Whether you’re a musical theater actor or you stick more to straight acting, vocal health is paramount for every performer. But between grueling rehearsal schedules, 14-hour days on set, and any supplementing side work, it isn’t always easy to give your chords the care they deserve. Below, Backstage Experts share their most useful tips for maintaining vocal health.
Learn about your larynx.
“A lot of singers don’t know or haven’t had the opportunity to learn what their larynx looks like and how it works. I think that at some point in their careers, if they take their voices seriously, just having an evaluation of their voices, even when completely healthy and normal, can be really educational for them.” —Dr. Melin Tan-Geller, Montefiore Medical Center otorhinolaryngologist and former pianist
Get ahold of your swallowing muscles.
“So here it is: The big secret is to stop your swallowing muscles from coming down, engaging, or interfering with your sound production while singing or speaking. First become aware of exactly where the swallowing muscles are located. Place your thumb under your jaw in the center and then swallow. You will feel those muscles push down. If you have difficulty locating them, open your mouth and do an exaggerated yawn. You will definitely notice them, as well as how your air is stopped during the yawn. This is why, when those muscles are working, they will block your air and cause you to push to attempt to create sound. This is what leads to the hoarseness as well as the exhaustion while singing or speaking.” —Roger Burnley, Los Angeles-based vocal coach and Backstage Expert
Think before you clear.
“Avoid frequent throat clearing. Frequent throat clearing can damage your vocal cords because when you do it, you are essentially slamming the vocal cords together violently. This causes irritation and inflammation, which prevents the vocal folds from coming together seamlessly, contributing to an airy sound. If you feel the need to clear your throat, try sipping water first.” —Arden Kaywin, singer, private vocal coach and Backstage Expert
You know water is important—but you should know why.
“Do drink plenty of water. One of the many reasons is that water reduces the viscosity of mucus, making it thinner and less likely to adhere to the vocal folds and interfere with movement. If you are using a decongestant medication, be sure to drink lots of water, as decongestants will dry out your tissues.” —Kristin Linklater, founder of the Linklater Center for Voice and Language
Know what the hyoid bone is? Well, relax it.
“The hyoid bone is a U-shaped bone in the crook of your chin that attaches to the larynx. If you’re a male, find your Adam’s apple (thyroid cartilage) with your finger and move your finger up a little. Then, press back until you feel a bone. If you’re a female, it’s easier to start with your finger on the cricoid cartilage (a protruding bump about in the middle of your throat), and then move up to the thyroid cartilage and eventually the hyoid. Once you are there, put your finger and thumb on the bone (slide your finger and thumb backward from the front of the bone—it will feel firm under your fingers) and move it side to side.” —Andrew Byrne, voice teacher and Backstage Expert
Meditation can help your vocal health.
“Many singers and actors are aware of the effect of meditation on managing their nerves, anxiety, and ability to focus, but many are unaware of the additional, seemingly miraculous effect of minimizing warm-up times and releasing muscle tension. Meditation reportedly stimulates the vagus nerve, which powers many systems in your body like your heart rate and blood pressure, as well the muscles of your throat and larynx, or voice box. Stimulating this nerve through meditation also appears to open the throat more readily and drastically reduce the time it takes to warm up. Singers and actors have often noticed that as little as two minutes of meditation can ground the voice, open the throat, improve resonance, extend the range with greater ease, and more. Cutting your warm-up time from 20 minutes or more down to two minutes opens up time to focus on other aspects of your craft during your time-pressed practice sessions.” —Tom Burke, NYC-based speech pathologist, Broadway voice Teacher, and Backstage Expert
Breathe through your nose.
“This is the most important breathing habit that a performer can create, and winter is the perfect time to commit to it. As humans, we are designed to be nasal breathers. The nose provides much-needed humidity and warmth for air as it enters your throat and lungs. Additionally, the nose filters out allergens, viruses, and germs in a way that your mouth cannot. If your nose gets stuffy when you come in from the cold, it means you are not breathing through your nose when you are outside.” —Andrew Byrne
Know the ins and outs of breath control.
“When we speak, we don’t run out of breath in the middle of our sentences and we don’t actively ‘take’ a breath before we speak. Our body knows how much air we need because it responds to what we want to say. In much of our vocal register, the same rules apply. Actively ‘taking’ a breath can cause tension in your chest, shoulders, and neck. Think your thought and you’ll have the air you need for the phrase you need to sing. [And] don’t hold your breath before you sing. Read any sentence in this blog out loud. Done? Notice you didn’t hold your breath and you exhaled as you spoke. Now sing that sentence. It should feel the same. If you took a breath and held it right before you sang, you’re causing tension by doing too much. Just say what you have to sing.” —Philip Hernández, New York City-based audition coach, working actor, and Backstage Expert