Fueling The Voice

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In my teaching studio, I can often be heard reminding students that we singers are like elite olympic athletes. The same driven, focused attention to training and proper technique that is required of the leading jocks is also a must for the modern vocalist. Likewise, attention to how we fuel our bodies is of major importance. Daily maintenance goes hand in hand with technical skill for success in vocal longevity and health.

Here is some insight into how I now maintain my own voice on a daily basis. I am increasingly sharing this knowledge with my students as well.

First, let’s talk hydration. It can never be overstated how important it is to keep our voice’s moisture level up high. The delicate vocal folds need to stay lubricated to work most efficiently. I can be found drinking a lot of room temperature water throughout the day. Health experts have proposed that we should be ingesting half of our body weight in ounces of water. So for me, that means taking in more than 100 ounces per day. I must admit, that is not always easy- it really takes work to stay on target. But it is crucial! Needed hydration also comes by way of long, hot showers before I teach or perform. The moisture is inhaled and can get to the vocal folds more quickly.

Though I was never a fan of black tea, I have come to love some herbal and green teas in recent years. I find peppermint tea very soothing for the throat (let’s remember that nothing we drink actually touch the cords or we would start to choke) and love it both after breakfast and at night before bed. Lemon ginger tea is also a favorite. Teas that contain licorice root or slippery elm are fantastic. These herbs have anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce swelling and irritation in the throat and vocal folds. Throat Coat made by Traditional Medicinals has them both and tastes fantastic!! I most often use honey as a sweetener. I have recently read that is also has some antibiotic and antiseptic properties.

The food we eat has a definite effect upon our voices. Some singers can tolerate dairy products with no ill effects but most of us have to deal with excess mucous if we partake. Spicy foods are the kiss of death for many while some can eat them and perform without a problem. It can take time to find what you can tolerate and what won’t work well for your voice. Even though my lactose intolerance has improved as I’ve gotten older, I know that I will have to deal with excess phlegm, which can hinder vocal cord vibration. Therefore, I limit dairy to lowfat or nonfat yogurt….and the occasional pizza. But on a performance day, I won’t have any dairy whatsoever.

As a result of doing the Beachbody Challenge for the past three months, my eating habits have been changing quite a bit. For protein, I am having a lot of chicken and turkey and very little pork. I am eating leaner cuts of beef such as sirloin for burgers and choosing flank or skirt steak, which don’t have much fat marbling. Foods higher in fat are harder to digest and can lead to heavy phlegm production. On performance days, I stick to the poultry. I don’t do a lot of spicy food but stay clear of them completely on performance days.

I am eating much more fruit nowadays. They are great for all the vitamins and some contain a lot of fiber. But there are some fruit which I love because they very voice friendly. Watermelon is very high in water content so it is great for getting extra moisture into our system. Strawberries are also heavy on my menu these days. Apples, too, are great for us singers. These fruits can be great pre-show foods because they are not hard to digest and can keep energy levels up.

Singers have a very high incidence of acid reflux disorder, which can be very problematic. So I make sure to have a couple of Tums after a meal if I am going to be teaching or singing sometime afterwards. I also make sure to sleep with my head elevated to prevent acid from coming up from the stomach and burning the delicate vocal fold mucosa.

Of course, daily vocal exercises are part of my daily routine. I warm up for no less than 15 minutes before starting to teach and generally 20 minutes before a show. On long teaching days or after a performance, I am sure to do a vocal cooldown before going to bed. It is the equivalent of a dancer or runner’s post-activity stretches. It is very important to get the folds back to neutral, speech-like state before sleeping so the voice will have a healthy start the next morning.

Singers, actors, public speakers, and all heavy voice users must make the daily care of their instrument seriously enough to adopt habits that will lead to health, consistency, and longevity. It takes discipline but the rewards will be great.

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