Weekly Teaching Tip May 23, 2011
(The following was in response to a question I received from a student that was singing at a gig and complained that after just a few numbers his voice felt very dry and he had more difficulty singing than was usual. He asked if he just needed to drink more water.)
The key to easy singing is to keep the mucous membranes in your nose and throat moisturized. The vocal folds themselves don’t “wear out”, the mucous membranes just become dried out and thus makes it much more difficult to sing. If you rub your hands together for a while they will become sore, but if you rub your hands together using lotion, the friction between your hands is greatly reduced and you can rub much longer and much more easily.
Drinking water is always a good idea for a singer. Singers should be drinking at least 32 ounces of water per day. However, it takes at least 1 hour for the water that you drink to actually make it to your vocal cords. For this reason it is a better idea, especially before, during and after performances, to inhale the moisture rather than to drink it. So, you can take a spray bottle and put room temperature water in it. Then put it on “mist” setting. Then while spraying it into your mouth you can then inhale so that you actually get the moisture directly to your vocal folds rather than having to run through your entire system. This ‘shot of moisture’ will last approximately 20-30 minutes before you have to do it again. You have to practice this so you don’t gag yourself, but it works. This will give you a more immediate benefit then drinking the water. (Phil Collins would actually vocalize in a wet sauna for 45 minutes before every performance to make sure he was properly moisturized.) Remember, in the long run it is still a good idea to drink plenty of water as well.
Water is actually not a very good lubricant however, so it is actually even better to be “inhaling” things that have some lubricating quality as well. You can use products like “Entertainer’s Secret” or “Thayers Dry Mouth Spray”. It is also a good idea for a singer (especially if the singer has any kind of allergies or regular sinus problems) to use some kind of nasal rinse on a daily basis. A saline rinse works, or I like a product called Alkolol. Or, here is a recipe I got from an ENT that you can make yourself. Recipe: 2 teaspoons Glycerin, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 quart lukewarm water, 6-8 drops of lemon lime. This can be used both as a nasal rinse or to inhale.
A good warm up is also essential, but not a work out. Just a warm up that will stretch and loosen your vocal cords so that you do not abuse them by forcing things when you first start singing. (A runner stretches and loosens up before a race, they don’t work out.) I like doing a good, 20 minute workout and finish at least 30 minutes or even an hour before I have to sing. Then I do a real quick 5 minute, light warm up just before I sing using bubbles, tongue rolls and “hooty” ee and oo vowels just before I sing and I feel ready to go. My voice seems to last throughout the performance and work well when I do these things.
The final ingredient is to make sure you are getting enough rest. Vocal folds need time to recover just like any athletic activity requires. So don’t forget the need to sleep and allow your body to regenerate!