|Yay! Healthy vocal cords!|
Such a terrific question!
Norman Hogikyan and his colleagues at the University of Michigan Health System state quite rightly that "Your voice is your ambassador to the outside world. It portrays your personality and emotions. People make assessments about you based on your voice, so it is very important when you're speaking or singing to think about what people are really hearing. Problems with your voice also can have a tremendous impact on your life."
Protection / prevention and maintenance are healthy cousins, different but related, but both lead to the same goal. So let's keep learning!
Also, I want to be clear: I mention a few specific brands in this post. Know that I am not sponsored by any of them! The products I mention and link are genuinely what I use and believe in!
Good health to you, and happy singing,
PART 2: MAINTENANCE
• Rest, moisture, and muscle tone are the three key ingredients to good vocal health.
• Remember always: your singing voice is an extension of your speaking voice.
• If you abuse your voice speaking, your singing will naturally, be negatively affected. Never yell or scream in conversation, especially in dry climates.
• In the same spirit of prevention, maintenance requires you to get a lot of sleep, drink plenty of water, and participate in exercise.
• Going in and out of changing climates (cold/dry/warm) irritates vocal cords—always be prepared.
• Smoke is the biggest enemy. Aside from all the obvious health issues associated with smoking, it immediately dries and irritates the throat. Talking while smoking is exceptionally damaging.
• Alcohol dries the throat. It is a major enemy to the singing voice.
• Caffeine is a drying agent. Avoid it or limit your intake.
• It is in your best interest to have an ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat) Doctor that you trust and believe in. They will be able to guide you through your personal journey of vocal health, scope you when necessary to judge levels of inflammation, possible damage and make informed suggestions to help you plan ahead and stay on top of your health. Just like any medical situation, it is always preferable to have a doctor you trust before you are in crisis, not when you are. Ask around, meet a few, and never stay with a professional that doesn't make you feel 100% at ease.
HYDRATION AND CIRCULATION
• Circulation is a very important health consideration for singing, especially in the morning. Doing some light aerobic exercises (and supplementing it by drinking plenty of water) will hugely help if you have to sing early in the day.
• The human body is all about flow, and singing and speaking are no different. Blood and fluids must FLOW to the throat.
• Too much coffee and tea can not only dry you out but can also make you a little anxious.
• Be sure to check THOROUGHLY the side effects of any and all medications that you take (including over the counter medications and herbal supplements).
• Moisture is the key to maintaining healthy vocal cords.
• Drink adequate water intermittently all day.
• Use a vaporizer when living in dry climates, every day.
• Place a vaporizer about two feet away from your head when you sleep.
• And, don’t put and fragrances or additives in the vaporizer- never eucalyptus – which dry out the voice.
• Cool mist vaporizer is better than hot mist because it does not promote bacteria growth.
• I could not recommend using a Neti Pot more. I use mine twice a day to lubricate, cleanse, naturally clear my sinus passages (which are prone to infection). Follow all the instructions carefully and know that it can take a few trys to get your system down, but it is worth it! It has been a game-changer for my overall health, not just my singing. To quote the Himalayan Institute's website:
"The Neti Pot naturally cleanses, refreshes, and protects the nasal passages, one of our body’s first lines of defense against illness. Recommended today by doctors and pharmacists worldwide, the Neti Pot™ has been used for thousands of years in ayurvedic medicine to alleviate sinus and allergy problems."
a Neti pot
• Drink plain water to keep your vocal cords moist (the cords need to be hydrated from absorption through your system, and there is nothing that replaces consuming a lot of water!)
• Sip water on breaks when singing.
• Water dilutes and flushes mucous in the throat, so it will prevent immediate “garbage” build-up on the vocal cords.
• For a dry throat, use glycerin based lozenges such as Grether’s Black Currant Pastilles, Pine Brothers Honey, or my favorite of all products: the Olbas pastille.
• When we drink water it doesn’t ACTUALLY pass over our vocal folds (if it did we would choke) and when we drink it, the moisture benefits do not actually get to your vocal cords for quite a while because our body needs time to absorb it.
• Therefore, steaming is the best, most-direct, and most efficient way to get direct hydration to your vocal cords ASAP. As you breathe in the steam the moisture will reach your vocal cords and help to re-hydrate, soothe them, help reduce pain and swelling in over-used chords, and generally help to improve the condition of your voice.
• The most efficient way to steam is with a steam inhaler (every singer owns a steamer—or two!), you can get them either very inexpensively or more expensively, depending on the model, available online or at a pharmacy. For an investment purchase I love MyPureMist and the very simple Vicks steamer is my dressing room go-to.
• When you steam you don’t want to use boiling water, you want it just off the boil.
• Make sure to create a good seal with the steam inhaler with your mouth to ensure you inhale as much steam as possible.
• Be sure not to add any oils or menthol/eucalyptus to the water as this can aggravate the voice.
• Some say not to whisper for at least 20 minutes after, I recommend light humming after steaming to encourage the voice’s elasticity.
• Steam showers and steam rooms help, and,
• you can easily boil a pot of water, remain at a safe distance and sometimes utilize a towel over your head to contain the vapors. Breathe the vapors by coming over it slowly and carefully to make sure you are not close enough to burn. (Old school methods work just fine!)
• Always remember you are working with very hot water! Just. Guys: don't be that person in the emergency room...