You Only Get One Voice - Take Care of it! (Simple Tips for Preserving Your Voice Between Gigs)

Being a singer generally means your voice is your main instrument of choice. There are some awesome advantages to this (for example, not having to haul around a stand-up bass everywhere you go). There are, however, some disadvantages as well. I think every singer I know has experienced the terror of waking up the morning of a gig with a sore throat, felt paranoia set in along with the first cold breeze of fall, and desperately chugged a glass of water when they weren’t feeling 100 percent before jumping on stage.

As a singer, your instrument is part of your body, and unlike a guitar or a drum set, it can get sick. It can become fatigued, and, in some of the worst cases, injured. Despite all this, vocal chords are actually fairly resilient, and if you take proper care of them, you can prevent fatigue and injury, and even sing through some minor colds. Today I want to cover a few basic tips for taking care of your voice between gigs so you can give your best performance when the time comes.

  • Drink lots of water

    This is a pretty easy one. The more lubricated your vocal chords are, the better for your vocal health and the sound you produce. Drink water when you get up in the morning, drink it with every meal, and drink it before and during your show. Just make sure you know where the bathrooms are!

  • Don’t drink lots of alcohol

    Alcohol doesn’t hurt your voice persay, but it is dehydrating. It can also act as a numbing agent, so you may not realize you’re damaging your voice if you’re singing after you’ve been drinking. In general, save the alcohol drinking for your off days and after the show. If you drink alcohol the night before a show, make sure you drink lots of water before you go to bed and when you got up in the morning to get rehydrated.

  • Don’t shout over top of loud music

    This goes hand in hand with David’s recent blog post about preserving your hearing. As a musician, you work and play in many extremely loud environments. Just as that level of noise can be damaging to your hearing, trying to speak over top of it can be just as damaging to your voice. If your environment is too loud to speak at a regular volume, save the deep conversations for outside, or sit beside the person you are speaking to.

  • Get a good sleep

    It is amazing what a good sleep can do for you. If your voice is feeling fatigued, try to turn it in early. If you can sleep in the next day, even better! Sleeping is going to give your voice a chance to recover a bit, and sometimes that’s all you need to feel ready for your next gig.

  • Listen to what your voice is telling you

    Your voice is smart. If it doesn’t like the way you’re treating it, it’s going to let you know by hurting, sounding funny, or just not working. As a general rule, if something you are doing to your voice hurts, don’t do it!

Keeping your voice healthy is super important as a singer, and it’s not that tough as long you take care of it. I hope these tips help out! If you have any tips of your own, or want to share your own experiences as a singer, chime in in the comments below!

