Five Tips to Keep Your Voice Healthy

What does it take to keep your voice healthy for auditions, performances, and everything else you do? In recognition of World Voice Day, Dr. Wendy LeBorgne, voice pathologist and singing voice specialist, shares her top five tips to help you be at your best vocally.

1.  Train your voice and body just like an athlete: Learn proper singing technique, don’t overuse the voice, get plenty of rest, eat a balanced, healthy diet.  Singers are like vocal gymnasts who traverse their artistic range with apparent ease and flexibility. Gymnasts are extremely disciplined people who spend hours perfecting their craft and are much more likely than the general public to sustain an injury.  Professional singers carry some of these same risks and must maintain a disciplined practice schedule with intervals of rest and recovery to perform at an optimal level, regardless of genre.

2.  Let your voice shine.  Attempting to imitate someone else’s voice or singing style can require you to sing or do things outside of your comfortable physiologic range or current vocal skill level.  This could result in vocal injury.  Also remember that if you are imitating someone who is already famous, their millions have been made.  You want to be the next star that they hire, not just a copycat.

3.  Pace yourself.  When you are preparing for a show or audition season, you must pace yourself and your voice.  You would not think of trying to get all of your exercise in at the gym by going one day a week for 5 hours.  Rather, you should sing (and exercise) in smaller increments of time (30-45 minutes) each day, gradually building muscular skill and stamina.  As you improve, you should be able to increase the amount of time as well as the difficulty of vocal skill.

4. Avoid phonotraumatic behaviors such as yelling, screaming, loud talking, singing too loudly.  When you increase your vocal loudness, your vocal folds bang together harder (much like clapping your hands really hard, loud, and fast).  After a period of doing this, your vocal folds begin to react to the impact by becoming swollen and red.  Long term phonotrauma can lead to vocal fold changes such as vocal fold nodules.

5.  Adequate hydration.  Be sure to drink plenty of non-caffeinated beverages throughout the day.  Although nothing you eat or drink gets onto the vocal folds, adequate oral hydration allows the mucus to act like a lubricant instead of glue.

 Photo: USC Thorton Popular Music Major – Annie Dingwall


Wendy LeBorgne, PhD CCC-SLP (Voice Pathologist and Singing Voice Specialist) is the director of the Blaine Block Institute for Voice Analysis and Rehabilitation and the Professional Voice Center of Greater Cincinnati. She holds an adjunct Assistant Professor at Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music and the College of Allied Health. Her research includes the area of the Broadway “belt.” In addition to her duties as a voice pathologist, she continues to maintain an active professional performing career.

Comments

  1. Thank you for your post!This tutorial is fabulous! Lots of great info including but, Most of us have heard someone with a nasal voice. It has that high pitched, almost whiny quality which can turn people off in a hurry. This is not the type of voice which helps one’s professional or social life.

  2. First of all, you need to get to know your voice. Figure out your vocal range and try to identify where your vocal break occurs. These are the pitches where the voice of a new singer “flips” from one register to another. For some beginners, the voice may not “flip” but there is still some perceived difficulty to singing clearly without changing the character of the sound.

  3. Try not to avoid the warm up. Begin at Middle C on the piano and gradually work your way all over the scale. Know your reach and its limits. When singing, your breathing ought to be profound, low, and supported. Raise your hard sense of taste with every breath to open the throat. Be beyond any doubt to drink heaps of water when you sing so that your vocal folds won’t dry. – Stephanie Thompson

  4. Japheth

    Thanks for the voice trainings its really helpful 4me. But I do hear some people say taking warm water helps to clear the throat. Pls is this real and applicable……..

  5. Kaileu

    I Was recently put into an a cappella group in my music class. Because we received an invitation to audition for an a cappella singing group. I’ve been getting sick on and off since about November since the weather changes have been switching so drastically. I’m also a cheerleader, which means I use my voice 100% almost. I’m captain of the squad. And most of the girls have stopped calling cheers this year. So all the yelling and cheering and being extra loud is on me. I lose my voice most games now. My teacher forced me to sing even though my voice is still not back. I’m functioning at 50%. I don’t want to damage my voice because it’s a very demanding song with many rifts and constantly changing keys. How do I get my voice back 100% and keep it healthy to where I don’t keep losing my voice easily and can keep my Pitch 100%?

  6. Carla

    I’m in an acapella group and i’m the worst one there. I need to learn how to go higher up the scale. Plus, I do basketball, ballet, and softball, so how am I supposed to prove I can be better? I’ve never been in anything musical, except chorus. What should I do?

