Tag Archives: laryngologist

Keeping Your Voice Healthy

Most musicians don’t have to depend on their personal health the way a singer does. In that regard, we’re rather like athletes. All kinds of things going on in your body, mind and emotions will affect your singing. Many of those things cannot be controlled directly, but by staying in the best possible condition we can function as performers through quite a few of the ups and downs. Here are some of the basics:

  • You should maintain a healthy weight and stick to good eating habits.Overall health is your foundation.
  • Exercise goes a long way to keep your body strong and resilient. Aerobic (“cardio”) in particular will help with your breath support. If you do weight-lifting try to avoid the grunting and a glottal lock.
  • Singing should never hurt. If you are doing something that feels bad, you are hurting your voice.
  • Smoking is terrible for a singer. But you guessed that, didn’t you? Of course it’s harmful to your lungs, but it also hurts the vocal cords themselves. And pot burns hotter, so it is even worse.
  • Hydration is essential. There are various guidelines out there for how much you should drink (I’m talking about water!), but a good general one is about 2 liters per day. If you drink a lot of caffeine or live in a dry climate then you should plan on a bit more. Alcohol and many prescriptions medications also dehydrate you. Remember to pee pale! It’s the best way to know that you’re well-hydrated. (If you take B vitamins or even a multi-vitamin, your urine may be bright yellow. Not a problem!)
  • Many allergens affect the vocal tract. Do what you can to deal with them by avoidance, as depending on antihistamines and steroids can have deleterious results.
  • Excessive use of your speaking voice can be very taxing. Loud talking and comical voices can quickly tire your voice. Cheerleading is a stressor, as is talking over background noise (like in a vehicle).
  • Do not use your voice if you have laryngitis. Whispering is not a good idea. Instead, carry a pencil and paper around for a few days. If you keep trying to speak when you have laryngitis you will prolong the healing and you may cause permanent damage.
  • But not all sore throats are laryngitis. When in doubt, see the doctor. A laryngologist is a doctor who specialized in the voice. They’re sometimes called “Ear, Nose and Throat” doctors.
  • Learn about reflux and take action if necessary.
  • Remember to protect you hearing. Machine noise, rock concerts and band practice can all add up to damage your hearing. If you sing in a band you should have some kind of monitor that lets you hear yourself, because you may over-sing if you can’t.
  • Practice regularly, but not always loud and long. Get used to how your voice feels when you are singing easily. Your practice should be less about “building up singing muscles” and more about making a habit of your best/easiest sound.
  • Other things that can have repercussions on the voice include hormones, surgery, prescription drugs and mental or emotional state.
  • You can’t truly hear your own singing, so you need to trust your teacher’s ear. Eventually you’ll learn to sing well by the feel of it.

You only have one voice. You can’t abuse it and then expect a doctor to make it right again, because it may never be the same. Another thing that people forget is that when the voice doesn’t feel right we tend to compensate with habits that are not ideal. These new (or old) bad habits may stick with us after the voice should be healthy again. Here are some things that are harmful to your voice or just plain taxing. How many are affecting your voice?

  • Screaming, talking forcefully all the time, talking in the car, lots of laughing
  • Doing funny voices
  • Dry air, not enough water intake
  • Glottal attacks and throat effort in your speech
  • Coughing, clearing the throat
  • Breathing very cold air
  • Poor diet, lack of sleep, stress
  • Cheerleading
  • Allergies
  • Allergy medications
  • Aspirin, ibuprofen
  • Caffeine, alcohol
  • Smoking, especially marijuana
  • Talking, singing or whispering when you have laryngitis

Sure, some of these are hard to avoid. The singer must spend a lifetime working to minimize the stresses on the voice, though. If you have allergies, for example, do everything you can to be good to your voice in other ways, like drinking lots of water and eating properly.

Eating just before bed is a favorite ritual for some of us, but this can lead to acid reflux when you lie down, which is very hard on the voice. Eating spicy foods for dinner or eating too much of anything within a few hours of bed are best left to the non-singers. If you tend to have heartburn and stomach problems and if your voice is rough in the morning and
improves through the day, you should ask a doctor about reflux. (For more about
reflux, see What is GERD?)

