So you've learned all your singing techniques but you're still having off days when things just don't feel right? There's a few things about your organic voice you need to know...
Everyone tells you to drink water when you're a singer. But do you know why? Dehydration is the first thing that will make you feel strained and sound croaky while singing. Those two mucous membranes that are doing all the work are not a priority when it comes to allocation of water in the body, therefore only when it is in surplus. So make sure you're body has it in surplus! Watch out for things that dehydrate: excessive exercise, hot weather, salty foods & diuretics. Things to help: pure H2O, hydrating drinks, foods containing water like fruit & veggies.
Overuse & Abuse
Do you talk a lot in your day-to-day? Perhaps you're a teacher, solicitor or have a job that requires you to use your voice excessively? Bear in mind that your voice does and will get tired. I have met people that come to sing after a long day at work and their voices are already weak. If you enjoy singing as a hobby, choose to do it at a time when your voice has not previously been overworked. Abuse is just as bad. Do you smoke? Drink too much? Eat junk? Chocoholic? Dairy lover? Or do you shout a lot in a noisy environment? How you treat yourself and your body as a whole will reflect on how your voice sounds. Live better, sing better.
Tiredness is one fast way to kill your voice. Singing requires energy. Lots of it. If you haven't had enough sleep you'll notice it in your voice. Imagine you've phoned someone and they answer, telling you they've barely slept. You will hear it first in their voice. They won't be telling you enthusiastically. They will speak slower and quieter. That's nothing to do with emotion but rather energy. Tired bodies don't have the energy to produce correctly pitched notes or to generate the power behind our airflow that we need for dynamics. We even struggle to 'feel' the music on days like this. So if you're sounding flat - go back to bed!
Pressure affects our whole bodies. We get wound up and tense. Most people feel tension first in their shoulders and necks. Our necks harbour our throats and our throats our larynx - you get the picture! You can do all the warm ups in the world but if there's something on your mind that's troubling you - be it pressure from an audience, performance or something in your private life - you can bet it will affect your singing voice. Imagine Julie Andrews spinning with happiness singing "The Hills Are Alive" - does she look like she's worrying about her ironing or troubles with a boyfriend? Tension is counterproductive to good singing and can result in over pitching i.e. sharp notes. If you're tense your jaw can be rigid, your facial muscles taught, throat closed, abdominal muscles tight inhibiting breathing etc. You get the idea - relax!
The dreaded phlegm! You're singing along when suddenly your voice catches and you cough, splutter and stop. After you've been ill, the mucous that has built up on your chest and larynx can make a sudden re-appearance when you move out of your spoken voice to lower or higher registers. You can suddenly hit a pocket of phlegm that just hasn't cleared yet. Equally to blame is the self-inflicted coating you get from eating dairy and chocolate. A build up of mucous from colds, hayfever or chest infections can sometimes take weeks to clear completely. But don't despair; drink plenty of water, use steam inhalation and hum through your scales to get your larynx resonating. This will help to get things shifting!
Time Of The Day
First thing in the morning our voices are far from optimal. They are croaky from dehydration and not being used. It usually takes a few hours for our voices to sound better. Our morning drinks have been absorbed by then and our energy levels are up. By the evening our energy levels have dipped and we start to get tired. Our voices have been used all day for talking, singing, humming, whispering, shouting. If you have to sing in the evenings you might benefit from adjusting your bio rhythms so you're more awake. The same goes if you have a recording session first thing in the morning. Specific to girls only is that time of the month. Yes THAT time. It affects your whole body as you know - but did you know it also causes your vocal folds to swell? Worth remembering when scheduling singing exams/performances! So get to know your own bio rhythms. When are you most alert? Energetic? Focussed? These will probably be your best times to sing.
Remember your voice is not a machine but an organic living instrument and thus totally dependent on it's host! If you're serious about singing then behave like an athlete and get serious about your body. The results will follow!