There are so many tips for singers out there — but did you know some of them may not be actually true? Here, Ann Arbor, MI voice teacher Elaina R. dispels some of the common myths about singing…
“It’s bad luck to say ‘Good Luck’ before a performance.”
“Don’t eat chocolate! It clogs your vocal cords.”
“A bad dress rehearsal leads to a good show.”
We singers toss around myths more than most. It’s important, however, to recognize which ones are just for fun and which ones are harmful. Here are some of the biggest myths about singing – and the truth lurking behind them.
Myth: Drinking Milk (Or Eating Chocolate) Will Ruin Your Voice
Fact: Unless You Have Acid Reflux, You Can Have Your Milk
Have you ever swallowed something and commenced a loud coughing fit because it “went down the wrong tube”? That correctly implies that we have two tubes in our throats (one for air and one for food). We are built so that food does not touch our vocal cords. The esophagus transports food and the trachea transports air. Unless you have a condition such as Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) – wherein stomach acid and food re-enters your esophagus and leaks past your epiglottis into your vocal tract – enjoy that glass of milk.
Myth: You Sing From Your Throat
Fact: You Sing Using A Whole Lot of Stuff
Saying that a singer sings “from the throat” or even “from the diaphragm” is an oversimplification. It’s like saying that a flute can make noise by itself. A singer is a complicated, protean instrument with a power source (air), a sound maker (the vocal cords and the muscles that control them), and a resonator (the face and vocal tract). There are a myriad of parts involved in this process, from the intercostal muscles to the tongue to the soft palate.
Myth: The Voice Is Strong and Can Take Lots of Abuse
Fact: Your Vocal Cords are Tiny and Need TLC
Vocal cords are squishy, miniscule, and helpless. They are made of mucous membrane (a soft tissue) stretched between muscles. Adult male vocal cords are about the length of a quarter; adult female vocal cords are about the length of a dime. When you sing or speak improperly (e.g. yell in loud restaurants or sports games), your vocal cords slam together. There is only so much of this your poor little cords can take before bumps, calluses (nodules), or even bloody hemorrhoids form. So, if you think your voice is invincible, think again.
Myth: If I Take Voice Lessons For A Month I Will Know Everything About Singing
Fact: No One Knows Everything About Singing
Expecting to know everything about singing after a few lessons is like expecting to know everything about cooking after taking a few cooking classes. There is always more to learn, even for the best chefs (and singers) in the world.
Myth: If My Throat Hurts, A Special Concoction of Lemon Water, Tea, Honey, and Herbs Will Cure Me
Fact: If Your Throat Hurts, Baby It
There are a million reasons your throat could hurt. Illness, abuse, allergies, environmental factors, and medical conditions abound. Instead of trying to find a “magic pill” (here’s a little secret: there isn’t one), rest your voice the same way you would rest your leg if you hurt it. This is one of the most important tips for singers. Stay hydrated, get enough sleep, and use a humidifier in dry climates for a speedy recovery.
Myth: Cough Drops are Good For Vocal Cords
Fact: Mentholated Cough Drops are Bad for Vocal Cords
Menthol, the active ingredient in most cough drops, numbs your throat. It’s just like taking a painkiller to mask pain from an injury. The injury isn’t gone; you just don’t feel it (and are therefore more likely to do further damage). Menthol can also be drying, which is the last thing you want if you have a sore throat. Stick to normal candy (glycerin coats the throat as well as any cough drop) or cough drops with pectin as the active ingredient.
The biggest myths about singing probably evolved from people who genuinely wanted to sing well. Learning which common beliefs and tips for singers are true – and which ones are false – helps you focus on actually improving your vocal health and technique. Toss those mentholated cough drops, enjoy that morning cup of coffee guilt-free, and work with a qualified voice teacher to see real results.
Elaina R. teaches opera voice and singing in Ann Arbor, MI, as well as through online lessons. She is currently working on a Master of Music at the University of Michigan, and she has a B.M. from the University of Southern California. Learn more about Elaina here!
Photo by Shandi-lee Cox