Myths and Facts: Caring for Your Voice during the Winter Months

Taking care of the voice or Vocal Hygiene

can be thought of as the care and feeding of the voice. 

These are things we do to keep the voice healthy.

To take care of the voice, we must also take care of the body.

Here are the facts regarding hydration of your body and therefore your voice ~



To keep the vocal folds moist from the inside, make sure you drink plenty of water.

The vocal folds function best when the entire body is well hydrated. Since fluids and food pass through the pyriform sinus cavities avoiding the vocal folds and air passageway, vocal folds do not receive direct hydration. Rather, the body supplies hydration to the areas of the body that need it foremost. This is why it is important to hydrate on a consistent and constant basis as it does not help your voice if you plan on waiting and drinking water just before your choir rehearsal.

  • Good hydration also makes the mucus that covers the vocal folds thin and slippery, so that they move against each other easily and vibrate smoothly. Think of the mucus coating as being like motor oil to your car’s engine: if it is thin and slippery, the engine will run smoothly!
  • Alcohol is drying to the entire body. Monitor your consumption of alcohol as it can make the vocal folds drier. If you are a regular coffee drinker of caffeine, moderate and regular intakes are now considered not to be as de-hydrating as once believed. Research shows that a profound tolerance to the effects of caffeine and its response are much diminished in individuals who regularly consume tea or coffee. Doses of caffeine equivalent to the amount normally found in standard servings of tea, coffee and carbonated soft drinks appear to have no diuretic action. Coffee contains 95% water.
  • Foods that have a lot of water in them can help with hydration. Examples: cucumbers, melon, grapes, and gelatin. It might be a great idea to stock the fridge at work as well as at home so they are readily available.
  • Dairy products do not produce phlegm in the majority of people (the exception is people who are allergic to casein, the protein in some types of milk). Instead, the high fat content in dairy products thickens the mucous that is already present in a person’s airway, making it seem like there is more phlegm. Thicker phlegm can be just as problematic as having more phlegm. This thickening sensation can be diminished by eating dairy products that have a lower fat content.


Many medications, such as cold and allergy medications, are drying to the body. Try to avoid these medications to help your body stay hydrated.


Your doctor may recommend a mucolytic medication. This is a medication that can  help keep mucus thin and slippery. These medications are  available  over the counter. GUAIFENESIN is the active ingredient. Brand names include Humibid, Mucinex, and Robitussin.  Be sure to get the preparation that does not contain decongestants, antihistamines,  or cough suppressants.


Many cough drops and throat lozenges are drying to the mucus membranes of                the mouth and throat. This is especially true for products that contain   menthol and eucalyptus. The best lozenges for soothing the mouth or throat are glycerin lozenges.



Steam inhalation: Inhaling or breathing steam helps the voice box stay moist and can be very soothing to irritated vocal folds. Breathe the steam through your nose for three to five minutes, two to three times per day.

  • Breathe shower steam or from a personal steamer.
  • You can also boil water, pour it into a sink, and breathe the steam.
  • Never breathe steam standing over a hot stove or boiling water.
  • Moisten a washcloth under hot water, hold it over your mouth and nose, then breathe in.


Room humidification: You can increase the moisture in your home or office by using a room humidifier or hot water vaporizer.  Cool mist vaporizers can cause chemicals and germs to get into the air.

Room humidity should be between 30 and 50 percent. You can check the moisture in the air in your home by using a hygrometer.

The most important thing when using room humidifiers or vaporizers is to carefully follow the cleaning instructions in the package. If you don’t keep the humidifier or vaporizer clean, germs can get into the air that you breathe.

Allergies to Mold or Mildew: Be careful using humidifiers or vaporizers. They can  increase the moisture in the environment and can cause mold and mildew to grow.

Even after maintaining proper hydration and practicing good vocal hygiene, we must always use our voice efficiently with proper breath support and appropriate resonance.

To learn more about vocal hygiene, you may visit: Duke Voice Center.


Daugherty, J. (2012). Vocal health handout. University of Kansas.  Lawrence,  KS.

Daugherty, J. (2015). Graduate vocal pedagogy.  Retrieved from

Duke Voice Care Center.  Vocal health information. Retrieved from 

Erickson-Levendoski, E., Sivasankar, M. (2011). Investigating the effects of caffeine on  phonation.  Journal of Voice. 25. (5). E215-E219. Feldenkrais, M. (1949). Body and mature behavior. New York: International Universities Press.

