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Tools for Singers

Voice Myths (from Vocal Health 101 .com)

Voice Myths

 

Do I really sing from my diaphragm?

Sound is generated at the level of the vocal folds.  ‘Diaphragmatic support’ is a term that has been used to describe the concept of ‘breath support’ during vocalization. However, the diaphragm is active during inspiration- when you draw air into you lungs; the muscles of the abdomen are in use during expiration. You sing and speak on expiration.

When I get sick is green tea or black tea better for my voice?

Neither, both teas contain caffeine and can dry your vocal folds.  Some good alternatives include caffeine free herbal tea, red tea (which has similar antioxidant as green tea) or warm water.

Should I whisper when I lose my voice.

Whispering can actually lead to more damage. Whispering is hard on the vocal folds due to turbulent airflow and increased muscle tension. Its best to use your voice in a quiet relaxed manner.

Is cold water better to drink or warm water?

Luke warm water is best as cold water can increase muscle tension.

Does my head voice really come from my head or face?

Sounds production is always generated from the vocal folds. However, the air filled spaces in your upper airways resonate the sound.  You may feel a tingle or buzz in your head voice as the sound is resonating in that area.

I find that cough drops help me sing better, is this true?

Check the ingredients because many cough drops contain agents that are drying (such as menthol). Cough drops can be lubricating but do not take the place of water intake.

I have been told that when I feel pain during singing I should use chloreseptic or other numbing throat sprays.  Is this true?

Pain is a cue from your body that you may be at risk of causing damage to your vocal folds. Numbing the pain you feel with a topical spray may put you more at risk for causing damage because your pain sensation will be diminished.

I was told that eating honey helps my voice.

While honey has some good qualities it doesn’t reach your vocal folds directly when you swallow it. Eating honey does not have a direct benefit on voice. Drinking a lot of water can be of benefit as well as use of guaifenesin products.

When my voice sounds bad I push harder to get it out.

Although you can push past some mild voice difficulty, this results in trauma to the vocal folds themselves due to increased muscle tension and increased forces on the vocal tissues.

The last doctor I went to gave me a steroid injection when I lost my voice with this work for me again?

Although steroids can be very helpful in emergency situations to reduce inflammation and swelling quickly, regular use of steroids can have a negative impact on the body’s health in general. Furthermore, the steroids do not address the underlying cause of the swelling /inflammation in the first place.  Steroids can give you a false sense of assurance when singing or speaking which can lead to further vocal damage.

After surgery should I only eat liquids or soft foods?

Other then avoiding foods that can produce reflux, there is no need for diet restrictions after vocal fold surgery as food does not pass through the vocal folds.

I drink water 5 minutes before I sing to clear away the mucus does this help?

Water ingested just before performance helps to soothe the tissues and help clear some thickened mucus, but  it  does not take the place of regular hydration. Hydration is an ongoing process, and it takes many hours for the water you ingest to get into the tissues from the circulatory system. The best practice would be to hydrate throughout the day and even 24 hours before important voice use.  Also, avoid substances such as caffeine, alcohol and drying medications.

I heard that herbal treatments are better for you, is this true?

Herbal and natural preparations can still contain pharmacologic agents (drug like properties). A number of drugs were initially made from naturally occurring chemicals in plants.  There are resources available to inform you of their potential effects and side effects.  You should always tell your physician and/or pharmacist of all medications including herbal treatments so they can best inform you of their safety.

FAQ

Is there an allergy medication that is better for my voice that wont dry my vocal folds?

The second generation antihistamines tend to be less drying than the older ones like like benadryl.

How many vocal folds are there really?

There are two vocal folds.  The false vocal folds (ventricular folds ) are located above the true vocal folds but are not  used in healthy voice production.

Are vocal nodes different then vocal nodules

These are interchangeable terms for the same structural condition. The more accurate medical term is vocal nodules.

Are vocal folds and vocal cords the same thing?

The term “vocal cord” has been in common use for many years even though “vocal fold” is a more accurate anatomical description for the structure. The spelling “chords” refers to groups of notes and not to vocal structure..

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Caring for Your Voice (from Voice Health 101 .com)

Vocal Habits

 

Clearing your throat or coughing habitually might damage the vocal fold tissues.
Instead: Try some of these substitute behaviors…

  • Yawn to relax your throat.
  • Swallow slowly and deliberately.
  • Sip water, let your throat relax for a second, and then resume speaking.
  • Use the “silent cough” technique.
  • Hum: concentrate on vocal resonance sensations.
  • If necessary, suck on candy (NOT cough drops with menthol or mint).
  • Be particularly aware of the throat clearing habit during lecturing.

