Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog

Training & insights for stage and studio singers, speakers, vocal coaches and producers from professional vocal coach and author of "Power, Path & Performance" vocal training method.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Recovering Your Voice After Respiratory Illness

Recognize the steaming pot of water plus towel over head strategy? It helps!

Tiz the season to be sneezing! Sometimes, even with our best preventative efforts, we succumb to a respiratory bug (cold, flu, etc) and our vocal cords experience some degree of swelling and inflammation (laryngitis). When we get well, it's very common to "guard" our voices, causing some subtle but very bad vocal habits to take hold and delay or prevent full vocal recovery.

Here are some suggestions for what to do recover your voice after illness.
Note: These suggestions are NOT for if you are still sick. I will be doing a future post for when you feel you just HAVE to sing sick, which is not something I recommend because it can cost you many more weeks of swollen cords (ask me how I know).
  • Don't start singing till your vocal cord swelling goes down.
How can you tell? Ask yourself if it hurts your voice to talk normally and if you can talk without sounding hoarse or whispery. Once you can make clear "bell" tones in your speaking voice, you're usually ready to rehabilitate your full voice.
  • Make sure your whole physical body is ready.
 That means fever and most heavy coughing is gone, you are well hydrated, rested and have ingested good nutrition (non-mucous forming foods that contain adequate protein, vits & minerals, possibly accompanied by nutritional supplements). Do some light physical exercises so you are well connected to your body, which you will be needing to adequately support and control your voice as you begin your vocal workout.
  • Start exercising your voice, working smart, not hard.
NOTE: If at all possible, schedule a lesson with a trusted vocal coach who can guide you safely yet surely through a warm up customized for wherever your voice is in the recovery process. 
    1. Do these as "wall work"... with your head and heels against a wall (men can use a small towel behind their head to accommodate bulky shoulders), your hands or fingers pressing against each other above the waist.
    2. Begin with lip bubbles and/or tongue trills , siren and humming ("m", "n", "ng") exercises. Start in the easy middle of your vocal range and don't push or use breathiness. In fact, take relaxed breaths but try to use as little breath as possible to buzz your vocal cords. This should help you make simple, clear bell tones. I teach my students a weird voice-relaxing exercise I call "the voice consonant exercise", "vocal cow" sounds. If you have the course... go there.
    3. If you are student of Power, Path & Performance, use the exercise "Flashlight Fingers". If not... just try to do some scales (do-mi-so-do-so-mi-do, etc.) across your chest and head registers, not pushing chest but "going over" at the least sign of vocal strain. This is important... don't push yourself to vocalize. Just trust the process and take it slow.
    4. Do some staccato exercises to eliminate last traces of breathiness. Make sure each quick stab is powered from your butt (which will cause your lower ab wall to contract, not push out), not your chest. 
    5. When these scales become easier, try some head voice exercises... gently pulling and not pushing them at all... and go as far up as you can WITH NO STRAIN. Instead of strain, use effort to stretch your upper spine (which should open your chest), powering that from your pelvic floor. The effort should be felt in your butt, not your throat.
    6. Then start a good high-to-low scale to bring your voice down to the bottom. As you approach the lower notes, DO NOT BEND OR SLUMP! Instead, do what you did for your high notes... stretch your spine. Of course, in all these scales keep your head against the wall, your hands or fingers pressing your chest open, up above your waist.
    7. Now try some sustain exercises ... try to hold an "ah" in the middle of your mixed voice. Raise it a half step, do again. Raise it but do not raise your larynx to do it. Instead, as you go higher, think your voice box down. 
    8. Do the bubble, trill, sirens again and notice how much easier they are.
  • Now try singing an easy song. 
IMPORTANT: Articulate your words in the front of your mouth, and articulate emotion in your mask to keep the back of your throat open and not tight. Make sure you are in "mixed", or "middle" voice... not pulling chest or going over to head voice too soon. Stay off the pressure and let your voice exercise until it feels confident. Then try pulling some more volume on this easy song.
  • If your voice is still feeling good, try singing a harder song...or just call it a day!
After exercising, rest your voice; don't talk much or sing, let the lactic acid dissipate and the muscles recover. Then resume your vocal exercising the next day just as carefully, but a little stronger.

How long will this process take?
It will take the time it takes... sometimes one good warm up will have you back in shape and sometimes it can take as much as two weeks to get back to your max vocal ability. It's OK to experience what I call the "helium" effect, which should wear off by the next morning, but NOT vocal fatigue or strain. Use wisdom... many times if you have to perform before the process of full recovery is complete, you can get by just fine with less voice if you don't push the volume or use too much chest voice in your mix.

Recovering your voice is an important process... where "form" is everything. Help is available if you need it. For personal vocal lessons (if you are long distance, phone lessons work great), contact me here. For my Power, Path & Performance training CD's, go here.

Let me know how you're doing out there!!

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