Your voice and Good Vocal Hygiene

Your voice is the result of many mechanisms working together. Your voice is affected by the things you ask it to do on a daily basis, and can be affected by the environment. Symptoms of voice disorder include: Complete loss of voice, vocal fatigue, hoarseness, breathiness, a husky quality, a squeaky sound, a harsh/strained quality, reduced pitch, loudness, and a reduction of vocal range or flexibility. When we talk about vocal hygiene, we are talking about increasing or decreasing behaviours and/or exposure to certain environments that promote a good voice and facilitate verbal communication. A healthy voice results from a combination of healthy voice behaviours and a healthy environment.

Good vs. poor vocal hygiene

Good Poor

1. Sip water, yawn to relax your throat.   
2. Use non-verbal sounds to cue or attract attention.   
3. Reduce background noise, face the person you are speaking to, get closer to the listener. 
4. Use a good amplification system for public speaking.
5. Use airflow and “hmm” to begin your speaking.   
6. Keep a space between your teeth, let your jaw move freely during speech.   
7. Speak slowly and pause naturally to allow normal breath cycles without strain.   
8. Speak in a relaxed and natural voice.   
9. Allow for periods of voice rest throughout the day and restyour voice with your body.

1. Clear your throat or cough habitually.
2. Yell, cheer or scream habitually.
3. Talk in noisy situations (over loud music, office equipment, class noise, cars, buses, air planes).
4. Speak to large audiences without amplification.
5. Hold your breath as you plan what to say.
6. Clench your teeth or tense your jaw or tongue.
7. Speak beyond a natural breath cycle or try to squeeze a few more words out before taking another breath.
8. Talk in a prolonged unnatural voice (e.g., whisper).
9. Demand more of your voice than the rest of your body particularly when tired or sick!



Things to remember about your voice

  • Drink 8 – 10 cups of non-caffeinated, non-alcoholic drinks per day to keep your body and throat hydrated, more if you exercise or drink caffeine.
  • Learn to physically relax (speaking and breathing exercises).
  • Learn to recognize signs of vocal fatigue (hoarseness, tension, dryness, etc.) If symptoms persist for more than a couple of days, consult your doctor.
  • Try not to smoke!

Take-home exercises

The cow-grazer (helps relax lower jaw and upper neck)

  • Sitting in a comfortable position, open your lower jaw as if you were taking a bite from a sandwich.
  • Slowly move your lower jaw in a clockwise circular motion.
  • Pretend you are drawing a circle with your chin or pretend you are grazing on grass like a cow in the pasture.
  • After ten repetitions, repeat the exercise in a counter clockwise motion.

Head and neck rolls (helps to relax neck, shoulders, and upper chest muscles)

  • In a comfortable sitting position, tilt your head to the left side toward your shoulder. Then roll your head forward in a circular motion until it reaches the opposite shoulder.
  • Do not roll your head back, instead lift your head straight up and continue from the beginning.
  • After ten repetitions, repeat the exercise and begin from the other shoulder.

Belly breathing (encourages good breath support and posture)

  • From a comfortable sitting position place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly.
  • ake a slow, deep breath in while trying to push your belly hand out more than your chest hand.
  • Slowly let the air out and start over.
  • The goal is to practice having your belly hand move more than your chest hand.
  • This exercise is for practicing proper breath support needed for good voice use.
  • It helps if you have good body posture (i.e., don’t slouch).