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Culturing your voice: Dos and dont’s for vocal health

Voice plays a central role in many music traditions. In the picture are Astha Tripati recording a Bollywood song in a studio, and Vignesh Ishwar performing in a Carnatic music concert.

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 following six 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

Which translates to – the vocal qualities of being well heard (loud enough), well tuned and richly textured, being smooth and not harsh, being sweet and harmonious and being balanced in all the three octaves and registers are the six limbs or qualities of good voice. 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. Here are some essential tips for maintaining & balancing your voice.

  1. 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 scale which is comfortable for you to sing in highs and lows.
  2. 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.
  3. Breathing 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. ‘Kharaj Sadhana’ is a very popular riyaz technique for singers in the morning. Actually it is best for male voice 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. Record your sessions as it will help you identify mistakes and also improve your rendition.
  11. 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.
  12. ‘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.

Home measures to take care of your voice

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Honey smoothens your vocal cords. Consuming one spoon of honey daily is really advisable for good voice.
  5. Few people also consume ghee with misri after riyaz. It might help in vocal agility.
  6. 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.

Happy singing!!

 

 

14 Comments

  1. Anuj Anuj April 20, 2017

    You’re so naive to say that “Just remember anything you eat passes through your vocal cords so definitely it will affect your voice in minute ways.”

    You seem experienced and I don’t mean to insult but learning is a process which never comes to an end. Hope this clarifies:

    No, liquids and food do not pass through the vocal cord because the vocal cord is located anatomically in the larynx also called as voice box primarily for respiration or breathing (respiratory system). The anatomical respiratory passageway includes the mouth and the nose, to the vocal cord, larynx going into the trachea (windpipe) then into the lungs. The foods and liquids usually pass through the digestive system passageways which involves the mouth, pharynx, esophagus, stomach, small intestines and into the large intestines.

    PS: It is a good thing you guys are doing here. This forum will be helpful to a lot.

    • Astha Tripati Astha Tripati Post author | April 20, 2017

      Hi Anuj,

      When I said food passes through vocal chords, I did not mean to say that the food comes in direct contact with the vocal chords. It is just to say that the temperature of the food will have a certain affect.

      Even for this, there is no certain proof that there is such a long lasting impact. But what is certain are the short term impacts; for instance the numbness after eating an icecream, dehydration after oily food and so on.

      Thanks for giving a chance to clarify it further 🙂

      • Ravindra K Kapoor Ravindra K Kapoor June 11, 2018

        I fully agree with Astha Tripati that every food affects the vocal cords directly or indirectly. Her point is very strong and based on practical experiences Anuj. You are pointing out only the technical reasons. Every food and drinks that you take in normal, hot or cold forms affects the body, the digestive system and specially our throat and our voice. The burning example is the great singer Lataji who never drinks ever cold water and takes water for an earthen pot only even in summer days.
        Hope you would try these suggestions… With best wishes……. Ravindra K Kapoor

    • Sharu Sharu February 3, 2018

      Thanks for pointing out. I literally thought the same – food goes to our trachea instead of esophagus and I had my err moment.

      Now that it has been clarified, I understand what the writer was trying to convey. Nevertheless, it’s a good article.

  2. Pradeep Pradeep April 21, 2017

    Dear Astha,
    Nice article. This article is really helpful and gives an insight into precautions need to be taken to maintain your voice.
    I would say this article is written from a singing perspective, one needs to take it rationally.
    Cheers !

  3. Vishwas Nicholas Vishwas Nicholas April 28, 2017

    Well done Astha very useful article for singers !!!☺

  4. subhash subhash May 20, 2017

    there is any another secret of singing.. because all singers eat and drink also who know about that please share with me their experience

  5. Akshat Akshat April 16, 2018

    This Was A Really Beautiful And Helpful Article. Thank You So Much!
    Well I Have A Doubt. There Are Many Pandits Who Believe In Long Hours Of Riyaaz Since The Beginning. Like I’ve Been Learning Since 5 Years Now And What I Discovered Is That If Your Throat Is A Room, Riyaaz Is A Broomstick To Clean It. “Jitni Zyada Jhaadu Lagaoge Utna Saaf Hoga.” Yeh Baat Mujhe Pandit Ajoy Chakrabarty Ji ne Kahi Thi. So Shared A Big Teaching With Everyone Here. Hence, In The Above Article It Can Be Contradictory To Start With 15 Minutes Of Riyaaz. Basically One Should Never Put A Strain On The Throat To Damage It, But With A Proper Technique One Can Perform Their Riyaaz Irrespective Of The Amount Of Knowledge. Thanks For This Beautiful Article!?

  6. Anupama Anupama April 21, 2018

    Hello dear
    Actually I was doing riyaz From sharp A since long time n m a female singer so is this effects bad on my voice
    For 15 days I have got some throat problem like rough n cranky voice
    Is the reason is behind behind this ?
    Please Answer my question
    I getting fed up

    • Anupama Anupama April 21, 2018

      Sorry i was doing Riyaz on C sharp is it gives me any problem after long time

  7. Rajendra m shah Rajendra m shah June 8, 2019

    My wife has lost her voice after an left brain surgery. Is there anyway out to regain her voice with some help or medicines?? I shall be thankful to anyone who helps her out

    • Harminder Singh Harminder Singh November 8, 2019

      Hello. My mother in law almost her voice after consuming strong medicine to treat Thydroid. She then turned to a good homeopath in Jalandhar City, Punjab near Maksoodan Chownk. His name is Ravinder Singh.
      With his diagnosis and medication, her voice came back in about 15 days. Now is perfectly fine since last 6 years.

  8. Paramita Ghosh Paramita Ghosh July 26, 2019

    Thank you very much for the article. This is really very helpful. I have a low voice scale but my music teacher was forcing me to sing in a much higher voice, she told me this will raise my voice scale. But after a few days my voice was completely chocked and blood started coming out. I was treated for pharengitis…. Doctor told me leave singing. I stopped singing, left the music school forever. Later after couple of years, I joined another music school, and my new guru, he told me to Know first proper scale and then to culture it. All the things told by you are true and practical as per my experience. Thanks again for the informative article.keep posting.

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