Develop Better Vocal Health in 2017
7 Steps to Better Vocal Health:
What are your goals for the new year? Lose weight, eat healthily, spend more time with family and friends? More specifically, what are your singing goals for 2017? Better pitch accuracy, more performing and successful auditions are among the top goals I hear every January when my studio opens for the new year. These goals and many others besides are all admirable, but none of them can be achieved if the singer doesn’t first attend to their overall vocal health.
So, my first blog post for 2017 is specially written to remind you (and me) about those things that will contribute to better vocal health; assisting you to achieve your singing goals for the new year.
1. Speaking before Singing
Even as a person who loves to sing, you still use your voice at least 90% of the time for speech. This means that your spoken voice patterns need to be healthy and sustainable. If your spoken sounds are causing wear and tear, then when you come to sing, your vocal mechanism will already be compromised: tired and sore. I am a strong advocate for singers visiting a speech therapist for a few sessions geared towards optimising speech patterns.
2. Sing Well
Well, of course! We all want to sing well, but what are you doing to make this happen? Too many singers practice their songs without developing the underlying technique that informs the way their voice functionally sings the song. Quality voice instruction will always teach you how to sing first, before teaching you what to sing. Horse before the cart people! Looking for quality singing lessons? Learn more here. Singing well also requires that we be disciplined with our warmups and cooldowns. Again, far too many singers use their songs to warm up. That’s like a running athlete only running to warm up without also stretching. If you would like to learn more about how to successfully prepare your voice for use, then watch my video, “The Three Phase Warmup.”
3. Voice Rest
Once you have learned to speak and sing well, it is time to ‘shut up!’ Seriously, far too many of us do not know when it is time to rest the voice. Human anatomy is not designed to go 24/7, and that includes your larynx. Every singer, amateur and professional alike, should schedule at least one day every week as a ‘relative voice rest day.’ Give your voice some downtime! Also, learn to pace your vocal use throughout a week. Marathon runners learn to ebb and flow their run. At times, they apply heightened pace; at other times, they fall back into a comfortable rhythm. Singers need to take a similar approach. Learn more about the ebb and flow of good singing in the video, “Vocal Pacing and the Happy Singer.”
Water is a singer’s best friend! However, sadly, many singers are not taking full advantage of that friendship for better vocal health. Remaining hydrated by sipping approximately two litres of water throughout a day assists your vocal folds to stay lubricated. If the vocal folds are not well lubricated, they sustain higher levels of fatigue and become susceptible to wear and tear. Water, in its vapour form, is also beneficial to the voice. I highly recommend that all singers own and use a personal steam inhaler. You can learn more about the benefits of steaming the voice here.
5. Physical Fitness
Our fifth goal for good singing possibly aligns nicely with some of your other goals for 2017. Exercising more and eating a healthy diet all lead to better vocal outcomes. Remember, your voice is not merely your larynx. YOU are your voice: head to toe! Your entire instrument, your body, needs to call on high levels of energy for good singing. The weak and unhealthy body has fewer energy stores to draw upon, which in turn can lead to more effort and strain, leaving the singer laryngeally focussed. So, if your searching for another reason to live healthier this year…add singing to the mix. Your voice will thank you!
6. Listen More
I am going to put my hand up and say this is an area I need to work on more. I do not listen to enough music. It’s a part of my vocal development that I want to work hard on during the year. Great singers are great listeners. There is so much to learn from listening to other musicians. Phrasing, storytelling and resonance qualities are all aspects of singing that we can gain from listening to great singers. Using streaming services like Spotify or Pandora allow us to explore unknown artists and genres. I hope you will join me this year in listing to more singers.
7. Use It or Lose It
It never ceases to amaze me how many of my students don’t sing in between their lessons, and I’m not talking about just their technical homework. If you want to improve your vocals, you have to use it or lose it! I think most of us are familiar with the ten-thousand-hour rule. The law states that expertise and proficiency in any field first requires ten-thousand-hours of activity in the chosen discipline. That is a lot right! How about, we start with something more achievable. Let’s aim to spend 50 hours using our voices between now and Easter (April 2017). That equates to about 4 hours a week. I know we can do it…we just have to decide and act!
You and I both know there is more to good singing and vocal health than what I have listed above. What have I left out? Leave your comments below and share your top tips for great singing during 2017. I am looking forward to learning from you and your experience. Also, if you’d like to take a deeper dive into vocal health you might like to check out the article, “Vocal Health and Voice Care.”
Sing well, Dr Dan.
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