Good Vibrations Begin every day with a warm up. Gentle lip and tongue trills up and down your range, light humming, or easy five-note descending scales in the middle of your range are great ways to get your voice going and to ward off tension. Warm up in the shower; you’ll get the added benefit of both relaxation and warm hydrated air to breathe in. At the end of the day, gentle relaxed humming to cool down will help protect your voice from fatigue and injury.
Careless Whisper Try to limit vocally abusive behaviour like shouting, screaming, marathon phone conversations, whispering, throat clearing, and excessive coughing. If you feel the need to clear your throat, try sipping water or humming gently instead. In our all-too-often noisy environments, keep your conversation partner at arm’s length, and don’t talk over background noise if possible. Go somewhere a little quieter, or take advantage of a corner where you can use the wall behind your partner to bounce your voice back for a little added amplification! Also, ask your communication partner to let you know when you’re using more effort than you need to.
Speak Easy You may have gone to great lengths to train your singing or speaking voice for your profession, but even if you have, it all goes out the window so readily when we talk from day to day. It can be difficult to manage all the facets of speaking (volume, emotion, breath control, etc.) while simultaneously trying to think about what you’re saying and responding to your communication partner; especially since these variables change rapidly throughout the day. Insidious habits when using your speaking voice may even cause problems in your singing. Consider recruiting an acting coach or speech language pathologist who focuses on voice therapy to help ensure a healthy balance of the entire voice.
TLC Taking care of your voice means you have to take care of the whole body it lives in. Good posture promotes better airflow and reduces muscle tension and strain. Exercise also helps to strengthen and align the body for optimal breath and muscle support. A busy lifestyle can make fitting in exercise challenging, but try to look for creative ways to fit in a few yoga poses while you’re waiting or a brisk walk after dinner. At the very least, take short stretch breaks throughout the day to keep tension from setting in and to ensure your breathing is free and easy. Stand if you’re sitting, bend if you’re standing, and do some ragdoll rolls to reset your body’s posture.
R&R Stress and tension can lead to inadequate breath support and forceful voice production. Try to get 8 hours of sleep each night, and make your sleep schedule as regular as possible. Before bed, do some gentle stretches, massage the muscles in your face, neck, and shoulders, and focus on taking slow, deep, diaphragmatic breaths to help you relax. Yoga is good for stretching and relaxing, and meditation is wonderful for helping you unwind and focus on your breath.
Hot Hot Heat Acid reflux happens when stomach acid flows back up your esophagus (the tube that takes food to your stomach). If it spills over into your airway, it can burn your tender vocal folds, leaving them susceptible to further damage. Even if the acid only makes it half way up, it can cause the larynx to clamp down to protect the airway from the impending attack, and the tension can be hard to shake. The feeling of heartburn, a sour taste in your mouth, hoarseness after you wake up, or even chronic throat clearing are all signs that may indicate a problem with acid reflux. To minimize reflux, limit irritating foods (like caffeine, alcohol, carbonated drinks, acidic or spicy foods, fatty foods); graze, rather than gorge; stay upright after eating; raise the head of your bed at night; and try over-the-counter or prescription meds if you need extra assistance.
Wet Wet Wet You already know water is important to good vocal health. Adequate hydration allows your vocal folds to vibrate with less “pushing”. Well-hydrated vocal folds resist injury and recover better than dry folds, and hydration keeps secretions thin and easy to manage. But how much is enough? Follow the old singers’ adage “pee pale” to tell if you’re adequately hydrated. Limit alcohol & caffeine; they’re both dehydrating. Can’t give up your morning cup of joe or post- show cocktail? Drink an equal sized glass of water after each dehydrating beverage – this is on top of your regular 8 glasses a day. Alcohol-based mouthwashes and mentholated (minty or eucalyptus) lozenges also dry out your vocal folds, so limit how often you use both. Try sucking on non-mentholated throat drops instead (like Halls Breezers or Vicks Vitamin C drops) or try adding a little honey to your hot tea. For gargling, use warm salt water. A humidifier also does a great job of keeping you from drying up. Warm air humidifiers boil the water, so they’re better at ensuring chemicals and other germs aren’t propelled back into the air you breathe. And nothing feels as relaxing and hydrating as a gentle steam at the end of the day to restore moisture to your delicate vocal folds. A personal steamer or the old pot-of-boiled-water trick both work just as well.
High & Dry Many medications can have an adverse affect on the voice. Over-the-counter drugs like antihistamines, decongestants, diuretics, and those with caffeine, alcohol, or menthol are drying; while aspirin is a blood thinner which increases your risk of vocal fold hemorrhage (bleeding). If you’re taking meds that are particularly drying, make sure to stay extra hydrated. Want to know how your meds affect your voice? Check this helpful list at the National Center for Voice and Speech at http://www.ncvs.org/elearning/health.html.
Air Supply Stay away from smoke and other irritants that you might be breathing in. I know quitting smoking is hard, but it is the absolute number one thing you can do to take care of your voice. Even if you don’t smoke, stay away from smoky environments as much as possible. Second- hand smoke is every bit as tough on your voice.
Stop In The Name Of Love Not sure whether you should power through or if you should give your voice some rest? Try singing “Happy Birthday” as quietly as possible starting on the first note of the upper third of your vocal range. If you can’t sing it without excessive breathiness, difficulty starting the sound, or if your voice “breaks,” there is a good chance that your tiny vocal folds are a little swollen. Regardless of the cause, vocal fold swelling means it’s best to rest. You don’t have to clam up completely; just enjoy the silence and use relaxed, gentle speaking when it’s absolutely necessary. This will allow the swelling to subside so you don’t run the risk of developing long-term problems. Make an appointment to see an ENT when you’re healthy to get a baseline evaluation of your voice – and don’t be afraid to ask for a snapshot of your vocal folds to take home with you! This is a great opportunity to get to know your instrument and offers you a picture of your voice when it’s healthy so you have something to compare to if you run into difficulty!
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© 2019 Melanie Tapson