About Your Voice

Voice care is about learning how your voice functions, and getting to know its patterns of reaction, and its limits. The next step is learning how to work with these limits. Some people can smoke, sleep badly, 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 allow themselves to 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, drin- king a limited amount of alcohol and, of course, not smoking at all. You should also be mindful of the following aspects:

Moisture is necessary to keep the mucous membrane of the vocal folds in good shape. Moisture can be added in two ways: systematically, by adding liquid to hydrate the body and keep the tissues well lubricated from within. That means drinking water – but don’t drink a large amount right before singing; rather, drink little and often. Remember: it can take several hours for water you drink to reach your vocal folds – so you will want to be drinking regularly and long before a heavy practice session or gig. The other way to apply moisture to the vocal folds is through the air you inhale. The ideal air humidity level should not be below 40%. In air-conditioned environments, such as planes, cars and trains the air is usually too dry, with only around 15 % humidity. If you’re going to be exposed to such environments for long periods, an air humidifier and/or an inhalator 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 hydrochloric 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 modest reflux can be extremely negative for the voice. Even small amount of reflux can cause thick/sticky mucus, or make it harder to warm up the voice before it feels smooth and ready to use for singing. You can mi- nimize the risk of reflux by avoiding spicy or fatty food, extremely sour and salty products, chocolate, wine, liquor, snuff, carbonated drinks and big meals right before going to sleep. If this doesn’t help, there is also the option of using over-the- counter remedies to reduce the activity of the acid pumps in the stomach.

Colds should be avoided as much as possible by being careful with hygiene and keeping our hands away from our face and taking care to not touch surfaces that might be harboring 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 too much. Practice easy warm up exercises and make sure that your body is well hydrated by drinking a lot and inhaling steam – remember: the mucous membrane dries out during infections. Keep in mind that it takes as long for the mucous membrane to recover from a cold as the duration of the cold: 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 – 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. This is, however, 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 obstruction, you can try to sing carefully, but watch out! It is very easy to put too much pressure on the voice, as nasal obstruction makes its reso- nance less noticeable, and the mucous membrane is 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 is 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 mu- cous 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 quarter. This process takes between three to six months.

Later in life some change continues for both sexes, as cartilage hardens and trans- forms 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 will notice signs of age in the voice. These signs are caused by loss of flexibility in the muscles, joints and ligaments, which often results in a larger and more uneven vibrato and a rough sound. Years later the mucous membrane of the vocal folds becomes thinner and the muscle mass smaller. This will eventually make men’s voices brighter, while the opposite happens to women – the voice descends in pitch. The circle comes to- gether 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, as well as how frequently you train. Your voice ID has a foundation, but can change frequently as you develop your voice. For example, you might be prone to singing with extra strength due to the fact you are an outgoing person with an active and chatty personality. Or, perhaps you get a twang in your sound because your larynx and throat are constructed that way. Other singers have big vibrato, sing with distortion or riffing often, 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 recognize, and this originates from a well- developed vocal ID. It is very important not to compare yourself to other singers, but to develop your personal ability and become the unique singer you are. And 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 and 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 dissuade 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 during winter, very cold and dry air passes over the vocal folds. This risks dehydration of the mu- cous membrane of the vocal folds. This dehydration also settles a few hours after the workout, but the harder the session, the greater effect on the voice. Therefore, I also dissuade hard conditioning training in the hours before an important sing- ing assignment.

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 at- tention 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 outside the program, 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 strain the folds. Gene- rally, with practice and technique, you should be able to increase your vocal range with 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 you can use the structures located above the vocal folds to get the right sound. If you achieve it technically, 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 technique you are using is wrong and you need to practice more, stopping notes 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 singing 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 and strained. Sing- ing 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 inter- nal musculature of the larynx, 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 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 becomes a problem since they are not recognized by everyone. If this were the only method used it would be difficult to communicate with other voice pro- fessionals. 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 medium 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 and 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 re- gister (usually known as head voice). The articulation also differs; within popular music singing, you have quite clear, distinct and percussive consonants, and for most of the time you let the vocals have their 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 com- position of red (type 2) and white (type 1) muscle fibers possibly play a part as well. White muscle fibers can get rid of lactic acid and are therefore working on long distance, while the red should be regarded as working on short distance. If you practice singing for longer sessions, I believe you can change that balance, but genetic prerequisites are hard to change