Upstaged: How to look after your voice

Upstaged: How to look after your voice

By NellFrizzellIdeasTap 25/04/12

The Voice may be Blind Date for the frigid, but if it’s taught me anything, it’s that voices matter. Whether you’re an actor, singer, performance artist, comedian or just fancy some striking vocal cords, here are some top tips for looking after your oral ejaculations…

Wake up but don’t smell the coffee

“Staying hydrated is essential,” says vocal coach Anne-Marie Speed. “To produce a sound, the vocal chords make contact and where there’s contact there’s friction and where there’s friction there is heat. So, drink two litres of water a day, but not all in one go.”

“Drink lots of herbal tea,” says opera singer and co-founder of Better Strangers Opera Claudia Guastella. “Anything with caffeine, like tea or coffee, also contains tannin, which can strip the vocal chords.”

“It’s also advisable to not drink alcohol in the week before your performance,” Claudia adds. “Partly because it dehydrates you, but it will also dull sensation a little bit, so you might not notice that you’re straining your voice. Dutch courage can also alter your perception of pitch, so you could accidentally be going out of tune.”

“Finally, avoid milk close to the time you’re singing, unless you want to do a metal growl, because it increases phlegm production,” says Claudia, who was herself a singer in a heavy metal band.


Look after your throat

“Whether you’re speaking or singing, try to produce clean tone,” advises Anne-Marie. “Breathiness in the voice can be a powerful bit of interpretation and playing, but it’s not an efficient way of using your voice. It makes it harder to get louder or higher in the range. If you’re husky long-term, or have any long-term vocal problem it might be an indication of something more serious and you must go to your GP, to get a referral to an Ear, Nose or Throat unit.”

“Your voice comes from the vibration of two little bits of fleshy tissue,” says singer Sasha Johnson Manning, “So these things will do it no good whatsoever: shouting, screaming, whispering, lack of sleep and talking over the din of loud noise.”

If you do have a sore throat, steer clear of strong menthol throat sweets. They can actually be very irritable to the soft tissue in your throat. “You’re much better off with a teaspoon of honey and a mug of warm water,” says Anne-Marie.

“Try and keep warm, particularly your neck,” says Claudia. “There’s a pretty good reason opera singers tend to wear scarves. Cold air and changeable weather can be very bad for your voice.”


Warm up

“Warming up the voice should never be rushed and there are no shortcuts,” says Sasha. “Warm up by humming scales and singing on different vowels. Always sing gently, not too loud, and always in the middle of your range to begin with – not the highest or lowest notes you can reach, as this will only strain your cords.

“If I’m doing a full-on practice session I probably warm up for about 20 minutes or half an hour,” says Claudia. “I’ll do breathing exercises and lip trills, which get you used to producing your voice without worrying too much about what you sound like.”


Stay in shape

“You also need efficient posture,” adds Anne-Marie. “A good relationship between the head, the neck and the back. Not a military posture, but eliminate slouching. You want an upright, but flexible posture.” 

“Projection is a combination of diaphragm and core strength,” says Claudia. “So, something like pilates does help.”


Use the power of your mind

“Projection is achieved as much by visualisation as physical effort,” says Claudia. “Visualise your voice as a force-field hitting the back wall. That will make a much healthier sound than overproducing in the throat.”

“The best way to replicate the sensation of good singing is to yawn or to laugh,” adds Claudia. “If you’re having trouble, or think you’re straining, then yawn a few times and then try again.”


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Better Strangers Opera is putting on a production of Dido and Aeneas in July. To find out more about Anne Marie Speed and her Estill model of vocal coaching, visit her website.

Illustration by Narcsville.

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