Voice care is about learning how your voice functions, getting to know its patterns and its limits. Some people can smoke, sleep poorly, drink a lot of coffee, never warm up the voice and still sing for two hours a night seven days a week while others cannot do such things even once without noticing a negative effect on the voice.
Your voice, like the rest of your body, benefits from a healthy lifestyle – healthy food, regular exercise, avoiding colds, keeping the stomach in good shape, drinking a limited amount of alcohol and, of course, not smoking. You should also be mindful of the following aspects:
Moisture is necessary to keep the mucous membrane of the vocal folds in good shape. We can hydrate the body and keep the tissues well lubricated from within by drinking water. But don’t drink a large amount right before singing; rather, drink little & often. Remember: it can take several hours for water you drink to reach your vocal folds so drink regularly and long before a heavy practice session or gig. The other way to hydrate the vocal folds is through the air you inhale. The ideal humidity level should not be below 40%. In air-conditioned environments the air is often too dry with only around 15% humidity so if you’re going to be in these environments for long periods, a humidifier and/or a steam inhaler can help keep your vocal folds from drying out.
Reflux occurs when the muscles that are supposed to create a tight barrier between the stomach and throat are not effective enough, allowing corrosive acid from the stomach to reach the back part of the vocal folds. For people who do not sing, reflux causes little more concern than the discomfort of heartburn. For singers, however, even moderate reflux can be extremely negative for the voice. Even mild reflux can create thick/sticky mucus making it harder to warm up the voice before it feels smooth and ready to use for singing. You can minimise the risk of reflux by avoiding spicy or fatty food, extremely sour & salty products, chocolate, wine, liquor, carbonated drinks and large meals before going to sleep. If this doesn’t help, there is also the option of using over-the-counter remedies.
Colds should be avoided as much as possible by being careful with hygiene, keeping the hands away from the face and taking care to not touch surfaces that might be harbouring germs. It is also beneficial to have a good immune system, which you can influence by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. When a cold strikes, it is important not to strain the voice: practice easy warm up exercises and make sure that your body is well hydrated by drinking a lot of fluids and inhaling steam. Remember: the mucous membrane dries out during infections. It takes as long for the mucous membrane to recover from a cold as the duration of the cold, i.e. seven days of cold = seven days of recovery. It can be difficult not to use the voice at the beginning of a cold as the voice often functions even better at this stage because the mucous membrane is a bit swollen and therefore vibrates more easily, and the extra mass of vocal folds makes the voice sound deeper and richer than usual. However, this is deceptive and such singing should be avoided since it is in fact a sign that a cold is present. If the cold symptoms are focused mostly around nasal congestion, you can try to sing carefully, but be cautious! It is very easy to put too much pressure on the voice, as nasal congestion makes resonance less noticeable and the mucous membranes are irritated regardless of where the symptoms are most concentrated.
In childhood, vocal pitch is more or less the same for boys and girls and it’s not until puberty that the difference between the genders emerges. For boys, the growth of the larynx is more significant: the vocal fold mass increases, the mucous membrane of the vocal folds is divided into different layers and the average pitch can descend as much as an octave. For girls, the pitch only descends about a third or fourth. This process takes between three to six months.
Later in life some change continues for both sexes as cartilages harden and transforms into bone. This development makes the voice stronger and more stable, and our ability to control the voice also develops over the years. The voice reaches its peak at around 25–45, and it’s only after 50–55 that you may notice signs of age in the voice. These signs are caused by loss of flexibility in the muscles, joints and ligaments which can result in a larger, more uneven vibrato and a rougher sound. Years later the mucous membrane of the vocal folds becomes thinner and the muscle mass smaller. This will eventually make men’s voices higher, while the opposite happens to women – the voice descends in pitch. The circle comes together and the pitch is once again almost the same for both men and women, just as it was in childhood. However, these chances can be delayed and even prevented if you exercise your voice consistently with this Daily Workout.
You actually have a unique vocal “ID” that results from your morphology (the individual form and structure of your voice organ), your musical influences and how frequently you train. Your vocal ID has a foundation, but can change frequently as you develop your voice. For example, you might be more likely to sing with extra strength becase you are an outgoing person with an active, chatty personality. Or, perhaps you have a twang in your sound because your larynx and throat are constructed that way. Other singers have big vibrato, sing with distortion or riff a lot, depending on the type of music they practice with.
Within popular music, originality of expression and sound is an absolute necessity for a long, successful career as an artist. All celebrity singers have a voice that you immediately recognise, and this originates from a well-developed vocal ID. It is very important not to compare yourself to other singers, but to develop your own abilities and become the unique singer you are. Remember: your vocal ID is in constant development and you are the leader of that process.
