6 Tips for Singing When Sick

6 Tips for Singing When Sick

6 tips for singing when sick. How to get through choir rehearsals and singing gigs when you have a cold.

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This time of year, I always seem to have a cold.  And this year, it seems I have been fighting one since before Christmas (I know, time to see the doc)! Singing when sick has made rehearsals much more difficult.

Unfortunately, life doesn’t stop when you have a cold. There are still rehearsals, gigs, and church jobs, etc. However over the years I have learned a few tricks for singing when sick.

Singing When Sick (but not hoarse):

When you have a cold, your singing voice becomes tired much faster than when you are healthy.  That means that you have to be extra vigilant in your vocal technique to avoid losing your voice.

Please note that even if you don’t feel like you have laryngitis, you might find that singing is more difficult.  You might find that it’s harder to sing outside of a mezzo-forte dynamic, or that you lack projection in parts of your range.

These are actually indications that your vocal cords are swollen.  If it is absolutely necessary to sing in this condition, there are a few things that you can do to help you get through rehearsals and gigs.

1. Avoid Clearing Your Throat

I’ve been over this before in my first article about vocal health, but it bears repeating:

Clearing the throat slams the vocal cords together violently- and repetitively clearing it will cause hoarse voice and eventually lead to vocal damage. 

I know this is really hard when you have all that phlegm in your throat, but try not to clear your throat. Drink copious amounts of water to help clear it away.

2. Avoid Using Nasal Decongestants

I know that when you are sick with a cold, you have probably have a stuffy and/or runny nose.  If you know you have to sing when sick, you might be tempted to pop a sudafed so that you don’t get that weird nasal sound, but think again.

Nasal decongestants dry out your sinuses, (which is exactly what you were hoping for) but also every other mucosal membrane in your body– including the one in the laryngeal ventricle

This means that your vocal folds will be dry too. Singing without well-lubricated vocal folds (aka vocal cords) leads to hoarse voice (or makes an already hoarse voice worse).  

If you read my article on avoiding vocal trauma, you know that this is a precursor to vocal damage. 

Instead, try drinking copious amounts of water (more than you usually would) throughout the day to help thin out the mucus (as I said above). 

If you are in serious need of relief, try musonex (as long as it’s ok with your doctor, of course). It will help to clear you up without drying you out.

3. Do Longer Warm-ups Than Usual

I’ve explained the importance of doing warm-ups before, but when you have a cold, it’s even more important to gently stretch those vocal cords out and warm them up before doing any strenuous singing.

Spend extra time doing phonation exercises like lip trills and humming (if your sinuses aren’t too stuffed up) before moving onto open-mouth exercises with vowels and actual words.

4. Pay Extra Attention to Your Breath Control

Breath support is always important, but never more so than when you are sick. Supporting your voice using strong muscular antagonistic control of the diaphragm and expiratory muscles of the rib cage and abdomen will take pressure and tension away from the vocal folds.  

When you are sick, everything in your respiratory system is a bit inflamed. That means your vocal cords are swollen too- even if it doesn’t feel sore, yet. The more you can take tension away from them, the longer you will be able to sing without becoming hoarse.

5. Focus on Your Voice Placement (Resonance)

Placing the voice in the mask is where you get your best resonance, in general.  When you have a cold, you may find it hard to place it there because your sinuses are probably stuffy. Even so, really focus on this placement, and maybe aim even higher.

Some things you can physically do to affect your placement:

  • Lift your soft pallet
  • Flare your nostrils a little
  • Lift your upper lift to expose your front teeth

6. Once You Start Losing Your Voice:

I Know You Don't Want to Hear This- But Stop Singing

Once you start losing your voice, that means that damage has been done.  The more you sing, the more friction your are forcing on your vocal folds.  The more friction your vocal cords experience when they are already damaged, the more severe the damage will be.  

Not convinced? Take it from Lesley Childs, M.D., Otolaryngologist. She says, “Over time, your vocal cords can develop lesions, which are often considered a wear and tear injury from constant use and abuse of the voice. These lesions can continue to enlarge and make the voice worse and worse until surgical removal may be required.”

So if you don’t want to risk needing surgery on your one and only voice, stop singing as soon as it starts to feel hoarse.  Take a vocal rest day (or several) until you don’t feel sick anymore.  

In fact, if you can avoid talking altogether, it would be even better. I realize that isn’t always an option, but when you can get away with not using your voice, do it.

Disclaimer: The information provided here is for educational purposes only.  This content here is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical condition. I am not a medical professional and take no responsibility for what you do with the information provided. Remember to always consult your doctor when you have questions regarding your health (vocal or otherwise).

8 Ways to Avoid Vocal Injury Over the Holidays

8 Ways to Avoid Vocal Injury Over the Holidays

Avoid vocal injury using these tips during the most vocally stressful time of the year.  Download a checklist to help you recognize phono-trauma to help you manage your voice during rehearsals and performances.

As the holidays draw closer, the time for frequent gigs, concerts, and caroling are here. While it’s certainly a time to enjoy, it’s not as fun if you’re constantly fighting a hoarse voice.

While it’s always important to keep best practices for vocal health in mind, the sheer volume of singing we usually do during “the most wonderful time of the year” makes it vital that you really are diligent about it if you want to avoid phono-trauma.

