Heather's Singing Centre blog

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Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Vocal Health tips for community theatre show week

Recently, I have enjoyed coaching the Crouch End Players community theatre in preparation for their musical play "Sea Airs" - a love story set in my native Cornwall, featuring Sea Shanties and traditional methodist hymns, as well as songs from the 1980s.


As opening night approached, the cast have been beset with seasonal colds, coughs and the usual Autumn term lurgy!  Under these circumstances there is a lot of well-meaning advice given to amateur performers, some helpful and some downright destructive! But finding the right advice can be a minefield, particularly relating to amateur performers who have to work all day and perform in the evening, and who don't get much rest!

I remember when I was studying at Trinity College of Music (now Trinity Laban) in the 1980s, we were lucky enough to have a lecture from the eminent throat specialist, Mr David Garfield Davies, to educate the singers about vocal health and hygiene. Mr Davies is laryngologist to the RSC and the Royal Opera House, so he knows a thing or two about the voice!

One of the most shocking things I remember was when he asked how many of us singers had been advised to "gargle with soluble aspirin" by GPs and well-wishers for a sore throat.  Nearly every hand shot up.  Mr Garfield Davies then played  some video of some bleeding vocal cords - the result of the gargled aspirin,  to a shocked lecture theatre of us young opera singers.  
A  gory sight that horrified us. I have never forgotten it!   

Alas, people are still given such advice, so I decided to write a checklist of tips I use and advise my singing clients.

Break a leg!

Heathers Top Tips for Vocal Health for colds in Show Week!

1. Rest your vocal cords. Refrain from talking as much as you can 

2. Don’t whisper. This has more impact on the cords than talking

3. Stay hydrated by taking regular small sips of water throughout the day. 

4. Keep the voice warm by doing gentle, relaxed humming or siren low in the range throughout the day here and there. It can be very quiet- Nothing dramatic, just so the voice is ticking over regularly

5. Don’t eat food or drink at extreme temperatures- eg avoid ice cream ( sorry!)

6. Although it is widely recommended, never gargle with soluble aspirin. It makes the cords bleed.

7. A spoonful of honey slowly taken is the best soother. Don’t overdo lozenges or their impact is diminished 

8. Fresh pineapple is the secret weapon of opera singers. It contains the enzyme Bromelain which is ant inflammatory and is a natural decongestant. (Don’t overdose in case it upsets your tummy!)

9. Honey dissolved in warm water is good as a soothing drink. Lemon can be astringent so use sparingly.

10. Throat-Clearing: Throat clearing is traumatic to the vocal cords, leading to wear and tear. When you need to clear your throat try this instead: swallow, sip water, and clear your throat silently without allowing your vocal cords to touch.

11. A facial steam is very soothing and cab unblock the airways

12. Cut down ( don’t have to exclude entirely!) on anything that dries the cords, (I’m afraid the list includes tea, coffee and alcohol!) Everything in moderation!

13. Drop your shoulders and relax the neck. Think happy thoughts!

14. When it comes to performance stay relaxed and don’t be afraid to sing out. Breathe properly and keep the throat open. 

Worry can cause tension which impacts the cords. 
Let it go and enjoy yourself!



For a regular vocal workout you can download my vocal workout "Free Your Voice" here



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