In the last two posts here and here I talked about the problem of voice abuse and offered several steps you can take to make sure you don’t abuse your voice. Some of the things I suggested avoiding in my last post (like yelling or talking for long periods in loud environments) might seem like obvious things to steer clear of but I often come across patients all the time who think they can get away with doing these things.
Perhaps you’re a professional voice user who is not so daring though. Perhaps you take great care not to abuse your voice. Well, this post is for you because there are still a host of things that may well be damaging your voice without you even knowing it.
The following is a list of seven much more subtle behaviours and habits that can cause terrible damage to your voice — take care to avoid them.
1. Do not talk in a low-pitched, monotone voice. Do not allow your vocal energy to drop so low that the sound becomes rough and gravelly (“glottic fry”). Instead:
- keep your voice powered by breath flow, so the tone carries, varies, and rings
- allow your vocal pitch to vary as you speak.
2. Do not hold your breath as you are planning what to say. Avoid tense vocal onsets (“glottal attacks”). Instead:
- keep your throat relaxed as you begin speaking
- use breathing muscles and airflow to start speech phrases
- use coordinated voice onset.
3. Do not speak beyond a natural breath cycle: avoid squeezing out the last few words of the thought with insufficient breath power. Instead:
- speak slowly, pausing often at natural phrase boundaries, so your body can breathe naturally.
4. Do not tighten your upper chest, shoulders, neck, and throat to breathe in, or to push sound out. Instead:
- allow your body to stay aligned and relaxed so breathing is natural
- allow your abdomen and rib cage to move freely.
5. Do not clench your teeth or tense your jaw or tongue. Instead:
- keep your upper and lower teeth separated
- let your jaw move freely during speech
- learn specific relaxation exercises.
6. Avoid prolonged use of unconventional vocal sounds: whispering, growls, squeaks, imitations of animal or machine noises. Instead:
- if you must talk in any such ways, use a soft vocal tone instead of a loud, harsh whisper
- if you must produce specific vocal effects for performance, make sure you are using a technique that minimizes muscle tension and vocal abuse.
7. When you sing, do not force your voice to stay in a register beyond its “flexibility limit.” Flexibility must be practiced safely. Especially, do not force your chest voice too high and do not force your head voice high into falsetto range. Instead:
- allow vocal registers to change smoothly
- consult your singing teacher or speech-language pathologist to learn healthy techniques for smooth register transitions.
To avoid misusing your voice
– Do not talk in a low-pitched, monotone voice
– Do not hold your breath as you are planning what to say
– Do not speak beyond a natural breath cycle
– Do not tighten your upper chest, shoulders, neck, and throat to breathe in, or to push sound out
– Do not clench your teeth or tense your jaw or tongue
– Avoid prolonged use of unconventional vocal sounds
– When you sing, do not force your voice to stay in a register beyond its “flexibility limit.”