What is Phono-Trauma?

I’m sure you know that you spend a lot more time singing during this season than any other.

All that extra rehearsal time and performances can cause phono-trauma. Phono-trauma is fancy way of saying vocal injury. Some people may say that hoarse voice is synonymous with vocal injury, but really it’s only a symptom of the damage that’s been done.

The actual damage is vocal fold swelling, inflammation and bleeding and ultimately could lead to vocal nodules or polyps.

What Causes Vocal Injury?

There are lots of ways that you can injure your voice. Doing these things every once in a while won’t cause permanent damage, but doing them frequently can.

And during the holidays, you’re singing so much more than usual that it’s highly likely that you are doing these things too much.

Here is a (not exhaustive) list of causes of phono-trauma:

  1. Repeated attempts to achieve perfect high notes.
  2. Insufficient lubrication.
  3. Lack of warming up before rehearsing.
  4. Inconsistent use of good technique.
  5. Singing for extended periods of time beyond what you’re used to.
  6. Failing to rest the voice sufficiently.
  7. Singing at a loud dynamic for extended periods of time beyond what you’re used to (regardless of the total time spent singing).
  8. Continuing singing after your voice is already overused.

Again, these won’t cause vocal damage doing them once in a while, but consistently abusing your voice will.

How can I Avoid Vocal Injury Over the Holidays?

Here is a list of 8 things to remember to keep your voice healthy over the holidays.

1. Stop repeating phrases (especially high in your voice) over and over.

High notes sound high because they are high frequency sound waves. That means that the vocal folds have to vibrate faster and faster the higher you sing.

In turn, your vocal folds collide more for high notes than for low notes, even if the note is the same length.

Then add to that the fact that your vocal folds have to stretch to create high pitches and now you’ve added the issue of muscle extensibility to the mix.

Excessive vibration and collision of the vocal folds means more friction and more friction requires more lubrication.

That leads me to #2.

2. Stay Hydrated

I’ve talked about this one before, so I won’t belabour the point, but drinking enough water throughout the day is absolutely vital to your vocal health.

This is even more true during the holidays. If your body isn’t sufficiently hydrated, then your mucosal membranes can’t produce enough mucus. Furthermore, the mucus they do make is thick.

Remember to drink throughout the day because the water you drink will never actually touch the vocal cords. The epiglottis prevents this as an evolutionary adaptation to keep you from drowning when you drink.

3. Always Warm up Before Singing for Long or Intense Periods of Time

I can’t emphasize this one enough. In fact, I’ve written an entire blog post about why it’s important to warm up. Sufficiently warming up your voice is akin to warning up your body before exercise.

You wouldn’t do a series of high intensity intervals without warming up first, so why would you do intense singing without doing warm-ups?

Make sure that your warm up includes all the facets of a good singing prep:

  1. Breath support.
  2. Phonation (sing production).
  3. Resonance (voice placement).
  4. Covers your full vocal range (or at least the range of your repertoire).
  5. Agility (ability of the voice to change pitch quickly).

If you’re not sure how to do that, or you don’t think you have enough time for all that use these go-to quick warm-ups to get it done in less than 2 minutes.

4. Use good vocal technique.

This one has several facets. In fact most of those facets of a good warm up are working on the vocal techniques that help you avoid injury (not to mention, make you some better, too!)

Use good breath support throughout rehearsal.

Too often, singers do breath support exercise during the warm up and then forget to use it during the actual rehearsal.

Remembering to apply good breathing technique during the whole rehearsal will reduce your vocal fatigue, allowing you to sing for longer periods of time.Let’s face it, holiday rehearsals are loooong. You have to use every tool in your toolbox to make it through.

Use the breathing technique post I’ve written to help you improve your breath support.

Use good phonation

Phonation is the actual production of sound. It’s the process of your vocal folds coming together coordinated with the release of the breath to create a vibration.

When your phonation is dysfunctional, it will definitely become apparent during the holidays as you incorrectly phonate over and over.

Use the phonation post I’ve written to learn how to correctly produce vocal sound.

Use Good Voice Placement

Voice placement (aka resonance) is how you shape your pharynx. Your pharynx is the space that the sound bounces around in before it exits your mouth. It’s what creates the timbre of your voice- what makes your voice unique.

Think about it like this: all string instruments have a neck, strings, and body, but they don’t all sound the same. Why? Because the body of the instrument (the resonator) is shaped and/or sized differently.

The same is true for the singing voice. Your skull, nasal passages, mouth, tongue, and teeth are unique to you.

Even if you have an identical twin, there are likely slight differences between you. Making sure that your pharynx is optimally shaped (aka vowel production) will allow for ease of singing.

5. Keep the amount of time singing to a minimum (as much as possible).

It’s probably fair to say that you aren’t used to singing quite this much, quite this frequently.I’m being that your rehearsal schedule is jam packed, so do yourself a favor and limit recreational singing (in the car, in the shower, etc).

Think about it this way: Your voice has quota at which it can optimally function.

Once you exceed that quota, it gets fatigued.

Imagine that you’re used to singing a total of 3 hours a week (just picking a number here) including all rehearsal and recreational singing.

Say that usually you have a 90 minute rehearsal once a week for one choir. Maybe during this season, rehearsal is 2 hours instead.

