How to Take Care of Your Voice and Vocal Cords
A strong singing voice starts with healthy vocal cords. There are lots of quick and easy ways to care for your vocals, including eating and drinking the right things. Looking after your vocal cords can prevent vocal strain and save you from a long and painful recovery process. This article gives the top tips and techniques to take care of your voice.
A healthy diet and lifestyle will help take care of your voice. Drink plenty of water and avoid dairy and spices before an audition. Always warm up and cool down your vocal cords too, to prevent strain. You can do a little every day to take care of your voice.
Even if you take really good care of your voice and eat and drink carefully, you might still feel vocal strain from time to time. If you find yourself with sore vocal cords, there are various ways you can care for your voice to get yourself singing again as soon as possible.
How to take care of your voice
Looking after your vocal cords is important, especially if you’re a singer. The vocal cords are the tissue folds in your throat that stretch inwards from your larynx. They are responsible for creating sounds through vocalisation and they control pitch. Taking care of your vocal cords will ultimately take care of your voice.
There are lots of simple, everyday ways you can care for your voice. Avoiding smoking and second-hand smoke will reduce the risk of irritating your vocal cords. Opting to use non-alcohol-based mouthwashes instead of alcohol ones will also be kinder on your throat.
It’s not just substances that can irritate your vocal cords; the way you use them can cause strain, too. Try to avoid raising your voice for long periods of time and incorporate a cool down to stretch your cords after you sing.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and washing your hands regularly to avoid contracting illnesses – which can target the voice and throat – will help care for your voice too. Some common cold medications can actually dry out your vocal folds.
The ingredients in some decongestants and antihistamines can have a dehydrating effect on your vocal cords. Try to be watchful of these and only take cold medicines when your symptoms really warrant it.
How to take care of your vocal cords for singing
Your vocal cords are your most important apparatus when you sing. The best way to care for them is to make sure you always warm up before a session.
Like an athlete always stretches before a race, you have to loosen and prepare your cords before you sing. Trilling the lips and tongue is a good way to start your warm up and helps loosen your jaw and throat.
Take deep breaths and send the breath through your lips, keeping them loose and letting your lips vibrate. You might feel silly, but lip trills are a good way to test your exhale endurance!
Another thing to include in your warm–up is going through arpeggios (broken cords), ascending and descending in pitch as you go. Practice five-note scales using any consonant or consonant and vowel combination you’re comfortable with. Doing this will help loosen your voice up and having loose, warm vocal cords will help care for your singing voice.
How to not strain your voice when singing
Lots of things can cause vocal strain, but one of the most common is vocal misuse and overuse. Vocal strain happens when your cords can’t vibrate fully and can’t operate at the pitch you’re trying to reach. To prevent vocal straining happening to you, avoid these things:
- Tensing your tongue
- Raising your voice to speak in noisy environments before a performance
- Bad posture
- Pushing your stomach and abdomen in while you sing
- Tensing your jaw, face or neck during singing
- Blowing out too much air
- Pushing yourself to sing challenging songs too soon
- Using a poor breathing technique
Vocal strain recovery
Your focus should always be on preventing vocal strain before it has a chance to happen. But if your cords begin to feel strained, uncomfortable or painful, act as soon as possible to prevent the damage becoming severe. These are some of the best ways to recover from vocal strain:
- Rest your voice
- Avoid decongestants
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol
- Keep hydrated
- Have a hot shower
- Don’t whisper
- Gargle with salt water
- Wrap up warm
- Don’t sing before you’re fully recovered
Sore throat before singing?
Even if you take really good care of your voice, getting ill is sometimes inevitable. This can be a really stressful time for a singer, especially if you have a performance coming up because you want to feel your best when you sing.
When you’re feeling under the weather but still want to sing, the first thing to do is evaluate how bad your symptoms are. If they are severe, it might be best to avoid singing altogether and take complete rest or you may risk damaging your vocal cords further.
A good way to test whether you should go ahead is to do a vocal test in your most comfortable range. Try to work through your usual warm up at a gentle pace. Go through some glissandos you’re usually comfortable with and see how your voice feels vocalising intervals on vowels. If these don’t feel strained and your voice begins to warm up, you should be able to sing with a bit of extra care.
If you have a sore throat and it hurts to swallow, you shouldn’t attempt to sing at all. You should only sing when you’re ill if it’s absolutely necessary. The best way to help your voice to recover is to rest it. Drinking warm water with honey or peppermint tea can soothe a sore throat. Some singers swear by sleeping beside a humidifier while they’re ill, as the moisture in the air keeps your nasal passages and vocal folds moist.
