It is back to school time and I thought I’d offer up a list of habits you can institute that will keep your voice healthy throughout the year.
1. Don’t smoke. Don’t use drugs. Don’t abuse alcohol.
2. Find a way to deal with stress! If you don’t your body will find a way to let you know usually by getting sick or injured in some way. Yoga in the form of physical poses, breath work and meditation will do this for you.
3. Make sleep a priority. Staying rested will help lower your stress level and keep your immune system in balance. Sleep is also the time when our cells repair themselves. If you’ve had a long rehearsal, sleeping will help your voice repair for another day’s voice use.
4. Eat a healthy diet and drink water throughout the day. My rule of thumb is eat actual food and not food products. Whole foods are rich in the protein, vitamins and minerals that our bodies need. Hydration is systemic so drinking water every day until you pee pale is the way to know you are hydrated (and your voice will function more efficiently when you are hydrated.)
5. Exercise regularly. A daily dose of thirty minutes of moderate exercise (walking) is all it takes. Strength training is also beneficial to keep muscles in peak condition.
6. Observe how much you talk throughout the day. It is unlikely that you spend more time singing than speaking. Limit your voice use so you have time to recover – put yourself on voice rest if need be. Don’t use your voice to imitate sounds, yell excessively at a sporting event or engage in competitive talking (like what you do on the subway when you try to make yourself heard over background/ambient noise).
7. Always warm up the voice completely (15-20 min.) before full-on singing. Each voice needs different exercises to target certain areas, so don’t rely on a choral warm up to be perfect for you, if you are a choral singer. Ideally, warm your voice up in the morning before you have used it all day to speak. This will help you to speak efficiently. Before you visit the extremes of your range, spend a lot of time on middle voice. Use lip trills, glides and a variety of vowel sounds to awaken the voice.
8. Ask questions! If you are having trouble singing a piece meet with a conductor or a voice teacher who can help you develop strategies for singing difficult passages. Improving your sight singing skills will also help keep you from getting vocally fatigued when learning a new song. Be sure you are singing the right voice part! If you are unsure of the appropriate range for your voice, go and see a voice teacher.
9. Don’t sing if you are sick. Instead, use the time to visually learn your music. If you aren’t contagious or coughing excessively, learn by listening. If you find yourself vocally tired, heat some water in a pot on the stove and bring it to just under a boil, so steam is produced. Tent a towel over your head and breathe deeply through your nose and mouth for 5-10 minutes. The steam will help to rejuvenate your voice and make it feel better.
10. When you are done practicing or rehearsing, take a few minutes to stretch and do some deep breathing to help the body return to a rested state.
11. If you find yourself in vocal trouble for 10 days or longer – persistent hoarseness, sudden loss of vocal range, the voice easily fatigues or it is painful to talk or sing – get in to have your vocal cords looked at. For many, this involves a visit to a primary care physician or campus health services and then a referral to an Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) doctor. If you can get in to see a Laryngologist that is preferable – this is an ENT with specific training in the voice.