Please remember that alcohol, caffeine, pseudoephedrine and even water are very dangerous if you ingest too much within a short period of time (1 or 2 hours).

Wintertime Immunity

Singers have to stay on top of their health at all times. A little cold can leave you with a cough, irritated vocal cords, or a sinus infection for weeks, making singing an unpleasant activity and perhaps leading to more serious damage to the voice.

In order to avoid illness as much as possible, be sure to eat well, get regular sleep, and be a bit fanatical about washing your hands, disinfecting doorknobs, and steering clear of sick people. Vitamins might help keep you strong, and water has a beneficial effect, too. Some people like to take herbs like echinacea and garlic. These work best if taken when you’ve been exposed to a bug but haven’t gotten sick yet. They may not help at all after the sore throat has begun. At that point you might try breathing steam to clear out your respiratory system and help the entire respiratory system heal.

And if you do come down with something, consider the following.

The Advantages of Being Sick

No, it’s not crazy . Think about this:

  1. When you’re sick you don’t expect so much of yourself. You tend to expect the singing to not sound good, so you relax and let it go without employing your usual extra effort. The result is free singing that you normally wouldn’t allow yourself. And if you can’t stand what you hear, put your fingers in your ears!
  2. If your throat hurts, you’ll work extra hard to get the sensations (effort) away from it, which is always good. This is a good time to go for forward placement.
  3. At the beginning of a cold you often sing better because the mucus is thinner on your vocal cords.
  4. Sometimes the congestion in your head is situated just right so that the focus is really obvious.
  5. You can learn a lot by working when the voice is just a little under the weather, since you have vocalize easily and really pay attention to the sensations.
  6. This is a great time to concentrate on memorization, expression and character.

Don’t push too hard for high notes, perfect clarity or long rehearsals, and you should
be okay. But remember to do no singing (or speaking, whispering or even whistling) when you have laryngitis.

What Should I Eat?

You will need to observe what happens to your body and voice when you eat particular foods. It’s very individual. That said, there are certain things that singers usually try to avoid. Observe your reaction to things like milk (any dairy products) and sugar. They might make a lot of phlegm. Nuts and popcorn can easily cause you to cough, which irritates the vocal folds quite a bit, so you don’t want to take that chance within a few hours of singing. Spicy or heavy foods late in the day can make for reflux, resulting in a scratchy voice in the morning. Caffeine may not leave your body as well hydrated as you might think. You’re taking in the fluid of that cup of coffee, but the caffeine content keeps you from benefiting from it like you would from plain water. Chances are that you’re wasting your money if you always have to have the fancy bottled water. Aspirin puts your vocal folds in a fragile state, so that they are vulnerable to damage if you sing. Many (most?) prescriptions drugs have a side effect of drying.

Some singers are very attached to hot lemon water with honey and cough drops. Both can easily be over-done and cause drying of the throat. And anything you feel psychologically dependent on in order to perform should be suspect. You’re in a much better state emotionally if you can be a normal person and go into your performance relaxed, rather than in a panic because you couldn’t find the right brand of herbal tea.

Helping Your Voice Heal

The voice can be damaged, but, on the other hand, it can be remarkably resilient. It needs moisture, rest and time.

  • Hydration with fluids is doubly important when on the mend, but you may also want to inhale some steam. Don’t burn yourself!
  • If your sinuses are dry or irritated you could try using a neti pot. It looks like a tiny tea pot. Put salt water in it and flush your nasal passages by putting the spout to your nose and leaning over a sink. (Breathe through your mouth, or you’ll drown!) If the water is lukewarm you won’t even feel it. Look up instructions online and you’ll see pictures to help you figure it out.
  • When you have laryngitis the time element is crucial. If you speak very little for 3 to 4 days you will get your voice back sooner. But don’t whisper! That’s harder on the vocal folds. So speak gently and minimally.
  • Sleep is necessary for your body to heal. Make it a priority.

Water and sleep are essential for a healthy voice!

Glossary of Vocal Terminology

Aria – A solo in opera or oratorio. There are also concert arias, which are the same sort of thing but not from a larger work.

