I've been singing ever since I could remember. When I was happy, I'd sing. When I was sad, I'd sing. When I was lonely, I'd sing. I never got formal training from a private teacher, but I did get training through music class and choir. My music teachers have been amazing and an integral part of my development as a musician. I've sang with a few choir teachers and professors, and I've learned so much about my voice, and what I can do with it. Something that wasn't always talked about, however, was vocal health.
I'm sure a fair bit of us have never really thought about vocal health. I'm sure that even more of us don't really warm up our voice as much as we should before we actually sing. The ones who studied vocal performance might, but even then so, they don't do too much to maintain vocal health. I usually end up hearing about vocal health practices, and what singers do when sickness strikes. I never hear about vocal health practices as a preventative measure to avoid losing your voice altogether.
As singers, our music is highly dependent on an instrument that varies between people: the voice. People who play external instruments are pretty lucky when it comes to the maintenance of their instruments. I'm also a violinist. If something goes wrong, or if something breaks, it's relatively easy to find someone to fix it, although it can get expensive. Other than those factors, thats about it! Pretty straight forward. With the voice, however, there's a myriad of biological factors that go into the instrument. That's just the thing—it's usually biological. You're not drinking enough water, you're straining your voice, your immune system isn't at it's peak performance, so you're getting sick, or worse, you have nodes! There may be some ways to fix a lot of the issues that don't cost anything, like vocal rest and such, but if you're a professional singer, taking time off to make sure your voice is ok can really cost you some financial set backs. If it's a medical emergency though, that can cost a lot of money. Not to mention there's a lot of risk when it comes to working on your vocal folds. The vocal folds are about 1.25 cm to 1.75 cm for women and about 1.75 cm to 2.5 cm for men. They are extremely tiny folds of tissue. One slip up, and you won't be able to sing anymore, or in some cases, you won't be able to talk anymore. It's extremely important to keep your health as a singer, so you can avoid all of the possible mishaps that can happen with the voice.
With that said, let's talk about vocal health. Maintaining vocal health is not only important for singers, but for anybody that talks, especially as a career. Teachers, retail workers, politicians, essentially everybody, should consider adding in some form of vocal health exercises. If you ever came home, and your voice felt tired, I believe you should consider vocal health exercises. Adding in a vocal health regime doesn't take that long either. Maybe, five minutes in the morning, and five minutes at night should be enough to at least keep your voice healthy for the long haul.
I've been particularly interested in vocal health within this past year. I became a lot more serious with my barbershop singing career, and I want to be able to sing freely and well for as long as I can. I joined a blog called "Love Your Voice" blog by Caroline Beal, who is the Lead in the Ladies, a quartet from Sweet Adelines International. Joining the blog has really opened my eyes to vocal health as a means of prevention, not healing. I've been reading all of these posts from people I look up to in the Barbershop world. Not only have I been reading them, I've started to include a couple of these practices in my daily routine.
Humming is a great way to start the day. A gentle hum where you slide between two notes, usually a fifth a part (but honestly, any note difference works) and going up and down in half steps is a good way to gently start your day.
Flowing air through your closed lips, causing a "bubbling" effect is a great way to not only warm up your voice, but a great way to help with your breath control. A gentle bubble going from a sol to do then back to sol and going up in half steps should do the trick.
Semi-Occluded Vocal Tract Exercises
Now, these are my personal favorite. My favorite one is using a straw. What you're basically doing is extending the vocal tract with a straw, and helping create back pressure against your folds. This helps your vocal folds not work as hard, and essentially realigns them and allows your folds to close properly. If you didn't already know, when you produce sound, your vocal folds close to create that sound. SOVT exercises helps strengthen your folds, and helps decrease the amount of vocal fatigue.
I'm finding that doing one, if not all three, of these exercises has helped me in a huge way to produce a clearer and less fatigued sound. But the biggest piece of advice I've heard about singing better is to work less.
The more tension you hold in your throat, the more likely you'll over-work your vocal folds, causing fatigue, and possible damage to your vocal folds. It sounds easier said than done, and to be honest, it is. We have to think about a ton of different techniques and processes when we sing. That will usually cause us to tense up, which can really affect our vocal production. I usually tell myself the reason why I sing. It's a sort of mantra I tell myself to help me loosen up.
I sing because I love to sing.
There's nothing in life like singing. You get to express yourself emotionally and physically through a beautiful medium that can connect with people from any race and religion. Music transcends any barrier that you try to put up. Why not do what you can now so you can sing forever?