HOW TO SAVE YOUR VOICE WHEN THE SHOW MUST GO ON:
VOCAL THERAPY TIPS FOR SPEAKERS AND PERFORMERS
By Laura Kessler, M.M., CPC
The voice is a powerful, yet vulnerable instrument that deserves the same respect and consideration as the knees or spine. The following are some simple guidelines and exercises I use with professional film actors, recording artists, public speakers and broadcasters faced with vocal hoarseness due to seasonal or lifestyle stressors. They are ideal for hotel rooms, before special events, or can be practiced daily to maintain vocal health. Enjoy!
GOOD FOR VOCAL HEALTH: Hum with your mouth closed (this sends vibrations down your esophagus like a therapeutic micro-massage). Temporarily resonate in your nose more than usual (prevents further guttural stress and allows you to be louder without much exertion). Water, sleep, hydration, hot moist heat (shower or wash cloth on face), vitamins, water, water, water…
BAD FOR VOCAL HEALTH: Dehydration which comes from smoking (including side stream smoke), caffeine, alcohol, salty and sugary foods, weather changes, stress, lack of sleep and even some teas, medications and cough drops. All things in moderation is a good rule, however definitely avoid smoking or being around smokers or close to air conditioning vents. Drink extra water to flush out any compromising beverages.
VOCAL THERAPY EXERCISES: These can be done softly and gently. Some are so subtle they can even be done in public! Stay in the nose and upper palate (especially during the “ah”). You should feel the resonance vibrating near your eyes and nose, more than your neck and throat. The stronger the muscles in your lips and stomach are, the less your voice will have to work because some of the tension has been ergonomically delegated.
1. “Hmmmmmmm…” (Like a high-pitched sigh with your mouth closed. Lips completely closed – stay in the nose and treble register / upper palate.)
2. “Hmmmmmmm-aaaaahh…” (Like #1, but with lips completely closed until the “ah” – stay in the nose and upper palate, especially during the “ah.” Do not become guttural at the end.)
3. “Mmmm-Waaah…” (Begin with strong, pursed closed lips and a slightly wrinkled nose. Use strong, slow motion, vertical fish lips on the “Waaah” – Celine Dion swears by this one. Again, stay in an upper nasal register and do not get guttural or low.)
4. “Hmmmmmm-Waaaaah…” (A combination of all the above and most of my clients’ favorite. Stay high in the upper palate and nasal register. Imagine the vibrations moving through the rear of your head and forward through your eyes.)
GENERAL SPEAKING TIPS: Rest your voice as much as possible and speak as little as possible until you must perform. Even professional comedians with healthy throats avoid speaking the entire day of a show so they can save their voice for that nonstop hour of speaking. Speak more in your nose than usual while recuperating. The worst thing you must avoid is resonating in the low, guttural register, which is quiet anyway and just creates more dry friction on your already-irritated vocal cords. Nasal-talking is your friend for a while. Experiment until you find a sound that you feel comfortable with. People rarely notice you’ve changed anything, however the reduction in friction on your lower vocal cords will be a noticeable physical improvement to you almost immediately.
RECOMMENDED: Traditional Medicinals Throat Coat Tea, Yogi Tea Throat Comfort, or any tea with slippery elm bark (this coats and moisturizes the throat with a natural, edible lubricant – many actors and singers swear by Throat Coat). Found in most grocery stores or vitamin shops.
Breathing exercises are always vital and wonderful for you, but especially now. Remember to inhale 100% fully with shoulders down, and stomach horizontally moving forward/outward and back/inward. Look sideways in a mirror to make sure your shoulders are not going up and down, but are relaxed and neutral so the lower abdominals do all the work and inflate slowly and completely sideways.
What if you do all of this and still do not get better? Try complete voice rest for a day or two and see an Ear, Nose and Throat doctor to make sure you are not suffering from vocal nodules (“nodes”). This is a serious condition that can interrupt and destroy careers for months or years. The best strategy is to avoid injury by taking care of your health everyday and doing these exercises as a warm up and cool down on a regular basis. Remember, it is just as important for a performer to stretch and maintain their vocal cords regularly the same way a runner must stretch their hamstrings to avoid problems and ensure a reliable peak performance on a consistent basis. You can even do them in the car or shower – the important thing is just to do them. Good luck!
Laura Kessler M.M., CPC