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Top 5 Tips for a Healthy Voice

  posted by Daniel on September 12th, 2011

Like kirtan? Great! And surprise - now you're a singer! Better learn how to take care of your voice:

1) Drink water!

- Your vocal folds need hydration in order to be lubricated by a thin layer of healthy mucus, and nothing provides that better than water. Warm water is especially good, as cold causes the vocal muscles to constrict and become tighter - and as singers, we want warm, relaxed, moist vocal muscles. Drinking fluids in general is helpful, but watch out for drinks that actually dehydrate you, like those with alcohol and caffeine. Also watch out for mucus-producing drinks, like orange juice and milk. Too much mucus may lead to throat-clearing or coughing, both of which are very harsh on the vocal cords.

2) Warm up first!

- Have you ever gone to a kirtan, and sang really enthusiastically - until your voice gave out, or at least was really hoarse afterwards? It doesn't have to be that way! An evening of kirtan is a wonderful thing, but the tough part is the abrupt transition from your day's activities, into suddenly singing "Radhe Radhe!" full-on. If you do any sports, you know how important it is to warm up the appropriate muscles first… well, why not treat your vocal muscles to a few minutes of warm-ups before singing? Vocal warm-ups can take many forms (there's a long-tone warm-up in my Learn to Play Harmonium kit). But even without a formal exercise, you can still warm up by singing gently, quietly, and not too high for 5-15 minutes before a kirtan. Try humming, Omming, or chanting gently in the car on the way to the kirtan.

3) No smoking!

- This one may be obvious, but if there's anybody out there who is still smoking, Stop. It's the worst thing you can do to your voice. Bad for the heart, bad for the lungs, bad for the vocal tract.

4) Don't strain your voice!

- This one is really about developing an awareness of your "edge." If you're singing "Hare Krishna Hare Krishna!" very loudly, and then suddenly you discover your voice is hoarse and feeble, well, you went over that "edge." As you develop awareness of the feelings in your vocal muscles, you'll recognize when they're telling you "this is a bit much, if you go louder I'll crap out." And then you can choose whether or not to go louder - it might feel good for a sec, but you'll pay for it later. This also includes generally avoiding situations that cause strain to your voice - a loud bar or restaurant where you have to nearly shout to be heard may leave your voice slightly hoarse afterwards.

- The bigger picture for this one is to reduce stress in your life in general. Stress causes tension in various parts of your body. And while there are specific "vocal muscles," your voice actually resonates throughout your entire body - in your chest, belly, face, throat, pelvis… everywhere that's relaxed enough to be receptive to the vibrations of your voice. No "quick fix" for stress, I know, but it's an awareness you'll develop as a singer - you'll hear your voice all tight and constricted, and realize that you were all stressed out at work earlier in the day. Another time you'll hear your voice with a rich, full sound, and reflect that the exercise and bath seemed to have really relaxed you.

5) See a professional!

- If your car is making some sound you don't understand, you take it to a professional. If a tooth is feeling achy, you go to a professional. And if your voice is regularly getting hoarse, please visit a professional! Google "vocal coach" in your area, to get an hour-long session with a vocal pro who can give you warm-up exercises, and identify issues with your vocal technique that may be causing strain. And google "ENT" in your area to find an ear-note-throat doctor to identify if your hoarse-ness is caused by another condition, such as an allergy, infection, or acid reflux. If you feel you may have acid reflux (even if you don't experience heart burn), visit these links: Vocal Health Advice & Chinese Medical Perspective on Acid Reflux. More of us have it than admit it, and I'll be posting more on that topic in the future.
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