Then, because of the season, maybe you have multiple rehearsals or gigs a week and that adds at least another hour to hour and a half of singing per engagement.

Now you’ve already gone way beyond the amount you’re used to doing and you haven’t even uttered one note in the car. Nor have you done any outside-of-rehearsal practice.

So it’s a good idea to keep the use of your voice outside rehearsal and performances to a minimum.

That leads me to #6.

6. Rest your voice as often and as much as possible.

With the drastic shift of the ratio of rehearsal singing to recreational singing, means that the type of singing you are engaging in is most likely considered “heavy use.”

In other words, during normal times of the year, you do a lot more “easy” singing and a lot less technically difficult singing. During the holidays, that gets reversed.

This shift makes vocal rest imperative. So make sure to rest as often as possible – meaning when you’re not rehearsing, try to avoid using your voice, even to talk unless you really need to.

This means that, while you won’t want to, you should minimize the after-party appearances.

This is especially true if alcohol use bring served as alcohol dehydrated the body.

Of course you’ll want to talk to the guests and fellow performers. Add an already fatigued voice (from the concert/gig) to dehydration (from alcohol) as well as extra use (from the party) and you have a recipe for vocal injury.

What will happen if you don’t do this absolutely necessary vocal health care?

Lack of rest after heavy singing may result in vocal fold edema. That’s a fancy way if saying that you’ll develop excessive fluid in the margin of (around) the vocal folds. Basically, swelling.

This results in a lower fundamental frequency during speech or singing. AKA, if you weren’t a bass before, you’ll feel like one and all the notes you used to think weren’t high, suddenly are.

7. Don’t use your “full voice” all the time.

Repetitive rehearsals of a specific piece lead by directors, producers and conductors who know little about the voice are most likely to cause voice problems.I know, you’re in a choir (or 3) and you’ll be performing Handel’s Messiah. That means you’ll be practicing the Hallelujah Chorus for roughly a million hours (or that’s what it seems like anyway).

No matter which voice part you sing in that piece, it’s vocally taxing. It definitely qualifies as heavy singing.

Add to that a director whose always telling you to “sing out” and you’ve got a recipe for overuse (and injury).

Use sotto-voce (half-voice) as much as possible while rehearsing musical elements other than dynamics. Even if your director is telling at you to “sing out,” don’t take it personally.

It’s not healthy to sing as loud as you can for extended periods of time unless your voice has been conditioned for it and is already used to that.

And really, when else during the year are you doing that? Chances are, your voice isn’t prepared for that kind of use.

When it gets closer to the concert, then use your full voice.

8. Know when to call it quits.

I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again: you have to know when your voice has had enough.

When you start to notice your voice getting tired, you need to stop singing- and talking. Going back to #6, you need to rest your voice. If you’ve gotten to this point, you probably didn’t do #6-rest your voice.

Once you’ve gotten to this point, you’re going to need more test than if you had rested intermittently. That means you need to know how to recognize the symptoms of phono-trauma.

Recognizing Phono-Trauma

Obviously, a hoarse voice is a clear indication that is fine too take a break from singing.However, there are early warning signs to watch out for before it gets too that point.Some things that may occur before the voice is hoarse are:

  • Difficulty or inability to sing high softly and/or legato.
  • Difficulty achieving normal quality of the voice.
  • High notes that are preceded by the escape of air before the vocal folds come together (difficulty phonating).
  • Presence of a voice break, particularly one you didn’t have before, or reemergence of one that you’ve worded to minimize.
  • Vocal instability while softly singing a glide or when performing loud to soft sing.
  • Loss of vocal “brilliance..”

Avoid Making it Worse

Compounding Vocal Injury

The most difficult part of having a vocal injury is not making it worse.

1. Trying Too Hard

You might be tempted to try harder and harder to perform because singing gets so hard once phono-trauma is present.

Because your vocal cords are swollen, phonation becomes much more difficult. In order to produce sound, you have to use more force. That excess force of collision makes your vocal cords even more swollen.

Which makes phonation that much more difficult.Which causes you to use more force to make any sound at all.

Which causes more swelling…. Which causes more force….It’s a vicious, vicious cycle.

And it all end with a hoarse voice, or even no give at all. That’s why it’s so important to know when to call it quits.

2. Clearing Your Throat

Another thing that causes compounding vocal injury is clearing your throat and coughing. When your vocal folds are inflamed, more mucus is produced. This mucus feels dry and lacks lubrication.

It makes you feel like you need to chest your throat. But making that “eh- eh- eh-” sound slams your vocal cords together violently.

Guess what results from that?

You got it-more swelling.

And more swelling leads to more mucus.

More mucus = more clearing your throat and coughing.

Clearing your throat and coughing = more swelling. Another vicious cycle.

The Best Way to Care For Your Voice During the Holidays

During the stressful times of the holidays, it is easy to compromise one or more of these conditions resulting in vocal problems.

  • The best way to take care of your voice, especially during the holidays, is to know your own voice and to perform a “check list” about the status of your voice during the warm-up.
  • Don’t push your voice beyond its limits you want to avoid vocal health problems.
  • Heed the early warning signs of an injury and stop singing.

