All voices need a little rescuing some times, it comes with the territory of long rehearsals, regular gigs, late nights, ridiculous schedules.
It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been doing it or how professional you think you are – even my most dedicated and well trained singers need to step back and think about their vocal health and well being every now and then.
This list isn’t just for when the voice is suffering its full of useful tools for the everyday developing of the voice – it may be helpful to keep the following on you and actually start using them.
Here’s a little list of my must haves in my singers survival kit!
If you’ve read my blog on steaming you will already know why my favourite singers tool is the steam inhaler. It’s essential for poorly unhappy voices all the way up to those at the top of their game with a healthy voice – it’s just good practice!
Inhaling steam is the only way to get direct hydration to the vocal folds, so when you’re feeling a little dry, tickly or have over worked the voice this little lifesaver is well worth getting. For more info and advice on steaming check out my previous post on steaming here
It’s pretty obvious to most of us really, but so many of us don’t take on enough water! The body needs water in order to run the way it should, especially the voice – our little vocal folds need to be fully hydrated to ensure they are working to their best ability, dehydration can restrict flexibility with that range, tone, and stamina plus so much more! Make sure your getting your 2-3 litres a day! To read more about keeping hydrated click here
Bottle and straw
The bottle and straw exercise is one of my favourites – it’s an all rounder from everyday use or for tired or unresponsive voices when they’re not quite up to the usual efforts on the voice. It can be helpful whether you’ve over used your voice, you can’t get a clear tone due to stressed cords, or are in need of general vocal help. It may even be helpful if your voice is perfectly fine but have trouble with breath in your singing, or are finding your top notes difficult in a particular song.
The bottle and straw exercises help to balance breath control and relive excess tension in singing, it’s a relatively safe way to use the voice when it’s tired and stressed and helps to get the folds touching in a healthy way whilst stretching out the vocal tract.
If you would like to give it a go, take a simple water bottle and fill a third way with water, use a straw to blow ‘bubbles’ into the water. By blowing into the water we create a good pressure back into the vocal tract and onto the vocal folds. It has been proven to help stretch and relax the folds as well as release and help return tone and range to the singing voice. First try blowing into the bottle, feel the pressure build up. Next try singing as you blow, its important not to let the air escape through the mouth or nose, you want all the airflow to be through the straw and into the water. It will feel odd at first but persevere with this exercise as its one of my favourites for poorly voices, and I’m sure it will be yours too!
Now you’re going to need something to sing to with the bottle and straw! Which leads me to;
Sally’s Vocal CDs – Warm Ups & Cool Downs / Technical Top Ups Level One / TLC for Tired Voices
If you’re not warming up daily you really will not be seeing the benefits on your voice – yes that even means on days when your not singing.
We should warm up regularly to ensure we are ready to sing but also to protect the voice from every day strains – shouting or having to raise your voice? Doing lots of talking at work/school/college/uni? It all contributes to your vocal load.
Another important thing about warming up daily is the fact you are internalising the technique behind the discs, training the muscle memory and have a great way to monitor changes in your voice – suddenly unable to hit those top notes, voice sounding thinner? This is a great way to build awareness of your instrument and help you to keep on top of your vocal health!
The technical top ups CDs is important for those looking to train the voice and keep it improving, if you’re serious about getting your voice to be the best it can be then you should be regularly exercising your instrument.
My TLC disc is designed for voices that need a little bit of attention, the aims of these exercises are to help get the vocal folds touching in the right way with little pressure and a clear tone, if I’m feeling really rotten I start with singing the exercises with the bottle and straw before moving onto the sounds on the disc.
When your feeling run down most vocal teachers suggest you reach for vitamin c, as its been said to fight the common cold, sore throats and helps to improve the overall immune system. Whether you will feel the benefits or not that’s for you to judge but it can’t do any harm to try!
Dyna band / yoga / exercise bands
If you’re going for those high notes or need a bit more support in your singing the exercise band is fantastic for those big notes that you keep pushing to hard for. The bands help you to activate the anchoring muscles in the back to help you support the voice, hold the band in each hand about waist height – on notes that need more effort pull on the band – you should feel a stretch around the mid back (just below the bra line for ladies!) the main effort is to take the pressure out of the throat and channel it to the effort in the band. Be careful though as you can anchor too much which will feel like a sudden clamping in the throat. Think of the bands as your breaks only use them when needed and with only as much energy as the piece needs!
How many times have you walked out of a gig with ringing ears? how many times have you woken up the next day and your hearing still isn’t quite right? For me a loud gig can be the difference between the following day being a good singing day or a bad singing day, If I dont protect my hearing I know it can affect my teaching and my singing.
I’d suggest to invest in a pair of earplugs, I use “musicians earplugs” the standard “tree or three tiered” style which aim to reduce the sound whilst allowing you to still hear the details of the music, they are however not the best on the market, they were a cheap pair I picked up when I was at college and they have served me well ever since. I will eventually get round to getting the molded super duper musicians earplugs which are specifically for singers in loud environments, these can be found at local hearing centers and some opticians also supply them. As singers we find it difficult wearing earplugs, some struggle to pitch and some find it affects their placement. But I have to say it is essential, especially if your spending any amount of time in loud environments – be it gigs, rehearsal rooms, nightclubs or pubs!
When things are really bad and I think I’m getting a sore throat due to illness I will go on vocal rest from everyday singing (I keep talking humming/ singing with my sos disc) and take tyrozets throat lozenges, these have both anaesthetic and antiseptic which means it will attack the bacteria in the throat but be careful with the anaesthetic – you shouldn’t sing with these as you will not always be able to tell how much you are pushing the voice. This is usually my last resort when I know something is attacking my throat – I would never take these for over singing / vocal fatigue. I do though try to avoid taking anything for my throat as I firmly believe you should never rely on medication for singing.
So we’re singers and we don’t keep our instrument warm? Sounds about right – When I was at college studying music – I remember standing outside of the rehearsal room trying to cool down (the rooms would always get so hot with 5 band members playing) even in the middle of winter we’d be trying to cool down in our strappy tops outside – this is usually the perfect opportunity to stress out and shock the vocal folds with the cold air – but I didn’t notice (or being a teenager who was yet to loose her voice – maybe I didn’t care or see how serious it was either?) Now my one to one teacher also taught at my college in a different music department had something to say about that, I remember on many occasions she would catch me outside with not much on trying to cool down during rehearsals – she would always scold me and tell me to put a scarf on. I am now that teacher – seeing my gigging students popping outside to give tickets to late comers / getting some air / or worse having a cigarette! we spend so much time warming up the voice to then walk out in the cold and undo all our hard work, keep it smart people – if its chilly out wear a scarf.
I no doubt will keep adding to this list, it is in no way a complete list but a good place to start, some students ask me if there is anything they need to invest in when they start singing lessons with me- my advice is to make sure you get your steamer, bottle and straw and your exercise CD’s.