How To Improve Your Singing Voice By Caring For It

You’ve made the commitment of both time and money for your singing future. Don’t put additional obstacles in your way by not taking care of your voice. Caring for your voice is like an Indy 500 driver caring for his car.

The National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders estimates nearly 18 million adults report voice problems. Not all these voice problems are for singers and aspiring singers, but they do illuminate how frequently and potentially easy it is to hurt your voice either as a short-term injury or as a chronic, permanent problem.

Every voice teacher will talk about warming up and cooling down. Body muscles require a warm-up to prevent straining something when your muscles are cold, so you shouldn’t go straight to hitting loud high notes. But there is a lot more that you can do to protect your voice before you walk into class, during lessons and after the class.

Keeping your voice properly prepared for practice, lessons and performance means doing specific types of warm ups, cool downs, daily activities, and health care.

Why Voice Maintenance Is Important

Human beings primarily communicate through spoken words. This isn’t going to change even with advances in texting and digital communication! Voice maintenance is necessary for everyone both personally and professionally. For it to be there for us, we need to take care of it well.

Think about that Indy 500 racer and his car. Something as simple as not changing the oil has potentially catastrophic results. While harming your voice won’t be life threatening, it can sideline more than just your singing efforts.

So, many professions rely on a well-functioning voice to get the job done.  Anyone who works on the phone or speaks publicly needs a healthy vocal function. Whether you are a lawyer or a customer service representative, keeping your voice healthy is just as important for you as it is for the professional singer.

What Is an Unhealthy Voice?

There are many conditions that result from having an unhealthy voice. There are temporary and permanent issues that affect voice health. Regardless of the cause, an unhealthy voice has several standard characteristics such as:

  • Raspy sound
  • “Hoarse voice”
  • Constant need to clear the throat
  • Itchy or raw sensations
  • Strain when trying to speak or sing
  • Deeper vocal tone development
  • Trouble hitting higher notes

What Causes an Unhealthy Voice

Many people experience  a voice injury at some point in their life. Common reasons for vocal health problems include laryngitis, nodules, strain and upper respiratory infections. It is also possible to have vocal health issues resulting from cancer, brain diseases or psychological trauma. Since an unhealthy voice affects pitch, it is pertinent that you keep your voice strong and healthy. Here are two common issues:

Laryngitis: Just about everyone has “lost” their voice at some time or another. Losing your voice is medically referred to as acute laryngitis, which is the direct result of swollen vocal cords located in the larynx. When experiencing laryngitis, you may have a raspy voice, experience fluctuations in sound or completely lose the ability to project any sounds at all.

Acute laryngitis is usually caused by muscle strain often due to a viral or bacterial infection or by shouting for extended speaking engagements. Acute laryngitis normally lasts only a few days with rest and pertinent antibiotics prescribed by a doctor.

There are instances where laryngitis is caused by long-term issues and becomes a chronic problem. Acid reflex, smoking, allergies and yeast infections are common long-term issues that lead to chronic laryngitis.

Voice Cord Lesions: Vocal lesions are polyps, cysts or nodules growing on the vocal cords. These are usually non-cancerous. Nodules are a common overuse injury for singers leading to hoarseness. Women up to the age of 50 are more prone to nodules than men.

Nodules are like a callous on one of the vocal cords. Polyps are different in that they grow on both sides of the vocal cords and are more like blisters with blood vessels within the polyp. Polyps are also common overuse injuries, but smoking is a leading factor in the development of polyps.

Cysts are less common among vocal cord lesions. Cysts are fluid-filled sacs growing on vocal cords. All these types of lesion occurrences increase if you sing while sick with an upper respiratory illness.

Vocal Warm-Up Before Singing

It’s been said a million times, and we’re going to say it yet again: “Warm your voice up before singing.” Why? Because it is simply that important.

What does warming up your voice look like?

A lot of warming up is common sense. Warming up, like cooling down, really doesn’t need to take more than five minutes depending on what you are trying to use your voice for. There are a lot of different warm-up exercises, and your voice teacher will set a specific series of exercises for you. Many warm-ups also work well as cool-down exercises.

  • Stretching: Before lessons and practice, take the time to stretch your body loosening your muscles. Think about key areas where you hold stress within your body. People in general hold stress in the muscles in the back of their necks and in their backs; two key areas needed for good voice production and health. Stretching these areas helps promote the good posture necessary for quality practice sessions.
  • Basic Breath Control: Take deep relaxing breaths, controlling exhalation either by holding your breath for a few seconds or by reducing the speed at which you exhale. Both help build strength and control and teach you to develop “singer’s breathing” deep from the bottom of your belly.
  • Find Good Posture: Some people find placing their hand on their belly helps focus their energy and maintain good posture though this is a personal preference with no performance results. Keep in mind that “diaphragm breathing” is nothing you can control but “relaxed breathing” is.
  • Glottal Stop: Learn to strengthen released breath with a glottal stop in your throat as the air pushes up and out creating sub-glottal air pressure — air still below the vocal cords pressing up. Don’t fear the biology term, glottal. It helps everyone make sounds. A glottal stop is used every day when speaking English as the vocal cords come together when making a /t/, /k/, /p/, or /g/ variation between vowels in words like take, stop or pick. A glottal stop also happens when coughing. Finding ways to practice your glottal stop when pushing air up through the air passages strengthens your voice.
  • Jaw Massage: A jaw release reduces tension in the jaw muscles. Good singing is aided by deliberate enunciate and jaw control. Place your hands on your cheekbone and massage facial muscles. Relax your mouth, and allow it to open as your hands press down on the muscles.

