500 words or less: Five Good Habits for Vocal Health

Singing voice hurts?

This is a common complaint amongst singers. And a number of you have asked about how to keep your voice healthy and working right, before and after some problems. There are lots of great ‘do’s and ‘don’t’s, but here are my top 5 for today…

1. Carry a bottle of water with you all the time – OK, we all know how important it is to drink water, but the focus here is on developing good habits. I carry a bottle of water with me everywhere. Whether I glug, sip, gargle or don’t even use it, the bottle is always with me. Keeping a bottle of water with you is the best way I’ve found to combat dehydration and to keep your vocal cords lubricated to fight it if your singing voice hurts.

2. Don’t try to be heard over loud environments – When you’re out at gigs, clubs, performing, or even as a teacher, don’t try to speak so as to be heard over loud environments. This is a surefire way to cause your vocal cords to suffer ‘adema’, i.e. to swell, and – hey presto! – voice is gone. Best habit I have developed is just to not talk at all when in such environments. Wearing earplugs also helps you to hear how loud you are really talking. This is an easy way to end up hurting your voice and find your singing voice hurts.

3. Stay away from smoking and smokers – You CANNOT sustain a career as a singer and smoke regularly. End of. At the minimum it dries out your vocal cords and long term regular use damage the tissue of the cords. Passive smoking carries the same risks. Even if you don’t care about your lungs, show your vocal cords some love and stay out of those environments. Ultimately, it’s your vocal health at risk here, you shouldn’t feel bad about making your excuses and going elsewhere or asking people not to smoke. Stay away from smoking and smokey environments to avoid hurting your singing voice.

4. Lost your voice? Rest your voice totally for much longer than it takes just to get it back – Usually the vocal cords are swollen when we lose our voice. Complete vocal rest is the best way to get back up to speed, but we need to rest our voice much longer than it takes just to get it back – i.e. rest it another few days to week longer. If we start to use it again before it’s fully recovered, then you can go right back to square one or constantly be battling swollen vocal cords. So rest for longer than you think you need. Otherwise that complaint of ‘my singing voice hurts!’ ain’t gonna go away!

5. Pay attention to what your body is telling you – Some singers have voices that can sustain hours of singing without feeling their voice tire. Some of them need to rest every 20-30 minutes, or even every 5 minutes! Above all, pay attention to your body and how it feels, and craft your practice and performance regime around that. Strength and stamina comes in time and your own abilities from over time will vary, so get in the habit now of learning what you can/can’t take.

That’s my top tips for what to do if your singing voice hurts and how to keep it in tip top shape. That’s all for now!

Learn More: Related Articles

If you want to learn more about vocal health and voice issues, you may enjoy the following articles:
Shouting masquerading as singing: Why so many singers are just yelling
Why vocal problems so regularly derail careers, permanently
Famous Singers with Voice Problems
Vocal Health Issues
Vocal Longevity: The Icarus Effect
Why do I keep losing my voice: Overuse, Misuse and Abuse
The Seriousness of Vocal Fold Nodules

Steve Balsamo

This is Steve Balsamo’s performance of ‘Gethsemane’ from Jesus Christ Superstar, and he does the mentalness of Ted Neeley’s original performance from the Jesus Christ Superstar film decades ago. I’d recommend watching the whole thing, but if you want to skip straight to the mentalness, shoot to 2m44s and you’ll get about 20 seconds run up into his prowess in full swing.

No, that is not falsetto, it’s head voice. You can hear he hits ‘that note’, then riffs (i.e. does some other notes in a musically cool and funky way) down back into chest voice in a fully connected way – if all the notes sound tonally even and connected together with no real tonal shift then it’s not falsetto.

But if you listen a little bit longer, as he’s ascending back up again, you can hear a noticeable shift into head voice. It’s still very impressive, but note that the illusion of one voice is damaged.

Learning points:

#1 – Half the range, twice the quality – While this is incredibly impressive, when you sit back and think objectively about the overall tone of his voice throughout, you can hear he is having to be incredibly light throughout in order to make sure he’s able to “get up there”. This means that although the high notes sound impressive, he’s compromised the whole of his vocal tone the rest of the song to get up there.

