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I sing either solo or as lead singer in my band, on shows lasting from 3 to 4 hours. I do take a break occasionally and sip water between every other song. I also avoid alcohol before and during my performance.

But by the third set, my voice begins to lose it's quality and I have an increasingly difficult time cleanly hitting the higher notes. The problem is worse if I sing many songs at the upper end of my range or sing with too much passion and power. And the next day, I am hoarse all day long.

What happens to your voice as you continue singing - that results in the loss of ability to sing the upper end of your range and makes you hoarse? Is it the vocal chords or something happening in your throat?

I don't know if your vocal chords themselves can become inflamed or tight or if it's more an issue with your throat (and other parts of your anatomy that are involved in singing) becoming inflamed or tensing up.

Specifically, I am looking for advice on what I can do to relieve, reduce or minimize these symptoms. Drinking water helps a little if my throat is dry, but that is not the main issue. It's the tightness in the throat and hoarseness that I want to minimize.

I know there are sprays you can buy that are supposed to help, but do any of these really work? Will honey do any good? Should I take an anti-inflammatory analgesic such as ibuprofen? Are there natural remedies like grape juice that might help?

Also, what can be done to speed recovery between gigs besides getting plenty of sleep and keeping well hydrated? I have to sing again tomorrow after singing last night - and my voice is still hoarse from last night.

I know some of you will want to tell me to not sing so much, but I have committed to these performances and don't want to have to cancel a scheduled show just because I was overzealous and agreed to too many. And yes I do know folks who have totally ruined their voice by over doing it.

Any advice from experienced singers on effective strategies to enhance my vocal endurance and minimize the tightening of the voice and getting hoarse, as well as next day recovery - would be much appreciated.

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    I suspect there is a long list of valid ideas. Some I can think of: * adjust the balance of what comes in your monitor so that you hear your own voice stronger. (less perceived need to strain.) 2: * Adjust the keys for some of the songs that you find more difficult (Of course that can be a difficult option for some styles and pieces for other band members.) – amalgamate Apr 10 '15 at 20:11
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    I suggest you think less of remedies, more of singing in a way that doesn't strain your voice. – Laurence Payne Apr 10 '15 at 22:10
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    This isn't directly addressing your question so I'll leave it as a comment, but can you delegate more singing duties to other members of the band? – Mr. Boy Dec 17 '15 at 13:13
  • @Mr.Boy actually that is a great idea and I am trying to do that more! Thanks for the comment. – Rockin Cowboy Dec 17 '15 at 17:14
  • My father doesn't sing (except for fun), but he speaks professionally. At peak, he did two or more seven or eight hour days, and developed voice problems. He went to a vocal doctor (who usually works with opera singers), and the one thing the doctor advised that hasn't already been mentioned is to avoid eating before bedtime, or anything else that can cause acid reflux. – Steve Feb 7 '18 at 2:43
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Here are a few thoughts:

  • If you don't already, you definitely need to develop a vocal warm-up / cool-down routine. You wouldn't run for four hours without stretching, would you? Why then would you sing? I don't have time / space here to suggest specific exercises, but I'll say you should definitely start researching. A good exercise works from the back of the throat to the front. (Hint: search for Opera singer's blogs / advice about warm ups). Doing excercises will improve your stamina, reduce the amount of damage, and will diminish recovery time between performances.

  • You need to drink water all the time. Sipping / drinking helps a little during a performance, but you need to be drinking water all the time to be properly hydrated. Without water, your vocal folds are basically just two pieces of dried play-doh rubbing eachother.

  • You need to sing less. You don't have to cancel any gigs, but just don't make your sets so long! 2-2.5hrs is a considerable length for a concert; 4hrs is a marathon. Being hoarse is your body's way of telling you you're hurting your voice - whether or not you want to accept the fact.

  • Just like when you work your muscles, they get tired and inflamed. So too do your vocal folds when they are worked extensively. The hoarse sound you hear is the result of inflamed vocal folds inefficiently resonating with air. This creates a distortion in the sound, which we perceive as "hoarse".

