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Vocal Health for Singers

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The most wonderful time of the year is upon us again. No, not the winter holiday season. No, not even Mardi Gras. It’s festival season in New Orleans!

New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, French Quarter Festival, Essence Festival, Voodoo Fest: while each of the city’s celebrations each has its own focus, most of them share the common bonds of good food and great music. This time of year allows us to appreciate the deep musical culture here in New Orleans, which includes some of our nation’s most iconic voices.

Whether you’re up on stage performing or out in the crowd, you’ll need your voice to enjoy your festival time with family and friends. And you’ll certainly need your voice when you return to work on Monday.

As sound production technology has evolved, it seems that this has translated to music that is not only clearer but also louder. This has potential for a perfect storm to wreak havoc on your hearing and your vocal cords.

Often, professional vocalists are already familiar with some of the major vocal health strategies from their coaches or voice teachers: Drink water. Rest your voice. Don’t scream. However, there are many other voice users (think about your local news anchor, or your child’s kindergarten teacher) who would be set back in their day-to-day lives if they were having issues with their voice, and who may not know the basics of how to take care of their voice box.

Whether performing in or attending any of our famous, cultural, musically-based festivals this year, keep a few things in mind:

  1. Stay hydrated with water. And not just right before you go on stage. Your overall hydration status—not just that last sip of water you took—affects the vibration of your vocal cords. Make sure to begin the hydration process 1-2 days before a performance or attendance. Remember that alcohol and caffeine can dehydrate you, so be sure to offset these beverages with more water.
  2. Avoid smoking. This is a good way to damage your vocal cords and to set you up for voice problems, either immediately, or later in life.
  3. Avoid raising your voice to talk to others over background noise. While the music is playing, listen! Save your conversations for intermissions or set breaks. Keep a safe distance from the speakers/amplifiers. Keep this in mind both for vocal health and for ear/hearing health.
  4. Talk and sing at a pitch that is comfortable. If you have to alter your comfortable pitch in order to be heard, you should consider meeting with a laryngologist (voice box specialist) to assess your vocal folds (vocal cords).
  5. Rest your voice and yourself. Take a break to sit down, relax, nap, or slow down. Allow yourself a few minutes every hour to rest your voice.
  6. If you notice your voice is rough, strained, or lower pitched—or if you totally lose your voice—then keep quiet as much as possible. Avoid whispering. Send people text messages or emails instead of calling them on the phone. If your voice is not improving over the course of 1-2 weeks, you should think about going to see an otolaryngologist (“ear, nose, and throat doctor”).

Celebrate World Voice Day! Every Year on April 16!

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