You’re working or studying virtually, and maybe you’re doing some hybrid school and work now. Maybe you’re working in person, but in a mask. Inexplicably, your throat feels tired, or the muscles feel sore at the end of the day. What’s happening? And how do you fix it? Let’s begin with the cause(s) of the problem.
Increasing Speech Volume:
Whether you’re speaking through a virtual format or through a mask, you may feel the need to increase your volume in order to be heard. You are probably increasing the air pressure on your vocal folds, which tires them more quickly.
The great news is that there are less draining ways to help yourself to be heard! You can use many of the techniques used in singing to achieve your communication goals safely. Here are some of my favorite strategies:
- Annunciation- Using our voices requires a balance of exhalation and phonation. By “voicing” more consonants (i.e. increasing phonation), we can clarify our speech. Make sure all of your consonants are clearly pronounced.
- Legato- This is a musical term which indicates a connected or sustained sound. When we fully pronounce and lengthen our vowels, we increase our sound by reducing silent spaces within words. We “throw away” syllables quite often in American English. Have you ever heard someone speak Italian? Did you notice how all their words were connected through vowel usage? That’s speaking with legato!
- Resonance- This refers to creating the ideal acoustic space for your voice to allow it to amplify without excessive air pressure. Can you squeal “NOOO!!” or “MOM!” like a child might? Chances are, you engaged your face, which adjusted your resonance to increase your volume. See if you can engage the same muscles in regular speech.
- Managing Exhalation- When you squealed in the above exercise, you also may have noticed more core engagement. Did you know that healthy speech and singing require “whole body engagement”? When you engage your core, you manage your rate of exhalation more efficiently, allowing your vocal folds complete closure and resulting in a clearer sound.
Tense Throat Muscles:
Let’s not pretend that changing our lifestyles, trying to stay healthy, and trying to stay productive isn’t stressful. It is. Stress can create physical tension. When our shoulders and neck are tense, our throat can become tense too. Everything is connected. Muscle tension can also arise from poor posture. Here are some strategies to help reduce tension:
- Reduce Forward Head Posture- Try to maintain a straight neck while sitting at the computer or checking your phone. If you find yourself moving your face closer to your screen in order to see better, talk with your eye doctor about whether glasses might help.
- Choose Posture Supportive Seating- Try an exercise ball or a chair which encourages good posture. Make sure your core is engaged to prevent slouching. If your shoulders are asked to support your rib cage in lieu of your core, you will feel tension in your neck and throat.
- Stretch Often- Take breaks to stretch so that you don’t suffer from stiffness later!
- 4-7-8 Breathing- Dr. Benjamin Middaugh taught me this breathing exercise many years ago as part of my vocal training. It also helps tremendously with stress management and will help you to relax your neck and throat muscles.
- Practice taking a low, slow, warm breath in through your nose. You should feel expansion through your lower back, sides, and belly. This means you have filled your lungs. If your chest rises, you have taken a shallow breath, which has tightened your neck and throat. If you are having trouble, try it lying on your back.
- Inhale through your nose for 4 counts.
- Maintain, neither inhaling nor exhaling, for 7 counts.
- Exhale through your mouth in an “ooo” shape (like you are using a straw) for 8 counts.
- Repeat as many times as needed, counting as slowly as you can.
In addition to these techniques, doing your best to stay rested and hydrated will also make a big difference. To protect your voice from injury even more effectively, you can also warm up your voice muscles by humming through a straw. This will help to prime them for their best, safest work. Of course, if your voice is consistently sore, tired, or hoarse, you should see your ENT or a Laryngologist to rule out any injuries which may need treatment or rehabilitation.
Written by Kaitlin Fron – Voice/Piano Faculty @ American Music Institute