Killer, S.C., Blannin, A. K., Jeukendrup, A. E. (2014). No evidence of dehydration with moderate coffee intake: a counterbalanced cross-over study in a free-living population. PLoS One. 9 (1). e84154. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0084154

Parillas, D. (n.d.). Vocal hygiene – part 2: hydrate! hydrate! hydrate! why vocal hydration is important to singing. Vocal Brilliance. Retrieved from:




Teachers are at special risk for developing hoarseness simply be cause the job requires heavy voice use five plus days a week, with little time in between to allow the voice to recover. It has been observed that half of all teachers have a voice problem at some point in their careers.


❖ Take care to be well-hydrated. Begin your day with a full glass of water.


❖ Warm up your voice before you begin speaking and certainly before you enter the classroom. Use efficient speaking techniques as soon as you begin talking. This means establishing a routine for when your feet first hit the floor in the morning. Please see our routine at the bottom of this article.

❖ Use personal or room amplification to minimize voice use in classroom or in rehearsal.


❖ When you can, use sound makers (whistles, hand claps) to gain students’ attention, rather than a loud voice.


❖ Use printed signs or hand signals for messages that you use often.

❖ Minimize using your voice to teach the music. Have the pianist or section leaders demonstrate the part.

❖ Provide recordings for your choir members to learn the music.


❖ Avoid talking at the end of your breath. Don’t hold your breath before or between words.

❖ Use deep breathing avoiding shallow breaths before you talk.

❖ Incorporate vocal pacing by taking breaks from talking, both long and short throughout your day whether it is a weekend, vacation or typical work day. Not talking for even 5 minutes will make a difference.

❖ Avoid speaking at long lectures. Get creative with other ways to teach.

❖ If you are ill, cancel your engagements. If your voice is tired, stop speaking! Wear a button that says “I’m on vocal rest.”

Vocal Rest Button 


❖ Decrease the amount of time you spend on the phone. Use text messaging or email. By all means, avoid loud conversations on the phone.

❖ Improve your classroom acoustics by adding acoustic panels to the ceiling and walls and carpeting to the floors. These materials help decrease the reverberation or echo of sound in the room. Minimize the noise from fans, lights, overhead projectors, and sound coming from other classes. For more specific tips, visit  for the Acoustical Society of America’s Classroom Acoustics booklet.

Lombard effect: The Lombard effect will cause one to increase their volume due to increased noise levels in the room.  Voices tend to produce a more pressed phonation. For singers, pitch accuracy can become unstable and retention of pitch inaccurate. Do you best to avoid talking over noise whenever possible. Turn off the fan, buzzing lights, computers, etc..

❖ Wear an earplug in at least one ear. It can help your voice in a noisy situations, so that you avoid speaking too loudly. Molded Ear Plugs 

    ear.   ear plugs

❖ Use personal amplification or room amplification when teaching to minimize voice overuse.

Morning Vocal Routine:

  1. Light hum on a descending slide starting at about mid-register easily done as you are dressing for your day.
  2. Lip trill on an ascending penta-scale from low register to upper register. Then, graduate to full scales ascending and descending.
  3. Keep the diaphragmatic breathing you experienced all night with slow hisses or “sh-sh-sh”.
  4. Get the articulators going as you’re making your coffee or hot tea with explosive consonants: “ticky-ticky-ticky-too” or “chugga-chugga-choo-choo”.
  5. Move to phonation in the head voice with those great bird sounds of the crow and the owl: “caw-caw” “hoo-hoo”.
  6. Speaking with your established head voice and on the air – mix up some tongue twisters:

“Sally sells sea shells down by the sea shore.” What a wonderful world it is, when we whistle as we walk.”

  1. From there, you can move to your chest voice with a “ho-ho-ho-ho” and from there to singing in your different registers.


Duke Voice Care Center.  Vocal health information. Retrieved from

Daugherty, J. (2012). Vocal health handout. University of Kansas.  Lawrence, KS.