 

Speaking loudly, yelling, cheering, or screaming might damage the vocal fold tissues.
Instead:

  • Use gestures, non-vocal sounds, or instruments to attract attention from a distance (for example: clap, whistle, ring a bell, blow a horn).
  • Set up a system of non-vocal signals with students to get their attention and maintain discipline. If you must speak to a student who is behaving undesirably, walk up to them and speak to them quietly. (This is sometimes more effective than yelling). Apply these principles to your own children and pets.

 

Speaking over loud noise for a long period of time can cause vocal fatigue or increased laryngeal tension. Noisy situations include classroom noise, loud music, televisions, parties, restaurants, cars, buses, airplanes etc.
Instead:

  • Try to reduce background noise during conversations (e.g. turn off loud music or television).
  • Wait until students/audience are quiet and attentive.
  • Choose quiet restaurants, booths, or tables in the corner.
  • Face your conversational partner.
  • Reduce the distance between you and your conversational partner, so you can be heard without yelling.
  • Position yourself so your face is well lighted.
  • Overarticulate.
  • Practice your listening.

 

Prolonged use of unconventional vocal sounds: whispering, growls, squeaks, imitating animal, or machine noises can harm vocal fold tissues.
Instead:
If you must produce special vocal effects for performance, make sure you are using a technique that minimizes muscle tension and vocal abuse.
Be especially aware to avoid using such unconventional sounds during oral reading to your students.

If you sing-you should know that singing beyond your comfortable pitch and loudness range can irritate the vocal folds.
Instead:

  • Know your limits for pitch and loudness.
  • Avoid forcing your voice to stay in a register beyond its comfortable pitch range. Don’t force your ‘chest voice’ too high; and don’t force your ‘head voice’ high into falsetto range. Allow vocal registers to change with pitch.
  • Avoid singing all parts if you teach choral music, use instrumental demonstrations instead.
  • Seek professional voice training.
  • Never sing a high note that you can’t sing quietly, don’t push beyond comfortable pitch in any register.

 

Talking with a low-pitched monotone voice and allowing vocal energy to drop so low that the voice becomes rough and gravelly (i.e., ‘glottal fry’) can be potentially harmful to your voice.
Instead:

  • Keep your voice powered by breath flow, so the tone carries, varies, and rings.
  • Try not to speak beyond the natural breath cycle by squeezing out the last few words without sufficient breath.
  • Speak slowly, pause at natural phrase boundaries and take another breath before running out of air.
  • Allow pitch to vary freely and expressively, keep pitch comfortable.

Holding your breath as you’re planning what to say can lead to hard glottal attacks— Sudden tense initiation of voice, or aggressive or low-pitched fillers, such as um… or ah…, should be avoided.
Instead:

  • Initiate voice gradually and easily.
  • Keep the shoulders, upper chest, neck, and throat relaxed as you begin speaking.
  • Use the breathing muscles and airflow to start speech phrases.
  • Avoid tightening upper chest, shoulders, neck, or throat to push the voice out.
  • Let your abdomen and rib cage move freely.
  • Avoid clenching your teeth, tensing your jaw or tongue during speech.

 

Speaking extensively during strenuous physical exercise is not recommended.
Instead:

  • After aerobic exercise, wait until your breathing system can accommodate optimal voice production.
  • Avoid loud and aggressive vocal ‘grunts’ while exercising.

 

Your general health can affect your voice. Maintain a healthy lifestyle and a healthy environment.

  • Do not smoke. If you smoke see your family doctor about ways to stop smoking— seek a referral to a smoking cessation clinic. Avoid spending large amounts of time in dry, smoke-filled environments.
  • Avoid recreational drugs.
  • Avoid caffeinated beverages i.e., coffee, tea, colas.
  • Monitor/reduce alcohol intake. Alcohol can have a drying effect on vocal fold tissues.
  • Maintain a well balanced diet.
  • Get adequate sleep, i.e., 7 to 8 hours per night.
  • Maintain proper humidity. A small portable vaporizer at the bedside is often helpful at night. Purchasing a room humidifier may be an option, especially if your home or work environment is extremely dry or dust-filled. Environmental levels of humidity should be at least 30%.
  • Maintain proper hydration. Drink 8 to 10 glasses of decaffeinated fluids per day. Water is the preferred fluid. Have it handy at all times and sip it throughout the day, especially while teaching.
  • Some medications, including antihistamines and decongestants, can cause increased dryness of tissues causing a dry, scratchy feeling in the throat. Be aware of this and compensate with increased hydration, i.e., fluid consumption. If possible reduce the use of such medications.

