The right cords: A guide to maintaining vocal health!

Amidst the chaos of technicalities, musicality, creative pressures, showmanship, and professionalism, most artists today forget or overlook the vitality of vocal health. Be it for a beginner or the biggest name in the industry, vocal health is necessary for excellence in performance and otherwise. Considering the clutter around the topic,
Mumbai-based vocal coach Varun Uday clear the air!

What is vocal health?
Simply put, vocal health reflects the state of your physical and mental health. Although it is singers and artists who primarily use their voices to perform, managing vocal health is essential for one and all. Every person must follow a basic level of vocal hygiene because the voice is a primordial element that evokes each and every emotion that one can feel. It is one of the most significant communication tools used to express yourself, effortlessly and clearly!
A well supported sound combined with the right breathing mechanism is of immense significance. The sound produced should be placed or directed into the mask region of the face and into your hard palate in your buccal cavity. Not only does this improve your sound projection but also helps keep your vocal cords tension-free.
(Sound vibration should be felt on the nasal bridge, your lips, upper teeth, allowing you to experience a free throat). Also, a sufficiently moisturized vocal chords are happy vocal folds, indicative of good hydration levels, at all given times.

Importance of vocal heath

The equation of well-maintained vocal health is straightforward:

A HEALTHY VOICE = HEALTHY SOUND = EXPRESSION (Singing/speaking)
If you wish to be able to use your voice to emote and produce beautiful sounds and tones in any style/genre of your choice, you need to pay attention to the state of your vocal cords. This involves a clear understanding of various mechanisms that are simultaneously involved in producing a good voice such as breathing, nutrition, exercise (physical and vocal) and hydration to name a important few. It’s like being an athlete! If your muscles are sore from the last time you worked them, due to lack of technique or nutrition or something even as simple as rest or insufficient sleep, you are bound to end up with an injury sooner or later. Hindering ones ability to perform effectively!

How can one go about keeping their voice healthy?

I can never say this enough, the life of a voice is the breath!, learn how to ‘breathe’ right! Let’s get this straight, there is no replacement for a good breath and a good breathing mechanism (diaphragmatic breathing). Stop taxing your voice to produce excellent sounds without providing it with sufficient amount of fuel to function seamlessly. Developing the right breathing mechanism through specific exercises, helps you win more than half the battle of having to build and maintain a healthy voice.

The breath to the voice is what diet is to working out. I have fitness enthusiasts who say to me, “You can never outwork a bad diet.” In the same way, you can never beat a weak breath management system if you want to have a healthy and free voice. Whether you choose to speak or sing, remember, the instrument remains the same
and depends on the breath. Training your posture – having a healthy posture is absolutely essential to optimize
the flow of the breath helping you produce a free and well projected sound by tapping into the natural resonator of the body such as the chest, bones of the skull, bones forming your larynx, nasal region. Which brings us to the next critical factor – if you speak right you can almost always sing right. Speak with a full sound (do not mistake it for a loud sound).

Utilize the natural resonators such as the mask region(nasal bridge, your lips, upper teeth) and direct your voice to the hard palate and last but not the least, breathe well and maintain the required breath flow!

Few other pointers off the bat – refrain from screaming! One must learn how to use the body to support the sound so as to avoid hurting your vocal cords. Being loud and screaming are two completely different things. In most cases when one screams it is either when you are excited or when you’re upset. It is in these situations that we often forget the usage of the various mechanisms involved in producing a healthy sound. Rather avoid such circumstances; after all prevention is better than cure.

Avoid whispering – many think it is okay to whisper because it hardly involves effort but please note, it is just as bad as shouting if not more. Don’t do it!

Exercise – mainly cardio workouts such as running, swimming, jump rope, give your body ample opportunity to build the lungs along with your diaphragmatic muscle and core which are responsible for building a great breathing mechanism that directly helps you keep your voice in good shape. And of course, all the oxygen that enters your system, helps rejuvenate and reinvigorate your senses.

Vocal and physical warm-up – Undertake any suitable form of a physical warm-up such as a short jog, a walk, surya namskaras and then add some smooth and gentle humming followed by lip rolls at a comfortable pitch. Post that, move up and down across your natural vocal range to get the voice started before you dive into any
talking or singing.

Myths about vocal health?

  1. Clearing your throat helps you clear your throat – Not true. Drink water to do
    the trick.
  2. A tight abdomen is not good for singers – Well, a tight abdomen is not good
    for sure, but a strong well developed core is absolutely essential – build your
    core strength whilst maintaining its flexibility.
  3. You must avoid certain types of foods – Each body type is different and your
    nutrition needs may differ accordingly. You need to chart down what suits your
    body the best. It is not always necessary to avoid all the things we singers have
    added to the “do not eat this if you want to sing” list. Eat healthy, eat right!
  4. Whispering is saving your voice – No just stop talking if you need to, steer
    clear from whispering and putting undue pressure on your vocal chords.
    Breathy tone = Sexy voice – You are actually setting yourself up for a lot of
    trouble when it comes to your voice. Adding breath to your tone/voice will dry out
    the vocal folds leading to irritation.
  5. Water helps moisten a dry throat immediately – The vocal cords have to be
    hydrated through the water absorbed by our system. Simply drinking water
    washes down the mucus present as lubricants in our throat which takes a couple
    of minutes to replenish, roughly about 5 to 10 mins. So keep yourself hydrated
    at all times.

The ideal diet for a healthy voice?
I would say the key to a healthy voice is moderation. Eat what you like but moderately. Understand what suits your system. If some particular food bothers your system, avoid it. Learn your body and its needs over time.
Having said that, some pointers on how and what you could eat:
-Keep your diet as clean as possible.
-Include a lot of dark green leafy veggies, which are a good source of iron amongst many foods, iron primarily helps carry oxygen to various parts of the body from the lungs. Vegetables in general are fabulous for your health
contributing to the vitamins your body needs to function effectively.
-Consume good fats such as nuts, one whole egg, avocados, Virgin olive oil and cheese to name a few.
-Avoid added sugar as much as possible because it adds to the acidic levels of the body and slows down the process of recovery of your muscles, huge amount of energy is invested in digesting these processed sugars. Eg. Chocolates, candy, canned juice etc.
-Stick to natural sugars from fruits such as apples, banana, carrots, honey, dates etc.
-Include lean protein such as chicken, fish, eggs, sprouts, low fat paneer in your diet so as to help your muscles recover.
-And of course drink plenty of water. It plays a vital role in your system than just quenching your thirst. It hydrates your voice, helps remove toxins, carries nutrients to the various parts of the body, amongst other functions! So drink up!
-Try to keep alcohol consumption to a minimum – we all know that it leads to dehydration. And smoking is a complete NO! Need I have to explain the ill effects of smoking.
In a nutshell:
Train and master you breath mechanism.
Sing after warming up the body and the voice.
Speak with your full tone and a healthy support system from the body.
Stay hydrated (3.5 to 4 ltrs of water a day).
Eat as healthy as possible.
Get sufficient rest and good sleep.
Practice in multiple short intervals (20 min sessions) through the day.
For all the reasons you can think of – Do not smoke!