"Year of the Adopted Family" book release

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Losing Your Voice & Finding it for Showtime

Once I was told that my voice would be confiscated. It was said in fun, but the threat is real. The show must still go on for a storyteller.

This tends to be the season that I lose my voice for a day or even a week. Rarely is my voice totally gone, though hoarseness or super-low pitch is common. This is not due to allergies, irritants, sinuses, or acid reflux. The cause: overuse and abuse of the voice.

Sometimes the stories I share involve characters that use raspy, gruff, or high-pitched sounds outside my normal range. My witch and goblin voices are the most taxing on my throat, especially when these two characters make “cameo appearances” in folktales or Halloween stories.

Lessening the thickness of the accent is possible. Every so often I use my witch voice as my narrator voice for 30-minute to even 2 ½-hour sessions. To say that my voice is sore after such strenuous use would be an understatement. I could stop using my witch or goblin voice altogether, but I enjoy these characters too much. However, I have learned that longer gigs means I should let my sponsor know that I could not do my witch voice the whole time as more than 30 minutes could endanger my voice, the key tool for which I make a living as a storyteller.

While at an elementary school, I avoided using 30-minutes nonstop of my witch voice by telling one story as the character followed by a “magic potion” that changed my voice. I took a glass of water and added a red powder (Kool-aid, though it is more fun to say it is ground dragon’s tongue) that turned green when mixed. I fooled around with the audience by having one sip cause a ditsy girl voice, another sip cause an opera voice, and so on until I came to my normal voice. Finally, I completed the rest of the program without straining my voice.

Things to Do—

1. Drink a lot of water

Our bodies are at least 66% composed of water so it is only natural to keep hydrated and soothe the throat. The mouth, throat, vocal chords, and especially the lungs have much higher percentages of water compared to other places in the body. In case the sore throat has bacterial or viral issues, water can clear the germs and remove toxins. You may feel fatigue, dizziness, or fever with your sore throat though water relieves all these symptoms.

2. Warm-up voice

Most people stretch to run a marathon. Telling stories could be considered a marathon for the mouth. Before opening your mouth to talk, breath deep. The more oxygen to the body, the more the blood circulates and heals itself. My favorite is to purposely yawn loudly. If you do it right, you sound like a lion’s roar. Next, you can limber the mouth muscles through chants, tongue twisters, and songs. Even neck rolls and common exercise stretches like “touch your toes” can ultimately affect the voice.

Here are examples—

· Inhale for eight seconds through the nose and exhale for eight seconds out the mouth.

· Smile with exaggeration so that your teeth show. Say “eeeeeeeeeeeee”. Then stick out your lips and say “ooooooooooo”.

· Exaggerate jaw movement when you say, “thaw-daw-thaw-daw-thaw-daw-thaw-daw”.

· Exaggerate lips and jaw when you say, “hoo-hah-hee”.

· Say quickly three times with articulation, “A big black bug bit a big black bear.”

Things to Avoid—

1. Clearing your throat

Be aware of when you clear your throat in the first place. If you do, then you are slamming your vocal folds together in a harmful way. Instead of clearing your throat, take a sip of water or close your mouth and breathe an “h” sound as in “help” followed by a swallow.

2. Speaking in screams or whispers

Any extreme in volume will cause extra strain to your throat muscles. If you are in a loud environment like in an airplane or social gathering, it may be tempting to shout. Do not attempt to overpower the noise above. Perhaps you need to have a microphone or be three feet or closer to whomever you want to address. As for whispers, there are more muscles involved and the more muscles you can rest, the better.

3. Surrounding yourself with irritants

Some gigs may give no choice but to be around irritants such as smoke from a campfire. Attempt to stay away from the smoke’s path. Other high-risk conditions are night, dry, or cold air. Combine all three of those and prepare to feel the consequences. Other irritants could be dust, chemical fumes, or smoke from cigarettes—whether first or second-hand.

4. Talking for long periods of time

For any performance over an hour, discuss with your sponsor the possibilities of breaks for your voice. Five-minute breaks between sessions are better than nothing though 30-minute breaks are ideal. I learned the hard way that 2 ½ hours without breaks is suicide to the vocal chords. My voice was not the same for a week and a half.

After Performance
Things to Do—

1. Drink a lot of water

Especially when you wake up the next day from a performance, your throat will be dry partly because you did not swallow as often asleep than awake. This may seem great because swallowing could be painful with a sore throat, but this also means that you did not create as much saliva to send out more moisture throughout your body.

2. Rest voice and body

Certain healers in your body prefer to work at nighttime. Besides sleep, you may want to think about how often you have “quiet time”. If you like to sing in the shower or talk to yourself in the car (like me), then you may stop these habits until your voice is back to normal.

3. Humidify your room and body

Drinking water is not the only way to get moisture. A hot shower can build up steam for your lungs to enjoy. A humidifier can share the same results. You can even humidify your insides by having the classic chicken soup. If you throw in some garlic in the soup, then you have the added bonus on thinning mucus.

Things to Avoid—

1. Gargling mouthwash, alcohol, or other liquids

Alcohol is a drying agent that reverses the benefits of drinking water. Gargled liquids do not reach your vocal chord area. Rather, your vocal chords will slam together and increase swelling.

2. Drinking or eating caffeine

Besides alcohol, caffeine is a drying agent and takes away the needed moisture to heal. Coffee, some sodas, and chocolate fall in this category.

Home Remedies/Other Options—

1. Lemon Juice/Lemonade

One teaspoon of lemon juice (add little honey if desired) could be slowly sipped once every hour. This concoction takes away the itchiness often felt with sore throats as well as reduces fevers.

2. Honey and Warm Water

You may notice that several home remedies give the option to add honey to the mix. Otherwise, you can simply mix water with about two tablespoons of honey, which soothes the throat and takes the itchiness away. It also reduces fevers, boosts energy, and even fights depression.

3. Ginger

Peel the skin from a ginger root. Slice the root into thin coins and place the ginger in water. Use no more than one ounce of ginger per day. Boil the water and drink (add three tablespoons of honey if desired). This mixture reduces fever, dizziness, and headaches while also recovering your voice.

4. Pomegranate

Boil some pomegranate rinds in water and drink as the rinds have astringents that shrink mucus membranes and allow better breathing. It is bitter to the taste yet effective.

5. Cough Drops or Hard Candy

When you cough, your vocal flaps hit each other at over 70 mph so you can imagine the damage if you do not calm the coughing through medicine or cough drops. Sucking on the cough drops or hard candy creates more saliva, which in turn can thin out mucus and send bacteria-fighting germs throughout your system.

May your voice sound out across the stage.

Sore Throat Health Sources:

Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman
Professional Storyteller
Co-Chair of Youth, Educators, and Storytellers Alliance
(801) 870-5799

1 comment:

Tim said...

Great tips, Rachel! I'm bookmarking this one.

One thing I learned when I was a theatre major, was that professionals don't tense their throat to make "funny voices." Instead, they find a way to loosen their vocal cords and throat to add the rough, gravelly texture associated with age or whatever character trait they are aiming for.

There are voice coaches who can train you to do this (provided, of course, you have a theatre community or theatre department at a university nearby)... but you can also experiment on your own: do a witch's voice, and be aware of the tension in your face and neck. Consciously relax those muscles beyond the point of "normal," and you'll notice the voice changing. It won't match your first witch's voice exactly, but with practice you can find a less stressful and less damaging voice that can be sustained.