While we are all aware about the health and wellbeing benefits of singing, everyone from shower divas and choir goers to public speakers and professional singers can sometimes end up neglecting vocal health.
If you're a singer or your voice is your instrument, it's extremely important to keep your voice healthy, so here are some helpful hints and useful tips on keeping it in tip top condition, ensuring you continue to hold the room or hit that high note ...
1. Drink water
Like the skin of a drum, our vocal cords are highly elastic, stretched out structures made up of different types of muscle fibres and tissues. They are coated with a protective mucus that protects them from the natural friction that occurs when our cords vibrate, each time we speak or sing.
To ensure you keep your cords hydrated, it’s important to drink around two litres of water a day - this way you avoid any irritation, redness or swelling of the cords that can arise. Despite the fact that it's full of vitalising nutrients, flushes toxins from our bodies and is just generally refreshingly wet, H2o is one of the most underrated refreshments of all time - and it is also one of the best ways to look after the health of your vocal cords.
2. Give your voice a rest and always warm up
Stop singing, and talking. Sh! Shush. If your voice is tired and you are experiencing vocal issues, the more you rest your voice the better.
Talking and singing utilise the same apparatus, so having a chat isn’t always as effortless as it seems. When you find that your vocal cords feel bone dry and super swollen, it makes sense to channel your inner buddha, live completely in silence for a few days and zip it for a while.
Once you’re ready to let rip again, it’s a good idea to warm up for the sake of your vocal health, just as you would prior to hitting the footie pitch or tearing up the treadmill. This will help you to strengthen and gain control over your voice.
Carrying out the exercises mentioned below before you sing will hopefully avoid injury and loosen up your muscles, maximising vocal performance as you get your mind and body ready to sing:
- Take a focused breath and then exhale, while you keep your shoulders and chest low and relaxed.
- Do the same as you hold an ‘s’ sound while you breathe out.
- Release the jaw of tension by massaging your face just below the cheek bones.
- Blow raspberries to make you lips trill, going up and down your scale, and surrendering any withheld muscular stress around the mouth area.
- Practise your tribal calls with some tongue trills, rolling out a steady ‘r’ sound as you vary your pitch, and do the same with some ‘oos’ and ‘ees’.
- Buzzes and sirens will improve sonority, while a gentle hum creates a gentle tickling vibration in the lip and nose area, setting you up perfectly for breaking into song.
Whether you’re in an office or a studio, the world can be a dry place thanks to the installation of air conditioners, heaters and dehumidifiers. The best and most direct way to get moisture straight to your cords is by steaming, keeping your voice supple.
You can buy steam inhalers online or go down the good old fashioned route of a bowl, a towel and a kettle of boiled water. Regular steaming ensures your minimise swelling and the mist keeps your vocal cords hydrated and healthy.
4. Steer clear of smoky environments and food irritants
While some of us dream of emerging from a haze on stage, smoky atmospheres should be avoided where possible, especially before a performance. Cigarettes and singing don’t mix all that well as nicotine causes the generation of superfluous mucus and results in a loss of vocal power, versatility and range. It is also an irritant which can make you more prone to sore throats and coughing, which over time will thicken your vocal cords and create serious vocal issues.
Surprisingly, acid reflux symptoms can irritate the throat as well. Our stomach uses hydrochloric acid that is about ten times more corrosive than lemons to break down food, so it’s important to keep PH levels stable with a balanced diet and intake of booze, avoiding irritants such as spicy foods, citrus foods and fizzy drinks.
5. Blow into straws, rather than sip out of them
This is a little industry trick that’s earned its very own section. Straws aren’t just for blowing bubbles into your milkshake, they are for carrying out semi-occluded vocal tract exercises, of course.
This type of breath training isn't as complicated as it sounds, in fact it actually is when you hum through your straw and blow bubbles into your milkshake, or chosen beverage.
The point here is to "reset and free the voice" and "stretch and unpress" your vocal cords, as per academic research by vocal scientist, Ingo Titze.
A professor at the University of Utah and executive director of the National Center for Voice and Speech, Ingo believes it teaches people to talk and sing from higher up, rather than from deep within their chest.
This is called having a forward resonance, and can be trained by lip trills, tongue trills, vocal bilabial fricatives (made holding a ‘v’ sound between the lips), humming, and phonation into tubes or straws. It’s also likely to make your voice stronger over time, and more difficult to lose, as you programme the larynx to relax.
6. Exercise and sleep to keep your voice healthy
Keeping in physical shape is always a good idea, but even more so when your entire body is your instrument. The ability to stand for long periods of time with great posture, a strong diaphragm and a good set of windpipes is vital for singers to get the most out of their voice. Hitting the gym, team sports, or seemingly gentler activities like swimming and yoga help to stimulate endorphins, improve muscularity and increase cardiovascular strength, as well as your breathing stamina.
You will likely see results in the form of better mental clarity and physical energy levels, improving your overall output from attention span to the quality of sound. On the other end of the spectrum, fatigue can also affect singing muscles such as the larynx. A lack or an overabundance of sleep can result in decreased vocal performance, and lead to the development of nodules on strained vocal cords, so make sure you catch some ZZZs.
Find out more about keeping your voice healthy for singing or vocal health in general at City Academy's singing classes here >>
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