Ten Tips to Enjoy Your Social Life Without Killing Your Voice

Drinks in a pub
New York vocal coach Justin Stoney tells singers how to handle yelling, drinking, illness and noisy places

Remember the time you drank a few too many fireball shots at your high school reunion and could barely sing the next day for a performance? Or, how about the time too much yelling at the refs left your voice raspy for the next day’s gig?

Does having fun have to wreck your singing voice? We asked Justin Stoney to teach us about how singers can navigate the challenges and joys of a social life while protecting their voice:

I wouldn’t want singers to think, “Well, I’m a singer, so I can’t be social!” But whether we are singers, teachers or performers, we must be conscious of what we are doing socially.

1.Be aware of noisy places. The number one vocal killer (from usage) is not singing, not belting or even poor technique (although that’s not good!) – it is loud talking in restaurants, at parties, and any place where there is a lot of noise. Of course, you can’t always avoid noisy places – but you can practice important vocal techniques while you’re in them.

2. Use technique when you’re talking. In loud environments, change the resonance of your voice, promoting higher and brighter resonances that cut through noise. Then, stand as close as possible to those you are talking to. Use sneaky ways to cheer at sporting events. For example, a high pitched “Woo!” is an effective way to cheer, and it also feels like a vocal massage! Your goal is to avoid speaking in a heavy, loud voice.

3. Give your reasons when you decide to bow out. When you bow out of something social for the sake of resting or protecting your voice, let people know why. Your friends and family are your support system, and you must help them understand the requirements of your dream. Singing is your dream. Singing is vocal athleticism, and therefore it requires you to workout, train and rest.

4. By all means drink, but don’t overdo alcohol. A little alcohol is not bad for you as a rule, but drinking too much can cause you to push your speaking volume. That’s why drunk people are so annoying — they’re loud! (Note: alcohol can increase acid reflux in certain people which can irritate the vocal folds).

5. Don’t expect to sing at peak capacity 365 days a year. A singer whose voice is impacted by illness faces an inner battle, similar to an injured athlete. If the voice is only at 80%, a singer may feel like they are only 80% of a person! Instead, singers should tell themselves, “I am 100% of a person, but my voice is functioning at 80% today.”

6. Make smart changes to help your voice when you are ill. It’s not necessarily wrong to sing when you are sick. Especially in the case of the common cold, there is usually a way to sing through it. You must look at your symptoms, assess your voice, and make changes to your singing and speaking. Laryngitis, on the other hand, is another story, and will require you to cancel rehearsals and performances.

7. Don’t enjoy your deep voice too much when you are sick. Coughing and illness lead to thicker, swollen vocal cords. They will behave differently and there is less room for resonance. Don’t push your thick cords around, by shouting or adding weight to your voice.

8. Promote flexibility in speaking and singing when you are ill. When speaking, avoid loud, chesty or heavy sounds, choosing a more resonant sound instead. When singing, use falsetto, head voice, descending vocal exercises and, if you belt, do so with more head resonance than chest. Hydrate well and warm up for singing. Never present your audience something that is “hit or miss.” For this reason, you may change keys if you choose to perform while sick.

9. Take a day of rest if you need it. You may be able to sing through a pesky cold virus, but remember, adequate rest is required to overcome any illness. If you are really sick or run down, you may need to take a proper day off to give your body the rest it needs. This means staying home, no singing, and nothing more strenuous than watching Netflix.

10. Remember those cool downs when you’ve overdone it. If you’ve overdone it by yelling at a game or singing heavily while sick, do a brief cool down to reduce the thickness in your vocal cords. Do some muscle stretches to help relieve tension after illness or straining. Gently stretch your neck, tongue and jaw. Then, get to resting as soon as you can. You’ll be back socializing and singing in no time.

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