Posted by Justin on 11/07/2012 | 27 comments


Posted by nevaehpc on Nov 7 2012 10:25 PM
Well wasn't this a timely message. I just went to the doctor today because I'm losing my voice, no strep though. Got antibiotics. But maybe prevention would have helped. :-) Thanks for the post.
Posted by HilaryCanto on Nov 19 2012 8:35 PM
Hi guys, great to see you all thinking about your vocal mechanism! As a voice coach my job is to make sure singers are getting the best of their voices and taking care of them. Check out my website www.hilarycanto.com Keep up the great work folks and of course the great singing
Mark Dawson
Posted by Mark Dawson on Nov 7 2012 5:04 PM
Great post, Justin. I have followed every one of those steps and have had only minimal problems over the years! If it's okay, I'd like to add one more "vocal health" tip; for those times when you're feeling congested...either nasally or in your respiratory system...try a natural method. Eat peppers! Just a little bite to get started. The stronger the pepper, the more it will open your nasal passage. And have some Kleenex nearby! Happy vocalizing, everyone. Mark Dawson http://MarkDawson.us
Posted by Nevaeh on Nov 7 2012 10:25 PM
Well wasn't this a timely message. I just went to the doctor today because I'm losing my voice, no strep though. Got antibiotics. But maybe prevention would have helped. :-) Thanks for the post.
D. Anson Brody
Posted by D. Anson Brody on Nov 7 2012 10:27 PM
Energy drinks, soda, and strong coffee are detrimental to my vocal chords. Does anyone else have this problem? I can still sing loud with a powerful mixed voice but I loose a lot of subtlety in the dynamics of my head voice and I have a lot harder time transitioning between chest and head voices. I'm pretty sure caffeine dehydrates too, but I don't have the same problem with tea. Maybe it's psychosomatic. :confused:
Curtis Shelburne
Posted by Curtis Shelburne on Nov 7 2012 10:35 PM
Great tips! And I know everybody also has some tricks/concoctions of their own . . . but I will say that green tea & honey seem to really soothe and lubricate my throat. (I try to slow down on coffee on the evening and morning before a performance, which is hard, because I love the stuff!) And the psychosomatic stuff? Glad I'm not the only one. I got "red light fever" big time before I recorded recently. Once we started, the ol' voice was fine!
Lenka Lichtenberg
Posted by Lenka Lichtenberg on Nov 8 2012 1:10 PM
Hi all, great discussion! I will throw in some more tips that will make you laugh perhaps! I studied opera in my home country Czech Republic. At the Prague Music Conservatory, the word for us singers was, - sardines! before we had vocal exams, recitals, anything like that, us girls went to the bathroom and shared cans of sardines. Whar a smelly lot we must have been! I suppose the idea was to "grease" our vocal chords. I cannot confirm if this works now, as I am vegan, but would be curious what others think! And second one- hot water with lemon. While lemon is supposedly making it hard to produce sound- i am "addicted" to it and it works- if I don't have amug with hot water and lemon near me somewhere on stage- i get paranoic. I drink it in the morning as well, to wake up the voice. This may be completely counter-intuitive for some! And finally- i got used to singing with a chewing gum in my mouth! It helps keeping the mouth lubricated in shows where there's no chance to have a quick sip between numbers. I did swallow the gum a couple of times, but mostly it is just fine, a habit by now - nobody notices- I don't actually CHEW, it just sits in my mouth! All these tips are funny and personal and may not work for anyone else- but here they are! Happy singing, everyone! Love from Toronto. :love:
Si Connelly
Posted by Si Connelly on Nov 8 2012 1:33 PM
Thanks loads guys, my only issue is that take Whiskey for instance. The old great swing guys drank that constantly and they all had perfect tone, obviously Whiskey doesn't make you sing well but it has been used for decades as I warming aid to a vocal performance and obviously as a way to feel more relaxed in general. SC
Yellow Paper Planes
Posted by Yellow Paper Planes on Nov 8 2012 4:02 PM
This is all very poignant. From a guy who has recently begun to tour a lot, it's hard to avoid the booze at the bar and the coffee along the drive to the next gig. Most of these things hint at an underlying culprit. Dehydration. too much beer = dehydration, too much stimulant (coffee, energy drinks are diuretics)= dehydration on top of tensing the vocal chords. I will stand by the whiskey comment. On stage, particularly on tour, my accompaniment is generally a glass of bourbon and warm water with a handful of lemons slices swimming in it. Save the beer for the chill out after the show and then re-hydrate like you're trying to kick a cold the next day.
Charly Tate
Posted by Charly Tate on Nov 9 2012 2:37 AM
