tips for good vocal health
Vocal health is imperative for every singer or speaker, to be taking care of such a valuable instrument as the voice and this should always be a priority. A holistic approach is required and this would take into account your physical and mental health, well being, nutrition, perfecting vocal techniques, rehearsing, vocal warm ups and exercises, etc. Here are some valuable tips which will go a long way in making you a better singer and performer
STEP 1: DRINK LOTS OF ROOM TEMPERATURE WATER
Water is soaked up by your major organs first-your vocal folds are last on the list so drink heaps as water is a very necessary lubricant for your vocal folds!
Water at room temperature is best as cold or iced water tends to tighten your vocal folds. Most physicians recommend at least 2 litres per day.
Juices or herbal teas are okay too. Be aware that drinks with caffeine such as tea, coffee and cola drinks, dehydrate instead of rehydrate.
STEP 2: USE SUPPORTED SPEAKING VOICE
You have only ONE voice and you use it for both speaking and singing. Use the same supportive muscles for speaking as you do when singing (see a singing teacher or speech teacher to learn this technique and others to speak correctly).
Those who use their voice lots e.g. schoolteachers, hairdressers, aerobic instructors, preachers may experience vocal fatigue during a working day.
Sucking on low sugar or sugarless jujube (preferably citrus flavour andwith no menthol or eucalyptus - check label!) will give the voice a lift to get through the day. Keep some on hand.
STEP 3: TAKE CARE OF ILLNESSES
You should not sing when you have a sore throat. However, providing you aren't bed-ridden or contagious, you don't need to miss lessons or rehearsals-just don't sing, or if possible apply 'marking'.
There are many things involved in the singing process that do not require singing which can be covered in lesson if the voice is sore including the theory of music, sight readin g, find new repertoire, practice harmony skills, cover microphone technique.
Many over-the-counter cold and flu and prescribed medications contain agents that dehydrate mucous membranes. While this may alleviate some of your cold symptoms, they also may dehydrate the vocal folds. Check with your doctor and use these medications judiciously.
Avoid throat lozenges with menthol and eucalyptus-check labels.
Swollen Vocal Folds
Hay fever, allergies, alcohol, smoking, passive smoking, drugs, asthma (Ventolin) and reflux can cause swelling of the vocal folds.
Often when viral bugs get you down, your vocal folds become swollen. You may notice this will make your voice deeper, huskier or hoarse. Some find it a novelty in having a "new voice".
Be Quiet. During your illness, bear in mind that your vocal tissues are especially vulnerable to damage. Limit talking to bare essentials. When you do need to talk, do so softly and avoid shouting or screaming. Ideally, one day of rest for the voice per week is good for recuperation.
Steam Inhalations increase hydration and help repair the voice: Boil plain water in a pot, remove from the stove and put your face in the rising steam. Gently inhale steam through your mouth. Take care not to scald your skin by leaning too close to the hot water. Tent a towel over your head to keep the steam from dissipating. No need to add eucalyptus as is commonly done. The steam gives the require effect we need.
Avoid throat clearing and harsh coughing. This action can damage the delicate vocal fold tissues. Clear your throat with small gentle actions.
Avoid harsh actions to clear your throat.
Avoid icy water as this can sometimes encourage mucus.
Try sipping warm-hot water to clear mucus. The traditional hot lemon tea and honey drink can help with easing the discomfort of a chest cough and sore throat, and help with the clearing of the mucus at the same time.
Dairy products can create mucus-try avoiding these to see if it helps.
Gargle for 5 minutes a solution of 1 ltr boiling water (cool it down) with:
1 tbspn of salt
1 tbspn of bicarbonate of soda
Five times a day when at its worse and when a throat infection appears to be coming on. Once a day to maintain good vocal health when needed.
STEP 4: BALANCE VOICE USE WITH VOICE RECOVERY TIME
The voice needs time to recover after speaking and singing. You can do just as much damage speaking as you can singing, so it is important to care for the voice in this way when doing both.
STEP 5: SLEEP AND WELL-BEING
If you are unhappy or stressed, work through what is causing it because this effects your body. Since your instrument, the larynx, is a part of your body, if your are "run down" your voice is affected. Part of the process of looking after yourself is to get enough sleep and rest.