Art Song – A song in the classical tradition. It may be simple or almost as dramatic and complex as an opera aria.


  1. A register with a lot of power and edge. More like a trumpet than a flute. Heard in all popular styles of music and also musical theatre. Women belt in the middle part of their total range. A man can belt, too, but it’s usually on the high end of his range. Examples would be Ethel Merman, Barbra Streisand and every rock singer you ever heard.
  2. To “belt it out” means to deliver a song solidly.

Cadenza – A portion near the end of an aria where the singer seems to go crazy with fast notes, high notes, whatever. Generally unaccompanied and without words. Basically the singer gets to show off. A cadenza is either improvised or (more likely) written out and learned beforehand.


  1. A word applied to any (classical) voice that sings very fast – even basses! Since such flexibility is easier for high, bright voices, it is mostly used to refer to the highest sopranos, who sing trills and staccato notes and frequently cover over an octave and a half within a few beats. “The Queen of the Night” is a famous coloratura role.
  2. Those fast notes that she sings.

Concert – In classical music a performance with many musicians, such as a chorus. Unlike rock concerts, there shouldn’t be any screaming from the audience.

Countertenor – A classical male singing voice that covers the same range as a female contralto or mezzo soprano. Since he usually does this by singing falsetto, he probably has a baritone speaking voice.

Dress rehearsal – Final practice before a performance held in the performance hall, if possible. In theater it generally means that costumes, make-up, orchestra, lighting, set and props are all in place as in the performance. For a recital or choir concert, it means the last rehearsal, often held at the performance site, but no tux, gown or uniform.

Encore – An additional song at the end of a recital because the audience clapped long and hard, refusing to let the singer leave without singing one more. It’s usually a familiar or fun song that the singer has prepared. (“Just in case” the audience response is overwhelming. Some singers don’t take much convincing to sing more.)

Fach – Voice type, according to a system that’s much more specific than just soprano, alto, tenor, bass. There are something like 25 categories.

Green Room – Where performers wait. Usually bigger than a dressing room, and shared with others. The stage manager will make announcements here to warn you when your cue is coming up. The performance is often played over a speaker, too. Only very big stars have spacious rooms to themselves.

Intonation – How well you match the pitch. Flat means you’re below the target note and sharp means you’re high. “Pitchy” (used by folks like Simon Cowell) means there are general intonation problems in your singing, i.e., bad intonation.

Laryngologist – The specialist you should go to when you think you have a medical problem with your voice. Also otorhinolaryngologist or Ear, Nose and Throat doctor. (ENT)

Larynx – The voice box, which holds the vocal cords or folds. The Adam’s apple is the front of the larynx. Often incorrectly pronounced lar-nix.

Libretto – The text of an opera.

Lyrics – The words of a song.

Master Class – A session that’s like having a voice lesson in front of a room full of people. A visiting performer or respected voice teacher will hear a student, and then work with him/her for about 15 minutes. The singer is often more nervous than usual because the room is full of voice teachers, but they’re not there to critique the singing. They want to see how the master teacher works.

Prima Donna – “First lady,” or, the leading female singer.

Recital – A performance of only a few musicians, or made up mostly of solos or duets.  Often in a small venue. (See Concert)

Recitative – In opera and oratorio, a passage that is rhythmically like speech and not very melodic.

Register – The “gear” of your voice at any given time. You may have noticed registers if you can sing a note in two different voices. Or if your high notes can’t be sung with the same feeling as the low notes. Chest register (mostly for low notes) and head (mostly for high) will blend in mid-range. Belt is also a register. Think of it like a color or flavor. But choosing the wrong color in this case can result in a weak note, a crack or even damage to your voice.

Vibrato – A slight variation of pitch that makes a note pulse pleasantly. Vibrato is most often noticed in classical singing because it’s continuous, but almost all singing has vibrato. Each style of music tends to have a different type or speed. There are good ones and bad ones, as well. So if you think you don’t like opera because of all that “wobbling,” it might be that you heard one singer with a poorly produced vibrato!

Vocalise – A singing exercise. The final syllable is pronounced like “ease.”

Vocalize – To sing! The final syllable is pronounced like “eyes.”