 

Reduce your total amount of voice use…

  • Rest your voice when you are tired or have an upper respiratory infection (i.e., COLD or flu-like symptoms). Do not force your voice when it is hoarse because of a COLD.
  • Rest your voice before it becomes fatigued: i.e., before tightness, dryness, or hoarseness is noticed. Schedule your day so that there are periods of voice rest interspersed. If you don’t have to, don’t schedule your classes back to back. Don’t spend your lunch talking with other teachers; use that time to be quiet and rest your voice. Curtail your voice use socially.
  • When getting involved in extra-curricular activities, consider how much voice use will be required. If it is great, you may want to consider choosing another activity or becoming involved in another capacity.
  • Change your style of teaching. Make use of audiovisual materials, desk-work, student presentations, and small group formats to reduce the amount of constant talking. Make use of student teachers, teaching assistants and volunteer parents whenever possible.
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Vocal Health Basics

Vocal Health Basics – How to Properly Care for Your Voice

by KEITH HATSCHEK on JANUARY 9, 2012 · 47 COMMENTS

in BUSINESS FORUM,FAST FORWARD

It seems that hardly a month goes by where a top singer isn’t forced to interrupt a tour, take a break, or undergo a medical procedure due to problems with their voice. Vocal health is often taken for granted, but once problems develop, they can stop a singer dead in his or her tracks, and in some cases require surgery and a lengthy post-surgery period of rest and recovery.

While we don’t normally think of singers as world-class athletes, some medical professionals are making the case that the demands put on one’s voice when singing one to three hours a night is as intense as those made by an Olympic marathon runner on his body. Additional factors such as nutrition, smoking, drug use, noisy environments, and proper voice training (or the lack of it) all play a role in a singer’s ability to hit the stage night after night and perform at their best.

Like many health-related issues, prevention is much easier and less expensive than having to undergo surgery, so it’s important to understand how to keep your voice in good health.

Superstars Losing Their Voices
During the last half of 2011, three major recording artists dropped out of circulation due to vocal health issues. Each developed a slightly different voice problem that required rest and eventually surgery.

Arguably, the most valuable voice in pop music at the moment, that of the talented British pop singer Adele, whose sophomore album 21 has sold more than 10 million copies worldwide, was silenced when she was required to cancel seventeen US dates mid-tour and have laser surgery due to the condition of her vocal cords. While she is expected to make a full recovery, her condition is just one example of a high profile artist facing problems maintaining their vocal mechanism. Adele’s condition, reported in the press as two hemorrhages of the vocal cords (the terms vocal cords and vocal folds are often used interchangeably), was likely exacerbated by the stresses of touring.

Such hemorrhages are often the result of phonotrauma, the physical stresses caused by vocalizing, upon the tiny blood vessels of the vocal fold. Loud singing or pushing the voice when it is tired or if one is ill may predispose a singer to such vocal hemorrhages. The latest news reports suggest that as Adele’s recovery progresses, she will start back very slowly taking what she has described as some “very basic voice lessons.” She will likely take the first half of the year off from performing to help ensure a full and complete return of her famous voice. Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler was reported to have struggled with the same condition in 2006, requiring a similar surgical procedure as Adele. Noted voice expert, Dr. Steven M. Zeitels, a Harvard Medical School doctor who practices at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, treated both artists.

Country icon Keith Urban also underwent surgery in November 2011 to remove a vocal polyp, a lump that may develop near the midpoint of a singer’s vocal cord. (According to the glossary found at voicemedicine.com, a polyp is a specific and clearly demarcated mass – the word polyp means “lump” and does not imply a cancer or pre-cancerous lesion). The midpoint location of such a polyp suggests that it too may be the result of phonotrauma. Urban was ordered to take three months off from singing as his recovery is monitored by a team of health professionals. In the midst of his globe-spanning 2011-2012 “Get Closer” tour, the country superstar’s website resumes listing upcoming tour dates with shows in May 2012, a move likely deemed necessary to allow a full recovery of his voice.

Singer/songwriter John Mayer was another major artist to recently face vocal health problems. Last October, his manager announced that after a series of extended rest periods, Mayer’s voice was not improving and he decided to have surgery. Mayer’s condition was described as a granuloma, a benign growth that results from irritation or trauma to the vocal fold. It’s often found at the back of the vocal fold, over a part of cartilage called the vocal process, which lies just underneath the membrane covering the larynx. As with Adele and Keith Urban, Mayer stopped work on his new album, taking the advice of his doctors to not resume singing until his voice has fully recovered from the trauma and surgery. At that point, it is anticipated that he should be able to finish his new album and resume performing sometime in 2012.

