Vocal Health for Non-Singing Voice Professionals
There has been a common misconception that having a good vocal technique is only beneficial for singers. However, good vocal technique can and will help anyone that uses their voice on a regular basis. Whether it’s for work or pleasure, if you are using your voice for more than thirty minutes a day, then you are going to be surprised.
While vocal technique is highly recommended for singers as we take our voices beyond the comfort zone, it can still work wonders for anyone non-singing professional that uses their voice at work. If you are a teacher, actor, coach, salesperson, lawyer, radio host, content creator, voice over artist, speaker, or any other professional that uses their voice to get the message across, then you will need to read this.
In some ways, your voice is like a car: brand new, it’s going to work really well and it will probably tolerate abuse with more resilience. Likewise, a baby’s vocal folds can resist rapid vibration caused by crying without the baby losing their voice. (Try to wail for more than 15 minutes as an adult and you’ll be hoarse before you know it!)
As any human grows and time starts to take its toll on the body, it is important to do your best to protect your vocal instrument. Just like you take your car for maintenance and are always making sure it stays clean in and out, the voice requires that amount (actually, a lot more!) of attention.
When your voice is essential to your job, being able to convey your message in a clear and efficient way is the most important goal for every thing you do. Don’t you feel like you are wasting energy when someone doesn’t hear you clearly enough and now you have to repeat yourself all over again? While microphones have helped when it comes to intensity, the voice is more than just volume. The tone of your voice for example is crucial to conveying the correct message. For example, if you don’t watch the tone of your voice, your customer may think you are angry at them, when in fact you simply wanted to highlight the brilliant features of this brand new product they were asking about. Not a good experience!
Therefore, here are a few things that you can do that will improve your vocal health, so you can use your voice safely.
This should be a no-brainer because all human beings need water. However, water intake is crucial for voice professionals because it is essential for lubricated vocal folds to avoid swollen vocal folds. If you drink coffee, drink alcohol or love sugar-flavored drinks, then you need to increase your water intake, since they can dehydrate your body.
No, this is not as in Vocal Rest, which means not making a sound (and that’s only recommended after high levels of vocal abuse); this just means sleep. Nope, not the 4 or 5 hour night sleep that you may be used to, but a full 8-hour sleep which is highly recommended by experts. If your work itself doesn’t let you sleep enough at night, try to find a time to take a nap. Sleep is also the best medicine when you completely or partially lose your voice (Dysphonia).
Be careful with reflux!
GERD or LPRD which are short for GastroEsophageal Reflux Disease and LaryngoPharyngeal Reflux Disease, respectively are two conditions that affect almost half of the population of the world. Most people don’t even know about it. GERD can be felt as the classic heartburn, especially right after eating. LPRD is actually called the “Silent Reflux” and for voice professionals it can be devastating, as the acid from the stomach goes all the way up to the throat and does burn your vocal folds. While both conditions need to be treated and discussed with your doctor, there are things that you can do to help with this battle:
- Reduce consumption of the following foods: spicy, highly condimented, junk food and acidic food
- Raise your pillow, another 4-6 inches.
- Avoid sleeping right after eating.
Both GERD and LRPD can become chronic and bring problems in the long term. Talk to your doctor about what else you can do to help you.
Don't overdo it!
So, you did your job, everyone was happy and wow, you may even get a promotion. Great! You know what’s the last thing you want to do? Go to a party after that, where the loud music makes you scream to be heard. Now, not only are you not resting after a long day at work, you are adding stress to the voice. Don’t be surprised if you wake up with a hoarse voice after that. Make sure you know your limits and don’t push them.
This is important. Again, many think that only singers need to warm up their voices. Well, that’s like thinking you have to be an Olympic athlete to warm up their body. If you are going to jog or run, or play tennis or go swimming, regardless of your physique, warming up will help you to avoid injury. The same goes for any vocal professional.
Don’t worry. You won’t need scales or a piano to do them. As long as you have a good perception and awareness of your voice and sound, you’ll be fine. Also, keep in mind that these are warm-up exercises designed to help you start your day, but if your technique is flawed, it’s always best to check with any experienced voice teacher to help you.
- The Hum: The sustained “Mmm” sound, as if you were thinking aloud is a great way to start. Do not force volume, keep it at a speech level and don’t try it (or any other exercise) if you feel your throat scratchy, dry, itchy or in pain. Sustain the hum for 3-4 seconds at your speech pitch, that is the sound or level you use to talk to. Take a breath through your nose, hum and then exhale. After 10 attempts, extend it to 5-6 seconds for at least 5 more attempts. Humming should feel easy and in control.
- The Ring: This exercise is great to give you a feeling of how your voice should sound if you need to raise the volume of your voice when working. Say the word “Hung” and emphasize or hold the “NG” of the word for a second or two long. It may sound a bit nasal, but it should be easy to do. Just like you did with the Hum, say the word and sustain the NG sound for the same amount of time as the first exercise. Don’t worry about pitch or too much about the quality. As long as there is no pain, you are fine. You are just preparing your voice for a hard day at work.
When to seek help with these exercises?
The rule of thumb is simple: if there is pain or discomfort, of ANY kind, please stop. Don’t use the “No Pain No Gain” motto that you usually see in gyms, it’s quite the opposite for the voice. Also, if you hear your voice raspy, breathy, wobbly or you are just running out of breath as you are trying to hold the sounds, then I would suggest booking a lesson with a CTI (Certified Throga Instructor). We could potentially find the problem in minutes and give you more exercises to help you with your development.
In conclusion, all types of vocal professionals do need to rethink and check on their own vocal technique. There are better and more effective ways to do what you already do without having to struggle and strain your voice. Don’t wait until you have lost your voice or someone tells you that you sound “weird” to ask for help. Remember, just like a car needs regular maintenance, so does your voice. Avoid a vocal breakdown and get the help, advice and assistance you need now.