    • If you’re serious about wanting to improve, take some voice lessons and make time in your life to do healthy warmups and to practice. And look for summer programs that will help you improve. Otherwise, just enjoy the experience for what it is as long as you can.

  7. Carla

    I’m in an a capella group and I’m the worst one there. I need to learn how to go higher up the scale. Plus, I do basketball, ballet, and softball, so how am I supposed to prove I can be better? I’ve never been in anything musical, except chorus. What should I do?

  8. Paula

    i have a singing audition and my voice seems out of tune.. I think its because of the cold. What would you recommend me to eat so my voice can be better.. because most of the sites say not to take any citrus fruits yet they are the remedy… so what can I do?

  9. I am 14 years old and I have read your articles so far and thinking you might be able to give me some advice. I have been in the choir for about 2 years now and haven’t been able to sing higher vocal without shouting and stressing my voice. What do I do? Would you say it’s normal?

  10. Andrew H

    I’m a 16 year old bass. I’ve been singing for almost two years (Choir). My range typically is from B1-F4 (currently). I used to be able to reach an A1 a G1 on a good day (not completely strong but they were there with fair volume.) but now I seem to have trouble reaching Bflat1 or lower. I’m just wondering as I get older will my voice drop more? I would love to be a Basso Profoundo eventually, maybe an a cappella bass. ex Avi Kaplan, Tim Foust, Geoff Castellucci. I love them I’m just curious if my voice will drop more?

  11. Drink water to keep your body well hydrated, and avoid alcohol and caffeine. Your vocal cords vibrate very fast, and having a proper water balance helps keep them lubricated.  Allow yourself several “vocal naps” every day, especially during periods of extended use.

  12. Sam

    I’m an 18-year-old female starting college this fall as a classical vocal performance major. I identify as a mezzo for now since my voice has a pretty dark quality. For several years now, I always had trouble singing notes above the staff (F’s, G’s, etc.). As time went on, I got a voice teacher who helped me expand and now I have no problems singing an F. However, my voice always cracks between an F and a G, and in order to sing higher than a G, my voice has to “switch” into head voice which is quite breathy. What do you think the problem is that is causing that crack?

  13. Drink water to keep your body well hydrated, and avoid alcohol and caffeine. Before singing you should warm up every time. Vocal exercises are key to making your vocal chords loosen up and enabling them to vibrate more loosely. Using correct breath control is vital to keeping your voice in tip top condition. Keep your throat and neck muscles relaxed even when singing high notes and low notes. All these tips also helpful to keep your voice healthy.

  14. Michael

    I don’t seem to be able to sing more than three songs without totally losing my voice. I’m doing something wrong.

  15. Mimi

    After all those wonderful questions from teenagers, which I have taken to heart . . . I’m 73 and not a professional singer. I did major in music, played piano and organ in church, sang in a choir. I’m going to a wonderful church and want to be able to sing along normally. I can sing a little at home. At church, I can’t even croak. My brain knows where to put the tune; the tune doesn’t come out! I love to play the hymns I grew up with and sing along. . . . Now I’m remembering that my mom began talking in a way that sounded like she was telling a secret. Her mother and sister also did this. An old man that we used to invite for holiday dinners could only whisper. The real change seems to come around age 80. I can still talk normally, if not very prettily. I used to have a gorgeous sexy phone voice and decent singing voice. What on earth happened?

  16. Bec

    THANKYOU so much for your tips!
    I’m a 16 year old girl in the middle of production week for my theatre group’s production of All Shook Up. I play Lorraine, and I have to belt a lot, but I wasted my voice during rehearsal, and am now struggling to sing my parts.
    Do you have any other tips on how to keep my voice in check for 3 more shows?
    Thanks 🙂

  17. Conner

    I’m a 17 year old bass 2. For the longest time (since I hit puberty when I was 12) I was always complemented for my low voice. It used to be clear, crisp, and smooth. Since a show I was in back in the fall where I had to sing in a higher baritone range, my voice has not been as low anymore. When I try to sing or talk in my original low range, its sounds forced and isn’t natural. I’m in theatre and do a lot of loud speaking as well, but I’ve been doing that for a while. Is there any explanation to this? This has concerned me for a while.

  18. Rima

    I followed this article from the top down i.e the interactive as well. I really want to appreciate all efforts and help granted. Here is my problem. I have been in my community gospel music group, I do what everyone listens and appreciate but I really know my rehearsals is not my performance. By that I mean 60% of what I perform is not what I rehearse. My director has timelessly complained about that though hasn’t given me a satisfactory remedy. And finally, how do I manage my stage anxiety with consciousness?

