Have you ever lost your voice or suffered from vocal strain? If so, you know how debilitating this is for a singer. But how do you prevent it and what do professional singers do to protect against voice loss?
Protecting your vocals as a singer is part of your job. There are many ways to stay on top form, through a mixture of techniques and practical lifestyle choices. These methods reveal how singers take care of their voice, ensuring they’re always Wembley-ready.
In this article you’ll learn about vocal health for singers and what famous singers do to maintain their voices when they’re performing. You’ll also discover helpful insider diet tips for singers and learn the answers to all your questions on protecting your vocals as a singer.
Tips for protecting your vocals as a singer
Protecting your Vocals as a Singer: A singer’s voice is the most important part of their body, so protecting your vocals is essential. Like a footballers relies on their legs to play a match, without protecting their vocals a singer cannot perform. When you’re tired or unwell, it’s particularly important to know how to care for your voice.
And of course, it’s just as important to know how to warm up correctly before performing in front of your audience!. This is your time to shine – you don’t want to miss out, because you’ve talked yourself hoarse, not warmed up or haven’t hydrated sufficiently.
How not to strain your voice when singing
If your voice feels tired or sounds hoarse, or your throat is sore after you’ve been singing, the chances are you’re straining. You’ll need to spend some time working on opening up the throat and developing proper breathing, so you’re supporting the voice correctly.
As you become more experienced as a singer you’ll learn to recognise when you’re straining your voice – this is important in protecting your vocals as a singer. If you work with a vocal coach, they’ll also be able to point this out to you and show you how to rectify incorrect technique.
How to take care of your voice before a performance
You can’t work miracles right before you go on stage. The groundwork needs to be done long before that – slow and steady wins the race after all. However, there are things you can do before a performance to improve your voice. The most important ones being to drink plenty of water and to warm up fully.
How do you take care of your voice before a performance?
How famous singers take care of their voice
Take some tips from famous singers’ riders: A ‘rider’ is the requests – or lists of requests – a celebrity makes for their dressing room. It can be food, drink, flowers, pictures, furniture, or anything at all. As you may imagine, some stars have some pretty crazy asks. But many include items in their riders, to assist with their voice care.
Here are a few well-known names and what we’ve heard are their must-have items for pre-performance.
Lady Gaga insists on bottles of water and tea to keep her amazing vocals hydrated. She also ensures the green room is stocked with water too, so her backup singers and dancers get plenty of hydration.
Mariah likes not one, but two air purifiers to ensure her lungs only receive the best quality air.
Britney used to ask for fish and chips when in the UK, and McDonalds elsewhere. That all stopped once she developed a better self-care regime, for the most part.
The former Destiny’s Child singer snacks on seasoned baked chicken before singing and asks for her dressing room to be heated to 78 degrees Fahrenheit – ideal for keeping the voice warm and limber.
Canadian singer Justin drinks herbal tea, eats Swedish fish and peanut butter with crackers, according to his leaked rider.
Justin Timberlake avoids coughs and colds by insisting doorknobs are disinfected in backstage areas two hours before going onstage.
With a career spanning four decades, Prince used to go one step further in bug avoidance, by getting staff to wrap his furniture in plastic, only removing it just prior to his arrival.
John likes Altoid mints before a gig – although we don’t know if that’s for his voice or his breath.
The Guns N’ Roses guitarist opts for square (!) melon, cheese and honey.
The Foo Fighters
The band request vegetable soup – a great pre-show light meal for everyone.
What would you request for your dressing room rider?
Voice care for singers | The singer’s diet for a healthy voice
A primary consideration for the serious singer is what you’re putting into your body. Your diet provides your source of fuel, and that powers your vocals, as well as your brain and overall energy levels. Let’s take a look at where you should be indulging, and what foods and drinks you should avoid.
Foods that are good for the singing voice & the best drink for your singing voice
Did you know that your voice is directly affected by the food and drink you consume? A good range of nutrients is important, but avoiding anything that is detrimental to your sound, us even more so.
A banana before singing is good: truth or myth?
This one is a myth. But it’s rooted in the truth of sorts, as bananas have good nutrients for singers, so are beneficial. However, as they clog up the voice, right before a performance is not the time to indulge in one.
Try a banana last thing at night before bed – the magnesium will help you sleep after the adrenaline of a show. Or first thing in the morning on its own or in a smoothie, to set you up with energy for the day ahead. You can read more about bananas and vocal health here.
The best alcohol for singers
OK, so we’re never going to say that drinking alcohol is good for your voice. If you are going to have a tipple though – especially after the show, what is the best alcohol for singers to drink?
Beverages like port, whisky and brandy have long been used as remedies for the common cold. And in terms of your voice, they do offer a certain amount of warming properties.
Otherwise, clear spirits such as vodka and gin are best. They may not be good for you, but they will cause less interference and harm than other alcoholic drinks. As they’re drunk with mixers, you can opt for weaker measures, to keep your intake down, while still enjoying a drink or two.
How to keep your throat healthy for singing
The number one action you can take to keep your throat healthy for singing is to drink lots and lots of water. Not only will it help you sound better and keep all your vocal mechanics lubricated, but it’ll also benefit your overall health massively too. What’s not to like?
