A horror story I enjoy telling my students when conveying the importance of healthy singing practices is how Julie Andrews, the enchanting woman with the beautiful voice from 'Mary Poppins' and 'The Sound of Music', lost her ability to sing. In 1997, Mrs. Andrews underwent throat surgery to remove non-cancerous throat pollyps. Her surgery was botched and part of her vocal cords had to be removed, resulting in the loss of her signature high soprano. She was awarded a financial settlement afterwards, but as a vocalist myself, and I'm sure many of you singers will agree, the thought of losing my ability to sing would not be worth any monetary value imaginable. To lose a gift that brings so much passion, joy, and fulfillment would be unbearable to anyone who values their skill...
A polyp, or vocal cord nodule, is a mass of tissue that grows on the vocal folds. It obstructs the ability of the vocal cords to rapidly vibrate and manipulate air pressure, which are both essential to human speach and singing ability. Polyps can be attributed to over-use of the voice and afflict singers, actors, and others in lines of work where they are required to use a loud voice in noisey areas. However, the risk of throat polyps to singers can be reduced by following healthy singing practices, and a few simple excercises to take care of your voice.
The first and most important step to follow for vocalists is using proper breathing technique while singing. Learn more about this in my previous blog post, Healthy Singing Practices: Breathing = Singing. This rule is vital to preserving longevity in your singing voice.
Trailer for the 1965 film, "The Sound of Music", starring Julie Andrews
Do not smoke, this is an obvious one. Inhaling cigarette smoke irritates the throat and damages the lungs, diminishing lung capacity. Smoking is the number one cause of lung, throat, and mouth cancers, all of which will not only eliminate your singing voice, but can also kill you. Do not abuse alcohol. Occasional drinking is fine, but abusing alcohol also irritates the throat and can cause one to lose their singing voice with prolonged abuse. The idea is pretty simple, healthy body = healthy voice.
If you have any illness that causes you to have a sore throat, do not sing or over-use your voice in any way. Rest your voice during this time and drink lots of hot tea, preferably with no caffeine, but don't skimp on the lemon and honey! Not only are they delicious, they have amazing homeopathic healing capabilities and will contribute to a speedy recovery.
Yoga, Tai Chi, or other breathing related exercises are a fantastic way to keep your throat and lungs strong. Slow, deep, controlled breathing stretches your lungs and works out your respiratory system, increasing lung capacity and vocal range, and also relaxes and soothes your throat and vocal cords. Contributing a few minutes per day to breathing exercises is a small commitment to making sure you have a strong, healthy voice for life.
And last but certainly not least, invest in voice lessons! This may seem like shameless self promotion (wink, wink), but in all seriousness, teaming up with a good singing teacher that can assess your ability and has a philosophy of using healthy singing, is one of the best ways to ensure you're taking care of your singing voice. Please visit the Lessons Page of my website for information on affordable singing lessons from the comfort of your own home, or if you're local, in-person at the studio.
Please take this advice to heart and be kind to your voice, so that you may enjoy the experience of singing for years to come.