6 Vocal “Techniques” that You Should Stop Using Right Now

6 Vocal “Techniques” that You Should Stop Using Right Now

6 Vocal Techniques that You Should Stop Using Right Now There are several vocal “techniques” that I have seen on the internet that make me cringe inside.  I just can’t stand idly by and let you, my fellow singer, damage your voice with these singing myths any longer. For your voice’s sake, I am going to divest you of these ideas.

Just to be clear, I’m not saying that these people are giving bad information on purpose. They are probably perfectly well-meaning people who are just ill-informed, giving information based on outdated pedagogy.

Vocal Technique Myth #1: If you want to sound better, open your mouth more.

I was perusing Pinterest one day and you don’t know how many pins I came across that said, “if you want to be a better singer, Open Your Mouth more.” One even suggested that you have to have two finger’s width space between your teeth to get good sound.

Ahhhh!!!

If you’ve ever been in a choir, you probably heard your choir director tell you this, too. BUT IT’S WRONG!!! This
myth is ruining your voice!

The problem with this “vocal technique,” is that it actually introduces tension into the jaw. To see what I mean, try this:

  • Place your fingers on the muscles just below your jaw hinges. Open your mouth slightly.Notice how the muscle is relatively relaxed?

  • Now open your jaw 2-fingers width. Your jaw bone probably just had to travel forward, beyond the cheekbone and the muscles that control it have become tight.

See? Tension. The ENEMY of singing.

Want to get a good sound? You don’t have to open up your jaw so large- the inside of your mouth needs the space. 
Do this instead:

Lift your soft palletIf you’re not sure what your soft pallet is, do this: (This exercise is strictly for finding your soft pallet and learning to control it.)

  • Make yourself yawn. Do you feel that movement on the roof of your mouth in the back? That is your soft pallet.

  • Relax your jaw and tongue to a comfortably open position while maintaining the space you just created in the back of your mouth.

  • Now that you know where it is, you can now consciously control its position.Play around with lifting and lowering it while keeping your jaw and tongue relaxed.

I do not advocate yawning before singing, however. Remember that jaw tension I talked about before?

If you need some more exercises to help alleviate tension from your jaw when singing, check out Open Throat Singing: Keeping Tension Out of the Voice. There’s a nice little printable you can download with all the exercises too!


Vocal Technique Myth #2: In order to have good posture, your back must be straight.

This is a misleading statement, at best. You see, the natural spine is not straight. It actually has 4 curves (from top to bottom): Cervical, Thoracic, Lumbar, and Sacral.

Your spine is actually not capable of being ramrod straight. If you were to try to force your spine into that unnatural alignment, it’s not only uncomfortable, but doing it over a long period of time will actually change your musculature. When your spine is out of alignment, some of your muscles are overstretched (and are therefore weakened), and some are shortened and tense.

Which brings me to another point: There’s a good chance that due to our modern lifestyle of sitting for long periods of time and staring, hunched over, at our phones or computers, that your posture is less than optimal. Meaning, you have already changed that musculature. Think about it.

Do you have back pain of stiffness? Tension headaches? Shoulder or neck pain?

Then you need a posture check. Because, guess what? Those people telling you that you need a straight back are actually trying to tell you: Poor posture is bad for singing and you might need to fix yours.

To learn exactly what poor posture does to your singing and, more importantly, how to fix your posture, check out, Why Proper Posture is So Important to Be a Good Singer. Plus get your FREE Proper Singing Posture Cheat Sheet!


Vocal Technique Myth #3: Singing “from your diaphragm” will make you a better singer.

Actually, humans can’t breathe at all without a diaphragm, so, really, you are always breathing with your diaphragm.

Real fast and simply put, when the diaphragm contracts, you inhale. When it relaxes, you exhale. There’s a ton more that is going on, but you can see why the myth is so silly.

What people are trying to tell you when they say “breathe from your diaphragm” is to stop using “Costal Breathing” which is your normal everyday breathing you use for speaking. Costal breathing is too shallow and doesn’t allow your diaphragm to completely contract.

For more detail on exactly why you should ditch costal breathing and what you should do instead, read “Improving Breath Support and the Myth of “Singing From Your Diaphragm.


Vocal Technique
Myth #4: High notes are high

I’m sure you’re thinking “Wait, what???”

The notion that high notes are high comes from the visual representation of a musical pitch. High notes are higher on the staff, yes, but they are not physically higher in your body.

To produce a pitch, you exhale through closed vocal folds (proper name for vocal cords). The air vibrates the vocal folds and a pitch it produced. Which pitch is produced depends on the length of the vocal folds– not how high they are (as in raised larynx, which is another tension-inducer you want to avoid).

This means that you don’t need your larynx to rise up in your throat to produce a high note. Your vocal folds stretch to produce the high note. So, high notes are not high, high notes are long.

If you use that visual when you attempt to sing your high notes, it becomes much less tense, and therefore sounds better.

I came up with a set of 8 things you need to do to make your high notes more beautiful. There’s a printable download of the vocal techniques for high notes available on that post, too!


Vocal Technique Myth #5: Traditional Warm-Ups are Silly and Unnecessary

Ok, so this isn’t really a “technique,” per say, but it is a myth I need to bust for you.

Recently I was browsing the interwebs when I came across an article about warm-ups. The article began with saying that warm-ups are “silly” and “unnecessary.”

