I talk a lot. It’s how I earn money. No voice, no money. So over the years, I’ve learned quite a bit about vocal health and the importance of caring for my voice. Here are some tips that have served me well:
Warm up your voice and your body before you practice, audition, or record. These warm ups may include humming, tongue twisters, yawning, stretching, singing, jumping up and down, etc. Do what works for you. Your vocal chords are muscles that need to stretch and warm up before a workout just like any other muscle. It’s also important to loosen up your whole body to alleviate strain and stress on the vocal chords from poor posture, tightness in the body, particularly the back, shoulders, neck and jaws.
Hydrate. Vocal chords must remain lubricated to function properly. Forget to lubricate and your vocal performance will suffer. Water is certainly the top choice and room temp is best. Other great choices include herbal teas such as Yogi’s Throat Comfort Tea or Traditional Medicinal’s Throat Coat Tea. Avoid extreme temperatures as cool or cold beverages will tighten the vocal chords, and hot beverages will over relax the vocal chords. Your vocal chords are like rubber bands and vibrate to produce sound. If they get too cold, they lose elasticity and can tear when stretched. If they get too hot, they lose the ability to retain tension and strain to produce sound.
Breathe. Proper breathing is breathing from your diaphragm and requires proper posture. Stand in front of a mirror, place your hand over your belly and breathe. Notice your posture. Are your neck and shoulders relaxed? Are you breathing from your chest (up and down – not proper) or is your hand moving in and out on your belly as you breathe? Now speak or better yet, sing. Look at your neck. Do you see tension? If so, re-check your posture. Feet should face forward, knees should be soft, hips should be in neutral (stick your butt out, tuck your hips in, and then relax them –that’s neutral!), tummy should be tucked in, shoulders back and down, and the neck should be neutral (same process as the hips). Now try it again. You should see no strain in the neck.
Rest. Like any other muscles, your vocal chords need proper rest to repair and function. Allow breaks for yourself throughout the day and especially after a long day of recording. Refrain from talking as much as possible during those breaks. Additionally, give yourself 6 to 8 hours of sleep each night to rest your voice and body.
Avoid these for at least an hour before recording:
Dairy – produces mucus
Sugar – produces mucus
Caffeine – dehydrates and tightens the vocal chords
Greasy and Fatty Foods – produces mucus and promotes acid reflux
Spicy – promotes acid reflux
Alcohol – dehydrates
Smoking – produces mucus – also horrible for vocal health in general
Mucus happens sometimes. Allergies or illness can be culprits of producing unwanted mucus too. Tips for dealing with mucus include gargling with salt water, adding fresh lemon to your water, drinking more water, and doing a nasal rinse. Coughing is tough on the vocal chords. Avoid coughing by putting your chin to your chest and swallowing. The mucus will usually clear quickly.
Your vocal health is important for so many reasons. Protect your vocal chords and you will reap the rewards of a strong and healthy voice for years to come. As a voice talent, that also means more money!
great post as usual!
Thanks again Terry for another helpful blog post. In addition to voice acting I work in radio and as a song leader at a church so I use my voice a lot. The older I get the more important I find implementing tips like your’s to be.
Thanks for sharing your expertise. Still hoping to train with you soon.
Very helpful. I can count many instances where the items listed helped to thwart my vocal efforts….
No greasy fatty foods. No booze. No cigarettes. Life sucks.
Great advice Terry, thanks!
Another way to get a good feel for proper breathing is to lay on the floor and note how your stomach goes up and down when you breath. Your shoulders don’t move at all. Then stand up and try to recreate those mechanics.
Terry, thanks for the overview of what works for and against the vocal cords. The food and alcohol list is a bit of a downer, but as is everything with the body, if you’re not in shape, how can you expect to perform in top shape?
You would be surprised at how the body can lack in its proper function with incorrect body posture. In massage school we were told that some headaches may be caused by your legs being out of alignment, your shoes not fitting and supporting your feet properly, or from hunching over the computer (like I’m doing right now). Muscles in the anterior neck such as the sternocleidomastoid – or SCM for short – can tighten up with trigger points and as it did in my case, give symptoms of a sore throat. The body is an incredible machine that’s designed well. Unfortunately, most of what we do in our work is not ergonomically sound to match our body’s potential.