  • You see this all the time with inexperienced brass players. They sit down, immediately start wailing out high notes to impress everyone, but an hour later, their chops are shot and they're faking it. A smart brass player sits down, plays quiet, long, low sounds and gradually works up through the range; high notes then take care of themselves. The same applies to the voice as well.

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Besides sleep and hydration, which are key, you should warm up and cool down. Also, like any endurance activity, you have to train up to it at a measured pace and there will always be a limit to how long you can go. If you are hoarse all the next day you are probably hurting your voice, and that damage can be permanent or semi-permanent. If you get nodules on your vocal cords they can take years to go away on their own, if ever, and the only other option is surgery to remove them.

Your voice will change as you age even if you rarely use it and baby it. 3 - 4 hours is a long time to be singing in a loud band. Put your highest notes earlier in the show, but not right at the beginning, since your first couple songs will be part of your warm up no matter how much warm up you do before the first song.

This kind of thing has caused cancellation of dates for major tours by famous artists. There's no magic bullet and in the end most humans just might not be able to sing for four hours straight two out of three nights. With that kind of schedule you should find a professional voice teacher to help make sure you do not have bad habits that will injure your voice.

Your vocal cords get tired and sore and worn out just like any of your other muscles, they just don't have the same nerves so it's not as easy to feel it, but as you well know you can definitely hear it. You're basically running a marathon with your vocal cords and most people require months to years of training to run a marathon with their legs without hurting themselves, and then they have breaks in between marathons.

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3 to 4 hours is too long to sustain on a regular basis. I work around 180 shows each year and duration of show is 90 min. Vocal tiredness is inevitable as the varied environment of each gig offers its own individual problems for the voice. Over straining the voice is difficult to avoid when working outdoors to a large crowd for example unless you have excellent stage monitor's or a good earpiece. Learning to open your mouth in the correct manner to allow the different vowels to flow with ease will help with the stamina of the voice. But this will take practice and good training. The other muscles in the throat will try to compensate for bad technique which is why you may feel tightness in this area the next day. Overall in my experience (and I am not an expert.) when you are young you will recover from bad tecnique more quickly but as you age or have been gigging a lot for years you must step back and reconsider the best way to maintain the stamina in your voice, it will be more difficult to do this afters years of incorrect use but you will thank yourself for it in the long term. Good hid ration, good warm up, begin your show with a few songs which are easy for you and try to recognise any song which you over compensate with to reach the notes and try sitting down with it and learn a better more relaxed technique to do a good job of it. If this isn't possible for you then the song may just be out of your vocal range and it might be a good idea to drop the key or the song. Dave

  • Excellent advice Dave. Thanks for weighing in on an old question with new information. I completely agree with everything you said. Also I am learning that it is important to have bandmates who can also sing lead on some songs so we can share the load. – Rockin Cowboy Jul 27 '17 at 18:38
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Rockin Cowboy- I could've written your initial question. In fact I have over about 40 years of doing the lead singer thing (mid 50s now, still doing it). I've asked so many teachers this same question.... Pay attention to the answers above that tell you that 'as you get older, it will get harder to recover'. This has been my experience as well. I'm in a number of different bands, lead singer of most of them. For me, things have gotten tougher than when I was a kid. Your cords loose elasticity and get thicker, so it will take a LOT of work to keep them in shape.

Water's key. So is technique. Learn to round or narrow your vowels. Learn to use your head voice more. Learn to breathe right (I still struggle on this). Get out of your throat.

Use in ear monitors (IEMs). I've used in IEMs since the late 90s and I'll NEVER go back to wedges. The IEMs have definitely prolonged my life as a singer.

The best piece of advice is to get a teacher that does this. Teachers that don't sing as part of their living... I dunno how much faith I have in them. I've had many teachers over the years and the best ones (for me) were the ones that actually sang for part of their living. BEWARE of self-professed "maestros" that are on youtube. Anybody can post a youtube video.

