Vocal Care For Singers
by Katie Green, Sono School Of Music
Those new to singing lessons may not realise how important it is to take care of your voice so that it is able to function at its optimum. As your voice is a highly delicate instrument, as a singer you must take measures to avoid fatigue, strain, injury and even permanent damage. It is critical to consider the seriousness of a variety of things that can harm the singing or even speaking voice. Singing without warming up, dehydration, insufficient rest, smoking, poor nutrition and allergies are just some conditions that can have a serious impact on the voice. Maintaining good health and healthy habits is very important!
Just like an athlete warms up before a race, a singer must always ensure they warm up their vocal apparatus enabling them to sing successfully without straining. Pushing your voice past its limits without warming up first can lead to vocal strain. A proper warm up requires performing exercises in order of difficulty as beginning with the more challenging warm ups can cause vocal strain. Simple ones include vowel exercises and lip and tongue trills through using scales, slides and later, arpeggios. Using different vowel sounds will warm up facial muscles and stretch the mouth, leaving the jaw to feel more relaxed. Lip and tongue trills encourage relaxation as they loosen the jaw, lips, tongue and throat, helping the respiratory muscles into full action. They will also help to access a singer’s full range, as higher and lower notes are much easier to hit without having to use vowels. Once the voice has faced some basic warm ups, it might be time to try using vowels for range extending exercises, stretching the vocal folds in order for them to become stronger.
For the vocal folds to maintain a proper vibration against each other (so that they are working effectively), they need to remain lubricated with moisture. It is important to ensure you remain hydrated and drink plenty of water, especially when a dry throat occurs. Drink water half an hour before a lesson, audition or performance. Don’t wait until the lesson or performance to start drinking. Chilled water can cause your throat to turn numb so room temperature water is best for a singer to drink.
Rest is one of the most important things to a singer. Fatigue and lack of sleep has a negative effect on singing. When the body is tired, loss of control, poor tone and diminished range can occur. The singer may also suffer from lack of energy, therefore lacking posture and concentration on the technique needed to perform at their optimum. Not only may this be difficult to hide from an audience, but it can lead to strain or injury. As a singer you must make sure you get a good night’s sleep before any singing performances!
Singers who are exposed to smoke are in danger of losing their voice permanently. Smoking irritates and dries the vocal folds, causing a lack of lubrication which the vocal folds need to be able to vibrate against each other. It also causes swelling of the vocal folds, making them heavier, which produces a low tone in the voice, and after years of smoking the swelling can become permanent. Heavy folds also cause a diminished vocal range where they may find it difficult to use their lower and higher pitches, as opposed to if the folds were clear and lighter. Exposure to smoke may promote Laryngopharyngeal Reflux Disease, which causes symptoms such as coughing, hoarseness and asthma, irritating the entire throat. This is when the “smoker’s voice” typically becomes deep and gravelly. Not only this, smoking decreases airflow through the vocal folds, lessening lung capacity and stamina. It degrades lung function, and a drastic loss of lung capacity is one of the biggest effects of smoking on the singing voice. Aside from this, it is evident to say the more exposure to smoke in one’s life, the more likely it will lead to vocal cord and lung cancers, both likely to end a singing career.
It is important to maintain a healthy diet and consume food and drinks that will not harm your voice or body while singing. Avoid:
• Caffeinated or carbonated drinks
• Fad diets, spicy dishes and greasy foods
• Dairy products should not be consumed less than 2 hours prior to singing. They create mucus in the throat, interfering with clear vocal production.
A singer with allergies has an overly sensitive immune response, which can really upset the voice and cause loss of control. Itching, wheezing, mucus production, swelling and rashes are all symptoms of different allergies whether it be dust or nasal allergies such as hay fever. Try to keep away from dusty areas. If you are surrounded by house dust, make sure to clean frequently to minimise dust. Consider reducing the amount of dust catchers such as rugs, canopies, curtains and cloth-covered furniture, which will minimise the chances of dust mites. This will reduce the chances of becoming affected with an allergy resulting in an itchy throat and/or itchy eyes and a runny nose.
A nasal allergy is an allergic reaction that is abundant during certain seasons and come from weeds and pollen in flowers and grass. This causes an inflammation of the nose and clogged nasal passages resulting in hyponasal vocal quality, which makes it difficult for a singer to increase their volume, leading to forced muscle use in the neck. Here are some tips for dealing with allergies:
- Eliminate mucus resulting from allergies is to fill a bowl with hot water, place a towel over your head so that no steam can escape and inhale as much steam as possible through your nose. Do this for about 10-15 minutes twice a day. This will clear the nose and throat of mucus and reduce chances of a nasally voice.
- Fisherman’s Friends (extra strength) lozenges are also really helpful for nasal allergies and temporarily clearing sinuses. It is recommended that you regularly take one before singing.
- Nasal sprays can also help. Find one that works best for you. One highly recommended relief product that works on nasal and sinus congestion is Fess.
If you are ill and seeing a doctor about your symptoms, it might be a good idea to let them know you are a singer. That might change the approach they use to treat you.