This is a great post! It's all too easy to take advantage of your singing voice, or just do damage after screaming too much at a football game! (points to self) This is a very personal subject for me, since I somehow damaged my voice and had to see an ENT doc last year. I got the whole throat video done and everything, which was cool but scary. I never did figure out what originally damaged my vocal cords (I had some swelling and microhemmorages, gah!), but I've been extremely careful since then and it seems to have improved. I drink tea with honey (and/or a lemon wedge), which seems to really help after a long day of using my voice a lot. I also have coffee only a few times a week. I drink lots of water and try to stay away from foods that could cause acid reflux (yes, this sounds gross, but it's another reason people's vocal cords can be damaged). No idea if that had anything to do with my issues, but figure it can't hurt to watch out for it! @D. Anson Brody, I notice that too! I don't think it's all in your head. ;) By the way, nice color pallet on your website! @CurtisShelburne, I'm all about the honey! Honey is awesome, and bonus, it never goes bad. That's an adorable photo on your homepage :) I've also noticed that when the weather gets colder and damp, I tend to have more challenges vocally. Anyone else experience this? Good chat going here!
The Awesome
Posted by The Awesome on Nov 10 2012 2:10 AM
I have the same onstage MUST like Lenka does... i keep a sugar free honey/lemon throat lozenge tucked up in the corner of my mouth while onstage. I keep them in my pockets, so if after three or four songs I feel fatigued or a tickle and can't get a water break, I pop one in. While I know it isn't the best method (and brushing my teeth post gig has become a MUST to stave off cavities) it works for me, especially when my voice is tired at the end of a 4 hour wedding gig! (and of course, the thermos of hot honey water goes with me everywhere!)
Posted by MeatMonsterkills on Nov 10 2012 6:51 AM
Nothing is worse than Caffene & or Smoke for the singing voice, FOR ME!.. I gave a listen to a few of you in this thread and Danson brody I really like your voice yet I dont think coffee or smoke would effect you the way it would say.. Lenka Litchtenberg who has an angels voice. I think Every Body is different and what might mess one person up will not have the same effect on the other. Alchohol is nowhere near the enemy that caffine is unless you are flat out drunk and it shows in your performance, yikes. I insist on reproduceing my own recorded performance live without cutting any corners. What works for me is a good nights sleep, a good mood, Laughing ! and loading up on room temp water all day untill bout two hours before show time, so I dont piss my pants on stage. Then I just sip my beer & water, in seperate glasses of course. OH Yeah, bad dairy, Bad. :)
Posted by Justin on Nov 10 2012 4:20 PM
So great to hear everyone's feedback about their own experiences with preserving their voices. I find it really interesting that many of you are hitting on the same point - hydration! There are a lot of complex theories and recommendations out there regarding the voice and how to care for it, but I find water is like magic. The added lemons everyone is chatting about are a great addition to your water, since they fill you up with lots of delicious, immunity boosting vitamin C. @D. Anson Brody: I think what you're saying totally makes sense - Coffee and energy drinks have a lot more caffeine in them than tea, and caffeine is dehydrating, so that might explain why you feel that way when you drink them. @246Haddington Sardines, eh? Now that sounds interesting! @charlyheath Thanks for sharing your experience with us! I had some issues with acid reflux a few years ago, and had to control my diet very carefully for about a year, until it settled down. No tomato sauce, red wine, etc. Unfortunately, acid reflux can have a huge effect on your voice. Avoiding those things definitely helps! It sounds like you have a good thing going now. Living in Canada, I definitely find the cold weather poses an extra hurdle to overcome as a singer. If nothing else, I think the effect on our sinuses is enough to make us feel the change in our voices. @MeatMonsterKills I love your comment about a good sleep and a good mood when you approach a gig. I find if your mood is great, your voice naturally wants to follow suit! I think that falls in line with what dansonbrody and CurtisShelburne were saying about psychosomatic symptoms as well.
Joanne LeBlanc
Posted by Joanne LeBlanc on Nov 10 2012 5:11 PM
What the recent posts have said is what I have found too pretty much. I drink tea with milk, no coffee, and don't drink anything but water during the gig. I tank up on water before hand too. Sometimes I just ask for a mug of of hot/warm water at the gig (or fill my water bottle in the ladies room with warm/hot water)if possible. I also try to keep my throat and chest area warm before hitting the stage by wearing a coat or sometimes just a scarf around my throat. I also use the sugar-free throat moisture drops if can't get water before I go on stage. If I am waiting to go on after another band - I don't talk at all -- (and had to tell some fans that its just my way to get ready) since nothing kills your voice faster than shouting over loud music. @charlyheath - And ditto on the acid reflux! I don't eat before I perform/sing, and sometimes will take a antacid just before if I had something "heavy" earlier that day. :)