Work on trying to make what you do easier. If it hurts, if it's straining, if it's tight - then it's wrong. Work on your volume so that you get out of the 'shouty' registration. You shouldn't have to YELL to hit the notes. I still stuggle with this.

Downtime is crucial too. After your shows, when you have another coming up, get good sleep but also keep quiet as long as you can before you have to warm up for the next show. ALWAYS warm up. Doesn't have to be a long time. Just make sure that you have a voice. As you go through your show, your voice will usually warm up to the point where your show will be okay. However, after your show, that swelling will kind of compound, so now you'll have 2 nights of wear and tear.

Learn to say NO to too many gigs too.

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    This all seems like great advice. I'd love to hear more about how in-ear monitors "have definitely prolonged my life as a singer." Maybe you could add a bit about this to your answer? Great first answer, and welcome to SE Music! – David Bowling Mar 28 '18 at 21:41
  • Thanks for sharing your experience and ideas Barry. That was all great advice. Plus one. I think one of my biggest problems is singing too loud. People who hear me sing for the first time often say "you have a powerful voice" but I believe it's just the opposite - only I'm singing as loud as my soft voice can sing. It never occured to me that in ear monitors might help save my voice. But thinking about it my guess would be that with ears I might not feel like I need to sing so loud. I can let the mic and PA gear do their job to allow my vocals to be heard by the audience. – Rockin Cowboy Mar 29 '18 at 14:11
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I do similar length gigs sometimes. I sing in a rock band and we like to party 'til late so sometimes this involves a 4 or 5 hour gig. Not all that often but sometimes.

I have found this works..

Enhance Vocal Endurance:

  • I'm no vocal trainer but I have learnt some thigns from this site. Eg I used to try to sing high notes with chest voice, pushing harder with the lungs to get higher. This works but it's MUCH easier endurance-wise if I use head voice and even falsetto sometimes (for me this isn't a great sound), and hold back on the pushing/belting. Maybe see a a vocal instructor to see how you can go about this. Basically, use the resources your voice has to good effect.

  • Start with songs which take little vocal effort. This works as a warm-up and you don't end up firing all your guns at the start. For me this means singing songs of a lower register, leaving the belters until I've warmed up.

  • DRINK WATER !!! Others have said it here - you can sweat a LOT when singing and dehydration is an energy killer. It makes your muscles cramp (including your vocal muscles) and tires you out generally. It might account for that tightness in your throat. So keep drinking. A sip isn't enough !

  • Take a break - even a song's worth of time can help. Maybe introduce some instrumentals or have someone else sing a few tunes, especially after something you find tricky.

Minimise tightening of voice:

  • Salt. If you're an energetic singer you might be sweating out salt a lot. I've found alka-seltzer (actually a hangover cure) helps or if not then eating something salty like crisps / potato chips. Be careful about crisps though because they can stick in your throat a bit so swill it down with some more water.

  • Coca cola. Sorry to name a brand but this one is best for me. It seems to help with rehydration and general energy levels. Probably the sugar. I remeber a specific occasion where I was flagging and asked one of the party people to fetch me a pint of coke. She did, bless her, and after a few slurps I felt immediately better. It;s not good for you long term but as a straight hit it works fine for me.

  • Vitamin C. Here (UK) you can get 1000mg vitamin C tablets which fizz into a pint of water nicely. Take one of those about an hour before the gig and generally the gig feels more effortless.

These are things that work for me - we're not all the same so maybe some will/won't work for you but perhaps they're worth a try.

Regards recovery:

Rest your voice. Obvious really. It's a muscle like anything else so don't go straining it too much if possible, and let it rest during the day aferwards. Avoid singing or even speaking if you can.

Finally if you really are having trouble, take a look at your schedule. If you're doing 4 hour gigs on a regular basis, maybe you're just overdoing it, as others have said. I know you don't want to hear that, but regular 4 hour gigs are already quite impressive, so allow yourself to be human.

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