Being a musician, speaker or teacher can have a lot of demand on the voice. I’m here to offer some tips on how you can bring health and build endurance to your voice daily. Today, I'll speak from the standpoint of worship leaders, although these points can apply to anyone who is looking to keep their voice healthy!
If you’re a worship leader, you probably have a demanding schedule; back to back meetings, weekly rehearsals, long weekends and on top of that, busy personal lives. And, you may even have to sing when you're ill.
The following tips are broken into five main points: considering vocal training, warming up, maintaining physical, spiritual and mental health, supporting your speaking voice, and lastly, cooling down the voice.
Remember, there are other factors that play a role in the health of your voice. I’ll list some but won’t go into detail today. If you’re interested in tips for specific ailments, comment in the section below and I can dedicate a blog to it!
Some simple and more common factors include, acid reflux, post nasal drip, allergies, thyroid issues, singing at extreme ranges for long periods of time, smoking, drinking, yelling, whispering, chronic fatigue, hormone imbalance and habitual throat clearing.
Consider Vocal Training: I highly recommend investing in private voice lessons. When you learn how the vocal mechanism works and you develop the technique to sing effortlessly, quality is gained in the voice without push or strain.
Private voice lessons can give you tools that build strength, control, and a specific language so that you can guide other vocalists. As you build on your strengths, you improve weakness. This is accomplished through tailored exercise regimens and songs to apply a new technical approach.
The value is worth the investment if you find a teacher that’s right for you. As a voice teacher myself, I find that the empowerment, encouragement, and breakthroughs are not always just in the voice but more importantly, in the mind or in the soul. From there, true communicators come alive and the impact of the gift God has given means more than just being a good singer.
You can rest and you relax in finding your own voice. Each person has something unique to offer in the very tone of their singing voice and lessons can be part of that discovery. You can ease the frustration to push your voice to sound like someone else and instead bring health to the voice by singing in your own unique range of strengths.
Vocalizing 10-20 Minutes Each Day: In regards to keeping a healthy voice, getting into a basic routine of warming up and vocalizing each day will be like going to the gym for your vocal cords. You don’t start a run without stretching and slowly working up your heart rate first. The same goes with singing. You work your way up to a workout. Stretch, walk, jog, run and then cool down.
Think of it this way, like anytime you decide to start going to the gym, you may find it hard to get the momentum to do it. Your body is weak in the beginning stages. You’re tired, excuses run wild in your head, the temptation to quit rears its ugly head but then you find you’re gaining more control in your muscles, things are getting easier, you see results and begin to enjoy the process.
So, you have to look at vocal training the same way. Getting into the habit of warming up and stretching out the voice before you start your day not only extends your vocal abilities, but builds endurance. You learn you can do more by just warming up, and then you set yourself up for a less frustrating work out. As I said earlier, taking lessons can bring you a tailored regimen for your specific needs, but I’ll give you a basic idea where you can start.
First, it’s important that you remember that you stay relaxed and let your voice “wake up” and “find itself”. Be mindful of how loud you are. It’s better to have a natural speech level volume then too loud, or you’ll be tired before you even get started!
Start in your head voice by simply sighing so you’re finding your voice, not reaching for notes. I like to have people start here, because it’s light and natural just to sigh. It’s most important for males to open up their head voice because you never get into that space the majority of the time.
Start humming in a comfortable range without squeezing or pushing. I like to hum on short slides or walk up and down on a five tone scale. This is just to get the cords to vibrate with ease, move away any mucus that builds up at times, and find a good balance of airflow.
Next, you can do lip rolls or rolling your tongue on slides from the bottom of your range to the top and then from the top to the bottom. This helps stretch and relax the vocal cords, opens up the throat to release muscle tension, and gets an energetic breath engaged.
Start doing sounds that require opening up the mouth. Sounds like "goo" or "hoo" help access your upper register. It’s best to start with sliding so that you can focus on relaxing the throat and releasing any heaviness you may feel from the bottom register. Again, this opens up the head voice with more focus and intention. You don’t want to move on until you can do a slide on "hoo" without your throat constricting.
Walk up and down your range saying "muh muh muh." Letting your voice ease into each part of your vocal range. Don’t think about hitting notes but instead, inflecting your voice as you ascend and descend. A good example of inflection would be when you get excited about seeing someone, you may say “Oh hi! It’s so good to see you!” You want the same approach when you ascend in pitch. If you approach it this way, you avoid bringing a tightness to your throat in an attempt to reach, and instead you simply find the notes. Lastly, you can start humming, lip rolling or rolling your tongue (like rolling your rr in Spanish) on the melody of a song. This prepares you to sing intervals in a melody so when you go to sing the song, it’s already easier!
Hydration, Rest, Healthy Diet, Exercise and Stress Relief: With any instrument, the way you care for it is going to determine the longevity and quality it gives you. Some simple rules; if it hurts, don’t sing, if you’re sick, don’t sing, but if you absolutely have to sing, then sing with what you have, and not with as much as you usually give. Change the key of song if it just doesn’t feel comfortable. Be kind to yourself, have compassion on your voice, and don’t bully or manipulate it to do what it’s not ready to do. Hydration is key, so if you don’t like to drink water, add cucumber, mint, lemon or oranges to make it more desirable. Use steam or take showers before you have to sing to hydrate externally. When you’re dehydrated, the muscles don’t move as smoothly and comfortably.
