You aren’t alone! All singers—whether they are developing or professional artists—must cope with new environments, mental and physical challenges, as well as situation changes. Sadly, a number of world-renowned vocalists such as Adele, Sam Smith, Steven Tyler and Madonna have suffered from vocal problems. But strain, hoarseness, vocal hemorrhaging and surgery CAN be avoided—if you pay attention to three key problem areas and learn how to respond accordingly.
Straining to sing
Signs: You can hear it in your vocal quality and feel it in your throat when it happens. The muscles tense and pull, your tone gets pinched, pitchy and shrill. And if your voice doesn’t break you, consider yourself lucky.
Strain occurs when your vocal folds cannot vibrate as fully as needed. Frequently singers try to get their voices to do things that they have not really conditioned the muscles to accomplish—though it is well within their physical capability. It is proper exercise, NOT just attempting to use the muscles, that stimulates the full potential.
What to Do:
Focus on exercises that limber your tongue. Since the tongue muscle attaches to the larynx, this will help promote relaxation in your vocal cords.
Focus on vowels—not the consonants—when singing lyrics. Your consonants should be crisp and clear, but the key to singing with ease and sounding pro is in how you deal with vowels.
Try moving the song into a key that better suits your voice.
Establish a regimen of vocal exercises designed to build control, tone and power.
Avoid prolonged conversations in noisy bars and restaurants before and after singing.
Make sure to schedule periods of silence across each day to rest your voice.
Signs: Dry mouth, constant thirst and/or a reedy sound.
What to Do:
Use a humidifier or vaporizer in your bedroom. Make sure to clean it out every few days with a few tablespoons of white vinegar and water.
When touring, avoid sleeping next to or under ceiling or wall fans.
In cold weather, wrap your neck with a warm scarf, and pull it up over your nose. Breathing with your nose covered will capture the moisture of your breath and hydrate the air you inhale.
Drink lots of water, preferably room temperature rather than chilled.
Steam your voice. You can accomplish this by taking a hot steamy shower. Inhale through your mouth and give your voice a steam treatment.
Do not drink alcohol within 24 hours of singing. It acts as an irritant to your vocal folds and dehydrates your body, which wastes precious moisture to attempt to wash it out. In addition, alcohol causes increased production of mucous because it dilates the blood capillaries.
Behaviors that injure your voice
Signs: Is something you’re doing blocking your ability to make artistic and technical choices that support freedom of expression, stamina and the tonal results you desire?
Power comes from resonance. The voice generates sound through vibrations that then interact within the inner space of the throat, mouth, head, chest and back. You may have habits that hinder your resonance, and the following practices may help you break them.
What to Do:
You may be using the wrong vocal exercises during practice or haven’t yet developed your technique to a point where you can sing with injury-free power.
Establish a daily regimen that includes warm-ups and cool-downs.
If you’re a pro, consider a new system of exercises—the old ones may not be serving your needs anymore.
Relax your stomach muscles as you sing and learn to breathe into your back.
Choose a microphone that matches your vocal personality and performance needs. This may require testing a number of mics at the local music store to find the tonal support needed to enable you to relax as much as possible while singing.
Don’t rehearse or perform if you have a respiratory infection that is in your larynx (voice box) or lungs. Sometimes vocal recovery from a lower respiratory infection can take some time. So once the infection is gone, use gentle vocal warm-up exercises to help facilitate recovery.
If you have an infection in your upper throat or sinuses, you may still be able to sing rather than canceling a performance. Though a sinus infection can make the back wall of your throat (pharynx) painful when swallowing or singing, it will not affect your voice as long as the infection isn’t simultaneously in your larynx.
Be careful to choose physical exercises at the gym that won’t foster muscular tension around the neck and shoulder muscles.
When rehearsing with a band, make sure to provide yourself with a good monitor. Test the monitor’s placement to find a position that will make it easy to hear your voice over the band. Otherwise, make sure to use custom fitted in-ear monitors.
The pressure and workload demand that is put on both major as well as artists-in-the-making is more than most people know and can imagine. In my experience as a coach for individual artists as well as groups, I constantly encounter an overall lack of knowledge when it comes to vocal care. In fact, I’m often amazed by the sheer disregard for adequate sleep or regularly scheduled vocal training necessary to provide the vocal strength, stamina and health essential to touring and recording schedules.
In the field of sports, both management and athletes take for granted that coaching and regular training is necessary. In fact, to get to the top of their game and stay there, major and minor athletes of all kinds train regularly and receive expert coaching.
Singers are vocal athletes!