Vocal health is a popular subject, and done over at least a million times. What else is there to talk about?
Well, firstly I wanted to have my say on vocal health. Secondly, I also wanted to talk about the things that no one else talks about.
The aspects of vocal health that make managing your vocal health a lifestyle rather than something you do just before a performance. So, if you want to know about vocal health then I’m here to provide the ultimate guide to vocal health.
But, before we get on with the advanced vocal health stuff, let us first cover the basic…
Hi, I'm Rebecca! And I truly love everything about the art, science, and teaching of singing. If you're looking to build an effective and healthier singing technique so that you can sing with more ease and confidence, then you're in the right place! Here's a few other blog posts you might also like to read:
How to relieve hay fever symptoms and keep singing
And of course, grab a copy of my ultimate vocal health starter guide where I'll share how to create a vocal health routine and reset your voice in 14-days!
VOCAL HEALTH BASICS
1 | STAY HYDRATED
Keeping yourself hydrated is one of the most important things in singing. This should be your top priority. It’s something you should manage on a daily basis to ensure that the vocal cords stay hydrated both during daily practice and in preparation for performance.
By keeping the vocal cords hydrated you are keeping the soft tissue of the cords lubricated so that they can move freely, and without friction. There is some indication in vocal pedagogy literature that staying hydrated contributes to vocal longevity and prevents repetitive bouts of sickness, like flu. But staying hydrated is not just down to how much fluid you’re consuming, you also need to be mindfull of your environment.
WATCH OUT! For heating (in winter) and air conditioning (in summer). These are both known for dehydrating the home or work environment. You may have to increase your intake of liquids to compensate.
Worldwide health guidelines recommended that we drink 8 glasses of water, or the equivalent, each day. The same goes for undertaking strenuous exercise. Again, you may need to hydrate more to replace fluids lost.
Apart from drinking to stay hydrated, you can also keep those vocal cords moist by:
leaving a bowl of water in the room close to your desk or bed.
Most advice on vocal health suggests avoiding caffeinated drinks. However, according to Sarah Schenker, author of Eating fat will make you fat: and other human body myths busted, caffeinated drink still provide hydration.
“… the evidence suggests that, while caffeine has a mild diuretic effect, consumption of up to about five mugs of filter coffee a day does not dehydrate.” – Sarah Schenker
So, I want to amend this advice and say, caffeinated drinks are still a form of hydration but, for singers, should be taken in moderation. For example, I know that my absolute limit is two cups of strong tea per day, or one medium filter coffee from Costa or Starbucks. Any more and I feel dehydrated and my voice does not perfom at its best.
I don’t restrict myself from having the drinks I enjoy, but I am mindful of what I’m drinking and how much I drink, especially on days when I practice. Admittedly, I do reduce the amount of caffeinated drinks, switching these out for water instead, in the week, or so, running up to a performance. Just because I want my voice to perform at its best!
So, what I’m trying to say, is you don’t have to restrict yourself, but know your limits. This may take some experimenting, but it’s worth exploring to understand your limits so that you can enjoy life without feeling guilty if you fancy that Starbucks coffee.
2 | POSTURE
It was less than 10 years ago that I learnt how important posture is to singing. I didn't realise how bad my posture actually was, nor the impact it was having on my voice. When I started working on my posture, I started to realise just how it really can change your vocal potential.
I went from a gasping singer that struggled to breath to a WOW! where did that come from type of singer? Oh, wait! This is my voice when my lungs are functioning at full apacity. Interesting...
When we have good postural alignment, and your body is free from excessive tension, the voice can function effectively and efficiently. Meaning you’re not over working, the voice is ‘free’, and you can connect the voice and the emotion to produce that ultimate performance. If you have poor posture, or unsure, seek professional help.
Some singing teachers are qualified to do postural correction, if yours isn't, look at taking Alexander Technique lessons. I really recommend the Alexander Technique.
The Alexander Technique, will help you identify the root cause of the postural problem, and help you to improve it. Posture can easily be influenced by how we use our bodies. For example, how we sit at the desk, how we read a book, or use our phones and tablets. Changing postural habits takes time and practice. So, be prepared to commit to changing the habit by making time to practice.
3 | VOCAL EXERCISES
In my experience, most singers grossly under estimate vocal exercises. Commonly referred to as warm-ups, most singers think these are optional rather than compulsory. FYI - by speaking you are warming up the voice.
The true purpose of vocal exercises is to build and strengthen the foundations of the voice by repeating simple arpeggios and scales. Without a sturdy foundation a building will fall. Well, so will the voice!
By strengthening the vocal technique, and by using both your speaking and singing voice effectively and efficiently, means that you are preserving the longevity of your voice and preventing any potential vocal problems or damage from occuring.
Your singing teacher should provide you with vocal exercises that are specific to your needs. Your singing teacher will also guide you to ensure you are creating healthy habits.
>>Related<< What to look for in a singing teacher
It is therefore important to spend time refining your vocal technique, and developing the habit of always undertaking vocal exercises or warm-up (whatever you chose to call them) before undertaking any practice or performance.
4 | AVOID VOCAL ABUSE
We all by now know that vocal abuse is what leads to vocal problems and/or damage. But, what counts as vocal abuse? Well, vocal abuse comes in many forms:
Screaming or shouting;
Singing when sick.
To name but a few. You can help yourself by:
Avoiding loud environments where you need to shout to communicate;
Set a timer when you’re practising, and stick to it;
Resting when sick.
