A lot of students ask me for vocal hygiene tips. In a place like Hong Kong where, let’s face it, the air pollution is horrendous and air conditioning is inescapable, it’s not uncommon to develop allergic reactions to the environment that do affect the quality of the voice. While there’s not much that can be done to permanently solve this problem, (other than, of course, moving to a different country), here are a few small things that you can do that will help to protect your voice:
1. Drink 2 litres of liquids per day. A lot of people I know will drink water only right before they have to perform. If you’re worried about having a dry throat or excessive phlegm during a performance, the only way you can counteract this is by drinking plenty of fluids throughout the day. The body needs time to flush out the toxins and the vocal folds need to be hydrated from the inside out. Although it seems like it works, sipping hot lemon water with honey right before show time won’t do anything to “moisten” your vocal folds.
2. No matter how tempting it may be, try to avoid clearing your throat by coughing loudly. If you must cough, hold your breath briefly and make a series of gentle, “unvoiced” coughs instead. This will help prevent your vocal folds from slamming too hard against each other.
3. As much as possible (especially on show days), avoid dry interiors and smoggy, polluted air. In other words, stay out of Causeway Bay.
4. Don’t speak excessively in noisy environments. This is a sure way to dry out the vocal folds and possibly lose your voice. It’s ok to be the quiet one during a wild night out in Lan Kwai Fong.
5. Generally, try to speak at the same pitch level where you would naturally say “Um-hmm” (as in, “Um-hmm, that’s interesting!”). Many people speak at a pitch that is not optimal for their range (i.e. either too high or too low). The famous case in point would be Julie Andrews when she was in the Broadway musical “Victor, Victoria”. She suffered extreme vocal damage because the lead character she played was a female pretending to be a male and so she had to speak for extensive periods of time at a pitch that was far too low in her range.
6. Don’t use antihistamines excessively. They cause a drying of the mouth, nose and throat.
7. Use good vocal inflection during speech. In other words, speaking like a robot is a bad idea.
8. Don’t whisper. Excessive whispering is just as bad for your vocal folds as screaming is. Excessive air blasting through the vocal folds is never a good thing.
If you know of any other tips to add to the list, please feel free to leave me a note!