So, what must you do if you get laryngitis? Completely rest your voice – no talking, no whispering (this is the worst thing you can do), absolutely no singing (this includes warm-ups), no vocal sounds what so ever. This is the first essential treatment you do. Stays hydrated, be in a room with humidified air and avoid triggers like cigarette smoke. Naturally you will see your Doctor for additional treatment as you will be desperate to get your voice fully back again – for your own sake and for financial reasons – this is our job and if we don’t sing or present, we don’t get paid most of the time.
Right, now you are recovering well and many students ask me when will I know when I can start singing or presenting again? Firstly, even if the obvious symptoms of laryngitis have subsided, your cords often remain swollen. If a very cautious, safe and gradual warm up for 5 – 10mins doesn’t make your voice feel better and your voice is not gearing up in the normal way you know it should, then stop! Your voice hasn’t recovered enough or you are singing / speaking the warm ups incorrectly.
At the end of the day, you are going to have to be patient and let the healing progress do its thing. This is not going to be in your time-frame! Keep resting the voice. Acknowledge that it will be a frustrating time but your goal is longevity of the voice – if you sing or present on a very sick larynx expect serious vocal injury occurring with an even longer recovery period. Discipline is a big part of any serious and committed vocal athletic – laryngitis will test your self-control but I have faith in you and you will come through the other end singing or speaking superbly again.
As a vocal coach, I use an invaluable tool which I learned from my yesteryears when I initially started training with my vocal coach. It’s the power of touch with the hand and fingers – it is specific, has purpose and gives you immediate (if your awareness is developed and if not, it will aide in the development of your awareness), bio-feedback to your brain telling you of any incorrect muscle or jaw tension and if your inhaled breath is placed correctly when producing sound. Then you can start working on eliminating this to get your voice working at its fullest potential!
The touch itself will not fix the issue – there are at least two things you have to do.
1. Mentally focus on the specific muscular tension and tell it to disappear and where to direct the inhaled air into the correct place in the body (the mind is a powerful tool in any training / learning regime).
2. Physically, correcting the unwanted muscular tension - most commonly the tongue and/or the jaw hinge (temporomandibular joint). Or perhaps you are pushing from the back of the neck and/or thrusting the chin forward (all contributors to throat constriction).
So a hand / fingers on the back/side of the neck, two fingers under the chin or front of the chin, jaw hinge, finger on side of the mouth, hand on your upper front of chest can help you immensely to become aware of any wrong tension that is constraining your voice or worse, damaging your voice. And another added bonus of having this bio-feedback to the brain is your development of the right muscle memory to get a great vocal – this will occur overtime with good, effective, regular practise.
You can rehearse until the cows come home but if you don’t rehearse properly, you are wasting your time and the band’s time. Also the end result on stage, could be a disappointing vocal performance.
Here are some important ways you need to practice...no exception!
Technical Aspect: Do this first always
Learn the song – this may seem obvious but if you know the song’s structure inside out then that is one less thing your brain has to concentrate on (melody, lyrics, rhythms, when to come in, when not to come in).
Once you have the overall idea of where the songs goes, start practicing the song from the top, line by line / phrase by phrase with the vocal technique you have acquired from your Vocal Coach. This way you can address any troublesome areas in the melody and fix them. And if you can't fix them that's where your Vocal Coach will be invaluable to you at your next lesson! You want to be confident that you can nail ALL the notes in the song (pitch, power and type of resonance you are wanting) and any complicated syncopation. This is all to be vocalized in a reliable and non-damaging way. A big bonus rehearsing like this is that you are simultaneously building up your vocal stamina – you are becoming vocally fit and you are creating muscle memory.
Performance Aspect: The ‘icing on the cake’
Feeling / emotion is essential for a great vocal performance. You want to connect with your audience – make them feel the performance not just listen to the performance. Once you are happy with your vocals technically now is the time to make this song come alive, become real. So find your inner ‘space’ when you sing the song – get in the zone – emerge yourself in the song emotionally, mentally and physically. You will then be a true artist with great vocals too!
Microphone Position For The Singer:
For the less experienced singers, this blog is for you. I often see these singers picking up the microphone, start singing and most of the time the microphone is being used incorrectly. It is not a simple case of just singing into a microphone, singers must realise that like any tool, they must learn correct microphone technique to get optimal sound quality and maintain good head-neck-back alignment so that no throat constriction or excessive muscle tension occurs (detrimental factor to your voice). Here are a few key points…
Position of Microphone: directly to your mouth, slightly lower by bottom lip and angled up towards mouth. NEVER have the microphone above the mouth as this will require your neck to stretch up and into the microphone – throat constriction / excessive muscle tension will happen, won’t sing well and damaging to your voice if you sing like this long term! ALWAYS sing slightly down and into your microphone. No ‘chin tuck’ either. A neutral, relaxed chin alignment (not too high, not too low) is what you want. This is part of good vocal technique.
