12 May, 2017

Ask Al: Vocal Health Part 1: PROTECTION

Dear Al,

I am a young singer studying vocal performance. I am constantly having vocal issues navigating everything from allergies to phlegm, to hoarseness and dryness, and of course, the subsequent tension and unhealthy compositions that come with it!

How do you keep your voice safe?




Dear Natalia,

A fantastic question! And a wonderful opportunity for me to record my top tips!

Below is as comprehensive a list of remedies, exercises and solutions I have come up with, but first a few thoughts on general vocal health. 

I will focus this post (Part of one of the Vocal Health 'Ask Al' series) on the concept of Protecting one's Vocal Health (Part 2 will be Maintenance, Part 3, Healing) .

The difference between protection/prevention and maintenance isn’t always crystal clear, but the main point is to marry healthy prevention-focused behavior like avoiding not talking or yelling too much, getting enough sleep and staying hydrated, with maintenance-based thinking like avoiding inflammatory foods and good vocal practice habits. There is a Venn-diagram of behaviors that are common sense, but I try to break them down and be almost overly specific here.

I hope it helps!



* * *


People who use their voices professionally as singers, musicians, teachers, public speaker and actors are susceptible to numerous vocal disorders. Vocal health is important for everyone, and thinking long-term is absolutely essential to lifelong health and success. So many vocal disorders and conditions are preventable and/or treatable, and learning how our day-to-day decisions impact our vocal health, both now and in the future can be the difference between a lifelong joy and a lifelong struggle.

When we are young, we often don’t “need” to stretch before we exercise, but we feel the lack of good habits as we age. Start those healthy habits early in your life, and they will become second nature. Prevention is better than any cure.

•      Remember that rehearsing and performing speech and music is incredibly physically demanding. Never over-exert.
•      Sufficient warm-up time is important. Know what works for you.
•      Begin warming up mid-range, and then slowly work outward to your vocal pitch extremes.
•      When working on said extremes, know that correct coordination is always preferable to perfect “result.” If you have good coordination and technique, the results will likely fall into place eventually. There is no need to strain or deliver when warming up. This is after all, the warm up, not the work out.
•      Good posture, adequate breath support, and correct physical technique are essential.
•      Regular breaks during practice and rehearsal are vital in order to prevent undue physical or vocal stress and strain.
•      Constantly hydrate.
•      It is important to set a reasonable limit on the amount of time that you will practice in a day.
•      Avoid sudden increases in practice times.
•      Know your voice and its limits, and avoid overdoing it or misusing it.

•      Maintain all practical healthy habits. Safeguard your physical and mental health.
•      Drink plenty of water in order to keep your vocal folds adequately lubricated. Limit your use of alcohol, and (obviously) avoid smoking.
•     Avoid shouting, screaming, or other strenuous vocal use.
•      The right team is important from coach (repertoire expert), teacher (technique expert), and medical professionals (ENT). If you are concerned about your vocal health in relationship to any of the above, discreetly consult the appropriate contact person and address the issue quickly and responsibly. There is no need to remain with someone who does not serve your ultimate best interests. Use your judgement and follow your intuition.
•      If you are concerned about your personal vocal health, talk with a medical professional.

•      Healthy proteins that are hopefully organic can include lean poultry, fish, meat (not necessary), legumes, beans, with brown rice or quinoa combined with greens and favorable vegetables.  All of these will provide stamina and sustained energy for performance and maintain stable blood sugar levels. 
•      Low blood sugar and the resulting drowsy fatigue is caused most often by white foods, especially refined sugars, flours, breads, white rice, potatoes, corn, or any high-glycemic indexed foods, including sugary cereal, oatmeal, honey, bananas, etc.
•      Every human body has different needs, I myself am a Paleo eater, but it is vital to marshal your own needs and be self-aware about what works best for YOUR body and no one else’s. Once you figure out the best “fuel for your machine,” be vigilant about maintaining it. 
•      For some people, avoiding dairy products helps significantly.  Others are bothered by various foods before singing which can cause reflux and throat congestion. The trick is to calmly observe and know what affects you and to become aware of the relationship you have with diet, sleep, exercise, and even things such as fresh paint, chemicals, fabric dyes,  preservatives, additives, hormones, food coloring, air-conditioners or heaters, dust, eating late at night, pollen, air pollution, etc.

•      We all get run down, and singers are the first to get colds in the chest, ear, nose and throat. I have benefitted hugely from the use of Zinc, as well as Airborne and also Wellness Formula available at most pharmacies and online. These should be used as soon as you experience symptoms of a cold or a sore throat, or prophylactically if there is a risk of being exposed to a myriad of new germs (such as on an airplane, subway, or with children). 

Happy Vocal Health!

Read More (coming soon!):
     Part 2: Maintenance
     Part 3: Healing


  1. I've been waiting for this for YEARS from you! Thank you all the way from Melbourne!

    1. You are so welcome! It has been a long time in the making, so I'm incredibly pleased to offer these tips now! Good health and happy Singing!

  2. AnonymousMay 13, 2017

    This is fantastic. Can't wait for the rest of the series.

  3. @StageSLPMay 15, 2017

    May is better speech and hearing month and I can't preach enough about vocal health & hygiene. Thanks for sharing! Also, if you knew how many times I've studied the above images in grad school...I actually had to make a model larynx as a project #BHSM

  4. AnonymousMay 15, 2017


  5. Whether I'm speaking, singing, or just wrangling two young boys, I use my voice a LOT. Loved this vocal health post! ������‍⚕️



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