Get plenty of quality rest! We have four main phases of sleep, the third and fourth being the most regenerative. According to the National Sleep Foundation, if sleep is cut short, the body doesn’t have time to complete all of the phases needed for muscle repair, memory consolidation, and release of hormones regulating growth and appetite. Your voice is an actual mechanism of tissue and muscle, so getting to those phases are necessary for daily restoration. You may notice the voice may sound and feel weak, fatigued or slightly hoarse after a late night. Try to get at least 8-10 hours of sleep.
Feed your body with foods that keep your body running. Run your body to clear your mind, discipline your urges and gain a more functional system. Most people know by now that a healthy diet and exercise can help you loose weight, feel better and de-stress. I think it’s a really important step to keeping your voice healthy. When you eat foods that feed your cravings instead of your body, your body gets inflamed, you can fall pray to illness, you loose energy, can get depressed and all these things show on your voice.
The voice is so special. It’s an instrument that carries a message with it. Because the voice is a literal part of us, it can reveal the state of our soul, mind, and body. So, we must nurture all three so that we can truly sing with ease and honesty. When you’re excited, your voice has a life to it. When you’re scared it can lock up, shake, or even change in pitch. When you’re sick, the voice can become hoarse, weak and fragile. When you’re stressed, your whole body tightens up, you’re not mentally present, you may lose sleep, the body breaks down into illness and because of this, you’ll find your voice is affected. It’s so important to find ways to alleviate stress through prayer, worship, exercise, sleep, breathing techniques or doing any activity that calms you. Have you ever noticed that on super busy weeks, singing isn’t as easy?
Supporting The Speaking Voice/Vocal Naps/Avoiding Overuse: The majority of people who use their voices more than the average person aren’t aware that the amount they speak throughout the day impacts the quality and health of their vocal cords. It may be necessary for you to schedule vocal rests depending on what your day looks like. If you have back to back meetings, try to speak less and listen more. You may need to give yourself at least 10-15 vocal breaks in between daily events. Look at your schedule and plan out silent breaks. Try this for a month and see if it makes a difference. Sometimes it’s a challenge to speak less, but I promise it will be a humbling experience. There are different reasons why some people speak poorly. For some, it’s speaking way too heavy (their voice sounds dark and far back in the throat), some speak on shallow breaths, others just speak too loudly. Whatever the case may be, a speaking or singing style that strains the voice causes swelling, which overtime turns into callouses if not corrected.
Cooling Down And Resetting Before Bed: Lastly, but most importantly, it’s incredibly beneficial to get into the habit of cooling down the voice. Think of it this way, when you finish an exercise regimen you don’t just stop and sit for the rest of the day. You walk to decrease your heart rate and stretch to aid in the restoration of your muscles. Think of moments where you may speak for long periods of time, perform or practice a song, vocalize the voice (doing specific sounds on scales that strengthen the voice), or have a long stressful day as the “exercise regimens” for your voice. Basically, cooling down from these moments restores your voice, mind, and body to a relaxed state while aiding in restoration.
There are a lot of ways to cool down the voice, and when you find a few that really work to relax you, you can stick with those. I’ll teach you a couple that you can start with. The goal is to go from full effort to gradually no effort at all.
Assuming you know what lip rolls are (rolling your lips like a baby, the sound of a motor boat, a continual bububuh), start with just falling down from the very top of your range to the bottom. Then without stopping the slide, ascend with a fast paced slide then slowing down the pace and tapering off the range as you go. I picture this like a car that shuts off while you’re driving it. Slowly, the car looses speed and continues to slow down until finally, it completely stops. By the end of this, you are hardly giving any effort to make the sound and you’re relaxed to the point of going to bed.
Next, do a couple sighs and effortless hums while massaging your neck and jaw. It’s important that you’re not trying to prove something here. Focus on releasing any weight you may feel on the throat and tension anywhere in the body. Sighs are good to do because you’re not trying to “produce” or reach for a note.
This last one might be strange, but this is a go to for me personally. It’s a light easy laugh either with my mouth shut like a "hm hm hm" or open like a "ha ha ha." I like to massage and pull down on the muscles under my chin and throat while doing this. Sometimes when tension builds up during the day, it’s hard to do a light laugh. If you hear a slight crinkle or vocal fry in your tone, that’s a good thing, but no need to force that to come, or again you’re still trying to produce something.
Lastly, just take deep slow breaths in, hold for a few seconds, then exhale all of your air out (keeping your throat open and relaxed like a yawn), wait a few seconds, then take a new breath. Repeat this and focus only on your breath coming in and going out. Finish with a yawn and a sigh! You’ll be ready for bed or de-stressed for the day!
If you’re consistent in the care of your voice, body, mind, and soul while being mindful of these things; ease in your speaking voice, gaining knowledge through voice lessons, warming up with a specific vocal regimen, and cooling down, then you’ll find that your voice endures!
Check out the links below for further reference!
Duke Vocal Care Center: https://www.uu.edu/dept/music/library/safety/VocalHealthInformation.pdf
Swelling Test: https://www.voicedoctor.net/therapy/vocal-overdoers-and-benign-mucosal-disorders
Myriah Jones is a voice teacher and head of the Vocal Department at Oceans Edge School of Worship. She is an amazing singer, worship leader, teacher, mentor and disciple maker!