Since I started my blogging about the body, I have recently been reminded of how my voice plays probably the biggest role in the integration of ME. I was recently cast in a new Canadian Musical Nobody’s Idol, that opens tonight as a part of the Toronto Fringe Festival. For the last three weeks we, the cast and crew, have been working feverishly to pull everything together. On top of rehearsals for Nobody’s Idol, I have had rehearsals with my band, others bands that I do back up for and multiple gigs every week. It wasn’t until last week when I started loosing my voice that I realized how much I was using it.
As long as I can remember I have lost my voice before a show…in highschool, in theatre school, and beyond. My mum is keen to remind me of such facts. I realize it is not that uncommon, but just like any other part of our body, our voice can be overused. It’s interesting the parallels in singing/performing and being an athlete. Having had extensive experience in both fields, I often draw from my years as a runner to remind me of how to learn from my body and pay attention to it’s signals, and transfer this knowledge to performing and the voice.
When I talk to people about the voice they often assume I loose my voice because of all the singing I do, however I am very quick to educate them that it is not the singing at all, in fact most of the time I can still sing…with a slight inability to fully close my chords in my mix. Below I will discuss the true reasons I lose my voice…as when I sing my voice is %95 of the time supported…where as at other times it’s easier to forget the support necessary. Below I have compiled a list of the main reasons I lose my voice and the most detrimental activities…
1. Loud Bars – when I play a show I rarely strain my voice singing, because I have spent years and extensive training on how to sing ‘properly’, engaging the right muscles in the pelvic floor and obliques, and not pushing from my neck. However when I play with my band or even an acoustic set at a bar, it is the before and after that kills my voice. It is very difficult because generally I like to socialize with friends, fans and family before and after a show. However I know that I really have to limit this because I end up yelling over top of the music (live or DJ) that’s playing and forget that I’m straining to make sound.
2. Alcohol – as much as I like to have a glass of wine at the end of the day or a beer after a show, when I am in the thick of rehearsals or shows, I really need to cut it all out. Alcohol dehydrates. This means two things…1)if we don’t drink enough water our body becomes dehydrated and muscles, tendons, joints (anything that requires blood and nutrients…that’s everything) function less optimally; 2) And this one is even more important…Alcohol thins the blood. The vocal chords are covered in tiny little blood vessels (see below, picture from Peter Ladefoged: Vowels and Consenants)
This means that when we drink alcohol and then use our voice we are putting ourselves at a higher risk of injury. When our blood is thinner, we are more likely to pop one of these little vessels and cause damage or inflammation on the chords themselves or surrounding area.
3. Sleep – I am the worst culprit of having fun, working hard and neglecting my sleep. It is usually the first thing to go when I’m juggling a million different things. It is so important to get enough sleep, because like an athlete our chords and the muscles we use to create sound need rest. If we don’t rest, then we don’t get full recovery and this is where damage starts. Especially when we have eight hours of singing rehearsals everyday!
For me these are the things that really kill my chords…of course I also need to remember to warm-up fully, eat well, drink water, speak at my optimum pitch, and not whisper (because this is actually worse than speaking). I highly recommend, if speaking, singing and using your voice on the regular is a large part of your profession, that you recognize what your culprits are. It takes a lot of awareness and self-discipline to redirect a chronic problem. Once we figure out the things that put us in a difficult position, we can then help to prevent or reduce the negative effect in future.
Here are a few tips that I use and or have been taught when I do feel like my voice is going out the window (note: these can also be used as preventative measures)…
a)I hum in the mornings and throughout the day. Humming is a great way to gently warm your chords up and clear excess phlegm from the region. Clearing the throat continuously actually does damage to the chords so avoid this.
b)I drink water and lots of it. With water though I make sure that I am getting the right electrolytes in my diet in order to keep the water in my system. People often forget that when they drink water, it is only effective, if our body has the right vitamins and minerals to absorb it. If our electrolyte balance is off, we will not absorb the water we are drinking, and it will go right through us. Leaving us, where we started…dehydrated.
