So for my nod to Valentine’s Day, I decided a tribute to that instrument that keeps us all (gainfully?) employed was in order… I’m lucky that my sister happens to be a speech pathologist, so I have easy access to a lot of great tips, ideas, exercises, etc.
I decided to do a little Q&A with her to find out some basic things that we can and should be doing to keep our voices feeling well loved. Here’s what she had to say:
Q: What are some basic things we should be doing on a regular basis to take care of our voice?
Just like any other muscle in your body, your voice (i.e., your VOCAL FOLDS if you want to get fancy and use proper terminology) need daily exercise to keep them strong. When your voice is being used regularly for recording or other professional purposes, think about those “performances” as a work out: you want to warm up before and cool down after each session. Even in between actual jobs, though, you want to practice daily exercises, hygiene, and general care to keep your vocal folds in top-notch shape.\
This care should look like this:
1-Daily exercises, such as “hummmmmmm” being held out, producing “num num num num” over several repetitions, and the “mmm-hmm” and “ah ha” exercises. What are those? Well, say “mmm-hmm”, first like you are heartily agreeing with someone: start toward the top of your register to produce “mmm”, then drop towards the bottom of your register to produce the “hmmm” part. Repeat this about 5 times. Then reverse it: “mmm-hmm” as if you are inferring “really?” –start at the bottom of your register for “mmm” and them produce “hmmm” toward the top of your register. Repeat that about 5 times as well. Then do the same exercise with the “ah ha” productions: top to bottom of your register about 5 times, then bottom to top about 5 times. Exercises such as these will keep your vocal folds strong, without putting undo strain on them.
2-hygiene and care: hydration is the key. Drink lots of water. Additionally, try to be sure you have plenty of air inhaled before you start to speak or practice scripts. Running out of air is one of the key components that contributes to “vocal fry”, or that raspy sound that you can hit at the end of phrases and sentences. And while it should be pretty obvious, try not to yell or raise your voice too much. Even talking above a noisy crowd in a bar or restaurant can be really hard on your voice. And I HOPE that none of you vocal professionals are smokers! The damage that smoking does to lungs is well-documented, but it will absolutely destroy your voice over time. So even if you sound pretty good now, you are cutting your career DRASTICALLY SHORT if you are a smoker. And sadly, yes, the damage is bad from cigars and marijuana as well. So quit those habits.
Q: I recently heard that drinking COLD water is actually bad for your voice. Is this true?
Huh. I’ve never heard that one before, and I’m going to go with a pretty solid “no” here. While I guess the idea behind this is that the icy temperature could possibly “freeze up” those vocal folds when it hits them, your nice warm 98.6 degree body will do a great job of tempering the water as you swallow. I’d even dare say that water that would be cold enough to inflict vocal fold damage wouldn’t be able to be tolerated by the human mouth. It’s MUCH more important to stay hydrated all the time and keep the water going even while you’re working. Small sips to be sure you have nicely hydrated vocal folds while you’re working will do you a world of good. Now, keep in mind there are also beverages that will NOT help you: drinks with citric acid (lemonade, orange juice, tomato juice…), alcohol, and caffeine will do you no favors. So stick to simple fluids, and water really is best.
Q: But I LOVE my caffeine. Is it really bad for my voice? Please say I don’t have to give up my daily fix!
The quick answer is yes, it really is not good for your voice. But hey, I’m a daily espresso and coffee drinker too, and you wouldn’t enjoy me if I didn’t indulge those vices. I recommend that you keep your caffeine intake to a minimum, and try not to have a bunch right before you’re recording. Think about things like hot tea (but not with lemon–there’s that citric acid again!) and herbal teas can MAYBE give you a little fix without as many detrimental effects. However, I would still avoid these as your main hydration plan. Instead, have your morning coffee and then try to taper to less caffeinated drinks. And in the recording studio, stick to water. And hey, it’s way easier to clean up if it spills on your recording equipment!!
Q: What about herbal supplements? Are there any that should be stocked on my shelf? (For instance, I read recently that gargling oregano oil might actually strengthen the muscles in your throat and make them less susceptible to infection?)
You know, there are always interesting tips and tricks suggested from the herbal world. Many of them are a bit suspect in my opinion, but I don’t totally write them off either. For instance, gargling warm salt water if your throat is hurting really can be beneficial. (Not that salt is an herb, but I think more people cook with salt than oregano, so you made me think of that.) Like all recommendations, I’d encourage your readers to talk to their doctor before trying anything too crazy. You certainly don’t want to put yourself at risk in other ways for things that are supposedly going to help your voice. That said, I think there probably are viscous things you could try (honey comes to mind, and maybe various oils?) that I can see helping to hydrate those vocal folds. Try things with caution and try to be honest as to whether or not YOU really heard/felt/experienced an improvement.
Remember, your voice is your “instrument”. Treat it with care, exercise it regularly, and it will be good to you!