Tips for Voice Work: Dealing with Nerves and Damage
Managing your nerves and looking after your voice! Nic Redman's tips from Liverpool Open House
By Christina Care
At our recent Liverpool Open House, accent and voice coach Nic Redman gave members some great one to one tips, and a wonderful set of tips for accent work. We also spoke to her about managing those nerves in the audition room, making sure your voice is at its best and how to look after yourself if dealing with vocal strain.
Remember that the body will breathe for you as long as you breathe out.
What are your tips for managing the way nerves affect the voice?
There are psychological and physical approaches to this, I believe. The first is the psychological element, like remembering that an audition panel want you to be the person they're looking for, secondly you know you can do it or else you wouldn’t be there, and you have to just give it your all. Physically, in terms of settling the actual nervous system, the adrenaline and how it works in the body, if you focus on the out breath – a slow consistent out breath – then let the body take the in breath for you, that can really settle the balance of adrenaline in the system. Mostly people say, “Ok, calm down, take deep breaths,” and actually that’s exactly the opposite. Yes, you want air, but not on top of air that’s already there as this can lead to excess tension which restricts the voice. So, if you breathe out and empty the system completely, you can allow the air to be taken back in – the in-breath is actually reflexive, your body will do that for you. Otherwise you’d die when you sleep! Remember that the body will breathe for you as long as you breathe out.
Also, nerves create tension. So, release, release, release! Everyone knows how nerves can personally affect them, it’s all to do with the instinctive fight or flight mechanism. So, your body cuts out anything that’s not a vital necessity at that point – cuts out making saliva, cuts out the ability to hold in your waist, focusing instead on keeping you breathing and your blood flowing. So, if you know, “When I get really nervous I get a really dry mouth,” the day before your audition, make sure you are getting a tonne of water. If you know it makes your shoulders tense up, do a lot of shoulder massage, neck rolls, tension release… if you know it makes your hands shake, remember that it's your whole body involved in producing voice. Back when I used to audition I would do a full body dance warm up before auditions because I knew the situation made me shaky. With the voice, there are lots of things you can do – subtle things – in audition waiting rooms.
We've definitely had questions about that in the past - are there things you can do without totally annoying your fellow actor in the audition waiting room?
You can do a little gentle jaw massage, jiggle or release of the lips with your fist, you can do a bit of tongue release, a little cleaning your teeth with the tip of your tongue to keep your tongue moving, gentle siren-ing up and down… gently massaging the cheeks a little bit, all this can keep the tension at bay. All quite subtle!
Do you have any advice for anyone who thinks they have damaged their voice, perhaps from a long stint on a show?
The first thing to do is to get checked out by a specialist and find out exactly what’s going on. There are some really good elite voice performance clinics that you can get referred to from the NHS in the UK. Check the British Voice Association website for details. Get yourself a referral and if your doctor is weird about it, make sure you say that this is your job, and you have the right to be referred outside your primary care trust if it’s something career dependent. Nine times out of ten it will be something really simple to deal with – like a little bit of swelling, just needing a bit of voice rest.
I’m sure there are plenty of actors out there who will admit to having a few too many drinks – it’s a tough lifestyle with lots of late nights but you can’t forget that you need to look after yourself. The body is very clever and will fix what it needs if you just give it the chance to rest. Most actors learn this the hard way – myself included! Everyone is different too. Some people can drink and smoke and be fine, others can’t. It’s about knowing what you need.
So, if it’s vocal fatigue: lots of rest, lots of steaming, lots of fluids, a nice local honey, hot drinks (but not before any intense vocalising), and gentle exercises like siren-ing up and down. If you’re doing that and having little gaps in your range where the sound cuts out, your body recognises this and knows what it needs to fix.
About Nic Redman
With an MA Voice Studies from Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, and a varied performance career spanning 10 years, accent and vocal coach Nic’s work covers the fundamentals of voice training from breath through to text as well as accent coaching and character voicing for gaming and animation. She has taught at LIPA, RADA, Arts Ed, East 15 and ICAT. Her accent coaching credits encompass work for CBBC, Hat Trick Productions, Radio 4 Comedy, Theatre 503 and The Actors’ Guild. Nic also runs a thriving 1-2-1 voice practice helping individuals with tailored voice advice and accent training.
As a voice actor Nic works internationally voicing commercial, corporate and character scripts with a client list including Tesco, NSPCC and TK Maxx. She also co-runs @VOSocialNorth, the first voiceover industry specific social in the North.