Voice Maintenance: Prepare or Repair?

Hi, there!

It’s almost Christmas, and I’m sure a lot of us are busy preparing for the occasion. The thing about Christmas and other festive celebrations is the spirit of giving, forgiving, and all kinds of positive vibes. We repair damaged relationships, and enhance existing ones.

That brings me to the title of my article today. The voice is such a delicate instrument – it consists of two very thin muscles that expand or contract to produce the necessary vibrations which in turn produce sound. Check out this Wikipedia page to see the anatomy of the voice.

The voice is the only instrument in the world that you build and learn to play at the  same time. Other instruments are finished products. Guitars, pianos, trumpets. You only need to focus on the maintenance of the instrument and work on the skills required to play them.

The voice, on the other hand, is never actually “finished”. It keeps evolving day after day until we die. You will have a different voice next year from what you have this year. Isn’t that interesting? You will always have a unique set of sound colours to work with as you grow and evolve as a human being.

The next time you hear anyone (including yourself) say that you do not have a unique voice, you know where to direct them to! =)

Jokes aside, the voice remains to be the most delicate instruments of all. Guitars are made of wood, so are pianos, trumpets are made of metal, but the voice is made up of only 2 muscles. It’s easy to see why it’s so fragile.

To make things worse, the voice is inside the body. When my guitar doesn’t sound right, i can check the frets, the neck, the bridges, or anything else that might cause the problem, identify what went wrong, and fix it. You can see the dent in the trumpet and the spoiled key on the piano that caused the annoying sound.

With the voice, you might need to see a doctor, and insert some tubes down your throat just to see what’s going on. And to top that, if the problem is not solvable through natural ways, you might even need surgery. This happens to a lot of professional singers who overwork their voices.

There is also no backup for the voice. You can’t simply replace your vocal chords with new ones, as you do guitar strings or drum heads. Guitarists even have 4 or more guitars on standby just in case. The singer, unfortunately, has to make do with only ONE voice.

There are a lot of discussions about tips on how to take care of the voice, and as usual, with these kinds of topics, you’ll often get a combination of myths and facts.

For example, as a kid I was taught that drinking certain citrus fruit juices are a good way to take care of the voice. Milk is to be avoided, so are iced drinks, and lots of warm water to replenish the voice.

For me, tips like these are beneficial even if you’re not interested to keep your voice healthy for singing or speaking. On the other hand, I also believe that since the voice is not built to take massive amounts of punishment, the best way to take care of it is to gradually strengthen it in ways that build it up over time.

For example, when beginning singers are exploring new areas of their voice such as their higher registers they tend to want to force the issue. Let me use a simple analogy to explain this:

You have two drums. There’s the small drum, and the large drum. You start out playing the large drum, but you decide you need higher notes to express your ideas. What do you do? For the parts requiring high notes, you use the small drums, and for the lower tones you go back to the large drums.

Simple, huh?

Except that that’s not what happens when most beginners sing. This is what they try to do:

They start out with the large drums. Then to get the higher tones, they stretch the skin of the drums tighter so that it will produce higher tones. And when they need higher notes, they stretch the skins still more, until finally the drum skin snaps. They never even notice the smaller drum.

If you tried this with actual drums (I recommend you do), you will notice a few things about the notes that come out:

  1. They sound forced. Why? Because they ARE forced.
  2. The sound loses its quality the more you do it. The skin loses its ability to stretch, and with it the ability to vibrate and produce tone.
  3. When you tune the skin back to when you started, the sound won’t be the same anymore. It will have a “tired” sound.

Drum skins are made of very resilient polymers, and are tougher compared to vocal chords. If they can’t withstand this kind of punishment, no reason to expect the human voice to.

Singing is similar to this process of making sound with drums. Don’t believe me? I’ll prove it right now. Imagine your body as a set of drums. Try beating on your chest area. Low tones right? Bass drum. Try slapping your face. Seriously. High notes, right?

You’ve just found out the origins of the terms head voice and chest voice. They actually do resonate in these places.  =p

Back to the title of the article (yes, I do intend to explore how to maintain the voice), the best way to maintain the voice is to know how to use it. If you knew how to use which part of the voice for which sound, you’ll use the voice naturally and won’t have to resort to forcing.

Another good thing to do is to build stamina. Remember the drum analogy? The voice is like a set of drums that use only one drum skin. The same skin resonates sounds in different parts of the body to produce the desired sounds. That’s a lot of hard work for 2 tiny muscles.

I have written a different article on stamina building here.

So that’s how you take care of the voice: learn to use it correctly. Plain and simple. So no excuses. Browse the other articles in the site to find out how to use the voice the way it was meant to be used. Happy singing! =)

superior singing