The Human Connection · Vocal Health

Do Re Mi: Vocal Health and Hygiene

An eight show week is no easy feat. Anyone I’ve interviewed for this blog, no matter their role in a production will tell you so. As audience members, we see one performance of a production, usually not an entire eight show week. Reader, you’re probably asking about why I’m going on about a performance schedule, and I’ll tell you. Even with training, lessons, and appropriate care, acting and singing for 2-3 hours a day with such intensity and passion can cause damage to even the healthiest of vocalists. This is often overlooked by us audience members, but rarely if ever by the performers.

Caissie Levy recently tweeted about having a vocal fold cyst removed ten years ago.

caissie

Her colleagues, Eva Noblezada, Josh Lamon, Lesli Margherita, Nikki M James, and George Salazar among others, all shared their own stories of vocal injuries they’ve incurred during their careers.  In professions like performing, where using your voice beyond typical speaking is your livelihood, vocal injuries are prevalent. I find it surprising that it’s not more commonly discussed between the following communities: actors, singers, athletes, coaches, cheerleaders, teachers, and doctors. When you use your voice for a living in degrees that exceed conversational use or do not get enough breaks to rest during the day, a variety of vocal issues can occur. These are professionals who know and care for their voices daily, know how to modify when and where they can, and know how to support their singing and speaking with their breath. I would be happy to speak with any of these people at any time about their vocal healthcare and the role it plays in their job. For now, I’m going to leave you with some of my own vocal health tips.

  • Find YOUR voice.
    Everyone’s voice is unique to them. The anatomical structure of your larynx and vocal folds is different from everyone else’s. We all love our favorite singers, but if I tried to belt like Idina Menzel or sing as high as Laura Benanti, I would seriously damage my voice. Sing and speak where it is best suited for you–where you feel comfortable and it is as easy as possible. Which leads me to my next tip….
  • Just breathe.
    It’s not just a song from In The Heights. Breath support. I cannot stress the importance of proper breath technique enough. Breathing low, so that your abdomen extends, supports how you speak and sing, ensuring adequate amounts of air so you can do so healthily. If you find you’re chest or shoulders are moving when you inhale instead of your abdomen, you’re not inhaling enough air.
  • Stay hydrated.
    Water is your friend. Your vocal folds have to be hydrated in order to stay functional and healthy. As much as we all love our caffeine, coffee, tea, and soda can dry out our voices, adn plenty of juices have acids that can cause the edges of the volds to become dry. This can lead to hoarseness and laryngitis. Water is your friend and will keep your chords happy.
  • Vocal rest.
    This doesn’t necessarily mean you cannot use your voice. This means you should really rest your voice periodically throughout the day. These breaks allow your vocal folds to rest, since they expand, stretch, and contract when we use them to sing or speak. Just like an athlete needs to rest between games and practice, we need to rest our voices.
  • Warming up and cooling down.
    These are key elements to making sure your voice is ready to do whatever you’re about to ask of it. Your voice is dependent on a muscle group that has to be warmed up sufficiently before it can perform. You should also take some time to bring it down after an extended period of speaking or singing. Going straight to silence isn’t always the answer, but coming back to your normal speaking voice in shorter sentences or phrases can help your vocal hygiene.
  • Do not whisper.
    Whispering is not good for your voice. When you whisper, since you’re not producing sound, you’re simply allowing your vocal folds to slam together as air passes through your larynx. This is how cysts, polyps, nodules, and calluses can form. If you can’t speak, don’t. Allow your muscles to rest.

These are tips anyone can use, and I encourage you to do so. If you have any tips, please share them in comments. If you suspect you may have vocal damage or injury of any kind, I would suggest seeing your physician, an ENT, or Speech-Language Pathologist about evaluation and treatment options that are right for you. I challenge you to take quiet time for yourself this week and give yourself some vocal rest.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP

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