You've heard of hygiene. Oral hygiene that your dental hygienist teaches you, kitchen cleanliness for safe food preparation, and other types of hygiene. No one ever talks about or even is aware about hygiene for the voice. We barely realise that our voices exist inside our bodies and that it needs certain conditions to function optimally! We don't realize that the voice needs to be cared for, the way we realize we need to floss our teeth. It should be a daily habit just like that. But it rarely is. For example many consider getting hoarse a normal part of life. Hoarseness means that you have abused your voice and caused swelling in your voice box, or larynx.
Vocal injuries and problems are rampant in our culture due to the lack of awareness we have about our voices. According to ASHA:
"Voice disorders are characterized by the abnormal production and/or absence of vocal quality, pitch, loudness, resonance, and/or duration, given an individual's age and/or sex.
Epidemiologic studies of the prevalence and risk factors of voice disorders in the general adult population are rare. According to conservative estimates, approximately 28 million workers in the U.S. experience daily voice problems ; a second study estimates that 5% to 10% of the U.S. workforce would be classified as heavy occupational voice users.
According to one study, the lifetime prevalence of a voice disorder is almost 30%. Disorders also adversely impact job performance and attendance ."
Here are some guidelines for vocal hygiene that I explain to each new voice student at their first lesson:
1. Drink 8-10 glasses of pure water a day. Filtered tap water is preferred. Juice and soft drinks are not a substitute. Little sips all day is the preferred method. You know you're not dehydrated if your "pee" is pale.
2. Avoid or limit caffeine and alcohol as these are very drying to the voice and contribute to acid reflux.
3. This one is difficult but extremely important. Do not compete with background noise. That means for example, do not try to be heard when conversing in noisy restaurants, large parties, on a noisy bus or in a crowded bar. If you sing in a choir do not try to hear your own voice, but rather be more aware of the voices around you. Most of my sopranos in particular get hoarse from choral singing.
In a noisy environment I can teach easy ways to cut through noise (think of making your voice sound like the easy noisy sound of a "meow"). This one really works, but it's not a voice you'd ever normally use in a quiet environment. What's even better is to bring a writing pad with you and write notes, or go out into the hallway or where ever it's less noisy to speak.
4. Never scream. Learn to "call out" instead to get loud if you really have to. Think of the unemotional voice of authority calling out with a wide feeling in the throat calling to someone a block or two away "Hey you!"
I hope this was helpful to you. Little changes like these pay big dividends. Your voice will function better and you will protect yourself from voice injury. After all you use that same voice you sing with all day long. For more helpful free vocal tips visit my website! Here's to healthy voices!