This spring, I’ve been doing weekly coaching sessions via Zoom with Adam Roberts, a vocal coach who, in addition to working with singers, also helps high-performance thought leaders and CEOs empower their voices in healthy, sustainable ways. His training in vocology, the science-based study of the voice and vocal habilitation, gives him unique insights into the dos and dont’s for how to take care of your voice.
We’ll get to the specifics, but first: why should we be paying more attention to our vocal health? Roberts says that vocal health isn’t specific to professional vocalists like singers and actors. He says, “Even in individuals who may not rely heavily on their voices from a professional standpoint, the vocal cords can vibrate upwards of hundreds of thousands of times each day! That’s a lot of back-and-forth, so it’s important to keep the vocal mechanism healthy.”
We’ve all experienced temporary hoarseness from time to time, but according to researchers at the Cleveland Clinic, almost 20% of the U.S. population has some degree of chronic voice dysfunction.
And in voice-intensive occupations like school teachers, that number is even higher. As someone who uses her voice a lot, both personally (as my husband will attest, haha) and professionally, I’d like to keep mine as clear, expressive, and effortless as possible! The good news? Many of the things we can do to keep our voices in tip-top shape are the very same things that help to keep our minds and bodies healthy in general.
So, wondering how to take care of your voice? Read on for Roberts’ recommendations for the practical lifestyle choices and tools we can use to immediately boost our vocal health.
Do: Stay Hydrated
H20 is incredibly important to the proper functioning and longterm maintenance of the voice. If you’re a teacher, clergy member, little league coach, or anyone else who might use their voice to a greater degree than most, consider investing in a personal steam inhaler. Steam offers a more direct route to the vocal cords than water in liquid form (though that’s really important, too!);
While it may be tempting to cheer on your favorite team under the Friday night lights, the fun shouldn’t result in hoarseness (or, worse yet, a total loss of voice). Pace yourself, support your voice, and try to “call out” instead, as though you’re echoing across a mountain. Avoiding raspy and overproduced “screaming” sounds will help ensure that you’re able to be a fan for life, not just for one season.
Do: Focus on Flexibility
Literally! Remember that vocal health doesn’t stop inside your throat; it’s a whole-body proposition. Folks often ask me “If there were one thing I could do to improve my voice, what it would be?” My answer? Yoga — or another physical practice that promotes a connection of flexibility and breath. You can deep dive more into a particular practice I use with clients called The Alexander Technique, here.
Don’t: Shallow Breathe
It’s truly amazing what pausing throughout the day to take some low, deep breaths can do. We want to avoid clavicular breathing — breathing with a lot of up-and-down shoulder involvement — as much as possible. At the beginning of each day, allot thirty seconds to look in the mirror and take some supported breaths that arise from your abdomen instead of your upper chest. Monitor your shoulders in the mirror to ensure they’re not contributing extra movement to the process.
Do: Make Time to Rest Your Voice
Interestingly, some recent research suggests new considerations for vocal rest following an acute injury or voice surgery. For everyday maintenance, though, it’s always a good idea to plan for short periods of vocal rest throughout days when you have several long meetings or other circumstances when you’ll be talking a lot. For example, it’s a great idea for teachers to try to use their planning periods to rest their voices as they catch up on work, particularly when those “downtimes” occur later in the school day.
It probably goes without saying, but tobacco is a big no-no when it comes to health of the vocal mechanism (and the rest of our bodies, of course).
PHOTO: Image by Riley Blanks
Do: Use Lozenges
Lozenges are great! I really love Fontus Dry Mouth Lozenges, which were developed by my friend and colleague Kailtin Hopkins, a musical theatre performer and head of Texas State University’s musical theatre program. Kaitlin came up with the idea for these lozenges because of the dry mouth symptoms experienced by a family member with Parkinson’s disease, and now they’re used by performers and speakers the world over.
Do: Try a Personal Steam Inhaler
As I mentioned earlier, a personal steam inhaler is a great tool to keep on hand, particularly if you’re a professional voice user. These come in a variety of price ranges, sizes, and hand-held or tabletop options. This is one I’d recommend.
Do: Practice Self-Awareness
The absolute best tool to keep in your self-care toolbox when it comes to the voice is awareness. Get to know what situations make your voice feel particularly tired. Tune into the circumstances that tempt you to yell, scream, or shout, and make plans to stave off that temptation. When do you feel especially tense? That tension is probably also affecting your voice in a big way. By adding awareness to your kit for the day, you’ll be doing your voice a great big favor!
Big thanks to Adam for sharing these tips on how to take care of your voice, and stay tuned for more of his vocology advice. Next up: how to speak with confidence.