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Voice Health

by | May 13, 2022 | Health, Voice

As a Singer, caring for your voice is a 24/7/365 job. Intentional Vocal Hygiene practices will help you maintain optimal health and functionality so that you can perform well on short notice and also in the long-term, helping to stave off the deterioration of your voice related to age (yes, collagen loss in older ages affects the voice, too!). Your voice is influenced by your whole system as well as your environment, so there can be a lot to think about when caring for your voice!

Here are Cardon Voice’s Top Ten big ideas for Vocal Care:

  1. Healthy Habits:
    • Be smart about how you use your voice! Avoid shouting/yelling and reinforce your good vocal habits consistently through a regular practice routine.
    • Be intentional about your warm-up AND your cool-down before and after gigs or long practice sessions!
    • Talking takes a vocal tax as well; limit your socializing on days you’ll have a heavy vocal load for practice or performance.
    • Avoid environments with heavy pollution or smoke!
    • And, -do we even need to say it?- quit smoking or vaping yesterday!! Besides just nicotine products, marijuana smoke is considered even more harmful than regular cigarette smoke, not only because it is often consumed without a filter, but also because the leaves burn at a higher temperature. Don’t burn your delicate vocal folds!
  2. Be Gentle with a Sick Voice:
    • If you must sing while you are sick (and we mean really must!), the small things you can do to help your delicate vocal folds through the experience include lots of rest and hydration. Avoid medicines if possible, because they are very likely to dry you out. Most likely, if you’re experiencing cold symptoms, your vocal folds are swollen– even if you don’t notice a sore throat. This happens thanks to irritation from post-nasal drip. Singing forcefully on swollen folds is a bad choice that can lead to worse consequences. If you must sing, keep it to a minimum and let your microphone help you– this is not the time to sing high/loud/long.
    • Some singers choose to accept steroids from their doctor to get through important gigs during illness. This is not recommended. Use only when there is no possible contractual work-around!
    • Beware even of cough drops– menthol has the illusion of making you feel better while it’s actually quite drying to your throat and vocal folds!
  3. SOVTs
    • Semi-occluded Vocal Tract (SOVT) exercises are your best friend! In sickness and in health! Use this category of exercises often and throughout your full range to promote optimal vocal function. In fact, for tired/swollen vocal folds, there is some clinical data that suggests gently vocalizing through SOVTs promotes faster healing than vocal rest alone! Break out that your trusty straw-singing any time you like.
  4. Foods to Avoid:
    • Although you may have heard that dairy and/or peanut butter are bad for voices, it’s really just the coating effect of thicker foods that you’ll want to watch out for. Some singers are more susceptible than others to extra phlegm clogging up the works, so it’s up to you whether you avoid these foods always, just on performance days, or not at all.
    • Acid Reflux is nobody’s friend. If you are prone to acid reflux, try to monitor which foods make it flare up– common triggers are coffee, alcohol, spicy foods; some people even experience reflux after eating too much bread/starchy food! Antacids are perfectly fine for the voice, but the best remedy is to eliminate reflux before it starts.
      • Some Laryngologists (Voice Doctors) recommend the UK version of Gaviscon (different from the US version), which can be found and purchased legally on Amazon. This is because the UK Gaviscon is very simple and holistic– a benign algae creates a floating layer at the top of your stomach contents, effectively blocking anything from coming up into your esophagus!
  5. Hydration:
    • You probably know that staying hydrated is good for you, but especially for your voice! Your vocal folds are making contact (read: slamming into each other) 100s and even 1000s of times per second (depending on the pitch), so you want them to be well-lubricated! Aim to drink half of your body weight (in lbs) in ounces of pure water (other liquids help, yes, but plain water is best!). You’ll absorb the water best if you drink 8-12 oz. at a time (more than that is harder to absorb all at once and may go right through you).
    • Steam is very therapeutic for your vocal folds! Singing in the shower is a great habit, and on days where your voice doesn’t want to work with you, consider taking a steam break by simply placing your head over a pot of boiling water for 10 minutes (cover with a blanket to trap the steam).
  6. Supplements:
    • A few supplements are known to help facilitate optimal vocal health! Consider adding licorice root, astaxanthin, or resveratrol to your vitamin routine.
    • Traditional Medicinals and Yogi Teas also produce Vocal Health Teas (containing licorice root) which are very soothing to drink; check your local grocery store!
  7. Medications:
    • Ask your doctor about known effects on the voice related to any medications you take regularly, including deyhdration.
    • Most allergy medications are drying to the voice, but the result of calming your histamine response is good for the voice— split the difference by drinking extra water on days you need to take these!
    • Generally speaking, it is a bad idea to sing after taking any medication that thins your blood, including Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or Ibuprofen (Motrin/Advil). This type of medication can raise your risk of vocal injury/hemorrhage!
  8. Rest:
    • Sleep is crucial to allowing your vocal folds to rest and recover from a day’s worth of use. Especially if you have late night gigs, do your best to maintain consistent sleep routines, and don’t hesitate to take power naps before a late gig!
    • Running low on sleep? Vocal rest can help, too. Help counter-balance suboptimal sleep with quiet mindfulness routines like deep breathing, meditation, stretching, or yoga.
  9. Hormones:
    • Humans have hormones and they change sometimes. Of course these changes affect the entire body, including your voice. Especially for those humans assigned female at birth, changes throughout the menstrual cycle will be something to take note of and plan your singing agenda accordingly. Read this post for more on this important topic.
  10. Emotional and Mental Well-being:
    • Singing is at once very personal and often very public. Whether processing your own emotions, or taking on the emotional load of the songs you perform, take stock of your mental wellness thoroughly and often. As singers, we’re often highly sensitive people, and as communicators, we owe a debt to the audience to care for their experience and communicate well and effectively. Read this post for more.
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