Vocal abuse is common today mainly due to ignorance as to how the voice works, but also due to the influence of unhealthy examples of singing that are prevalent today. As with other body parts, we only have one set of vocal cords that we must take care of throughout our lives. This is not just true for singers, but also other professions that require a lot of vocal use such as teachers, pastors, lawyers, news anchors, etc.
The vocal folds consist of two mucous membranes that are housed in the larynx. When we phonate (sing or speak), the cords adduct (come together) and vibrate (approximately 260 times a second for middle C). When we take a breath, the cords abduct (come apart). In order for this process to occur in a healthy manner while singing, there are several things we can take note of to protect our vocal folds:
1. Take voice lessons
This is especially for those who want a career in singing, whether it be a worship pastor, a professional singer, or even if one wants to sing as a hobby. With voice lessons, one not only learns how to breathe in a way that is conducive to singing, but one also learns how to engage the abdominal muscles and diaphragm to support the voice. This is crucial in learning how to sing with the correct technique in order to avoid vocal nodules, polyps, etc.
2. Stay hydrated
It is crucial that a singer drinks plenty of water, as the vocal folds need to stay healthy and hydrated. When the cells of the tissue are optimally moist, the laryngeal tissue is less viscous. Caffeine acts as a diuretic, so one needs to make sure they are drinking plenty of water. This is especially true for avid coffee/soft drink/tea drinkers.
3. Be aware of vocal abuse
It can be seen in many forms ranging from a tremor in the voice, lack of vocal range, reduced volume and projection of the voice, reduced vocal endurance, discomfort while speaking/singing, etc. This can be avoided by cultivating healthy habits such as not shouting, speaking in one’s normal vocal range, not clearing one’s throat or coughing excessively, not whispering, always warming up (for singers) and taking voice lessons to better understand the vocal mechanism.
4. Be aware of your environment
Protect your voice by making sure you are not constantly exposed to air conditioners/heaters/fans that dry the environment. Pressurized air on airplanes has a drying effect on the voice; therefore make sure you drink more fluid when in these situations. Medications such as antihistamines also have a drying effect on the voice.
5. See an ENT if you notice things are not quite right
If after a couple of weeks, your voice is not quite ‘bouncing back to normal’ (hoarse throat/laryngitis, etc.), it is best to get yourself checked by an ENT. The ENT may perform a laryngoscopy to make sure all is well.
Most importantly, remember that your voice is a gift from the Lord, and is part of the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19).
Therefore, take care of your voice, so that if you are in a profession that makes use of the voice on a regular basis (such as a worship pastor), you can use your voice for decades without having to cut short on the years of use due to negligence.
Below are sources as well as further material on this topic:
McKinney, James C. The Diagnosis and Correction of Vocal Faults. Broadman Press, Nashville Tennessee, 1994.
Miller, Richard. On the Art of Singing. Oxford University Press Inc., New York, 1996.
Brown, Oren L. Discover Your Voice: How to Develop Healthy Voice Habits. Singular Publishing Group Inc, San Diego, California, 1996.
Duke Voice Care Center – dukevoicecare.org
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