It has been ingrained in us singers from a young age that you must “warm up” your voice before rehearsing and before performing, but I try to be open-minded to new ideas.

The thought that maybe I’ve been wasting my time (and maybe you’ve been wasting yours) and maybe there’s a better way, got me to read the article in full to see just what the writer had to say.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t really any ground-breaking, time-saving, tip like I was hoping for. The writer’s advice was that the very term “warm-up” implies what the goal is, so all those warm-ups are pointless because you can just start to sing any song to warm up your voice. I was disappointed, to say the least.

You see, the writer is missing the point- there is a deeper reason that you should do vocal warm-ups and it has less to do with the actual “warming up” itself.

I don’t want you to miss the point, so I decided to write an article for my readers, Why You Shouldn’t Skip Vocal Warm-ups. In this post, I delve into the “why” behind doing vocal warm-ups (hint: it has a lot to do with efficiency) as well as the different kinds you should do to develop your voice.


Vocal Technique
Myth #6: The best way to learn a song is to sing it over an over again

When I was first beginning voice lessons, I had a teacher who would play and sing the whole song for me in our lesson while I recorded it. As a kid in high school, I just listened to the song over and over again until I learned it. And even after “learning” it, I would sometimes still get my verses mixed up or make other mistakes.

Not to mention, that did not teach me how to teach myself. When I went to college, my professors expected that I would teach myself the songs and they would teach me the techniques to make it sound good. Problem was, I didn’t have a rehearsal method for doing that.

I ended up wasting a lot of time in the practice room because I didn’t know what I was doing. It wasn’t until I started to teach choir that I developed a strategy for learning a song that is methodical and purposeful.

You know that old proverb about teaching a man to fish? Listening to a song over an over to learn it is like being given just one fish. But if someone taught you how to teach yourself to learn a song, you won’t need someone else’s “fish.” I mean, you want to be a first-rate you, not a second-rate someone else anyway, right?

In my blog post, How to Learn a Song Quickly: My Step By Step Rehearsal Process, you’ll learn how to “fish” for yourself using my step-by-step process for learning a song in 15 Days. You’ll learn how to break it up logically and into bite sized pieces so that you literally have no excuse not to practice, even it you only have a few minutes to work on it. 

At the end there is a special printable download that will help you get organized so you can stay on track with your song learning goals! 

I hope that you have found these tips helpful! If, so, please share it!

 

Open Throat Singing: Keeping Tension Out of the Voice

Open Throat Singing: Keeping Tension Out of the Voice

Disclosure:  Some of the links in this post are affiliate links.  This means that if you buy something by clicking through those links, I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you.

How to Create a Daily Practice Schedule You Can Actually Follow Have you ever been singing for a while and your voice gets tired?  Or your throat just feels tight? When this happens, it’s probably because you’ve been employing contracting muscles in your throat. When you swallow, muscles constrict the throat to push the food down the esophagus.  Beginners (and sometimes, even experienced singers) often employ these muscles to aid in the production of sound.

However, continuous use of these muscles in this way will lead to vocal trouble down the road- not to mention the uncomfortable tightness you feel in the moment.   You need to train your muscles to relax and sing with an “open throat” to avoid tension and strain.

Vocal Tract Freedom

Step 3 in building a healthy voice (after posture and breathing technique) is vocal tract freedom.  When your vocal tract is free, your jaw, larynx, and tongue are all relaxed- your pharynx will feel “open.” Hence the colloquial term for vocal tract freedom, “open throat.” Learning to sing with an open throat is important for you to avoid the tension and strain that could lead to vocal health problems down the line.

For this reason, I’ve put together 15 vocal conditioning exercises to help you to stretch and relax your throat as well as improve its flexibility.  In order to restore your vocal tract to its “factory setting,” so to speak, I suggest doing each of these exercises during your daily vocal warm-ups.  Then, pick one or two stretches or massages of the tongue and jaw on a regular basis to maintain freedom of the voice.  (And if you aren’t doing vocal warm-ups regularly, you really should.)

15 Exercises to Relieve Vocal Tension and Create an “Open Throat” Feeling


Relaxing the Jaw

 

1. Cool Spot

This is the simplest exercise that allow you to feel what an open throat is. 

  1. Gently open your mouth
  2. Inhale, trying to feel a “cool spot” in the back of the mouth

 

2. Jaw Stretch

Because the actions of your jaw affect your tongue, it also affects your larynx.  Keeping the jaw free from tension will help you keep an “open throat.”

  1. Place your pointer finger on the point right in front of the ears (upper left hand corner of the picture)
  2. Drop your jaw as far as you can.
  3. Press you finger into the indent created by this action
  4. Relax your jaw with your finger in place. 
  5. You’ll feel a little resistance in your jaw- this is the stretch
  6. Release
  7. Repeat several times throughout your rehearsal session

 

3. Hum and Chew

  1. Lightly close your lips
  2. Begin humming on any comfortable pitch
  3. Chew like a cow, moving the jaw in a circular direction
  4. Chew, moving the jaw in the opposite direction
  5. Relax

 

4. Sing and Chew

  1. Allow your jaw to be loose
  2. Sing a descending 5 note scale on the syllables “yah-yah-yah-yah-yah” in a gentle chewing motion

5. Jaw Massage

Use your fingers to gently massage the muscles of the jaw.  I emphasize gently, especially if you’ve never massaged your jaw before.  You are likely very tense there from years of talking, singing, and chewing. Use the drawing on the left as reference.

