Vocal exercises for speaking in bars?
December 15, 2011 1:05 PM   Subscribe

Me me ma ma mo mo... Anyone have any tips on speaking exercises to prevent vocal rawness and pain after extended speaking in noisy environments?

Sometimes when I'm in a bar and talking a lot, my throat gets really raw and the next day I feel butchered. I'm pretty sure I'm speaking "wrong" -- it feels like I'm talking high up in my throat, rather than from my diaphragm. (I think I'm unconsciously trying to deepen my voice when talking.)

To fix this, I'm interested in vocal exercises or techniques that will give my voice more staying power and avoid unnecessary pain. Anyone have any suggestions? (Thanks.)
posted by teedee2000 to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Two words: Drill Sergeants.

From my experience back in HS and College ROTC, I'd say you're doing it wrong, pretty much as you already understand. More diaphragm could help but may cause more problems with an odd sounding voice than you're willing to go into. Beyond that it sounds like you're going to have to reconsider how you go about making your voice carry.
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:22 PM on December 15, 2011

The important thing is being hydrated. Singers and actors, preachers, etc. drink a lot of water for several hours before performing in order to prevent damage to their vocal chords. In a bar situation, you are dehydrating with alcohol, in addition to straining your voice, so that makes hydration doubly important. Obviously, you'll have to pee more (actors, opera singers, etc. work out exactly when they're going to be able to pee between scenes), but your voice will feel better. Probably beer is a better idea than, say, scotch, because it has a lot more H2O in it to counter the drying effects of the alcohol. (Caffeine is also dehydrating, by the way.) Replacing every other drink with water would be good too.

What proper hydration does is add lubrication to the vocal chords; vibrating them hard without enough lubrication causes the rawness. Keep in mind that hydration takes time — the water has to be absorbed from your stomach into the blood and muscle tissues. Ideally you should drink 6-8 glasses of water over the course of the day before heading for the bar. You can increase hydration also with cough syrup containing guaifenesin, as long as it's just for coughs and doesn't contain decongestants, antihistamines, or cough suppressants, which are all dehydrating.

I doubt if the diaghragm vs. throat thing makes any difference — that's more about the quality of the voice. Either way, your vocal chords themselves are undergoing the same strain, it just a question of which muscles are pushing the volume.
posted by beagle at 1:28 PM on December 15, 2011

it feels like I'm talking high up in my throat, rather than from my diaphragm. (I think I'm unconsciously trying to deepen my voice when talking.)

You're a guy, right?

Go and talk loudly in the mirror for a second. Does your adam's apple go either up or down and stay that way while you're talking loud, then return to normal afterwards? Loud-talking tends to tighten the neck, which does that, and can hurt after awhile. Ideally, your adam's apple should be at its regular position, though obviously there should be some bobbing.

So, if that applies to you, just be conscious of your neck when you're talking. Keep it relaxed. Of course, don't overcompensate and make your gets-high-when-you-yell adam's apple get low, or vice-versa, because that'll be just as bad. Keep it relaxed. No effort.

All your power should come from, as you say, your diaphragm. A lot of people hear that and don't get what it means. Your diaphragm works your lungs. Use your lungs.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:28 PM on December 15, 2011

Agreed about the hydration and watching your neck tension. On the diaphragm thing, one way to think about it is to use the muscles in your torso (especially your diaphragm) when you want to speak loudly - do *not* use the muscles in your face and neck when you want to speak loudly (all these things are metaphors, kinda).

The other thing is, you have to start relaxing *before* you get tense. Once your throat is tense, it's very hard to relax it (as you have discovered). It's easier to not let it get tense in the first place, although this requires a certain amount of mindfulness that can be hard to sustain under the influence of alcohol :)
posted by mskyle at 1:33 PM on December 15, 2011

No major exercises to suggest, but --

1) What people have said about water. It will stop you from drying out, squeaking, being raspy, etc., etc. on top of helping your health and preserving your vocal cords.

