We’ve all been there.
We are on our way up the professional ladder, and we don’t yet have the luxury of silent days. Life requires talking, and after weeks of rehearsal, we hit tech week. We get stressed out. And then we are swollen, tired, and our stamina is less than stellar. Opening night comes and our frazzled voices steal away our potential.
Our voices just won’t do for us. They feel tight, sound strained, and that leaves us feeling hopeless. And hopelessness leads to fear, which leads to a “me-based” performance, instead of a “character driven” performance.
While prevention is ALWAYS the best option, here are three ways you can manage that vocal stress in a pinch, and take the good kind of drama up a notch:
1) SIP SIP SIP
We all know that water is key to allowing flexibility in our bodies. Did you know that the vocal folds are made of mucous membrane? YUP. They are moisture makers ~ they secrete and lubricate and protect our lungs from crazy nasties. SO, if you aren’t hydrated, they can’t do their job, and when they can’t do their job, they get swollen and dry, and then you sound…well… you know. SO, hydrate those puppies! More water than you think you need ~ aim for 1 oz of water per pound of body weight per day. Another way you can tell if you are hydrated: clear pee. Hey! It’s true! If you find you are dehydrated and it’s opening night, do the “sip-a-score” technique: the moment you feel dry, set a timer and take a few sips every 20 minutes (a score is 20!) The slow sipping will allow your body to incorporate the water much better than chugging a glass all at once.
2) SWEET AND SCARY
The ultimate goal is to reduce inflammation (swelling) so that the folds can vibrate freely again. Time and vocal rest does this best. In addition, a lovely way to get those vibrations in place when we are swollen is to do a deep sweet and scary hum. Pretend you are a zombie in love. With lips together, teeth apart, and eyes closed, focus on and allow the folds to vibrate freely with a very low pitched “ohm”. If you like, vary the pitch up and down to get a full range of fold positions. The goal is not to sound pretty. It is to get yourself in touch with the vibration of the folds so you can recognize which pitches will be troublesome, and to assess what muscle to air ratio is going to be needed to produce vibration safely and effectively for the material you will be performing.
3) SUPER SUPPORT
No doubt you will find through your humming that the air flow required to get those folds vibrating will be significantly increased. Here’s where things can get tricky. If you push air through, you risk a pressed sound that doesn’t feel so good. If you rely on the same amount of air flow sensation as when healthy, you get no sound at all, much like laryngitis. So what are you to do? You are to get in touch with your support system and your breath. A super cool singer named Farinelli used the following exercise to get back in touch with the bodies “sing-place”:
Think of the breath cycle as having 3 parts: The Inhale, The Suspend, and The Exhale.
Begin at a count of 5.
Inhale for the count of 5… use all five counts to get to an expanded position.
Suspend for 5… remember Suspension doesn’t feel like Holding – it feels like floating with no tension. Those vocal folds/glottis should be open.
Exhale for 5… make sure all the air is gone by 5, but don’t collapse that awesome open rib cage and sternum.
Keep increasing the counts as you get in touch with your friendly neighborhood muscles in the ribcage, sternum area, bra line (just go with me here guys ~ think under your armpits), and lower back.
This exercise will allow you to push a reset button on your support system and gently remind you where your breathe comes from, giving you renewed access to your voice. And because there is no vocalization involved, you can rest your folds while getting in touch with the mechanism! Win-win!
If you find that you are consistently getting tired and worn out for every performance, you need to speak with your teacher about your technique and ask her/him to point out where you need strength and improvement. Technique is an ongoing process and should always be worked on. If you are experiencing pain, or consistent laryngitis, you need to seek medical attention. Go to an ENT, and be sure to communicate with them that you are a vocalist/performer.
Look out for next week’s Warble, when I go into Prevention of Vocal Tiredness… Because, as I said before, that is ALWAYS best.