I recently had a discussion with a speech therapist who suggested that a lot of singers don’t actually know what their voices look like. Sometimes, it’s only when they are at a visit with the ENT or SLP that they finally get to see the vocal folds on a screen upon examination. She also made me further aware of how important it is that singers are educated in how the voice works and especially how to care for it, after all, it is their instrument. Preventing injuries and voice disorders can be challenging especially considering the crazy scheduling demands on professional singers these days. However, I agree that it’s crucial singers are educated on the importance of maintaining vocal hygiene because by doing so it can minimize the risk of vocal health issues later. Not only that, it can ensure longevity in their career.
So what is ‘vocal hygiene’ anyway and what steps can we take to make it happen? Vocal hygiene is the practice of maintaining and caring for your instrument both on and off stage. A lot of times we as singers are more focused on the music, the songwriting, the performance, the audience, the rehearsals…the list goes on and on. Those are all very important aspects to the art of singing. But equally important are steps we can take to maintain our instrument. Here are just some of the ways to keep your vocal hygiene in check:
Maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle. Simply put, if the body is healthy, the voice is healthy. Ensuring you get restorative sleep nightly, and maintaining a nutritious diet are both contributing factors to vocal hygiene. With nutrition it is all about researching what works best for you. If you suffer from acid reflux or allergies (which can effect the vocal folds) seek advice from a medical professional. Whatever you put in your body affects the voice, so avoid toxic substances. Physical exercise can help increase your lung capacity and can contribute to better stamina when singing on stage. Plus it gives you more energy and awareness of posture which is important in singing. So taking steps towards a healthy lifestyle definitely counts towards vocal health.
Commit to overall hydration. Vocal folds work much better and don’t fatigue as fast with moisture. Hydration doesn’t mean chugging down huge amounts of water the day of your performance or lesson. Rather, experts suggest that a commitment to overall hydration (daily intake of water) is much more efficient. You want to keep your vocal cords moist all the time. If you live in a dry environment, or suffer from dry throat, steaming the voice has been recommended by vocal professionals as a way of keeping the area moist.
Exercise your voice daily. Daily vocalizing sessions to warm up the voice are so important. But also vocal development and honing in on the areas of the voice that are challenging to develop on your own. For example areas above the chest area (as we refer to as the “mix” area or even head voice) can be difficult to sing into without any training. A qualified voice teacher will be able to assign you specific exercises to warm up the voice but also increase your vocal balance in those difficult areas.
Work on your speaking voice. How you use your speaking voice on a day to day basis counts towards vocal hygiene. If you are speaking aggressively or shouting excessively, or using it way too much, you are more likely to fatigue your voice. If your occupation requires you to speak for long periods of time, ensure you are speaking with enough pitch inflections. Moving your voice in pitch will allow it to not just stay in the same position all day. (Imagine just standing in the same position all day long and not moving around much). Vocal cords needs to be stretched a little here and there and using more than just one pitch to speak on will allow more movement.
Take time for vocal rest. If you use your voice frequently throughout the day in your occupation, or for singing or public speaking, be sure to take time out of your day to rest your voice.
The process of keeping your voice healthy requires awareness and commitment and can be quite challenging. Start today to make small changes in keeping vocal hygiene in check. Your voice will thank you for it!