To become a singer requires not only a natural talent but also ongoing vocal training. Singers are constantly striving to improve their range, strengthen their voices, and learn new techniques. Before embarking on any kind of musical career, a singer must first learn to train and protect his or her voice. While other musicians have external instruments to play, requiring only the interaction of the hands, fingers, wrists, or mouth, singers face a more difficult challenge because the vocalist's instrument is built in. Therefore the entire body must be kept in good shape, not just the throat itself.
The first step to become a singer is to take singing lessons. This training should not consist of only a few lessons; most professional singers will have an ongoing course of lessons throughout their entire careers. A vocal coach works one-on-one with a student to build up the singer's voice with a variety of singing and breathing exercises. Vocal coaches also teach aspiring singers how to protect the voice from damage. Singing improperly can result in the development of vocal nodules or polyps on the vocal folds, typically requiring surgical removal. In some cases, the damage can be permanent and so extensive that it can even end a singer's career.
Keeping the vocal folds, neck, shoulder and face muscles relaxed is the key to avoiding vocal damage. When studying to become a singer, the student will be given several relaxation exercises. This usually includes stretching, neck rolls, singing scales and other techniques. It is important that the singer incorporate these exercises into his or her warm-up routine. Even on days when the vocalist is not scheduled to perform, the vocal coach typically recommends that the student continue these exercises daily to maintain vocal strength.
Singing students also learn from a vocal coach what types of foods, drinks, and other unhealthy habits they should avoid. As the vocal folds are extremely fragile, they require constant lubrication in order to remain healthy. Certain cooking spices, beverages, and medications can act as irritants to the vocal folds and damage the voice. Dairy products such as milk, for example, contribute to excessive mucus production in the throat and nasal passages. Any drink containing caffeine dries out the throat and tenses up the vocal muscles. Alcohol also has a drying effect.
Many untrained singers erroneously believe that drinking hot tea with lemon — a common home remedy for a sore throat — will help the voice. While it may ease pain temporarily, tea with lemon can actually do more harm than good. Even caffeine-free teas can be drying to the throat; just the opposite of what the singer needs. Citrus fruits such as lemon and lime juice make the vocal folds contract and can also contribute to acid reflux, creating even more discomfort for the singer. Vocal coaches uniformly agree that the best liquid for the voice is at least 10 to 12 glasses of pure drinking water per day. Drinking lots of water is a tip vocal coaches stress most often to any student who wants to become a singer.