We often associate a good singing voice with a voice that is strong and powerful. However, our vocal folds—the tiny pieces of tissue housed in our larynx responsible for all that sound—are actually somewhat fragile. Singers must pay special attention to their care, both in terms of good vocal hygiene and vocalization supported by sound technique, in order to keep the voice functioning optimally. The better we care for our voice, the longer we will be able to use it throughout our lives. Here are just a few things to consider as we strive for healthy vocalization.
1. Maintain proper vocal hygiene
As singers, our bodies are our instruments. Therefore, some aspects of vocal care are also of benefit to our general health, such as getting proper rest and nutrition. Of greater significance, though, is maintaining hydration. Our vocal folds are affected by our body’s overall level of hydration. If those little pieces of tissue aren’t properly hydrated, it affects their ability to vibrate and produce sound.
Singers must make sure to drink water regularly throughout their day—not only while they are singing—and to avoid dehydrating substances such as caffeine and alcohol. Additionally, singers need to guard against using their voice in ways that may cause strain, such as yelling or screaming. If you spend the night screaming for your favorite artist at a music concert, or cheering on your team at a big game, don’t expect your voice to feel well the next day!
2. Protect yourself from environmental factors that can harm the voice.
There are many environmental factors that can affect the voice, the most notable of which is smoke. This is not exclusive to cigarette smoke. Singers living in parts of the country affected by wildfires also must be careful to monitor the air quality in their area, and keep their voice as protected as possible. Other environmental factors, including mold, dust, and allergens, can have a negative impact on the voice. Even more subtle factors, such as humidity, can cause changes in vocal function. If singers live in a dry climate, they may find it beneficial to keep a humidifier in their home.
3. Focus on solid vocal technique and healthy sound production.
We can do everything in our power to make sure that we take proper care of our instrument and avoid harmful environmental influences, but the most critical component of preserving our voice for a lifetime of healthy vocalization is singing with good vocal technique. The foundation of strong technique is built upon proper breathing for singing, and the production of sound without any extraneous tension in the body.
Producing sound in a tension-free and physically optimal way will help the voice to be able to sustain for longer periods of time within any given day. Singers should also take care to warm up their voice properly, with emphasis on proper technique in vocalization. This is akin to athletes stretching before they compete. The process of getting the voice ready to work is just as necessary, in order to avoid injury.
4. Don’t push your voice beyond its capabilities.
Professional singers can run into trouble when they overuse their voice. Even if you have strong vocal technique, your voice can still become fatigued if you spend too many hours in the day singing or speaking. As a working musician, many singers find themselves jumping from a long day of teaching straight into hours of rehearsals, only to find that they’ve lost their voice at the end of the day. Asking our voices to do more than they are capable of can result in vocal fatigue and vocal fold inflammation, which can lead to injury. It is important for singers to recognize their limitations and conserve their voices as much as they can, especially during professionally busy times.
Younger singers can come across similar problems when they attempt to push their voices beyond their capabilities, especially when they do so before they have developed a strong technical foundation. This can happen when singers attempt repertoire that is too advanced for their current age or stage of vocal development, or not within their vocal type.
A high school singer may really love listening to a Puccini aria, but that doesn’t mean their instrument is physically mature enough to tackle singing such a piece. It is important for younger singers to have their teacher’s guidance in repertoire selection, so they don’t attempt to sing things that may ultimately be harmful to their vocal development.
5. Pay attention to physical changes and adjust your singing accordingly.
Our voices may feel slightly different every single day of our lives. A vocal warmup that may have worked wonders for us yesterday may not do the trick today. This is the nature of our instrument, as it is constantly changing. Not only do our voices feel different from day to day, but as our bodies change and grow throughout our lives, we must make adjustments to our vocal technique in order to support healthy vocalization. It is necessary for singers to be in touch with their bodies in a way that allows them to make the appropriate adjustments depending on what their voice needs at any given time.
These are just a few tips for keeping the voice healthy and functioning optimally. Vocal care is, of course, highly individual, and each singer must consider what is most helpful to them in the maintenance of their instrument. If we take good care of our voices, we can expect them to serve us well for many, many years.