  1. Use your fingertips to massage right underneath the cheekbone using a circular motion. Repeat in the opposite direction.
  2. Move to the muscles that control the jaw hinge right by your ears, massaging in a circular motion. Repeat in the opposite direction.
  3. Move slowly down the jaw bone from the ear to the corner of the jaw using circular motions in both directions.
  4. Massage the muscles over the lower mandible (right below the teeth), again using both circular motions.
  5. Use your thumbs to massage under the jaw.  Target the space right underneath the teeth (not the tongue). It might feel good to just press, especially under the front bottom teeth.

 

6. Cheek Massage

The cheek muscles are very much involved in singing and can get very tense, adding to the overall discomfort in singing.  Regular massage can help avoid this.

  1. Place your fingers under your cheek bone.
  2. Lightly press with your fingers and drag in a diagonal direction toward your lips (the direction of the muscles on the side of the face in the picture above)
  3. Your jaw will naturally open as you drag your fingers.
  4. It may feel good to try keeping your jaw closed while you do the massage
  5. Play around with the amount of pressure.  Do what feels go to you.

Relaxing the Tongue

7. Tongue Massage

As you can see from the picture on the left, the tongue is a very long muscle that attaches in the middle of your throat to the hyoid bone (which is the uppermost part of the larynx, labeled right above the thyroid).  Because of this connection, tension in the tongue will directly cause tension in your larynx.  When you swallow, pay attention to the action of the tongue. When it flexes, the larynx moves.

  1. Gently close the mouth
  2. Use the thumbs to press under the chin behind the jaw
  3. Work your way back toward the throat, making sure not to miss any part of the tongue
  4. Use circular and side to side motions to massage the tongue

 

8. Tongue Stretch

  1. Open your mouth as tall and as wide as you can
  2. Stick out your tongue as far as you can, like a panting dog
  3. Relax, the tongue and jaw returning the tongue right behind the lower front teeth (this is where it should be when you sing!)
  4. Leaving the tip of the tongue on the teeth, arch the tongue, pushing the middle part of the tongue out of the mouth
  5. Relax
  6. Repeat

 

9. Quiet Tongue

This exercise is a to be done once you’ve already massaged and stretched the tongue.  Now that it is less tense, you can relax it. 

  1. Open the mouth gently
  2. Place the tongue over the teeth so that it is flat
  3. It might help to place the tip of your index finger in the middle of your tongue
  4. Try to keep the tongue relaxed and lazy
  5. Your tongue is used to being used, so pay attention to anywhere that it might tense up.
  6. Consciously relax those parts of the tongue

Bonus: This exercise is also really good for helping you to calm down when you are feeling overly stressed or emotional in general.  Really- once you’ve relaxed your tongue, try to feel a really strong negative emotion without tensing your tongue- you can’t.  Next time you are feeling angry or anxious, relax your tongue.  It really works!

Relaxing the Larynx

The third key point of a tension-free voice is relaxing the larynx.  Many singers sing with a high larynx causing excessive strain on the voice.  Stretching and relaxing the muscles that control it will help you avoid this and create that “open throat” feeling.

10. Laryngeal Massage

  1. Place your fingertips on your larynx (the white bit in the picture on the left)
  2. In a very gentle, circular motion, massage the larynx from top to bottom
  3. Take care not to use too much pressure here, you don’t want to hurt yourself
  4. Reverse the circular direction
  5. Move outwards to the left and right of the larynx and massage the the muscles on the sides
  6. Take the sternocleidomastiods between your thumb and index finger.(They’re the long diagonal muscles in the front of the throat running from behind the jaw to the collarbone. Although there’s one on each side, only 1 is shown in the picture.)
  7. Gently apply pressure to the muscle from the top (for a couple seconds), working your way down to the collarbone.*
  8. Repeat as it feels good.

*This may cause some referred pain to other places in your neck or shoulders. If so, ease up the pressure if you need to, but hold onto it for longer, waiting for the referred pain to subside.  Referred pain usually means that the muscles is especially tense and in need of physical manipulation.

 

11. Laryngeal Stretch 1

For following 4 stretches, stand or sit so that your arms can reach down and away from the neck.  This one can also be considered a tongue stretch, but it directly affects the larynx, so I put it here.

  1. Gently open you mouth
  2. Slowly lean your head back
  3. You’ll notice that your jaw will naturally open more
  4. Stick your tongue out of your mouth
  5. Return your tongue to the mouth and slowly close your jaw
  6. Alternate steps 4 and 5 a couple times

 

12. Laryngeal Stretch 2

This is the same as the first one, but stretches the side of the throat.

  1. Gently open you mouth
  2. Lean your head gently back and to the right
  3. Stick your tongue out of your mouth
  4. Return your tongue to the mouth and slowly close your jaw
  5. Alternate steps 4 and 5 a couple times
  6. Repeat on the Left Side
  7. Play around with the positioning of the head on each side to get a good stretch in all directions

 

13. Laryngeal Stretch 3

  1. Lean your head gently back
  2. Gently close your mouth
  3. Press the tongue against the roof and hold
  4. Release the tongue
  5. Alternate steps 3 & 4

 

14. Laryngeal Stretch 4

This is just like neck stretch 3, but stretches out the sides of the throat.

