(If you’re less than 40 years old, you might not get the reference in the title. Go ahead and ask someone over 40. You’ll like it.)

We’ve all been there, I’m sure, that place where your voice slowly deteriorates from angelic singing to the sound a cat makes when it’s stuck in a trash can. The dreaded word “hoarse” has entered into your vocabulary. Horrors!

So how did it happen? There are quite a few ways you can find yourself braying instead of singing. Let’s examine a couple of common ones and what can be done.

If you have a cold and sing, the gunk in your throat is going to make a mess of things and if you’re not careful you can add laryngitis to the mix. The same is true with any respiratory infection.

Prolonged speaking in a noisy place is an obvious one. Yelling strains the heck out of all the moving parts necessary for singing.

One I didn’t know (along with not knowing that the study of this stuff is called otolaryngology…I can’t even say that ONE time fast) is that if you talk on the phone bending your neck to hold your ear in place pressed on your shoulder, you’re seriously abusing your vocal chords. They’re twisted all up in a bad way. And if you’re doing it while driving, a hoarse voice may not be the worst of your problems!

If you have heartburn or acid reflux, the acid itself can irritate the vocal chords.

And of course, if you’re a smoker, you’re harming a lot of other things along with your voice. Not good, please quit because we love you and worry about you.

So what can you do? If it’s something that lingers or seems to come back often, see your doctor so he can have a peek. Nodes and cysts and other nasty things need treatment (I had a couple of larynx polyps removed when I was in high school and singing five or six days a week. After it healed, it was magic.). Nine times out of ten the answer will be, “be quiet”. Don’t skip rehearsal, but don’t sing. You’ll still be imprinting your brain with the music, but silence is your friend.

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. A few years back I had this perma-drip down the back of my throat that wouldn’t go away. Drove me nuts. I visited the ENT doc to get something for what I assumed was allergies and, after she poked around a bit, she said that my sinuses were just a little too dry and the gunk was my body telling me to drink more water. I did, it worked, gunk gone. If a touch of heartburn is the issue, this can also help (but if it’s persistent, see your doctor). Alcohol will dehydrate you in a hurry so you might want to skip that glass of wine (or at least the second one) before you sing.

Totally my own experience, but peppermint tea has worked wonders. Calms the tummy and seems to sooth the overworked voice quite nicely. Go for the decaf, caffeine is a diuretic and you don’t want to have to spend the whole rehearsal having to pee.

Circling back around to the causes of hoarseness, let’s take a quick look at the first, best, can’t-miss way to combat singing with your screeching redtail hawk voice…

Do what Susie tells you. Yup, simple. There’s nothing more important than warming up and, if you add proper vocal posture/mouth shape/control, you’ll be just fine.

It’s as if she’d gone to school for that sort of thing…