1. Stay hydrated. Drink 8 glasses of water (not juice, coffee or soda) every day so that your vocal cords stay moist. They function much better that way.
2. We've all heard the expression that singers should breathe with their diaphragm. The truth is that you have no direct control over it! The best way to breathe “low” or diaphragmatic-ally for singing is to relax two large muscle groups in the body: your abdominals and your pelvic floor muscles (we use these whenever we go to the bathroom so they get a lot of use!). Wherever you lock or continually contract these muscles in your body you will prevent the largest muscle of inspiration, the diaphragm, from doing it’s job efficiently. When it works freely it gently pushes in a down and out direction your body organs of digestion as you inhale. Expansion down and out occurs wherever the body is most relaxed. Ideally there would be no motion in the shoulders. High or clavicular breathing (evidenced by movement in the shoulders when you breathe) causes too much breath pressure and tension in the voice. If you suck in your stomach when you breathe you will breathe clavicularly.
3. If you can relax upper body tension such as upper back, shoulders, neck tongue and jaw areas this will help release and relax the voice as tensions in the body tend to be connected.
4. Good posture can still be achieved without contracting your abdominals. Think instead of good alignment. Without proper alignment large muscles such as the abdominals will take over what should be a skeletal function. When they lock it’s impossible to take the breath we need for optimal singing.
5. When singing an easy way to relax in front of an audience, release the abdominals and obtain good posture is to feel grounded and balanced over both feet. You should be able to bounce your knees and move around freely while feeling both feet firmly attached to the floor.
6. Never lock your knees back when singing as this will cause you to lock your abdominals. The knees should have a slight bend and bounce to them
7. The best way to avoid vocal hoarseness is to never shout to be heard over background noise. This is true in bars, restaurants, weddings and other large events, on school buses, subways and even when singing in a choir (hint: don't try to hear yourself). Never push your voice in these situations. If you do abuse your voice and get hoarse you should rest your voice until it gets back to normal as your vocal cords most likely have swollen up from vocal trauma. And...drink lots of water. Whispering is not good for the voice.
8. Chronic voice fatigue / hoarseness without an obvious reason (such as a cold/cough) could be a symptom of vocal injury or damage. If you are experiencing this I would suggest being evaluated by an Ear, Nose, Throat doctor (ENT) but only one that specializes in voice. They are usually referred to as “laryngologists”.
9. Singing well requires what is simply termed as an “open throat”. But what does that mean? The throat opens like a cube in 3 directions,: down, out to the side and front to back. An easy way to find the out-to-the-side direction (which is space around the vocal cords) is to close your ears and breathe in and out through your mouth. Did you hear something? Now do the same and let the breath get totally silent, particularly the exhale. The space of the silent breath is one way of finding the open throat, and a relaxed glottis. The glottis means vocal cords that are closed rather than open. When we breathe they are open. When we make sound they come together to form the "glottis".
10. Breathe in and see if you can feel cool air hit the back of your tongue and travel gently down your throat. That space is so important to singing and is the back to front dimension of an open throat. It may feel like the beginning of a yawn.
11. Laryngeal position is the downward dimension of an open throat. When we take a “low” diaphragmatic breath (see above) the larynx goes down. The trick is to sing in this position if you are singing classically. If you speak like Julia Child or Mrs. Doubtfire you are speaking with a low larynx. We normally speak with a higher larynx than that which is perfect for pop and broadway and other contemporary styles of singing. You you are speaking like bugs bunny then you are speaking with a very high larynx!
12. Your larynx or voice box moves and it should be free to do so especially if you sing styles other than classical. The larynx should not rise up for high notes. It rises slightly for different vowels and rises and lowers for different tonal qualities such as belt versus classical sounds.
13. If you are in the habit of raising your larynx for high notes the root of your tongue may get involved to push it back down. This is a common scenario. To see if the root of your tongue is depressing your voice box place your thumb gently under your chin and feel the soft muscles there. Now sing one note, then two or three different ones. If you felt any hardness or “bumping” there it means your tongue root is getting involved in your singing. Voice lessons address tongue relaxation and freedom of the larynx.
14. If you sing with too high a larynx while singing a reason might be that you are squeezing your vocal cords too tight. Try to keep that space of the silent inhale/exhale while you sing instead of squeezing. Vocal tensions can only be fully evaluated in private lessons, but they tend to be a vicious cycle for singers. If the larynx is coming up for high notes the root of the tongue will get involved to push the larynx back down. The singer will feel a loss of power and will push the voice even more. Voice lessons can help unravel vocal tensions so that singing feels free and easy and range increases. Most of us need to learn to stop working while we sing.
15. How does one sing loud? Never by pushing! Pushing only makes the singer tired. Sound is vibration and vibrations need a space to resonate sound. The more open and relaxed your throat is, the more space you have, and the more easy it is to project the voice.