Your vocal folds are two delicate little flaps of skin, mere millimetres in width, beating together at thousands of beats per second every time you sing or speak. Unlike other instruments, we carry our voice around with us 24/7 and use it every day, all the time. You may be unaware of the common bad habits that cause vocal damage. With a little awareness, you can avoid these pitfalls to keep your voice healthy and beautiful.
- Watch your vocal loading. Vocal loading is the concept of how much work we make our voices do every day, or rather how much stress we put on our vocal folds. Your voice has a certain workload it can handle each day, and beyond that it begins to get strained. Additionally, different vocal activities have different stress impacts on your voice. For example, maybe your vocal capacity is 6 hours of talking per day before becoming strained, but only 3 hours of singing. Activities like yelling or whispering can cause vocal strain almost immediately. If you find that vocal strain is a regular problem for you, try writing down how much you use your voice each day, and for what.
- Breath. Many North Americans in particular speak very quickly and don’t pause to breath enough when talking. When we speak at the end of our breath, we tend to end up in vocal fry territory, which is very hard on the voice. Make sure you pause to breath, and try speaking a little more slowly to take a more relaxed approach to talking in general.
- Speak higher. A lot of us tend to speak in the lowest part of our voice, the chest voice. Unfortunately, this means that when we inflect downwards as we are speaking, we end up in vocal fry once again. By pitching your voice a little bit higher, we can speak in our head voice and stay out of the back of the throat.
- Avoid loud parties and bars. This can be a tough one for singers, particularly those who lead bar bands. But when we are trying to speak to others in a loud environment, we naturally raise our voices to a shouting level without even being aware of it. A few hours of that can really wreck your voice for at least a day or two. Ask your buddy if they wouldn’t mind taking the conversation to a quieter place. Most people appreciate it!
- Cut down on glottal stops. Glottal stops are a type of vocal onset that crunches the vocal folds together much like vocal fry, but only for a quick moment. With normal speaking habits, they are not that harmful, but if you are the type of person who speaks or sings for several hours a day, this habit can slowly wear away at your vocal folds. There are lots of onset exercises you can do to smooth out the flow of your voice and avoid unnecessary stops.
Remember that one of the best ways to take care of your singing voice is to practice good habits in your speaking voice. You only get one voice, so protect it well!