This wonderful article was written by Line Hilton: Vocal Coach, Performing Arts Medicine specialist and publisher, from iSing Magazine. Please read more if you’d like to find out how to prevent losing your voice.
Ask yourself: “Who am I without my voice?” and “What kind of a performance career will I have if my voice isn’t working?”. I bet the answers to these questions are very unpleasant.
As a performer who sings or raps you spend far more time using your voice than the average person. Your vocal cords come together hundreds of thousands to a million times on a performance day.
Your vocal instrument is made of muscle, joint, tendons, ligaments, blood vessels and nerves. The voice is affected by the way you use it, how much you use it, your general health and wellbeing, the environment you work in, stress, hydration, medications, hormones, diet, and more. If you want to have a lasting career as a performer then looking after your voice is crucial.
Remember, your voice cannot be replaced, so be proactive. Here is some advice to help you ensure it continues to deliver comfortably, healthily and reliably.
In order for your vocal folds to function effectively and with ease they require good hydration. From the inside.
It may surprise you that when you drink, the fluid doesn’t actually touch your vocal folds at all. They are located at the opening of the windpipe. This area has to remain protected from foreign substances in order to ensure you do not harm your lungs or ability to breathe.
Drinking plenty of fluids throughout the day is by far the best way. This can be in the form of water, teas, fruit and vegetables and even milk. Your pee is a great way to check how well you’re hydrated, it should be a yellow straw colour. The darker it is the less hydrated you are. However, if it’s too pale this indicates you’re over-hydrated – also not healthy.
Increase your fluid intake on hot days and when exercising.
Excess caffeine, alcohol, sugar and salty foods dehydrate the body, so best to avoid on performance days.
Food is medicine.
Maintaining a healthy balanced diet will ensure a healthy and strong immune system. In turn, this helps your body to fight off illnesses and fatigue, both potential enemies of the voice.
Watch out for Gastric Reflux, a definite voice-killer. If stomach acid reaches the vocal cords it will burn them. It also causes excessive mucus to be produced to protect the lining of the throat. Mucus on the vocal cords will make singing more difficult and hamper your vocal tone. If you have reflux then you need to get it treated and modify your diet. Click here for some tips to deal with reflux.
Avoid any foods you have an intolerance or allergy to. Allergies can cause you to produce excess mucus, develop a postnasal drip and swells the respiratory tract. None of these conditions make for easy voice use.
Singers often avoid milk as they believe it causes excess mucus production. So far research does not support this belief. Generally, that phlegmy feeling goes away within half an hour. Obviously, if you are lactose intolerant then avoid milk.
When our body is tired it is vulnerable to injury. The vocal muscles need to be well rested to function well and efficiently. Fatigue will also lower your immunity, leaving you more vulnerable to becoming sick and hampering your ability to recover from illness and injury.
Sleep is also vital for learning, memory, hormone management, good decision making, physical, neurological and emotional health. In fact getting enough sleep will also lengthen your life expectancy! Recommended dose: 7-8 hours and reduce your Blue-light exposure before going to bed.
You are a vocal athlete. Can you imagine a sports pro going out to compete without a coach, preparing and training? Well, similarly, your voice will work much better, for longer and more efficiently if you do these things. Make sure you train it, warm it up before, and cool it down after a rehearsal, performance, writing or practice session.
A good contemporary singing teacher, who really understands how the voice works and how to develop it, will be able to ensure you have the right exercises to enhance your sound and keep your voice fit and healthy. They will also be able to help you devise a suitable warm up and cool down regime.
Ignore sick voice symptoms at your peril.
If you experience a prolonged period of changes to your vocal tone, control or range. If you lose your voice during or after performing, or if you experience throat pain/discomfort that is not related to a throat infection, then you need to see a doctor.
The best type of doctor to see is an ENT/Laryngologist. You need to explain to your GP that your voice is vital to what you do and ask them to refer you sooner rather than later. The British Voice Association have a list of voice clinics around the UK. Another great and free medical service is the British Association of Performing Arts Medicine. They offer free medical clinics in London for anyone in the performing arts.
If you think back to the career of an athlete: it’s assumed that at some point they’ll require medical intervention. I’d say that professional voice users can also expect the same. You are at risk because of the way you use your voice, how much you use it and the pressure of the job. I can reassure you that the majority of the time a voice issue is fixable without surgery. However, I can also reassure you that even if you do need surgery or voice therapy the outcome is very good.
As that old saying goes “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” So make a few adjustments and increase your chances of a happy and long performance career.
iSing Magazine is here to support professional and amateur singers and performers at every stage of their development. We publish free singer/singing relevant articles and regular webinars on topics such as vocal technique, health and wellbeing, mindset, music business, performance confidence and careers, written by industry pros. The Tribe is an exclusive membership for those who want more support, education and inspiration.
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