Professional voice users, including both speakers and singers, can follow particular guidelines to promote optimal vocal fold health and function.
1. Consult an Ear, Nose, and Throat Doctor (ENT). Consult an otolaryngologist, or ENT, to obtain a baseline evaluation of your voice when you are healthy. Establishing a healthy picture of your larynx serves as a source of comparison if you encounter voice difficulties in the future. Search for an otolaryngologist by name, location, or subspecialty through the American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery at www.entnet.org. For a listing of voice centers nationwide, please see our National Voice Center Referral Database.
2. Maintain adequate hydration. Many physicians and clinicians propose that consuming approximately 64 ounces of non-alcoholic fluids per day is necessary to maintain adequate hydration. Research supports that adequate hydration allows vocal cords to vibrate with less "push" from the lungs, especially at high pitches. In addition, well-hydrated vocal cords resist injury from voice use more than dry cords, and recover better from existing injury than dry cords. Increased systemic hydration also has the benefit of thinning thick secretions. (Titze, 1988; Verdolini-Marston, Druker, & Titze, 1990; Verdolini, Titze, & Fennell, 1994; Verdolini et al., 2002; Titze, 1981; Verdolini-Marston, Sandage, and Titze, 1994).
Individuals who experience external dehydration, such as those individuals living or working in a very dry environment, may benefit from the use of a humidifier or vaporizer. Dr. Katherine Verdolini of the University of Pittsburgh Voice Center recommends the use of a hot water vaporizer versus a cool-mist device. The reason is that cool-mist devices vaporize everything in their reservoirs, including any chemicals or germs. On the other hand, hot water vaporizers create vapor by boiling water, and because water has a lower boiling point than most chemicals, only water is delivered into the air. It is important to check with your doctor before beginning any hydration program. Drinking large quantities of water can be harmful for some individuals with serious health conditions.
3. Always warm-up and cool-down. Warming-up the voice is important before prolonged speaking or any singing engagements. A simple, yet effective vocal warm-up is to perform lip-trills while gliding up and down the full extent of one's pitch range. Additional exercises are discussed on the Vocal Warm-Ups page. Although frequently ignored, vocal cool-downs may also be used to prevent damage to the vocal cords. The simple practice of gentle and relaxed humming can serve as one excellent, easy form of cooling-down.
4. Know your range. Avoid singing pieces at the extremes of your vocal range. To determine your range, perform light glides or lip trills to your highest and lowest notes. Record these notes by checking them on a piano. Make sure that pieces in your repertoire fall above the lowest and below the highest extremes of your range. To view average vocal ranges for soprano, mezzo soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, and bass voices, see those put forth by the New Harvard Dictionary of Music at www.library.yale.edu/cataloging/music/vocalrg.htm.
5. Know the potential side effects of your medications. Many commonly prescribed medications can have significant effects on the voice. For a listing of medications and potential adverse effects on the voice, see the list compiled by the National Center for Voice and Speech at http://www.ncvs.org/rx.html.
6. Screen yourself daily for vocal cord swelling. Screening yourself for potential vocal cord swelling will help you to determine whether you should perform on a particular day, or take a vocal rest. Tasks for daily screening are found on the Vocal Screening page.
7. When singing with a band, use monitors. Have some small speakers facing you on stage so you can hear yourself adequately and modify your volume accordingly.
8. Avoid vocally abusive behaviors.
- Decrease overall volume.
- No shouting/ yelling.
- Don't whisper! It may actually make your voice worse.
- Don't talk in the presence of a lot of background noise! Talk to someone only when they are an arm's length away.
- Don't try to talk or sing when you have a bad cold or laryngitis.
9. Avoid behaviors that may exacerbate acid reflux. Certain behaviors and foods may exacerbate acid reflux and yield poor vocal performance. Please see the page on Reflux Changes to the Larynx for more information and suggestions for modifications to reduce reflux.
10. Consider speaking voice training. There is often a discrepancy between singing voice and speaking voice. Even a trained singer may demonstrate excellent technique during sung performance, but exhibit abusive speaking habits, undermining vocal functioning. To ensure a healthy balance of the entire voice, regardless of whether speaking or singing, singers may benefit from speaking voice training from an acting coach or a speech-language pathologist.
11. Don't smoke! Don't smoke! Don't smoke! We can't say it enough.