We talk about vocal health a lot, but what does that mean, exactly?
Since the vocal instrument is the body, vocal health in large part addresses physical health.
Is a singer getting proper amounts of . . .
- Peace of mind?
- Medical attention?
Think basics of decent physical health, and you can deduce much of what you need for “vocal” health as well. For example, fatigue or lack of sleep is a huge factor in vocal function.
Didn’t sleep last night?
The voice may fatigue more quickly than usual, and tonight’s gig might not feel as easy to sing.
To me, vocal health also encompasses how the voice is engaged or exercised, and special considerations for singers based on how the voice functions. This “vocal health” topic is endless, so please use the following ideas as a jumping off place to do more research for yourself.
1. The Vocal Folds and Anything You Inhale
The vocal folds, or vocal cords, sit on top of the trachea acting as a cap to the airway down below.
They are designed to close FAST so that food and water cannot get into the lungs. In fact, the muscles of the larynx (the ones that control the vocal folds), are some of the fastest moving muscles in the body!
Because the vocal folds are situated on top of the airway, everything that passes into the lungs naturally passes by the vocal folds.
Think about this for a second – smoke, allergens, toxins, clean air – everything that goes into your lungs has direct contact with the vocal cords.
This is why smoking can take such a toll on the singing voice. When smoke passes by the vocal folds, it can affect the delicate mucosal tissue that covers the folds. The health of that mucosa determines how the voice sounds. If the mucosal tissue is damaged, swollen, or dried out then . . . the voice will sound weird.
On the flip side, inhaling clean, moisturized air is GREAT for the vocal folds.
Inhaling steam is the only way to directly hydrate the vocal folds. Could this be one of the reasons singing in the shower sounds so good?
2. Correct Exercise for Voice
Voice exercise is like other kinds of physical exercise, but not.
In order to effectively exercise the voice, breathing and acoustics play as big a role as physical strength.
Vocal function is a delicate balance between all three mechanical systems of the voice: the breathing system (or lungs), the sound source (or vocal folds), and the resonator (or vocal tract).
One of the first steps in organizing vocal exercise is re-learning how to breathe deeply and from the belly. At least this is how I’ve been taught and have had success in helping other singers.
Some of the hows and whys of voice exercises are becoming known, so if your lip trills are no longer helping you out, there is more that can be done. There is more you can be paying attention to.
Finding exercises that address all aspects of voicing – breathing, sound production, and acoustics – are important.
3. Emotional Health and the Voice
Attached here is a free handout from the National Center for Voice and Speech called “Tips to Keep you Talkin’.” In it they describe how stress can directly affect the voice and some ideas for how to relax the neck and shoulders.
It is also important to note that emotions can take a toll on the voice as well. Sometimes it is important to address the underlying mental and emotional stressors that are affecting the body. They can impede free vocal production too.
Have you ever felt a lump in your throat when you are experiencing strong emotions? Especially sadness or grief?
This is one small example of how emotions can get “stuck” or feel trapped inside the throat. Since the body may hold memory and information, it makes sense that sometimes “voice problems” may be related to emotional well being.
Being a good steward of our tender hearts and spirits may also factor into our overall vocal health. Maybe more than we could ever guess.
An Endless Topic
Of course, the topic of vocal health fills countless volumes by countless authors far and wide.
May these 3 ideas be of service to you and your voice, as well as a means of stimulating some curiosity on the matter.