You may have heard the comparison between musicians and athletes before. Just like great sports players have to prepare their bodies and minds, truly mastering your instrument requires efficient warm-ups, practice and passion. Let one little bad habit slip into your routine, and you might end up in trouble.
Particularly as you grow older, bad habits can set your progress back before you even notice it. And for singers, repeating those tendencies may even leave you with permanent vocal cord damage. No matter if you’re performing on stage every weekend, or simply taking voice lessons for fun on the side, proper vocal care is crucial.
So the next time you practice, take a good look at your habits and answer this: which of these critical mistakes are you making?
1. Not staying hydrated.
Staying hydrated is one of the most important things a singer can do. Keeping your vocal cords well-hydrated will help you avoid vocal injuries. This is especially important to keep in mind during the summer months, when air conditioning can create a very drying environment. The recommendation is 8 to 10 glasses of water per day, but this can vary depending on the person. As long as you’re sipping water throughout the day, you should be fine.
Bonus: Staying hydrated will also benefit your overall health, helping you to avoid infections and colds. Even mild dehydration can affect your body’s efficiency, leading to ailments like headaches and fatigue.
2. Relying on caffeine or alcohol.
Similar to point #1, avoid the overuse of caffeine and alcohol, which both lead to dehydration. Alcohol causes the muscles in your throat to constrict, which may affect your range, and caffeine contributes to excessive dryness in the throat. While a cup of coffee to wake you up or one drink to calm your nerves before a show aren’t going to necessarily ruin your performance, it’s best to limit these drinks. And if you must have one, follow it up with an extra glass of water.
3. Skipping your warm-ups.
Back to the athlete comparison: Similar to how the athlete needs to warm up the muscles in his or her body, warming up each limb to prevent injuries and help with overall performance, a singer should take vocal warm-ups into account before each and every practice session. Your voice teacher can show you various warm-ups to try, but a few popular strategies are lip trills, humming in an ascending and then descending pattern, and singing vowels in the same pattern. Your warm-up should leave your voice and throat relaxed, and your breathing under control. (Want some extra warm-up tips? Download our free singing video series here.)
4. Overusing your voice.
Imagine you’re at a loud concert or event. The music is so loud, you have to yell to speak to a friend standing right next to you. You might not think twice about it at the time, but do this all night, and you’ll leave the show as hoarse as a teenage girl screaming at a Justin Bieber concert. Do this often, and you’re putting yourself at risk for a vocal injury.
This also applies to everyday practice sessions. Keep yourself hydrated (seeing a pattern here?), and take breaks every so often to avoid overuse. Lastly, if you have a performance coming up, try to rest your voice as much as possible before (and after!) the event.
5. Belting without proper training.
Belting, a style of singing that produces volume and power, can be extremely dangerous for singers who aren’t trained properly. Without this training, you may end up forcing some of the notes, which can lead to vocal cord damage and trauma. Healthy belting takes a lot of practice, and not all voices are made to do so – but luckily, there are other strategies you can use to generate power. Some singers take years to train their voices to belt naturally and properly. Find a singing teacher with specific training, and discuss your goals. It’s recommended that you master breath control, pitch and other mechanics of singing before attempting to learn how to belt.