Introduction to Vocal Health


The importance of maintaining good vocal health is something that needs to be implemented to everyone. It’s something that needs to be considered not just when singing, but also in day to day speaking, particularly if you have a job that involves a lot of talking such as a teacher. It’s so easy to forget to consider the health of your voice as we speak daily and forget that it involves muscle movement which can sometimes cause injury and/or distress. In this section you can find information on how to maintain good vocal health.


Please note that these tips are to help maintain a healthy voice and are not designed to rectify vocal trauma. A Vocal Health First Aider can be the first point of call when expressing concerns about a vocal issue and can point you in the right direction in regard to medical referrals when necessary, however they cannot medically diagnose a vocal pathology themselves. If you have any concerns about your voice please book a session with Lexi (VHFA) to discuss these issues and she can assist the individual case.




Perhaps the simplest and most efficient way to encourage happy and healthy vocals is to ensure the voice is hydrated. Our bodies rely on water to survive, we’re made up of 60% water and it’s important the continuously take in adequate amounts of water to remain healthy. While this premise is simple and well understood in terms of vital organs and general health, it’s easy to sometimes forget that the larynx also needs water to function correctly – particularly the vocal folds themselves. There are 2 main ways of hydrating the vocal folds: drinking and steaming.


The epithelium makes up the outer layer of our vocal folds (the parts that contact during vibration - see diagram) and are coated in a mucosal layer, which they get from other areas of the larynx such as the false vocal folds. To ensure good vibration and thus a clear tone we need to keep this mucosal layer thin and we do this by keeping ourselves vocally hydrated. Inadequate hydration thickens the mucosal layer and makes vocal fold vibration more challenging, for example a common cold will often make the body produce more mucus in the upper respiratory region which can in turn coat the vocal folds in a thicker layer of mucus and makes it difficult for us to speak/feel the need to clear our throats.


It's best to hydrate ASAP after waking (due to fasting while asleep) and then frequently throughout the day. There are various myths on how much water you should drink a day that normally sit around the 2L mark – however it’s important to remember that the actual volume required is completely individual and can vary day-to-day depending on a variety of different factors including heights, weight, activity level and weather.


It's important to remember to drink in advance when you have an event that will require lots of vocal use, drinking at the time of the event only will likely be too late for the water to make any impact on the mucosal layer. When we drink, we often feel as though the water is helping to coat our vocal folds as we swallow, however this is not actually the case. As we swallow water and food etc the epiglottis at the top of the larynx closes which prevents food going into the lungs. As this happens, the larynx squeezes and moves up slightly which allows for more mucus to spread onto the folds and thus we feel the relief when we start to speak again. While this may feel more like biology then voice, the point is that drinking water is not a way of getting moisture directly onto the folds as it doesn’t come into contact with them. The only way of getting moisture directly and instantly onto the vocal folds is through steaming.


Steaming is a great tool for singers to maintain vocal health and to also help remedy a tired voice. As a rule, people who use their voices extensively for their job (singers, teachers etc) should aim to try and steam twice a day for 5 minutes at a time to help maintain healthy vocal folds. You can steam in different ways, such as in the shower or steam room etc but the most efficient ways are to either purchase a vocal steamer or by just using a bowl of boiling water and a towel. It’s important that the water is hot and so if purchasing a vocal steamer try to ensure the material will keep in the heat, such as the Dr Nelson vocal inhaler.



Steaming involves breathing in the steam and thus the moisture will directly contact the vocal folds and is particularly good at reducing inflammation of the larynx and thinning the mucosal layer.


Semi-Occluded Vocal Tract exercises (SOVTs)


SOVTs are a series of different exercises that can be performed by vocalists and speakers on a daily basis. Simply put, these exercises involve part of the mouth being closed which increases back pressure from the lips back to the vocal folds and allows them to vibrate with more ease and less effort. There a different ways of performing SOVTs including lip trills and humming, however common exercises involve the use of a straw or vocal tube.


Vocal tubes (such as the one in the image above) are often used by speech therapists and vocal coaches to aid tired voices/post-operative voices. As stated above, the back pressure from the mouth being closed over the straw reflects back to the vocal folds and allows them to vibrate effectively, improve vocal closure and strengthen them which in turn leads to more clarity in phonation. These tubes above are designed to be placed in water which creates a massaging scenario on the vocal folds which can feel very soothing. The further the straw is placed in the water will lead to more resistance being placed upon the singer and so it’s important to start in shallower depths and increase this with practise. You can also use a straw in water too but be aware that the thinner and longer the straw the more resistance will be found.


As stated above you can perform SOVTs in and out of water, water-based exercises provide more of a massage effect on the voice and are good for aiding tiredness whereas out of water exercises are better for resistance work and strengthening the vocal folds. You can also perform exercises voiced or unvoiced (sound or just breath).


Below are a few different SOVT exercises that can be performed as part of a warm-up/cool down or before a speaking event, you can also use the straw to sing through repertoire. It’s important to make sure that the sound coming through the mouth as opposed to the nose, a tip is to imagine you are starting on a ‘b’ as opposed to and ‘m’ to ensure the soft palate is lifted. You also want to ensure the air is coming out of the straw (try pinching the nose to check).


Warming Up and Cooling Down


As mentioned previously, the larynx is made up of intrinsic and extrinsic muscles which control laryngeal movement and are also involved in the stretching and thinning of the vocal cords (which are also made up of layers of muscle). Before we take part in physical activity such as football or dance it is standard procedure to warm up our muscles to prepare the muscles and thus avoid injury. The same principle needs to also apply to singing and the length/type of warm up will depend on individual voices, the material being sung and the environment the singer is working in.


Along with preparing the voice, warm-ups can also be used to work certain techniques and strengthen the vocal cords where they may need more attention, such as at a vocal ‘break’ (for example chest voice into head voice).

Just as it is important to warm the voice up it is also important to cool the voice down, particularly if you’ve been working an advanced technique such as belting. Cooling down helps relieve tension, calm the muscles and bring the voice back to ‘normal’ (again particularly useful if you’ve been working in lower/high larynx positions). As stated in section 1 - I would also recommend a small period of vocal rest if you’ve been working on more advanced techniques or changing some of the habitual vocal qualities that prove tough for example working on thick fold when you naturally speak in a thinner quality.


You can find various warm-ups and cool downs in sections 1 and 4 to try at home before/after practising any repertoire.




Just like with any form a physical activity it is important to rest after an extensive amount of practise/performance, or when feeling vocally fatigued. Good vocal health relies on the ability to listen to your body and act accordingly. Everyone goes through periods of vocal fatigue, examples include after extensive vocal practise, public speaking or more commonly after spending time in a place with loud music/background noise which causes us to speak with a raised voice. Along with this, tiredness, lack of sleep, illness and just general feelings of being rundown can also cause vocal fatigue. During episodes like this it’s important to rest your voice and speak as little as possible, just as you would rest an ankle injury after running. During these periods, when needing to speak try to speak normally and avoid whispering as actually causes more tension in the larynx and has the opposite effect. The epithelium is similar to the inside of the mouth in that it recovers very quickly and so it’s normal to see improvements after a few hours of vocal rest or overnight, however if vocal rest hasn’t solved the issue after more than 72 hours you may need to seek medical attention.



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