Distance of Microphone to your mouth: 1 inch – 1.5 inches (2.5cm-3.8cm) away from your mouth will ensure the microphone responds to your voice and slightly altering the position / distance of the microphone is also your tone control tool (working with the microphone’s proximity effect).
Low Notes: The primary goal for your low notes is clarity and presence, not volume (impossible to project low notes due to how low frequencies resonate). Bring the microphone closer into your mouth, specifically, the lower lip. If your microphone is right on the entire mouth you can have a muffled effect.
High Notes / Projection / Singing with Dynamics: simply turn your head slightly left or right and sing half off the microphone and a degree of moving the microphone away from your mouth. NEVER pull your head back and away from the microphone as this promotes muscle tension / vocal strain. Be aware that singing at your normal level or over anticipating your singing volume and pulling the microphone further away from your mouth will result in lost amplified sound and/or a thin, weak sounding note. Explore and learn how your microphone responds to your voice. For instance, distance from mouth when singing high or singing loudly, singing softly or in your lower range, singing “Umm” will require you to slightly drop your head down into the microphone so it can capture the air / sound waves that are coming out of your nose, not your closed mouth!
Your vocal coach, sound engineer and experienced colleagues in the music industry should support and help you learn proper microphone technique and it is by ‘doing’ that you will master this skill. Finally, remember that the microphone will not correct bad singing technique – having good technique will allow your optimal vocal production to be picked up by the microphone and amplified out to your audience.
Ok, you have just been diagnosed by your doctor that you have a post-nasal drip – an overproduction of mucus which drains into the throat. As a singer or someone who uses their voice as a work tool this is a nuisance as it can affect your voice particularly if you are constantly clearing your throat or your irritated, uncomfortable or sore throat causes you to cough a lot. Postnasal drip can impact the quality of your voice by irritating the vocal folds, increasing the stiffness of the vocal folds and altering the resonance of your voice. It can also increase the thickness of your mucus, which may lead to throat clearing. Not good, as excessive clearing of the throat can lead to vocal fold swelling and irritation.
Now you question how to manage this condition so you have optimum vocal health and have quality of life in general. Your doctor will help you understand the causes of your symptoms and help to find the best care for you and your voice.
I would like to share what has worked for me personally and for my pupils who have a post nasal drip as some of the medications are too drying in the mouth, sinuses and throat .
Firstly, every morning when my post nasal drip is particularly bad I do a steam inhalation treatment (head over a bowl filled with boiling water and 2 drops of eucalyptus oil - a towel over my head and the bowl). The eucalyptus scented steam helps to break up mucus in your nose and throat, allowing you to expel it from your body. After a few minutes, expel as much of the mucus as possible by blowing your nose and doing deep coughs / splitting mucus out. Although it can be loud, gross, or embarrassing, letting the mucus out of your body is the best way for getting rid of it.
The next step is what has helped me tremendously – after the steam inhalation I finish with a Betadine Throat Gargle (dilated solution of Iodine – antiviral and antibacterial agent) as warm, moist mucus can be a great environment for bacteria to grow. You can learn more about Betadine Throat Gargle at http://www.betadine.com.au/sore-throat
DO NOT USE THIS GARGLE IF YOU ARE ALLERGIC TO IODINE!
I hope this short article helps you if you do suffer from a post nasal drip. And remember, do see your doctor for a correct diagnosis if you suspect a post nasal drip – this is a vital step towards good vocal health!
1. Gargle with Warm Salt Water - it's an old fashioned remedy but most effective. Do it morning and night and during the daytime when throat pain is just too much! 1/2 tsp salt dissolved in 1/2 cup warm water and gargle. Simple as that!
2. Drink Warm Drinks - not only does this soothe the throat but aides in re-hydrating the irritated, dried membrane of the throat.
3. Speak at a Normal Level - never whisper to 'save the voice' or when you have a sore throat! Whispering overworks throat muscles - not good!
4. Treat The Cause of the Allergy - see a specialist to learn exactly what you are allergic to. You may actually have a Post-Nasal Drip which can be managed. Learn about this in my next blog.