The Dr. Is In : Vocal Maintenance: Prevention Is the Key!

Preventative care for the entire body is important for vocal health. Dr. Jahn shares tips for daily habits that can keep your voice in excellent shape.

 

Over the last many years, I’ve written a great deal about managing vocal problems, identifying and remedying the many conditions that can interfere with good singing. But a somewhat neglected area is what you should be doing on a daily and ongoing basis to prevent such difficulties. This is understandable: we naturally lean toward  “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”  Most of us don’t like to see doctors since, apart from the cost, it forces us to admit that something may be wrong. Aiding and abetting this mindset is not only our body’s ability to heal but also to compensate for many types of impairment. This is well exemplified by the ability of singers to overcome mild forms of vocal impairment if necessary.

But there are some simple things that you can do to prevent many of these vocal problems. I am referring to cultivating some simple habits that preserve the vocal tract and protect it from injury. The problem with changing your daily habits, however, is that, well, you have to change. Not drastically, but consistently, you need to modify things that you may not even have given much thought to. And that requires mindfulness and ongoing daily effort. This is why it is so much easier just to take a pill!

 

In lecturing to students, I have often used the analogy of comparing the voice to a car that you buy. You get your car when you are young—it is new and runs well. It takes a while to figure out how to drive it correctly, but after you have mastered that, you’re off to the races. Over time, however, there is inevitably some wear and tear. At this point, you have two options: ongoing preventive maintenance or taking it to be repaired.

So too with the voice: once you have mastered your instrument (which admittedly takes longer than learning to drive!), you can either maintain your voice—using good technique, judicious vocal use, and healthful daily habits—or you can take it to the doctor, for medications and possibly surgery.

But here is the crucial difference: unlike your beat-up old car, you cannot trade in your larynx for a new one! Your instrument, whether healthy or damaged, is the only one you will ever have. This is why good habits of vocal maintenance are, in my opinion, the better way to go, even though it requires daily thought and effort.

For this reason, years ago I put together a short list of daily tips which should help to preserve your singing voice in an optimal state—a sort of “Ten Commandments” for singers. They are general and common sense suggestions, not detailed advice regarding vocal technique, and equally applicable regardless of the genre of vocal music you engage in. Of course, there is a great deal more that impacts on your ability to sing, but these “commandments” are applicable to all. Every voice patient who leaves my office gets this handout to stick up on their refrigerator as a reminder and, if they make sense to you, I encourage you to read and share them.

 

Ten Simple Tips to Keep Your Voice Healthy

  1. Speak like you sing, with good technique.
  2. Stay hydrated. Drink 8 eight-ounce glasses of water every day (almost 2 liters): two glasses of water with each meal and one glass between meals (2+1+2+1+2).
  3. Know your body. When you are ill, don’t force the voice.
  4. If it hurts to sing, stop and reassess—you’re doing something wrong.
  5. Avoid noisy places if you can. Even if you are not speaking, your throat tenses reflexively.
  6. Optimally, eat a healthful diet of whole and natural foods.
  7. Identify and deal with harmful stressors in your life.
  8. Address muscle tension anywhere in your body—it can heighten tension in your vocal tract.
  9. Exercise and stretch regularly.
  10. Be aware of your medications (prescription, OTC, and supplements), including possible effects on the voice.

Remember: A healthy voice comes from a healthy body and a healthy mind.