Learn How to Avoid Throat Irritation When Singing
Keeping The Throat Healthy
"If I cannot fly let me sing." -- Stephen Sondheim.
Singers and speakers alike will often acquire throat irritations. This interferes with the voice and interrupts the singing process. This can be most frustrating, especially when we don't know what causes the irritation. Any type of irritation in the larynx can rob the vocalist of a successful performance. Every singer has a responsibility to learn what to do to avoid throat problems. The tips I'm going to talk to you about are proven -- they've been tried and tested for years among singers from every genre.
- When we sing loud and long, it is crucial that we use proper breath support to avoid abusing the voice. Always measure the amount of air needed for each phrase. When releasing air as you sing, hold back (suspend) and don't allow all the air to escape at once.
- A tickle is caused by dryness in the throat. The dryness can cause coughing. To avoid this, drink plenty of room temperature water to keep the vocal cords hydrated. You may also try drinking warm lemon tea, with a small amount of honey before singing. This is better than anything on the market, which really does nothing anyhow.
- Avoid any yelling, screaming, and extreme temperature changes, such as going from air conditioning to a hot temperature, and vice versa. When we yell or scream, it's much like scratching your vocal cords with your fingernails.
- Sleeping with a humidifier is necessary for serious singers. The steam from the humidifier, enters the nose and throat, bringing much-needed moisture to the area. This is highly important for those who sleep with the mouth open, which dries out the throat. You can also inhale steam from a hot shower or boiled water (put a towel over your head when inhaling the steam). Be careful not to get a steam burn.
- Moisture to the throat is needed at all times, particularly when singing and giving speaking presentations. Sip, sip, and then sip some more all day long. Keep a bottle of room temperature water with you at all times. The throat must be wet and moist in order to function well. Soft drinks and fruit juices are no substitute for water.
- Never drink ice cold water, juice, or soda within three to four hours before singing. Cold temperatures restrict the vocal bands, hindering the vibrations needed to produce sound.
- Avoid coffee on the day you sing. The caffeine in coffee will dry the vocal cords.
- The same holds true for alcohol, antihistamines, most medications, and of course, smoking (including second-hand smoke and vaping). If you can't control these substances, you're better off not singing. I personally have worked with very famous singers, who smoke, drink, and do drugs and I have witnessed what happens to these voices. Some artists have spent a small fortune for "quick fixes" just to be able to do a concert and sound great. You would be amazed at who these singers are. So do not fall into these bad and destructive habits in the first place. It will take its toll.
"A song will outlive all sermons in the memory." -- Henry Giles
Vocal Abuse and Laryngitis
Laryngitis can last anywhere from a few days to weeks, and it can re-occur again. It can be brought on by a virus. But most singers who contract laryngitis do so by abusing the voice box. The three main reasons for vocal abuse are (1) Yelling or screaming at a sporting event (or at your kids) (2) Singing too loud (over singing) and/or (3) Singing too high.
- Rest. If you suspect signs of vocal abuse, you must rest your voice. Stop singing and even speaking, if you can. Give the vocal bands time to recover and heal. Otherwise, you invite more throat irritation. Bathe your throat with water by drinking not only h20, but warm lemon with honey tea. Using fresh lemons is best and may bring faster relief.
- Easy humming. As soon as your throat is better, introduce easy humming before singing vowels found in words. Correct humming gives you a feeling of vibrations in the lips and lip areas. Take care that you "place" the tone in the nasopharyngeal (mask) area. Your singing range must be the middle range of your voice so that it is easy and very relaxed.
- Don't force it. Never, ever force your singing voice. Good and correct singing should always feel easy. There is never a strained or forced feeling. Like all of Mother Nature's offspring, the human voice should be natural and easy, even when singing loud or high. If you feel any discomfort in the throat area, your singing is incorrect.
- Breath support. The best friend to the singer and speaker is breath support. With every note you sing, with each word you form, you absolutely must have enough air for the tone to "ride" on. Diaphragmatic breathing acts as a "seat" or "cushion" for the tone. If you try to sing louder or higher without the support for the voice, you will suffer vocal abuse.
- Avoid polyps/nodes. At all costs, you want to avoid growing polyps/nodes on the vocal cords. This type of damage usually requires surgery followed by vocal therapy.
- Avoid whispering. There may be times when you are tempted to whisper, especially if you have laryngitis. Whispering puts more strain on the vocal cords. If you must talk do so lightly.
- Sing within your vocal range. All notes must feel comfortable and easy. If you feel your throat getting tight with a gripping feeling you are singing beyond your natural range. Stop doing this immediately!
