How to look after your voice
So one of the big vocal questions I always get asked is...”how do I get my voice back to full strength when dealing with fatigue or a cough/cold.”
It's the singers curse: You've got an important gig or performance coming up and you're landed with the worst cold you've ever had. Last week when you had nothing on you were fine, but now UGH!!! So lets talk about what you should do when it happens...and it will happen.
The problem with the world we live in nowadays is we’re tricked into thinking that there is a product or system out there that can offer us a quick fix. Unfortunately though, when it comes to the voice it’s just not the case.
It’s actually the simple and dare I say boring daily actions you can take that will bring the voice back to life. Applying these strategies regularly will help you on the good days and really help you when you’re not feeling 100%.
So the first thing to say here is that nothing we talk about in this post today is a fix for poor vocal technique. If you feel you’re losing your voice because of misuse, then the first thing you need to do is address this and get infront of a vocal coach so they can access your issues and work out a plan going forward.
Right disclaimer over...
We all know the body is comprised of around 60% water and that it’s vital for our bodies to function. But I find most clients don’t drink enough or they consume their intake in a poor manner.
Many people glug back a pint of water just before they sing and think this will help. Unfortunately It won’t. Once you’ve downed that glass, the hydration is by no means instant. The body has to process that water and distribute the hydration evenly around the body.
in-fact, it can take anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours for that glass of water to have a positive hydrating effect on the vocal folds.
So what you need to do is keep your water levels topped up throughout the day. Aim to take in around 1.8 litres over the course of your day, sipping gradually to keep yourself and your voice hydrated. This way your levels never dip and your voice can work at its optimum state when you come to sing.
I find it useful to use a water bottle with 250ml guides on the side and consume 250ml amounts over the course of an hour or so. One bottle I use actually has it broken down into hours of the day so you know where you should be for the time of day and hit your optimum hydration level. See the link below for these bottles.
So drinking water will keep your whole body hydrated, which is great, but inhaling steam will directly hydrate the vocal folds.
When you inhale the steam, the moist air passes over the vocal folds and keeps them well lubricated. There is also an added bonus as the warm steam also reduces swelling.
When you are coughing a lot, the vocal folds slam together and this causes them to swell. Think of it like punching your arm throughout the day, eventually it will become sore and inflamed. This is basically what’s happening when you cough a lot, the folds have become inflamed and are less able to stretch and thin to reach the higher notes. The steam will reduce this swelling and help your voice bounce back.
A note of caution here: Don’t sing directly after steaming. The folds will be very relaxed and it’s not good to use them for around half an hour. Leaving this time will allow them to settle and then you will be fine to sing.
The best method for vocal steaming is to use a ‘Dr Nelsons Inhaler’. This is basically a pot with a straw attached. You half fill it with boiled water, attach the straw and inhale. This way all the steam gets to the folds and you don’t have to get all sweaty with your head over a bowl. They also come in all sorts of sizes, some are small enough to put in your bag and carry around with you for as and when you need. See the link below.
You know what it’s like to have a bad nights sleep. You wake up feeling heavy, lethargic and generally out of form for the whole day.
We wouldn’t expect to have a normal level of mental and physical performance if we’re tired, so why do we expect different of our voices. The answer is we shouldn’t.
The vocal folds are only small pieces of tissue and are constantly being used for speech as well as high intensity singing. They need to be revived and rested like the rest of the body. If we’re not getting adequate sleep they will not perform to their best ability. This is especially true if we’re ill on top of being tired, so a good sleep consistency is helpful.
I have two young kids so I know how difficult this can be. I'm lucky if I get 6 hours a night, so try to get as much as is possible for your lifestyle.
This is the ultimate vocal replenisher! If you’re singing a lot, taking a day a week where you don’t sing at all will really allow your voice to relax. If you can, avoid speaking as well for the extra rest. (This isn’t always easy but if you’re losing you’re voice from a cough or cold it can really help.)
If you’ve got an important performance you can go even further and take 2-3 days off singing and in extreme cases speaking. You would be amazed at how your voice will feel after. It almost doesn’t feel like your own voice when you come to sing on day 4. You’ll be like...Ah! This is what a clear voice feels like.
You’ve probably noticed that everything I’ve touched on in this post is all natural and relatively inexpensive. Please don’t waste your money on throat sweets that claim to get your voice back quickly or medicines that are coarse and elimate phlegm and mucus as these will just dry you out and then you add another problem into the mix.
Getting into the habit of regular hydration, sleep, small amounts of vocal rest and steam inhalation will have a big impact on your vocal health both when you’re feeling good and also when you’re under the weather.