It is easy to understand why singers are more prone to voice difficulties than others: the demands placed on their vocal cords are much greater. Like the athlete who must maintain good physical condition in order to perform well, singers must also take great care to protect their “instrument” from harm. Below are some simple tips that singers can follow to keep them out of trouble.
- Speak slowly and with mildly exaggerated articulation
- Keep physically healthy. Get plenty of rest, moderate exercise, and eat sensibly.
- Increase your water intake starting this moment. Drink at least 64 ounces of water per day. Avoid alcoholic beverages.
- Know your own singing limitations and stay within them. Avoid signing in groups.
- Wear comfortable clothing, so there’s adequate room for expansion of the abdominal, thoracic, and neck areas.
- When speaking on the telephone, remember to: maintain good posture; refrain from talking for an extended period of time while lying down; speak at a comfortable, conversational volume level; speak slowly. If you use the phone extensively, consider obtaining a head set so that you don’t position the receiver between your ear and shoulder, which minimized breath support.
- Reduce stress (e.g. personal, and job related), which causes tension in the vocal mechanism
- When you speak under “performance” pressure, check your posture and make sure to use diaphragmatic breathing. If time permits, do a brief vocal warm-up before you speak. Learn to avoid overusing or straining the voice.
- Avoid yelling, shouting, screaming, and/or use of loud talking for extended periods of time
- Avoid any situation in which you need to increase your speaking level in order to complete with environmental sounds. For example: subway stations, automobiles, loud parties, planes, and rooms with loud stereos or televisions. If you must talk in a noisy environment, make sure to face the person you are communicating with.
- Avoid speaking extensively if you are tired or ill (cold, laryngitis, et cetera.)
- Use a safe whisper. This is an effortless, breathy voice. You should feel no strain from your voice box (larynx) while practicing a safe whisper.
- Avoid excessive consumption of aspirin and caffeine. Both substances increase likelihood of acid reflux (GERD)
- Avoid excessive use of salt, which tends to cause the body to retain fluids and may contribute to swelling of the vocal cords.
- Do not self-prescribe over-the-counter preparations for “allergies” such as nasal sprays, cold and congestion medications, especially prior to professional or extended use of the voice.
- Use of humidifier to keep moisture in the atmosphere, especially while sleeping.
- Discontinue use of tobacco and/or recreational drugs. If at all possible, avoid unhealthy atmospheric conditions where environmental irritants are present (e.g. exposure to dust, fumes, chemicals, and cigarettes).
Vocal Warm-Up: Take one to two minutes of relaxation and deep breathing to warm up your voice before professional or extended use.
Diaphragmatic Breathing: To ensure proper technique, try lying flat on your back and placing a book on your stomach. If the book is rising up and down as you breath naturally, you are ready to begin practicing in an upright position. Take a few minutes twice a day to practice diaphragmatic breathing. This will help to prevent abuse/misuse of you voice. Diaphragmatic breathing is crucial for adequate breath support during speech production.
East-Onset Sigh: This is the next step after you have mastered diaphragmatic breathing. During exhalation, allow the airflow to produce a soft tone (sigh). Be sure not to use any force to produce a sound. If a soft sigh does not come easily, a “loud breath” is fine. This will teach you how to use your voice gently.
Silent Cough: Use the silent cough instead of clearing your throat. Push as much air from the lungs in short, blast-like bursts, without producing any sound. The only sound should be a quiet rush of air. Next, swallow immediately.
Self-Monitor Loudness: Take note and ask others about your conversational loudness. If you are spending extended periods of time in noisy environments, plan on “talking breaks” and limit yelling.
Gregory A. Grillone, M.D., F.A.C.S. is associate professor, Residency Program director and vice chairman of the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at Boston University School of Medicine. Dr. Grillone is also director of The Voice Center Boston Medical Center and can be contacted at (617) 63 VOICE.