I know we say this a lot, but at this point there’s really no doubt about it: musicians are living in a new “normal.”
We’re limiting our time in (or banished altogether from) public spaces, Zoom-ing instead of meeting for coffee dates, and live streaming our concerts. It’s easy to lose track of what day it is, so it’s inevitably easy to lose track of our physical, mental, and emotional health too.
If you’ve lost sense of routine or you’ve been feeling low lately, that’s also normal—and it’s okay. I’m right there with you, and we’re all feeling it. Enter: the healing power of singing! Singing is a natural antidepressant and known to help with stress, anxiety, and your immune system.
The important thing is to ultimately work towards a sense of routine in order to stay healthy and keep your voice in shape during quarantine. So here are a few tips for you.
“Make sure you're drinking lots of water and hydrating, plus hot tea and honey always help. I recommend Traditional Medicinals throat coat tea with manuka honey because manuka honey kills bacteria on the vocal cords,” says Nashville-based soul/jazz artist and vocal coach MELD.
MELD has a weekly live teaching series on Instagram, covering topics like vocal techniques, songwriting, and career advice for musicians. So she knows what she’s talking about.
You can also drink melon water, brothy soups, and eat water-rich fruits and foods like cucumbers, iceberg lettuce, strawberries, grapes, etc. And especially now that the summer is coming—where sweating a lot can threaten your body with grave water loss—pick up a humidifier to keep the air around you moist.
Warm up (but don’t overdo it)
Warming up is crucial for singers. As much as you want to though, waking up and immediately belting out Whitney Houston tunes is never good for your vocal cords. So resist all your urges to pair Whitney with your morning coffee.
Lip trills and “mms” are a good place to start; then consider singing through a straw (more on that below). “These exercises don't stress the cords; but rather help to massage and strengthen the muscles around the cords so they're extra strong for when you sing!” says MELD. Keeping your warm ups gentle will be better for your voice overall.
Remember, your voice is a muscle (literally and figuratively!). You wouldn’t do 500 squats before running a marathon. Instead, do some gentle stretching and mobility exercises first to ease into it.
Ease up on drinking and smoking
Speaking of easing into things... You might have to cut back on those quarantine vices we’ve come to rely on to get us through the stress. I’m talking about alcohol, which decreases your body’s antidiuretic hormone production and dries you up, and smoking, which fills your lungs with toxins (among other things).
“Drinking and smoking are two of the worst things for your vocal cords. They dry out your cords and make them swollen. When vocal cords are swollen, they cannot stretch and expand as well to help you hit higher notes. Dry vocal cords don't phonate (move to produce sound) as well, resulting in a scratchier sounding voice,” says Gracie Calvaneso, holistic vocal coach and singer/songwriter based in Nashville.
If you’re going to drink, remember to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
Sing through a straw
If you’ve never heard of this technique, you’re about to have your mind blown. I was first introduced to straw exercises from my teacher Whitney Nichole as a vocal instructor at Songbird Studios.
This is a tool many public speakers use when their voices get tired from projecting and speaking all day. In the simplest terms, singing different pitches through a small straw helps to recalibrate your vocal cords and “trick” them into a resting state.
Sing through a straw throughout the day to keep your vocal cords feeling rested and fabulous. Do these exercises before and after singing songs or playing shows.
Check out this video from professor Ingo Titze for an introduction to straw exercises. When you’re ready to try it and you want to go the eco-friendly route, check out Whitney’s stainless steel singing straws.
Be kind to yourself
“Most importantly, this is a stressful time. So, make sure you're meditating and relaxing as much as possible,” MELD tells me. “The more we can stretch, relax and calm our bodies—the more we can find ease when we sing.”
Finally, here’s a tip from yours truly: as a vocal coach with 7+ years of experience, I’ve learned to treat my voice like a dear friend. I find that when my mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being is in harmony, my voice feels at its best.
Our unique voices are part of our unique bodies, and everyone is different. Listen to yourself and honor your needs.
Ellisa Sun cuts out her heart and leaves it on the stage, which is why she never wears white. Her music is a unique blend of genres spanning R&B, jazz, and pop that creates a soulful, textured sound. Ellisa is originally from Los Angeles and now resides in Nashville, TN.
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