    • We’re unsure of what you are asking for – it sounds like you are saying your performance doesn’t measure up to how you rehearse. If this is the case, we would recommend video recording the performance and reviewing it with your director or with a voice teacher to get clarity about what it is your are doing and how you could improve upon that. As for stage anxiety – we suggest you check out this article: Reducing Music Performance Anxiety.

  19. Kat

    Hi, I am 16 years old and I’m sort of worried. I like to talk a lot, I like to sing a lot (even just casually like to the radio), and I am generally pretty loud when I do these things. I drink soda almost all the time but I also tend to drink about two to three bottles of water during the day. I am concerned because in the past three months I have had two sinus infections which made my throat hurt, but I was also a week before a concert so I had to sing more than I wanted too. Now only a month later my throat hurts again. And sometimes after talking and singing for long periods of time I get sore throats too. What am I dong wrong and how do I fix it? Do these sore throats mean something is wrong???? I hope to major in music in college and perform a lot more too.

    • It sounds like your immune system is not as strong as it needs to be, if you’re getting sick so frequently. Sounds like you need to talk with a health practitioner to learn what you can do to strengthen it. They may suggest you consider replacing soda with liquids containing less sugar. Once you’ve done that, talk with a well-trained voice teacher to get help with taking care of your voice. This will serve you well in the years to come, especially if you want to major in music and be a performer. We also suggest you read other vocal health articles on MajoringInMusic.com to learn about additional ways to keep your voice healthy.

  20. Nicole

    I’m a 13 year-old soprano, it’s my dream to one day be on Broadway. I notice that in the morning I struggle to hit my high notes, is that normal? Just curious, also how do I keep my voice healthy during a show? Thanks:)

      • Do you know how to sustain your range. I am 14 years old and my vocal range keeps getting lower and I’m loosing my good notes. Right now I’m an Alto but I’m going down more and more every couple months. Also lately when I sing I get this pinching dry feeling in my throat. Any advice on that to?

        • We suggest you seek the advice of a voice specialist to help you explore this problem. There could be many reasons for the problems you mention and someone who can work with you in person is important for getting to the bottom of what’s going on. Ask your music teacher or medical doctor for advice in finding a good voice specialist. Best wishes with this!

  21. Katie

    HELP! Tomorrow is my audition for The Little Mermaid and the lower portion of my throat is sore. What can I do to save my voice for tomorrow and still practice my song at the same time?

  22. Your voice is giving you warning signs. Think of yourself as a “vocal athlete” and read the article about vocal fatigue on this website – it will shed some light on the problem. A good voice teacher should also be able to help you figure out how to work with your voice to prevent more serious problems in the future.

  23. I have read these tips and put them into practice, but they are not really helping. I need to increase my voice range, I mean, I want to sing in higher pitches. Can you help me with some exercises and tips that will be useful? Thanks.

    • Your request is not something that can be done without an experienced, professionally-trained voice teacher working directly with you in person or possibly over Skype. You will want to make sure that you are not setting yourself up for vocal injury by attempting something your voice cannot do or by working with someone who is not trained to assess your current vocal limitations and goals to make sure you are aligned with what will protect your voice now and in the future.

  24. Amanda

    Thanks for the vocal tips! I especially liked the section about using your own singing voice rather than trying to emulate someone else. I’ve come across this frequently when teacher younger students.

    I sing in a covers band and do like to add nuances of the original artists but I tend to stick to singers who I think my voice is naturally similar to.

    The following article may be of use to other gigging singers. It’s written by a frontman with 15 years experience and gives some practical advice:

    http://www.functioncentral.co.uk/blog/2014/07/gigging_vocalist_guide_looking_after_voice/

    Thanks 🙂

  25. Alex

    I read the 5 Tips and I do all these things as it is but how can I go even further with singing? I’m a 16 year old girl and I have a range of a Tenor to a Soprano 1. I love to sing more than anything and want to major in Music but what are the best schools for this? And how can I get noticed for my music? I write my own music with my piano and I would love to be discovered one day. Thank you.

    • Alex, thanks for your questions.

      If you don’t already have a voice teacher who can work with you to help you go further with your music, we suggest you find one as soon as possible. Talk with your school choir director for suggestions or check the website of the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) for members in your area. You can also check with a local college or university near where you live. Oftentimes professors as well as graduate students are available to give private lessons.

      As for music schools, we recommend you start by clarifying what your criteria are for choosing a school. This article may help you: How to Choose a Music School. Also look at other articles in the Student Choices tab on the top navigation bar of MajoringInMusic.com. Then you check out schools listed in the Music School Links section of this website. There are many other schools to consider but this may help you get started.

