Summer is just round the corner for those of us in the northern hemisphere and with it the propect of exhausting your vocal cords. Whether it's bellowing drinks orders to a friend at the bar, berating Phil Neville's latest misplaced back pass or encouraging small children not to wonder into the middle of the road chasing after a shiny red ball, summer is the season for shouting yourself hoarse, but if you want your voice to last until Dave's last minute winner against the Argies in the final you're going to have to take care of it.
The human voice is a precious, delicate mechanism; used properly, it rarely goes wrong. The harsh environments and smoky atmospheres of modern living, though, can often cause hoarseness, unreliability and even complete failure. If you are a singer or actor – amateur of professional, solo or choral – voice problems can have a major effect on your career.
Vocalzone and the Edinburgh Voice Centre have jointly produced this Good Voice Guide, packed with tips and advice on keeping your voice in first class condition. If your voice is important to you, this Guide – and Vocalzone will help you maintain it properly.
If you care about your voice you should not smoke. The irritants in tobacco damage the voice and will certainly shorten your vocal career. As a smoker you are more prone to infection and your voice can become unreliable.
Caffeine, alcohol and some drugs can prevent the body from retaining water. The vocal folds; protective cushioned layers need to be kept moist to stay healthy. Avoid too much tea or coffee, colas, alcohol etc. – no more than 2-3 per day, no later than mid-afternoon. Drink as much water as possible – we suggest 2 litres a day (6-8 glasses), even more if you are working in a dry environment such as on stage or in the theatre.
Many medications are dehydrating; check with your pharmacist or doctor. Also try to avoid hot dry atmospheres or air conditioned areas.
Generally, your body is well hydrated when your urine is very pale. As they say – “pee pale”.
Monitor your voice use
Everyone’s voice has their own limits. Know yours! Obviously, loud harsh talking or singing is more damaging than gentle use, so avoid prolonged use in ‘hard’ environments such as clubs and pubs; even using your mobile in a noisy place.
Don’t shout when you don’t have to!! Your vocal cords collide with each other more than a million times a day. Any extra activity adds to that and puts a strain on those cords.
When recovering from a voice problem, avoid unnecessary conversation – phone calls, chatting etc. – and try to monitor your voice use. Keep to two hours of intensive use a day (performing, rehearsing, public speaking or meetings) and remember that the more intensive the use, the less time your voice will last.
Always warm up
Your vocal cords are muscles. Like any muscles, they need a thorough warm up before exercise to get the best performance. We recommend very gentle humming and glides for about five minutes in the morning and before intensive voice use. After the warm-up, give your voice 10-15 minutes rest before the performance. Contact the Voice centre for detailed information on warm-up exercises.
Use the warm-up period to relax; check your breathing habits and drink some water! Healthy habits pay off in the long term – and bad habits cost. Just because you get away without warming up now does not mean that you will never need to.
Avoid late-night eating
This can result in stomach acid spilling into your larynx, causing hoarseness. Tell-tale signs are bad breath (especially first thing), prolonged warm-up (more than 15-20 minutes), and a sour taste in the mouth.
Avoid repeated throat clearing
Clearing your throat and coughing can damage the vocal folds. Try sipping water instead, or sucking a Vocalzone
Manage your stress
Stress can be very harmful to the voice, causing forced voice production and vocal fold damage. Relaxation techniques, deep breathing and regular exercise can help.
Watch out for…
…persistent breathiness, hoarseness or pain. They may signal a voice problem. A consistently unreliable voice can also signal deeper problems. Always consult your doctor or voice coach if you feel you may have a problem.