c)Lemon in water is good as well…because outside of the body lemons are acidic, it is a common misconception that inside they are acidic as well. It is actually the opposite, when we eat lemons their acidity actually becomes alkaline in our body, which is a good thing. In terms of the voice lemons help to cut through and reduce phlegm, sooth and coat our throat and boost our immune system with their Vitamin C content.
d)If loosing my voice is also linked to having A COLD; I swear by vitamin C and Oil of oregano. Make sure that if you are taking oil of oregano that you are also getting your fix of probiotics. As even though it’s a natural supplement, it is killing bacterial and viral cells, and it might end up getting a few good ones in the mix. We always want to make sure that we are maintaining our good bacteria to support our immune system and it’s function (fun fact: did you know for every one cell of our own there are ten bacterial cells in our body read Michael Pollan’s Some of My Best Friend’s Are Germs truly fascinating shit!)
e)If loosing my voice is linked to ALLERGIES; When pollen’s are in the air we want to make sure that our sleeping environment is as free from pollen as it can be. Clean your room, have a shower, wash your hair, change your clothes when you get home, close all the windows and keep them closed, and try and stay out of places and environments where your allergeans are high.
f)In Winter; Use a humidifier. Often air can be a lot dryer in winter, especially if your air is being heated. A humidifier will help lubricate your chords in sleep and throughout the day so they don’t get dried out. If you have AC in the summer a humidifier is not a bad idea either.
g)Netty Pot; Oh my god I love these little guys. I have this cute little porcelain one that my mum got me (or maybe I stole tehe). It does wonders. Sometimes blowing your nose just isn’t enough!!! So fill up your netty pot with room temperature H2O and get water flowing through those air passages. The netty will help push out dirt, pollens, mucus and can even help reduce inflammation in the nasal passages. You can add a saline solution to the water of 1 parts sea salt and 1 parts Baking soda (this is a basic solution that helps cut through the gunk that gets caught inside). If you don’t know how to use a netty let me know and or I’m sure there’s a youtube video out there. At first it will feel uncomfortable, but then quickly it’ll feel incred!!!!
h)Traumeel (arnica); Arnica is a natural anti-inflammatory. I generally use Traumeel cream and massage the muscles in and around my chords and voice box. It takes a lot of muscular work to produce sound and we want to make sure the muscles are fresh for the job. A lot of people take ibuprofen as a means of reducing inflammation, but like alcohol ibuprofen thins the blood, and makes our chords more susceptible to damage. I swear by arnica, and use it anytime I am using my voice a lot. It’s great as a preventative measure at the end of a long day or week too. Don’t hesitate to use on a daily basis.
BEST of all and MOST effective
b)Vocal Rest; I go on COMPLETE and I mean complete vocal rest. I do not talk, I do not sing, I do not use my chords to make any kind of sound whatesoever. This can be difficult, as you need to either have a day off, a job where you can get by with writing notes, or for rehearsal tell your director that you will be doing just blocking. I find this is such a test of my mental stability as I feel like a different person when I can’t talk. At the same time it is also often a relief as I get a full rest from having to converse with people on account of taking care of myself. I tell you this WILL work, but you have to be diligent and stick to it…no cheating. Anyone who knows me, knows how much I talk and if I can do it, so can you! A day is usually enough, but sometimes I need two. And know that during shows or periods of time when you have to use your voice, you can also go on as much vocal rest as your job or performance schedule allows. It will do more than talking straight through and giving your voice no rest.
These are the things I do, but by all means find what works best for you. Take care of yourself and listen to your body. I know when I loose my voice I don’t even feel like myself. I feel like a huge part of me is missing and it may never come back. This stress and anxiety only helps to make things worse, so take the necessary precautions and nurture your body when it’s tired and strained.
Singing is a science it doesn’t just happen. Speaking too is a science and though most of us are not taught how to use our voice properly, we must become more aware of it, especially if our profession demands it. Asses where it’s at every day and give it what it needs to be healthy. More to come on the voice. In writing this I am reminded how much I love my voice and all that it brings me. It is such a huge part of who I am and my self expression. I will be sharing more thoughts and discoveries I’ve had in my own life surrounding my voice.
Share your tricks, secrets, and questions or contact me directly….