I am currently at the LoVetri Institute’s Somatic Voicework Training in Ohio and was inspired by our amazing Laryngology presenters (Dr. Milstein and Dr. Rubin) to talk a little about vocal health.
First of all, what do I mean by vocal health?
Vocal health for our purposes is divided into two parts. For that reason, I am dividing this topic into two separate posts, vocal hygiene, and vocal health care. While these two areas are related, they have specific and important differences.
Vocal Hygiene is a term to describe the vocal behaviors that one should practice in order to maintain vocal health.
In his awesome book, The Vocal Pitstop: Keeping your Voice on Track by Adam D. Rubin, we learn that the keys to maintaining a healthy voice are:
- Prevention of vocal injury
- Recognition of vocal injury
- Appropriate and timely management of vocal injury to avoid long-term sequelae, particularly vocal fold scar
The following is a non-exhaustive list of behaviors under this umbrella. I’ll take them one at a time in more detail.
- Voice training and development
- Managing the body (also known as your voice’s house)
- Avoidance of environmental voice damage
- Avoidance of voice misuse
Hydration: We all know that good hydration is important for the body and voice health but we may not know how much water is enough. A good rule of thumb is that your urination is the best indicator of whether you are hydrated. The paler it looks the better, dark urine is a problem. Also important to note that if you are not well hydrated the first few days will be incredibly annoying as your body tries to figure out if it can actually use this new-found hydration or whether you are going to dry it out soon. The increased urination should level off as neglected parts of your body start to enjoy the new supply. External hydration of the whole body through the use of humidifiers, showers, and steam are also wonderful ways to support your hydration. Dr. Rubin also recommends nasal hydration through the use of saline sprays and/or nasal rinses. I personally use a Neti-Pot and find it extremely useful for my own vocal health but your mileage may vary. Here is some more information about nasal rinses.
Voice training and development: The best voice use is that which gives you the more flexible and effective output in the most efficient and flexible way. Voice training with an effective voice professional should give you the tools to use the voice with confidence and health. Still, it is up to you to become the authority on how your voice works and your unique eccentricities. I can highly recommend Dr. Rubin’s book as an easy read with tons of great info as a resource and a place to start. Importantly, you will always stay healthiest when you keep your care in line with the science. You will hear tons of what I call vocal voodoo as you work on your voice but it is imperative that you not put your only instrument at risk for some quick fix that is based on pseudo science or straight-up urban legend. The fact is that many “reliable” voice remedies are just not effective. Others work for some and are counter-indicated for others. Even natural remedies, that can be very effective, require you understand how these substances interact with any conditions or other medications you are on. If someone offers you a quick vocal fix, be very suspicious and do your own research.
Managing the body: Your voice does not exist outside of your body. Your body is your voice. As such, you have to take care of the whole package. Your sleep, hydration, diet, and general physical and mental fitness all come to bear on how well your voice can respond and how efficient it can be. Remember, that vocal efficiency and flexibility are requirements for good vocal health. This includes managing any conditions you have and knowing how your conditions and medications affect your voice. We’ll go into this aspect further as well as discuss how to build your vocal health team in the next post.
Avoidance of environmental voice damage: Under this category can be pollution and air quality, noise levels and other situations impacting the efficiency of your voice production. All of these are important but I really want to address smoking. If you smoke, I do not need to tell you that it is bad for you. However, if you smoke and wish to be elite voice user, you have a problem. Some voice users do it and get away with it without vocal damage. I like to call this Russian vocal roulette and if you are feeling lucky, I suppose that it might be okay. It might just as likely be what keeps you from being able to command and use the full breadth of your instrument. We’re all adults here but if this is important to you, you might consider quitting.
Avoidance of voice misuse: I talk about voice misuse a lot in the studio already so I’ll keep this brief. Voice misuse is when the volume, duration and or application of your voice is not in balance with your physical/mental resources, breath and/or environment. Unsupported voice use, excessive talking, speaking in loud environments and speaking under tension are all examples of misuse. It is important that you train and understand how to use your voice in more efficient and effective ways to prevent damage. It may also be necessary to make some hard decisions about what your priorities are with respect to voice. It is lovely to stay out late and have drinks with colleagues but if your next day includes an important speech or a performance in singing, you should really consider whether that is the best choice.
I hope this was helpful and am happy to answer any questions you may have about the content. Next Friday Focus, I will go into more detail on what the voice teacher can and cannot do to help with vocal health. What a voice health team should look like and what you should know about the voice in regards to care.