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English Language Article : 7 tips to survive multi-show weeks

It's that time of year again ! Shows are starting up, a lot of us are working hard on stage, perhaps teaching a lot too and people around us are getting sick. Multiple show weeks are hard any time of the year, but when the cold weather hits too we (professional voice users) all get a bit antsy about losing our voice (Unless you're one of those instagram girls who leaps into her ugg boots and runs to the nearest Starbucks shrieking something about sweaters and pumpkin spice, in which case, as you were...)
Here are my top 7 tips to surviving multiple show weeks (or any busy voice schedule) with your voice intact. 
  1. Get some Zzs: If you're singing several hours in a row, it's possible that your vocal folds will end up a little swollen and damaged. That's a scary word, 'damaged', but it happens even after a long day of talking and - more importantly - you can fix it by getting a good night's sleep. Basically your body fixes a lot of things whilst you sleep, including your vocal folds, so you can awake with fresh, functional folds, ready for another day of voice use if you get enough sleep. I get it, it's really tempting to go out after the show (or to drink your own body weight in scotch after teaching year 9 all afternoon), but what your body and vocal folds need is rest and recuperation time (what they definitely don't need is you howling Beyoncé songs in a noisy bar whilst cuddling a wheelie bin) - don't burn the candle at both ends!


  2. Eat well: I swear your grandmother didn't put me up to this... but eating well is important for your voice. It's not easy, especially if you're a stage performer and you work nights - before the show you don't feel much like eating and afterwards, if you eat too late you increase the risk of reflux (which is not great for your voice). You just have to find what works for you (#youdoyou and probably #yolo and shit). Some singers that I work with prefer to eat well at lunch time, then just eat nuts and dried fruit during the evening to keep themselves going, whereas others prefer to eat before the show, but try to eat as light a meal as possible. Just make sure you eat a balanced diet with enough protein, avoid kebabs and deep-fried pizza at 11pm and you'll be fine!


  3. Avoid smoking:  It's a tricky subject, I know  and I get that it's not easy to give up if you've been smoking for a while. If you can manage it, though, your vocal folds will thank you and will perform much better. Remember that everything you inhale passes through your larynx (and therefore through your vocal folds) on its way to the lungs. Even if you're not a smoker, try to avoid hanging around with people who are constantly blowing smoke in your face. 


  4. Get some advance hydration: Your vocal folds work best when they are well hydrated - you can easily feel this if you clap your hands together quite forcefully - notice the sting? That's what's happening if your vocal folds vibrate whilst overly dry. Now try again with a bit of soapy water between your hands (ideally we'd use mucous to make things as scientifically valid as possible, but I figure that you probably won't keep reading if I ask you to gob up a load of snot into your palm, so some fairy and a bit of water will do nicely) - you should notice that the sting is greatly reduced. This is how it is for your folds too: the better hydrated they are, the more they can withstand friction. Of course, the water you drink doesn't touch your vocal folds directly (this is good news, really, because if it did go through the larynx, it would end up in your lungs and it would be a bugger if you drowned every time you had a diet coke). What's more, the larynx isn't even on the top of the list when it comes to hydration getting handed out - your heart, kidneys and lymphatic system all get dibs on the water first. So, whilst it's important to drink water, you need to do it in advance as it doesn't get to your voice straight away. If you have a concert coming up, think about upping your hydration a few days before to get things going. Hopefully now you'll see that the various potions and teas that singers love to recommend to each other don't really have an impact on your voice as they don't touch your folds. Drink water, guys, it's a hell of a lot cheaper than Madagascan Moon Honey or Tibetan Cherry Stalk Tea.


  5. Steam inhalations: So we've established that the water you drink doesn't come into direct contact with your vocal folds. The water from steam inhalations, however, does - simply because you breathe it in. To get instant, topical hydration for your larynx, boil some water (ideally, it should be around 70 degrees, so if you're a fancy pants, you can use a thermometer, or you can just boil it and leave it a bit before using it), put it in a bowl, grab a towel and breathe in through your mouth for 3-5 minutes. Wait around 15 minutes after the inhalation before using your voice (your folds may swell a little during the inhalation, this gives them a bit of time to go back to normal). On a show day, or a busy teaching day, you can do an inhalation in the morning, one an hour or so before the show (or at lunchtime for teachers) and another one at the end of the day. You also get fabulous skin and can go round saying to people 'how old am I? Go on, guess!', which is a bonus.


  6. Work on your vocal technique: Good vocal technique is your best weapon against vocal fatigue. When you use your voice in a constricted or tense way, you increase the friction between the vocal folds (remember the clapping exercise above, now imagine that you're clapping thousands of times a day...). You can basically imagine that friction and time are inversely proportional to one another where your voice is concerned - anything you do that reduces friction and tension will increase the amount of time you can use your voice without getting tired. Working with a good coach can help with this and, for professional voice users, I think it's really a non-negotiable professional responsibility. Find a coach who understands the science behind voice production and who makes your voice feel easier to produce each time you work with them.


  7. Find your team: Take a page out of a professional athlete's book and get yourself a support team. No one can do it on their own, especially not at a professional level. As well as your voice coach, have a good physiotherapist, a massage therapist, a phoniatrist or ENT and maybe an osteopath. These professionals will be able to accompany you and support you throughout your career - don't wait until it's too late! Cross disciplinary training is more and more popular so you should be able to find experts who really understand voice production as well as their own field. 


Next time I'll give you some exercises to do if you've ended up with a tired voice, but in the meantime, use these prevention strategies to try to make sure that doesn't happen!