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Hello – a happy (or at least bearable!) Monday to you all! To commemorate the week in which I have formally started to offer singing lessons here, I thought I’d do a wee post about 11 ways to help keep your voice healthy. This is particularly relevent to anyone who uses their voice professionally – as a teacher, public speaker or singer – but will hopefully hold some interest for everyone 🙂

1) Warm up your voice before use

If you are anything like me, you probably wake up croaky and hoarse. My voice is definitely clearer in the afternoons and evenings, after I’ve had some time to use it. A gentle warm up of the muscles in your jaw, neck and shoulders, and some easy humming up and down through scales, will do a lot to alleviate this, and to help prevent straining of your voice.

2) Stop smoking or don’t start!

Leaving aside the increased risk of cancer in the vocal folds and the lungs, smoking causes irritation in the airways which can lead to excess phlegm production and it also reduces lung capacity, affecting breath control.

3) Drink plenty of water

Staying hydrated is a fundamental rule for healthy vocal chords – water keeps the vocal folds moist, causing less irritation when they are used in song and speech. You are much less likely to experience a “crack” in your voice if you have hydrated appropriately. If you are about to perform, it is also a good idea to avoid alcohol or caffeine (both of which have a drying effect on your voice and also cause you to lose water through increased urination), milk (causes production of phlegm which interferes with vocal clarity) and fizzy or acidic drinks (which can cause a loss of control of the vocal muscles and also excess gas – a tiny bit embarassing mid-performance!). I favour room temperature water, as too much cold can cause constriction and tension in the muscles around the vocal chords. I save my beer until after I’ve performed 🙂

4) Be aware of tension

For years I couldn’t sing without my shoulders rising to somewhere around my ears. Singing is a full-body experience though, and any tension at all will affect the free movement of the voice, so keep good tabs on any tension. If you know you have a tendency to carry neck or shoulder tension, be conscious of it, and try to reduce it. Plenty of exercise is a good starting point, and also massage.  Consciously relaxing when you start to feel that “shoulder shrugging” sensation will help you to learn to manage it subconsciously. Now I rarely have trouble with it, but it took a little while of conscious management to fix.

5) Be aware of health issues that might affect your voice

The inhalers supplied to asthma or COPD sufferers can act to dry the voice significantly, so if you are taking these, discuss options with your doctor for reduced usage or other ways to mitigate the effects (for one of my inhalers, I was able to reduce usage to once a day, and I’ve noticed a significant improvement in vocal quality). Some options include increased water consumption, or managing the time that you take your medication so that it has less of an impact. Acid reflux is a common problem, particularly for opera singers, or singers who use their belt frequently. Again, this can be managed with some help from your doctor, and there are things you can do, from dietary changes, to raising the head of your bed, to help with these issues. In short, if you are having problems with persistent hoarseness, “clag” or dryness, it’s well worth popping to your GP for a chat about whether any of your medications or health problems could be influencing your voice.

6) Humidifiers are your friend

You might be spotting a theme here about how important it is to keep your vocal folds moist – you’d be right. So much so that I’d recommend using a humidifier when your environment is very dry, in winter (when central heating can act to dry out your voice) or if you have a cold or flu.

7) Avoid overusing your voice

Roughness, hoarseness or voice loss are most commonly caused by overuse of the voice and are a sign that you need to give your voice a break. If you start noticing these problems, take a break, and avoid using your voice unless you absolutely have to. Do not whisper – this actually places more stress on the vocal folds. Try to avoid clearing your throat for the same reason – this action slams your vocal chords together with a great deal of force and is not conducive to your voice healing. If you need to speak, speak calmly and quietly and only for minimum periods of time.

8) Learn to breathe

It sounds obvious – after all we’ve all been doing it since birth, but the first thing I teach new singing students about is the importance of breath. Speaking or singing from the throat is actually quite hard on the voice and lacks the full support of the breath.  Healthy vocal use involves breathing from the diaphragm and you’ll find if you can master that, singing and speaking will not tire your voice out as quickly and your overall stamina will improve.

9) Watch your diet

Spicy foods or foods which are too acidic can contribute to acid reflux, and dairy foods and chocolate can increase your phlegm production making your voice sound “claggy”. Also, be aware of when you eat, it is never a good idea to sing on a full stomach as your diaphragm will not have the room it needs to move freely as you breathe.

10) Look after yourself

Make sure that you are getting enough sleep, so that your voice gets a chance to rest, enough exercise to improve your muscle tone and reduce stress, and most importantly, if you are worried that you may have a voice problem please do go see your doctor or health care specialist.

Finally…

11) Don’t sing like this…!!

Thanks for reading! See you Thursday!

For more information about medical advice available for performers in the UK, please go to the British Association of Performing Arts Medicine 

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