Vocal support

Mar 08 2012 by Janet Howd Print This Article

Our voices are able to function at their fullest extent at will. But they can't perform at their best if they are expected to do so for hours on end or if they are pushed constantly to their furthest limits of pitch or volume.

Most of us only use the maximum amount of carrying power the voice is capable of at pop concerts, football or rugby matches or in excited crowds. And, because we usually can't hear ourselves for the noise around us, we bellow and find we're extremely hoarse afterwards.

The discomfort throat muscles undergo when having to work under sudden and unaccustomed pressure is the same as the discomfort of leg muscles expected to race without any training. After a while the legs just give out leaving tendon, muscle and joint pains that can be felt for days afterwards.

Pain is a warning sign that tells us that we need to take care of a particular part of the body. But the vocal cords themselves emit no pain - probably because their original function was solely as the life saving valve we still use today, whose edges are designed to slam tight shut the instant a foreign body tries to enter our airway. Pain felt on that essential slam would definitely be counterproductive.

Instead, when abuse or illness attack the vocal cords, they just stop instigating sound and the voice remains uncooperatively gravelly until the cords edges have stopped being swollen and regained the tensility that instigates vocal sound.

By not having even a whisper pass through them for a day or two, normal cord edges recover completely. But pushing them to undulate together while they are inflamed may damage them beyond repair.

To work, under-pressure voices need speakers prepared to put body into them.

When vocal cords are not given such bodily support, the voice they produce is a pain in the neck to hear and causes pain in the neck for the speaker. Worse still - if that speaker habitually cranes forward to read notes or tilts the head back to stop specs sliding down the nose or angles the torso awkwardly to refer to slides that are off to one side, the pain in the neck may be for life!

Your vocal cords - balanced in the middle of your throat so that pulses of your breath can shimmy between them thousands of times a minute - need you to hold the back of your neck upright. This allows you to balance your heavy head (containing the channel in which your voice gains its distinctive timbre) directly over the middle of your shoulder girdle - specially designed to support such a weight.

Maintaining upright carriage applies whether you stand or sit to speak. Yes, effort is involved but most things that are worthwhile in life require effort to achieve them. Maybe a couple of further observations will encourage you to take the time to find the energy to keep your voice poised for action.

Firstly: voices that have been well supported over the years seem able to buck the trend of entropy (the physical force that causes everything to work in degraded mode). They seem able to hold up a mirror to our youth by enabling us to sound just the same at eighty as we did at eighteen.

Secondly: those who put body into their voices tend to maintain bodily vigour throughout their lives.

As for the short term: your words marshaled into well-turned phrases and send out on a well-supported arc of sound will plop down clear as a bell at the feet of the furthest listener and provide instant gratification for you both.

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About The Author

Janet Howd
Janet Howd

Janet Howd is a voice coach who works with corporate, academic, legal, theatrical and private clients in the UK, North America, Australia and Europe.