Your voice is an astonishing thing but voice care is often at the back of our minds. Lots of animals can make grunts, squeaks, roars, barks and so on. A few can sing and a few birds can even mimic human speech in fairly limited way. A few of the great apes have been taught a limited vocabulary of sign language. However, the average native English speaker has an active vocabulary of between 20,000 – 35,000 words. By the time you reached your fourth birthday you already had around 5,000 words at your command.
This ability is even more astonishing when you consider that your true vocal chords are only the size of your little fingernail. Forget rubbing your tummy and patting your head; to produce the sometimes subtly different sounds of speech requires the coordination of around 100 muscles.
Voice care is critically important. With something so complex, even miraculous it’s hardly surprising that things go wrong or at least doesn’t work as well as they could do. That’s why it’s helpful to have a voice coach to help you bring out the best in your voice.
Surprising Voice Care Fact #1: The Size of Your Vocal Chords
Properly called your “vocal folds” are a specialised type of mucous membrane stretched horizontally across your larynx. There are supporting folds but the true vocal folds, the parts that actually make the noise, are roughly the size of your little fingernail. Take a look at your little fingernail now and marvel that something so small can easily produce around 90dB of sound.
This is where voice care comes in because it’s so easy to damage something so small with mistreatment.
Surprising Voice Care Fact #2: Girls’ Voices Break too
It can be entertaining to hear boys’ voices breaking as they enter puberty: that period when their voices get deeper. But did you know that girls’ voices also break? It just that girls’ voices only deepen by a couple of tones. The voice “breaks” as the larynx grows and thickens and takes on its adult characteristics.
So it doesn’t matter how old you are you voice care is still important.
Surprising Voice Care Fact #3: Whispering is as bad as Shouting
In most cases whispering is as bad for your voice as shouting. You are subjecting your vocal chords to similar pressures and strains. If you have to speak quietly (for example if you have laryngitis) try and use a softer mothering voice.
If your voice starts to feel tired after speaking then it’s probable that you’re not supporting your voice properly. Learn how to use a microphone and if symptoms persist come and see a voice professional who can show you voice support techniques.
Surprising Voice Care Fact #4: Singing is like Aerobics for the Voice
Everyone needs a little regular exercise but did you know that your voice appreciates having a good work out too? Singing is great way to give your vocal chords some gentle exercise and attend to your voice care. It doesn’t matter whether or not you believe that you can sing. Simply sing along to your favourite music: in the shower, in the car, where ever you feel comfortable (be careful not to strain your voice or sing using the style called “belting”).
Singing works to gently stretch your vocal chords so that they become more flexible. With greater flexibility comes greater range. The better breath control that comes with singing will also give you greater vocal endurance and power.
Surprising Voice Care Fact #5: Cold Water is bad for your Voice
You’d think that a nice ice-cold glass of water would be just the thing to keep your voice nicely hydrated especially if the room where you’re speaking is a bit hot or if you’re prone to sweating when you get nervous. Unfortunately ice-cold water will have the effect of shocking your vocal chords and partially numbing them.
Water is the best solution for keeping your vocal chords well hydrated, however, it’s best to have your water at room temperature.
Surprising Voice Care Fact #6: Dutch courage will make things Worse
Public speaking is a nerve-wracking business but using alcohol to numb your anxieties is counter-productive. It should be fairly obvious that being drunk in charge of a lectern isn’t a good look. It is usually more embarrassing than you realise at the time.
What may be less obvious is that alcohol dehydrates and so you’ll need to drink more water to counteract its effects. Of course more liquids sloshing around in your system may have other less than desirable effects.
Surprising Voice Care Fact #7: Chocolate can be good for your voice
So as a public speaker you’re not allowed to shout or whisper, you have to drink plain, tepid water and take the pledge so what’s left? Chocolate! Well actually only strong dark chocolate, at least 70% cocoa. Whilst milk chocolate will only cause problems a few squares of dark chocolate will release lots of feel good hormones into your bloodstream. Most nutritionists agree that a good quality dark chocolate is a super-food. Generally speaking anything that’s good for your body is also good for your voice.
Clearly Talking, July 2015