I remember the time when I went through major vocal problems during an important time of my life when I had to record back to back episodes of a T.V reality show. Let me share my experience and learning, on the basis of which I can give you some tips about taking care of your voice.
It all started during a phone conversation with my best friend, I laughed my throat out; although now I don’t remember the joke she made that day. I had just been through a rigorous riyaz for two hours when I attended the call. I literally lost my voice in the middle of the conversation after that big laughter. It was an unexpected and harsh truth which I had to face at that time. I somehow managed to record few episodes afterwards but couldn’t last longer as the condition was worse.
Later on, I consulted an E.N.T specialist and got to know that there has been a formation of vocal nodule in my vocal cord. He said it is due to excessive mechanical stress, including repeated or chronic vocal overuse or incorrect method of voice production. By good medication and proper vocal rest, I somehow managed to get my voice back in few weeks. However, it took 2 years for me to recover completely as singing being my only profession I couldn’t get rid of shows and recordings. Meanwhile I also tried a lot of home measures to cure it and they were helpful to some extent.
I believe a sound is a direct manifestation of one’s voice. So it is important to take proper care of such an important instrument of our body. Every voice is unique and different from one another. Sometimes I wonder how does this happen. You may be able to match your voice with an existing sound, but it will never be the same scientifically. From the ancient times, use of voice was very important for every condition of life; in healing, in teaching, in evolving and accomplishment, that is why Indian tradition had a great intuition about the power of sound or Nada. Now what is an ideal voice for singing? Bharat Muni, in his treatise Natya Shastra, has stated the following qualities of a good voice for singers and actors, which are applicable to all of us.
Shraavako-tha ghanah snigdho madhuro hyavadhaanavaan tristaanashobhItyevam tu shatkangasya guNaah smarataah
Let me translate that for you.
What are the qualities of a good voice?
- Being well heard (loud enough)
- Being well tuned and richly textured
- Being smooth and not harsh
- Being sweet and harmonious
- Being balanced in all the three octaves and registers
Natya Shastra, the magnus opus by Bharat Muni around 5th century B.C., is the most ancient and authoritative Indian text which talks about different aspects of voice.
However one can’t change her/his natural voice but definitely can improve and maintain its quality by following some basic measures. For singers it is the “Riyaz” or “Swara sadhana” by which the limitations of one’s voice can be removed.
How to maintain your voice?
- Consider your voice as your body. (Also refer to the ancient treatise Nardiya Shiksha by Narad, where he coined the term “Gatra-vina” (body lute) to human voice.) . Having said that, knowing your voice is as important as knowing your body. Every voice has a pitch limit. Choose a key or Sruti which is comfortable for you to sing in highs and lows. We can help you do that here.
- Feel the vibration in the different parts of your body while rendering a note. Throat, chest, stomach etc. It will help you understand the effect of sound inside your body. There are three voice registers as Bharat muni states – the chest (uras), the throat (kantha) and the head (tiros) i.e., mandra (low), madhya (medium), and taara (high). It is hence referred to as the head, chest and throat affects when notes in these registers are being rendered.
- Breath Control is an important factor in singing. It is actually not the amount of air you can store in before rendition but managing it with uniformity throughout. We have some breath control techniques to help you with this.
- Start practicing with ‘Sa’ of your scale and then move ahead slowly by mastering each note accordingly. There are times when you may not be able to hit the right note. Do not panic. Sometimes, your body does not respond as you wish, the same is with your voice. Calm down and just concentrate. Learn more about the importance of practicing your swaras here.
- If you are a beginner, start your riyaz longing for 15 minutes and gradually increase it by 5 minutes every day. This will help your vocal cords to be accustomed with it and will respond better.
- It is often suggested to practise in the morning hours. The reason behind this is mornings are calm, peaceful and fresh and so is the vocal cord. It becomes easy to concentrate and condition your voice in the morning.
- ‘Kharaj Sadhana’ is a very popular riyaz technique for singers in the morning. Actually it is the best for male voices as they have a good base. For females it will help to gain some weight in their voices. However this should not be practiced for long hours as it may also ruin your vocal cord. Practising Daily is more important than practising for hours a day especially for beginners. Start with ‘Sa’ of your scale and then in a descending order reach up to where you can sing a note clearly and easily. Also the notes rendered should be staccato form. Strengthen those notes by practicing it daily. Basically this helps you build your voice. Not only the low notes are mastered but also it helps to open up your voice in high register. You can find these lessons in our Hindustani 101 course.
- Remember too much pressure on the vocal cords should be avoided while singing. Riyaz if done with the right technique can never be the reason for vocal pain or strain.
- Relax your jaws, lips, tongue, neck and head before starting the riyaz. A small exercise (as in slow movement of all these parts) is necessary before starting the Riyaz. We have many more vocal warmup exercises.
- Record your sessions as it will help you identify mistakes and also improve your rendition.
- Examine the food that affects your voice. Every human body is prone to some or the other allergies. As a result, each of us should identify foods that we shouldn’t consume. But consuming anything too cold or too hot in temperature can damage your vocal cords. If you have cold allergies avoid ice-creams, cold water, cold drinks etc. Just remember anything you eat passes through your vocal cords so definitely it will affect your voice in minute ways. So always try eating food in normal temperature.
- ‘Vocal rest’ is an important factor that generally people forget. After a rigorous practise session, one must give rest to the voice for next 15 minutes at least. Avoid talking too, or talk in a low voice if necessary. Also, avoid talking too loud, screams, loud laughter in your daily life to save your voice texture.
What are some home measures to take care of your voice?
- Gargling is a common practise among all singers. Whenever your throat is itchy or there is cough congestion one must gargle. Also gargling with warm water just before your performance will act as a catalyst and give you a vocal boost.
- My guru advises me to gargle warm water with a pinch of salt or turmeric. Use turmeric when there is a cough congestion, it really helps a lot. Use salt on all normal days. I have tried and tested this and so I can strongly recommend.
- Mulethi or liqueroice is a popular condiment that not only acts as a good flavouring agent but also a soothing agent. Many singers use it to soothe their voice.
- Honey smoothens your vocal cords. Consuming one spoon of honey daily is really advisable for good voice.
- Few people also consume ghee with misri after riyaz. It might help in vocal agility.
- Some ayurvedic spices like clove, black pepper, ginger etc. are helpful in getting rid of an itchy throat. But, consuming too much at a time can cause other health issues.
I have tried and tested these home measures. Remember as I said earlier every human body has a different built up, so kindly consult it with your doctor or don’t follow these measures blindly. Know your body, know your voice and take good care of it accordingly.
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