Tips for Achieving and Maintaining Good Vocal Health
The following is from Your Voice: An Inside View by Dr. Scott McCoy and available at www.voiceinsideview.com. It was written with the assistance of Dr. Anat Keidar.
Under normal use, the larynx is extremely resilient, usually requiring only proper rest, good nutrition and thorough hydration for complete recovery. Pathologic disorders commonly result from sustained abuse/misuse, overuse, trauma or medical illness. While there are no guaranteed methods to maintain vocal health, there are some simple steps to take that usually help:
Good speaking habits are very important in maintaining vocal health. This applies to all people who rely on their voice in their work - from actors to zoologists - and is crucial for professional voice users such as teachers, doctors, salespeople, public speakers and singers:
- Speak with correct breath support and a resonant voice quality
- Avoid speaking with 'vocal fry" or other raspy qualities;
- Aim for a clear pitch and avoid breathiness in your speech;
- Speak with well-modulated vocal inflection (not monotone);
- Find your optimum speaking range, which might be higher or lower than you usually speak;
- Use electronic amplification when speaking to groups, especially in noisy environments.
It is important to sing with healthy technique at all times:
- Maintain effective breath support and control;
- Keep extrinsic laryngeal, tongue and jaw muscles free from excess tension;
- Avoid excessive glottal onsets and offsets of tone;
- Avoid air pushing during tone initiation, between consecutive tones, and at phrase termination;
- Sing in your optimum tessitura;
- Sing with proper body alignment and correct laryngeal position (neither too high nor too low).
The voice was not designed for unlimited hours of strenuous use:
- Limit the number of hours spent in singing and talking;
- Never use the voice in any situation to the point of noticeable hoarseness;
- Know your personal limits, which are likely to be different from those of your friends and colleagues.
The vocal folds require adequate hydration for normal function;
- Drink 8-12 large glasses of water per day; laryngologists say to "sing well-pee pale" (with approprirate hydration, urine will be nearly colorless);
- Avoid dehydrating beverages that contain caffeine or alcohol;
- Don't smoke!
The voice is naturally resilient, but requires adequate rest for recovery;
- Try to maintain regular sleep patterns;
- Avoid strenuous voice use when the body is abnormally fatigued.
Use good hygiene
Colds and upper respiratory infections can sometimes be avoided through frequent, thorough hand washing:
- Viruses often infect our bodies through hand contact with mouth/nose/eyes. Washing the hands frequently (especially after exposure to public articles such as hand rails and door knobs) helps reduce the risk of viral and bacterial transfer.
Avoid unnecessary drug use
Many prescription and over-the-counter drugs can affect the voice:
- Ask your doctor about possible voice-related side effects for any medications you regularly take;
- Because of their dehydrating effect, many singers, find it helpful to avoid antihistamines and decongestants, whether obtained over-the-counter or with a doctor's prescription;
- Avoid aspirin and ibuprofen due to increased risk of vocal fold hemorrhage--aspirin increases this risk because it thins the blood;
- Be aware that other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, dilate the blood vessels, which can make them more prone to hemorrhage;
- Limit alcohol intake and avoid strenuous voice use if "under the influence;"
- Be aware that marijuana smoke is significantly more damaging to the vocal folds than tobacco smoke - which is bad enough!
Stay physically fit
Almost all singers can benefit from ongoing cardiovascular exercise:
- Good physical fitness helps stave off illness;
- Good physical appearance aids in winning competitions and getting roles;
- Good singing requires sustained physical energy;
- Singers need aerobic fitness to sustain the energy levels required for performing.
Wear your seatbelt
Seatbelt use is among the more important and simpler things to do to protect you on a daily basis from seroius injury or death:
- As a professional user of the voice, remember that if you are in an accident while driving without a seatbelt in a car that does not have an airbag, your larynx will likely be crushed by the steering wheel - just before your head and face go through the windshield.
Don't sing if you are ill
Sometimes it's best to just be quiet:
- If a cold, influenza or respiratory infection is having a negative impact on your voice, DON'T SING. Laryngitis and/or hoarseness often accompany these illnesses. Strenuous or even limited singing - even with excellent technique - can often delay recovery or lead to more serious vocal injury.
Know a good ENT (laryngologist)
Singers need to have ready access to an otolaryngologist or speech pathologist they trust:
- Schedule a "well" visit so the doctor can establish a baseline and document laryngeal appearance when health;
- Visit the doctor sooner rather than later if there is any prolonged vocal distress or a sudden change in vocal quality;
- Learn to recognize the symptoms of vocal distress, particularly acute or chronic changes in voice quality and/or pitch range;
- Make the effort to find a doctor whose specialty is the singing voice.