Alright, I admit it. I dropped the ball, and missed a post during the Holiday. But I’m back now and ready to deliver the goods. In my last post I said there were six things we needed to supply the voice, in order to ensure its health and longevity, and I focused on just one…Breath. So, let’s dive right back in and talk about the remaining five, shall we?
Dryness is ‘Enemy Number One’ to the vocal cords. In order to have good motility the vocal cords need moisture. It supports and maintains the protective mucosal lining, which insulates the cords from experiencing too much friction when we sing. But there are only two ways in which the vocal cords receive moisture. The first is through the bloodstream, the second is through the air we breathe. This means the amount of water we drink needs to be sufficient enough to hydrate the body, and therefore the vocal cords. And the air we breathe, moist enough to do the same. One of the most frequently asked questions I receive is…how much water is enough? Great question! Here’s a formula you can use to help you determine the right amount for you.
- Take your weight, (ex. 140 lbs)
- Divide that number by 2 (70.lbs)
- Divide that number by 8. (In this example that number equals 8.75 glasses of water)
The reason I like this formula is because, if you’re like me, your weight fluctuates, and using this formula helps you to adjust your water intake to meet your bodies changing needs.
Now, let’s talk about the moisture in the air. Our vocal cords are very susceptible to changes in temperature and moisture, so I keep a hygrometer in my studio and when the numbers dip into the 20’s, on goes my warm mist humidifier. I like to keep one in bedroom, as well as my studio, and I typically keep the humidity saturation rate between 45 and 60. This is especially important for those of you who live in Northern climates whose onset of winter creates much dryer air, and whose colder temperatures necessitate artificial heat in the home. One caveat regarding humidifiers. Keep them clean! Otherwise you will be pumping mold into the air. Lovely.
I cannot say enough about vocal and physical rest. When you are tired, your voice is tired. Sleep is so critical to your body because it’s the time in which your body repairs itself, and your voice, not unlike the rest of your body, needs time to repair. Overuse of the voice is an abuse of your instrument. Let’s remember that as amazing as the vocal folds are in producing sound, they are still just tiny, fibrous bands of tissue, and they are susceptible to damage if we don’t give them proper rest. Learn to listen to what your voice is telling you and be wise enough to heed it’s warnings.
BTW…whispering is NOT resting the voice. Whispering is, in fact, one of the worst uses of the voice because huge amounts of air travel over the surface of the vocal cords drying them out, and whispering creates an inverted closure of the vocal folds putting tremendous stress on them. You are better to speak with breath supported speech or not speak at all.
Vocal conditioning is paramount for the professional singer/speaker. You are vocal athletes, and I know of no athlete who doesn’t condition and train in order to rise to the top of their game. Their conditioning is what protects them on their way there. Should we, as vocal athletes, be any different?
Don’t skip the warm ups! So often when I ask my students if they’ve warmed up, they’ll say, “Oh, I’ve been singing all day. So, yeah, I’m warmed up.” To which I reply, “No. You. Are. Not!”
Singing songs as warm ups is NOT the same as using vocalises to methodically condition the voice, and here’s why. Let’s say I pull out my favorite song, Defying Gravity, from Wicked, which as you all know is incredibly, vocally demanding. And without the benefit of warming up the voice, I have at it, and start belting it out. Here’s the problem…this song may be within the scope of my ability, but without out the benefit of warming up the voice the demands I’m putting on the vocal cords put me at great personal risk of doing permanent damage to them. They, and all of the corresponding muscles, ligaments and tendons involved in moving them need the advantage of being stretched and progressively challenged, to insulate them from harm. Once you perforate a vocal cord it cannot be repaired. Think about blowing a bubble until it gets a hole. That hole reveals that the bubblegum has lost its elasticity. Is it worth it to skip the vocalises? I think not.
Vocalises are designed to progressively wake up and challenge the voice by changing the degrees of difficulty through range, vowel shapes, air flow, and variety of musical phrasing. They are designed to help the singer transition seamlessly from chest through the passaggio region and into head without creating, or experiencing any strain in the throat region. And vocalises do it in a controlled, methodical fashion. Then, and only then should we ask the voice to take on the bigger challenges.
Now, if you’re keeping count you’ll notice that I’ve only covered four of the six elements that I’ve eluded to. I was going to include them all in this blog, but the next two are of such great importance that I’ve decided to dedicate an entire post to talking about them. For now, give these a try. You’ll find, if you show your voice the respect it deserves by properly taking care of it, that it will serve you very well. I want to be like Tony Bennett, and be able to still sing really well when I’m approaching my nineties. How about you?