No matter how well you can sing there are some days when your voice will misfire, or simply quit on you. For singer-songwriters and singers in general, it can be a frustrating experience, especially if it happens when in front of an audience or when you meet up with other musicians, looking to record your songs.
So, why does your voice sound good one day but – out of the blue – bad the next, and what can you do about it? For starters, it helps if you recognize that this happens to everyone who sings, regardless of whether you do it professionally or not, and even if you have the most beautiful voice in the world. That doesn’t mean you should be satisfied with humming it out or lip-syncing when in front of a crowd (that didn't work out so well for Mariah Carey last time, by the way).
There are numerous reasons why your voice might fail you unexpectedly and not be up to its usual brilliance when you most need it. These include health (mental and physical), your diet, lack of rest or enough sleep, your current mood, and even your overall mental attitude. Left unchecked, your voice could eventually lose its edge and ruin your chances of knowing what it feels like to sing a chart-topping single or even a song worth remembering.
Before delving further, it’s important to think of your voice as an actual instrument. And most instruments, including the piano, guitar, and saxophone, will go out of tune or need readjusting from time to time. Right away, you can see that it’s a natural thing for your voice to require tuning to get back into sync. The challenge is how do you do that? Here are six ways, along with tips from singers making up the Tunedly Team.
Okay, we're starting with the most obvious tip. That's because it's often one of the most forgotten. Being in the music business can be stressful for singer-songwriters trying to make headway. Things, like dealing with music copyright, working on developing your brand, and even finding qualified musicians, can take a toll on you physically and mentally, which in turn will most likely put pressure on your voice.
A lack of sleep the night before, or over a period of several nights, may also cause your voice to get tired and be unable to hit the notes the way you want to. Sleep deprivation will affect the rest of your body pretty much the same, not just your voice.
We didn't do the study, the guys at the National Sleep Foundation did, and they pretty much agree that you need to be getting 7-8 hours or more of shut-eye each night to ensure your body, and by extension your voice, does not get worn out.
In addition, the act of performing may sometimes see you pushing your vocal chords to their fullest extent to show off your singing skills. Of course, your voice box can get overworked and overused in the process, especially if you haven’t learned proper singing techniques. The end result: your voice being too fatigued the next day to even bother.
Whatever you’re going through, once your voice is being affected by you being tired, it’s best to give it as much rest as possible before attempting to sing, no matter how much you want to. Forcing the issue may end up causing more harm than good and lead to permanent damage to your vocal chords.
Most times...correction...all the time, your voice will need a bit of warming up to get going. Sometimes it will take just five minutes for your voice to be okay, while on another day, 30 minutes or more is needed. There's no real explanation, just deal with it.
This is similar to how athletes need to do stretches and other gentle exercises to get their muscles in the mood to perform. Failure to do so might result in injuries and the same goes for your vocal chords, which are pretty fragile.
Warm up exercises are necessary for the vocal chords to gently slip them into place because your last performance might have pushed them out of their natural position. Exercises can include lip trills, which can be taught. A good tutor, for example, the renowned vocal coach Roger Burnley, shows in several of his videos how to use various exercises to free up your lips, tongue, jaw, and throat, as well as get the vocal chords to open up and be more receptive to singing.
Warming up can also include Yoga and aerobics, as well as meditation to help regulate your breathing because singing has a lot to do with proper breath control. Tension buildup in other areas of the body may also put pressure on your voice and only when you relieve that tension, through physical exercise, will your voice be able to get back to normal.
Some of the singers on our team shared some tips on how they go about getting warmed up each day. Here are some that really stood out (not necessarily in this order):
- Do gentle stretches of the back, abdomen, and shoulders to release any tension that could be putting pressure on your voice.
- Gently stretch the neck by leaning your ear toward either shoulder. Don't be alarmed if you hear popping sounds.
- Work your facial muscles by contracting and releasing them. Note that this might result in some weird looking expressions, so probably don't do them while kids are watching.
- Work your tongue inside your mouth and stick it out as far as possible. Flick it around a few times to remove any 'tongue ties.' This exercise might also look weird to onlookers.
- Alternate between swinging each arm, flexing your body and fingers to get the blood flowing throughout. Steer clear of nearby objects when doing this to prevent accidents.
- Flex your shoulders by rotating them backward and forward, up and down.
- Stretch both sides by leaning to the right and then left with alternate arms raised and outstretched.