STEP 6: NUTRITION - EAT RIGHT AND EXERCISE
What affects your body affects your vocal folds. Try and include the five food groups including milk (be aware that dairy products may in some cases encourage mucus), meat, vegetables, fruit & grain, in your daily diet. Eat heaps of fruit and vegetables; 5-7 servings a day is recommended.
At times of extended vocal use avoid large amounts of salt and refined sugar, spicy food such as Mexican, Szechuan, Indian or Thai, as well as excessive amounts of food and/or alcohol. One may note hoarseness in the larynx or dryness of the throat after drinking significant amounts of alcohol, caffienated, as well naturally or artificially sweetened beverages. The body needs water to metabolize these foods and beverages, excessive consumption of these items will reduce the amount of water available to hydrate the voice.
Excercise is equally important and the level of your vocal fitness is determined also by your physical fitness. Get good cardiovascular exercise, which is not only good for your heart but also great for your breathing and posture as well. It is interesting to note that the days of big rotund singers are past. Nowadays show directors demand that their singers not only sound good but to also look good. So take note if you are auditioning for shows or gigs.
Excercise also helps you to eliminate stress.
STEP 7: AVOID ALCOHOL, TEA AND COFFEE
Alcoholic drinks dehydrate the body. If you choose to drink alcohol, replenish your body's hydration level by drinking extra water.
It is wise not to drink alcohol before or during a performance. Even though the body may be more relaxed, the larynx and brain also become too relaxed.
The caffeine in coffee and tea dries out the vocal folds as well and tend to make the voice sound raspy and scratchy.
STEP 8: AVOID SMOKING
There is no question that smoking damages your vocal folds and lungs. It is one of the worst substances to inflict on your voice.
If you were to view a smoker's vocal folds you would find them coated with mucus-the body valiantly trying to protect them.
If you are exposed to passive smoke, breathe in as much fresh air when possible. (The same applies to those who are in an air conditioned environment).
In short: don't smoke-and avoid passive smoking whenever possible.
On the same note avoid places and evirnonments with smoogy or polluted air, e.g. smoky bars and lounges etc.
STEP 9: VOCAL USE PRACTICES
Avoid hyperfunctional use of your voice, i.e., learn to use your voice with as little effort and tension as possible. A high school or collegiate singer in training should be able to sing for 3-4 hours per day (when healthy) without debilitating the next day's singing activity. If one cannot sing for this length of time without some disablement, then one should consider a reevaluation of present singing or speaking habits.
Keep in mind that the degree of individual vocal conditioning and innate vocal capacity to endure wear and tear relate directly to the amount of singing or speaking one can do each day.
Avoid singing in a tessitura which is continually near the extremes of your own range (both high and low). Carefully pace the use of register extremes (such as pushing the chest voice into the upper range for effect, i.e, belting). MISUSE OR OVERUSE HERE CAN BE VOCAL SUICIDE.
Before singing or using the voice in unusual ways (public/dramatic speaking), do some vocal warm-ups. As in any physical activity, the warm-up should proceed from general stretching through less strenuous to more strenuous usage. Loud volume and high range are the most strenuous of usages, therefore, begin in the mid-range with easy production. At every stage along the way, evaluate your present day vocal condition, and adjust your rehearsal activity accordingly. Every voice is different, but 7-10 minutes of warm-up is usually the minimum.
Reduce general voice use prior to a concert. While riding the bus or car to the program, have a quiet period when everyone can conserve energy for the task that is at hand.
Avoid shouting, screaming,loud laughter, and heavy throat clearing. Necessary coughing and sneezing should be as gentle and as nonvocal as possible.
If it feels bad, don't do it.
COMMON SIGNS OF SIGNIFICANT VOCAL ABUSE
1. Throat is tender to the touch after use.
2. Voice is hoarse at the end of singing.
3. Throat is very dry, with a noticeable "tickle" that is persistent. Check dehydration.
4. Inability to produce your highest notes at pianissimo volume.
5. Persistent hoarseness or an inability to sing with a clear voice after 24-48 hours of vocal rest.
Treat your voice and body sensibly when you feel vocally run down. This necessitates the development of accurate perceptions by the singer of why the voice is feeling tired. Accurate self-evaluation will lead one to therapeutic practices which will return you to vocal health in the shortest period of time. In doubt? seek professional help.
Adapted from source materials: Leanne Hoad Singing Studio