Did you spend this morning doing ADR for a horror film or voicing a violent video game? Last night were you shouting to be heard over a live band? Has a cold or virus left you sounding a little like Brando in ‘The Godfather’, Kathleen Turner circa 2009, or Billy Bob Thornton in ‘Sling Blade’? If so, vocal rest might be just the ticket to helping get you back to your optimum vocal self.
What Is Vocal Rest? Vocal rest is the process of resting stressed, irritated vocal folds by not speaking so that inflammation can begin to subside and healing may occur. It involves not only eliminating day to day speaking, but all forms of vocal communication including whispering. Many voice professionals even caution against thinking about speaking, as you might end up causing further irritation by adducting (bringing together) the vocal folds unconsciously as you are thinking about what it is that you wish you were saying aloud.
When Is Vocal Rest Helpful? Vocal rest is used in a variety of situations. Temporary irritation of the vocal folds can occur for many reasons such as over-use, exposure to chemicals or extreme temperatures, or even mechanical traumas such as smoking or undergoing certain medical procedures. Whatever the reason, if your voice seems the slightest bit off, vocal rest coupled with re-hydration is typically recommended for mild to moderate cases of vocal irritation. Many actors traditionally engage in vocal rest at the very first signs of vocal irritation so that vocal impairment will not prevent them from securing work or end up delaying a production schedule. (NOTE: Always consult with your physician on matters of health! This post is intended to impart basic information about vocal rest. It is not meant to take the place of proper medical diagnosis and treatment.)
Why Is Vocal Rest Helpful? When you speak, your vocal folds must vibrate to produce sound. When your vocal folds become irritated or inflamed in some way, each instance of vocalization can wind up further irritating them. In choosing to remain perfectly silent (usually for a day or two) you are eliminating a source of further irritation thereby giving your body’s repair mechanisms the greatest chance of restoring your vocal folds to their former glory. Another (surprising!) reason is that when it comes to your vocal folds, modern science can’t necessarily fix what you break. Currently, otolaryngologists are fairly limited in what they know about the properties of healthy human vocal folds. Why? Because no animal on the planet has vocal folds with the same complicated structure as ours. Study has mainly been limited to what is observable in human corpses and what is revealed during laryngoscopy or experimental surgeries. Dead bodies don’t vocalize, Laryngoscopy can offer only an external view, and experimental vocal surgeries are performed on vocal folds which are experiencing extreme malfunction rather than on healthy folds, so mankind’s collective knowledge of healthy human vocal folds is not what we’d all like it to be. Bottom line — take care of what you have today and every day. You only get one voice.
How To Succeed At Vocal Rest: Vocal rest is simple to prescribe, but challenging to perform. Your physician may tell you “Just go home for two days and don’t speak or whisper” but it’s not until you actually try to stay mum that you realize how much you normally talk each day. Most of us are incredibly reliant on our ability to speak in order to get our needs met. By the time you actually figure out how you can remain perfectly silent your vocal rest period may be over! To succeed at vocal rest you need to have a plan. The overall goal of this plan will be to eliminate from your environment the temptation to speak. Everyone is different, but here are some strategies I’ve seen clients use with success:
1) Consult your upcoming appointments and re-schedule every phone call and meeting you have for the next few days.
2) Eliminate the temptation of answering the telephone. Either change your outgoing message to explain that for the next day or two you will not be reachable by telephone and provide an email address for your callers to utilize or perhaps forward your calls to a trusted and competent friend who will act as your personal secretary for the next few days. (This friend will communicate with you via email except in the case of true emergency.)
3) Prepare to stay at home alone. Being alone greatly reduces the impulse to speak. If you live with other people, find an area of your home where you can isolate yourself from others, or even consider checking in to a hotel.
4) Make sure you have all the basic supplies you will need to be comfortable during vocal rest — food, plenty of water, and any other supply you typically require. Avoid having to run out to the store!
4) Find something you can truly enjoy doing in silence by yourself. One of the most challenging aspects of vocal rest for social people such as actors, is simply the fact that silence isn’t very social. Do yourself a big favor and use vocal rest as the perfect opportunity to do something (silent) that you’ve really wanted to do, but haven’t had the time for. Read a fantastic novel or stack of plays and screenplays or work on that quiet crafting project you’ve really been wanting to get to. Use the time to study the career of an actor you admire. (Choose an actor, go to IMDB.com and use it as a playlist for a movie marathon. For maximum impact try watching projects in the order in which they were produced.) Journal. Paint. Update your actor profile on the various casting websites. Color in a kid’s coloring book. Cut out paper snowflakes… You know yourself best. Find some activities that are just right for you!
5) Drink plenty of water. Vocal rest and proper hydration go hand in hand. I know you’ve heard this a zillion times, but optimum hydration is really important to your quality of life. Not only is water essential in the healing process of irritated vocal folds, it’s key to helping prevent the irritation in the first place. As an actor proper hydration is particularly important to your career. Your body is composed mainly of water, and requires plenty of it to run all of its various systems. When your body lacks enough water to function at an optimum level, it begins to ration fluids, reserving them for the most essential areas (such as your brain and your blood) so that you will remain alive. Your vocal folds and your skin are among the first body parts on the ‘non-essential list’ and they are among the first to experience dryness. Unless you are a heckuva character actor, dry wrinkled skin and a creaky voice aren’t major selling points, so it’s a stellar idea to drink plenty of water not only during vocal rest but every single day.
Final Note From Your Coach: If you are experiencing difficulty with your voice, do consult your physician! While vocal rest typically has no side effects, it is by no means a cure-all. Make sure that you have all the diagnostic information you need to make the right treatment choice for your long-term vocal health. As always, if you have questions send them to me here in the comments section or @dialect411 on Twitter. I’m here to help.