Considerations for Vocal Health: Part I

nutrition for singersYou’ve heard the phrase “You are what you eat,” right?  As a singer, it’s important to  understand that what you put into your body also can impact your vocal health.  So make sure you’re treating your body right – here are some helpful recommendations from Long Beach instructor James S.:

 

Some of the most important considerations in the development of vibrant vocal health are diet, breath work, and holistic health considerations. Leading vocalists and actors in the industry know the secrets to maintaining a healthy resonant voice, but unfortunately many well-meaning vocal instructors do not have the time or knowledge to address these extremely important concepts.  Most vocal students at some time in their life will suffer from vocal challenges due to weather, stress and/or diet.

Nutrition is by far the most important consideration in vocal health. Having a nutritionist license as well as coaching vocal students for over twenty years, I have assisted many students in overcoming vocal health challenges like allergies, asthma and chronic respiratory illnesses by just eliminating all dairy, processed foods and gluten from the diet. Dairy produces phlegm, wears down the immune system and is a leading culprit of making a singer more susceptible to allergies. Gluten such as wheat also causes vocal challenges.

Here is a simple list of nutrition considerations for vocal health, particularly when it comes to dealing with weather-related challenges:

  • Avoid Dairy and Gluten: It’s best to avoid these at least an hour before singing, and preferably all of the time. Soy milk is not the best replacement; it has a cold property that also produces phlegm.  Instead, consider rice milk, coconut milk, almond milk and hemp milk. For grains: consider quinoa, spelt, amaranth, oats or rice. I have noticed that all my students that have eliminated dairy and gluten from their diet rarely get sick. I have seen chronic conditions like asthma and allergies greatly improve by simply eliminating dairy and gluten.
  • Avoid Alcohol, Soft Drinks and Coffee: Alcohol, soft drinks and coffee dry out the vocal cords.  Corn syrups and flavorings irritate the throat and tannins from alcohol can also create mucous and swelling. Living in the era of Starbucks, it is so easy to get caught up in drinking these unhealthy beverages. Better choices are water, herbal teas or 1-2 cups of green or white tea that have a high antioxidant count. Alcohol is by far the worst culprit for destroying the voice. One only has to listen to the vast difference in recordings of artists like Frank Sinatra in the 1940s and his later recordings to get a feel for alcohol damage and the voice.  While Frank’s early recordings reflect clean diction, rounded smooth tone and clarity, his last recordings show breathiness, hoarseness and limited range.
  • Avoid cold drinks, frozen foods, and ice before singing: Ice produces mucous and numbs the vocal cords, making it challenging to sing. Parents need to be especially aware of making sure their children don’t eat ice cream and other cold treats before singing. Besides the production of phlegm, young students can actually damage their vocal cords, which are still developing at that time.
  • No smoking or second-hand smoke: This should go without saying, however, many vocalists are sometimes asked to perform in smoky clubs and venues. I would suggest refusing to perform anywhere near smoke, which also includes bonfires, barbeques or on extremely smoggy days. Also, consider having an ionic air filter in your home.
  • Eat and drink cooling foods and beverages when the weather is extremely hot and/or dry: When the weather is dry, our voice becomes susceptible to hoarseness, burning and dryness. Our sinuses can get dry and crusty, and our whole respiratory system can become inflamed. Peppermint tea, cucumber and melons of all types can help to sooth and keep the body cool. White and green tea have an antihistamine-like effect, and can help with hay fever and asthma attacks. They also have loads of antioxidants. Stick with just two cups, as anything more can be drying. Also consider eating foods with bromelein, which has an anti-inflammatory agent that can help in the dry hot season. Try fresh organic pineapple and pure pomegranate juice.
  • Eat warming foods and beverages when weather is cold and or damp: The old stand-by of hot lemon water with a drop of honey is good. But even better in the winter is organic ginger tea. It is naturally antibiotic and also loosens phlegm. Try Traditional Medicinals’ Breathe Easy tea, which has licorice root and eucalyptus to help open up lung passages, or Throat Coat tea.  Eating hot soups with spices such as cayenne pepper also help to keep things moving in the dead of winter.
  • Consider getting a variety of oils daily: Salmon and other oily cold-water fishes are very conditioning and healthy for the lungs and sinuses. Also consider using coconut oil daily, and eating seeds with oils such as hemp, flax, chia and sesame. Olives and avocados also help to moisturize the internal organs.

These suggestions, in addition in studying proper breath placement and diction with your vocal coach, will go a long way in keeping your voice in tip-top shape.


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Long Beach teacher James S.James S. teaches piano, singing, violin, mandolin, music performance, music recording, music theory, opera voice, songwriting, speaking voice, theatrical Broadway singing, acting and fiddle lessons to students of all ages in Long Beach, CA.  He joined the TakeLessons team in June 2012.  Sign up for lessons with James, or visit TakeLessons to search for a teacher near you!

 

Photo by USDAgov

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