  26. Andrew

    Hey, I like to sing and I enjoy doing this a lot. I want to take this to a professional degree, but I don’t know many things about singing. I have no clue what tone of voice I have, or what that tone may be specifically called. Is there any thing that I can do about this because I do need to be more educated on it.

    And there is one more thing that I am curious of.
    I have been told that I am a pretty decent singer by many people so I was asked to post a video of me singing on Facebook. I used my moms Galaxy S4 and the audio made my voice sound messed up. It sounded like I was nasally and like I was very CONGESTED. So then I tried singing into a microphone and it did the same thing that the phone did. Is there any reason why it is doing this, and is there any known way that I can fix it?

    • It’s great that you’re so interested in pursuing a life as a singer, but don’t put the cart before the horse. While singing is one of the most natural things we can do as humans, it takes incredibly dedicated practice to develop the skills to be a viable professional singer (and to do so healthily!) The best first step would be to find a good voice teacher in your hometown and take a lesson. That teacher will be able to help you carve your own path as a singer far more than you can ever do through impersonal online advice. The other best method is to find a few of your favorite singers that have voices similar to yours and find out everything about their background and try to emulate them, both in sound production and practice methods.

      As for the recording problem, while microphone technology has come a long way, the microphone in your mom’s galaxy phone is not remotely robust enough to accurately represent your voice in all its glory. Depending what microphone you may have tried afterward, it may not have been any better. That’s why professional singers pay to record in studios with microphones that cost thousands and thousands of dollars to best represent the entire frequency spectrum.

      Our hunch is that more than microphone quality, you’re just not used to hearing your own voice. A person’s voice will always sound markedly different to themselves when singing as compared to how it sounds to the outside world (what you hear in the recording), due to the way the voice resonates inside your head. When someone first hears a recording of themselves, it’s almost always jarring and it just takes time to get used to it and reconcile that sound with the sound you hear when singing.

  27. Eboni

    Hi, I just read the 5 tips on how to keep my voice healthy. My Vocal Range is F3-A5, then I tried later on that day and it was F3-F5, I want to major in Musical Theatre and I’m a junior and Im still trying to find songs for my auditions for College, but what would be classified as an mezzo – soprano or an Alto?

    • We’ve asked Enrollment Coordinator Elise Morrow-Schap, at the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music at The Catholic University of America, to respond to your question:

      Hi Eboni,
      This is a great question that comes with a multi-layered answer. The short answer: A typical range for a mezzo-soprano is A3 to about A5 (some mezzo-sopranos are able to sing lower, others higher). A typical range for an alto is G3 to about F5. However, a lot of it also lies within your tone and does not focus purely on your vocal range. Especially early on in your career, it is important not to “box yourself in” to a specific range. When selecting your songs, be sure to choose things that both challenge you and feel comortable/sound strong in your voice. You may surprise yourself in terms of what songs feel the most natural. This will help you find what range you actually feel the most comfortable performing in. I would also meet with and discuss with a vocal coach about your vocal tone and what types of songs work best in your voice. I hope this helps! If you have any other questions, please do not hesitate to contact us. Thanks,Elise

  28. Toa

    Read your article and quite helpful. Want to ask, as a singer/chorister what kinds of foods should be avoided to enhance voice training and prevent voice damage? what about ginger and spices for voice enhancement?

    • Nothing that you eat or drink directly goes over or near your vocal cords. However, if you have reflux (which can affect your voice), the following foods should be avoided (at all times-not just when singing): Spicy, acidic, high fat, tomato-based products, raw onions, raw peppers, alcohol, carbonated beverages, coffee. Here’s a link to our reflux brochure.

      Throat coat tea, Slippery Elm (although they again do not go directly over the vocal folds) are sometimes used by singers to help give a “slippery/wet” feel to the throat (pharynx). Some singers refuse to use milk or milk products close to when they are going to sing and some singers swear by milk before singing.

      Because herbs and natural supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug administration, the rigorous tests regarding safety and efficacy are different than medications (both prescription & OTC). So, you must be very careful as a singer to know what you are taking in and how it may affect your overall body and voice.

      There is a chapter in our upcoming Vocal Athlete book called “Vocal Myths & Truths” which will cover much of this information from teas to honey & lemon to prescription drugs.

      Dr. Wendy LeBorgne, voice pathologist and singing voice specialist

  29. Jeffrey

    I just read 5 tips to a healthy voice and it was really helpful. I am an 18 years old boy but when I sing through the night my voice tends to crack for days and sometimes two weeks. What can I do?

