Top Five Vocal Care Tips!
It’s the time of year again; winter turns to spring, the days are getting longer, and everything in life seems *all systems go!*. Deadlines are approaching, rehearsals are underway, there are more meetings at work, everyone has a cold, and shows are popping up left, right and centre.
As a society, we are getting more accustomed to the importance of looking after ourselves when things get busy, through self-care days, daily exercise, and healthy eating. We care for our bodies and minds more than ever, but what about our voice? For those who can speak, the voice is an integral part of everyday life, and for some, it is their livelihood. Just like the body and the mind, it’s no use to keep on pushing and only resting when you reach a point of despair. It’s vital to be pro-active when it comes to care of the voice to avoid burn out and damage. So, we give you our Top Five Vocal Care Tips, complied by our own vocal specialist, Rory Blincow.
(These tips are for everyone, whether you are involved in the arts as a singer or an actor, a public speaker as a teacher or minister, or just someone trying to take extra care of themselves in this busy period)
Before a game of football, the players warm up. Before a show, dancers warm up. Before jogging, you need to warm up. Why? To take care of the muscles, and to avoid injury and strain. The exact same should be said of your voice. Before doing something strenuous or out of the ordinary for your voice, take time to warm it up. This can include chairing a meeting, taking part in a choir, or presenting to a working group. A vocal warm up can be a range of different things and depends on your needs. Sitting in your car a few minutes before a meeting, humming and simply speaking to yourself will get your vocal folds moving about and gently warmed up, reducing the chances of a sore and blocked throat mid-presentation. If you are singing, try some sirens and gentle scales to ease your voice into the swings of movement. However, if you are getting into the flow of a debate, a music session, a busy rehearsal, don’t stop what you are doing to do a full vocal warm up. Just know the limits of your voice; don’t try and shout or hit new notes, just as you wouldn’t push your limits in sports without fully warming up.
One thing always comes with the voice, and that, is sound. It can be difficult if you are in a sound sensitive environment, and still want to warm up, for example, on your commute, outside a job interview, in a library. If you aren’t comfortable in trying projection exercises and sirening at the top of your lungs down the street, you could try tongue exercises. In regards to the voice, the tongue is the second most important muscle after the vocal chords. If the tongue is tense or stressed, you will not deliver an as clear a sound. Since learning these below exercises in his Vocal and Choral Studies degree, Rory has made sure these are now a staple in our warm ups in rehearsals and workshops. Here are five examples of the tongue exercises and stretches for you to try. You should be able to feel a gentle stretch in your tongue and lubrication of the mouth and throat during each of them.
The first exercise involves poking your tongue in and out of your mouth very quickly, so the tip of the tongue flickers. The second exercise involves moving the tongue side to side at the corners of the mouth, again very quickly. In the third exercise, your tongue stays on the bottom set of teeth, moving quickly from one back tooth to the other middle, then the other back tooth, back to the middle, and repeat. The fourth exercise is simply sticking your tongue out as far as it will go without hurting. The final exercise is a good, old fashioned yawn. You should continue each exercise for about a minute.
When a sore throat strikes, along with a cold, it’s easy to find ourselves reaching for the Lemsip. That’s a quite a good idea, a warm drink is great for warming up the muscles, which in turn helps to care for it. Instead of reaching for a drink containing paracetamol, why don’t you try a different drink instead? One of our favourites is tea, with lemon juice and honey. The tea gives you that caffeine kick, whilst the honey and lemon gives a vitamin and antioxidant boost. Plus, it just tastes wonderful! If you are looking for something soothing and with a pain reducing edge, try the lemon-tea with a shot of whiskey; a hot toddy! Rory’s undergraduate dissertation was on how alcohol affects the voice, and how it can be a help in moderation and hindrance in excess. The whiskey acts as a pain reducer, and also helps to reduce tension; great if you have been holding your muscles all today to over compensate for the sore throat. We’d only recommend having Lemsip or a hot toddy if you must publicly speak or sing that day, otherwise, let your voice rest and recover.
One of the quickest and most effective ways to warm up a voice is via sirening. This is when you move up and down your range on an ‘ng’ sound. To use highly simplistic terms, your voice is split into your head and chest voice. This split is all part down to the different palettes of the tongue. You may notice that the head voice sounds different to the chest voice, and you use the head voice for higher notes and chest voice for most everything else. When you siren, you can clearly hear the distinction between them; you will notice a part where you will have to move from using your chest voice to your head voice, and vice versa (also know as 'the break'). It is a common occurrence here for the sound between head and chest to be noticeably different, for one to be weaker than the other. By sirening, you can easily notice where the weakness lies, and also allows you to work on strengthening the break. Within sirening, you can focus on different parts of the voice, on certain notes if you’d rather, and listen clearly for the jump between head and chest. Then, by focusing on a siren around that jump, and with a lot of practice, you can begin to know the break around your voice and begin to strengthen it. With time and practice, the break will begin to be less prominent.
You are preparing to deliver an important presentation, you’ve made the PowerPoint, you’ve timed it and practiced it in a quiet voice, and are good to go. Except, you’re not. Reading something to yourself and reading it out in public is very different. When speaking in public, you must project and that can be strenuous on a voice. You will have a reading speed, vocal breaks, water stops, and lots of other variables that will affect the presentation. The only way to prepare for that is to practice. Practice standing up, practice in the room you will be presenting in, practice with the warm up you will use. Practice so your voice is ready. This is the same when singing and teaching and public speaking. Practice with your full voice. It will make your voice stronger, and you will feel much more secure in what you are delivering.
There are our Top 5 Vocal Care Tips, straight from the brain of our own vocal specialist! What are your top vocal tips? Do you use any of these ones? Let us know!