If you were to use your voice only when you feel completely healthy and stress free, than many of you would never be able to make a living performing. That is why it is important to prevent problems by knowing yourself, your voice, your limits, and how to take care of yourself.
Keeping your voice healthy through thick and thin is an ongoing task. With season changes you have vocal issues to think about. But let’s start from the beginning. What are the two most important things for singers to do to take care of themselves? The answer is easy: sleep and water.
All singers/speakers/actors know what happens if you don’t get enough sleep. Forget it! All the muscles that aren’t supposed to work when you sing, jump in to help you compensate for your lack of energy. You will find your voice gets tired sooner and won’t be as flexible. Also you will tend to overdrive the air pressure to correct any sound problems. Slamming extra air into your vocal cords will make them tense which can cause you to sing flat or lose resonance. If you have to use your voice after not getting enough sleep, try to relax and not overdrive. Warm up carefully and fully, which may take longer then usual. Please don’t drink coffee! It will only succeed in depriving you of the next most important thing: water.
You must be hydrated. (Double that if you have asthma.) Your vocal cords are surrounded by a mucous membrane (don’t be disgusted – it’s important). This mucous membrane must stay very wet and fluid for your vocal cords to operate properly. When you feel like you have phlegm in your throat or you have to clear your throat all the time, it’s not because you have mucous; it’s because the mucous is too thick. You need more water in your body to thin the mucous membrane out.
But just plain water is not enough. You need to bind the mucous and flush it out and what does that? Lemon. Fresh lemon. The juice of the lemon will grab the extra mucous and flush it out. My recipe is a quart of water with two lemons. I add blue agave for sweetener (no sugar) which gives you a delicious healthy lemonade.
Remember that you have two tubes going from the back of your throat: one that sends food to your stomach and one that sends air to your lungs. Your vocal cords are in the tube that sends air to your lungs. Therefore, just drinking water doesn’t immediately solve the problem. The water has to go through your digestive system before it hydrates your vocal cords. You should be drinking an enormous amount of lemon water every day to keep your cords in the best possible shape.
There are lots of ways to get dehydrated. Here are some of them: not enough water, smoke (yours or anyone else’s), salt, caffeine (coffee, tea, chocolate, etc.), alcohol, cough drops (sugar and menthol in them can dry you out), recreational drugs, diuretics, over the counter anti-histamines and decongestants, air travel over 35,000 feet and PMS. Lovely, eh? About the last two: part of jet lag is your body’s reaction to high cabin pressure and very dry cabin air causing swelling and dehydration. That’s why you shouldn’t take off your shoes on a long flight (your feet will swell up and you won’t be able to put them back on) and you shouldn’t drink alcohol or eat salty food while flying. When your feet or hands swell, so do your vocal cords, making them harder to move. The same happens with PMS. You swell because you retain water which is your body’s response to not having enough. Water, water, water with lemon, lemon, lemon.
Another big no-no is dairy, which doesn’t exactly dry you out but it does make your mucous thicker. That means milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream and butter. This is the end of the cheese pizza or the late night quart of Hagen Daz. I’m sure you remember how excited Celine Dionne was when she took a break from her singing career to have a baby and said in an interview “finally, I can have dairy again!”