Category Archives: Voice Care

Vocal Rest

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.

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Start From Where You Are – Voice Care

Something that has stayed with me since my training days is the idea that you can only start from where you are, and so with this in mind, I begin.

So, where am I?

Right now I’m in my office getting phone calls and emails from disgruntled actors about viruses and allergies that are irritating their vocal folds and causing them to sound hoarse. They are hoping that as a Voice and Speech Consultant, I can give them some useful advice to help them heal quickly, and to prevent permanent harm to their voices as they go about their work.

Here’s what I’ve been telling them:

PLEASE NOTE: I have collected these remedies and practices from health practitioners and colleagues over my years as a professional dialect coach. I am not a physician, so use your noggin and check with one before trying any of these ideas! You are always responsible for your own actions.

REMEDIES FOR A VOICE THAT IS IRRITATED DUE TO ALLERGENS, VIRUS, OR EXTREME USAGE SUCH AS VOCAL VIOLENCE

What To Try: Drink  Plenty of  Body Temperature Water. Aim for a 3/4 to 1 gallon per day.

Why It Might Help: The fluids help your body to fight the virus or infection. In addition, your vocal folds (aka: vocal cords) must be hydrated in order to function at their best. Ironically, the vocal folds are among the last of the body parts to receive the hydration you ingest. Why? Because as far as your body is concerned, survival is king. Believe it or not, being able to speak like an angel just doesn’t rank very high in terms of survival.  If you don’t drink enough water, your vocal folds will be compromised. It’s as simple as that.

What To Try: Throat Coat Tea (by Traditional Medicinals) and slippery elm bark lozenges (by Thayers Natural Remedies)

Why It Might Help: Slippery Elm Bark, a major ingredient in both Throat Coat Tea and Thayer’s lozenges, makes a soothing substance for practically anything it comes in contact with.  It is particularly effective in soothing mucous membranes. If you opt for the tea, be sure to follow the steeping instructions properly so you’ll get the full benefits of it. (And do be warned that it has a ‘slippery’ texture). Most people I have talked with enjoy the lozenges, which also have the advantage of ease of use during rehearsals. (I like the cherry flavor in particular.)

What To Try: Roxalia (by Boiron)

Why It Might Help: Roxalia is an FDA regulated, over the counter homeopathic medicine, which means that each tablet contains a micro-dose of therapeutically active mineral, botanical, and biological substances. Roxalia in particular contains ingredients that relieve sore throats. The tablets are sweet tasting and pleasant. They have a long shelf life, and are easy to take on the road.

What To Try: Complete Vocal Rest

Why It Might Help: If you are experiencing scratchiness, hoarseness, or even ‘loss’ of voice, these symptoms are happening because your vocal folds are somehow irritated, inflamed, injured or compromised in some way. To sing, speak or even whisper can potentially cause further irritation and slow your healing process.

You wouldn’t walk on a broken leg, right? Doing so might keep the leg from healing properly, right? Think about your voice in the same way. If you continue to perform stressful activities on vocal folds that are compromised, you risk permanent injury or change to the voice, the most common being a loss of vocal range. At the very least, you slow the healing process.

What To Try: Avoid Environmental Stressors (such as car exhaust, theatrical fogs, construction dust, paints, shellacs, hairsprays, air fresheners and cigarette smoke)

Why It Might Help: This one is easy to understand. If your vocal folds are raw and irritated, exposing them to further irritants will only slow your recovery. I have some clients who wear personal air purifiers around their necks if they find that they must be exposed to one of these irritants during rehearsal.

What To Try: Wear A Cozy Scarf, Even Indoors

Why It Might Help: By wrapping a cozy scarf around your neck, your body doesn’t need to use it’s energy to maintain it’s normal temperature. It can instead use it to help your immune system function at it’s best. (It feels nice, too!)

What To try: Change Your Eating Habits: Avoid Caffeine, Alcohol, Sugar, and Dairy Products

Why It Might Work: Caffeine and alcohol are considered to be ‘drying’ to the body, as they are diuretics. If you drink 8 glasses of water per day, but drink 5 cups of coffee, the coffee ‘cancels’ the water out, and the effects on your body are essentially the same as if you drank practically no liquid at all. Remember, your vocal folds can only operate well when your body is fully hydrated.

Although most of the evidence is anecdotal, many people assert that eliminating dairy products reduces the formation of the thick phlegm that can irritate vocal folds.

As for sugar, recent studies are showing that ingesting the amount of sugar found in two 12 oz cans of soda-pop suppresses the immune system by up to 50% for as many as five hours.  (I’m suddenly thinking about how many colds are caught on airplanes—100 people in close quarters, sharing their germs, and all ingesting cup after cup of soda pop…yikes!!!)

What To Try: Use A Neti Pot

Why It Might Help: Essentially, a Neti Pot is a tiny teapot shaped vessel that you add a purified saline solution to and then pour through your sinuses — in one nostril and out the other–while bending over a sink with your head tipped slightly forward and to the side.  Many people swear by a weekly nasal lavage using a Neti Pot, as it is said to wash out allergens that might be trapped in the sinuses.  Be sure to check with your physician and to read the instructions that come with the pot. (The pot can be found at health food merchants such as Whole Foods, as well as online.)

What To Try: Strategic Rehearsals

Why It Might Help: If you suspect your vocal irritation is being caused by overuse during rehearsal, especially for roles which require extraordinary vocal usage, such as vocally violence, make a plan with your director to only rehearse the vocally violent sections of the piece once or twice per day, and ‘mark’ them otherwise. (‘Marking’ means that you rehearse the scene normally, except for the section where the vocal violence actually occurs. During that section, you remain engaged and connected as an actor, but refrain from actually screaming, yelling, etc.) It may seem like an inconvenience, but marking vocally violent scenes can save you complications in the long run. After all, who wants to be the actor that disrupts the shooting, rehearsal, or performance schedule because they have laryngitis? To my way of thinking, prevention is the best option here.

What to Try: Be Aware

Why It Might Help: Your best defense against vocal trouble is to remain in tune with your body, so that you can take action quickly against vocal troubles. Don’t wait until you sound particularly squeaky or hoarse to try remedies. You’ll get the best results by taking early action.

Enjoy!