By Allie Chipkin, Songwriter and Vocal Coach
Cover Photo by Luke Thornton
Don’t get me wrong, I can’t WAIT for live music to come back this summer…. but I’ve also been low-key freaking out because I am a professional singer who hasn’t kept a consistent vocal practice through the pandemic. (Yikes!) Thankfully, I’ve learned a lot about vocal health and recovery after years of performing and practicing as a professional singer/songwriter. Here are 5 not-so-obvious tips to recuperate your voice after long periods without singing.
1. Stretch it out
As a singer, your body is your instrument. So, when your physical body feels relaxed, that will reflect in your vocal tone. I highly recommend doing some yoga. Here’s one stretch I always recommend for singers: Slowly roll down your spine with knees bent and drape your torso over your legs. Take a minute to hang like a rag-doll, keeping your knees deeply bent. Relax your belly and feel it balloon against your thighs as you breathe. Feel your ribcage expand three-dimensionally with each breath. Gently shake your head “no.” Shake it “yes.” Allow the tension in your neck, jaw, throat, and torso to melt off your body and into the ground.
2. Try Laryngeal Massage
Laryngeal massage loosens up the muscles around your larynx (aka your “voice box”) so that your vocal folds can vibrate and resonate freely. I encourage you to look up videos or work with a vocal coach before diving into tracheal self-massage since you’ll be handling a delicate area. However, when done correctly, laryngeal massage offers incredible benefits for singers. I recommend following your massage with a warm cup of tea and a massive yawn. Don’t worry: you’re not going to sleep! Swallowing and yawning induce a low laryngeal position, which means your throat will feel relaxed and ready to sing.
3. Get Breathing
If you haven’t sung in a while… you’ve probably reverted back to shallow breathing patterns, which will impact the tone, pitch, and range of your singing. Sit down, set a timer, and notice your breath for 5-10 minutes. Recognize where, in your body, you might be able to relax to allow yourself a deeper breath. Mentally direct breath to specific parts of your torso. Start by sending breath down into your low back. On your next inhale, feel the breath expanding the space between your shoulders, then your side ribs, your chest, and, finally, feel it filling your lower belly. Each breath should embody and expand more of your torso. The breath literally feeds the voice. If you try to sing without a nourishing breath, your tone will sound starved on the way out! This kind of breath meditation will impact your unconscious awareness before speaking or singing. Deeper breathing yields richer resonance, more control, and a wider vocal range.
4. Warm Up Classically
Classical singing may not ‘fit your vibe’. I get it… but, trust me on this. Classical singing anchors your voice in the breath and encourages the free flow of vibrato. You can find lots of great guided classical warm ups on YouTube, or just start with a simple 1-2-3-4-5 scale up and down on “Na,” holding the last note (once you’ve returned to the root). Take a deep breath into your low belly to support the sound and allow your voice to flow freely and vibrate like an opera singer’s, (especially on the final held root note.) A lot of contemporary singers don’t use vibrato, so this might feel clumsy or undesirable at first, but try to turn off your judging mind and embrace your voice’s natural resonance. You can make the stylistic choice to straighten out vibrato later, but your voice will thank you for allowing it to bathe in its natural resonance for 10-15 minutes during your warmup.
5. Start Soft
When you’re coming off a long period of vocal inactivity, of course, always warm up, and then start with a song that’s soft and legato. Jumping into belting can cause vocal injury, even after a solid warmup. My go-to song is “Edelweiss” sung by Audra McDonald. Whenever I come out of vocal hibernation, I play her version and sing along gently, allowing the long phrases to slide over my vocal cords and massage them from inside.
I hope these tips help your voice feel supple and ready to sing after this long quarantine! Feel free to reach out to me on instagram @alliechip if you have any questions!