5 Tips For Vocal Health While On Tour

The best musicians tend to their instruments like they would their children. For singers, that instrument is their voice. And they only have one for life.

Touring can be a brutal affair, measured not just in concert attendance but in the gear casualties sitting in the back of repair shops afterwards. Unlike guitar players, there is no back-up for singers waiting in the hands of an off-stage crew member. You can’t sell your voice on Reverb and get a new one if it gets worn out.

Having breaks of two or three days between shows is enough to keep many people’s voices in shape, but for popular singers who draw crowds night after night, this rest period isn’t always an option.

Most singers who are untrained just assume that if their voice is still working they’re in good shape, but that’s rarely the case."

“Most singers who are untrained just assume that if their voice is still working they’re in good shape, but that’s rarely the case” says Sean Holt, an assistant professor in the popular music program at USC’s Thornton School of Music.

A professional singer in Los Angeles since 1991, Holt still makes his living as a vocalist for "Dancing With The Stars" and as a session musician, working with artists ranging from Carlos Santana and Slash to Bruno Mars and Michael Bublé.

For him, the key to keeping your voice healthy is treating singing as an athletic endeavor. Those who ignore this tenet pay the price over time.

“When you become more popular and start doing more shows, that’s when singers find themselves in trouble if they don’t have a regimen they follow, particularly, if they use lots of big sounds and big volume,” he says.

Just as athletes need to work out and watch their diet, singers take a few steps to keep their voice in shape, even out on the road.

Tip 1: Rest your vocal cords

Like with any physical activity, a good night’s sleep is crucial to a strong vocal performance. But the best singers take care to rest their voice between shows as well. Some vocalists even go so far as to refrain from speaking once they leave the stage until it’s time to warm up again the next night.

“Talking, whispering, coughing—all the normal things we take for granted during the course of the day are exhausting to the throat if you aren’t mindful about the way you go about them,” says Holt.

Of course, it isn’t always practical to stay mute between performances, so if you need to talk do so in the upper third of your range. Speaking in a higher register helps to take some of the tension and weight off the vocal cords.

  • Get 8 hours or more sleep.
  • Talk as little as possible.
  • When you do speak, use the upper third of your range.

Tip 2: Take care of your throat

Keeping the throat and nasal cavities free of mucus goes a long way toward maintaining a healthy voice. Drinking plenty of water and staying hydrated is the first priority.

Avoiding dairy products - which can cause mucus to build up - is the second. Many vocalists also use products like nasal and saline flushes to keep their nose and throat clear.

Steaming regularly can also keep your throat from drying out during performances. You can use a personal steamer throughout the day. Taking a hot shower or holding your head over a pot of boiling water before and after a show gets the job done on a budget.

  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Avoid dairy products.
  • Use a saline flush to combat congestion.
  • Get steamy. Masks, showers, boiling water all help.

Tip 3: Focus on cord closure

While it might be tempting to belt out a few songs and get the blood pumping before walking on stage, the ideal warm-up is actually about waking up the voice while putting as little strain on the vocal cords as possible.

Exercises like humming and lip rolls achieve good cord closure without expending too much energy.

“Some singers do these warm-ups and don’t know why. You want to wake up what is known as the mask: the upper area between your eyes,” Holt says.

“The second reason is that the amount of air it takes to roll the lips is the minimum amount of air necessary to vibrate the vocal cords.”

Tip 4: Take your time

The best warm-up is a slow one. Generally, 15 to 20 minutes is a good target length.

As a singer acquires a better understanding of his or her voice, s/he will develop a better idea of when to begin the warm-up to gradually build toward the moment of performance.

There’s no amount of warm-up that can entirely prepare you for what the voice wants to do when the adrenaline starts flowing,"

“There’s no amount of warm-up that can entirely prepare you for what the voice wants to do when the adrenaline starts flowing,” says Holt.

“What you’re trying to do is approximate that. Best case scenario is that you’re not singing all the way through your songs. You’re just doing the exercises that get you to a point where your throat feels very open.”

Tip 5: Stay vigilant after the show

Vocal cords become inflamed during performances. Take 20 to 30 minutes after leaving the stage to perform some cooldown exercises.

Many of the same basic drills used for warm-ups can help reduce inflammation and fight vocal fatigue.

“The best singers use exercises to get those cords to shrink back down,” Holt says.

“It’s kind of like leaving your shoes off after you’ve been at altitude. You walk around for a few minutes to let the swelling go down before putting them back on.”

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