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Tips for Singers:
"Drop The Chalupa" 
(. . . or learn what G.E.R.D. means the hard way)

by Mark Baxter
Iím sure it comes as no surprise that late night binges of spicy foods, alcohol and coffee are no good for your health, but did you know these habits can ruin your voice?

If you are constantly clearing your throat, especially after eating, and wrestling with a continuous rasp, the cause may not be poor vocal technique but a condition known as G.E.R.D. Gastro esophageal reflux disease, more commonly called reflux, is being diagnosed a lot more lately due to sensitive new diagnostic equipment. More than just heartburn, this common condition occurs when digestive acids back up the esophagus and burn the vocal folds. Since the symptoms resemble a good old fashioned blown voice, many doctors used to write off the damage, and the singer, to kamikaze screaming. They now know thatís not always the case. Reflux swells the folds, making them unresponsive, and misleads a singer into pushing too hard. Itís a scenario where the condition creates the behavior instead of the other way around. If you suspect you have G.E.R.D. see an Ear Nose & Throat specialist. If you canít afford a visit to an ENT, there are steps you can take on your own.

The first line of defense is usually a prescription-strength antacid; Rolaids will do if you are self-medicating. This just treats the symptoms, donít think of it as a fix. Doctors always follow the prescription with a lecture on diet and eating habits. No coffee, smokes, alcohol, sodas, junk food or spicy stuff. Basically, your whole life-style goes out the window. Eating late and crashing is also a big no-no. Lying down after eating allows digestive juices an easy path to your vocal folds. Donít be to quick to mourn the loss of your vices. When you think about it, we musicians eat terribly for two reasons: cash and convenience. If someone slid a healthy meal in front of you, would you still long for a burrito and a beer? Eating healthy does not have to cost a fortune or take all your time if you plan ahead. Donít let McDonaldís be in charge of your diet options. Before the chains ruled the planet, brown-bagging a lunch was a way of life. Pack a bag full of turkey slices, celery, carrots, apples -- or any non-citrus fruits or vegetables before heading to work. Make it part of your morning ritual: wallet, keys, lunch. When on the road planning ahead is even more important. Just as fueling up the van is a no-brainer, so should stocking a cooler.

A long and thorough warm up is also vital to heal your voice. Even though its condition was not caused by over-singing, the result is the same. Humming at a very low volume up down your range, in and out of falsetto (without pushing) will help reduce the thickness of the folds. It may take all day until you stop cracking and hitting blank spots, which means youíll have to start vocalizing early. Itís very important that you donít push from your abs to fix a stubborn pitch. It will only dig a deeper hole. As always, hydrate with at least two liters of water per day.

There is some leeway if these steps sound like torture. Some foods may cause more reaction than others and you can elevate the head of your bed to reduce the effects of post-gig meals. However, to discover what evils are manageable, youíll have to start with a clean system. Knowing youíll be able to keep some of your old ways makes it easier to start a bland diet. After a few weeks of cold turkey (pun intended), ask yourself what you missed the most. Using your voice as the gage, you can discover your particular vocal offenders. Ultimately, the choice comes down to what youíre willing to compromise. Will it be the music or the Mexican? Are you going to lower your artistic standards or drop the Chalupa?

Mark Baxter is a vocal therapist who offers private and video lessons. To contact him, call: (800)659-6002. Visit his website at:

(reprinted with the kind permission of Mark Baxter)

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