3 Ways to Protect Against Vocal Damage

Maybe you’ve been here too… your voice was already feeling pretty crummy heading into morning rehearsal, but now after two services it’s TOAST. Tired. Strained. Hoarse.

Have I done myself in this time? Oh no… do I have nodules? When will my voice feel better? Why does it feel this way every time I sing on Sundays?!

The anxiety. It’s real (and no fun!). And so is vocal damage. It’s a real thing, and it’s so important to protect against it. Singing is a physical exercise, and if you’re sloppy with your voice when you sing… if you think you can just be lazy and “wing it” because you always have… I’m telling you—you’re asking for a ton of problems to come your way. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but lack of care for your voice does show up in the long run.

Improper singing technique causes your vocal cords to become irritated and inflamed—and when we speak or sing on inflamed cords, the sound becomes distorted… what we call a “hoarse” voice. The real issue comes when you keep singing or even speaking on a hoarse voice… a constant cycle of inflammation leads to cysts, polyps and nodules on the vocal cords (believe me, you don’t wanna go there—damage to your vocal cords means potential surgery, and almost definitely several weeks or months of utter silence. Yes, that means no speaking or singing!).

Most of us have sprained our ankle at least once in our lives (or many times!)… remember that pain? And remember how you took care of it? You don’t keep walking or running on it like you normally do—you rest it… ice it, baby it… until it’s healed.

Sadly, even with the warning signs of vocal damage (a hoarse-sounding voice, pain in the throat, etc.), most of us don’t take the same precautions with our voice as we do with other parts of our bodies.

Here are 3 simple things you need to start doing now to protect your voice…

1. Learn to sing in a mix

In contemporary worship, we want to have a big, powerful, deep, full sound… even in our high range. The problem is… for many vocalists, the only way they can get to the high notes in worship songs—without flipping to a weak head voice—is to push up their chest voice. Nooooooo! Pushing up on your chest voice is a road to vocal ruin. Believe me… I pushed and pushed on my chest voice for years… I always had a tired voice, had a whole year of chronic breathiness and bronchitis… and if I hadn’t found the right coach at the right time, my voice would have been TOAST.

You have to learn to balance out your chest, head and pharyngeal resonance so that there’s no extra weight or pressure on the voice in any area of your range. This is called singing in a mix—and it gives you the fullness of the sound of your chest voice, but without the weight and strain of your chest voice in the high range. Learning to sing in a mix is an absolute game changer—so if you haven’t gone through my Discover Your Voice lessons yet, now’s the time. Don’t wait until your voice starts to give out on you… please!

2. Warm up your voice

One of the biggest issues I come across in worship team singers is that people don’t warm up at all on Sunday mornings or they don’t know how to warm up properly. So often we jump in quickly to sing and then our voices break down quickly. The voice needs the opposite—the longer you warm up for, the longer your voice will be strong for. A slow, methodical, gentle warmup will give you longevity.

Singing a song on the way to church is not warming up… that’s like jumping out of bed and onto the field to play a high-intensity sport! The most important thing is to start slow… start with some simple lip rolls, humming, easy stuff for the voice… then move into light head voice and chest voice warmups, and build from there. Don’t start with something big and vocally demanding… otherwise the vocal cords swell up and it’s difficult to get your voice out of that state. One of the biggest things I’ve learned to do is to allow my voice to warm up, never force it to warm up. The more we love our voice, the more it rewards us in return! If you don’t already have a Sunday morning warmup routine, use this one!

3. Rest your voice

One of the most important (but most neglected!) things you can do to protect your vocal cords, especially if you have a career that is vocally demanding (teacher, salesperson, worship pastor 🙂)… is to rest your voice. Schedule in periods of vocal rest, especially after you’ve sung a long worship set or if a day has demanded a lot of your voice. For many years, my rule of thumb has been—if I lead on Sunday, Monday is a day off. No singing, and little to no speaking.

If your voice is feeling tired or sounding raspy and hoarse, I can’t stress this enough… take it seriously. It’s your body sending you a message! If you were an athlete with a sprained ankle or a torn hamstring, you wouldn’t continue to play the sport… you would rest it.

Vocal rest = no speaking, no singing. Sometimes all it takes is 2-4 hours of intentional rest and the voice bounces back… sometimes it needs 8 hours, 24 hours… a week.. Give it what it needs.

Bottom line—if you sing on a worship team, it’s not just a “good thing to do” to take care of your voice… it’s absolutely imperative. As worship leaders, we have a job to do—a responsibility to lead our congregations… not with a “perfect”-sounding voice, but with a healthy voice, yes! Our voice is our God-given instrument, so let’s make the choice to be faithful stewards of what God has entrusted us with!

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4 Responses

    1. Absolutely! I can see how beneficial it is. It has to be scheduled in. I lead worship on Wednesday night at our high school ministry and sing most weekends on vocal team (Saturday 3-6pm & Sunday 8-12 due to practices and 3 services). Additionally, I teach middle school math. My voice is so important to me. I want to take care of it…

    2. As a mom of three kids and a full-time worship pastor, I NEED Mondays to be a vocal rest day. Any advice for making that happen? My kids are 7, 4, and 6 months… not speaking to give my voice a break is REALLY hard to do.

      1. Ah… I hear ya! I’ve just got one (a 2-year-old) and it’s definitely a challenge! With your older ones, I would definitely try to explain to them that “mommy is resting her voice”… the more they can understand why, the better. Obviously with the baby it’s harder—I’d say just be aware to not be using your voice unnecessarily! No whispering, and no raising your voice 🙂 — those two things are the hardest on the vocal cords. Probably the best thing you can do (that’s realistic) is, from the time the kids go to bed on Sunday to the time they wake up, have that be your absolute dedicated vocal rest time!

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