2) Check your breathing. Are you doing shallow breaths with your chest or deep breaths with your stomach? I was always told that stomach-breathing gives you more air than you would otherwise get, and experience has seemed to bear this out. Even if it's not (?) true, it does make me think more about my core muscles and I'm more likely to project when doing it.

3) You might want to be sure you're facing your conversation partner head on so that s/he can read your lips clearly as well as hear the words coming out of your mouth.
posted by cupcakeninja at 1:46 PM on December 15, 2011

Relating to the importance of hydration/lubrication of the vocal chords, there's a product called Entertainer's Secret that, despite its cheesy website, works really well. Ideally, you use it before extensive talking at high volume, and it helps keep the hoarseness away. I used it regularly when I was a teacher/trainer.
posted by maxim0512 at 1:56 PM on December 15, 2011

The advice above on hydration is RIGHT ON.

Also, vocal warmups can be useful if you do them before (not after) you know you're gonna be a-hollerin'. This video shows some warmup exercises that I have used in the past; there are lots of other videos on youtube, or you could even take one or two voice lessons.
posted by ourobouros at 2:20 PM on December 15, 2011

Best answer: As a professional user of the voice, I can tell you that the advice is very simple:

1. Avoid talking when there is lots of loud ambient noise you have to talk over. I've been studying voice and singing for over 25 years, as have most of my colleagues, and we still have to be careful not to thrash our voices by talking over loud background sound. Even talking over the background noise of a tour bus can wear down the voice. Yes it's true that as a highly trained singer I am likely to suffer lower levels of vocal trauma than you if we're both chattering away in a loud bar, but we'd still both suffer. All this is to say there's no substitute for the two-pronged strategy of (a) shutting up in loud ambient noise environments, and (b) choosing more quiet places in which to socialize and do your talking. Loud bars require that you speak at a volume level that is not healthy for the voice to sustain over that period of time. Consider that a typical operatic role has less than 60 minutes of total singing time, and most of that is not at top volume. Compare that to talking at top volume in a bar for 3 hours and you'll see why it's so rough on your voice.

2. Once your voice is thrashed from overuse, there is no such thing as a vocal exercise that will make your voice recover more quickly after the fact. This is a simple fact despite what some insufficiently-informed people or charlatans might say. It's like telling you that "light walking will make your sprained ankle get better faster." The best things you can do are (a) give your vocal cords a break by going on vocal rest, (b) take an anti-inflammatory like ibuprophen, and (c) drink lots of fluids.

That's it! Sorry if it's bad news. These things apply no matter how free and easy your voice is. Now... could your speaking voice be more relaxed and free than it is? Probably. Lots of people (especially men) speak at the very bottom of their vocal range, and this results in an overly muscular and ultimately unhealthy vocal production. That said, it's hard to suggest any "vocal exercises" to correct this problem. Ideally, you want your speaking voice to "rest" on a pitch that is more or less central in your natural speaking range, so that the pitch can dip below and ascend above that pitch easily when you speak expressively. But determining that "home pitch" and developing exercises and disciplines to reinforce this new habit aren't things that can be done on the internet. As others have pointed out, hydration can make a big difference if you're chronically underhydrated. But it's not a magic bullet and all the water in the world won't save your voice from the abuse that three hours of bar shouting will do to it.
posted by slkinsey at 2:35 PM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Yeah, what slkinsey said. Hydration and silence are the keys to recovery, as well as steam (try a hot bath or longish shower.)

I notice that when I have to talk in loud environments, I'll squinch my head forward and thrust my chin towards the person I'm talking to, tightening my whole head/jaw/neck/shoulder region. Sometimes I'll even catch this happening as I breathe in before I speak. So be mindful of how you breathe to speak-- no gasping or squinching. (I'm still working on this, too.)

My theory is that if I can manage to breathe in a relaxed way even when my instinct urges immediate response, then the space it takes to breathe may give me time to consider what I was going to say, resulting (I hope) in saying fewer stupid things. Also, relaxed = sexy. YMMV.

Oh who am I kidding I will never get there
posted by Pallas Athena at 5:27 PM on December 15, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you for all these helpful replies!
posted by teedee2000 at 7:40 PM on December 15, 2011

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