Every client who walks into my studio is struggling with some sort of vocal impairment or obstacle and requires vocal rehabilitation to reach their maximum potential. There are many students who push their voices past their limits, and others whose overload of vocal performances and gigs has taken a toll on their voice, body and health. Sometimes it’s the singer trying to sing too strong and too soon, or the student who has never sung a note at all and who doesn’t know where to begin. Voice rehab, or vocal therapy, is about how well you know how to take care of your voice and how well you implement the right vocal techniques.
The number one rule on singing is this: if your voice is tired, give your voice a rest. Vocal rest is when you don’t use your voice at all. This is important as it gives your vocal folds and chords time to recover and regenerate. Depending on the severity of the situation, this means no talking and no singing at all, or no singing and limited talking. To avoid using your voice, get out your white board and dry erase markers, put it around your neck, and SSHH!
If your income depends on your voice, it is ideal that you limit your voice as much as possible. Always implement a warm-up routine before you sing and speak. If you don’t have to use your voice, don’t use your voice at all. This could be for a few days or a few weeks, depending upon your unique case. Making sure to get an adequate 8 hours or more of sleep will also aid in the recovery process. Finally, do not whisper. Whispering is bad for your voice and will make matters worse.
Another essential aspect to consider is your current vocal technique. If you have a vocal issue, most times it is because there is vocal abuse, which means that you are doing too much singing, speaking, or certain elements of your voice are not balanced enough to meet the demands that are asked of your voice. In that case, you need to focus on strengthening the weakened areas with the right vocal exercises.
In my 22 years of teaching vocal technique, I’ve noticed that there is a widespread lack of knowledge on how to bridge the voice properly (blending the bottom register with the high register with no breaks), whether it be a seasoned performer or novice singer. If you force your voice, you will cause damage. A singer needs to develop vocal muscles in a progressive, controlled way. The vocal exercises should also be tailored to the singer’s specific needs.
My suggestion is to avoid using vocal exercises on YouTube without expert guidance. The reason for this is because you don’t know if these exercises are the ones your voice currently needs. Also, you are not getting real-time feedback, so you won’t know if you are performing them correctly. You could end up making your voice worse and you will be in great confusion and frustration.
Having a voice teacher gives you the opportunity to be able to receive one- on-one feedback so that you are in full control of your instrument at all times. This way you won’t have to take long periods of time off for voice rest. Also, if after resting your voice (not singing/speaking) you go back to singing in the same way that led you to have to take time off, the whole vicious cycle repeats. Great vocal health stems from your daily vocal discipline. If you want different results you have to do things differently.
If you feel that you’re warming up properly and singing well, but still having issues, I invite you to start looking into your lifestyle. You want to minimize external factors that could affect your voice. This could be:
Allergies: Do you know what you’re allergic to? Some people are allergic to pollen, dust, grass, foods etc.
Diet: Your voice is part of your body so all the nutrients that you consume or do not consume will directly affect your voice. Eat a balanced diet, low in sodium, high in water and stay away from dairy. Dairy creates an excess of mucus.
Hydration: Make sure you’re drinking enough fluids throughout the day. Nothing too hot or too cold. Room temperature water is best
Smoking: It’s like driving a car without oil.
Drinking alcohol and caffeine will dehydrate your voice. It loosens your mind, but you’re more apt to lose control vocally.
Drug use: This is a no brainer.
Menstruation: The voice will change on a monthly basis. It will get higher a few days before ovulation and feel heavier during menstruation. If you don’t have to, don’t book a recording session around this time.
Stress: Imbalances the hormonal processes in the body. Stress can create inflammation in the body, vocal cords included. Indirect stress can contribute to acid reflux, which is one of the worst problems for the voice.
In short, vocal rehabilitation consists of:
Reducing the overload of the vocal effort that is causing the damage either through too much time spent doing it or too much effort due to poor vocal technique.
Strengthening the weaknesses in the voice and creating a balance in between effort and sound with the external help of a vocal coach (specialized in vocal technique, not style.
Balancing lifestyle to ensure you’re minimizing external factors that could add or subtract from points 1 and 2.
The voice is a living instrument and anything we do, eat, drink, feel or go through will have an effect on our voice. You cannot buy yourself a new set of vocal cords like the guitarist can go buy new strings. Do your best to take care of your voice by considering the above and you will be well on your way to having a healthier voice with no need for vocal rehab.
Considered one of L.A.’s finest vocal coaches, KATHLEEN RIGGS has been teaching voice for over 22 years. Unfolding the vocal technique and confidence in singers, Riggs has been lauded by world-class superstar clients such as Dua Lipa, Ozzy Osbourne, Madison Beer, Saweetie, and CHRVCHES to name a few. To learn more, visit kathleenriggs.com.