Super Squid
Posted by Super Squid on Nov 10 2012 9:46 PM
If you're gonna do coffee, do yourself a favor and go low acidic with the Cold Toddy Brew, just do a google search. It's neat, and coffee tastes great. I got some at a shop in Metairie, LA, and never turned back. Heat creates acid in the brewing process. This system simulates the old days when folks would soak coffee grounds in cold rainwater overnight. You do something similar inside, with a pound of coffee. What you get is a jar of concentrated coffee, all the punch but barely any acidity. You drink it hot or cold. It's good for sensitive stomachs. I drink this stuff every day, have been for years. I can buy any pound of coffee, no matter how cheap, and it will taste good. No joke. No, I'm not a salesman, but it's good stuff, and easier on your throat/body than normal Starsucks. My 2 cents.
Davina Robinson
Posted by Davina Robinson on Nov 13 2012 2:37 PM
Before going to bed I always gargle with Listerine to prevent colds. And in the colder months, I sleep with a neck warmer/scarf around my neck to keep the throat warm. In addition, Throat Coat teas and lozenges do wonders (Ricola lozenges aren't bad either). The cold dries you out quickly, so a tiny amount of Vaseline in the nostrils before going on stage/before going to bed works for me to keep things moist (or when a steamer isn't handy).
Pamela Johnson Music
Posted by Pamela Johnson Music on Nov 13 2012 5:17 PM
What a cool thread. Thanks for posting such wonderful tips. I am going to share a little gem of a tool that I recently discovered. STEAM, STEAM & MORE STEAM! I was having some issues with my throat that thankfully just turned out to be some good ol' fashioned phlegm. I was a bit paranoid it was something more so I took a trip to my local vocal chord doc (sorry, I can't recall the "proper name"). In my opinion, he gave me the absolute BEST tip for lubricating and warming up my chords (plus loosening of unwanted phlegm). Steam. If you think about it, it's really the best way to get moisture directly to your vocal chords. The only way to reach them is by inhaling. While tea, cough drops, and other concoctions do work well on the throat/lubrication (and I still love my tea + lemon), they don't actually reach the vocal chords like steam can. I purchased a personal steamer from Walgreens and it was the best purchase I ever made for my voice (aside from my TC helicon Voicelive Play :D). I love to steam before and after a show. It really works wonders. Just be careful not to go outside into cold weather directly after steaming. Wait a while. The more steaming you can do, the better! I also purchased some eucalyptus oil from GNC. 3 drops in the personal steamer, and your vocal chords will thank you! :blush: Just wanted to share. It is my #1 tool for taking care of my vocal chords. A MUST for every singer in my opinion. :D
George Kennedy
Posted by George Kennedy on Nov 14 2012 4:32 PM
Awsome Post Justin, and definatly some great tips, and interesting to read what everyone else does to takecare of their voices. I do believe the voice is a muscle and needs to be excersied regularly. It's funny, you see examples of this on shows such as X-Factor here in the UK, as the majority of people who enter are not working singers a few weeks into the competition we start to see sore throats and problems with vocals, and I think it's down to going from singing the odd thing occasionally to singing everyday constantly. As a working singer myself, I don't think people realize just how much we put ourselves through and how important our voices are. A couple of things I use to help sooth my voice especially after a gig, Onions!! As soon as I get in a 3am from a long night gigging I love nothing better than a bit of raw onion, i find it helps my voice (maybe it's just in my head) but it works for me. Pickled onions work a treat as well. One thing to avoid is throat sprays that numb the back of your throat. I had a bad experience years ago gigging, I had a sore voice and thought I'd try this sray at a gig, I used it before and during the gig and as the night went on my voice got weaker and weaker, obviously the spray was numbing my throat and I ended up reduced to a squawk! lol anyway, again, great post!!! :-)
Chris Nauman
Posted by Chris Nauman on Nov 15 2012 7:28 PM
Stay away from caffeinated beverages. Caffeine is a mild diuretic that will dehydrate you and your vocal cords!!!!! [quote="dansonbrody"]Energy drinks, soda, and strong coffee are detrimental to my vocal chords. Does anyone else have this problem? I can still sing loud with a powerful mixed voice but I loose a lot of subtlety in the dynamics of my head voice and I have a lot harder time transitioning between chest and head voices. I'm pretty sure caffeine dehydrates too, but I don't have the same problem with tea. Maybe it's psychosomatic. :confused:[/quote]