Taking Care of Your Voice

Although taking care of your voice on a day-to-day basis might seem like common sense, many people overlook its importance. If you feel a little scratchiness or itchiness in your throat, these are good reminders to take a moment for self-care.

  • No Smoking: Smoking is a known factor to causing chronic laryngitis and lesions. Famed pop singer Robin Thicke puffs away which has led to his having to cancel concert appearances for extended periods due to voice problems. Unfortunately, he continues to puff away.
  • Hydrate: Hydration isn’t just for aerobics. Keep lots of water available during vocal sessions and make sure to drink at least eight glasses of water daily. This helps the body move all required nutrients and minerals to the right areas for optimal performance. Adding moisture to your home environment also helps reduce dehydration and irritation in the vocal cords. You might want to invest in a good humidifier.
  • Limit Caffeine: As much as you need to hydrate, don’t think that energy drinks count. Caffeine is a dehydrator and should be consumed minimally.
  • Rest: If you have exerted your vocal cords, rest them. Whether you were talking over a crowd in a noisy restaurant, screaming at your child’s soccer game or just got carried away with jamming with friends, your voice needs to rest. Give your throat muscles and vocal cords time to relax. Inflammation subsides with rest making the cords feel less scratchy, too. Use your voice as little as possible when sick to avoid irritation. In general, get lots of rest so your body recuperates from daily activities and promotes good posture for singing and hitting those high notes perfectly.
  • Diet Modifications: Acid reflux is a common cause of chronic laryngitis. Adjust your diet, avoiding spicy foods to prevent heartburn and reflux. Make sure you are eating a diet that does not cause gastric distress, with whole foods and less junk.  Consuming foods like plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains that are high in Vitamins A, E, and C or taking vitamin supplements help build healthy mucous membranes.

Does Tea With Lemon and Honey Cure Voice Problems?

Many singers use caffeine-free tea mixed with lemon and honey to soothe their throats and help with minor vocal stress after singing exercises. You may have made the same concoction when sick in hopes of feeling better. There is no harm in using this while working on pitch and tone exercises.

Drinking tea with lemon and honey won’t cure chronic issues, but it does have some proven benefits. Local raw honey is known to have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. This can help the vocal cords fight or prevent an infection and reduce any inflammation. Honey is also very soothing because it coats the throat.

Lemon is high in Vitamin C and other antioxidants. It promotes a healthy immune system, fights free radicals and helps fight against cancerous cell mutation from healthy cells.

A caffeine-free tea helps hydrate and warm the throat. This soothes the throat and, potentially, any sinuses that may be congested. When concerned about your voice, don’t add grandma’s “little extra” to the tea. Alcohol can irritate vocal cords and does dehydrate the body.

During and After Practice

Preparing and warming up is just the start of taking care of your voice. Once you are in a session with your teacher, you can expect to stress your voice as you work on new concepts and techniques. You don’t want this to be a regular thing but your vocal chords may experience strain during the session as well.

So be smart during lessons:

  • Be sure you are maintaining proper posture during practice sessions.
  • Focus on breathing from deep within your belly. Proper breathing helps reduce stress when the vocal folds begin vibrating.
  • When stretching your vocal range to new notes or hitting higher octave sets, pay attention to how your throat feels. Understanding what is normal and what isn’t is important. Stop immediately if something does not sound or feel normal and talk to your vocal teacher about what you are feeling when performing that note.

When the voice lesson is over, don’t merely leave without cooling down. Fortunately, you can cool down while doing other activities:

  • Humming: A popular method to help the vocal cords properly get back to normal is humming. Working up or down a scale while humming “mm” is a good way to cool down and reduce stress on the vocal cords. Close your lips, allowing the humming sensation to tickle the lips and tongue. This moves air through the vocal passage without stress, making a light nasal sound.
  • Trills: These are another exercise used to both warm up and cool down. Place your tongue on the top of your mouth on the soft palate. Keep your tongue there, but relax it making and an /rr/ sound. Exhale making the trill sound working up and down the scale.
  • Continue to drink water after your voice lesson. A teaspoon of honey is another quick way to sooth vocal cords after a stressful session.

When to See Your Doctor

You should review voice issues with your doctor if they are chronic and long-lasting, like allergies, sickness that won’t go away or pain that won’t go away. If you suffer from allergies or take medications that dry your mouth, your doctor might be able to find alternatives to reduce side effects.

If you are sick with a sore throat, you might need antibiotics. Strep throat is a serious infection that can lead to chronic problems if you try to sing or use your voice while sick. Take any needed medication, rest frequently and then get back to your voice routine.

Developing nodules requires talking to your doctor. Of course, the doctor will want to rule out more serious diseases such as cancer. Most likely, rest will be prescribed to see if the body heals itself. Vocal surgery is the last resort to resolving chronic issues. There are risks to vocal surgery that can alter or ruin a singer’s voice.  Better yet, finding a specialized voice teacher who can remove nodules is ALWAYS the safer way to go.  It might mean taking 3-6 months of vocal rest and learning a few new skills to not repeat developing the nodules next time, but it’s possible to remove and recover from nodules without risking surgery.  Using vocal exercises on pitches above the nodule and below the nodule is a sure-fire way to institute corrective vocal production and allow the nodule to subside.

Remember that prevention is the best prescription for voice problems. If you don’t mind us throwing a pun in here, stay tuned to your body so you can stay tuned to conquering your next singing challenge.

We are here to help you learn, grow and stay safe. has all the voice teachers and resources necessary to help you achieve your singing goals without leaving your home. Let us show you how to improve your singing voice safely.

Mike Elson

about the author

Mike Elson Mike loves to sing and make magic happen with computers and music. After trying lots of ways that didn't work to find... Read More