These tips apply to stage performance as well, especially musicals. Nothing is worse than a throat full of mucus before you sing your heart out.
I especially appreciated the information about how the temperature of a beverage can affect the vocal chords.
Clearest advice on this I’ve seen yet. Appreciated.
Does a bit of planning help, too? Like if you have two scripts, or more than one part, perform the quiet stuff first as shouting spoils tone faster than you can say sternocleidomastoid.
Awesome advice, Terry. My voice coach would hug you!
How many times have we heard these very simple tips and yet still only sometime utilize them?! I know at times I’ve gotten a little lazy, ‘It’s only karaoke” I tell myself. That makes no difference. Singing is singing. You have to have your whole self fully prepared for ANY vocal performance. My voice coach always reminds me: room temp, plain bottled water.
What you have mentioned is absolutely correct but I have something to add for your up and coming voice artists and yourself too, if I may be so bold to say so.
I used to perform on stage many years ago in singing and acting, but now I want to do voice overs like you folk.
I was the first voice on the microphone as a broadcaster at the Nasrec Show Grounds, hosting the Rand Easter Show in Johannesburg in 1985 when the Rand Easter Show was moved from its old venue which is now part of The Wits University of South Africa.
I love singing and doing voice overs through the microphone.
When you’re a little nervous and the voice is not smooth, all you need to do and which is very safe too, is to take a teaspoon of ” glycerine ” which is medicinal and is a thick sweet liquid which which will settle a smooth layer on the larynx which is a very important part of the vocal chord.
As the glycerine settles on the vocal chords, you will wait approximately three minutes and start to sing, you will be amazed how much better your voice will sound and your singing note will be crystal and clear and your speaking voice will be smoother as you speak into the microphone.
You don’t believe it? Try it and mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
You will tell me, how wonderful you sounded when you sang or when you did that voice over. NB: Do not shout when you sing, very important!
Blessings to all who visit this splendid site: Voice Over Club.com
Tino Laric in Johannesburg, South Africa.
I must chime in here. Any fluid consumed does not touch the vocal folds because when swallowing the glottis is covered by the closing of the ventricular folds and the epiglottis in order to protect your airway. You are probably feeling a soothing of the pharynx. Any hydrating of the tissue is systemic not topical. The mere act of swallowing is probably helping to relax your pharyngeal muscles.
Certified Master Teacher of Estill Voice Craft
Great info, Terry. I’d like to add something that helps me when I have mouth clicks. I keep a large full glass of water handy while recording with just a touch of lemon or lime juice. It’s just enough to quell or minimize the clicks, about a teaspoon, or no more than a 1/2 ounce.
Also, don’t forget the breathe-right strips to aid in breathing control when you’re feeling a bit stuffy in the nose…
Good practical advice (or a reminder) of caring for our voices, Terry!
I read once that 2 of the hardest things on the voice is … clearing the throat and whispering! Obviously yelling and coughing are not a good thing either.
When the temperature drops below about 5O degrees, I wear a scarf around my neck to keep my chords warm wherever I go. Makes me look sophisticated too… sort of.
Thanks Terry, for your consideration for the health of the voice. This information can prevent damage and promote longivity of the voice your a good teacher.
Thank you so much for the tips. Too often the voice is taken for granted.The things you shared were very helpful.
Terry, thanks so much for these reminders!
There is also another trick that I learned in my early stages of recording. If you have mouth clicks, and extra saliva, take a green apple into the recording studio with you, and if neded between takes, have a bite or 2, and this should help to clear up those clicks, and gurgles. I also keep a lot of water with me, and hydrate often!
Wow ! this is great and very helpful, thanks Terry
I gargle every morning and also take NAC to thin out any gunk that might be in my system, and I’m not even doing VO yet. Hard to avoid pollutants, allergens, and other respiratory irritants in this day and age. I also take an algae supplement multiple times a day, which has boosted my immune system tremendously (i.e., no cold in 3 years this April – and yes, I’m knocking on wood!)
Thanks to Terry and everyone else for all the tips. The glycerine mentioned in a comment above sounds very interesting. Never heard of that before and I wish I’d know about that when I was singing in bands. Now it might come in handy if/when I’m at the mic again.