  1. Lean your head gently back and to the Right
  2. Gently close your mouth
  3. Press the tongue against the roof and hold
  4. Release the tongue
  5. Alternate steps 3 & 4
  6. Play around with the positioning of the head on each side to get a good stretch in all directions

 

15. Big Yawn

  1. Open your mouth to yawn
  2. Actually make yourself yawn
  3. Make the yawn as big as you can
  4. Lower the larynx as if you were going to make a very deep, low sound
  5. Relax
  6. Repeat


Vocal Freedom Cheat Sheet

Doing these exercises every day will really help you to relieve the tension in your voice.  So, I’ve made nice printable reference PDF of these exercises for you so you’ll have them wherever you practice to easily refer to.



All of these vocal exercises I am sharing with you, including these “open throat” exercises, are a combination of exercises that I have learned and ones that I have created or modified.  I do my best to present them concisely in my blog posts to keep them easy to read and learn.  However, I do realize that I am new blogger and don’t have a wide selection of vocal exercises.

Since I can only write 1 or 2 posts a month, it will take me a very long time to cover all the aspects of singing with a variety of exercises for you- and you need those exercises right now, not in a few months when I post them. 

So, I want to share with you a resource that I really value and have used often in my teaching and my own practice. In fact, it is the textbook that was used in my Voice Techniques class in college.

Teaching Kids to Sing is a wonderful book with a wealth of information and sequentially graded singing exercises.  Even though the book is geared towards voice teachers of children, there is still a great breadth of knowledge you can gain from it.  The exercises are great for singers of any age.  I highly recommend you check it out (and get it used). 

If you found this post helpful, please share it!

For more information on vocal health, read my post 11 Simple Habits to Care for Your Voice.

11 Simple Habits for Good Vocal Health

11 Simple Habits for Good Vocal Health

11 Simple Habits to Care for Your Singing Voice

Keeping Your Voice Healthy (so you can sing forever!)

*FREE printable checklist at the bottom of this post*

11 Simple Habits to Care for Your Singing Voice. Classical Voice Studio: Vocal Health

 

Singing is such an amazing gift (that everyone has, some just take longer to find it), you would never want to lose that. You want to be able to sing for your entire life. 

You need to take care of your voice and I want to show you how. Here are today’s tips for keeping your voice healthy! Download the checklist and post it on your refrigerator, keep a copy in your practice folder, or wherever else you look everyday to keep you on track.

1. Hydration is Key. Drink more water. 

But not because your throat is dry.

Many people think that if they drink water when they have a dry or scratchy throat, it will re-hydrate their vocal cords.  This just is not true.  It will only alleviate where water can actually reach. To explain this, we need a brief anatomy lesson.

Your vocal folds (correct anatomical term for vocal cords) sit atop your trachea which connects your oral cavity to the lungs.  (Not to be confused with your esophagus which connects your oral cavity to your stomach.)

Your body wants to keep solids and liquids from entering the lungs, so we have an epiglottis.  The epiglottis is a leaf-shaped piece of cartilage that covers the vocal folds when we swallow.  (See the Free Dictionary for more information)

So, you see, water that you drink will never touch your vocal folds.  The only way to hydrate your vocal folds is to keep your body hydrated by drinking enough water throughout the day.

2. Avoid Caffeinated Beverages

I know, you need your morning cup of joe to get going.  The idea here is not to overdo it.  Caffeine dehydrates the body.  Avoid singing near the time you drink coffee/tea/hot chocolate/soda.

For every cup of coffee you consume, drink an extra glass of water. For tea and other caffeinated beverages, the amount of caffeine is much less than coffee, so maybe for every 2 cups, add an extra glass of water.

3. Don’t Smoke. Or Hang Around Smoky Areas

Smoking is one of the worst things a singer can do to themselves. (Not that it’s good for anyone to begin with.) I think we all know that second-hand smoke can be just as bad as smoking yourself, but just in case you didn’t, avoid hanging out around others while they are smoking. Remember that smoke can hang around on clothing and in upholstery.  Breathing that in is just like breathing it in while the person is actually smoking.

It might not be completely possible to avoid all second-hand smoke if you have friends and family who smoke, but try to hang out with them in well ventilated areas.  This will reduce the smoke you are exposed to.

Smoking of any kind (tobacco or marijuana) is very harmful to your vocal folds.  Watch How Smoking Affects the Voice, to learn just how bad it can actually get.

4. Don’t Clear Your Throat

Your vocal folds are not cords.  Putting something quite complicated very simply, they are tissue covered with a mucus membrane.  They are fairly delicate.  When you clear your throat, you are rubbing your vocal folds together very forcefully.  This causes a lot of friction.  If you do it often enough, the mucus cannot keep up and eventually the fragile tissue is exposed and can form lesions (can be nodes or polyps).

You’re probably thinking, yeah, I don’t want the mucus to keep up, that’s why I’m clearing my throat in the first place! I get you.  I am not immune to throat clearing when I have a cold or my allergies are acting up, either.  But there are healthier ways to rid yourself of the phlegmy feeling.

