Vocal awareness is an essential tool in a professional voice user's vocal health toolbox.
How do you know if a change in ease, power, stamina, or voice quality is a sign of a voice problem?
Get to know your voice on healthy voice days and then listen to what your voice is telling you.
Dr. Robert Bastian, of The Bastian Voice Institute, is a highly regarded laryngologist. He developed a daily exercise for checking for vocal swelling. Daily is the key word here. You must understand your healthy baseline for this tool to be effective.
Use a very small, high-pitched voice and sing "Happy Birthday" several times. (Just the first phrase.) Repeat the phrase at a slightly higher pitch each time, until your voice "cuts out". Do not sing louder as you ascend in pitch.
Do this exercise at the beginning of your daily warm-up and right before you go to bed.
Take note each day. Is this exercise more difficult? Does your voice cut out at a lower pitch? If so, try to determine why this is happening. What might you need to change about your voice use tomorrow to return to your baseline?
When should I be concerned?
If your voice is your livelihood, it is normal to feel very worried when you notice a voice change. Knowing when to be concerned and where to go for help is essential.
Some questions to ask yourself when your voice just doesn't feel "right":
Is this a new feeling/quality change for my voice? - For example: If you normally can sing high and soft easily and lose that ability, this is a change. If you normally have clarity in your middle voice but start to develop a raspy sound, this is a change.
How long has this change been present? - In general, a voice change/problem that persists for more than two weeks should be evaluated by a qualified medical professional.
Can I identify a specific cause for this change?
lack of hydration
overuse of my voice
recent upper respiratory infection
use of vocally drying substances such as antihistamines, alchohol, caffeine, smoking, etc.
recent traumatic vocal event* such as yelling/screaming or chronic cough
Is the voice change I'm noticing present all day long? Just in the morning? Just after singing? Just after speaking? - This information will be helpful for your voice team, should you need to have an evaluation.
*A note on "traumatic vocal events" - if you notice a sudden voice change after yelling, screaming, high-level voice use, or heavy coughing episodes talk to a trusted voice professional as soon as possible.