Updated: Aug 31, 2019
Enduring a heavy, chesty cough these past few weeks was quite the ordeal. The phlegm, the congestion, the impaired breathing. All this makes anyone feel horrible and losing one’s voice can be a bit isolating. But what really got to me was the idea of not speaking like my normal self for a week or two. Me. A voice over artist. Whose whole existence and happiness hinged on these cavities being totally cleared and ready for any action! (my nasal and vocal cavities mind you, and not that sort of action).
But seriously, if these past two weeks of being almost voiceless have taught me anything, it’s just how much we take our daily voices for granted. That got me thinking more actively about how we can take steps to care for our voices in order to prevent their irreparable damage. Whether you’re a professional voice over artist, a singer, a public speaker or just a regular guy or girl who wants to enjoy clear communication in their daily life, we can all learn how to better care for our voices so that they don’t let us down when we really need to speak up.
Here are some lessons I’ve learned about vocal health through the years to hopefully keep YOUR pipes crystal clear and living up to their potential.
1. Brace Yourself ...
Okay, so maybe Ned Stark was actually onto something when he spoke these words in a lower voice. Cold weather is a major issue for singers or voice over artists as it leads to dryness of the air which spells danger for the vocal tract.
If not well lubricated enough, drier vocal cords can lead to the voice “cracking”. My tip would be to breathe in through your nose instead of your mouth - this will allow your breath to warm up to your body temperature. Short of that, throw on a scarf if heading out in the cold.
2. Boot the Bad Habits
Smoking – And yes, this includes even second-hand smoking all you free-loaders. Smoking and exposure to smoke irritate and dry the tissues of the throat, particularly the vocal cords, which leads to improper vocal cord vibration and thus voice transmission. Smoking also degrades lung function, which affects the voice by decreasing airflow through the vocal cords. If you want a deeper voice, take up an acting class, not an addiction.
Caffeine and Alcohol – Caffeinated drinks are known as diuretics or promoters of water excretion from the body. This dehydrating effect can cause the larynx to dry out which leads to our familir voice cracking symptom. Alcohol has a similar dehydrating effect, and additionally can cause the vocal cords to swell. This restricts cord vibrations – altering the sound produced and compromising both vocal range and endurance. Be lame and stick to water. Your body and voice will thank you for it.
3. Weight, hold up.
Putting on the pounds can cost you many things in life, and your voice is definitely one of them. Excessive fatty tissue in the neck can narrow the air passage around the windpipe, causing the voice to strain. Deepening of the voice is common as well because there will be more tissue for the sound to travel through. So start burning off that extra flab if you want to achieve more energy and dynamism in your voice.
4. Nom-nom No-no’s!
A poor diet can lead to a croaky voice as a result of acid re-flux. Spicy foods like curry, white wine and fizzy drinks can cause stomach acid to splash up into the gullet, inflaming the vocal cords and causing a characteristic croak in the throat. Saying no to certain foods in excess is tough, but it’s well worth it if not only for your voice, but your overall health as well.
5. Don’t clear your throat – clear?
Sure, sometimes you need to just get rid of that pesky phlegm hanging around the back of your throat. But throat clearing for effect and too often causes the vocal cords to collide more forcefully than normal coughing. This impact causes irritation and swelling, resulting in a hoarse voice. Frequent throat clearing leads to further swelling and possible bleeding of the vocal cords which eventually ends in chronic hoarseness. My tip: rather take a sip of water when you feel the urge to clear your throat.
6. Deeeep breathing ...
Most people speak by channelling their voice via their voice box and throat. The mouth and nasal cavities are also acting as secondary resonators, aiding in the production of voiced sound. All this probably seems normal. It may be normal for you but, in truth, there is a resonator that is missing in this picture. The biggest resonator is your chest cavity. Those who harness this additional resonance chamber include many radio and TV broadcasters and actors, such as Sean Connery, George Clooney, and James Earl Jones, to name a few. The voice powered by means of the chest cavity is deeper, richer, warmer and more mature-sounding. Once you find it, you feel and sound better because it's easier on the vocal folds since you're removing undue strain on the throat and voice box.
So avoid talking from your throat by instead using deep, diaphragmatic breathing (from you diaphragm or belly region). This is your body's natural breathing cycle and helps create a full, easy breath which allows your vocal folds to produce sound with little effort and no strain.
7. Don't scream or shout or let it all out.
Screaming or raising your voice for prolonged periods is not recommended. To "speak louder" means to increase the tension in your vocal cords, worsening the vocal quality. If more volume is your aim, simply increase the breath-energy emanating from your diaphragmatic area by consciously contracting the diaphragm, thereby "supporting" the sound with a full cushion of air. Make sure you keep your throat open for a clear air passage. Practice this correct vocal breathing technique and you’ll improve your projection without unnecessary strain.
Unless you REALLY need to go to Super Saiyan 3 to save the universe.
DISCLAIMER: While the above are all great pieces of advice from my own experiences, readings and conversations with vocal experts, they are by no means medical gospel. These tips are meant to be used for vocal strain PREVENTION, not after the fact.
If ever you find yourself suffering from vocal strain, do not use this guide as a treatment plan. Always consult a medical professional for proper treatment rather than self-diagnosing with ANY online information.