Sunday, February 7, 2016

Singers, Take Care! Protect Yourself From Vocal Abuse

Every musical artist is responsible for their instrument. One instrument that gets taken for granted, because it's used daily for social interaction, is the voice.

Vocal abuse or misuse, such as excessive use of the voice when singing, talking, smoking, coughing, yelling, or inhaling irritants can cause abnormalities of the vocal cords, such as nodules, granulomas, polyps, or cysts. Unlike a broken guitar, you cannot purchase a new set of vocal cords.You only have one set, so you can either care for them, or hear your singing career start to disappear.

We've done a lot of digging, and found a variety of articles to help singers take care of their instrument. Of course there is MUCH more than what we can present in this article, but here's a list of what we have seen repeated consistently:

1. STAY HYDRATED! Drink water to keep your body well hydrated, and avoid alcohol and caffeine. Your vocal cords vibrate very fast, and having a proper water balance helps keep them lubricated. Important note: Foods containing large amounts of water are excellent hydration-conscious snacks, including apples, pears, watermelon, peaches, melons, grapes, plums, bell peppers and applesauce.

2. GIVE IT A REST! Allow yourself several "vocal naps" every day, especially during periods of extended use. For instance, singers should avoid speaking before and after shows. They should find quiet ways to spend their moments off stage, rather than straining to talk to people in a noisy bar or music venue.

3. NO SMOKING! Don't smoke, or if you already do, quit. Smoking not only raises the risk of throat cancer tremendously, but inhaling smoke (even secondhand smoke) irritates the vocal cords.

4. DON'T ABUSE IT, OR YOU'LL LOSE IT! Avoid yelling or screaming, and try not to talk loudly in noisy areas. If your throat feels dry or tired, or your voice is getting hoarse, reduce your voice use. The hoarseness is a warning sign that your vocal cords are irritated. Also, don't speak low in your throat. Speaking from your throat can cause nodules and granuloma. Associate your voice with less pressure and move it higher into your mouth or head cavity.

5. RELAX! Keep your throat and neck muscles relaxed, even when singing high notes and low notes. Some singers tilt their heads up when singing high notes and down when singing low notes. Tilting your head not only strains your neck muscles, but your vocal muscles, and can cause limits on your future vocal range.

6. SAY NO TO GLOTTALS! Glottals’ happen when the edges of the vocal cords bang together in over-closure. This results from poor vocal technique. The way to avoid it is to add a soft “h” to the onset of words that begin with vowels, i.e.; “hh-everyone”, “hh-“I”; “hh-always”. It can happen in the middle of a word too: “st-ay”. A really good vocal coach can teach you more about how not to glottal, however the operative word is “really good” vocal coach – most mid-level coaches do not have this kind of expertise and can even cause vocal problems like these.

7. DON'T CLEAR THAT THROAT! When you clear your throat, it's like slamming your vocal cords together. Doing it too much can injure them and make you hoarse. Try a sip of water or swallow to quench the urge to clear. If you feel like you have to clear your throat a lot, get checked by a doctor for such things as acid reflux disease, allergies, or sinus conditions.

8. SICKY BEWARE! Avoid coughing, since it shreds your vocal cords. The best remedy for this on the market is a Bronchial Soothe. Also, don't talk when you're hoarse due to a cold or infection; listen to what your voice is telling you.

9. NO P.A., NO TALKING! When you have to speak publicly, to large groups or outdoors, think about using amplification to avoid straining your voice. If you can't hear yourself, don't scream, or try to talk above the crowd. Instead, work with sound man to fix the problem.

10. MOISTURIZE! Humidify your home and work areas. Remember, moisture is good for the voice. 

11. WARM UP! Remember to do your warming exercises!
  • Do lip or tongue trills in the morning (try it in the shower or on your drive to work) to facilitate better use of airflow and breath.  
  • Perform gentle humming and cooing to warm up your voice in the morning.  
  • If you do more vocally complex warm-ups too, such as vocal scales, do the simple warm-ups first.  
  • Repeat these exercises throughout the day to reduce muscular tension in the neck, shoulders and jaw. At the end of the day, perform a cool-down of the voice with similar vocal tasks.

If you're a singer, or friend of a singer, please share this article! There's a lot of great information on how to keep your vocals in great shape to maintain a long singing career!

[1] Staff, By Live Science. "10 Tips for a Healthy Voice." LiveScience. April 17, 2006. Accessed    February 07, 2016. 

[2]"5 Ways to Stop Shredding Your Vocal Cords - Cari Cole Music Co." Cari Cole Music Co. April 10, 2012. Accessed February 07, 2016. p://
[3] "Vocal Health Advice." Vocal Health Advice. Accessed February 07, 2016.

[4]  Simpson, C. Blake, MD. "General Voice Care/Vocal Hygiene." - Department of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery. September 17, 2014. Accessed February 07, 2016.