When you do heavy weight training it is common to hold your breath during lifts to keep your body stable & strong. That causes extremely high lung pressure and high blood pressure, and the vocal folds are tightly pressed against each other, which can irritate their edges. This irritation or swelling usually settles after a few hours, depending on its severity. Even if some singers can manage this well, I discourage singers from doing hard fitness training right before a singing session. If you do sing after weight training, make sure to breathe during the lifts so that the vocal folds are not subjected to unnecessary pressure. During hard workouts, and in winter, cold, dry air passes over the vocal folds. This risks dehydration of the mucous membrane of the vocal folds. This dehydration also settles down a few hours after the workout, but the harder the session, the greater effect on the voice. Therefore, I also suggest not doing a hard conditioning training in the hours before an important singing engagement.
There are, however, many positive effects on the voice from a hard workout. For example, a good fitness level can increase the loudness of a note by one to two decibels, and the ability to hold long notes by two to four seconds. Both effects might seem negligible, but it makes a big difference.
The key here is to listen to your voice. If it is in good shape and you feel that you can manage, then of course you can practice those days as well, but pay extra attention to how your voice feels and sounds. Generally, the advice is to take a break in the program and start again where you left off when you have fewer singing commitments or when you have recovered from your cold or infection.
Your ability to sing higher notes depends on a mixture of the elasticity of the vocal folds and the internal muscles’ ability to stretch and tense the folds. Generally, with practice and technique, you should be able to increase your vocal range by some notes. However, anyone who says that all singers can achieve a range of seven octaves are not to be taken seriously.
When you distort or growl, use the structures above the vocal folds. If you do it right, it is not damaging for the voice. The challenge is to not compress the vocal folds too hard as you do this, as it is bad for the voice. If it hurts, burns or tickles, or if you are struck by coughing fits when you distort or growl, the apporach you are using is wrong and you need to practice more, stopping as soon as they feel uncomfortable.
Yes! Warming up your voice makes it easier for the vocal folds to vibrate, which means that you force the voice less when you start singing or exercising your voice. The warm up itself is just part of the preparation. You should also get the blood circulation going through physical
activity or stretches. You might also need to massage the external larynx muscles if they are tense. Singing in could also be included in your preparation. When singing in, you check the daily condition of the voice and try to find the notes and the sound that you want to achieve.
The vocal warm up itself should last for about 5-7 minutes using semi occluded vocal sounds (such as those that are produced using The Zangger VoicePipe).
The cool down gets rid of lactic acid that might have been produced in the vocal muscles as well as encouraging the larynx muscles to relax. It also helps the voice return to a normal speaking level, preventing continued wear and speeding up recovery.
These are terms for complete sounds. A “complete sound” is a product of the air pressure inside the lungs, the pattern of vibration in the vocal folds and how these vibrations resonate in the oral cavity, nasal cavity and throat. Many vocal pedagogues use their own terms for different sounds
which can become a problem since they are not recognised by everyone. If it were the only method used it would be difficult to communicate with other voice professionals. Therefore, I see this as a very restrictive way of thinking about the voice.
There is an exercise for this in the training program. Fundamentally, it is about being responsive to and focused on each pitch in a melody, not dragging out notes at the middle or end of phrases. It is also important to learn to hear if the note is too high or too low and, if so, how you should adjust it.
The biggest difference is that in classical singing you sing mainly with a low larynx in combination with a rounded mouth, but in popular you keep the larynx higher or let it follow the pitch. Women singing popular music generally use the voice just as men do – that is to say, starting from the chest register with temporary excursions to the falsetto register. Within classical singing, the usage of the voice differs more between the genders, where the greatest difference is that men most often start from their chest register and women usually start from the falsetto register (usually known as “head voice”). The articulation also differs. In popular music singing, you have quite clear, distinct, percussive consonants and most of the time you let the vocals have a more spoken version of the sound, while in classical singing you are more inclined to modulate the vowels (“cover”) so that they fit the ideal of the sound.
This partly depends on the technique and the choice of key in relation to your voice type. There are also genetic factors; some people are better able to maintain the sound in the mucous membrane, tendons and muscles than others. The amount white (“type 1”) and red (“type 2”) muscle fibres possibly play a part as well. White muscle fibres get rid of lactic acid and are therefore better for long sessions, while the red are better for shorter sessions. If you practice singing for longer periods of time, I believe you can affect that balance, but genetic predispositions are hard to change.