Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Notes from Dr. Darnell's Convocation on Voice Health

"Taking Care of Your Speaking Voice"

Notes by Jeanie Darnell

Musicians, performers and teachers, maintain busy schedules.  It is important to take care of one's body, health, and speaking voice for lecturing and communicating.  The National Association of Schools of Music has now made it a requirement that music faculty, staff and students learn how to keep vocal wellness.

Conserving your voice means that you use your voice wisely, avoiding abusive behaviors and misuse.

A hoarse or raspy voice indicates that there is a problem with your voice.  Healthy voices are clear and resonant.

What is vocal abuse and misuse?

1) Shouting, screaming, and extended loud talking:

This doesn't only happen when you are arguing or yelling at sports' events, but when you are talking over noise when you are traveling (in car, bus, airplane--motor, air conditioner, outside noises), when you are in restaurants and crowded rooms such as parties, or speaking over background music and TV in everyday places.

Be conscious of the noise around you to preserve your speaking voice.  Do not push the voice.

Talking too loud and too long can leave you vocally fatigued for days.

Be aware of your posture when traveling, so to use good breath support when speaking.  Drink plenty of water too because heaters, air conditioners, and recirculated air dehydrate you.

Avoid alcoholic beverages and caffeinated beverages when flying, and drink more water the day before, during and after you have flown.

2) Excessive throat clearing and coughing:

If you have clumpy mucous, you may be dehydrated, or you may be suffering from allergies or an upper respiratory infection.  Acid reflux also causes excessive mucous in the throat.

Try to determine the reason.  Drink plenty of water (about half your body weight per day, and sip throughout the day and evening).  Your pee should be a pale color.

If you have allergies, inhalant or food, seek treatment.  Allergies are sometimes seasonal, but often chronic.  Post nasal drip is irritating to the vocal track.  If the allergies are inhalant, it helps to irrigate your sinuses with saline for that purpose, in morning and at night.  

If the vocal track lining is inflamed and you speak, you are more susceptible to injury (just as if you had a blister on your foot, and decided to walk 10 miles).

Tight, tense, and sore throat sensations indicate a problem--do not ignore!  If you have an infection, seek medical treatment: it may require antibiotics to heal.

If you have a common cold, push fluids, eat well, rest, and sleep with a humidifier.  Using a decongestant such as Afrin or Sudafed for a few days may help (best to check with your doctor).  Zinc supplements help you to heal faster (Ziocam).

Expectorants/Tussins are good for thinning mucous, but they require more hydration.

Clearing the throat and coughing slaps the vocal folds together abruptly.  It often takes three weeks or longer to recover from the symptoms of bronchitis or a severe respiratory illness.  Take care and use the voice as little as possible when sick.  You are more susceptible to hemorrhages and developing nodules when you use inflamed vocal folds.  Warm honey and water is soothing to an inflamed vocal track (half and half).  Lint from tissues can inflame it.

Laryngitis will usually subside after a day or two with complete vocal rest. If you persist with whispering, it will take weeks.

You must seek medical treatment for chronic acid reflux (GERD or LPRD).  It's very damaging.  (The sphincters at the top of the esophagus and at the junction of the stomach allow acidic digestive fluids from stomach into esophagus and or throat.) Reflux results in hoarseness, chronic coughing, frequent throat clearing, pain in throat, problems swallowing, post nasal drip, referred ear pain, and bitter taste in mouth.  (Lump in throat.)

3) Speaking at an inappropriate pitch level:

People sometimes alter their voices to sound culturally acceptable.  Everyone has a vocal range to their speaking voice that is healthy.  It is generally around a P4 above the lowest note you can sing without strain.  It is usually where you say "um hum".

Speak in phrases--breathe between!

Vocal fry (think of car battery sound) occurs when you are pressing the vocal folds together by talking too low and without proper breath support.  Make sure you are NOT grinding on your voice, as it will develop nodules from this misuse.

4) Speaking without proper support:

You must breathe and release air through your vocal folds to phonate.

Maintaining good posture helps.  (Speaking on your back for extended periods is difficult.).

Being conscious of taking good breaths is important.  Avoid speaking too quickly or too loudly.  Speaker phones are sometimes helpful.

5) Smoking:

Smoking causes the fluid of the epithelium (vocal fold lining) to gather and causes irregular vocal fold vibration, resulting in a hoarse, raspy sound.  Smoking also causes lung cancer.

Avoid smoking.  

6) Excessive use of medications, and alcohol:

Avoid recreational drugs altogether. Inhaled drugs are especially damaging to the voice.

Antihistamines can over-dry the vocal folds.  You may have to use milder ones, and drink more water.  Ask your doctor for advice.  Our bodies react differently to them.

Avoid excessive use of blood thinners such as aspirin, ibuprofen and acetaminophen can cause hemorrhages.

Alcohol and caffeine are drying to the vocal folds.  Drink in moderation.

7) Unhealthy environmental conditions:

Avoid exposure to chemical fumes, dust, mold, and smoke.  Dry climates may require that you drink more water.

Avoid polluted environments if possible.

Playing music in smokey bars is difficult for your body.


8) Whispering:

Don 't whisper.  It presses the vocal folds and causes unnecessary friction.  It's better to speak out gently, or write notes!

9) Eating too much salt, or drinking too much caffeine:

Salt is drying.  It causes vocal folds to swell.  Peanuts, pop corn, potato chips should be avoided before lecturing.

Drinking too much caffeine dehydrates you.  

Small amounts of salt and caffeine are OK.

Take care of your body.  Hydrate!

1) Rest-- your voice will perform better if you are getting 8 hours of rest each night.  If you are tired, your energy level will drop.

2) Eat sensibly--a balanced diet so you have all if your nutrient needs met.  Plenty of fruits, veggies and some protein to sustain you.

3) Exercise regularly--this strengthens your immunity, bones, muscles and cardio vascular health.

4) When in cold environments, cover yourself.  Breathe through your nose.  Wear a scarf around your neck, and or a hat.

5) Pace yourself!  Do more talking earlier in the day when you are fresh!

6) Use amplification when possible to preserve your voice.

Abusive singing activities:  singing too high, too low, too loud or too long.

Belting by screaming out lower voice.


Warm-up for 5-10 minutes: use lip trills, humming, buzzing, vocalises in the middle easy range.

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