    • All boys go through voice changes, but not in the same way or at the same time. The current thinking is for boys to keep singing through the voice changes, but with support from a teacher or choral director who understands the changing male voice and how to support it.’

      A couple of questions for you:

      1. Do you warm up before you start singing?
      2. Have you checked with a choral director, a voice specialist, or an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor to see if there’s a physical problem as well as to determine whether your vocal technique is causing the problem?

  30. Prestige-Utitofon

    Your 5 tips on how to maintain and keep your voice sound are very helpful, thank you. I’m a gospel artist and A cappella songwriter and singer. 18yrs of age. I was in search of things like this to keep my voice and my A cappella group sound. Thanks 4 ur contribution and advice…

    • Hi Achulonu Denis,

      Cracks in your voice at age 16 are likely due to the growth of your larynx that comes along with puberty. It’s a normal process that affects most every young man your age. But no two guys experience it at exactly the same time.

      Warming up your voice is helpful to prevent cracks. Start by music that brings in more air, and easier music. Try the “siren” exercise, where you slide from very low to very high and back to low. Don”t worry if your voice breaks while you do this. Keep singing unless you experience pain, in which case you should stop and rest your voice.

      Several music teachers associated with the American Choral Directors Association recommend that boys gently sing through the cracks. They recommend that you not force yourself to sing what you used to sing before your voice started changing. But by all means keep singing!

      Note that if you had said that you were in your 20s, we would recommend that you see a voice specialist.

  31. Theresa

    I am a 15 year old girl, obviously still in high school, but being that I’m a junior I’m starting to look more closely at careers. I really want to peruse something in the music industry because music is my passion but I’m kind of stuck. Music therapy, being a talent scout, and music education all sound great but I know no matter what I do I will always want to preform myself(or in an acapella group, I am currently in one and love it). But if i want to do any of the above jobs or preform, what would i major in? should i minor in something? where can i find these job/career opportunities. Any other career ideas or any hep would be greatly appreciated.
    Thank you
    P.S. these are really helpful tips. 🙂

    • Hi Theresa,

      Good for you for starting to think about what’s next after high school! And it’s totally normal to not know exactly what area of music you want to focus on, at this point in time. ‘

      Regardless of what area of music you go into, if performing is important to you, then by all means find ways to make that happen. Many music educators, music therapists, and music industry professionals perform on the side. It’s also an important part of understanding their clients, customers, or students.

      Many colleges and universities have extracurricular a cappella groups that you can audition for. Here’s a list to get you started: Collegiate A Cappella

      And as for minoring or majoring: We suggest you start reading articles on MajoringInMusic.com about different career areas. See if you can find some volunteer work to do in the different fields of music you’re interested in. Talk to people in those fields – ask them what they do and how they decided on their careers. And look for music schools that encourage and support students having a variety of internships throughout their undergraduate education. Through networking and experience, how to proceed will become clear.

  32. Cody

    Thank you so much for the advice! I have an audition in the next few months and I really hope that by doing these things I will sound and feel better whenever I sing

  33. angela

    I read all five tips on healthy voice and I have a question on something other than a healthy voice. I love singing and I want to know where I can get help exploring involvement in the singing industry.

    • Hello Angela,

      You don’t indicate what kind of vocal music you are interested in, nor whether you have already gone to music school.

      What we glean from your comment is that you are interested in a singing career. Indeed, it’s a competitive field, so we suggest you consider hiring a voice teacher to help you determine how you currently measure up, and what you need to do to advance your skills and move forward. Consider contacting the vocal music faculty at any of the schools you’ll find on the right hand side of the MajoringInMusic.com homepage. Most faculty at most schools maintain private music studios or can refer you to someone who can assist you in understanding what you need to do to launch a viable singing career.

      You can also find teachers of singing by clicking on the NATS banner on the bottom of the MajoringInMusic.com homepage.

      Note that there are many summer music camps and programs for teenagers and adults; we’ll be posting our 2013 summer section in December. Summer programs provide a wonderful, focused opportunity to explore all areas of music, network with people you may want to work with, and improve your musicianship and skills.

  34. David Lee

    I just read your 5 tips for a healthy voice and they are filled with great advice. I’m a forty-eight-year-old songwriter trying to improve my range while avoiding vocal stress, damage, etc. Your tips are well-written and make perfect sense. Every little bit helps in my climb up the scale. Thanks very much.

    • Thanks for your comment, David. Indeed, forewarned is forearmed. Far too many vocalists and instrumentalists end up injured (the statistics for instrumentalist are shockingly high) because they didn’t recognize and work with the occupational hazards unique to the profession.

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