New York had a surprisingly mild winter this year, but the dry cold weather outside combined with the heater running in my apartment all the time led to some of the worst sinus issues I’ve ever experienced.
In the past few months, I spent many mornings trying to quench my thirst with several glasses of water, and waking up with a stiff neck became an ordinary occurrence.
As a vocalist, I try to keep my vocal cords flexible and hydrated around the year. Even if I’m not getting ready for a recording session or a live performance, I’m a big believer in warming up my voice almost every day for maintenance.
If my body doesn’t feel relaxed and healthy, I feel it in the way I sing immediately.
This is why I decided to pay attention to anything and everything that helps me keep my vocal performance at peak level this year.
Whether you’re recovering from winter or gearing up for allergy season, these tips can help you minimize some issues that might hinder your singing.
1) Make sure your humidifier is on through the night.
If you’re a professional vocalist, you probably already have a humidifier in your house. Make it a habit to turn it on right before you go to bed!
2) Start your day with vocal rest.
When you wake up with a dry throat, speaking should be the last thing you do. Your vocal cords should be sufficiently hydrated in order to vibrate properly, and if you start talking before you reach for that first glass of water of the day, you might end up straining your voice.
In fact, I’ve found that it makes a big difference if I don’t use my voice until after I have breakfast.
3) Add herbal teas with fresh lemon juice, ginger and raw honey to your routine.
I daydream about the first cup of coffee I’ll get to drink in the morning as I’m about to go to bed, but let’s be real: coffee is not the best way to soothe a dry or sore throat.
Many people love mixed herbal teas like Throat Coat or Breathe Easy, but as long as you have fresh lemons and raw honey in your kitchen, you can try just about any herbal tea to mix things up. Honey and lemon juice combined with hot water are key to getting rid of that annoying phlegm that makes us sound congested. If you have the time to slice up some fresh ginger too, even better!
4) Got a personal steam inhaler? Try using it under a light blanket or bed sheet for enhanced benefits.
After filling up your steam inhaler with water and placing it on a flat, stable surface, try breathing the steam while keeping your head down under a light blanket.
I initially decided to give this a try because I thought, why not give myself a facial at home while I’m relieving my sinuses at the same time? I couldn’t believe the difference it made! The trapped steam helped clear my sinuses more quickly and effectively.
I now practice this routine for 15 minutes, 3 times a week whenever it’s cold or extra dry out.
That being said, you should be very careful if you’re thinking about giving this a shot! The water in the steam inhaler gets very hot, and you might burn yourself if you don’t approach this method with caution.
5) Warm up your entire body before you warm up your vocal cords.
A few years ago, I had a small nodule on one of my vocal cords and was advised to go to speech therapy. To my surprise, those few sessions turned out to be more useful than any voice lesson I ever took!
Until then, I didn’t realize that many of my limitations derived from how tense my neck, jaw and shoulders were. The problem was not my vocal cords: it was all the tendons surrounding them.
Over the years, I’ve found that those tendons feel much more relaxed if I get my blood flowing in general. Many people think that our voices feel weaker in winter due to weather conditions, but lack of exercise is another culprit to consider.
Even if you don’t have much time, try a 10-minute yoga routine in the morning. No matter what level you’re at, you’ll notice a difference.
6) Ready for your vocal warm up? Start with lip trills!
One of the most important bad habits to fix when you get started as a singer is placement.
We all know if we feel pain or even a tickle in our throat when we sing, it’s a bad sign. But even as we gain years of experience, we might slip every now and then, especially when we’re tired or sleep deprived.
This is why I always rely on lip trill exercises to start my warm up routine with the correct placement. I usually spend the first 5-10 minutes by singing intervals and scales with lip trills. Then, I move on to syllables like “ooh”, “wee” and so forth.
7) Finish your warm up exercises with a face and neck massage - and don’t forget about your larynx!
If you suffer from jaw pain and throat tension, gently massaging your shoulders, neck and face, especially in the jaw line area, can help immensely.
Paying attention to your posture during singing is not enough! We all sit in front of a desk for long periods of time whether we’re responding to emails or working on a project. Slouching is a part of life, but you can minimize the effects it has on your singing abilities by making your blood rush to your sore muscles with your finger tips.
After I massage my neck and face, I finish my routine with a gentle laryngeal massage. It takes some practice to get it right but it works wonders!