Damaging the tiny, delicate vocal cords within the larynx is a huge fear amongst performers and those who use their voice for their work. Like any other tool, they require care and consideration, and not warming them up properly, dehydration and posture can all negatively affect their form. Vocal cord nodules - swollen growths similar to callouses - are a common grievance resulting from vocal cord abuse; these cause a rough, scratchy voice and vastly affect its quality and longevity. Once the vocal cords are damaged, they’re hard to heal as they’re often in use. However, by taking simple steps, such as avoiding alcohol, not raising your voice and keeping your voice limber by performing vocal exercises before using it, you can prevent possible future damage.
Warming up the vocal cords, just like any other part of the body you’re about to use, is fundamental to preserving your voice. These exercises improve the flexibility of the cords, improving the quality of the voice and preventing them from straining and incurring damage. Start by breathing in and out deeply, stretching out the lungs and then alternating between “f”, “sh” and “ss” sounds to help build and strengthen the vocal cords. Making other noises, such as ‘ooo – known as the Fog Horn exercise - interspersed with deep breathing into the lower abdomen, blowing out the cheeks and humming through the lips so that they vibrate can also help to gently stretch and warm up the voice.
For those who use their voice for long periods of time, for example, singers voice over actors, the vocal cords need to be thoroughly warmed up in order for them not to become hoarse. Voice over actors tend to begin their voice work in narration type voice related work. This in itself is a way to train the vocal cords for extended use, as it prepares them and slowly strengthens them. A way of keeping the voice warm for such work is to simply use it gently and often so that the vocal cords remain warm and used without putting them under undue strain. Remembering to rest your voice when not using for work is also important to keep your vocal chords in great condition.
Sit up straight
Breathing is vital in allowing the vocal cords to work to their full potential and proper posture allows the lungs to fill and expel breath. Sitting up straight and not slumping will infinitely improve not only the voice itself but the volume and ease of use. When performing voice overs, the performer is often sat for hours at a time, making an upright, correct posture crucial in maintaining the authoritative, strong voice a voice over requires. Strengthening the core muscles, either by practising resistance, core based exercises or Pilates will also aid in drawing in breath and controlling it.
Food and Drink
You may not believe that what you put into your stomach is going to affect your vocal cords in the larynx. However, food and drink are two vital aspects of maintaining a strong, clear voice. Eating a balanced, healthy diet leads to a healthy voice. Nutrient dense foods, such as fruit, vegetables and nuts all help to preserve your voice. However, other foods such as spicy or fried foods can agitate the stomach’s production of stomach acid, resulting in an acid reflux, which is not only dangerous for the vocal cords, but can be extremely uncomfortable, holding you back from your full potential. Alcohol can also have a similar detrimental effect, as it encourages the production of mucous, reducing the flexibility of the vocal cords. Instead, to prevent this from happening, you should avoid alcohol and instead drink water to keep yourself hydrated; this keeps the vocal cords lubricated, limber and in full working order.
The vocal cords are often taken for granted. We chatter away in our everyday lives not taking into consideration how powerful our own, personal instrument is. It’s therefore imperative for everyone, not only those who use their instrument for their job, that the voice is preserved through regular, gentle speaking and not shouting or straining it. Those who need extra help in keeping their vocal cords undamaged should take extra steps to keep them in pristine condition; diet, hydration, breathing, posture and warm up exercises all help in preventing damage and preserving your precious instrument.
Thanks to Guest Blogger: Imogen Reed