Yep, it's that time of year again when it's cold, everyone seems to get ill and your voice is vulnerable!
So... here a few helpful tips and hints on how to look after your voice in the cold weather. Now, I have you let you know up front that most of this information is taken from the fantastic Mr Spencer Welch, Master IVA Instructor, but it was sooo helpful that I thought I should share it with you so you can let others know too.
1. Cold dry air:
Breathing cold air through your mouth will dry out the mucus (ew) membranes of your vocal tract. And yep, you guessed it, dry vocal folds make it difficult for you to sing with ease and can result in strain if you force your vocal cords to do what they normally do without that mucus protection! Darn. Also... I know I keep saying this... but it's so true... WEAR A SCARF! Keep that throat warm people!
2. Central Heating:
I love central heating, I really do, but during the summer, those heating ducts accumulate a load of dust which gets blown out of those vents in the winter... which goes into your throat. Darn again. So, if you work in an office or somewhere with those amazing air blowing heaters, or when you're doing your Christmas shopping and the shops seem lovely and warm.... beware!! If you keep waking up with a dry throat then try putting a humidifier in your room for the night. You can buy little pots that hang over your radiator, or just put a bowl of water on your bedside table... maybe not next to your smart phone though... that would be a bad idea. See if it your throat feels any better in the morning, and also, start your day by getting hydrated and have a drink before you do anything else in the morning.
3. Colds & flu.
So here's one you probably knew but probably don't think anything of... colds and flu are awful and they really can knacker your voice, so for starters, try not to get run down and ill. Secondly, coughing and clearing your throat all the time (and yes that goes for all you habitual throat clearers who don't even have the excuse of a cold) is very abusive to your vocal folds. If you feel like you need to cough, try swallowing three times, or drink a sip of water and swallow a few times to see if the urge to cough goes away. Also colds are terrible for post-nasal drip, but that's a whole other story!
So, how do I not get ill I hear you ask... well, first drink a ridiculous amount of water. Like 2 litres or more a day, in fact yeah, drink more if you think you've been extra busy or might be a bit run down. Second, get plenty of sleep! I know I know, it's a toughie when it's party season, but you'll thank me for it when your voice lives to see another day! Third, wash your hands regularly, get rid of those icky germs.
Now that you've done all that and probably got ill anyway coz you ignored everything I said... you naughty students you... please go drink some more water... and then some more... and then some more after that... and then go to bed.
Ok, you're really gonna hate me for this one but caffeine can dry out the vocal folds too. So basically tea, coffee, caramel lattes (yum!), coke, hot chocolate and *sigh* alcohol... they're all not helpful for singing. Try to avoid them just before singing, or if you have a big gig coming up then maybe avoid them all together that day and any alcohol the night before. But, if you really are that desperate... drink a cup or two of water for every naughty drink you have... and make sure you know where the nearest toilet is at all times!
5. Cold medications:
Antihistamines or decongestants are found in lots of cold or allergy medications, problem is that they can also have a drying effect on the throat. This goes for hayfever products in summer too. Where possible, look for non-drying formulas or drink extra water (still watching for the nearest toilet...) to avoid the dehydrating of the vocal apparatus.
6. "Throat Remedies":
MYTH BUSTER: There is nothing you can eat or drink that will directly soothe or coat your vocal cords. If they did, you would drown or choke in the process... awkward. So, drinking hot lemon with honey might make you feel all gooey and warm inside, and might even make the back of your throat feel nice, but it won't soothe your vocal cords. It won't even touch them. In fact it will kinda do the opposite... too much citric acid from the lemon could strip the good layers of mucus in your throat and cause an over production of mucus when your brain freaks out and thinks you don't have enough mucus to protect you. Then of course you have too much mucus and you start clearing your throat again and we all know it goes down hill from there!
So, stick with WATER (seriously, just do it, drink some water, right now) and remember that it can take 3 hours or longer for the water you're drinking to be absorbed into your body and travel to the vocal cords.
Finally don't bother with menthol lozenges as these can have a drying effect.
7. Holiday parties:
Yep, I'm a proper scrooge. I know. Parties are great BUT they are sooo not great for your voice. Speaking in large crowded rooms where the music is loud is really tough. Even just pushing your voice a tiny bit extra can be enough to make you hoarse by the morning. That goes for all you teachers out there who are struggling by the end of term (or even the beginning) and find that even a little bit of shouting can tire your voice. By the way all you teachers... there are ways you can avoid damaging your voice when teaching... book in a lesson to find out how...
Alcohol and eating late at night. Urgh. This can aggrevate acid reflux or GERD (Gastoesophageal Reflux Disease). This is when stomach acids come back up while we sleep, irritating the throat and laryngeal tissues.
THIS bad boy, is what I have been suffering with over the last few months and is the reason why my voice has been a bit wrecked. It sucks. So watch out for it. Problem with it is that most singers who have it, don't even realise they have it, because it happens when you sleep and it's not like you're obviously throwing up all the time or anything. So, if you consistently wake up with hoarseness, sore throats, or an acidic taste in your mouth, then come see me and go see your Doctor. The NHS is a wonderful thing, but you need to make sure that you know what you need to ask them and who you need to see, or you won't get the answers you need.
8. VOICE LESSONS:
FINALLY, but most importantly, if any of these things are causing you problems, or your voice keeps going, or isn't consistent, or just can't reach the notes you want it to reach, then you need to get started with singing lessons with me. I can teach you to use your vocal cords properly, even if you've had some vocal damage, to make sure it doesn't happen again and to make sure you're equipped to deal with your voice.
"Winter care for your voice"
17th December 2013