I’ve been doing musical theatre for 20+ years now (holy crap, that’s crazy to think about), and along the way I’ve picked up a lot of tips, tricks, and favorite products to help me out. I know this is a bit of a departure from my usual running chat, but due to my impending audition, it’s on my mind, and hopefully someone can benefit from it.
Please note that I am not being compensated in any way to mention these products or companies. I promise none of them even know I exist. These are just my tried and true products for good vocal health.
My go-to used to be Traditional Medicinal’s Throat Coat. That was the most common “throat soothing” tea, so it was what I drank. And with its delicious licorice flavor, plus some honey, it was tasty to boot. Now, though, I use Yogi Tea’s Throat Comfort. It has the same licorice flavor, plus wild cherry, slippery Elm, and mullein. It tastes even better than Throat Coat, and I think does a better job of soothing my tired chords too.
My Favorite Lozenge
Grether’s Blackcurrant Pastilles are the ultimate throat soother. And I don’t just use them for singing. If I have a sore throat or a bad cough, one of these does ten times more to soothe my throat than a normal cough drop, and they taste ten times better too. They come in several flavors, as well as sugar-free options, but I prefer the original blackcurrant flavor. I just wish I could find a store near me that sells them so I didn’t have to buy them on Amazon.
This is something I was introduced to my senior year of college, and I don’t know how I ever did without it. I have always had minor seasonal allergies and post-nasal drip, so excess mucus has long been a problem for me. A neti pot is basically a tiny teapot that you use to pour saline solution into your sinuses. Using the neti pot every few days flushes all the irritants and excess mucus out of my system, so it doesn’t build up in my sinuses and chest. Fair warning, it feels weird AF and takes some getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, it’s an invaluable tool, especially if you’re prone to sinus infections.
No, not alcohol, Alkalol. It’s a nasal rinse similar in idea to the neti pot, but instead of using saline solution, you use a proprietary blend of antiseptic essential oils, menthol, AND saline. This stuff is the big guns that I break out when I’m actually sick, versus the everyday preventative nature of the neti pot. This stuff will clean you out, but it also feels even weirder than the neti pot. Consider yourself warned.
This is another product that’s more in the vein of mitigating the symptoms of an actual illness versus prevention, although some people swear it can help boost your immunity if used regularly. For me, I just gargle it if I feel any kind of sore throat or excess mucus on my vocal chords. It clears it up instantly. Fire Cider tastes FOUL. Like, seriously bad, but damn does it work! You can make your own, but I use it infrequently enough that I just buy it from my local health food store.
Vicks Personal Steamer
This isn’t something I have or have used in the past, but I want one, bad. The benefits of warm steam for vocal health have been touted over and over, but it’s hard to bring a humidifier with you to the theatre, and sitting hunched over one can be uncomfortable. This baby brings the steam right to you, with a comfy face mask and different steam levels for ultimate comfort. Mama want.
BEST TIPS FOR MAINTAINING GOOD VOCAL HEALTH
Drink All the Water
Simple, but effective. Hydration is critical to maintaining good vocal health. I keep a 32 oz water bottle on my desk at work, and aim to drink two per day. I’m not as good on the weekends just because I’m usually on the go, but I try to remember to bring a bottle with me as much as possible.
Use Your Good Vocal Habits All Day, Every Day
Breathe well and support your speaking voice. Don’t whisper or scream. Avoid vocal fry (if you don’t know what that means, go Google it). Warm up properly before you do any singing, even just goofing around in the car. Your voice is your instrument, but one that you can’t replace, and one that is very difficult to repair if it gets broken. You have to treat it well every day, or you’ll be in trouble.
Get Enough Sleep
You need sleep to stay healthy. ‘Nuff said.
TIPS I THINK ARE BULLSHIT
There are a lot of urban myths about vocal health that are continually bandied about, and some people adhere to them religiously. I’m a bit of a rebel when it comes to a lot of this stuff, but especially this first one:
Avoid Dairy Products, Because They Cause Phlegm
I’m sorry, I just can’t even with this. I have been doing musical theatre for two decades and I have never once given up dairy for a show. Not even during Chess, when I significantly cut back on my alcohol consumption, did I give up dairy for theatre! I did once give up dairy for a month or two to see if it might be causing some stomach problems I was having, and not only did it not solve my stomach problems, it did not solve my post-nasal drip and excess mucus issues. I have been known to have a milk shake right before a show and suffer no ill-effects. Now, I can’t speak for everyone, and maybe dairy really does affect some people’s voices adversely, but I’m not one of them.
Avoid Caffeine, Because It’s a Diuretic and Will Dehydrate You
Again–I can’t even with this. I’m not saying I’m Lorelai Gilmore over here drinking my weight in coffee every day, but I LOVE coffee and find it difficult to start my day without it. And with lots of late night rehearsals, sometimes I need the caffeine boost. I’ve even been known to chug a Red Bull on a two-show day. I can’t say that I’ve gone more than a few days without caffeine since I started drinking coffee regularly at age 18, but I’m generally really happy with my vocal stamina and quality, and I’m skeptical as to whether or not giving up caffeine would really make anything better. I’ve never noticed that my voice was any better or worse on days when I had more caffeine, and I drink more than enough water to compensate for the potential dehydrating effects of my moderate caffeine consumption.
Singers, any tips or tricks I’ve left out? Do you give up dairy during a show?