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If you’re happy with how you sound, and you find it easy to sing, then you’re doing well. If people also pay to hear you sing, you’re a pro! Nevertheless, proper vocal maintenance means developing vocal hygiene, simple habits which can help prevent vocal troubles down the road.
TOP 3 TIPS for maintaining a healthy and professional voice:
#1. Don’t Smoke
This one may seem obvious, but smoking is a killer to your body and to your voice. The fumes literally burn your vocal cords on the way in. Inflammation and dryness inside your throat makes the tissue thicker, less pliable, which means you need way more air just to get the voice going. If your notes aren’t starting with ease, you’re already in trouble.
Smoking and drinking together? Well, Tom Waits made it work, but he is the exception that proves the rule. Here‘s a graphic video of what usually happens to the vocal cords (it’s a pathology called Reinke’s Edema). Here’s another one: Listen to Joni Mitchell at the beginning of her career. Then, listen to her after years of smoking. Her artistry is exceptional in both, but one voice takes a lot more work to play with, while the other goes a lot further with ease.
Want some positive motivation? Pop superstar, P!nk, was once asked how she was suddenly hitting all the high notes in her duet, “Just Give Me A Reason.” She confessed that she had quit smoking. That was the only difference. No fancy lessons, no miracles. Just time to let her voice begin to heal and function better.
So, get the most vocal “bang for your buck”; avoid all kinds of smoking, fumes, and vaping.
#2. Do Hydrate
Where smoking is bad for the voice, water is like medicine. If your voice is dry for any reason, hydrating well helps to offset those effects. Furthermore, hydration can prevent some vocal injuries. Therefore, hydrating well is an important part of vocal hygiene. However, water doesn’t go down the wind pipe (where the vocal cords live). This means we cannot drink water and expect our cords to be wet right away. Instead, we must drink plenty of water for hours leading up to when we plan to sing.
How much to drink? I have read various daily amounts, but my favourite guide is Dr. Van Lawrence’s expression, “pee pale, sing wet.” In other words, if you are peeing a dark colour, you are probably dehydrated. However if your pee is pale, your vocal cords are likely lubed up and ready to go!
Other ways to hydrate include: eating fruits with a high water-content (e.g. orange slices), using a steamer, or using clean humidifiers. Since the body is your instrument in singing, keeping well-hydrated can also be paired effectively with additional good habits such as sleeping and eating well. These habits are all key to systemic good health, and thus, the vocal hygiene and health of your instrument.
#3. Do Regular Bodywork (Pilates, Yoga, Massage, etc.)
Bodywork would not be in everyone’s top three vocal tips, and is often missing from descriptions of vocal hygiene. Nevertheless, I feel like a genius for putting it at the top of my list! Let me tell you why: This tip requires no vocal training of any kind, has immeasurable benefits for the voice, and often has other lifestyle benefits as well. Test it out for yourself: treat yourself to a massage and notice how much easier it is to breathe, how the breath and voice require less effort.
Yes, singing justifies getting a massage. *You’re welcome*
Why does this work? Well, the body is a wonderfully strange network of connections: bones, muscles, fascia, etc. When you affect one part of your system, you affect other parts in ways you can’t always imagine. It may seem strange, but something as simple as rigid ankles can cause your pelvis to tighten up, which makes it harder to inhale freely, and since the breath is the engine of the voice, the voice is ultimately affected.
A tense and static body is a tense and static instrument. Mindful stretches, exercise, yoga, massages, and any other type of bodywork can help you develop body awareness and free up your physical system. When that system frees up, it becomes easier to sing. Find your favourite type(s) of bodywork, loosen up, get some vital energy moving, and you will enjoy more vocal freedom.
Will these tips make me a great singer?
The three tips above are extremely effective for maintaining and improving a voice that already works. If you have limited funds, or aren’t that serious about singing, by all means start with the tips above. However, if you want to refine your skills, or you are in any type of vocal trouble, it is time to get help. A great teacher knows how to bring out the best in your voice, and to help you prepare for the vocal challenges which life will bring.
© 2018 Joanna Chapman-Smith
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