Parillas, D. (n.d.). Vocal hygiene – part 2: hydrate! hydrate! hydrate! why vocal hydration is important to singing. Vocal Brilliance. Retrieved  from:

Images retrieved from:

 3D  anatomical tutorial on the vocal and vestibular folds: Retrieved from :


Take Your Singing to the English Class


Why do we limit singing to our choir room? Why put restrictions on it? Why not get creative and share what we know to be true with others? We have read the research that shows the tremendous benefits that learning to read music has on our brains and how it impacts our academic studies and test scores.  We also know the benefits singing has on our well-being regarding our mental and physical health. But, did you know that singing helps just about anyone that struggles with reading? It can aid in retention, speed and ability to digest content. Attending a workshop by Professor Timothy Rasinski at Kent State a few years ago revealed even more positive benefits to singing or chanting poems and stories.

As a child I was able to remember the story of  Zaccheus, (the wee little man) because we sang the story. I remembered scripture taught to me at church much more easily when it had a melody. To this day, I can sing Psalm 23 much easier using Bobby McFerrin’s chant than if I just try to recite it.

Why not share the magic of singing with children who struggle with reading? It can provide confidence, enjoyment for reading, improve memory, and the ability to express one’s thoughts and emotions.

Dr. Timothy Rasinski’s research shows that the “singing episodes” in which we engage (i.e. worship services, ipod, radio or sports events) provide useful instructional tools to teach reading to beginning readers.

He goes on to say that it is imperative for beginning readers to develop a robust sight vocabulary, essentially memorized words—by sight and sound. Lyrical songs are often steeped in rhyme that use word families. Playing with the sounds of language through song can open the door to the development of phonemic awareness. The rhyming nature found in many song lyrics provides teachers with excellent texts for teaching word families. Not to mention that singing is just plain fun! Learning to read and to sing at the same time not only develops young minds but it helps them to express their feelings and understand the emotion behind what they are singing about and what they are reading about.

Kathy Cochran conducted research entitled The Effects of Singing and Chanting on the Reading Achievement and Attitudes of First Graders. Having taught music to the first-grade students of a Ms. Mary Bing, she became aware of Ms. Bing’s song method used to teach children to read. She had come to understand that the children’s language skills were strengthened “as singing and chanting gives children a chance to practice language”. This practice increases their phonemic awareness as well as their reading skills. Ms. Bing also noted that it increased their ability to focus and gave them a sunnier attitude which made learning more desirable and achievable.

Wouldn’t it be great, if we could collaborate with the reading teacher down the hall to take their simple poems or short stories and create chants that could be used to improve our children’s reading ability? In reverse, we could use simple folk songs and create word cards that could then be used in those reading circles. I would love to hear a chant or melody written on Sally Sells Seashells Down by the Seashore. Now that I think about it, I don’t think I could recite the poem “Jack and Jill” without singing it.

For more reading, please visit my references online:


Conducting A More Effective Audition


The modern choral leader has many irons in the fire.  The dreams we all had in graduate school of long hours studying scores and reading scholarly commentaries have fallen to the reality of constant administrative tasks like raising money, promoting events, raising more money, organizing staff and volunteers, raising even more money, and recruiting and auditioning the chorus membership.

The task of recruitment and appointment of chorus members through the audition process might be the most important work of all for the conductor outside actual rehearsals and performances.  Choosing the best personnel for the ensemble is, indeed, the “coin of the realm.”  Everything in the working life of a choral organization, from the quality of the choral product, to the growth and response of audiences, to the availability of adequate funding, begins with choosing the very best members available.

No matter the level of talent and training that has been achieved on the part of the candidate, and no matter the experience and due diligence of the panel conducting the audition, a choral audition is an intimidating and messy business.  The following thoughts and suggestions are offered to assist those of us who hear auditions as we prioritize our goals for the process and as we design a structure that well serves those goals.

There are as many styles of choral organizations as there are situations and conductors.  The recommendations of this essay are focused on the work of choosing members for a long-term appointment to a professional, semi-professional, or professional-level community ensemble that will give a number of performances over the course of a season or several seasons.

It is important to understand that a fine choral organization is both a company of quality voices and excellent musicianship, but also a tapestry of personalities and inter-personal relationships.  The choral instrument is unique from any other in music, because the instrument itself is comprised of the expressive heart, soul and mind of each and every human thread that forms the tapestry.  Though it may be contrary to conventional wisdom for many, it is the conductor’s responsibility to appoint the best person available to strengthen, diversify, and enrich that choral fabric.  The audition is the process by which he or she works to accomplish that goal.

