Canadian Musician - July-August 2022 - Page 31

By Kathy Alexander

COLUMNS Three A ’ s to Protect Your Voice

From Adele to Bon Jovi , famous singers have been prevalent in the news recently for vocal health problems and cancelled tours . Amateur and professional singers alike are losing their voices all too often , impacting their income and confidence as a singer . Some voice issues are caused by how the singer is using their voice , but the significant culprits are a relentless schedule and the lack of expert support for what is a highly athletic use of the human voice .

Ten years ago , I developed vocal fold nodules — a common but serious vocal fold injury — and , at the time , did not understand much about vocal health . I felt pressure to power through obvious warning signs that my voice was in trouble . Like many singers , I ignored common and fixable voice problems .
Vocal therapist Joan Lader has compared athletes and singers , describing the latter as a “ vocal athlete .” In sports , if you have an injury , you ’ re advised by your team — consisting of trainers , coaches , and physical therapists — to rest and heal . For singers , they can get advice from an otolaryngologist ( ENT ), but many don ’ t have access to one .
Any singer — amateur or professional — who has regular performance commitments should consider themselves a vocal athlete . The risk of injury is high and the need for specialist support is a given . Like the rest of the body , the voice needs time to heal after illness , strain , or injury . Powering through usually makes it far worse .
You can preserve the health of your voice with three steps : Assess , Adjust , and Avoid .
Assess Your Vocal Condition The most important step you can take to protect your vocal health is to recognize the early signs of vocal fold irritation or swelling . Being attentive to these early signs can help you adjust and get back to normal without risking more serious vocal health problems .
Singers should never experience pain or discomfort when using their voice , even if they are singing with great intensity . When singers recognize any discomfort in their voice , they can be aware of the signs that their vocal folds are experiencing too much tension and getting irritated .
Unfortunately , we cannot feel our vocal folds , so you can ’ t just pay attention to pain . It ’ s imperative that singers also pay attention to how their voice is functioning . Many serious vocal fold injuries cause no pain at all to the singer . Using the vocal cords in an intense way , such as talking at a noisy restaurant for hours or singing at a long rehearsal , can cause issues .
So , what ’ s the best way for singers to identify a worsening vocal condition when there is no pain ? Conduct a daily vocal swelling test . To take the test , singers should sing the first phrase of “ Happy Birthday ” in a high-pitched voice and repeat the phrase in a higher pitch every time until their voice falters . Taking this test twice daily for 20 seconds will help singers recognize small injuries before they get serious .
Adjust Your Voice If singers realize their vocal folds are inflamed , they must take extra care with their vocal technique and make temporary adjustments in singing and their day-to-day life . Despite the fear of judgement , the best message to give to others is that you are “ conserving ” your voice for a few days and will be singing cautiously . If you convey confidence and authority in the matter , no one will bat an eye .
When your voice is under the weather , you must work with the voice you have — not the voice you should have — on any given day . Adjusting your voice means lessening the intensity and the amount of singing and speaking throughout the day .
Singers should take a “ vocal nap ,” which consists of 15 minutes to several hours of silence as often as possible . When performing , singers should request for their band to take longer instrumental solos , change their song keys , and cut out songs that are more vocally demanding . In musical theatre , singers should take high notes down an octave and alter melodies to avoid belting . However , if the singing is particularly demanding , singers should bow out of a gig to prevent long-standing vocal issues .
Avoid Future Strain and Swelling To avoid irritating your voice next time , commit to avoiding yelling and talking in noisy environments as much as possible for the rest of your life .
Singers must learn how to make the sounds they desire without forcing or straining . It ’ s possible to express any musical sound safely even if the sound does not come naturally to the singer . The best way singers can do this is through technique training with an experienced teacher in their genre of music .
Singers are bound by their phy siology and the laws of acoustics . But , with the right coordination of breathing , vocal folds , and resonating spaces , singers can be heard over an orchestra without amplification or belt out a heavy metal scream without hurting their vocal folds . Yes , these activities are vocally athletic but , just like athletes , singers can succeed in their craft without injury .
Kathy Alexander is VP of Curriculum for Singdaptive , a vocal coaching platform to teach professional and amateur singers . She was a staff writer for six years at VoiceCouncil magazine and works for the University of Victoria as a practicum supervisor . Kathy is also a singer , vocal coach , and choir director . www . singdaptive . com .