- Rotate your hips and do stretches with your legs to ensure your lower body gets freed up too. Remember, singing properly involves the whole body, not just the voice and lungs.
- Be sure to take deep, cleansing breaths, before, during, and after warming up.
Eat and drink properly
What you consume in your diet can also cause your voice to sound good one day and terrible the next. Certain foods, such as dairy products, encourage the production of excess phlegm (mucus), which can clog up your vocal chords and make it feel like you have a frog in your throat, a sound we all can agree is one of the worst. Eating fried foods and spices may also result in acid reflux, which can rise from your stomach up to your vocal chords and irritate the heck out of them.
While you may like these types of foods, it’s best to have them in moderation and several hours before a singing performance, so they get time to digest. If you’re consistently having bad singing days, however, you might want to look into changing your diet by eliminating or significantly reducing foods that can affect your stomach, sinuses, and/or vocal folds.
As it relates to drinking, it is recommended that people who use their voice avoid drinking too much alcohol, if any at all, and especially before a performance. Alcohol doesn’t only have the power to aggravate allergies and other ailments, which may affect the vocal structure, it is also classified as a vasodilator (yeah, we had trouble with the pronunciation too), meaning it can cause lack of vocal-chord lubrication by drying out the essential moisture surrounding them.
Coffee and other caffeine-carrying drinks can also cause the vocal apparatus to dry out easily so these should also be limited to ensure your singing voice stays in optimal shape. On the flip side, drinking certain beverages and mixtures, such as warm peppermint or lemon juice with honey, are thought to be beneficial to the voice, particularly just before a performance.
A little secret from some of the singers on our team: green tea works wonders!
How much water you’re drinking is another factor to consider when your voice is not sounding so great on some days. The vocal folds need moisture to vibrate and change shape easily when you’re singing, so imagine what happens when your throat is dry and you want to belt out or hold a high note.
However, note that drinking the recommended amount of water daily (usually said to be 8 glasses) is not the same for everyone or the same for every day. An aspiring rock star, who gives highly energetic performances and does a lot of screaming and shouting, is likely to use up more water than a singer who sings gently and doesn't move around much.
Our singers also gave a few tips where drinking water is concerned:
- It is advised to hydrate using room temperature water. Cold water can numb the lining of the throat, making it rather difficult to sing.
- Try not to wait until the exact time you're about to sing to have a glass of water if you can help it.
- Get a humidifier (cool mist) for your bedroom if where you live often sees the heater being turned on at night, which could see you getting dehydrated while you sleep. This will help to prevent you waking up with a dry throat.
Changing your environment
Sometimes your voice acts up due to the prevailing conditions of the environment you’re living/ staying in. If the air quality is bad, both your lungs and throat could be affected, which means some days your voice may not be cooperative. Sharing a room with a roommate who smokes, for instance, or having neighbors who do, can mean your voice suffers the consequences. A high level of dust in the air will also cause problems for your voice.
Noise pollution in your area could also result in a lack of sleep, which as mentioned earlier, can take a toll on your vocal chords. In light of all these environmental factors, a change of surroundings might seem drastic but could do your voice a world of good.
If you think about it, it’s not that hard of a choice to make. Many singer-songwriters and other musicians relocate for reasons, such as looking for song plugger services because they were lacking in the areas they were living in. Likewise, if the environment is taking a toll on your most precious instrument, relocating is probably a good move that might be of benefit to you in the long run.
Here's a tip from the team:
- Vacuum-clean mattresses, bedding, and upholstered furniture in your apartment/house regularly to get rid of dust and mites that could affect your throat and lungs (they cause asthma by the way).
- Use earplugs to block out noise while you sleep if you live in a noisy city environment.
Get professional help
Most of the top singers of past and present have gotten professional voice training lessons to help them cope with the rigors of performing vocally. If you’re serious about your career, you should also think about getting some vocal training. The tricky part is finding a good coach who will understand your voice type and how to get you to the level where you want to be.
Similarly to how there are things a singer-songwriter should know when looking for a music producer to work with, there are things about vocal coaches to bear in mind. These include their experience in the music business and with training singers, feedback from past and current clients, their teaching methods (watch their video tutorials), and the soundness of the tips they offer.
How do you handle days when your voice doesn’t sound good? Hopefully, you’ll find these tips useful. If so, be sure to share them with your fellow singer-songwriters. « return to blog