Everyone knows how important it is to prioritize vocal health during a long-term performance contract. After all, doing eight shows a week is no easy feat. But how do you do it? What steps can you implement to maintain a steady health routine?
As a certified vocal health first aider, I’m here to help. Here are some simple steps to add to your everyday routine to ensure you get through that busy performance week!
I will say it time and time again. One of the best things you can do for your voice is HYDRATE. Obviously already important in your day-to-day life, hydrating will also work wonders on your voice. Our vocal folds vibrate with minimal effort due to the natural mucus that sits on our cords. When you are dehydrated, that mucus thickens and requires more effort to make sound. Luckily, there are two easy solutions! The first is external hydration. Steaming (via hot showers, steam rooms or steam machines) is the only way of getting moisture directly onto your vocal folds and is best to do at night, when you’ve stopped talking for the day. Internal hydration is accomplished by drinking water as often as possible. Generally, if you start to feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated. Ideally, one would drink 1 ml of water per calorie burned daily. This is about 2L for women and 2.5L for men. In addition, performers should add an extra 100 ml per hour to account for the fluid lost with expiration and physical exertion. The water you drink does not actually come into contact with your folds and takes time to enter your system, so I recommend drinking little and often, starting your day with a large glass of water.
Warm Up and Cool Down
Your voice is a muscle and, just like other parts of your body, needs to warm up and cool down. Because most people understand the importance of easing into your singing voice at the start of the day, I want to focus on what is often forgotten after a show, the cool down. This should be a few gentle exercises to recalibrate the voice after a long day. Starting in your higher register, work your way down through your range without pushing or straining. This is meant to be easy and feel good. Play with sirening down the octave, or singing a descending scale from V to I on a vowel or a trill. I also love using straw phonation at the end of a busy day; continue reading to learn more on that technique! Whatever your preferred exercise, cooling down will unload tension and relax the muscles and tissue after use.
Straw phonation is an amazing way to warm up and cool down. Singing into a straw allows the mouth to be partially closed, creating back pressure. Because the air has less place to go as it leaves the mouth, it stays within the cheeks and lips and thus bounces back towards the cords, helping them vibrate more easily with less muscular effort. The size of straw required will depend on what the singer is trying to achieve. A narrower straw has more resistance and will feel more like a workout, whereas a wider straw will allow for a more therapeutic recovery warmup.
There are two ways you can use straw phonation. The pure straw technique (using only a straw) is good for training and sustaining movement on the vocal folds. The water resistive technique (where your straw sits in water) provides a wave of back pressure that gives an internal massage to your cords. This technique serves as a more restorative practice, comparable to doing PT exercises on an injured knee. The further your straw sits in the water, the more weight is displaced, creating a harder workout.
Keeping Your Body Active
Performing can be very physical and it is important to keep the body in shape to handle day to day demands. There is very little evidence that exercise is bad for singers. During a long contract, I like to focus on low impact workouts to keep my body active, but not exhausted. Training like yoga, pilates or spin are a great way to keep moving before you get on stage! Do your best to find a pre-show routine that works for you and try to incorporate it consistently into your day.
Vocal Massages and Releasing Tension
Tension is very common in singers and performers alike and can be found anywhere; tongue, jaw, shoulders, neck, forehead etc. Difficult to identify, tension often creeps into the body and settles itself before you’ve even realized it’s there. Performers on tour often experience extra fatigue and stress because of the constant moving around. Heavy wigs, costumes or set pieces can also add tension if you are using them consistently.
One of the best ways of releasing tension is with a laryngeal massage. An amazing tool offered in many voice clinics, these massages create more freedom in the larynx, improve posture, relieve muscular tension, and increase a greater awareness of the breath.
Listen to your body. If you need to rest, take that time and be kind to yourself. The voice is a complicated mechanism and is constantly affected by many things. Take your day off to vocal rest and prioritize quiet time. Head home straight after the show and sleep the eight hours you deserve! Eat the food that fuels your body in the right way!
For our lady performers, find forgiveness with your voice when on your period. This unfortunate time of the month can create havoc to the voice; difficulty with the upper range, faint hoarseness, a change of resonance, slowed agility and vocal fatigue. On the other hand, many singers feel vocally best mid-month, during ovulation; when the oestrogen is high, the mucus is plentiful and thin and the epithelium is nice and plump.
The Speaking Voice
In day-to-day life, we speak much more than we sing and yet, our speaking voice technique is often forgotten! During a long run, it is important to prioritize a healthy speaking voice to aid our vocal fold’s longevity and health. Avoid inefficient voice use and listen to your natural speaking voice. Do you hear vocal creaks, monotony in tone, a de-energised voice, poor breath flow or laryngeal guarding (when you hold your breath as you speak, so everything feels strained)? Do you speak in a vocal fry or constantly clear your throat? Does your voice break or crack in the mid-range?
If you are struggling to maintain the demands of a busy show schedule, the problem might be starting at the very core of voice use, your talking! If any of these vocal traits resonate with you, it is always possible to seek help. Confer with a voice pathologist about your concerns to create a plan towards a healthier speaking voice!
If you want to learn more about vocal health first aid, consider getting certified to better help yourself and others maintain a healthy vocal life! My recommendation is the Vocal Health First Aid Course with Vocal Health Education. Power is knowledge and understanding your body is the key to success!