In the early days, I fell victim to a few vocal issues, which in hindsight where very simple to resolve – says Charles Ward.
I still sing professionally, but these days it’s a little more part-time due to my work as a Laryngeal and Sports Therapist – and a family.
So, here is what I wish I’d known, or certainly taken more seriously about vocal health when I was younger and a more active singer. This is making me sound old… I am not!
A tired body and mind means a tired voice. A tired voice increases risk of injury, because attention to technique is often the first thing to go and bad habits can eventually become the norm.
Sleep is essential to allow the body and the voice time to rest, recover and recharge. Without adequate rest, you’re also more susceptible to illness, because your immune system will be lower and less able to fight infection and bacteria.
Let’s face it, singing with a tired voice or when you’re under the weather requires more effort and you’ll never be performing at your best; which could cost you that all important session, contract or gig.
So occasionally it might be best to say ‘no’ to the odd social event or manage your diary to include adequate down-time.
2. Don’t put your trust in potions and lozenges
There are so many teas, pastels and remedies out there claiming to be quick fixes for a variety of vocal related conditions or problems, such as losing your voice, vocal range and stamina; relieving a croaky, hoarse or tired voice, and reducing tension in the larynx etc. etc.
It took me a while and a fair bit of money until I realised that they very rarely work let alone cure the symptoms.
Sometimes they even delay recovery due to certain ingredients preventing the body from doing what it needs to, in order to recover.
This will probably upset a few people who swear by and use certain well-known brands that make such claims, but if you think about how these things are administered they often don’t get anywhere near close enough to the larynx or vocal folds to make that level of difference.
They go through the mouth, down the throat and into the stomach where they will be absorbed into the blood stream during digestion, completely bypassing the larynx and vocal folds, which are protected by the epiglottis when we swallow, to stop you from choking and blocking off your airways.
So, most of the time the effects of such remedies are felt in the oral and nasal cavities, and the oesophagus; which can provide some level of relief and make you feel like its hitting the spot.
Now, I’m not suggesting that these products don’t have any benefits or a place in your routine. Some of them contain vitamins, minerals and essential oils, which will help to manage or offer short-term relief from certain symptoms, and help keep us a little healthier maybe; but that’s all they will do.
3. Get some manual therapy
Being a Laryngeal Therapist myself I am obviously going to be a fan of it. However, still to this day it’s a very under-used maintenance tool, and was even less so when I was a more active singer.
I didn’t manage my time well and as a result worked very long hours, struggled with anxiety and over-used my voice. All of which could have been better managed or reduced using a physical therapy.
Now, it’s not for everyone, but for me personally I like having physical therapy and the hands-on approach to anything muscular. I really respond well to it and feel the changes almost immediately.
Manual therapy helps to keep muscles and structures in better working order, and reduces the risk of injury, forming compensatory behaviours, as well as helping to manage the effects of fatigue, stress and anxiety.
Had it been more available, I would have certainly made it part of my vocal health routine.
4. Don’t Neglect Your Warm-Ups
There were 2 reasons I avoided warming up as a young singer: (i) my perception that I had no time and (ii) the belief that warming up had to be lengthy in order to be any good or worthwhile – I had been thinking of warming up as vocal exercise session.
By the time I was ready to perform my voice had probably done the equivalent of half a performance! Essentially, I was over working my voice for absolutely no reason or benefit.
I was also very self-conscious warming up with people around me, so as a result I would often warm-up before getting to the session or venue. However, by the time I’d get there and had waited to perform, my voice would have ‘cooled down’ and certainly become further fatigued from all the pre-gig chatting.
I soon learned that warm-ups don’t have to be arduous or time consuming, and that I needed to get over my inhibitions about warming up around others, in order to prepare and look after my voice in the way that it needed and deserved.
After all, guitarists don’t have an issue ‘noodling’ away before gigs!
For most people, ten to fifteen mins is generally more than enough time to get the voice warmed before a gig. More than that, and it’s in danger of becoming a vocal exercise session, and you may overwork the voice way before you need to use it.
Nowadays I try and find a quiet space, a storeroom or a hallway to warm-up using breathing, SOVT, glide, siren and scale drills. If I don’t have that luxury, my band mates just have to put up with it! However, this does mean that I have to put up with them joining in and mocking me for fifteen minutes!
Charles Ward is a Laryngeal Manual Therapist who has worked with a number of high profile artists during their UK Arena Tours. Charles works with professional and amateur voice users, as well as those suffering with vocal issues all across the UK. Charles is also a very passionate and active singer himself, with industry experience and vocal coaching from some of the UK’s most well regarded.