This article originally appeared on Soundfly.
Whether you're belting on Broadway or singing the blues in the shower, there are a few things you can do to combat colds, overcome fatigue, and be the best singer you can be, night in and night out.
In many ways, singers are like athletes, and you should really be treating yourself like an athlete with consistent practice and care. One of my personal favorite voice experts, Dr. Wendy LeBorgne, says, "Singers are like vocal gymnasts who traverse their artistic range with apparent ease and flexibility." She's totally right. The voice is a muscle that relies on training, consistency, and care to perform healthfully.
By some magnificent stroke of luck – or karmic revenge – I always find that I stay in perfect vocal health until half an hour before my important performances, when my beautiful singing voice magically transforms into the croaky throat gargles of a toad. In the face of this grim reality I've experimented with a variety of remedies – doctor prescribed, alternative medicine, old wives' tales, voodoo rituals. Basically, whatever it takes to sing like an angel.
Here are five quick tricks I've compiled that can promote vocal health and cheat the inevitable cold.
1. Learn to breathe, dummy
This should be obvious because the average Joe does it roughly 20,000 times per day, but you'd be surprised how many singers open their mouths completely disregarding breath support. "Diaphragmatic breathing" is perhaps the most overused term in the world of singing, yet it's of utmost importance. Learn to stretch your air capacity through exercise in order to support your pipes and skirt vocal fatigue. I like to imagine that I'm filling an inner tube around my mid section, that way my chest, shoulders, and neck are unencumbered and my voice is well-supported on a nice little cushion of air.
"Oh my God, I'm supposed to drink water!?" said no one ever. Perhaps it's more valuable to tell you what to avoid. No alcohol or caffeine before a performance – I don't care if booze is your muse, it's a no-no along with coffee and tea. These liquids act to dehydrate and give you cotton mouth. A caffeine-free mint tea with honey may be used after a performance to soak those hardworking cords. Side note: dairy is akin to voice suicide. It will coat your throat and sound like you’re gargling marbles – not pleasant.
3. An apple a day keeps the mucus away
Wait… that’s not the saying, is it? An old opera trick is to keep a baggie of cubed granny smith apples backstage. The acid effectively "burns" off excess mucus, without damaging the vocal cords or causing acid reflux – which eating too close to bedtime and boozing without a care will do.
4. Steam your throat
We don't need no fancy steamers. Let's kick it old school.
- Boil pot of water on stove.
- Once boiling, remove said pot and place on table. Be sure to use a trivet (yes, I said trivet).
- Lean over steaming pot with a bath towel draped over the pot and your head and shoulders. Inhale the steam for as long as you can handle it. This also works wonders to open your pores.
Makes perfect. In line with the athlete idea, your entire body plays a role in vocal production. This enormous suite of muscles – including the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spine – need your attention so you can bust out everything from Rico Suavé to Taylor Swift. Put a little time aside each day to just stretch your vocal cords. In the same way you wouldn’t expect to run a marathon without training first, you can’t be expected to belt out an hour-long performance at the top of your lungs without constantly preparing your voice for that moment ahead of time.
There are tons of ways to keep your voice in good health, and the truth is that practicing is definitely the most important. We're hoping to go into more depth with some of this in a vocal course on Soundfly down the road, but for now, we hope some of these tricks will help clear up any misconceptions and keep you healthy enough for your next great performance.
You may also be interested in:
- 6 Simple Tips for Nailing Your Vocal Recording Session
- 9 Different Ways to Earn Money Singing
- 7 Secrets for Getting Pro-Sounding Vocals on Home Recordings
Jonathan Hack is a Brooklyn resident, musician, writer, and ping pong aficionado. His career in the theatre has spanned acting, music direction,production, carpentry, and more. As a marketer he has worked with major brands in music and fashion. He is a proud member of AEA and NATS. Follow him on Twitter @writerninja and on Instagram @jonnyhack.