This question is asked of me often. The answer is not pat nor is it exactly the same for each singer or actor.
More the reason to really discover and know your instrument!!! Only then, will be you aware of what it takes to keep it healthy, and whether or not you are willing to do that over a sustained amount of time to be able to DO YOUR WORK!
Developing discipline of craft is DISCIPLINE! Which means your lifestyle may have to change in order for that discipline to function optimally FOR YOUR INSTRUMENT.
And quit whining!!! Your instrument doesn't function like somebody else's! It is uniquely yours! Asking "how come so-and-so never gets hoarse? can drink beer the night before and it doesn't bother them? blah blah blah" doesn't have ANYTHING to do with YOU or YOUR VOICE!!! Get over it - get back to you!!!
What is first about vocal health? Discovering YOUR INSTRUMENT!!! What does it do? How is it thrown off? What does it take to make you feel comfortable and under yourself?
HONESTY is the first step. There are no rights or wrongs - it just IS. Accepting that, and dealing with it and not making excuses for it, allows for healthy choices.
You don't have to get neurotic either. That drives me BATTY!!! Just make an observation and decide what to DO with it. If you know you have a sensitive mechanism and one night at a club makes you hoarse for a week - well then you have to make a decision: is the club more important or is the ability to sing? Maybe you have to decide to find your fun in less noise! Maybe while you are working, clubs are not the day off choice!
Some of you have asked "should I quit dairy? what about coffee? what about wine? what about spicy food?" My answer is my father's: "Everything in moderation - including moderation!"
Again - find out what your instrument and your body NEEDS and find out what disrupts your discipline. Some of us have hearty instruments and some of us have sensitive ones. We have to listen and observe the instrument in order to find out what it needs to function properly and not cause mind and emotional trauma in order to do our work!
A great deal of vocal health should be common sense. Recognition of self is key. What do you need to function? Rest/sleep: how many hours allows you to feel rested? Then that's your answer! Hydration: how much water makes you feel hydrated? there's the answer!
Is this in stone? NO!!! You don't need to live like a monk! You need to pay attention to your body and your voice in order to know what it needs and when it needs it! I need more water while I teach or on performance days. Not as much on a day off.
Many performers deal with acid reflux - some of you more than others! Again, sensitivity of mechanism plays a great deal with it, and also how you are managing it! Often, as performers due to our schedules we eat late - thus take it to bed with us! Our support muscles generally are stronger than most and the "silent" reflux happens during sleep causing swelling, hoarseness etc etc etc!!! Spicy foods can aggravate it, so can coffee or alcohol. SO - when you need that voice in optimum form, watch what aggravates it and back off! If you have to take meds - take them! Make the lifestyle changes in order for that instrument to behave itself!
If it's performance day, back off a bit - have your coffee early in the day; maybe no alcohol while performing if it bothers you; duck out of the spice or again, keep it earlier in the day and go more bland as you near performance and afterward.
Being in noisy environments is exhausting - especially if you are trying to talk through it or over it! It can fatigue the voice so avoid these places if you need to work or have a voice lesson or a coaching or are in rehearsal! Know your instrument! Know your recovery time! Do what YOU NEED to do to stay healthy and focused!
Interestingly, noisy environments aren't just bars and clubs...but also airplanes and trains and cars - which can be more deceiving! BE AWARE of your environment! PREPARE for it!
The saying goes "Your body is your temple". Well, your instrument is your livelihood or potential livelihood. You only get one set of cords. Treat that body and that instrument with respect and care.
Your body supports that voice - find out what it needs to be nourished and healthy! Find ways of caring for it and making it strong! Whether you walk, run, jog, do yoga, pilates, go to the gym, stretch - all these decisions will allow your physicality to take on the physical and psychological demands of using your voice as your career!
I work with many singers who deal with vocal issues. And they work. Why? Because they have come to terms with what their instruments are and treat them with respect. They know what they can do and what they can't and work within that matrix. They do not exceed the perimeters of their instrument. They know what to do when things get rough. They recognize what they need to do to prevent issues from happening. They are pro-active in their vocal health!!
I have worked with other singers who refuse to acknowledge their issues. And the issues continue and get worse and if the denial continues, the voice collapses. Wishful thinking does not make a healthy instrument!
Get to know your instrument! PAY ATTENTION TO IT!!! If you've never done this before, I suggest a 2 week journal of vocal health. Write down your patterns: food, drink, exercise, stress release, emotional changes, lifestyle choices, noise variety, how you SPEAK, sleep, fatigue levels, and how it affects your energy, your health, your voice. Don't judge, just write it down! You will begin to see what works for you and what isn't always optimal. Then it's your decision as to how you want to change and when you need to change!
Ladies, your menstrual cycle often plays a big part in your voice! Get to know what happens and when! Know what you can do to find optimum vocal health during this time. Some women are more affected than others; some months are more dramatic than others. Recognize it, and find out what your body and your voice needs!
Ultimately, vocal health is about YOU. If being a singer/actor is what you ARE and what you are aspiring to, it only makes sense that your health should be important, and your ability to be aware and honest with what your instrument does and what it needs imperative!
PAY ATTENTION. Make the choices that make sense for YOU. You get one voice. Take good care of it.
Susan Eichhorn Young
Susan Eichhorn Young covers all things voice—strong and sophisticated singing and speaking.
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