by Diane Brandon

Your voice, along with your face and your body, is a major tool that you rely upon in storytelling.  If your voice is not in optimum condition, then your storytelling performance may suffer accordingly. (Taking voice lessons from a professional vocal coach or voice teacher would be the best way to keep your voice in the best condition and find ways to improve your tone and sound.  See TakeLessons Vocal Coach.)  Here, then, are some tips for maintaining that intrinsic element of your work.


Your voice is part of your body.  Keeping your body healthy will help to keep your voice healthy.  Sleep can be critical to the condition of your voice:  if you get too little sleep, you may find that your voice is husky or hoarse or has more phlegm than normal, or that your throat is scratchy.


Drinking milk before a performance may "coat" your throat and produce phlegm.  Some people are sensitive to any milk products, including cheese and yogurt, and you may need to avoid them prior to a performance.


Drinking alcohol can impair your vocal performance, as it relaxes the vocal folds and makes it harder for them to approximate.


When performing in cold weather, the throat should be kept warm.  If the throat is unusually cold and the voice is used, hoarseness or vocal strain could result.


Before a performance, vocal warm-ups are a good thing to do.  Just as a dancer or athlete needs to warm up his or her muscles, so too does a performer need to warm up the voice, as the vocal folds are muscles.  In warming up, you should start out lightly and gradually work up to more intensity or volume.  The specific exercises you do don't matter as much as easing into and gradually working up to intensity, volume, or higher or lower ends of your range.


Deep breathing can not only help to relax you before a performance, but can also help to support the voice.


Any tension in the face, jaw, or neck should be eased.  Tightness in these areas can produce a "tight" voice and lead to strain.  Doing the beginning of a yawn in conjunction with deep breathing can help reduce tension and open up these areas.


You don't want to "push" your voice too much, by overdoing the volume or yelling.  This type of misuse can lead to strain and hoarseness and, if done over time, can produce nodes on the vocal folds.  Any ongoing, chronic hoarseness may be indicative of this condition.


Your throat and voice give you wonderful, built-in feedback whenever you're doing something wrong:  if your throat gets tight or sore after using your voice or your voice gets hoarse from use, you're getting feedback that you've done something injurious.


As a storyteller, you may be concerned about strengthening your voice.  Your voice, however, will naturally strengthen over time and with practice.  The key is to use it healthily and not to "push" it too much or strain it.  As your voice strengthens (through the vocal folds developing), you'll gradually be able to do more with it and use it in ways you couldn't before.


(Published in Journal of Tar Heel Tellers, March 1995)

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