Dear Dr. Jahn,
I’d like to have a great singing voice first thing in the morning! So, what would be your ideal plan? I have to also add that pollen allergies, some late nights and * ahem * less than ideal performance venues add to my challenges!
Many singers have “morning voice”, especially after a performance the night before. While some of this in unavoidable, I have several suggestions that should minimize the impairment.
- By way of prevention, try not to abuse your voice the night before: use good technique and minimize social voice use, saving it for your actual performance.
- Minimize the use of alcohol— it has a dehydrating effect on the vocal folds, and an anesthetic and dis-inhibiting effect centrally, both of which can lead to excessive trauma to the larynx.
- If your performing environment is smoky or otherwise polluted, a steam inhaler in your dressing room would be useful for moistening the vocal tract between sets.
- Those breaks between sets are golden: guard them jealously! Rest your voice, try to minimize chatting with well-wishers, and stay in a relatively quiet setting, rather than mingling with customers or fans.
- At the risk of having to get up at night for the bathroom, drink two large glasses of water on retiring, and keep the glass beside your bed for additional sips if you happen to wake up during the night.
- If you feel you have abused your larynx excessively, you may also consider taking one anti-inflammatory pill, such as Ibuprofen (200 mg), provided that there are no medical contraindications to this. If you have any history of reflux, a tablespoon of antacid will minimize the risk of further irritation to the vocal tract at night.
The next morning, start with another glass of water. Then, take a long hot steamy shower, and gently begin to vocalize in the shower. Do this even before making any phone calls, or engaging in any conversations. While vocalizing, concentrate on flexibility, doing some glissandos (slides) through the passaggio (the part of the voice where you transition from chest voice to head voice)— start with slides from top to bottom (easier), then from bottom to top, in a soft voice. Don’t start your warm-ups by pushing the voice, especially at the top, and never start to sing full out without warming up, especially after a “less than ideal” performance situation the night before.
-Anthony F. Jahn, MD, FACS, FRCS(C)
This discussion is for general information and not to be construed as specific medical advice that you should obtain from your own physician.
Dr. Jahn is an internationally renowned otolaryngologist based in Manhattan with a sub-specialty interest in the professional voice. His practice includes classical and popular singers. He holds academic appointments at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Westminster Choir College in Princeton. He is Medical Director at Jazz at Lincoln Center, and former Director of Medical Services at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Dr. Jahn has published several books for vocalists, including “Vocal Heath for Singers” (Singdaptive) and “The Singer’s Guide to Complete Health” (Oxford University Press).