I Don’t Have Time to Rest My Voice

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Be a sleuth and discover the behaviors that made you need to rest your voice in the first place…

Dear Doctor Jahn,

I’ve heard so many singers and coaches speak about “vocal rest” But how do I “rest” my voice? No singing? No talking? No loud singing? Those all sound impossible options for me, given my schedule and obligations!


Dear Kerry,

There are many types of vocal rest. Absolute rest of course refers to not uttering a word. Patients who have hemorrhaged into the vocal folds are advised to do this. I tell such patients that the only thing they’re allowed to say is “The house is on fire!” – otherwise, complete silence. A voiced whisper, by the way, is not a substitute for vocal rest. Of course, absolute voice rest is punishingly difficult, and usually not necessary.

If you have a swelling of the vocal folds, modified vocal rest is the answer. Do not sing, minimize speaking to situations where it is absolutely necessary. Avoid social interactions, particularly in a noisy environment. If necessary, speak one-on-one to someone, using a “confidential” voice. This is an easier prescription, particularly in the age of computers and text messaging. 

An even less difficult form of voice rest is to avoid singing with vocal strain. For vocal performers this means, ideally, speaking in head voice, and avoiding belting or singing loud and high, and doing longer performances or multiple sets. This is appropriate for singers with vocal nodules.

A few more things to understand about vocal rest: When you rest your voice for more than two days, the larynx begins to rise in the neck. For classical singers this is an issue, since they are trained to keep the larynx low. But even for non-classical singers, expect whatever laryngeal posturing you may have learned to revert to its pretraining, “natural” position. So, coming off voice rest, give yourself some time to reposition your larynx in its “normal” singing posture.

Also, if you are using voice rest to reverse damage from chronic voice abuse, such as nodules, rest is not enough – you need to work on the technical problems that caused the damage in the first place. Nodules may decrease or even disappear with voice rest, but will return quickly if you do not modify the vocal behavior that caused them in the first place. Voice rest, then, can be absolute or relative. While small periods of rest can work wonders, it is not a cure-all, and generally should not be recommended for more than a week at most. 

-Anthony F. Jahn, MD, FACS, FRCS(C)

This discussion is for general information and not to be construed as specific medical advice that you should obtain from your own physician.

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