  • Drink more water. The action of swallowing will bring take of the post-nasal drip out of the equation.
  • Drink hot (but not scalding) caffeine-free tea. Lemon and peppermint are good options
  • Use Musinex or similar OTC remedy. These will thin out the mucus (but not eliminate it altogether)
  • Do NOT use pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine (nasal decongestants). These will dry out ALL the mucosal membranes in the body, not just the ones in your sinuses.  That means that every time your vocal folds vibrate (talking or singing or coughing, etc), they are exposed and at risk for lesions.
  • Perform siren or wheelies (video coming soon)

5. Don’t Shout

For the same reasons you don’t want to clear your throat, you don’t want to shout.  Suddenly increasing your volume in that way rubs your vocal folds together too aggressively.

6. Avoid Whispering- Especially if You are Losing Your Voice

When you whisper, your vocal folds still adduct in order to produce some type of sound that can be understood as speech, but they don’t close all the way.  This allows more air to come through, drying out your vocal cords.

If you feel like you’re are losing your voice, this will only make matters worse.  If you need to communicate, speak with your real voice using short phrases if necessary.  Better yet, write it down.  I have led many a choir rehearsal using a white board when I have been ill.

7. Use a Humidifier in Your Bedroom or Office When the AC or Heat is Running

Ever notice that your skin dries out in cold weather? The same thing is happening to your vocal folds. Because cool air cannot hold as much moisture as warm air, the dry air is basically sucking the moisture out of you (gotta love osmosis).  So, when the AC is running, the air temperature drops and therefore the humidity drops.

I can already hear you- “but I turned on the AC because it was too hot and humid!”  Think about it this way, in order to bring your high temperature room down to a comfortable level, the air pumping out of the AC must be significantly cooler (yay thermodynamics!). That cool air is pulling the moisture out of the air.  Too much moisture.  You need to replace some of it to keep your voice and your skin happy.

You probably have felt similarly when the heat is on.  Especially if you have forced hot air.  Forced hot air is very, very dry.  This will dry out your skin and your voice just like the AC will. Again, because of osmosis.  Water likes to be even, so if the moisture outside your body is less than the moisture of your body, the outside air is going to steal it from you.  Don’t let your heater be a thief.  Use a humidifier.

8. Use Good Vocal Technique. And not just when you are singing

To maintain good vocal health, you should use good vocal technique whether you are singing or speaking.  This is especially true if you have a job that requires you to use your voice frequently (teachers, actors, motivational speakers, singers, etc. etc.)

When singing:

  • Stand with Proper Posture
  • Use Good Breathing Technique
  • Keep your voice free from tension (post coming soon)
  • Avoid using glottal stocking too much
  • Sing in your tessitura (the most comfortable part of your range)

When speaking:

  • Speaking with a good resonant quality.
  • Avoid using any raspy sounds (including vocal frying)
  • Avoid breathiness (same reason we don’t whisper).
  • Use amplification when you need to be heard over noise.

9. Do Cardio

This is probably not one you’ve heard before.  What does doing cardio have to do with singing? For one thing, singing is a cardiovascular endeavor.  Keeping your cardiovascular system fit will help you in several ways:

  • Keep your endurance up. Singing takes energy. Performance especially on stage takes energy.
  • Being in good shape helps you stay healthy which means being sick less often. I don’t have to tell you how getting sick affects your voice, do I?

Being in good shape can also help you land rolls if you are planning to audition for musicals or operas.

10. Don’t Overdo It (Singing or Speaking)

Your voice was not meant to used for hours and hours on end.  This means limiting how long you spend singing or talking.

If you begin to feel tension in your voice or in your throat muscles, it’s time to take a break.

If you feel like you’re losing your voice, or you hear hoarseness or huskiness in your singing or speaking, STOP using your voice, RIGHT NOW.

Regardless of what demands you have in terms of rehearsals, shows, directors or conductors, you have to be the one to put your foot down if your voice is getting tired.  No one else can make the call for you. Only you know when your voice has had enough.

11. Know When to Call it Quits

I mean, know when you’re too sick to sing.  If your throat hurts, chances are your throat is swollen.  If your throat is swollen, your vocal folds probably are too.

Usually you don’t want to use things that are swollen because you risk injury to that area.  This pertains to anywhere in your body.  If your knee is swollen, you probably don’t want to run on it.  Same for your voice.

And if it hurts to talk, don’t sing.  Even if it doesn’t hurt to talk, but singing feels strenuous, even a little bit, don’t sing.

Your body heals faster when it has a chance to rest.

For more information about Vocal Disorders, visit https://medlineplus.gov/voicedisorders.html 

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. The above is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice.  If you think you have a vocal disorder, please visit your doctor and get checked out right away.

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Disclaimer

Although I am a certified music and voice teacher, I am not YOUR teacher.  The information on my blog is intended for informational and educational purposes and in no way constitutes advice of any kind. I make no guarantee or promises based on the accuracy, reliability, or completeness of the information represented on my website or products.  This blog is not a substitute for professional advice.  I reserve the right to change the management and content focus of my blog at any time without notice. 

Disclosure: some of the links on my blog may be affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
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