Vocal health boils down to two factors: 1) warmth and hydration and 2) efficiency of use.
- Get to know vocal anatomy. The singing voice is actually a group of muscles and space inside your throat, mouth, sinuses and head that resonate efficiently when in good working order. Your job is to send air through this optimized space in a relaxed, focused way. This means that daily maintenance (#2-7), warmups (#8), and good mentality (#9-10), really do matter. Consider taking lessons or reading books like Your Voice: An Inside Viewor Adventures in Singingto get a new perspective on the miracle of your vocal mechanism.
- Stay hydrated. This is always your number one goal, for your vocal health and health in general. Check out the Mayo Clinic’s page on how much water you should drink every day.
- Stay warm. The cold, especially winter’s dry cold, can be incredibly hard on the vocal mechanism. I love Buff scarvesbecause they stay out of the way when exercising. Besides bundling up, wearing a scarf in the wind or cold, and drinking warm beverages outside, consider the following points…
- Steam is incredibly helpful for keeping the voice moving around efficiently. Breathing in steam through your nose (not your mouth) can be very soothing and opening to the sinuses, which are important for your singing. However, hot showers and warm steam humidifiers at night aren’t for everyone. If this is the case for you, consider using a cool steam humidifier overnight.
- Neti potscan make the difference between whether or not that cold or laryngitis gets you. Using a sterile saline solution, rinse your delicate nasal passages to treat congestion, dryness and other cold/allergy symptoms.
Important note: you MUST use distilled water (for purchase) or sterilized water – NEVER irrigate with unsterilized tap water, which contains small amounts of dangerous microorganisms that can wreck havoc in your nasal passageways and even lead to death. Read more about proper use on the CDC’sand FDA’spages.
- Fight inflammationwith the foods, spices, water, and other healthy eating choices you make. Avoid sugars, caffeine, alcohol and fatty foods. Sugars lead to bacterial growth; caffeine can make you feel dry; alcohol relaxes the vocal mechanism to the point that you could strain it without realizing you’re in a state of overuse; and fatty foods just don’t offer the healthy calories or support your body needs. You can enjoy any and all of these things without them hurting your voice; just remember to exercise moderation. Check out #7 for additional tips.
- Use your bag of tricks: if you’re not feeling my best, help your voice with warmth, steam, hydration and anti-bacterial tactics. I have lots of tricks (honey, lemon, ginger, cinnamon, cayenne, slippery elm in powder form…) but if you’re losing your voice, go on vocal restfor at least an hour a day and take the following concoction twice a day: one part apple cider vinegar, one part honey, and a generous dash or two of cayenne pepper, to fight inflammation and bacteria.
- Daily warm-ups help the voice stay in optimal form. As you are building your voice’s flexibility and strength, there are helpful vocal gestures, scales, and exercises you can do to gently stretch and check in on the voice from day to day. This involves airflow, relaxing the space, and working on vowels and consonants.
- Believein yourself and your voice. This confidence actually matters, both in your daily practicing, which is an essential part of good singing, and in performance. Up in front of people, if you’re second-guessing your preparation (in which case, do your work ahead of time!) or worried about how you sound (you should be focused on the feeling, not the sound), then you’re stuck in a negative feedback loop that doesn’t serve the task at hand, which is giving of your voice to others, emoting, and being free. So often, singers second guess their own voices and get in their own way, on and off the stage. The voice is such an essential part of our identity, and we should celebrate that!
- Please have fun! The voice is meant to be used – it is a strong, well-made and miraculous instrument, and just as you “play” the piano, “play” with the voice, the airstream, and the music – you are meant to play with the voice! Do what you can to maintain its health, and use it well – while it won’t love you back for speaking over a loud crowd at a bar or screaming at a football game, it will respond to good daily use, and getting to know it can be one of the great accomplishments of your life – no two people have exactly the same mechanism, meaning the voice is an essential part of your identity and individuality, so people want to hear you!
Consider donating your voice to a worthy cause, like to the voice bank of VocaliD, which creates customized voices for people who don’t have the ability to speak due to motor sensory complications. With a recording of your voice blended with sound samples from the recipient, VocaliD can synthesize a new voice, a powerful gift to the voiceless.
Give the gift of voice lessons to a talented singer you know! To learn more, visit www.katherineskovira.com/contactor https://www.taylorsmusic.com/?instructors=katherine-skoviraand sign up for lessons.
Prepared by Katherine Skovira for WCHE December 5, 2018