Using Your Best Voice
Your voice is one of your main ways of connecting to those around you. It’s a powerful tool that you use throughout your life, with many different people in many different places. The human voice can convey up to 24 different emotions (1) and may reveal more information about emotions compared with facial expressions (2).
You may not think very much about your own vocal health since we can take our ability to use our voice the way we want to for granted. It may not be until you deal with laryngitis (3), muscle tension dysphonia (4) or polyps, nodules, or cysts on the vocal cords (or vocal folds) (5) that you realize how much your ability to use your best voice affects your life.
Here are some things you can think about to maintain your best voice.
- Change the alignment of your body.
In today’s world, we tend to use a forward head posture (6). The head is positioned so the ears are forward of the body’s vertical midline and can contribute to voice problems over time. The human skeleton is designed to support the weight of the head, which is roughly 11 to 15 lbs., when it is aligned properly. For every inch the head sits forward, the head’s weight is increased by about 10 lbs (7) which contributes to extraneous tension in the neck muscles, which can affect the quality of the voice.
Other consequences of misalignment are excess tension in the jaw which can constrict the vocal tract. The shape of the vocal tract, which is the tube from the larynx to the mouth, and nasal cavity, which is the body’s amplification system that changes the volume and resonance of the voice can also be affected.
To optimize the alignment of your body to produce your best voice, start by standing with your feet under your hips and your arms by your side. Feel your feet press into the floor and reach the crown of your head to the sky. You can also do this when seated. If you are not dealing with structural or functional factors that could affect optimal postural alignment, this will naturally bring your head back into the body’s vertical midline. You can also roll your shoulders back a few times to help release the front of your shoulders and chest.
- Use optimal breath support
The breath is our power source for the voice. The vocal folds require adequate breath support to start vibrating and create voice. The way we breathe affects our volume, pitch, and vocal quality.
When we are born, we use breathe using the diaphragm which expands the lower thoracic cavity and allows for expansion in the low belly. This type of breath support is optimal for the voice. As we get older, many people start to use shallow chest breathing which can affect not only the voice but also trigger anxiety, and dry mouth and can be precursors for cardiovascular problems (8). Breathing for speech is different than breathing for singing, exercising, and sleeping and has more to do with how we use the breath for voicing. It requires voluntary control of our inhales and exhales. We need to have enough breath after the inhale to say what we want to, as well as control it to change its volume, pitch, and quality.
If you struggle to expand the lower body when you breathe, place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly and direct your breath to your belly. You can do this lying on your back to use gravity to find this movement. You can also place your hands on your low ribs and feel for expansion into your hands as you inhale.
- Don’t forget about vocal hygiene!
Good vocal hygiene is a regimen of healthy habits to take care of your vocal health. They are things you can do daily to protect your voice from damage.
- Stay hydrated! Drink half your body weight in pounds, converted to ounces to stay optimally hydrated (9). Water keeps the whole body hydrated and keeps the mucosa of the vocal folds well hydrated, therefore supple and vibrating smoothly.
- Limit caffeine and alcohol intake. They are both diuretics – that means it forces fluids to pass through the body rapidly. If fluids are not regularly replaced the body soon becomes dehydrated. The result is that the muscles of the larynx must work harder to keep the vocal folds vibrating smoothly.
- Avoid smoking. Inhaling smoke from cigarettes, artificial fog or any dry hot air can dry out the vocal folds.
- Avoid chronic throat clearing, coughing, screaming, yelling, and other behaviors that bring the vocal folds together abruptly. Over time, these behaviors can lead to vocal polyps or nodules. Manage allergies and reflux.
- Use optimal breath support!
Your voice is a key part of your identity and is one of your most powerful communication tools. Being aware and taking care of your voice will allow you to use this tool, however, and whenever you want, throughout your life.
If you are having difficulty speaking, we have a whole team of speech therapists ready to help you.
DeVore, K., Cookman, S. The Voice Book; easy exercises and advice for anyone who speaks or sings for a living. Chicago. Chicago Review Press, Incorporated, 2009.