by CARI COLE
Veteran vocal coach Cari Cole talks about proper vocal care and five things you can do to avoid major vocal health issues
Ever wonder why stars have issues with their vocal health? Why do professionals lose their voices and need to have surgery? Does it happen to everyone eventually, or are there proper vocal care techniques that can help to avoid these situations?
It’s not inevitable, but it’s highly probable that you will have vocal problems if you don’t learn to use proper vocal care. Your voice is an instrument inside your body, and how you treat your body will reflect upon your voice.
First things first, your voice is not an instrument to screw with. Your vocal cords are not replaceable. You only have one set, and the way you care for them will determine whether you follow the road of deterioration that befalls so many singers or take the high road to vocal care, preservation, and health for your career.
It’s not easy to be out on the road singing for a living and keeping your voice in great shape. There are many things you can do to care for yourself and keep your vocal instrument in good shape that aren’t exclusively related to vocal technique and vocal performance (see my earlier post titled 8 Ways to Improve Your Vocal Health), but I want to talk about vocal technique and preserving your voice while you sing. I want to give you some vocal tips and teach you how to master your instrument, and address the key things you can do to ensure you never experience major vocal problems.
Of course there is MUCH more to explore regarding vocal care than what I can present in this article, but I picked out the biggest contenders that cause issues as they relate to the technical voice. Let’s take a quick peek at what some of these problems are and how they develop.
Common vocal problems
Vocal abuse or misuse, such as excessive use of the voice when singing and talking or smoking, coughing, yelling, allergies, reflux, or inhaling irritants can cause abnormalities of the vocal cords, such as nodules, granulomas, polyps, or cysts. The difference between these abnormalities is mostly a function of what kind of tissue is involved.
Symptoms of vocal problems include vocal fatigue, hoarseness that doesn’t clear, chronic throat clearing, throat pain, cough (sometimes with a little blood), and the feeling of having a lump in your throat. Surgery is a less optimal treatment for throat granuloma than vocal therapy, although “granulomas are often slow to regress,” according to NYU Voice Center’s website.
Most all vocal problems are caused by a combination of health, diet, and a lack of good technique – and are reversible with a little work. The best path is to first identify what created the voice disorder. In many cases, a brief period of voice therapy is the best approach to learn good vocal care and technique, including proper breath support and eliminating high pressure at the vocal mechanism.
How to avoid shredding your vocal cords:
1. Avoid coughing.
Coughing shreds your cords. When you have an infection, the body will naturally cough to get rid of it. Fight your infection with organic garlic capsules (nature’s antibiotic) and quell that cough with Bronchial Soothe (available at Whole Foods or Amazon.com). It’s the only remedy I’ve ever found that actually stops a vicious cough. Coughing will prolong your recovery time by twice as long.
2. Don’t glottal.
Glottals occur when the edges of the vocal cords bang together in over-closure most always on a word that begins with a vowel. This results from poor vocal technique. The way to fix it is to add a soft “h” to the onset of words that begin with vowels, i.e.; “h-uh-oh”,“h-everyone”, “h-“I”; “h-always”. It can happen in the middle of a word too: “st-ay” – st-h-ay”. A really good vocal coach can teach you more about how not to glottal, however keep in mind that from my years of experience I have noticed that most inexpensive or mid-level coaches do not have this kind of expertise and can even cause vocal problems. It’s important to find someone that has a good vocal health philosophy as part of their practice.
3. Get your voice out of your throat.
Speaking low in your throat, or in a monotone can cause vocal problems like hoarseness, vocal fatigue, nodules, cysts or granulomas. Associate your voice with less pressure and move it higher into your mouth or head cavity to avoid undue pressure. Speak higher in pitch and raise the soft palate to move out of the throat and let the voice “ring” in the head, mouth, and sinus cavities.
4. Stop talking so loud!
Don’t yell or talk excessively for long periods of time (or speak over loud music regularly – bartenders beware). Yelling and speaking for an extended time can cause immediate vocal fatigue and hoarseness and can damage your singing voice. Keep in mind to speak at a normal volume as whispering also strains your voice. If you know your speaking voice is a problem, find a speech therapist or vocal coach who understands speech therapy to help you get back on track.
5. Study vocal and breathing technique.
Find a great (not just a good) professional vocal coach who specializes in fixing vocal problems and knows a thing or two about how to speed you back to health. Having a great coach is your secret weapon to keeping your speaking and singing voice healthy for life. Until then, check out my Singers Gift Vocal Warmups that not only warm you up, but strengthen your vocal instrument the healthy way.