Understand that the audition is a consideration of the whole person.  The process begins when the first inquiry is received by the choral organization.  The conversation may come in the form of an email, a phone call, or a discussion following an event.  In the course of the interaction it is critically important that the traditions, the goals, the expectations, and the blessings of serving the choral art in this particular ensemble are clearly communicated.  It is equally important that the organization’s representative be trained to listen carefully to the response of the candidate and to consider the compatibility of the individual with the musical family.  It is always best if this important initial screening is conducted by the Music Director, or by the director’s most trusted associates if the director is unavailable.

It is important that the audition candidate be evaluated as to their ability and willingness to follow instructions in the context of the particular organization’s style of communication.  For example, to save rehearsal time, many choral organizations communicate in written form through handbooks, newsletters and/or social media.  If it becomes apparent during the audition that a particular candidate has not carefully read materials assigned to him or her, that fact should be strongly considered in making an appointment decision.

The candidate, the choral organization, and the audition process should be treated with utmost respect.  Both the candidate and the audition panel should honor the process by dressing professionally.  The candidate should be greeted by a well-trained proctor who is prepared to assist with document preparation and ready to answer any questions.  The audition room should be private and well organized.  Communications between the choral ensemble and the candidate should be timely, consistent and professional in presentation.  Likewise, follow-up communication should be gracious, informative and professional.

Solos performed in auditions should be simple.  Many choral organizations assign a complex aria and provide an accompanist to assist in the audition.  In most cases the quality of the voice, the capacity to sing in tune, the understanding and demonstration of expressiveness, and the clarity of enunciation can be heard just as well, if not better, when the candidate sings a simple a cappella hymn or folk song.  Even more, the voice can be heard more clearly, and musicianship can be evaluated more accurately, when the voice is heard alone without piano, and without the distraction of vocal gymnastics.

It is important to determine how the candidate for membership performs in ensemble.
  Placing the candidate in a 4-part or 8-part hymn or chorale will demonstrate how the candidate responds to the presence of other voices.  Does the candidate seek to sing cooperatively with other voices?  How does the candidate nuance intonation when placed in ensemble?  Are there negative changes in vocal timbre that are revealed?

It is critically important that the audition proceed exactly the same, no matter the obvious strength or weakness of a particular singers’ candidacy. Quite frankly, in many cases, within the first few minutes of the audition it is obvious to the panel that a particular candidate is likely to pass or fail the audition. Most importantly, it is a sign of respect to a singer who has submitted themselves to a highly personal and intimidating process.  Though rare, there have been occasions when an audition that began with exceptional strength or exceptional weakness has concluded with an unexpected result.  Finally, when handled properly on the part of the candidate and the panel, every audition is a significant learning experience.

The audition should conclude with sincere expressions of appreciation and with a clear agenda for follow-up.  Each member of the panel should personally thank the prospective chorus member for honoring the ensemble by presenting as a candidate for membership.  It should be clearly stated to the candidate when and by what means the results of the audition will be communicated.  Once stated to the candidate, the process for advisement of the audition results should be followed without fail.  If  the audition was unsuccessful, the organization’s policy for sharing specific comments, scores, and recommendations for additional study should be communicated.  If appropriate, contact information for other choral organizations in the community that are considering new members should be provided.

Every person who interfaces with the staff and culture of a choral ensemble carries the legacy of that ensemble into the wider community.  In most recruitment seasons, significantly more singers who audition for a particular ensemble are turned away than are appointed to chorus membership.  If the process of audition has demonstrated the highest levels of graciousness and professionalism, every area of the choir’s reputation in the community will be enriched.

Article by Special Contributor William O. Baker, DMA

Founder and Music Director of The William Baker Choral Foundation

William Baker Festival Singers

Author, The Leipzig Door 

The Voice of the Very Young Child: Birth to 5 Years Part 2: The Physical Ability to Sing

Anyone who has heard a child improvise melodies from the crib knows it is a precious sound. Little ones can babble repetitive songs with pitch accuracy as early as the age of ten months. It’s likely these children have been sung to and/or have heard singing frequently during the pre-birth and early infant years. What are the basic requirements needed for children to learn to sing?

The physical ability to sing depends on the degree of normal and healthy development of the vocal mechanism (larynx, vocal folds, breathing apparatus), and on one’s neuro-biological ability to process music pitch.

In a 2006 study, a John’s Hopkins team studied marmoset monkeys using a technique that measures the electrical activity of individual neurons in the brain.  The researchers viewed each neuron’s reaction as different notes were played by a computer.  The researchers were able to discern that a majority of pitch-selective neurons are located in a specific region of the monkey’s brain near the primary auditory cortex, a region already known to interpret sounds.

