This month's tip is something that might seem mundane, but it's very important: hydration! I know I may sound like your mother here, but drink you water people! I sent this tip to my students back in December, but it has come up SOOOO much in the past few weeks that I felt it needed repeating.
The outer layers of the vocal folds are made of thin mucosa that is similar to the inside of your cheek. In order for the folds to vibrate properly, they need to be hydrated. Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night and had a dry mouth? It's pretty uncomfortable. Your mouth feels sticky and sometimes like it can't even move. That's similar to what your vocal folds will feel like when they are dehydrated. When your folds are stiff and dry, it takes a lot of effort (or lung pressure) to get them to vibrate. You end up working way to hard to produce sound, which can lead to other problems down the road.
If you remember nothing from this post, remember this:
nothing you eat or drink ever touches your vocal folds
(that coffee with milk you had before your audition that "coated your cords" didn't actually get anywhere near your vocal folds). It may have left a residue in your pharynx, but it didn’t touch your vocal folds. When you drink water, it takes a while before it actually begins to hydrate your body and eventually your vocal folds. There are different opinions out there about how long it takes for the benefits of hydration to reach your vocal folds, so my suggestion is to constantly stay hydrated. You should assume that it takes anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour for hydration to benefit your voice, so keeping a bottle of water on you throughout your day is the best way to keep those vocal folds moving freely.
Be aware of additional factors that can dehydrate you such as medications, cold air, caffeine, alcohol and dry heat. I recommend, no-demand, that you have a humidifier for your bedroom as you sleep in order to help combat the drying effects of your radiator in the night. You can also purchase personal steamers that you put your face or mouth and nose into to inhale steam directly into your lungs. Those are really great and very soothing. If you're taking medication that causes dryness, be sure and increase your water intake. If you're a big caffeine or alcohol drinker, consider cutting back in order to help your body stay hydrated. Your voice will thank you for it!