Singer Self-Care: A Crash Course

Singer Self-Care: A Crash Course

Johanna Vinson (Musae) give us a crash course on singer self-care.

Aug 22, 2017 by Evan Feist
Singer Self-Care: A Crash Course
By Johanna Vinson

For those of us who sing a lot, maintaining vocal health has become somewhat of a habit over the years. Certain elements of it are ingrained into our routines, and we don't have to think about it.

We know the rules. But what if you can't get enough sleep? What if you don't sing regularly? What if you're just curious as to how certain singers can do it night after night?

Lucky for us all, no matter who you are, you can find out what you want to know!

nullMy name is Jo, and I sing a lot.

I'm fortunate to get to travel to most of my singing locations, but it gets hard on my voice at times. Nothing like airplane air to ruin your day!

As I said, there are a handful of things that any singer will tell you you need to do to ensure optimum vocal health. And we begin, always, with good ol' H2O.

Water is your body's best friend. Get yourself a good water bottle and drink on up. This is of course, to keep your body hydrated.

If you are dehydrated, your vocal chords are dehydrated, and singing on dehydrated vocal chords can hurt!

Handheld steamers are all the rage, and giving your chords a good steam daily, and even more frequently if you're doing daily singing, can do wonders.

Look how relaxed she is! I bet her voice feels like it took a trip to the spa.

Warming Up
Do you ever see athletes just roll out of bed and start lifting their heaviest weight or running their farthest distance? No, you don't. Don't you need a good stretch when you first wake up? Of course!

I'll be the first to admit that I don't always warm up as much as I should, and I can always tell, even though I mostly sing low. Give your voice the chance to stretch out and relax before forcing your chords to bang together.

A proper warmup can be the difference between ending a show feeling spent but healthy and being in pain. And, I'm sorry to break it to you, but the very first thing you have to do to warm up your voice is breathe.

Breath exercises are everything, because, let's face it, you can't sing without air. I know this isn't what you want to hear. Sitting in the car on the way to the gig counting your breath and doing lip trills seems tedious. "Let's skip to the SINGING," your brain cries!

But alas, all good vocal technique begins with the breath. In fact, let's all exhale together in exasperation that we can't skip the small stuff.


Vocal Rest
If your voice is already hurting, the first thing you should do is go on vocal rest. This means no talking, no whispering, no laughing, nothin'.

I know, it sounds like a sad day to have, but it's for the sake of your instrument! People with higher self-esteem than I will bring around a note pad and write responses to people if they are in a situation in which they need to communicate.

Lucky for me, unless I'm traveling, I can camp out at home with a "Harry Potter" marathon and not speak to anyone for days. Give your voice the time its needs to heal.

And honestly, I might have put this shirt in my Amazon shopping cart...


My most favorite step of all is to make sure to get enough sleep. This can be a challenge whether you're a parent, a traveling musician, someone who struggles to sleep in unfamiliar places, or a night owl, because our brains love to find reasons to not rest enough even if our bodies need it.

Have you ever been traveling and you get sick immediately upon going home? Like your body waits until it the last possible second to cave in?

That's your body going "slow down please." I got mono in college, and ever since I have about four days of minimal sleep in me before my tonsils get big and my throat begins to hurt.

So, despite wanting to go out and catch up with friends when I travel far and wide, I've learned to listen to my body and give it what it needs, which is a full eight hours of sleep.

There's also the chance that I am getting old, but I haven't fully accepted that yet. Be like this sleepy good boy. What a good boy!


Other Things To Know:

  • Alcohol dries out the voice (because it dehydrates you, duh). Also, full disclosure, doing a show with a hangover is just not fun, and I would know. Save the cheersing for after the gig, OK? I love a good cocktail, but there's a time and a place.

  • Smoking is bad for you and your voice. I probably don't need to go on.

  • Caffeine also dries you out! I used to be a four times a day coffee drinker, but I've weaned myself off in the last two years because I wanted my body to respond to it the way it should to a stimulant rather than just allowing me to keep my eyes open. That, and the headaches.

  • Scarves aren't just cute -- they are good for your voice! You know how you see athletes wear full sweat suits and stuff before big events? Keeping their muscles warm is crucial to good performance. Well, your voice is a muscle too! Keeping it warm before a show or recording session is clutch.

  • Ibuprofen will reduce the swelling of your chords; however, it doesn't repair the damage that might be done to them if you keep on singing. If you're popping ibuprofen before every gig this week, you run the risk of hemorrhaging. This should be -- in my opinion and I'm not a doctor -- something you take when you're not going to do any more singing and you're going on vocal rest. Reducing inflammation is amazing for healing over time, not as a quick fix to be able to hit the high notes night after night.

Now, in addition to attempting to follow these rules during my travels, I also incorporate a few other things into my routine.

Everyone is different, so take these ideas with a grain of salt! I am a huge proponent of essential oils and using them in smart ways alongside a healthy lifestyle and, if needed, appropriate medicine.

There's an oil for everything, so I'm going to limit this list to things that have helped me stay at my healthiest while traveling for up to six weeks at a time:

nullThieves - This blend is great for supporting a healthy immune system. It comes in a Vitality version that is FDA approved for ingestion, and I take a drop every day in a capsule. If I feel a sore throat coming on, I up it to several times a day.

- Another one that comes in Vitality for ingestion, I love this to support the body's natural response to inflammation. If my voice is tired after a show, I won't even put this in a capsule, I'll just drop it down the hatch!

- I love to make this into tea. I put a couple drops of this (also Vitality) with some honey in a mug of hot water and drink it. Tastes better than Throat Coat!

nullEucalyptus - Is there anything more refreshing to the sinuses than a good whiff of eucalyptus? Especially if you're stuffy. It's pretty mild, so just a few drops right on my chest and I'm breathing easy.

- Another one that's lovely as a tea, especially if my throat is tired. Also good for just breathing in as a makeshift steamer.
A few drops in hot water and hold your hands over the top of the mug and breathe.

- To unwind at night and make sure I'm getting the best rest I possibly can, especially if it's limited. Sometimes I have a hard time falling asleep in new places, so having something familiar like a relaxing smell can be really helpful in my getting to sleep quickly.

Between all of these things, it's pretty rare for me to lose my voice when traveling anymore. Whether or not you're a professional singer, if you have something you're singing for, it matters that we are in the best shape we can be. Good luck, and sing on! (Unless you're on vocal rest, of course.)


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