How to Identify the Causes of Vocal Strain and Overcome Them
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from your friendly vocal coach!
We are officially in full swing for the holiday season! Do you ever find yourself stocking up on herbal teas and cough drops around this time of year? We as vocalists, performers, and vocal coaches know the multitude of holiday performances and Christmas caroling will inevitably cause some strain on our vocal cords.
Did you know there are more factors that can affect you voice other than overexertion?
Oh yes! Since our instrument is inside our body, it’s easy for other things to influence how much wear and tear occurs on our voice. Allow me to share what I’ve learned in my many years of vocal coach experience.
Some of the things that negatively affect the voice are:
1. The fear family: stress, worry, and anxiety!
It’s easy during the holidays to think of all the things we could be doing, should be doing, or haven’t done yet. These thoughts and behaviors tend to leave our muscles tense, our brain fatigued, and our emotional energy spent. In our body, everything is beautifully interwoven and connected. Whatever is affecting your mind and your energy, is also affecting your voice as a result. As a vocal coach, my teaching methods always include the surrounding muscle groups. Think about all of the muscles that support your voice – the diaphragm, the laryngeal muscles, the lung muscles, etc. Even a tense neck can affect your voice. They all get tightened and overexerted when we are stressed and worried. Focusing on being at peace and centered can do wonders for your vocal performance.
2. Constant use of your voice
As a vocal coach, I see so many performers overdo it by booking one performance after another. This leads to no time for their voice to recover or heal. It’s also very common for vocal technique to slip when performing schedules increase in activity. This leaves the voice in a vulnerable state. Also, did you think about how having a conversation with someone is STILL using it? These little unidentified uses of the voice add up and can add to vocal strain if done too much. Perhaps set personal boundaries on how long you will have conversations for, or on how loud you speak? It’s not crazy, it’s taking care of your instrument!
Did you know that our body is made up of roughly 80% of water? That’s most of our composition! If we are lacking in the main ingredient that causes us to function, then that will cause us to run at a less than optimal capacity. As a vocal coach, I have singers come in to my studio daily who are dehydrated and they are on the struggle bus the whole lesson because of it.
I like to use metaphors to let the understanding sink in. We need some fluids to help our voices to move. However, just like a door hinge can get squeaky when it needs oil, so can your voice when you are dehydrated!
4. Lack of Sleep
When we sleep, our body is working to repair and heal whatever the body has used for each day. If you spoke a lot during the day or catch a cold – then your body will target the vocal area to heal it! But believe me, as a vocal coach, if you aren’t allowing your body to rest, then it simply can’t do its job. If you can’t seem to fall asleep, perhaps consult a doctor, or research some homeopathic methods that could help improve your sleep quality.
Here are 3 vocal tips you could implement to overcome and even prevent vocal strain:
Slow down. Learn from the turtle.
I get it, I move fast myself. However, it doesn’t help my voice when I talk fast and move fast all day long. Maybe you need to take a good look at the pace of your lifestyle. Are you going so fast that you aren’t taking moments to breathe and refocus? As a vocal coach, I recommend to get in the habit of slowing down a little each day to take deep breaths, and steady your heart rate. This will help to regulate your system and increase blood circulation to help fuel those vocal muscle groups.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
You have probably heard it said “drink eight glasses of water a day” right? However, since every body is unique and different, that is an ineffective way of calculating the right amount of water you should drink. Most health physicians and vocal coaches would agree that if you divide your weight in half – that’s how many fluid ounces you should be consuming to meet your daily quota of water intake. Doing this will greatly increase your vocal strength and quality! And remember that regular tea, coffee, and soda don’t count because those DEHYDRATE you instead of HYDRATE you!
Get more sleep. Go to bed already.
Make sure you set healthy boundaries around your evening and morning routines to ensure that you have a set amount of time dedicated to deep sleep. As a vocal coach, I can recommend a couple of options to potentially help your sleep quality.
Try-out some natural herbal remedies as part of your bedtime routine. A lot of natural herbal blends exist that have helped me a lot. Many of them contain: chamomile, lemon balm, lavender, valerian. These teas are my favorite!
I’m also a big fan of essential oils, too, to help me relax. Find a diffuser you love and run it before bed and during the night. Or try rubbing oils on your feet before you go to bed.
Set reminders to wind down and put the phone away is a good start!
Let your friends and family know of your goals so they can help you stay accountable with getting away from electronic devices and blue light before bed. Commit to a specific goal, and invest a specific amount of time in it. This way you can plan and prioritize your sleep more efficiently.
Make your sleep space ambient and relaxing-and don’t confuse your brain by doing work on the bed as this will trigger your mind to stay alert rather than wind down.
I hope that by applying these tips you will you to overcome vocal strain. You should increase your awareness of how you are engaging vocally on a day to day basis. This will overall help you to even prevent vocal strain as you continue to use your instrument!
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Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! Happy New Year! and HAPPY SINGING from your friendly vocal coach!