"My voice sounds coarse and harsh", "The more I sing the worse my voice gets", "I try so hard but cannot hit the higher notes". I hear these concerns often but the good news is that there are certain changes that you can incorporate to overcome these concerns, enhance your vocal skills and sing with confidence.
Understanding the anatomy of your vocal mechanism can drastically improve your artistry in singing...
When we sing or speak, our voice produces sounds through vibrations created in our vocal folds also called vocal cords. Vocal folds are muscle tissues located at the base of our tongue in the larynx area which also is an airway passage to our lungs.
These vibrations in turn produce sound waves that travel through various cavities in our chest and head region like the throat, nose and mouth which is why each of us have a unique voice texture, pitch, tone and overall vocal quality.
We all use our voices everyday be it for our jobs or simply expressing feelings and opinions. If you are someone who uses your voice extensively at your job like a teacher, public speaker, professional singer then your voice is your biggest asset. But, you are probably making great demands of your voice which can cause a lot of strain on your vocals. Taking proper care of your voice is very important to eliminate risks of causing irreparable damage. How, you ask?
Okay, let's dig right into it...
Hydration: As I mentioned earlier, the sound of our voice is a result of vibration produced in our vocal folds. Hydration supports the mucus around this tissue which in turn helps in protecting these vocal folds. Drinking plenty of water is vital to keep our voice from becoming strained. Even with slight dehydration, vocal folds can become dry and can succumb to lasting damage.
Always carry a water bottle to your singing practice or concerts.
Sip small quantities of water at regular intervals.
Avoid drinking ice cold or boiling hot water or beverages before your singing practice/performance. Luke warm water is your best bet.
Food: I started performing at a very young age. Like other kids my age, I was fond of ice cream too. I grew up with a love/hate relationship with this yummy cold monster. Decades later I realized that avoiding something entirely or overeating some foods because they are "good" for our voices isn't ideal. Finding the right balance in our diets is a more sustainable solution! Eating nutrition rich healthy foods and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help keep our voices in check. And, it is okay to try your favourite street food or cold beverage once in a while but avoiding them right before singing practice can save your voice from becoming hoarse and raspy.
Sleep: What can't a good night sleep do? Like other organs in our body, our voice rejuvenates itself when we fall asleep. Deep and peaceful sleep can remove the strain and relax our vocal folds. And, I'll leave it at that, zzzzz...
Using your voice wisely: Most of us have tried to imitate other singers and realized that their vocal ranges are either very high or too low in comparison to ours. That is because each of us have a specific scale at which we can sing comfortably. With constant practice, we can gradually expand our vocal range to sing slightly higher or lower notes. However, it is critical to understand that human voice comes with limitations and pushing outside these limits will do more harm than good.
Avoid using the extremes of your vocal range, such as screaming or whispering.
Consider using a microphone where appropriate like karaoke events or large halls.
Discomfort is a sign of overstrain, try to take vocal naps.
Warmup: The common mistake many singers do is jump right into singing the higher notes and especially early on in the day. While we sleep our vocal folds become narrow and take hours after we wake to gradually open up. You may notice your voice sounds groggy and deep in the mornings. That's when the vocal warmup exercises come to our rescue. One of the famous vocal coaches Robert Love says, "Vocal exercises are the analogy of a runner who stretches before running a race".
Start the practice with the lowest notes for 5 mins, move to the middle range notes for another 5 mins and slowly then progress to higher notes after.
Sing straight notes using sounds like aa, uu, ee and humm to activate resonating cavities which will help strengthen the voice to hold notes for longer periods.
Your voice is priceless...
Sometimes we may end up having a small tub of ice cream or scream our hearts out when our favourite sports team wins a game and that's okay. Give enough rest for your vocal cords to recoup and drink plenty of water to correct the hoarseness. Remember, in everything you do, balance is key. Good luck in your music journey!