“A tiny primate, the marmoset, appears to process pitch perception the same way we do, implying that the ability evolved in a common ancestor at least 40 million years ago.

60-Second Science

60-Sec Science Link

“The auditory cortex has traditionally been thought to detect the complex spectrum contained within a sound; for example, they thought…one set of neurons responded only to a trumpet and another set to a violin, even if playing the same note,” says Wang.  “But the neurons were found to respond to a single musical note, regardless if played by a trumpet or violin.”

What about pitch matching?

It has been observed there are a set of “pre-skills” a child must learn along the way to her being able to develop the ability to match pitch.  Past research verifies the need for these skills:

  • Children must develop awareness of the sensations of singing.

TO DO: Help discovery of these feelings by directing the child to feel the vibrations in her chest while vocalizing in various registers. Draw attention to the sensations of chanting and of singing. Rather than instructing or telling, discovery is the key here.

  • Children must be able to verbally describe their own vocal sounds and that of others.

TO DO: Encourage children to distinguish between whispering, calling, singing and speaking.

  • Children must be able to produce a variety of vocal registers and voice qualities.

TO DO: Experiment play with making environmental and animal sounds.

Range and Pitch Accuracy

“Children should not be expected to sing in the same ranges, with the same intensity, for the same periods of time as adults.”  (Miller, Page 29)

Songs for children should be pitched to around D Major. Since many music textbooks have lowered the pitches of songs to middle C or below, teachers must re-pitch them to a higher key for vocal health and pitch accuracy reasons. Children age 5 or younger usually cannot sing a middle C without engaging in pressed phonation. Start songs in a narrow range: D4 to A4 is recommended for our youngest students. Assess development and then add B4 and C5. Prior to puberty: B-flat below middle C to E or F at top of treble clef are now the recommended limits for most children.

Kinesthetics and Pitch Accuracy

Many researchers recommend using movement to assist in learning pitch accuracy.

  • TO DO: Use movement to describe high pitch and low pitch.
  • TO DO: Encourage children to follow music contour though dance or movement of the arms and body.
  • TO DO: Curwen Hand Signs can be used to associate movement with pitch.



By Scanned and enhanced by Matthew D. Thibeault – (Original text: John Curwen Standard Course (1904 edition, public domain))If the date is 1904, the author may be John Curwen (died 1880) or his son John Spencer Curwen (died 1916)., Public Domain,

Most children are born with the physical ability to sing, and most children innately love playing with their voice. This is most likely true for children have been sung to and/or have heard singing frequently during the pre-birth and early infant years. Use your voice, and watch the precious vocal development of  the  young children you teach.

Article by Author Jamea J. Sale, MME, Education Director:    JSale@ Institute for Healthy Singing with the William Baker Choral Foundation; Voice Specialist, Allegro Choirs of Kansas City


Bendor, D; Wang, X.(2005). The neuronal representation of pitch in primate auditory cortex.  Nature. Vol. 436. pp. 1161-1165.

Bennett, P. (1986). A responsibility to young voices. Music Educators Journal, 73, 33–38.

Bertaux, B. (1989). Teaching children of all ages to use the singing voice, and how to work with out-of-tune singers. In D. L. Walters & C. C. Taggart (Eds.), Readings in music learning theory (pp. 92–104). Chicago: GIA Publications.

Marra, J. (2018). Research shows where brain interprets “Pitch”. Retrieved from

Miller, R. (2004) Solutions for Singers: Tools for Performers and Teachers. Oxford University Press.

Mina, C. (2009). The Musical Development of the Child.

Mizener, C.P. (2008). Our Singing Children: Developing Singing Accuracy General Music Today, Vol. 21, 3: pp. 18-24.

Philips, K. (1992). Teaching Kids to Sing. Schirmer.

Thurman, L, Grambsch, E. (2002) Foundations for human self-expression during prenate, infant, and early childhood development. Bodymind & Voice, Vol. 3. VoiceCare Network, Collegeville, MN.

Trollinger, V. (2003). Relationships between Pitch-Matching Accuracy, Speech Fundamental Frequency, Speech Range, Age, and Gender in American English-Speaking Preschool Children. Journal of Research in Music Education, 51(1), pp. 78-94.