Ed. note - We're thrilled to have Jaime Vendera featured here at CFH as our first vocal columnist! Jaime's jaw-dropping (and glass-shattering) vocal abilities have been featured on "Myth Buster's", "Good Morning America", and "I've Got A Secret". Be sure to check out his vocal instructional site at www.thevoiceconnection.com!
Well singers, I'm sure that you are aware that your "instrument", your voice, is made up of many moving parts to complete the "whole" instrument. To maintain the operation of your instrument, you must keep these parts lubricated to prevent friction buildup. This is similar to using oil to keep a car engine running smoothly. You must also "maintain your instrument", just like when you take your car in for a tune up. I'm going to present you with a few tips for maintaining the parts of your instrument, to assure that you can sing to the best of your ability.
So, what are the key points to maintaining the voice? Well, since I started this free lesson by comparing your body to a car, I would say that the four main points to keeping your motor running would be to keep your vehicle well oiled, (keep the voice lubricated), warm up your car for a few minutes before driving, (warm up the voice before singing), tune your engine (strengthen the singing muscles, including both the vocal muscles, and breathing muscles), and of course, fill up your tank with fuel (proper breathing). Here are a few tips and tricks to help you maintain your voice:
Keeping The Voice Lubricated
Water is essential to maintaining the elasticity of the vocal cords. If your cords aren't well lubricated, they won't stretch easily and your voice will sound weak and brittle, with noticeable cracks and breaks. Water is the ONLY liquid that will lubricate the vocal cords. It is the only liquid that isn't processed as a food; it directly enters the bloodstream. Although it directly enters the bloodstream, it generally takes around 20 minutes before it reaches the vocal cords. This is dependent upon the internal water level of the body. If the body is low on water, the water will be used to serve the needs of the vital organs first.
So, what are some things that cause a low water level within the body and dry out the voice? The first thing you should ask yourself, is, "Am I drinking enough water?" If you drink beverages with caffeine or alcohol, you will lose water. Caffeine is a diuretic and will cause you to lose water. Alcohol is a drying agent and will dehydrate the body. It's tough enough to keep the body hydrated without adding to the problem. Working outside in the heat can cause dehydration. If you are sweating, you are losing water. If you are doing a lot of singing, the air between the vocal cords will also tend to dry out the cords. These are just a few examples. Here's a simple way to decide if your daily water intake is sufficient for your own body's needs. I suggest drinking at least ½ ounce of water per pound of body weight per day. So, if you weighed 150 pounds, you should drink at least 75 ounces of water a day. This is just a general guideline. How much do you weigh? Divide this number by half to figure out your requirements. Are you drinking enough water? This is a daily ritual. You have from the time you wake up until the time you go to sleep to meet your water quota, so get busy! I drink over a gallon of water a day and I only weigh about 180 pounds, but, I'm a water junky! I have a whole chapter in my first book Raise Your Voice, that presents other methods of lubricating the vocal cords, including inhaling steam and mist inhaling. Another great book on the affects and benefits of water is "Water for Health, for Healing, for Life", by F. Batmanghelidj, M.D. One last thing that comes to mind is a quote from TNT lead singer, Tony Harnell -"Clear pee, clear voice". Basically, Tony is saying that if your urine is as clear as water, then the vocal cords are being sufficiently lubricated.
Whenever a person works out the body, or plays any physical sport, the smart thing to do is to stretch the muscles involved before starting. If you run track, I'm sure you stretch your legs before the track meet. The reason athletes stretch, is to get the blood flowing to the particular area of the body that is involved in meeting the physical demands of that particular sport. When you stretch and warm up the body, you are less likely to cause any muscular damage. Stretching and warming up will wake up the muscles and prepare them for work. If you aren't warmed up, you will not function at your peak performance. This is the same with the voice. You should adopt a warm up program that works for you. Free Lesson #1 offers a basic version of Vocal Stress Release, my warm up program from my book Raise Your Voice. I will also be releasing a DVD entitled The Ultimate Vocal Warm Up, which is based on the Vocal Stress Release program. Whether you choose to use a warm up program from The Voice Connection, another voice related site, an instructional video or voice training manual, the point is, MAKE SURE THAT YOU START WARMING UP! There are many great warm up routines. Find one that works for you.
Of course, if you want to "tune up" your engine, you should find a great vocal training program. Some great programs are, of course, my book, Raise Your Voice, Jim Gillette's, Vocal Power, Brett Manning's, Singing Success, Thomas Appel's, Can You Sing A High C Without Straining, Melissa Cross', The Zen Of Screaming, and Elizabeth Sabine's, Strengthen Your Singing Voice. These are just a few great programs.
What are some other things to keep in mind? I think that any serious singer should consider some type of cardiovascular workout to strengthen the lungs and diaphragm. This could be running, jogging, Tae-Bo, Yoga, or what I consider to be the best singer's workout, swimming. Again, these are just a few suggestions. I also suggest starting some sort of abdominal training program. A strong set of abs is a beneficial quality for a strong voice.
The one thing that always blows my mind is the fact that singers tend to throw proper breathing technique right out the window. My second book, The Ultimate Breathing Workout, offers a 9-step breathing program for developing the breathing muscles and breath control. Any great vocal instruction manual should offer a chapter or two on proper breath technique. Breathing is SO important to maintain a healthy voice and preventing vocal strain. Oxygen is the singer's fuel. You must learn to steadily control the flow of fuel. This is similar to controlling the speed of a car. You don't want to be driving down the highway in a 65-mile per hour zone and jump from 25 to 55 to 70 to 45 to 65. That's really hard on your engine. You also don't want to drive wide open, with the pedal to the floor. Your going to wreck or burn up your engine. So, CORRECT BREATING IS ESSENTIAL. Here's a simple exercise to learn to control breat release:
- Take a deep breath, in through the nose and allow the stomach to expand.
- Begin to slowly "hiss" the air out, like a sustained "sssssss", while allowing the stomach to come in on it's own. (don't tighten the stomach)
- Time your air release and strive to increase the release time by a few seconds every day.
If you made it for twenty seconds the first day, aim for at least 22 seconds the next day. This exercise will train you to control breath release and strengthen the lugs, abdominal muscles, and diaphragm.
I hope that I shed a little light on how important it is to maintain the voice. Now, seek out a great vocal training program, find a good teacher, and apply the knowledge to creating the best voice within you - Oh yeah, BUY MY BOOKS!!!
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