I have always been fond of singing, but unfortunately, the feeling isn’t mutual. I would often spend Friday nights (or weekends) bullying everyone to give me the microphone in rockband and sing-along sessions in videoke bars. My friends have this running joke that I do a lot of self-study, but singing (or carrying a tune correctly, mind you) is not one of them. If Anne Curtis can get away with it, so can I.
Someday, I will have the courage to enroll in one of the classes I’ve always dreamed of attending – voice lessons. For now, I invoked the help of the everyone’s reliable friend, Mr. Google and found some ways on how to take care and improve one’s singing prowess. Most of them are easy to do if you’re determined and disciplined and these precautions are not only applicable for those who sing but also for those whose job entails a lot of speaking (sales people, teachers, presenters, actors, call center reps, radio jocks etc.)
Here are some steps on how you can take care of your voice:
- Try your best to maintain good general health. Avoid viral colds by avoiding the virus itself. A regimen of washing hands has been shown to reduce the transmission of cold viruses. If your doctor recommends it, take Vitamin C supplements or zinc lozenges.
- Try not to get too stressed when things don’t go the way you expect them to be. Emotional and physical stress both contribute significantly to vocal distress. Exercise regularly but avoid extensive power weight lifting as this will place some wear on the vocal folds.
- If the body needs to exercise, so do your vocal chords. Before singing or using your voice strenuously or in unusual ways (public/dramatic speaking), do some vocal warm-ups. As with any physical activity, the warm-up should proceed from general stretching to less strenuous to more strenuous usage. Loud volume and high range are the most strenuous, therefore, begin in the mid-range with easy production. Every voice is different, but 7-10 minutes of warm-up is usually the minimum.
- Avoid smoking. Cigarettes, cigars, and pipes are not only bad for your heart and lungs but will have debilitating effect on your vocal tract. With smoking you don’t only harm yourself, the others around you as well. Avoid other irritant inhalants, i.e., marijuana. Avoid breathing smoggy, polluted air, i.e., car exhausts, smoky bars and lounges when you are vocally tired.
- Avoid dry, artificial interior climates. Laryngologists recommend a humidity level of 40-50%. Much body moisture is lost while breathing air in low humidity climates like those in air-conditioned or heated rooms (routinely 10-20% moisture), cars and buses.
- Avoid shouting, screaming, loud laughter, and heavy throat clearing. Necessary coughing and sneezing should be as gentle and as non-vocal as possible.
- If singing is your bread and butter, avoid the use of local anesthetics before you sing. The anesthetic effect will mask any signs of injury, if there is any, and will aggravate further abuse of your vocal folds. Additionally, singing when under the effects of anesthesia is like playing the piano with gloves on.
- Eat a balanced diet. It’s important to keep your body nourished, not only for your voice but for your overall health. Chicken, fish, eggs and rice are suitable to eat before a performance. Fruits and vegetables are also excellent choices, though citrus fruits should be avoided as they can dry out the lining of the throat. Integrate whole grains in your diet because they contain vitamins A, C and E which help repair any slight damage to the vocal cords as well as strengthen them against damage. Vitamin A helps cells regenerate while vitamin C helps improve immune functions of the body making it easier to fight off infections like a sore throat. Vitamin E is an anti-oxidant that protects cell membranes and boosts the body’s immune system.
- Always keep hydrated and the best and simplest way to do this is to drink lots of plain water. Water keeps the body well hydrated and also cleanses the body of the toxins that may build up in our tissues and cells. This will also keep disease and infections at bay. Water also keeps our vocal cords moist, which is very important for a healthy voice. It is important to keep the vocal cords moist because when we use them (with speaking and most specially when singing) our vocal cords vibrate at an extremely fast speed. If our vocal cords are dry, they will be more prone to irritation when vibrating, and this may cause some pain and discomfort.
WHAT TO AVOID
- Avoid diuretics such as caffeine, alcohol, artificially sweetened beverages. Drinking significant amounts such will further dehydrate the body, as water is also used in metabolizing these foods and beverages and will reduce the amount of water available to hydrate the voice. Caffeinated drinks can also aggravate acid reflux, a condition where the acids escapes from the stomach and moves up to the esophagus and then to the larynx. It can cause chronic cough, sore throat and other symptoms that can lead to voice disorders. Carbonated drinks should also be avoided as they have a bloating effect that can make singing difficult due to excessive air in the stomach.
- Avoid consuming dairy products before a vocal performance as they can increase mucus production in some people and mucus accumulation can interfere with respiration. Overconsumption of dairy products can lead to excessive, unnecessary throat clearing can injure the vocal chords.
Singers also recommend honey as it has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. They swear by this simple but effective medication to cure sore throat or even any discomfort in our voice. Take a spoonful and allow it to coat the lining of the throat. This will help prevent any infection from spreading and will also accelerate healing.