Voice Care, Improvement and Maintenance

Ukulele Moon Girl from "The Toon Sketchbook" on Tumblr: http://toonsketchbook.tumblr.com/
Ukulele Moon Girl from “The Toon Sketchbook” on Tumblr: http://toonsketchbook.tumblr.com/

First posted on the Ukulele Cosmos Forum, 25 June 2013

I could not find much on Ukulele Cosmos to do with voice and singing – the search function does not help as all the terms I tried were rejected as being “too common“.

So I thought I would start this topic.  I started off calling it “Voice and Singing Resources” but there are too many schools of thought in “singing pedagogy”, so I thought it safer to call the subject “voice” but include some specific resources about singing. Everything that helps to look after, improve and maintain a good voice applies to both the speaking voice and the singing voice. This is sometimes called “voice hygiene” but “voice care” works for me.

On which note – the health warning


If you have a cough, hoarseness or any other voice problem that lasts for more than two weeks – SEE A DOCTOR!

  • This is standard medical advice, for good reason.
  • If a cough or hoarseness persists for more than three weeks, go back to your doctor. Ask for a referral to a “cough clinic” or a “voice clinic” depending on the problem. These are few and far between so you might instead be referred to a general gastroenterology or ENT (Ear Nose and Throat) clinic.
  • A persistent cough or voice problem might be the sign of something serious and the sooner you find out whether or not this is the case, the better.
  • If you have a persistent cough or a voice problem, you will need an ENT report before you can receive any help from a Speech and Language Therapist. These might be symptoms of an underlying pathology and this needs to be excluded or identified first.
  • Good voice teaching or singing teaching should help you to improve your performance without damaging your voice. A good teacher who has your best interests at heart will advise you to get medical help and vocal rehabilitation if you have damaged your voice.
  • I will do a separate post with information about voice clinics, specialist medical help for performers, etc. This wil be UK-centric but all of the sites and organisations referenced include links to international organisations and/or equivalent organisations in other countries.

OK – end of “health warning” – but please take it seriously – it is all in the news this week – search for “persistent cough Def Leppard” and you will get the idea.

The Resources:

There are just two links in this post. These are to comprehensive, free resources that are well researched. They both cover everything you need to know to look after your voice and there is specific advice in both on singing and performance.

One is an interactive website (USA) and the other is a series of free eBooks (UK). Both were produced specifically for teachers but are essential reading for any “occupational voice user”, eg. call centre workers, tour guides, the clergy, barristers, etc. “Professional voice users”, such as trained actors and singers should already know all this stuff.

If you prefer a “discovery” method of learning, you will probably prefer the interactive website. If you like reading books, the eBook might suit you better. Both include activities, as we all “learn by doing”. The content overlaps so you will gain most by looking at both.

The reason I know about these resources and recommend them is because prevention is better than cure.

As well as playing the uke, I am a Speech & Language Therapist (aka Speech & Language Pathologist). I have found these resources very useful as part of rehabilitation of occupational voice users, including amateur singers, who have damaged their voices. If you are unfortunate enough to have already damaged your voice, do not think that it is too late to do something about it. At the very least, you will learn how not to make things worse.

Please do not not judge the quality of these resources by my own singing! I would almost certainly be a better singer myself if I followed some of the basic good advice, like don’t smoke and don’t drink alcohol. The other advice is, for me at least, easier to follow . . .

OK – time to dive in! Both of these resources are BIG – bookmark them, download what you want to keep to study later, take your time . . . there is a lot in here . . .

The Links:

LINK 1: Voice Academy: NCVS Vocal Academy
National Centre for Voice and Speech (NCVS) – USA

The Voice Academy was designed specifically as a free resource for teachers in the USA – it covers singing and is relevant to any “occupational voice user”.

This is a warren of information, activities, tips, video, etc. It takes quite a while to explore it all so do not expect to find everything in one sitting.

This extract from the “FAQ” page will help you to get started:

“I’ve heard about the Voice Academy website, and as I understand it, the information is organized in a series of rooms. Why?

Dividing information into various rooms nicely symbolizes our current understanding of the human voice: What we know about voice originates from medicine, speech-language pathology, physics, music and theatre. From this cumulative and interwoven backdrop, we can present both practical and theoretical information.

Also, teachers have different sorts of voice issues and need different types of information. Soon after entering the website, newcomers are encouraged to answer a questionnaire. Immediate feedback suggests a route through the school, taking you first to the rooms with the information you need most.

Finally, dividing information about voice into separate rooms may help you wade through the material in a series of sessions. We know teachers are busy people and may appreciate having information broken into manageable pieces.”

LINK 2: Inside the Voice eBook:
Produced for “Sing Up UK” by Stuart Barr and Jenevora Williams
(Stuart Barr: Musical Director & Singing Coach. London
Jenevora Williams: Singing Teacher with a PhD in Voice Science, specialising in vocal rehabilitation)

Introduction by Stuart Barr:

“Leading singing teacher and voice researcher Dr Jenevora Williams and I (Stuart Barr) have co-written an e-book on the voice for Sing Up, as part of the government’s drive to get more singing in schools.

It’s designed to be read as a whole by school teachers and voice leaders, but Chapter 2 is an excellent guide to how the voice works suitable for any singer or performer.

The e-book is packed with diagrams and humorous cartoons from the illustrator Harry Venning, and all the content has been vetted by an academic and medical team including Prof. Graham Welch and Dr Declan Costello.

Its multimedia content includes me narrating a journey inside my own singing voice using an endoscopic camera!

. . .  Inside the Voice e-Book

Chapter 1: Vocal health and awareness reveals the surprising extent of teachers’ vocal ill-health.

Chapter 2: How the voice works describes how the voice works in an easy-to-understand format.

Chapter 3: Voice care in and out of the classroom deals with teachers’ vocal problems and solutions.

Chapter 4: Voice development over the lifespan looks at how the voice changes from childhood through to old age.

Chapter 5: Improving singing technique gives lots of useful tips.

Chapter 6: Warm-up theory & practice shows the principles behind warming up the voice.

Glossary & further reading


I would be very pleased to have any comments, particularly:

  • from any Speech & language therapists/pathologists, vocologists, voice, singing or relevant teaching or medical specialists or singers reading any of these posts
  • from anyone on the resources I have linked to below
  • recommending any similar resources

Liz Panton MRCSLT

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