People are always asking me what things they can do to maintain healthy vocal cords. Here are some simple guidelines for a healthy voice, followed by a few common misconceptions:
1. Don’t smoke. We all know smoking is bad for us for a number of reasons, but for those of us who use our voices for our careers, smoking anything (not just cigarettes) is a sure-fire way to damage your instrument. It thickens and stiffens the vocal folds, contributing to loss of range and hoarseness of timbre. It also dehydrates them so they are unable to vibrate flexibly and freely.
2. Stay hydrated. The free and flexible vibration of your vocal folds is directly related to how hydrated they are. Drink lots of water (plain, normal water, not flavored or carbonated), because when your body is hydrated properly, so are your vocal cords. There is a saying for how to gauge your hydration level: “If you’re peeing clear, you’re free ’n’ clear.”
3. Avoid overuse. Be aware of how much you are singing/practicing in a given day. Two to three hours of singing total is plenty, and never more then one hour consecutively without taking at least a 30-minute break. Screaming at sporting events, on amusement park rides, etc., or talking excessively loud at a noisy bar or restaurant also contributes to overtired, stressed, and swollen cords.
4. Avoid excess alcohol. Alcoholic beverages are detrimental to vocal health because they are dehydrating. Avoid drinking alcohol for about 24 hours before you have to sing anything important, and if you find yourself in a situation where you have drunk too much, drink one eight-ounce glass of water for every alcoholic beverage you had.
5. Avoid frequent throat clearing. Frequent throat clearing can damage your vocal cords because when you do it, you are essentially slamming the vocal cords together violently. This causes irritation and inflammation, which prevents the vocal folds from coming together seamlessly, contributing to an airy sound. If you feel the need to clear your throat, try sipping water first.
Now, here are some common misconceptions about maintaining a healthy voice:
1. Dairy is bad for your voice. Eating dairy will not hurt your voice. In some people, eating dairy can cause excess mucus production which coats the vocal cords and can be an annoyance while singing, but it is not going to damage your vocal cords. My experience is that unless you are someone who produces an excessive amount of mucus after eating dairy, there is no reason to avoid it before you sing.
2. Whispering conserves your voice. Whispering does not conserve your voice. In fact, whispering is one of the worst things you can do if you want to maintain a healthy voice. It is incredibly taxing on the vocal cords because it is produced by placing the vocal folds close together and then keeping them there. This irritated and swollen tissue keeps touching and vibrating, which further damages the vocal mechanism.
3. Eating honey helps your voice. Eating honey has no direct effect on your voice. While eating honey may feel soothing on your throat, the honey doesn’t reach your vocal cords directly when you swallow it, so eating honey doesn’t have any direct benefit to your voice.
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