Published on May 15th, 2010 | by Hugh Hession23
Five ways to improve and protect your voice
1. Exercise your cords daily
As a vocal instructor, it’s a common misconception that taking voice lessons will automatically improve vocal ability. One may hear Simon on American Idol or perhaps a teacher at school recommending vocal lessons. There is definitely validity in this, however you have to put forth the effort! Merely singing along to your favorite songs won’t do it.
I get the question all the time. “How can I improve my voice?” My answer is always this: EXERCISE! If you want to become a stronger vocalist, increase your range and have more control, you have to exercise your voice daily. Your vocal cords are a muscle. Like any other muscle in your body, you will not gain strength and stamina if you do not work them out.
The vocal cords are a unique instrument. Unlike a guitar or piano where you merely have to strum or strike a key to get sound, YOU have to create that sound yourself by working and manipulating your vocal folds. If you don’t exercise your vocal cords properly, then you will ultimately have trouble creating that sound. I recommend working out your voice at least 20 minutes daily (at minimum). Just work it into you schedule and it will start to become habit. As time goes by, you may want to increase your time; maybe 40 minutes to an hour.
2. Keep your cords lubricated
Your vocal cords live for water. They need to be wet to function properly. Lack of lubrication will lead to irritation. You need to get in the habit of drinking water not just at your gigs, but throughout the entire day.
I was reading somewhere that 75% of Americans are dehydrated. It can have a multitude of effects on the body, including fatigue, lack of concentration, and overall lower circulation of blood. Believe it or not, if you are having problems with your vocals, some of it (or much of it) could be attributed to dehydration.
So how do know if you are dehydrated? An obvious is if you are continually thirsty throughout the day and/or you mouth is dry. Another indicator is your pee. Someone who stays hydrated has clear urine. Conversely – yellow urine indicates that you need more water!
Remember, alcohol and caffeine are diuretics. They aid dehydration. If you find yourself drinking those two beverages the most, you probably have a dehydration problem.
3. Stop straining
Vocal strain comes from overextending the vocal cords by forcing your chest voice to go higher than it should. This places tremendous stress on your vocal folds and can create problems such as vocal nodules.
Breathing and vocal strain go hand in hand. If you have too much or too little air pressure, you create strain. Improper breathing technique causes the muscles outside of the larynx to tighten.
If you want to expand your range, your cords need to shorten as you go up. This is where your vocal cords zip up, or what is technically called voice adduction. The problem with untrained singers, is that when they rely on those outside muscles of the larynx; the tension becomes so extreme that the vocal cords break apart. At this point, the falsetto voice takes over. However, where damage occurs, is when vocalists push the larynx up and ignore the bridge or break. Now, they are shouting rather than singing.
So the question is, how do all those vocalists who sound like they are just shredding their voice, survive? The answer is by singing correctly. You actually can manipulate voice to get that gravel and also, have a “screaming” vocal IF you utilize proper technique. It’s all in the way you sing.
4. Don’t downplay sleep
Musicians are notorious for their nocturnal lifestyle. Even so, you have to get the right amount of sleep. This is the only way your voice can become properly replenished. Not getting enough sleep will make your vocal chords susceptible to damage, because they are weak. If you find that your voice is fried from a few shows – choose sleep over partying.
5. Stay away from “bad singing” foods/drinks
There are a few foods to watch out for, especially before performing. Not saying to stop eating them all together, but it’s good to stay away from these before performances:
-Spicy Food. Irritates voice and can create the need to clear the throat. Clearing the throat is NOT good and will put immense stress on your vocal cords.
-Dairy Products. Creates a layer of flem or mucous on the cords. Again, creates a need to clear the throat, and also inhibits vocal control.
-Cold Drinks. If you are performing, it’s best to drink room temperature water. Cold water tightens your cords.
-Alcohol. Restricts vocal control. Also causes dehydration.
-Caffeine. Causes dehydration.
BONUS: Don’t use sore throat spray
I often see singers using OTC sore throat sprays. This is not good, as most of these have a numbing agents like Phenol or Benzocaine that give the illusion that you can sing with ease when in fact, you are probably straining your vocal chords. It’s the equivalent of a football player injecting Toradol to kill the pain and then go back out on the field. It can cause major damage.
If you want something that can really help, as a vocalist, I use and recommend Vocal-Eze. Extensive touring and performing can take a toll on your voice no matter how much you take care of it. This stuff has literally helped me out on many nights! It is used widely by many major recording artists including Tim McGraw, Rob Thomas, Joss Stone and many more.