By Sharon Paquette Lose
Care for the vocal cords can often be placed on a proverbial back burner. Choral Director is introducing a new column, Vocal Health, to place a spotlight on vocal hygiene which will include rationale, best practices, and tips for keeping your students’ instruments healthy. Each installment will present articles on topics such as vocal injury, stage fright, speaking habits, the effects of diet, cold and allergy season, and more. This topic is on the subject of hydration and keeping those cords lubricated.
Lubrication, to the vocal cords, is like moisture to a woodwind reed. They must be hydrated before use. Dehydrated cords can rub together, become swollen, and will not vibrate freely. Daily demands placed on the voice such as speaking, coughing, and sometimes yelling (especially if you find yourself around younger children) are enough to dry the throat, let alone the added demands placed on the instrument by a singer.
Why does a vocalist need to take extra care?
The delicate vocal folds that make up your instrument experience a healthy amount of friction through the act of vocalizing. Our intelligent bodies provide a protective shield for this phenomenon by lining the cords with mucus. A well-coated set of cords will feel nimble, responsive, and healthy. On the other hand, when circumstances are not optimal, the vocal cords will suffer. This could mean the difference between missing a particular note in a phrase or having to sit a performance out. In the worst case scenario, continual singing with swollen cords can lead to injury or permanent damage. There are a few ways to support the voice in its natural ability to keep things running smoothly.
Warmer summer temps may have us feeling dehydrated faster than usual, and although we’ve all heard of the sometimes difficult to achieve eight glasses of water a day standard, more recent studies are indicating that we simply need to “follow our thirst.” However, in an article published by Harvard Health Publications, June 18, 2015, entitled, “The Importance of Staying Hydrated” the recommended amount of water intake per day for a healthy person is “30 to 50 ounces of fluid per day,” or 4-7 cups per day. The article also mentions that we should stay “hydrated gradually, throughout the day.” Fluid intake also comes from fruits and vegetables as well as, drinks such as tea or juices.
Tips for staying healthy
Since all bodies are unique, each singer will come up with her or his own combination of practices for optimal vocal lubrication, however, here are some common sense suggestions for consideration.
Some performers sing the praises of the lubricating effects of whole foods such as pure pineapple juice, olives or a small amount of olive oil, and my personal favorite, honey. Eat foods with a high water content—extra fruits and vegetables are best. Many singers add a gargle routine to their morning and possibly before singing, there are endless gargle recipes to acquire for experimentation. Consider ways to make drinking water a little more fun such as choosing a favorite non-caffeinated organic herbal tea, drinking your water warm, and adding sliced cucumbers.
Lastly, place self-care at the top of your priority list. There are many demands placed on our bodies, energy, and time in this fabulous digital age of getting everything done yesterday. Be careful to keep one of your greatest and most soothing gifts, your voice, singing for many years to come.
Sharon Paquette Lose, managing editor of Choral Director, has directed choral ensembles as a music teacher in Toronto, Canada, and served as a music specialist for Clark County School District in Nevada. Sharon has coached voice for over 16 years and has been a vocal instructor at the School of Rock in Las Vegas. She holds bachelor degrees in musical arts in voice and education from the University of Windsor.