“If I cannot fly, let me sing.” - Stephen Sondheim
Singers know that losing their voice, inflammation of the throat or larynx, chronic laryngitis, hoarseness, coughing, or a sore throat can all be terrible for their singing.
Furthermore, women are almost twice as likely to suffer from vocal problems than men. Of course, singing teachers and professional singers are more at risk, too.
In this article, we're going to look at the risks of singing in terms of your vocal health, how to take care of your voice, techniques to train your voice, and why you should consider seeing an ENT specialist or speech-language pathologist.
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Singing: What Are the Risks?
Using your voice excessively can damage your vocal cords, pharynx, and larynx.
Put simply, your voice is technically a string instrument and you need to take care of it. If you don’t use the right vocal technique, you run the risk of damaging your voice.
Voice loss or hoarseness can occur when a singer’s technique isn’t great. This is one of the risks of singing since you can tire your vocal cords without even noticing. This can make vibrating your vocal cords even more difficult. If you don’t rest your voice, nodules and polyps can appear on your vocal cords.
This is the first sign of chronic laryngitis, which leads to an inflammation of the vocal cords. Instead of singing, you might want to consider singing lessons or a visit to a speech pathologist or otorhinolaryngology specialist (also known as an ear, nose, and throat specialist).
An untreated vocal injury could lead to dysphonia, irritations of the throat that are initially benign but can lead to worse problems.
These can be caused by a multitude of factors:
- Lifestyle: smoking, coffee, alcohol, drugs, lack of sleep, stress, poor breathing, bad posture, dehydration, etc.
- Temperature changes: you can avoid these with a scarf, honeyed soup, eucalyptus pastels, essential oils, etc.
- Excessive consumption of antibiotics and medicinal products.
- Allergies related to pollution or pollen.
- Asthma attacks.
- Respiratory problems (lung disease, bronchitis, a bacterial infection in the lungs, etc).
- Gastroesophageal reflux
- Swelling of the throat
The hectic lifestyle of singers can also result in voice problems, aphonia, dysphonia; tours, interviews, and a lack of rest can put the singer in a vicious cycle.
Find out more about how to avoid vocal cord injury.
10 Tips to Take Care of Your Voice
So how can you take care of your voice as a singer?
Here are ten tips to look after your voice. It’s recommended that you warm up your voice before you sing.
This is a way to prepare your voice before a concert, for example.
Second tip: sleep. If you’re tired, you’ll have to force your vocal cords to sing. You need to sleep well so that your vocal cords can rest before any exertion. Poor sleep can lead to hoarseness or voice loss.
Thirdly, you need to adopt a good posture to open your lungs, allowing you to breathe with your stomach and abs. To do this, stand up straight, with your feet hip-width apart, hands apart, and shoulders relaxed. You need to attempt to reduce muscular tension so that you can sing powerfully and fluidly.
It’s recommended that you exercise regularly so that you can increase your lung capacity and vocal endurance. Following a session of physical activity, the body consumes a surplus of oxygen to feed the muscles used and limit the production of lactic acid in muscle tissue. You’ll notice an improvement in your singing as you improve your lung capacity.
Any more advice?
Here’s a short list:
- Quit smoking: smokers run the risk of fatal diseases (lung cancer, throat cancer, etc.)
- Rest your voice to reduce tension in the muscles in the respiratory system and throat.
- Avoid chills.
- Stop talking: silence is one of the best ways to rest and care for your voice.
- Don’t sing when your throat is sore or inflamed: sore throats, viral infections, allergies, etc.
- Consult an ENT specialist or speech pathologist if your symptoms last over a week.
In the event of benign inflammations, surgical intervention may be required. In some situations, more serious medical intervention may be necessary.
Check out our tips for looking after your voice.
Singing: How to Retrain your Voice
Singers, singing teachers, and just teachers might benefit from retraining their voice, especially in the case of hoarseness or laryngitis.
If rest isn’t enough, there are several exercises you can do to retrain your voice.
However, don’t self-medicate. Without the advice of a doctor or medical professional, you may make things worse. You can always enjoy liquorice or eucalyptus pastels, drink herbal tea, lemon juice for coughs, a teaspoon of honey in a glass of milk or coffee, etc. Avoid pharmaceutical products including cortisone and corticoids as they can have side effects if the wrong dosage is taken.
To get your voice back, you can always do the straw exercise. This involves doing sliding to the top and bottom of your range into a straw and singing notes at a high volume. This will help them reduce swelling.
Here are two other exercises you can do if you’re struggling to sing:
- Voiced fricatives: such as the sound of the letter “V” across your vocal range, contracting your abs as you breathe out, and releasing tension as you breathe in.
- “M” exercise: Say “M” while holding the note and feeling the vibrations about your nose, then say “E” (behind the teeth) and then “ooh” (lips).
Unfortunately, these exercises can’t fix everything and there may be something more serious going on in your throat.
Find out more about looking after your voice.
Singing: Why Should You Consult a Speech Pathologist?
If you have problems with your voice for over a week, you should consult a speech pathologist.
This is a specialist focusing on speech, language, and communication. They deal with voice, speaking, language, and problems with swallowing or hearing. They can suggest treatment.
There are also ENT (ear, nose, and throat) specialists who can help.
In the case of the following, you should consult a specialist:
- Vocal fatigue
- Voice loss
- Vocal fold paralysis
- Vocal cord alteration
- Chronic coughing
- Broken voice
- Allergic reaction
- Difficulty producing high notes
- Swelling in the throat
- Laryngeal pain
The doctor may consider a laryngoscopy to have a look at the state of your throat and vocal cords. This involves placing a light on their forehead and inserting a mirror into the back of the throat.
For minor issues, rest may be all that’s needed. They might advise other natural remedies like herbal tea, etc. In the case of more serious conditions, such as a nodule or polyps, you may need surgery.
Keep in mind, that you don’t need to be unwell to visit a pathologist. Singers might want to go to get advice on techniques to keep their vocal cords in good condition.
It’s important to look after your voice, after all.
If you want to work on your voice and improve your singing, you might want to consider getting a vocal coach or private tutor on Superprof. They can help you improve your singing, take care of your voice, and provide bespoke singing tuition. There are three main types of tutorials on offer and each one comes with several advantages and disadvantages.
Face-to-face private tutorials are just between you and your tutor. The sessions will be tailored to you, your needs, and your strengths and weaknesses. Of course, since the tutor will be dedicating a lot of time to you and your tutorials as well as tailoring them to your needs, this type of tutorial tends to be the most costly. However, it's also the most cost-effective.
Thanks to the internet, webcams, and video conferencing software, you can also get online tutorials. Again, these tutorials are just between you and the tutor with the main difference being that you're not in the same room. With fewer travel expenses and the ability to schedule more tutorials each week, the tutor can charge a more competitive rate for these tutorials. Generally, these tutorials are better for academic subjects and not hands-on ones.
Finally, there are group tutorials. These are more like your traditional classes with several students and one teacher. The cost of the tutor's time is shared between all the students in the class so you can expect to pay less per hour for these tutorials. Unfortunately, this means the tutor can't spend as much time focusing on you and your singing.