So we've addressed in the first part of this series the generalities of maintaining the health of your voice when sick, but what do you do if your voice is not quite what it usually is...and you are performing today?
The first thing to do is to ascertain if you should vocalize! Warning sings that you should not include pain. Yes, I know it seems obvious, but many of us put the show, or class, or project first, instead of our bodies. The second item is to ascertain whether the tissues of your vocal folds are swollen. A quick at home test to do this: if there is no pain, is to lightly vocalize in your high range (speaking or singing) and note how many disruptions there are. Does the pitch of your voice vary? Is there a crackling sound? What about delays in the onset of voice? Count these disruptions. Robert W. Bastian of the Bastian Voice Institute suggests doing this test everyday in order to be able to find a "baseline" of what normal is (1).
While, an absolutely wonderful strategy to monitor vocal health, Dr. Titze of the National Center of Voice Studies suggests it might be a good way to test whether your tissues of your vocal folds are swollen in general (2). Essentially, swollen tissues are a good indicator of the need to not vocalize and a trip to the doctor.
Let's say you have done the test and you feel confident that the cold and or other disturbance is workable. Then you need to remember three things to do--keep it wet, forward, and loose!
Wet means try keeping hydrated. This can mean increasing non drying liquids (sorry alcohol dries) intake, using a Neti pot, or using steam to thin the mucus. Maybe use all of these techniques.
Forward means using your favorite exercises which encourage a feeling of ease and forward vibration. In a later blog entry I will cover some of these, but some of my favorites include humming (open or closed mouth), lip trills, and of course straw phonation.
Loose refers to ensuring that all the muscles involved in support roles do not experience an imbalance of tension as a result of the difficulty. This may be as a result of overcompensating when beginning to have a vocal problem, or overcompensation in another system(e.g. broncho-spasms from an asthma attack may result in other muscles tensing). Some areas to be aware of include neck and shoulder muscles and the tongue. Remember the body tends to communicate tension in one part of the body to another. Of course resting when sick is the ultimate in "hanging loose". If you are sick, or tired, or injured, your body needs rest to muster the energy into making repairs.
Of course your behavior might need to change for the time that your voice is strained. Some of these changes include not speaking with a whisper unless it is a "voiceless whisper". Likewise you shouldn't shout to be heard. If you cannot project easily and you are able, walk to where your voice needs to be heard. Clearing your throat is also not constructive. The reason is simply that you are slamming your vocal folds together in order to clear them. Ironically the body's reaction to an injury in this area is to produce--mucus--thus beginning a never ending cycle. Try instead taking a large sip of water and swallowing hard. Another technique is to produce an "h" sound in the back of your throat (it'll sound like a cat bringing up a hairball). While less socially acceptable than "clearing your throat", it might be more productive in the end.
A very important "cure for the vocal disruption" may be to completely warm-up using appropriate warm-up exercises. These include non straining vocalization that go to the lows and highs of your range but not to the edges. Even when we're young it is important to build the habit of warming up before we attempt a "vocal performance" of any kind.
(1) The Swelling Test Bastian Voice Institute http://m4kkh33o91u4eghiq4fdgig9.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/New-swelling-tests.pdf
(2) NCVS lecture July 31, 2016.
Trissa DiBenedetto WAlter
Is a singer, voice teacher, speech language pathologist, and certified vocologist