No Dairy While Singing
Dairy products are a no-no and must be avoided before singing. Most dairy, especially ice cream and milk, will cause phlegm and mucus to build up. Mucus is thick and makes the singer want to clear their throat. Clearing the throat is not a good habit. Every time you clear your throat, it's like scratching your vocal cords with your finger nails. Instead of clearing your throat, just swallow a few times. If your mouth is dry and water is nowhere to be found, simply and gently bite the tip of your tongue. This action will provide you with enough moisture to swallow.
So, save the ice cream for after a concert, or rehearsal. Ditto for other dairy foods.
"Singing lessons are like bodybuilding for your larynx." -- Bernadette Peters
Have a Tickle in Your Throat? Try Salt Water
As a singer, I have found that salt water is one of my best friends. I can't tell you how many thousands of students this easy combination has rescued from a tickle to a full-on sore throat.
- Saline spray. My favorite is a bottle of nasal saline spray (salt and water). Simply spray the salt water solution up into your nose to wash out the germs. As soon as you get a tickle, by flushing your nasal passages, you can prevent the mucus from getting too thick.
- Gargling. Another way to go is to try gargling with warm salt water. Add a few teaspoons to a half cup of warm water and then gargle. Repeat this several times each day until symptoms disappear.
- Avoid coffee and chocolate. The other foods to avoid before singing are coffee and chocolate. The caffeine in both products will dry out the throat. It's important to keep the vocal cords moist during singing.
- Good health. Nourish your body with good nutrition and get plenty of sleep. Remember, as singers, we use our entire body when we sing - our bodies are our vocal instrument. Protect it, care for it and remember to "tune it" often with correct warm-ups.
Your voice is meant to serve you with power and beauty all your life. Following these tips will assure you that it will.
"I can’t stand to sing the same song the same way two nights in succession, let alone two years or ten years. If you can, then it ain’t music, it’s close-order drill or exercise or yodeling or something, not music.” -- Billie Holiday
Sing with joy.
Luciano Pavarotti: One of the Greatest Tenors in the World
Quotes From The Greatest Tenor in The World, Luciano Pavarotti
"I'm not a politician, I'm a musician. I care about giving people a place where they can go to enjoy themselves and to begin to live again. To the man you have to give the spirit, and when you give him the spirit, you have done everything."
"I think a life in music is a life beautifully spent and this is what I have devoted my life to."
"Nothing that has happened has made me feel gloomy or remain depressed. I love my life."
(I love this quote from Pavarotti)
"If children are not introduced to music at an early age, I believe something fundamental is actually being taken from them."
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"The whole world will be listening today to his voice on every radio and television station, and that will continue. And that is his legacy. He will never stop." -- Zubin Mehta
Warning: Sing Within Your Key Range
The acceptable singing range for most singers is two to two-and-a-half octaves. although the range can produce notes of higher and lower pitch. Singers with a range of four to five octaves are exceptional.
Classification of voices (soprano, alto, tenor, bass, baritone) is made chiefly according to where the best quality of tone lies within the voice. The maximum range of pitch is determined by the length and size of the vocal folds and the ability to coordinate the vocal muscles with the rest of the body
Every song you sing should be written in your key. What does this mean? Your singing voice has a range which is limited to how high and how low you can sing. When a singer needs the notes to be higher than written in the original key, it means the song needs to be transposed into a higher key. This works the same for low notes.
Singers do not sing in just one specific key. This is because composers use different keys (scales) to write music. Professional vocalists hire manuscript writers to transpose the music into their specific singing range.
Most people learn a song by imitation. They repeat what they hear regardless of whether the song is too high or too low for them. When they do this they can damage their voice because they strain the vocal cords. The result can be hoarseness, a sore throat, or eventually, vocal nodules will grow on the vocal bands.
This happens often in choirs. Never allow a choir director to make you a soprano if you are an alto...or a tenor if you sing bass.
How do we know if a song is too high or too low for us? It's really quite simple. Listen to your body. If singing a high note doesn't feel easy - the note is too high. The same is true for low notes. Avoid trying to sing any song that is out of your natural vocal range. Otherwise, you risk doing severe damage to your vocal cords.
Sometimes using proper diaphragmatic breathing will help to sing higher notes. This is because higher notes require more air. This doesn't always work. You must be the judge.
The general rule for all singers is: If the notes are difficult to sing - don't sing them. You always have the option of transposing songs that are out of your range into a key that is comfortable for you.
With proper use and care your voice will last you a lifetime.
One of my favorite tenors ~ He sees through his heart
Questions & Answers
© 2011 Audrey Hunt