Learn To Take Care Of Your Voice
A happy voice is a healthy voice. Too often, we neglect our voices, failing to take care of this muscle which:
- We use every day
- We rely on to communicate
- Can be so effective and powerful!
So, have a look through these top tips and nuggets of information to keep your voice in peak condition.
On average, we don’t drink enough water! And I know you probably know this already, but take 5 minutes and ask yourself:
How much water have I drunk today? And, importantly, what colour is your pee?
If it’s a dark yellow or even tea coloured, sound the alarms – you are dehydrated. Pee/urine should be a pale yellow in colour; nothing darker. So, next time you take a trip to the loo, have a look – it is the best indicator of hydration.
According to the NHS in the UK, men are meant to drink 3 litres a day (13 glasses) and women are mean to drink 2.2 litres (9 glasses).
Have you reached your recommended daily intake?
2. Humidity Levels
Hydration is key to a healthy voice. It ensures the vocal chords do not dry out, so they can stay soft and slippery, and easy to vibrate. Drinking loads of water and steaming is an amazing, proactive way of hydrating your chords. It’s also important to ensure they air we breathe is not too drying…
Ever notice if you are in an airplane, your eyes sometimes feel itchy by the end of your flight, your skin drier and your voice is sometimes a bit sore? That’s because the air conditioning in flights is so concentrated, and this has a consistent drying effect on your voice, skin and eyes.
The same goes for shops or air-conditioned offices; a lot of my students were complaining that their voices were feeling tired and dry after work. In winter time too, the situation is made worse when in colder climates, everybody racks up their central heating. Although this is cosy, it has a terrible effect on the air moisture levels.
So, to combat this, pop bowls of hot water around the rooms you use in your life. The steam will evaporate and lift the levels of moisture in the air, thus making them less dry and better for your voice. It’s SUCH an easy fix, and yet hardly anyone knows about it!
3. Avoid Smoke
If you smoke, you will no doubt be well aware of all the dangers it carries to your health. But, let’s get specific – how does it affect your voice?
Smoke has a drying effect on the throat and larynx. Those slippery, wet chords which need to stay lubricated in order to vibrate in a healthy way. This drying effect causes their function to become more difficult, and in time the two chords will find it increasingly difficult to meet in the middle, meaning full vocal fold closure starts to stop happening and the singer, you, is more likely to strain and push their voice.
The larynx essentially allows more air through, so you start to hear the husky, breathy sound associated with a smoker’s voice. It’s like two dried out, old rubber bands are being stretched beyond their capability. And on top of that, are being bashed together at the same time!
So, how about giving up smoking, even for a week? Give your voice a rest!
Now, I have heard many a word of caution regarding the consumption of dairy, especially prior to singing. The overarching school of thought within traditional vocal health practice is that singers should avoid consuming dairy prior to singing, if at all. My 16 year old self once had a much-longed-for hot chocolate whipped from my hands prior to singing solo in a school concert due to the ‘danger’ that is dairy. Many singers wouldn’t consume any dairy within 24 hours of a big sing, whilst others ensure no risks are run by cutting it out of their diet altogether.
But WHY should you avoid dairy? (especially when it tastes so good!)
Basically, consuming dairy activates our tissues to produce more mucous. These tissues line our mouth, nose, throat…our gastrointestinal tract, and mucous acts as a lubricant and also a flytrap for bacteria we ingest; it’s actually a protective blanket! And the average healthy human produces up to 1.5 litres of the stuff a day (nice).
Unfortunately, consuming milk-based foods may cause some people to produce even more mucous due to something called ‘gustatory rhinitis’ – a science-y word for feeling more ‘phlegmy’. And this can effect the closure of our vocal folds, especially in upper reaches of our vocal range. Although I would emphasise that this can be felt more in some people, but not all in others; it really is a case of self-monitoring. How do you feel after a big cheese platter? Could you sing the Queen of the Night at your best?
Although caffeine is a staple go-to pick-me-up, it is addictive and as a result, we often consume way too much. This results in, you guessed, more systemic dehydration!
That said, however, vocal studies have found the effect of caffeine is not significant, AND it varies between people ie: some are more affected than others. In essence, a lot of ‘evidence’ we use is anecdotal and needs to be tried out personally.
So, give up your morning coffee for a week – replace it with herbal tea or some refreshing smoothies or juices. See how you feel at the end and importantly, how your voice feels. And when you do have your morning coffee, make it your one daily coffee – everything in moderation!
We all know that alcohol dehydrates the body – the telltale signs of a hangover are all related to lack of hydration; sore heads, dry mouths, nausea etc. Although it is a socialable thing to do, drinking is a major cause of health problems, and not to mention, carries a considerable effect on voice quality and health.
In the first place, the majority of us don’t drink enough water, but imagine adding the consumption of alcohol into the equation!
Healthy vocal chord function depends on having lubricated, hydrated chords on the surface level. Any systemic dehydration inhibits the chords ability to meet and vibrate together; your body and voice needs this water to function healthily. What alcohol does is strip this hydration level away, leaving the voice feeling and sounding like a dried prune.
Giving up alcohol for a week is not as hard as you think. Instead of ordering your usual at the bar, there’s so much choice these days in the form of virgin cocktails, flavoured waters and soft drinks. Having undertaken a ‘dry January’ this year, I highly recommend it! My voice has never sounded better.
7. Spicy Food (especially late at night)
Spicy food is a known contributor to higher levels of stomach acid production and heart burn. What’s this got to do with my voice though, I hear you say?
Well, heart burn is basically when stomach acids creeping up into your oesophagus causing irritation in the lining. Sometimes, it can creep really high, changing the pH around the area your larynx and pharynx.
This rise is BAD NEWS for your vocal chords. These delicate muscle groups are so easily affected by this higher acidic content. Think about it, when was the last time you were sick? When was the last time you vomited? Remember that burning sensation in the back of your throat? That’s your stomach acid on your vocal chords. Not pleasant, not healthy.
If you get heart burn, or you eat a lot of spicy food before you sleep, that food will sit in your stomach producing an excess amount of acid. Lying flat makes it more lying for your poor, overworked stomach and the excess acid to travel north of the border, so to speak. And thus, you wake with that burning sensation at back of your throat.
Cut down on late night spice, and if you do suffer from acid heart burn, prop your pillows up a little more at night so the stomach acid stays south due to gravity.
8. Vocal Pain
That tickly sensation, the eye-watering and throat shredding will not help you develop healthy vocal technique. It’s all about moderation! Make sure to wake up your voice each morning gently using the exercises you have learned. Drink plenty of water. And open up the voice with a yawn, silent out breaths and believe it or not, laughing! It totally relaxes your upper body! This will peel back false vocal folds which cause that rasping sensation, and allow your true vocal chords to work in isolation.
Also, if your voice is sore due to overuse, straining or just the common cold, rest rest rest! Vocal rest is the number one when you are feeling poorly. Give your body time to heal.
If the voice is causing you concern long term, book in to see your doctor and ask to reference to an ENT (Ears, Nose and Throat) specialist.