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  • Ryan Jenkins: The Online Vocal Coach

Winter Voice Care for Singers

It is fair to say, winter is one of the most challenging seasons for your voice. The winter brings cold, dry air and this combination is your larynx’s worst nightmare. Your voice prefers the climate of a tropical rainforest, wet and warm. With a desiccated larynx, your voice becomes susceptible to vocal fatigue and in some cases infection.

Stay Hydrated

Keeping your voice hydrated is important at the best of times, but in the winter, keeping your voice well hydrated is even more important, in fact I allude to its importance in an earlier blog (https://www.theonlinevocalcoach.com/post/food-and-drink-to-fuel-the-voice).

Staying hydrated aides in maintaining a healthy body, with the average adult requiring 8-10 glasses of water per day. By consuming water, not only are you lubricating the voice, but you are flushing harmful toxins out of your system. Winter is a prevalent time for infection and virus-related illness, so by flushing away many of these harmful toxins, you provide your body with a better chance of staying illness free.

That being said, drinking water takes a considerable amount of time to hydrate your vocal mechanism fully, often taking up to 72 hours. Therefore, you would be wise to explore the world of steaming.

By directly inhaling steam, a singer provides their vocal cords with almost immediate hydration, ensuring that this part of the vocal mechanism can effectively and efficiently undertake its required task. There are two types of hydration, systematic and direct, with the latter being achieved through steaming.

Most professional singers and vocal coaches would agree that the most effective, efficient, convenient, and safe way to inhale steam is to use a personal steam inhaling device. These are inexpensive, portable and can be used at a time and place that is convenient to you. You can purchase a personal steamer online via Amazon, eBay or often in your local pharmacy. If you are serious about singing, I would not hesitate in purchasing a steamer and reaping the benefits of regular steaming. If you’d like to know more about steaming, visit, https://www.theonlinevocalcoach.com/post/quick-blog-the-benefits-of-steaming.

Breathe Through Your Nose

Every singer has their preferred approach to breathing, either through the mouth or through the nose. In the winter however, I would highly suggest adopting the method of breathing through the nose. By breathing through your nose, you are allowing the cold winter air to warm up slightly, whilst at the same time providing the inhaled air with moisture.

There is one slight issue with breathing through the nose and that is that it will considerably slow down the speed of a conversation, likening it to having a conversation with someone over satellite link. The benefits are worth the effort as breathing through the mouth, particularly outdoors, will direct expose your vocal mechanism to the cold and dry winter air.

Scarves and Hats Are A Must

Keeping your vocal mechanism wet and warm is your prime objective as a singer, with this section relating to the latter.

Up to 80% of your body heat is lost through your neck and head. For that reason, I strongly encourage you to wear a hat and scarf… Even if, like me, you are not a ‘hat person’.

The purpose of warming your voice up, literally means to warm the muscles that work to help you sing. If you have spent all that effort getting your voice into a workable state, it would be unwise to allow your body to cool and waste all that energy.

Warm That Instrument Up!

As a singer you should always be doing this! Think of singing as a sport, professional athletes will always ensure their body is warm before exerting physical energy… singing uses muscles, singing uses physical energy. If you do not warm your vocal mechanism in the winter, you will feel the effects very swiftly.

Despite popular belief, warming the voice, in most cases, will not provide you with any technical advantage as a singer. Warming the voice, is exactly as it suggests… a tool in which to provide warmth to the muscles and mechanics of your vocal instrument. Regardless of your ability, intent, time of year or preference, warming the voice is essential and as previously mentioned, not warming your instrument in the winter will lead to vocal injury much sooner than in the warmer months. If you require access to some useful warm ups and insight on singing, visit my YouTube channel.


Acclimatise to Your Surroundings

Instrumentalists will tell you the importance of this, as those professionals who know their instrument and take it seriously will always arrive at a venue in good time to ensure their musical instrument has time to acclimatise. Your voice is no different. Your voice is an instrument and requires time to acclimatise to its surroundings. Be kind to your voice and arrive at the venue early. On average it takes around 30 minutes for your voice to acclimatise to its surroundings.

From personal experience, I have made this mistake many times, particularly when singing outdoors. Where possible undertake your warmups in the setting in which you are performing, in the outfit you are performing in. Too many times, I have warmed my voice in a cosy, heated dressing room fully clothed in a coat and scarf, to then discover my voice loses its flexibility almost the instant I step into the cold air.


