by Wendy LeBorgne, PhD –
As the college audition season approaches, staying healthy for vocal auditions is on the mind of every prospective voice major. Inevitably, the timing of auditions coincides with cold and flu season. You hear horror stories of friends who wake up with a sore throat or runny nose, or worst case scenario, laryngitis, at the worst possible moment. As a professional singer, this is also something that you may experience throughout your career.
The sooner you prepare yourself to prevent and minimize illnesses that can interfere at high stakes vocal demand times, the better off you’ll be. Many of the following tips may be “things your mother told you,” but when they’re not coming from your mom, perhaps you will be more likely to take them to heart.
1. Get Enough Sleep
There is no substitute for sleep. You cannot “catch up” on sleep. People who are sleep deprived generally have slightly depressed immune systems, which makes them more susceptible to illness. Everyone has slightly different sleep needs, but generally speaking, 18-22 year olds require 6-10 hours of sleep daily for optimal brain and body function.
Not only is adequate sleep important to keep your immune system functioning at optimal capacity, but you need to be well-rested to keep your brain mentally sharp. Mental sharpness is vital for remembering lyrics and focusing on being your best for the most important 2-10 minutes of your life.
In a 10-year retrospective study of incoming freshman musical theatre performers (Donahue, LeBorgne, Brehm, & Weinrich, “in review”), over 50% were significantly under-hydrated.
It takes at least 2-3 hours for the liquid you drink to filter through your body and help lubricate the vocal folds. Nothing you drink gets directly onto the vocal folds. Lack of adequate hydration is like not putting oil in a car: the gears don’t work as well, there’s increased heat and friction in the gears, and the oil that’s left tends to be gummy and thick.
The current rule for adequate oral hydration is to take your body weight, and divide it in half. That’s the number of ounces of water you should minimally be drinking (ex. 150 lbs. ÷ 2= 75 oz.). This formula does not take into consideration any activity such as singing or dancing.
Minimize whatever can be systemically drying, such as caffeine. There are certain medications that also have mucosal drying effects. DO NOT discontinue any medication that you have been prescribed, but ensure that you are adequately balancing the drying properties. Besides caffeine, some of the most common and drying medications young adults take include: oral allergy medications (Allegra, Claritin, Zyrtec, Singular, Benedryl, etc.), oral decongestants (Sudafed, etc.); inhaled corticosteroids (Albuterol, etc.); oral acne medications (Accutane); ADD/ADHD medications (Adderall, Concerta, Ritalin); antidepressants (Wellbutrin, Zoloft, etc.).
Finally, beware of “overhydrating” (water intoxication). Over hydration can be a potentially medically dangerous condition. Typically, this only occurs in rare situations and generally results when someone consumes more than 2 gallons of water per day.
3. Don’t Overcommit
If you are auditioning for a career in vocal music, you are likely to be an accomplished and sought-after singer in your high school and community. Because of your talent, you are probably involved in choir, the school musical, private voice lessons, recitals, personal practice time, etc. This generally involves being “vocally overcommitted,” and can be detrimental to your ability to perform maximally at your auditions.
Think of an Olympic athlete who physically overtrains just before their event. They are at increased risk of injury and poor performance, compared to the athlete who gradually builds stamina for a given event so that they “peak” in their performance at exactly the right time. This is your goal for a college audition. You have spent years training and you want to “peak” at your auditions. If you are involved in too many activities (vocal or otherwise), you cannot be in optimal vocal, mental, or physical form for your auditions.
Choose your activities wisely. Practice wisely. Remember that mental practice is highly beneficial –– you can memorize lyrics, rhythms, character choices, dynamic changes.
In addition to your vocal activities, the social activities that often occur throughout your high school senior year may expose you to late nights, loud talking –– even substance abuse. By all means it is important to celebrate your achievements, but as a “vocal athlete,” remember you are in “training” for your auditions, which will help prepare you for the rest of your career.
4. Wash Your Hands
The simple act of washing your hands can significantly reduce the spread of germs from person to person. Think about all the places your hands have been and the things you touch that are shared with multiple others: door knobs, piano keys, cell phones, pencils, desks, computer keyboards, etc. For good hand washing hygiene, use warm, soapy water and sing (in your head or out loud) “Happy Birthday” while lathering up. Rinse with warm water and turn off the water with the back of your hand (or use a paper towel). If you have no available water handy, carry hand sanitizer with you and remember: hand sanitizer must have 60%+ alcohol concentration to combat the spread of flu.
5. Eat Well and Take Your Vitamins
Your body is your instrument. You’ve heard it a thousand times before, but you are what you eat. For optimal performance of muscle and brain function, your body should be well-hydrated and well-nourished. Good nutrition does not begin the day before your audition. Think of eating properly as part of the training process.
Fuel your body with nutritious, wholesome foods. Limit processed foods and sugar consumption. This includes sodas and sports drinks. Take a multivitamin (with limited additives) daily. For more information regarding the nutritional guidelines for teens, check out Dietary Guidelines.
Love this! Thanks for the info 😀
I take vitamins everyday but was unsure about if they really help with my voice but it makes sense that our bodies are our instruments and if we’re not healthy then our voices certainly won’t be healthy. Its good to hear this important information.
Jenn Nashoba-Brown CRTT (Certified Resp. Therapy Technologist)
Great article and wise reminders!
Just a little correction… Albuterol isn’t a corticosteroid… its actually a Beta-2 adrenergic receptor agonist. (AKA: Bronchodialator) However the statement that corticosteroids (Beclomethsone, Flonase, etc.) are drying is quite correct.
Thanks Wendy – as you know i too am passionate about preventing vocal problems before they start. This is a good list for starters.
I suspect that the hardest for most singers is “Don’t Overcommit” — to which I would add: Try not to take illness or usage injuries like nodules,, as a personal failure! Be a Diva inside for the weekend, = keep your distance, steam your facial cavities. Just my fave.
Joanna, I was just about to comment on how “Don’t Overcommit” is such wise and overlooked advice. I also love your addendum of not taking illness as a personal failure. We as singers seem to believe that we are supposed to be “superhuman” sometimes due to the nature of our skill, but our bodies require care and rest just like everyone else. Great advice for not only to students auditioning but singers of any age! Thank you for this list Ms. LeBorgne!