Optimal Voice Care: A Dozen Do’s & Don’ts
There are tips & guides and Do’s and Don’ts for the optimal care of pretty much everything in your life. You’ve got a trainer to keep your body in shape and a financial planner to keep your finances in check. Your primary tool for emotive expression to the world is your voice, and you use it every day. So, how can you keep it from getting hoarse at a concert or a game; or cracking it or losing steam during a presentation or speech; and, in essence, always have it strong and clear when you need it? Commercial voice over talent doesn’t come easy. Here are some tips to help make it last.
Voice Over Care Do’s
Belly breathe. Whether you do voice over or not, learn to speak from your diaphragm. A lifeguard in my teens, I called it my “pool voice”. To make “Get outta the water!” heard several times a day above laughing, splashing, screaming kids, you dig deep within the belly, fill your lungs from the bottom up, and volley the words to the top of your head. Remember the Count on Sesame Street? His staccato “Ha, ha, has” are another example of diaphragmatic breathing.
Eat the cake. It’s not a license to beef out, but the vocal chords work best with a little bit of fat around them. In fact, a voice lift (think face lift but for your vocal chords) is when surgeons remove a small amount of fat from your belly and graft it to your vocal folds for a more youthful-sounding voice.
ROTFL. Hit the comedy club. Laughing not only releases endorphins and all kinds of other free legal substances, but it’s diaphragmatic breathing in action. It connects you with that deep belly well you need to become intimately familiar with to preserve and maintain vocal health.
Stand at Attention! Your particular vocal signature not only comes from those chords in your throat, but also the Stradivarius that houses your wind, AKA your chest. Good posture means you can better fill your lungs to speak from your diaphragm. Also, a nice long neck opens the space around your vocal folds, keeping the air unobstructed.
Practice. Write down some affirmations and turn them into a speech you practice daily. Read out loud to your kids, seniors or the blind. Try tongue twisters for fun. Grab Rodney Saulsberry’s Tongue Twisters and Vocal Warm-Ups. This award winning actor and wonderful LA vocal coach delivers tips, tricks and twisters.
Drink water. Lots of it. Scott Brick, award-winning narrator of over 600 audiobooks, says he doesn’t start his day without drinking two liters of water. Water keeps your chords moist. Without lots of lubrication, your voice box becomes red and swollen and that can lead to changes in your vocal quality. I start with at least a liter of water, and then sip another two or three all throughout the day.
Voice Over Care Don’ts
Forbidden Fruit. Actually have as much fruit and veggies as you want, but cut or restrict dairy, coffee, and alcohol. Dairy, or rather the protein casein found in moo milk, produces mucus, which clogs both airway and vocal chords. Yuck. Coffee, a diuretic, dries and tightens your vocal muscles. If you choose to drink it, drink an equal amount of water to maintain baseline hydration. Along with causing premature wrinkles and questionable decisions, alcohol also dehydrates and can cause vocal chord restriction.
Watch the Spice, girl…or boy. Unless you were weaned on a diet of cayenne, chili or peppers, lay off the spices before using your voice. Too much salt and/or spice dries those chords out and promote phlegm (yay, phlegm).
NO smoking. Anything. Smoking lays down plaque on the vocal chords, which makes your voice hoarse and over time can lead to blood vessel rupture and polyps. It decreases your lung capacity, diminishes your power, and may promote acid reflux, which can also affect your vocal chords.
Careless whisper. Whispering tenses your vocal muscles and causes turbulent air flow over your vocal chords. Some say whispering is worse than screaming.
A whisper to a scream. Another no-no. Volume comes from your lungs, not your throat. Long term (> hour) screaming or yelling damage your voice, make it hoarse, and over time can cause swelling, polyps and damage.
Cut throat clearing. Those little ‘ahems” to clear your throat of mucous are better served by sipping water or herbal tea. Oddly, it doesn’t work as well, as water and you can get locked into a pattern of repeated throat clearing that amplifies and worsens over time.
There you go! Vocal advice from a voice actor pro. What do you think? As a professional female voiceover narrator, I speak long and eloquently every day and have been madly successful at it for over twenty years. Hopefully these tricks will help you maintain that professional narrator voice of yours. I’d love to hear your comments.