Avoid Diuretic Food and Drink

Diuretic food and drink are consumables that dry your voice, and I am afraid to say tea and coffee, particularly the latter are one of the biggest culprits. Caffeine is not your friend in the winter, particularly if you are a singer.

Like you, I enjoy a good ol’ cuppa but I have to admit I will avoid caffeinated hot drinks in the hours before a performance. Diuretics, such as coffee will cause tightness in the throat, putting unnecessary stress on your vocal cords. Remember your main target here is to maintain, ‘a wet and warm vocal mechanism’. Despite initially feeling wet and, in the case of hot drinks, warm, caffeinated drinks will dry you out.

Take Your Vitamins!

A happy immune system will help to fight off those coughs and colds. Be sure to take your vitamins and practice some form of body healing exercise such as yoga.

As a singer myself, I take 5 main supplements to help maintain my voice, these being, vitamin A, B and C, as well as taking omega oil capsules and a magnesium supplement.

In short, vitamin A is a vitamin I strongly suggest all singers should take as it delivers moisture to the areas of the body that require it. In addition to vitamin A, vitamin B is important in restoring energy levels and correct brain functionality. Being a performer is a stressful profession, often consisting of late nights, long drives, and large expulsions of energy… Top that energy up with a good vitamin B supplement. We are all aware of the benefits of vitamin C, this is the vitamin that helps to encourage an effective immune system, something every singer needs. If you are a bus driver with a sore throat, you are probably like to still able to go to work and earn an income. However, if you are a singer with a sore throat, the chances are that you will have to cancel gigs… In fact, it is always my advice that no singer should be singing with a sore throat, you will just cause more damage.

Omega oil supplements are essential for maintaining a healthy body. Moreover, our bodies essentially run on water and oil. The oil we hold in our body carries moisture to the places that need it. Do not allow yourself to run on empty, top up your oil and avoid becoming dehydrated.

My final supplement suggestion is magnesium. Magnesium deficiency is becoming more and more prevalent as we try to keep up with the pace of an ever-accelerating world. It is fair to say that the aches, pains cramps and twinges you suffer as a singer are likely down to magnesium deficiency. Magnesium is paramount to the success of our bio-chemical function and if you are a singer that understands the anatomy of the voice, you will understand the interconnectivity of the vocal system. Yes, that tightness in your shoulder or strain in your lower back really can influence your ability to sing to your full potential.

Look After Your Lungs

Your lungs will take a battering over the winter months with the cold air, coughs and colds gradually weakening them over time. Take time to give your lungs some well needed attention. Be sure to undertake daily breathing exercises, this will strengthen the lungs and encourage good lung health.


As with the vocal muscles, treat your lungs as working muscles that require a workout to keep them in good working order. If you leave it to chance, your lungs will become tired, this will make it increasingly difficult to sing. Tired lungs will become damaged and damaged lungs can become infected, look after them.

Sleep!

In a world that moves at such a fast pace, I know from experience, sleep is not always one’s main priority.

Sleeping needs differ from person to person, but at the very least you need to know how much sleep you require to function best. Be sure to rest your voice whenever possible and allow yourself time to unwind during your day. Do not wait until you exhaust yourself… schedule rest before this point.

Avoid Coughing… Swallow

This is easier said than done but where possible try to swallow rather than clearing your throat with a cough. When you cough to clear your throat, you are violently smacking your vocal cords together which over time will cause significant damage. Combine this with the desiccation from the cold air and you are looking at some potentially serious vocal injury.

And Finally…

A question I’m often asked is, “Can I sing with a cold?”

In the most part you can sing with a cold. However, there are times when you must rest your voice. Colds are a part of life with well-trained singers able to sing through them. If you have nasal congestion with no throat symptoms and good technique, you will be fine to sing. Your tone will likely suffer and become a little nasal, but in general, you can sing through the congestion.

The most important thing to remember is to keep your voice moist. Taking on more water than usual will aide in keeping your throat and nasal mucus thin. If you develop a cough, most cough sweets will aide in minimising the hoarseness effect of a cough but be aware that the sugar in cough sweets will dry you out. Rest assured that so long as you do not have any throat symptoms and are supporting your voice correctly, singing through a cold is perfectly achievable.

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