By Nellie Vinograd
Suddenly your smooth and velvety tones are sounding raspy and dry. Or you’ve been noticing a slow decline in your voice quality over the past week, possibly along with feeling symptoms of a common cold. There are many reasons one might lose their voice, but here are some general guidelines for how to get your voice back, regardless of the cause.
In the short term, if you’ve temporarily lost your voice during rehearsal or in the middle of a song, take a quick break, swallow a few times, drink water and do some relaxing sighs and yawns while massaging your throat and jaw. If you’re able to return to singing right away, put extra focus on your breathing. Lack of breath support is a common cause of straining your other singing muscles and losing your stamina. Another option is to spend a few minutes doing some added, gentle warm-ups (such as humming) before you jump back in.
If your voice still hasn’t come back, you might need to excuse yourself from rehearsal and consider these longer-term solutions:
Rest: Resting your voice cannot be understated. Once you sense your voice weakening, do whatever you can to avoid any strain on your vocal cords. Depending on the severity, this might even mean writing things out on a notepad for a day instead of talking or rescheduling a meeting to a later date. If you can manage it, skip singing all together for a few days, as well. Things to absolutely avoid are screaming, loud cheering or any other loud and strenuous uses of your voice.
Hydrate: This is a simple one, but it never hurts to stay hydrated. When your voice is hoarse, keep it lubricated with plenty of water and avoid products that will dehydrate you (e.g. alcohol, some medications, high-caffeine beverages). Keeping a water bottle on you at all times will be a good mental reminder to keep drinking water.
Increase humidity: To add to your hydration routine, have a humidifier in your bedroom and keep it on while you sleep. A humidifier will help prevent your throat from that dry, scratchy feeling, especially if it’s winter or you live in a dry climate. A hot, steamy shower once a day will also do the trick.
Salt water rinse: Add about a teaspoon of salt to a cup of warm (not hot!) water. Do a few 30-second gargles of this solution in the morning and evening. A salt water rinse will not only clear out bacteria in your throat but can help alleviate pain, as well.
Avoid extremes: This is the time to skip the frozen beverage and give extra time for your soup to cool. Extreme cold or heat could further irritate your throat. Of course, tea with honey is a popular throat-soother, just make sure the tea isn’t piping hot when you drink it. If it’s cold outside, be sure to bundle up and wear a scarf whenever possible, too. Other extremes to avoid are excessively acidic or spicy foods – in all things, keep it gentle and neutral.
No smoking: In general, one of the worst habits for your singing voice is smoking. Particularly when you’ve lost your voice, you’ll want to cut out the fumes and stay away from secondhand smoke, as well.
Some Old Wives’ Tales: Drinking apple juice or lemon water can supposedly expedite the healing process for a lost voice. Another popular truism is that consuming dairy can make it harder for you to sing. Some singers swear by these tricks while others say they don’t hold water. You might hear a lot of different (or conflicting) advice on how to heal your voice, so take such tips with a grain of salt.
Avoid future strain and misuse: Once you get your voice back, consider what caused you to lose it in the first place to make improvements to your practice. Were you overusing your voice? Straining to reach an out-of-range note? Did you forget to warm-up before heading straight into a challenging piece? Sometimes strain goes away once you’ve practiced a song enough, or sometimes it’s evidence of improper singing methods or a too-difficult piece. Be careful with your voice and make precautionary choices to make sure it’s always at its best.
Let us know if you've tried any of these remedies. We'd love to hear from you!