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Beth DeSombre: Blog

NERFA Mentoring Session: Vocal Health

Posted on November 13, 2015
I’m at the Northeast Regional Folk Alliance (NERFA) conference this week, and one of opportunities is to sign up to meet with mentors. I had my first mentoring session right after I’d checked in. I’d picked Rorie Kelly as a mentor, in part because one of the things she’d mentioned was vocal care and health, and that seemed like a worthwhile topic, especially as I’m embarking on a recording process in which the quality of my vocals is on my mind.

It was a helpful conversation. There was no major new information (although she did have some smaller suggestions of things I hadn’t thought about), but gathering it all in one conversation framed it differently. The punch line is that I should treat my voice the way I treat any other instrument, something I forget to do.

Some specifics involve doing vocal warm-ups every day (rather than only in specific contexts where I feel like I need to be ready to perform – and even then, I’m not as reliable about warming up as I should be). She suggests warm-ups that start with deep diaphragm breaths and then any kind of exercise (scales, intervals) handy, with an advantage to focusing on singing/practicing the kinds of things that aren’t feeling good or coming out the way I want them to when singing. So in my case, that might be practicing singing intervals of a sixth, because that’s a vocal leap that hasn’t reliably been coming out the way I want it to.

She also reminded me about the importance of hydration, but I was pleased to note that drinking warm liquids (like tea) is even better than cold ones, at least in part because bacteria prefer conditions that are colder and dryer than the norm, and that takes them in both ways out of their comfort zone.

She also emphasized using a humidifier, and commented on the value of creating a habit (about humidification, drinking, or warming up) by hooking it up to something else I already do habitually (e.g. turn on the humidifier when I plug in my phone at night). Given that I’ve just written a book chapter on habit, I know she has a point.

She also recommended – especially given my chronic cough that is almost certainly from allergies – local honey, and a thyme infusion (steeping thyme in hot water for an hour or so), both of which are appealing in their own right.

All of this is a good reminder, especially in a time period when I’m starting the recording process, to develop good habits of vocal care.