When people sign up for singing lessons, they often tell me that their goal is to learn how to sing in a healthy way. It’s a great goal, but not an easy one to define. There hasn’t been much in the way of conclusive research about what healthy singing means. When I asked vocal scientist Dr. Johan Sundberg what’s known about healthy singing, he replied, “As a scientist, if you study anything enough, it’ll be unhealthy.” In other words, if you do anything too much, it can hurt you: belting too long, singing in your head voice night after night without a break, speaking, dancing, and running. It can all be good for you or bad for you, depending on your technique, your level of vocal or physical fitness, your awareness of your limits, and your willingness to take a break when necessary.
So What is Healthy Singing?
Voice teacher Dr. Brian Gill said that the job of a voice trainer is to “minimize effort” and get the most amount of sound for the least amount of work. This is also a perfect definition of what healthy singing is in general: putting the least amount of effort in for the vocal result you’re trying to achieve. If you’re belting, the healthiest option is a healthy mixed belt, because it’s lighter and takes less physical effort than a more chest-heavy belt. If your goal is to sing opera, your healthiest option is to learn how to maximize your areas of resonance instead of simply pushing harder. If your goal is to sing breathy, make sure you’re either in a quiet setting or are well-amplified so that you don’t push the air out too hard.
A Few Suggestions for Healthy Singing
1. Sing With as Little Pressure as Possible to Achieve Your Aesthetic
In other words, don’t push any harder than you need to when you sing. This doesn’t mean that you should always sing quietly, or always be in your head voice. If a song calls for a belt, then belt, but don’t push any harder than you need to get the notes out. Not all belting is created equal.
2. If It Hurts, Stop!
It’s as simple as that. If what you’re doing is hurting your throat, then stop. It doesn’t necessarily even mean you’re singing incorrectly. It may just mean that your voice is worn out and that you should try again another day.
3. Cross Train
Working different areas of your voice is great for you. First off, it means you won’t be singing (and possibly wearing down) the same area of your voice all the time. Secondly, you’ll be able to develop different areas of resonance and easily thicken or lighten your mix when you need to without straining. If you’re a belter, try throwing in some head voice exercises to mix it up.
4. Try Semi-Occluded Vocal Tract Exercises
If you have a tendency to push too hard or sing with too much tension, try some semi-occluded vocal tract exercises, like lip trills, humming, and singing through a straw.