Stephen David Austin
Posted by Stephen David Austin on Nov 16 2012 6:51 PM
This is a great thread with a lot of useful information. I've noticed that beer will almost always take 2-3 notes off the top end of my range. I also like the warm green tea with honey and - occasionally - a little squeeze of lemon. I know it sounds weird, but a shot of Jagermeister seems to lubricate my throat a little (not to mention any pre-show jitters). Anyone who's ever drank Jager knows that too much before, during, or even after a show can have serious repercussions:laugh:
Wilton Said...
Posted by Wilton Said... on Nov 19 2012 12:52 AM
The singers curse of not being able to party all night with the rest of the band. :( For me, a good nights sleep is the most important. A goodnights sleep means less reliant on coffee, it reduces the risk of colds and sinus infections, and makes my voice stronger over all. The other thing I stopped doing was cheering, yelling and doing sing a longs at concerts. A few years ago I saw Marillion and singer was getting everyone to sing a long. The section was pitched at a high B (B above middle C) which is pretty high for a baritone singer as myself. Never the less I sang along and something in my vocal chords went pop. it didn't hurt and I didn't notice anything till the next morning when my voice was really hoarse. It stayed that way for a few months before I realized that no amount of goodnights sleep was going to fix this. I went to a ENT who specialized in helping vocalists and I had developed a small vocal polyp. I got refereed to speech therapist who specialized in singers and with 4 hands on treatments and some vocal exercises, the polyp disappeared. So now I'm really careful about getting a goodnight sleep, not drinking to much coffee or alcohol, and I don't sing outside of range for long periods of time. Wilton
Hilary Canto
Posted by Hilary Canto on Nov 19 2012 8:35 PM
Hi guys, great to see you all thinking about your vocal mechanism! As a voice coach my job is to make sure singers are getting the best of their voices and taking care of them. Check out my website www.hilarycanto.com Keep up the great work folks and of course the great singing
D. Anson Brody
Posted by D. Anson Brody on Nov 20 2012 7:14 PM
I love how so many people jumped in on this one. I love the bandzoogle community!
Posted by Paule on Nov 26 2013 4:35 AM
Hi everyone has made some great contributions to this subject. I am a seasoned rock singer and perform everything from pearl jam to slash and Myles Kennedy. Unfortunately living in New Zealand I get really bad hay fever at the start of each summer. As a rule of thumb I avoid nasil sprays of any kind because what ever you spray in your nose the residue will eventually drip down to your. Vocal Chords. How ever I brought some antihistamine tablets to relieve the symptoms of my inflamed throat. But the tablets still end up drying out my throat and dry out my chords. I drink only water I avoid alcahol and sugar and caffeine and don't smoke but still at the beginning of summer my voice gets tricky to manage. Dose anybody know of any home made hay fever type remedies?
Justin Ralph
Posted by Justin Ralph on Dec 5 2013 11:10 AM
@Paule Allergies are tough, and definitely something a lot of singers have to contend with. I would say to avoid the antihistamines when singing for sure, since as you said, they do and will dry your throat out. One thing you might want to check out is some kind of salt water spray for your nose. In Canada, we have something called "Hydrasense". It's just bottled salt water, basically, but it will hydrate/clear out your nose, and help get some of the allergens out of there too.
Posted by Mal on Apr 7 2014 11:41 PM
Thank you for your wonderful comments on looking after the voice. A singing teacher told me years ago to have soft potato and pasta, then more recently leeks!!!! (Where do you think welsh people get their voice quality from? the Italians; where spaghetti is eaten?! I have a weird thing called spasmodic dysphonia which gives me voice probs - it came from head injuries in my past apparently. Coffee is an absolute no-no. a falmous nun singing teacher sent me to a throat specialist when she heard the probs in my voice but nothing was found; she had suspected singers nodes. But the damage was located somewhere in the brain, I wonder how well boxers can sing? when they have so many blows to their heads? any comments?
Uchay  Nuel
Posted by Uchay Nuel on Jul 19 2014 6:58 AM
I really appreciate all the post & will be grateful if I get help here. Recently,the tone of my voice has really deepen. I take a lot of water on daily basis but that hasn't help. I can't even hit my key anymore. Please what can I do to get my voice back?