WHAT DO SINGERS MEAN BY “GOOD VOCAL HYGIENE”?
Professional singers use their voices more extensively, and in a more strenuous manner, than most people. For that reason, it is vital to educate yourself, be judicious in the use of, and diligent in the care of, the voice. It’s a bit like the old adage… “No hoof, no horse.” We can also say “No voice, no singer.” Many a beautiful voice has been ruined early by misuse or carelessness. Outlined below are some tips for taking care of the voice.
Two years ago, I underwent a scope prior to a thyroidectomy. The consulting specialist was amazed that my vocal folds were pristine after a lifetime of singing. There were no nodules present at all. As a professional singer, I have always been diligent in the care of my voice, and take vocal health and hygiene very seriously, both in my own singing, but also when teaching. It is of the utmost importance to choose a teacher who will take care of your voice. Once vocal nodules develop, generally either extended rest or surgery are required, and there is no guarantee that either will be successful.
#Tips for good vocal hygiene, and avoiding physical problems – nodules, hoarseness, loss of vocal flexibility, “breaking” on notes, poor vocal longevity and resilience. How can I learn to sing better?
- Don’t clear your throat, and if you find yourself doing it habitually, consult a physician.
- Avoid yelling, cheering, screaming, whispering, or misusing your voice. This applies also to speaking loudly or for any length of time, or on the telephone. Be aware that, whilst wearing headphones, or in crowds, we sometimes speak far more loudly than we realise.
- This leads me to the next point… avoid conversation in noisy situations, and be aware that your hearing may also suffer as a result of loud music, or the sound of overly loud machinery.
- Don’t ‘push’ your voice. Don’t attempt to sing over a comfortable range or try to sing louder than you are capable of comfortably singing.
- Don’t try to sing or speak to large audiences, or in an outdoor setting, without the use of proper sound equipment, a quality microphone, and an accomplished sound engineer.
- Singing to untuned instruments, or those played with poor intonation, singing to wavering time, and stop/start singing can have a detrimental effect on the voice of a singer.
- Keep your voice hydrated at all times. Do not sing if you are thirsty. Drink water at room temperature, rather than cold. Do not sing if you have a cold, or your voice is, in some way, compromised by, for example, fatigue or severe allergies.
- Make a point of becoming aware of how you use your voice, and do so by observing the above. Move closer to the person listening to you, or move away from sound to have a conversation. Use a microphone for public speaking, and do not entertain the notion of trying to speak loudly above friends, or students who are playing instruments, loud music, chatter, or traffic noise etc.
- Always insist upon quality sound production, a good backing or accompanists, tuned instruments, and work with accomplished and empathetic musicians.
- Do not sing for longer than is a reasonable amount of time given your age and experience. A sound half hour of proper practise is of far more value than an hour of work that lacks self discipline. Performance time should be monitored as well, and the voice kept rested periodically, and well hydrated throughout.
- Remember that some medications have a drying effect on the voice. Anti-histamines are one example. Again, hydrate with plenty of water. Honey is a natural anti-inflammatory, and I sometimes stir a teaspoon of honey into my water prior to a longer session.
- Water should be at ROOM temperature, not cold, and singers should be drinking around eight glasses a day minimum. If the weather is cold, green tea, a very light broth, or a little honey and spice in warm water is a great substitute.
- Know your vocal limits of endurance and stay well within them. Do not sing if you are tired, and never sing if you have a sore throat or if you are ill.
- Rest your voice the day before, and the day after, a challenging or lengthy performance. This includes speaking as well as singing.
- If you sing on stage or with a band or theatre group, insist that there is a quality, and correctly placed, fold back system.
- Avoid singing with instrumentalists who have poor intonation or wavering tempo. It is absolutely detrimental to the voice. Without realising it, the singer is constantly adjusting to pitch and time, and using their voice in a very negative manner. I have personally experienced this, and insist upon only the best accompanists. It may cost more, but it will not cost you your voice.
- Lastly, well… smoking isn’t going to be helpful for any professional singer of Classical music.
Types of Vocal Problems that may be incurred by Singers.
Vocal nodules are callouses which occur opposite each other on the vocal folds, generally due to excessive contact. They may be cured by surgery, but this is not always successful, and prevention is far better than cure. They are benign lesions of the vocal folds, which alter vocal fold vibration and lead to hoarseness, missing notes in the range, breaking notes, and discomfort.
Acute laryngitis is the most common cause of hoarseness and sudden voice loss. It is generally caused by a bacterial infection, and can be cured with rest and, if necessary, anti-biotics or medications.
Laryngopharyngeal Reflux Disease.
Traditionally associated with gastroesophageal reflux disease, reflux can cause hoarseness, pain and discomfort for singers.
People who suffer from allergies may experience irritation to the lining of the nose and sinus cavities. Allergic responses can occur either seasonally, or all year round, and are a major source of irritation for the performer. Infection of the lining in the sinuscavities (sinusitis) are common in those who suffer from allergies. These symptoms can lead to changes in breathing, and in voice quality. Postnasal drip can irritate your voice by irritating vocal folds, increasing the stiffness of the vocal folds, and altering vocal resonance. Allergies infringe on both study time and on performance time.
This can be caused by acid reflux disease, exposure to irritating substances such as smoke, chronic misuse the voice, and low-grade infection, such as a yeast infection of the vocal folds.
Vocal Fold Haemorrhage.
This is generally caused though misuse such as screaming or shouting. A blood vessel on the surface of the vocal fold ruptures and bleeds into the tissue of the vocal fold. Immediate medical attention should be sought.
Laryngeal (throat) Cancer.
Persistent hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, changes in the voice, difficulty swallowing or breathing, persistent sore throat, pain withswallowing, pain in the ear, or a lump in the neck can be signs of either Laryngeal Cancer or Thyroid Cancer. Immediate medical attention and investigation should be undertaken if any of these symptoms persist. I am not a Physician, nor do I profess to have medical insight into any of these conditions. I will share with you my own story. I was singing a more challenging piece in a performance when I noted that some of my higher notes felt a little strained, and that I had some measure of discomfort in my throat at times. I went to see my Doctor, and several tests were performed, all of which were negative. However, fortunately for me, I am a trained vocalist, and I know my voice very well indeed. I persisted until I was granted an appointment with a Specialist, and he performed a laryngeal scope which returned, again, negative results. He gave me three weeks to consider how losing my voice would affect my life, and whether or not I would be able to cope in a world without singing. The higher Soprano voices are particular fragile to this type of operation. I came to the conclusion that I would rather live and sing anything, than face a life without music of any kind, and so I am still here today – largely due to sheer persistence. Listen to your voice. If you know it well enough, it will speak to you.
What are some good warm up exercises for singers?
Always warm up your voice adequately before practise or performance. Scales and triads or arpeggios, rolled “r” exercises on the triads or arpeggios are all perfect for warming up your voice. Never attempt to sing loudly at any high pitch which you cannot manage with comfort at piano volume, and never be afraid to refuse to perform if you have not been allowed time to warm up, or your other requirements are not met. It bespeaks of your insistence upon quality rather than a display of fragile temperament. Exercises for warming up your voice can be purchased and downloaded from this site by going to shop. I would suggest The Chromatic Scale, the zip file of Major Scales Helen Coleman, or any of the vocalises on this site. http://helencolemansinging.com.au/shop/