How to prepare your voice for an audition
Auditions can be nerve-wracking experiences, and this can put extra tension and stress on your vocals. But there are lots of things you can do to help prepare your voice before a performance and help put your mind at rest, like paying attention to your diet and mental health.
Diet plays a key role in preparing your voice for an audition. Taking lots of vitamin C in the days before your audition will boost your immune system and keep you feeling energised. Drinking water is something you should always try to do as part of a healthy lifestyle, but keeping hydrated is especially important in the hours before an audition to supply moisture to your cords.
Try to keep thinking positive about your audition. This will help relax your breathing and keep the stress out of your voice. Taking a few heavy, deep breaths from your diaphragm every day will automatically help you feel calmer and improve your breathing technique. Talking will help you before your audition too – you can talk out any last-minute nerves and it will help your articulation skills!
Singers diet for a healthy voice
Your vocal cords, diaphragm, and voice box do a lot of work while you sing. So you have to make sure you nurture them in the right way – and one of the best ways to do this is by paying attention to what you eat and drink. Having a moderately sized meal before a performance is a must; you need the energy for your show!
A singer’s diet is mainly about what you shouldn’t eat – as there are more foods out there that hinder your voice than help it. The foods you should avoid in the three hours before you sing include dairy products, caffeine, and processed sugars. All of these can increase the mucus in your throat and constricts your cords’ movement. Spicy foods and fried foods are also a big no in the build–up to a performance – the spice and oil content can lead to heartburn and give you indigestion as you go on stage.
The best way to care for your voice is to stock up on healthy, non-processed foods before you sing. Fresh fruit, nuts, and peanut butter are all good choices as they give you protein and a small sugar boost to fuel you through your performance. A spoonful of honey mixed into a drink will really help soothe your throat and the honey’s antibacterial properties will keep throat viruses away.
For a full break down on what to eat as a singer, learn what best diet for a singer is.
Drinks to help singing voice
Staying hydrated is really important – not just before a performance, but in everyday life too. Water is one of the best things you can drink to take care of your voice.
Drinking warm water or water at room temperature can help prevent vocal strain and loosen your vocal cords. The recommended intake is around 2 litres a day and it’s better if you drink at regular intervals throughout the day so your vocal cords stay supple and your voice won’t crack.
Drinking tea can also help soothe and lubricate your vocal cords before singing. But only certain types of tea are good for your voice; caffeinated teas should be avoided as they have a dehydrating effect. Instead, opt for green, herbal and peppermint teas as these will relax any tension in your throat. For a full list of the best teas to drink for your singing voice, check out this supporting page.
- How can I get my voice back quickly?
If you’ve lost or strained your voice, the best thing you can do is get complete voice rest. Don’t whisper, sing or strain your vocals until you start to recover.
Hydration is one of the best ways to speed up your vocal recovery. Surround yourself with as much water and moisture as possible: drink plenty of water, take hot showers, fill up steam baths to hold beneath your throat, and set up a humidifier around your house. This abundance of moisture will keep your vocal cords lubricated and coax back your voice.
- How long does it take for vocal cords to heal?
The time it takes your vocal cords to recover will depend on how they are damaged. They are several different vocal cord disorders you can contract, the most common including vocal cord nodules and laryngitis.
Vocal cord nodules are sometimes called singer’s nodules and are small, hard growths on your cords. They are caused by vocal abuse and will take between six and twelve weeks to heal with voice training with a certified therapist.
Laryngitis is caused by an infection or inflammation and causes your vocal cords to swell. In severe cases, laryngitis can cause you to completely lose your voice. If it’s caused by a viral infection, laryngitis can clear in one to three weeks. If vocal abuse has caused the swollen vocal cords, it can clear of its own accord in a couple of days with voice rest.
- How can I tell if I’m straining my voice while singing?
If you’re straining your vocal cords while you sing, you’ll be able to see, hear and feel it.
A strained voice will sound shrill and pinched. The muscles in your throat will be tense and your cords will feel like they’re tight and contracted. This is a warning sign that you’re straining your voice because it shouldn’t feel tight or forced while you sing.
If you watch yourself while you sing, you can notice other tell-tale signs of strain. You’ll be able to see the muscles in your throat clench or your jaw lock.
Singing can be physically demanding on your vocal cords. It’s easy to forget to warm up and cool down your voice in the excitement before and after a show, but this is the best way to look after your vocal cords. Your voice is your most important instrument, so you have to take care of it.
We hope you’ve found these tips helpful and if you have any additional advice to share, let us know in the comments below.