Vocal Health for Singing in Church
December 28, 2018
Anyone who knows me knows that I love to sing. It’s been one of my favorite things to do ever since I was a little girl! I grew up singing in church, and as I got older, I began singing even more and helping lead worship at my local church.
As time went on, God began to open doors for me. In the last several years, I have been blessed with opportunities to sing at a few national conferences and to help with some studio recordings. It has been a blast! But there is no way I could have done it if I had not learned about vocal health and how to properly take care of my voice.
Interestingly enough, my journey in learning about vocal health started AFTER I stripped my voice out one year at church camp and lost it for months.
I’d been singing for years; I never really knew that you could hurt yourself badly if you did it incorrectly.
And I learned the hard way.
That being said, vocal health now has a special place in my heart. What I am about to share is by no means an all-inclusive list. But it includes some of the most basic and foundational things I have learned over the years, and I hope it helps you!
1. Drink tons of water!
And by tons, I mean at the very least, 8-10 cups (4-5 sixteen oz. water bottles) a day, and preferably more. Drinking lots of water is one of the single best things you can do for your voice. The more hydrated your vocal cords are, the more flexible and limber they are, and flexibility is important for proper vocal movement.
When you are dehydrated, your vocal folds can lose this flexibility, and the friction that naturally occurs during vocal movement can cause vocal fold swelling – which in turn can make you hoarse! So drink, drink, drink!
Also remember that the hydration process can take some time. Don’t chug a bottle of water 30 seconds before you’re up to sing and expect it to make a difference. It takes about 20-30 minutes for the water you drink to hydrate your larynx. So be mindful and drink throughout the day with some focus on 30 minutes to an hour before you will be singing.
2. Warm up.
Just like working out without warming up can cause damage, singing without warming up can cause vocal damage! There are many different kinds of vocal warm-ups you can do. My suggestion is to look some up online (YouTube!) or to ask your music director if he/she knows of any good ones.
My personal favorite place to warm up is in the shower. The moisture from the hot water helps relax your vocal cords, making it the perfect place to warm up (especially if it’s in the morning and your vocals are still tight from sleeping all night)!
My friends who have been to conferences with me got to listen to me doing my goofy-sounding warm-ups in the shower while they were still in bed! I’m lucky I still have friends. Haha!
Something else you can do is sleep with a humidifier. Breathing in that moisture all night long while you are sleeping does wonders for your voice!
3. Watch what you eat/drink.
Believe it or not, what you eat and drink can really affect your voice. Some foods and drinks to avoid when you will be singing are:
Dairy – Ice cream, milk, cheese, etc. I LOVE me some good ice cream, but I try not to eat or drink much dairy when I’m going to be singing a lot. Dairy promotes excessive mucus production, which can do a number of things. First of all, it can cause you to clear your throat a lot, which in turn can make your throat “scratchy.” Secondly, the heavy mucus formed by dairy products can coat and weigh down the vocal cords, causing you to have to use more pressure than normal to effectively sing.
Caffeine – This is a hard one for me! I’m a bit of a caffeine junkie (Coke, Dr. Pepper, and coffee), but I really try to avoid it when I’ll be singing a lot. It can dehydrate you, and it can also make you jittery if your body is not used to it. There’s not much that’s worse than getting up to sing or speak and your voice being extra shaky because you’re nervous AND you just drank a 24 oz. Red Bull! Haha! I have heard some people say that a little bit of caffeine actually helps them because it causes them to “wake up” a bit. So use your own discretion. Just don’t go crazy!
Menthol – I’ll be honest and admit that I didn’t know until very recently that menthol is bad for your voice! I did a little research for this post though, and I found out that menthol strips away a protective mucosal lining that protects the vocal folds. (This mucosal lining is not to be confused with the thick mucus produced when you eat dairy products! They are completely different.) So Halls cough drops and Fisherman’s Friends are not as life-changingly wonderful as I thought. ?However! Some alternatives to menthol cough drops are Slippery Elm throat lozenges, liquorish root, or even fruity flavored LifeSavers. You can also drink some warm, naturally decaffeinated tea with honey and fresh-squeezed lemon for its soothing and hydrating effects.
4. Get plenty of sleep.
This is a big one for me personally. If I don’t get enough sleep, my voice goes bye-bye. (Not to mention, if I don’t sleep enough for several nights in a row, my immune system is weakened and I get sick.)
When you sleep, your body rejuvenates and renews itself. And if you are not getting enough sleep, your body – including your voice – will suffer! Catch those zzzzs. If you do feel yourself getting sick, Vitamin Ester C is an amazing supplement to help boost your immune system! Plus, this particular vitamin promotes collagen production, and collagen is one of the components of your vocal cords. It’s a win-win! I usually get mine at CVS or Walgreens; you can also order them from Amazon.
5. If it hurts, STOP.
I cannot emphasize this one enough! If you are singing (or even just speaking), and your throat is feeling tight or sharp – stop immediately! There is a right way to sing and a wrong way to sing. Pain when you’re singing is an indication that something is wrong. I know sometimes you may feel pressure to just keep pushing through the pain. But “no pain, no gain” does NOT apply while singing or speaking. It would be better for you to stop when it hurts than it would be to push through and regret it for months like I did.
Also, when conversing, be aware of your surroundings and the volume of your voice. Try to avoid talking continuously when you’re in a noisy environment. Loud speaking can be just as harmful to your voice as harsh singing, and when you’re in a noisy environment you tend to speak even louder than normal (often without realizing it) so you can be heard above everything/everyone else.
I hope this has been helpful!
Again, by no means is this an all-inclusive list. There are many other vocal health tips, but these are just a few foundational ones that have helped me extensively over the past few years.
Do you have any vocal tips or resources? We’d love to know about them! Be sure to share in the comments.
Dara Orianus is originally from Indiana but moved to Tennessee when she married her amazing husband, Patrick. She loves reading, journaling, being outdoors, and just spending time with the ones she loves the most. She’s also a bit of a travel junkie and gets stir crazy if she’s in the same state for longer than a few weeks. She and her husband sing and play the piano, and they are involved with music ministry, along with other various ministries at their church.