A phrase that is important to remember is that when it comes to longlasting voices, longlasting careers, and an audience that never gets tired of your voice, is to half the range to give twice the quality. So what if you hit crazy high notes, if your quality is compromised to do that, what was the point?

#2 – Technique does not equal listenability or success – This guy has done some incredible stuff here. But how many of you know his name? What about Michael Buble? Or Ed Sheeran? Almost all of you have heard their names. Their voices are lovely, but nowhere near as technical. What they are doing is almost pedestrian in comparison. Yet they fill stadiums and have millions of fans as well as critical commercial success. What gives? Music is not a competition. How much you can do with your voice is not as important as what choose to do with it. Being listenable is far more important than showing off a billion notes a second.

Now while this seems very similar to half the range, twice the quality, this is to point out that the real test you should always be sitting is “are you sounding good?”. Not “are you sounding impressive”. Impressive technique does exactly that for the first few seconds – it impresses. But what happens after that? Very few know about Steve Balsamo, yet Buble is a household name.

Make your first priority being listenable, and the rest will follow. Trust me on this.

Rhyming + Songwriting

Stumbled upon this great clip today, had to share.

I felt the need to share because someone intuitively commented on this very idea in a songwriting workshop I went to. The presenter in this video discusses how choosing your words to rhyme or not rhyme, or to imperfectly rhyme, can really change or ‘subvert’ the mood of a song. Rhymes create predictability, and this can be a good thing, e.g. to help a listener engage with the song and make it feel familiar and comfortable. Or you might want to take the listener away from a comfortable place… all this can be done just with how you rhyme, and this video explains really clearly how that might work.

Bruno Mars

Great artist, great tune, great performance.

Bruno (real name Peter Gene Hernandez) has only had one album to date, entitled ‘Doo Wops and Hooligans’ released in late 2010, but it’s pretty epic as a first offering. He’s currently getting a new album recorded and I plan on picking it up as soon as it’s out.

His debut album features a variety of tunes all with reasonably different styles, but all have a distinctive Hawaiian/reggae backdrop… you might think I’m making that up, but if you listen closely it’s a common theme running through almost every track and this is even admitted by Bruno himself in a few interviews, citing growing up in Hawaii as a major influence in his lifestyle and writing.

Here’s a thing or three…
Focusing on a few of the tracks:
– ‘Just the way you are’ – This has arguably been the most successful song from the album. It’s a feel-good anthem played at weddings across the world in the last few years. The melody on the chorus is really simple, memorable, and the last line is a good ‘hook’ that really sticks in your mind. I like it anyway!
– ‘The Other Side’ – The amazing Cee-Lo Green features in this track (Cee-Lo will be featured in a later blog post) and it is a stonkingly cool track. Artistically, I like the way the lyrics say very little, but you paint a whole world in your mind. Technically, the melody of the chorus is stupendous, as it 100% out of chest voice… not a single note in chest voice, and it goes a good octave about chest voice too. But you’d never know, Bruno just makes it sounds as effortless as he was telling you about it… amazing.
– ‘Runaway Baby’ – The song linked to above is the song that sold me on Bruno Mars and made me buy his album. I’d heard ‘The Lazy Song’ which I really don’t like (sorry!) and that turned me off, but then I heard this and saw this performance and it made me want to hear more of this guy. Great thing about this is how catchy the riff is, and how simple the melody is, but the rhythms are infectious. Love it.

And I’ll leave you with…
The best thing about Bruno (I feel) is how he marries technical ability with songwriting ability and has brought that out into the market relatively late in his life. He was in his mid-20s before he started to make waves across the world, which is late by some standards, but had been a successful songwriter in his own right for other artists. I think that is very encouraging for those who harbour desires of a musical career but think that because they are not 18 anymore then they can’t make it. Bruno stands apart and shows that this isn’t true. His technical ability is amazing, but he uses that to great effect to serve the songs he rights, which are immensely catchy in their own right.

In short, Bruno rocks, have a listen. The songs might seem impossible to some, but with the right guidance they are totally achievable. Also, let me know if there are any other artists you’d like me to look at.