Vocal Health and Wellness

Caduceus with treble clef

The Fundamentals of Vocal Health

Areas of Concern

When to Seek Medical Attention

Vocal Disorders

For More Information

The Fundamentals of Vocal Health

In your lifetime, you only get one voice, so you must treat it well.

This is important for anyone who must sing or speak as part of their studies or livelihood—which really is everyone, since we all must communicate—but is of particular importance for teachers and singers who must be able to use their voices reliably for extended periods of time each day.  For singers, being in excellent vocal health is essential, since consistent high-level performance is mandatory.  Singers must be vocal athletes, which requires rigorous standards for technique and artistry and a commitment to regular, self-disciplined vocal training.  As a voice user, your body is your instrument, thus in order for your instrument to be in optimal condition, you must take care of it.

The following elements contribute to good vocal health:

Practice
•    Consistent work on a daily basis is necessary to keep your voice in shape.
•    Use your voice for reasonable intervals – typically 30-40 minutes at a time, though consult with your voice teacher.

Mental Wellness
•    Positive thinking affects outcome:  visualize what you want, then go for it!
•    Stress has a direct, negative  impact on the ability of the vocal instrument to function.
•    Utilize meditation to calm and focus yourself, as well as to reduce stress.
•    Balance and organization are crucial:  set short and long-term goals and have a plan to reach those objectives.
•    Please see the Mental Health and Wellness section of this website for further information.

Rest
•    Sleep—typically 8 hours per night—to restore your mind and body, including your voice.
•    Periods of recreation and relaxation allow you time to rejuvenate.
•    Resting your vocal instrument is also imperative, and there is a great deal of associated work that you should do (rhythm, pronunciation, translation, character development, phrasing, etc.) that will contribute to your development and will allow your voice some respite between singing sessions.

Diet and Nutrition    
•    Drink plenty of water—ca. 8 glasses per day—to keep your mucus membranes properly hydrated.  This is vital.
•     Follow recommendations for eating healthful foods at normal intervals.

Physical Fitness
•    You must be in shape and flexible for your instrument to function properly and to meet the demands required of you onstage.
•    Consult your physician, but the typical recommendation is 20-30 minutes of aerobic exercise three times per week.
•    If you work on your abdominal muscles, be sure to stretch them gently and slowly afterward.
•    If you lift weights, exhale on the exertion.  Do not grunt or bear down, as this puts pressure on the vocal folds.
•    If you have an ongoing physical health issue, address it.  Do not permit it to get worse and impede your progress.
•    Please see the Physical Health and Wellness section of this website for further information.

Hearing Protection
•    Your ability to hear accurately and fully dramatically affects your ability to sing well.
•    You must protect your ears at all times by avoiding loud situations and/or by wearing earplugs.
•    Please see the Auditory Health section of this website for further information.

Areas of Concern

Your vocal folds are tiny—about as long as the diameter of a penny—and they vibrate together hundreds of times per second (for example, 440 times per second for the A on the second space of the treble clef).  They do not have nerves in them to indicate that they are hurt; instead, “pain comes from overworked muscles or infected tissues nearby.”*  For this reason it is important to take certain factors into consideration:


Daily Habits
•    Pay attention to your body’s alignment while at the computer and in the practice room.
•    Release muscle tension that you find anywhere in your body.
•    Observe your speaking voice.

Vocal Fatigue
•    This may come about from singing for periods that are too long without rest or singing without solid technique.
•    Yelling or loud talking at sports events, concerts, crowded restaurants, etc. is often a cause.
•    Throat clearing and coughing can also contribute.

Irritants
•    Smoke is a huge problem for singers.  Do not smoke, and do not spend time around smokers!
•    Other airborne pollutants (fumes, dust, etc.) should also be avoided.
•    Alcohol has a drying effect on the mucous membranes and for most people is detrimental to the voice.
•    Additional factors to consider include an awareness of potential triggers; some people experience issues with antihistamines or other medications, caffeine, spicy foods, dairy products, etc., as well as with eating late at night.

When to Seek Medical Attention

You should seek medical attention if you begin to experience:

•    Sudden, recurrent, or prolonged hoarseness
•    An inability to sing in a certain register (high or upper middle are frequent indicators), or softly, or with properly resonant “ring”
•    Intonation problems
•    “Breaks” between upper middle register and head register
•    Feeling a need to constantly clear the throat or cough

There are a variety of potential causes for vocal problems, including allergies, fatigue, reflux, sinusitis, or other serious issues.  Please see the Vocal Disorders section of this website for more information.

It is advisable for all long-term voice users to establish a relationship with an ENT (Ear/Nose/Throat doctor, also known as an otolaryngologist) who deals with singers, in order to have a baseline evaluation.

Vocal Disorders

The Voice Foundation website provides a resource for those who are interested in “obtaining definitive information about voice function, maladies and treatments.”  The Voice Problems section “was developed by the Washington Voice Consortium and Watergate Voice Foundation.  The Voice Foundation invited six established voice experts and surgeons (including Dr. Robert Sataloff, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Voice Foundation) to structure, write and edit the medical information, …[which took] several thousands of hours of effort, over approximately four years….”

 
The topics covered are:

Reposted with the permission of the Voice Foundation.

For More Information 

Online

Duke Voice Care Center

The National Center for Voice and Speech

Books

Oren Brown:  Discover Your Voice

Meribeth Dayme:  Dynamics of the Singing Voice

Scott McCoy:  Your Voice:  An Inside View

Richard Miller:  The Structure of Singing, Training Soprano Voices, and many more

Robert T. Sataloff:  numerous publications

Ingo Titze:  numerous publications

Suggestions for additional books may be found on the Gettysburg College Library page for Music.

 


Information on this page has been drawn from the following sources, among others:

“Chapter Twelve:  Maintaining a Healthy Voice.”  Meribeth Dayme & Cynthia Vaughn.  The Singing Book, Second Edition.  New York:  Norton, 2008.

“Chapter 4:  Energizing the Body.”  Clifton Ware.  Adventures in Singing, rev. 3rd ed.  New York:  McGraw Hill, 2004.

*The Vocal Health section of “Chapter 6, Understanding Your Vocal Instrument.”  John Glenn Paton.  Foundations in Singing, 8th Ed.  New York:  McGraw Hill, 2006.

 


These pages are for informational purposes only. Please consult a medical professional for any specific diagnosis or treatment.