I don't want to spend to much time talking about how we misuse and abuse our voices. The truth is, we often know when we are abusing our voice! So, you might want to take some time to think about how and when you may be abusing your voice. You might, also, then want to think about how you can change habits to avoid these situations.
>>Related<< Are You Abusing Your Voice?
ADVANCED VOCAL HEALTH
Now that we have covered the basics, let’s look at the more advanced methods, the stuff no one really talks about.
The most important part of vocal health is maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
This is not something you do in preparation for a performance, but what you do day in and day out through practice, vocal rest and performance.
1 | HEALTHY BODY
Maintaining a healthy weight is important in support the voice appropriately. This differs between men and women. For women, too much weight inhibits respiratory and core strength. Although, Monserrat Caballe, a rather large Spanish opera singer, coped fairly well!
You can check your idea weight here.
For men, especially in tenors, the way they carry fat actually helps their respiratory system. As in the case of Pavarotti, one of the worlds greatest tenor voices.
More recently, singers, and especially female singers, are encouraged to be too thin. Although this may be aesthetically pleasing for the audience to look at, it's actually a form of vocal abuse.
The body becomes too weak to support the voice, and over a period of time could lead to vocal problems and/or damage. But it can be tricky to find the balance. Plus, it’s always seems difficult to find accurate information specific to singing and singers. For example, it’s important to exercise, but what type of exercise should I be doing?
Well, they say, avoid exercise that creates tension in the upper body, especially the neck, like lifting weights. Okay, no more going to the gym! And be careful how many sit-ups you do. Too many sit-ups will tighten the stomach muscles so they are not reflexive, a key requirement of correct breathing. Err, okay!?! Confusing!
Yoga and Pilates can help to lengthen the muscles (improving your posture), improve core strength, releasing tension, and improve mental wellbeing.
Once we're done thinking about exercise, we then have to think about what we eat. I don't know about you, but i'm exhausted already! This is a more complicated subject. You can start your balanced diet research here.
For now, things to consider:
Avoiding spicy foods, like hot Indian curries can reduce burning or irritating the vocal cords;
Likewise, avoiding extreme colds like ice cream, to prevent shocking the vocal cords;
Limiting sugar intake.
Quit smoking and excessive drinking.
2 | HEATHLY MIND
I don’t think it’s just singers that forget to look after our mental wellbeing. It’s the one aspect of vocal health that I continuingly battle with myself. Like most, I’m not very good at self-care, and making enough time for myself. It’s important that we singers establish healthy mental health routines, like:
Getting 8 hours sleep per night;
Implementing self-care routines including massages, facials etc.
Self-growth – continuing to develop as a person and singer;
Creating a healthy living environment;
Mentally declutter by creating routines for mundane tasks;
Setting aside time to evaluate your emotional wellbeing.
3 | LISTENING
Yep! Listening is important for your vocal health. Personally, I think the most important part of vocal health is listening to your body, and practising, or performing when you are at your best, and not pushing yourself. This includes: Knowing when to undertake vocal rest.
I recommend to my students scheduling vocal rest throughout the year. This can be scheduled after a period of intense performances, sickness or illness , or planned at quieter times throughout the year.
I try to undertake vocal rest at least once every 6 months, in addition to periods of sickness, or illness. Taking time to physically rand mentally rest
It's about listening and knowing when you need to step away from your work station, and the hectic world we live in and taking a walk or doing something that requires little or no brain power. and relax...
Schedule practice according to other commitments
What I mean by this is, if you’re working a long day and feeling physically and mentally exhausted, this is not the time to practice, this is the opportunity to take a break and preserve vocal health. Schedule practice at quieter, less hectic times of the day/week.
Create a practice routine so that you are continuingly ensuring that you are preserving your vocal health as best you can. You can do this by:
Getting your self a glass/bottle of water ready;
Including meditation before and after;
Set a timer on your phone or tablet so that you are not over using your voice.
Cancelling a performance
One of the biggest struggles of being a singer is getting sick when you have a performance. We feel guilty if we have to cancel, but we all need to be strong and learn how to say no when we are not at our best, vocally. You're only human. Humans get sick.
You have to look after yourself and your voice. Remember the audience will want to receive the best possible performance you can give...so it's okay to cancel a performance if your sick.
Take stock of what we have eaten and drank each day You can keep a physical record or you can mentally keep note. Either way be mindfull.
Managing our vocal health can feel daunting and overwhelming. I know! This is the very reason I set out on this journey. I just hope that I haven't complicated things for you. It's acutally my aim to ensure singers have access to the right information and can make informed choices about their physical, mental and vocal health and wellbeing.
But, how do you know what’s the right thing to do? There’s so much information out there. What's truth and what's rubbish? In truth, what I've learnt is that advice on vocal health are more like guidelines, than actual rules. (I think I stole this from Pirates of the Caribbean). There’s no proof of the best practice when comes to maintaining our vocal health.
In the beginning, I used to strictly follow the advice, but over the years I have come to realise that it don’t necessary work for me, my voice, or my lifestyle. My philosophy, and my advice to you, is that we can still enjoy the things we love, but in moderation, and being extra mindful in the lead up to a performance.
Vocal health is important, but you should not feel bound and restricted by the advice given here, or elsewhere. We're all different, and need slightly different scenarios to manage our vocal health.
Do your research, don't take mine, or anyone elses word for it. Form your own routines to fit your lifestyle, and your commitments.
But do it in the name of improving your vocal health, and improving your voice for the long term. But for now, just keep singing…