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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    1. Dang- vocal rest is so hard. I needed to read that though. Also, “the longer you warm up for, the longer your voice will be strong for”… I’m so guilty of a quick warmup that’s “good enough” to get through Sunday morning soundcheck. But my voice is usually already giving out by the end of our first service, with a full service of songs left to go. Taking this one to heart! I have a feeling I’ll be glad I did!

      1. Yup! I used to be the “quick warmer upper” too, and it did NOT serve me well!

    2. Singing in a mix voice has definitely been a game changer for me. Since developing my mix voice, I’ve noticed that my voice isn’t as tired or hoarse even after a long Sunday set. And on the days when I get to do a good warmup, it feels even better!!!

    3. It is so hard for me rest my voice. I naturally just start singing parts of songs around the house throughout the day. I’ve recently noticed I’d going into that even if I hadn’t warmed up too. I will say doing the right warmups on Sunday has made all the difference. It really makes me confident that my voice is going to do what I need/want it to in certain parts of songs.

    4. Resting the voice is a challenge for me on the day after my evening worship service – my voice still feels flexible and in shape. I want to get up from the bed and keep singing… I have to command to myself to be regardful of my vocal cords…

      1. Haha I hear ya! Well the most important thing is to listen to your voice. For some people, they feel very tired the day after. For others, they don’t need nearly as much vocal rest!

    5. These are amazing! I use to push up on my chest voice and my voice would get tired and I never understood why until I did Discover Your Voice. Understanding the mix and the importance of the pharyngeal are foundational to singing. Now my voice is never tired after leading. Warming up has also been so beneficial. I have said this before, but I was told by my old vocal coach I didn’t need to warm up. Now knowing the importance I always warm up. Leading youth, I always start our practice with the Sunday Morning Warm ups as well. I want them to understand the importance of warming up and see that this is what should be normal before you sing. We can’t do the full 1.5 hour warm up together, but we at least do the last 15 mins of the warm up. I personally warm up more through out the day. But for the youth I just want them to do something so we do it all together.

      1. I’m so glad you are now warming up your voice and have seen such a difference! I was the same way—I would get so tired after leading, and warmups were a game changer for me!

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