Caring for Your Voice
In any trade or profession, a good worker will always make sure that their tools and equipment are taken care of, working up to standard all the time. In the voice over industry your tools or equipment are not just your microphone, your laptop or computer, the software you use, etc. – your prized instrument is YOUR VOICE.
In a profession that requires you to use your voice all the time, it puts you at the risk of developing voice problems, so it is imperative to understand what causes these problems and how to maintain the good health of your voice.
So how do you know when your voice is not healthy? Assess the health of your voice by answering these questions:
- Has your voice become hoarse or raspy?
- Does your voice crack after speaking for a while?
- Does your voice suddenly sound deeper?
- Does your throat often feel raw, achy, or strained?
- Has it become an effort to talk?
- Do you often have to repeatedly clear your throat?
If you answered YES to any of these, you may need to consult a doctor to determine the underlying cause.
Who should you consult with? An ENT (ear, nose, throat) or otolaryngologist doctor can best diagnose any disease or disorders with your throat. You may also be referred to a speech-language pathologist who can help you improve the way you use your voice.
What causes voice problems?
Voice problems are normally caused by some illness like upper respiratory infection; or inflammation caused by acid reflux, or heartburn or GERD; or allergens or environmental irritants, but more often though, the misuse and overuse of your voice would cause the unnecessary strain and fatigue in your vocal cords that then leads to vocal problems.
No rest or quiet time
Not getting enough rest or quiet time in between practice sessions, or demo recordings can cause fatigue. When your voice is fatigued, it is essentially running out of fuel faster than it can replenish. Take your break to allow your voice to recover.
Pushing it to the extremes
When you shout, you put too much force in your cords that possibly can damage the lining, however whispering or speaking too softly often would also have the same effect. As they are not your normal range, they put extra stress on your voice.
Throat clearing and harsh coughing can also traumatic to your vocal cord. Minimize the stress in the vocal cords by using a productive cough: take in as deep a breath as possible, momentarily hold your breath, push the chest and abdomen inward with as much strength as is possible, and produce a silent “H” sound while you expel the air.
Caring for your voice can be essentially summed up to three things: REST, HYDRATION AND INTAKE.
Resting your voice is just one part of recovering your vocal strength. Resting your whole body is also important as physical fatigue can have a negative effect in your voice. When your body is tired, it will show in your voice, there would be a weakness or lack of control, diminished range or poor tone. You would also lack the energy and concentration to effectively use vocal techniques that can lead to vocal strain or injury.
The vocal folds vibrate against each other in order to produce sound. For it to vibrate properly and to work efficiently, they need to be well lubricated with moisture – drinking plenty of water will help lubricate your vocal folds. You would need your body to have at least 30 minutes to fully benefit from your fluid intake before each session, lesson or audition. This means you need to hydrate not just during your voice activities. Room temperature water is ideal, since cold water can have a numbing effect on the throat and mouth. Avoid drinking liquids that can cause your body to lose water and irritate the mucous membranes that line the throat like alcohol and caffeine.
Apart from watching out on your fluid intake, you should be mindful too of your diet and medicine intake. Eat plenty of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables in your diet. These foods contain vitamins A, E, and C that helps the mucus membranes that line the throat healthy. Avoid eating spicy foods. Spicy foods can cause stomach acid to move into the throat or esophagus, causing heartburn or GERD. Also watch out for side-effects of some medicines or drugs. For example, antihistamines for allergies can cause dryness but some nasal steroid sprays can relieve symptoms of nasal allergy without the drying side effects. Anti-inflammatory drugs should also be used with caution as they cause platelet dysfunction and this may pre-dispose to bleeding. Hormone medication may cause virilization of the female larynx and a loss in the upper vocal range. Avoid mouthwash or gargles that contain alcohol or other irritating chemicals. If gargling is necessary, use a salt water solution.
The next step to ensure that you maintain your vocal health is to practice some breathing exercises. This is like strength training for you vocal folds. The more compressed and concentrated the air in your lungs the greater the power to vibrate your vocal folds and assist you in your articulation and range. Deep breathing exercises and breathing management can train your lungs to absorb and release air that helps lessen the stress in your vocal folds
In an article by Harold Sconiers in Livestrong.com, he shares 3 breathing exercises to improve lung capacity and strength.
Assume an upright posture, preferably standing on flat ground. Keeping both knees loose, bend over from the waist, simultaneously pushing out all air from your lungs. Slowly return to a vertical position, inhaling at an equal rate. Fill your lungs to the greatest degree comfortably possible and hold this breath for a count of 20. If 20 seconds it too long, choose a timing that you can manage. While counting, extend both arms fully overhead. Relax, lower your arms and exhale slowly. Complete this cycle four times.
Standing upright, expel all the air from your lungs. Slowly breathe in, expanding your lungs to maximum capacity. Hold the air for as long as 20 seconds. While counting, rest both hands on your hips, thumbs facing front with pinkies touching in the small of your back. Release the air slowly and relax. Repeat three more times.
Lay in a comfortable position on your back. Rest one hand on top of your abdomen and the other on your chest. Breathe in deeply and slowly, pulling from your mid-section. When done correctly, the hand on your belly will rise higher than the other. Exhale slowly and completely through the mouth. Inhale fully through the nose, holding your breath at the end for seven seconds if possible. Slowly breathe out for a full count of eight. Squeeze your abdominal muscles toward the end, in order to discharge any residual air. Breathe in this way for five complete cycles. You may consult and work with a vocal coach or vocologist to assist you further in your breathing management and improving your vocal stamina.
These are exciting times for you and you wish to take in every opportunity to learn, work or practice to get your foot in and eventually get ahead in the voice over industry. But this excitement and even fear of missing out on opportunities can make you forget about your vocal safety. Protecting your voice is the most important thing you would need to do in your career – a healthy and strong voice secures not just the NOW but also your FUTURE livelihood.