While it may seem like there’s an epidemic of vocal health issues affecting the music industry, there are various common-sense factors that play into the increase in high-profile artists addressing these challenges.

First, awareness and treatment options have increased dramatically since the 1990s. Dr. Zeitels was quoted in the New York Times as stating that the use of fiber optic cameras to scan performer’s vocal cords for abnormalities and miniscule injuries has become more common over the past fifteen to twenty years. At the same time, vocalists have become more aware of the possible long term consequences of letting small problems go untreated and now consult more readily with health professionals.

Another factor is that, since recorded music sales often represent a smaller part of an artist’s overall revenue stream, touring schedules have become more extensive. To further maximize touring profits, concerts are often scheduled back-to-back on consecutive nights, placing greater stress on the vocal instrument, which can benefit from having a day or two rest between performances whenever possible.

To prove the point, Paul Stanley, front man for the legendary rock band Kiss, recently had vocal surgery to tweak blood vessels in his vocal cords. Commenting on his forty years of touring in which the band’s shows were packed as tightly together as possible to maximize profits, he offered that “the nature of rock singing is a strain on the voice, and when you compound that with [the number of shows we play], you’re not giving yourself enough time to recuperate and the problem is compounded. I was finding myself working harder and harder to do what was once effortless, and having passed through puberty, I was surprised to hear my voice cracking.”

How to Properly Care for Your Voice
While there is no doubt that singing in front of a rock band requires practice and stamina, vocalists who sing for hours at a time with no amplification, over a full orchestra in a packed house holding 4,000 people, place even greater demands on their voices. Enter the opera singer and those who train them, such as Dr. Lynelle Wiens, Professor of Voice at the University of the Pacific Conservatory of Music in Stockton, CA.

Dr. Wiens is a former faculty member at the Symposium on the Care of the Professional Voice in Philadelphia, and at the Pacific Voice Conference in San Francisco. She was also a recipient of the prestigious “Van L. Lawrence Fellowship” that is awarded jointly by the Voice Foundation and National Association of Teachers of Singing in order to foster interdisciplinary education among laryngologists, voice scientists, singing teachers, and speech pathologists. Dr. Wiens has taught aspiring classical singers for more than thirty-three years and offers a number of simple, common sense tips that can help any singer to reduce the risks to their voice.

Like any other musical instrument, the voice needs proper care in order to be ready when called upon to perform. Wiens counseled, “In order to function properly, the voice needs to be well lubricated. The effects of alcohol, cigarette smoke, marijuana, and other drugs cause dryness of the vocal instrument and can lead to vocal fold edema and inflammation.”

Wiens advises that “It’s essential to drink lots of water before, during, and after performances. It’s also very important to get plenty of rest and exercise and eat properly between performances. To the extent that is possible, try to avoid noisy places where you will have to shout to be heard.” For example, trying to be heard above the sound levels backstage during an opening act or in a typical van traveling for hours on the freeway come to mind as situations that might lead to further strain on one’s voice.

Dr. Wiens cautions that “throat clearing, yelling or screaming, singing too loudly for an extended period of time, singing a song that is pitched too high or too low, or putting too much pressure on your voice, all increase the strain on it. If it hurts, you’re doing something wrong. Listen to what your voice is telling you.”

Over-singing on stage, especially when the monitor situation is not optimal, is another potential cause of vocal strain. Especially for musicians on tour, Wiens counsels, “You have to prioritize what you absolutely need your voice for and then make the best decisions to protect it.” So if you are out on tour and have been nursing a sore throat, maybe the band’s guitar player can give the interview and appear at the local record store for autographs while you stay back at the hotel to rest your voice for that night’s show. Wiens added, “Taking care of your body and learning to manage your physical and emotional stress are also key factors in maintaining good vocal health. Perhaps the best preventive care is good training. Finding a good coach is the best thing you can do for yourself.”

Dr. Wiens advises that a singer should seek a professional if they have a concern about their own vocal health. “If there is a sudden change in your voice from what is normal, or if you experience persistent hoarseness and/or vocal fatigue for more than two weeks, I would suggest you see an otolaryngologist (Ear, Nose and Throat doctor) who is experienced in caring for singers. Be sure to ask for a strobovideolaryngoscopic examination in order to get the most thorough assessment of the health of your voice.”

If there has been damage, a singer should ideally be treated by a team of professionals that may include an ENT doctor, a voice teacher/vocal coach that can help a singer avoid any techniques that may exacerbate problems, and if appropriate, a speech pathologist who can assist with proper rehabilitation of the voice.

“The voice is a delicate mechanism,” Wiens concludes, “so it makes sense to take preventive measures in order to help ensure a long and productive singing career.”

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