords. Keep your vocal cords clean and mean!
12. Absolutely do not take antihistamines
Prescription antihistamines are severely drying to your voice which causes other problems as a singer (you never want sing over dry cords). If you suffer from allergies, get tested by an allergist and get on a treatment program that doesn't include antihistamines. There are many alternatives (like D-Hist) including herbal tinctures and Chinese medicine as well as dietary changes. Many people who suffer from allergies are allergic to wheat and dairy, and once they have eliminated both of those food groups, their allergies cease (almost immediately).
13. Avoid alcohol
Alcohol is dehydrating. One beer or one glass of wine during this time won’t kill you, but it won’t help you! However, absolutely no hard liquor. Hard liquor (rum, tequila, vodka, gin, whiskey) is extremely drying. It's best to completely stay away from alcohol of any kind two or three days prior to performing.
14. Don't smoke
If you're a singer, you shouldn’t be smoking, period. It makes singing so much harder than it should be and can cause polyps, hemorrhages, and other vocal problems. When you smoke, your vocal cords are in a constant state of dryness and irritation, which causes friction, which can cause nodules or polyps (and vocal hemorrhages). Stay away from second-hand smoke three days before a performance as well. If you're a pot smoker, using a vaporizer is less damaging to your vocal cords and health than smoking a joint.
15. Get eight to 10 hours of sleep every night
For those of you who have trouble sleeping, try herbal teas (chamomile rocks!). Another remedy that works with some people is to take 500 milligrams of calcium an hour before bed to get a more restful sleep; it works wonders. Check out travelwellness.com for natural sleep aids for performers, too!
16. Cure a hoarse voice
Use "Roxalia" made by Boiron, also called "Sore Throat Hoarseness." It's a homeopathic remedy that reduces swelling of the vocal folds. Take it for three days prior to and the day of singing.
17. Steam five to 10 minutes a day
Steam with four to five drops of essential oils of lavender and eucalyptus (use pure and organic essential oils) in a pot of water. Put a towel over your head and breathe in the steam. It'll help to loosen mucous and hydrate your cords at the same time. Or you can steam with plain water or by breathing in shower steam (take a long hot shower). Sometimes I make a cup of Throat Coat tea and inhale the steam from that.
Do you have any tips and tricks you use before a performance? Share them in the comments below!
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Cari Cole is a celebrity vocal coach, artist development expert, and new music business mentor. She helps artists and musicians find their voice, build their brand, and create successful careers in music. Grab a free copy of her Vocal Road Warrior three-part series: how to keep your voice healthy while you're out conquering your tour!