From time to time, famous singers have to cancel major gigs due to vocal problems and overuse. Professional singing puts a strain on the body, which is why a good technique is so crucial.
Adele is an artist who’s had her fair share of problems with nodules and other vocal issues. These were severe enough to need surgery. She sadly had to cancel performances, after being put on strict vocal rest by her doctor. Here she talks about her experiences:
Vocal health for singers | Vocal health articles
Vocal health is a huge topic, so you’ll find a wealth of information online, including in our advice articles. Here are some useful pages from industry professionals with more tips and tricks for keeping your voice as healthy as you can.
- How to Take Care of Your Voice and Vocal Cords
- Beyonce Cancels Shows: Dehydration and the Voice
- Pro Secrets – Sing for Living
- Guide to Vocal Health/
- 7 Tips on how to Keep Your Singing Voice Healthy
Is humming good for singers?
Humming is an excellent way to get your vocals warmed up and to cool it back down. It’s super safe and won’t damage your vocal cords, so is ideal if your voice is cold.
It’s also a subtle warm-up, so humming is suitable for the green room. And as you won’t be making a load of noise, you won’t annoy other waiting singers either.
Voice treatment for singers
So how should you treat your voice? And what happens if – or rather when – you catch a cold, flu, or coughing virus that’s doing the rounds. Because even with all the preventative steps in place, you’ll still catch the occasional cold or two.
Here are some quick tips for surviving your performance with the lurgi:
- When feeling unwell, always keep your fluid levels up. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! And make sure it’s warm water or a herbal infusion. No caffeine or alcohol.
- Dairy exacerbates phlegm, so definitely don’t take any dairy products until you are better.
- Boosting vitamin C levels reduces inflammation. Take a high dose supplement with zinc, as this helps the vitamin to absorb into your body. Echinacea, turmeric and raw apple cider vinegar with the mother, are also considered to be good both in the prevention and treatment of viruses.
- Sitting with your head over a bowl of steam eases congestion and provides hydration protecting your vocals further. Similarly, you could go to a steam room, or hand out in a hot shower for a while.
- Taking cough medicine to stop excessive coughing will help to stop any further damage. You can make your own tincture with lemon and honey. Manuka honey is especially effective, as it has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
- If performing whilst still feeling unwell, make sure you do a longer warm–up than usual to help prevent further damage.
- Warming up before any show is essential as putting extra strain on your vocal chords without a warm–up can cause permanent damage. When you’re sick this is especially important, but take it gently.
- Make sure you have good posture. Release any tension in your jaw and make sure you’re breathing deeply. Do some scales and tongue trills to relax your tongue and get your voice ready to move through the octaves.
- Humming towards the end to cool down is a great way of protecting your vocals when they’re weak.
- And you can watch this video for advice on singing when your throat is dry.
How to take care of your voice | The lifestyle guide for singers and talkers
It’s not only singing that takes its toll on your vocal cords. Speaking is every bit as damaging if done incorrectly, which s why teachers often suffer from laryngitis. And as a singer, you’re bound to find yourself doing a lot of talking too, introducing your sets and at auditions.
Here are some more ways you can protect those precious vocal cords from damage and strain.
Protecting your Vocals Lifestyle Choices
- Avoid speaking and shouting loudly where necessary. This causes the vocal chords to squeeze together, creating trauma. The same happens when you whisper!
- Keep your vocals hydrated. Drinking two litres of water a day is what is recommended. Two hours before performing it’s important to drink plenty of fluid to lubricate the vocal cords in order to protect your vocals. Keep the fluids at room temperature if possible, icy cold water or boiling hot team isn’t what you want to be dousing your vocal cords with.
- No smoking!
- Avoid coffee and alcohol! Anything with caffeine is a diuretic which dehydrates the vocal cords !
- Keep your physical health in check and make sure you get plenty of sleep!
So make like the stars and act now to protect your voice, before you lose it. You might want to use an air purifier like Mariah, and definitely, drink lots of water like Lady Gaga.
Maintaining overall good health will contribute to a strong constitution – something your voice will thank you for. Take steps in protecting your vocals like a pro, and you’ll sound like one too.
- How do you heal your vocal cords?
There’s only one way to heal strained vocal cords – and it’s the cure no one wants to hear, unfortunately. Complete vocal rest is the answer. No singing or speaking and definitely no whispering – it’s the worst thing for the voice despite the lack of volume. In very unusual circumstances surgical intervention may be required, but this is only in a very small number of extreme cases.
- How can I make my voice clear?
Eating and drinking the right things as we’ve discussed will help bring clarity to your tone. So will good breath control and developing your overall technique through coaching or tutorials. An excellent exercise for making your voice clear is practising ‘sirens’ up and down the scales.
- Do cough drops help the singing voice?
Many singers swear by Vocalzone lozenges or Fisherman’s Friends. These should be used as remedies to help out when you’ve got a cold or cough, as taking medicines all the time isn’t good for your body. Many drops will numb your throat which is bad for your voice, so should be for emergencies only.
What methods do you use for protecting your vocals as a singer? We’d love to hear about how you take care of your voice, in the comments below.