Four ways to keep your voice fighting fit and protected so you can perform at your best.
Let’s face it: your voice is your calling card and your main instrument as an actor. There’s no getting around the fact that if you want your instrument to play well for you, you have to look after it.
The best violinist in the world takes great care of their Stradivarius, and Michael Schumacher’s Mercedes was in mint condition every time he set out on the race track, and your voice is exactly the same. In order for it to serve you well, you’ve got to take care of it and keep it in the best shape possible.
Here are four simple techniques you can put into practice right away to keep your voice fighting fit and protected so you can perform at your best when you need to.
1. Breathe, breathe, breathe
Breathing is a technique that gives you great bang for your buck when it comes to protecting and keeping your voice healthy.
Breath is fuel for your voice and is your best defence against straining, pushing, or injury. It’s important to have a good breathing technique under your belt to support your voice and give you the highest octane fuel possible for the sounds you need to make.
But not all breath is created equal. The fancy name for good, grounded, deep, belly breathing is ‘diaphragmatic breathing’. Breathe deep into your lower belly and lower back to get a higher quality of breath, not only to fuel and support your vocal sound but also to help with clear thinking, longevity, and vocal flexibility.
2. Warm up like a pro
You’d be surprised at the number of actors and singers who don’t warm up before a show and end up croaking at the end of a run. Warming up not only gets your vocal muscles and breath ready but wakes up your brain as well.
Remember: you are a vocal athlete. Every Olympian warms up before their event and gets in the zone, and so must you. Every performer should have their own personal warm-up ritual that wakes their body and gets their voice ready for action.
Think about warming up on stage or in the performance space you are performing in. This gives you the chance to test the acoustic and feel how your voice is going to react in the space. Vocally testing out your performance space also helps you avoid ‘pushing’ your voice, which is not only physically exhausting for you but exhausting for the audience to listen to.
3. Use it or lose it, but don’t push it
As a vocal athlete, regular, purposeful vocal use keeps your vocal muscles fit and firing. During your rehearsal period, you will strengthen your vocal muscles simply by repetition and use. Rehearsals, voice overs, learning new pieces, auditions – all these will help keep your voice flexible and fit, so when you go to use it for bigger sounds, it’s ready to go.
If you have a character that asks you to use your voice in harsh tones, a scream, growl or anything that could be potentially rough on your vocal cords, make sure you get good vocal techniques in place so you don’t injure your voice.
There is no sound that you cannot prepare for and you need to make sure your breath is supporting that sound so you don’t push. Start off small and work your way up to the full performance level.
4. R&R is your best friend
You have to give your voice time off every now and then to repair itself and recuperate. Take time during the day to rest your voice, especially when you’re in the run of a show or on tour.
If you injure your voice from overuse, inappropriate use, or illness, your first port of call is rest. I know no performer wants to hear this but there is no substitute for resting and just not speaking.
Rest is important because your vocal folds or cords are easily damaged. These are delicate but resilient folds of thin skin in the larynx or voice box that create vibration. If you continue to damage your vocal cords with misuse, you could do permanent damage to them or develop nodules or lesions.
If you’re speaking all day, your poor voice is going to be exhausted when showtime rolls around. Rest when you can. The body is incredibly smart and resilient on its own, so give it time to do its thing.
Serve and protect your most precious asset
With your voice being your currency as an actor, you can’t afford to lose it. There will always be situations where you have no control over what happens to your voice, such as illness or accidents but for the most part, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
With these simple techniques, you’ll keep your voice fighting fit and ready so you can prepare, protect, and perform at your best when you need it most.
Just don’t forget to breathe!
Maria Tecce is a voice and speech coach, actor, singer, writer, and keynote speaker. Maria uses her 20+ years of experience as an actor and speaker to empower performers and business professionals to take their public speaking and vocal performance to the next level. She helps speakers motivate, engage, and inspire their audience from any stage, virtual or face-to-face.
Maria has voice coached for The Lir Academy/RADA, Rose Bruford College, The Gaiety School of Acting, Trinity College and companies like Google, Diageo, KPMG, Ulster Bank, Bank of Ireland, Ericsson, Novartis, Smurfit Business School, Volkswagen, and Johnson & Johnson.
Headshot Credit: Beta Barjgartova
Photo Credit: Brooke Cagle / Unsplash